Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Great Exhibition

File:Crystal Palace from the northeast from Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. 1854.jpg
The Crystal Palace courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
And saw thim walls, And glittering halls, Thim rising slendther columns, Which I poor pote, Could not denote, No, not in twinty vollums… This Palace tall, This Cristial Hall, Which Imperors might covet, Stands in High Park, Like Noah's Ark, A rainbow bint above it.
~ William Makepeace Thackeray

It was Prince Albert who had the bright idea of a world’s fair. France had just had the highly successful French Industrial Exposition of 1844 and England couldn’t be outdone. They were going to have a world’s fair, not just a fair for the country.

Fairs were old hat, they’d been around since the dawn of time. Exhibitions were a little newer; the first one was in London in 1756 with the novel name of the First Exhibition. It had live artists like Reynolds, Wilson, Cosway and Roubiliac on display, not to mention their paintings. After that there was a whole slew, one through seven, of exhibitions in Paris, displaying their manufacturing might and in 1829, there was the American Institute Fair, founded "for the encouragement of agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and the arts." There were a couple after that in Sardinia and numbers eight through eleven in France.

But this was going to be a world’s fair. Queen Victoria was on the throne and England had never been in finer form; even France couldn’t match her industrial might. The fair had to be splendid and it had to be housed in a splendid building. They picked Hyde Park, a spot in London, the world’s biggest city, for the building site and erected the Crystal Palace.

File:Broad Walk in Hyde Park, by Park Lane - - 788977.jpg
Hyde Park courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
It must have been lovely, the sunlight glittering off the glass and cast iron that made it. The ceiling was twenty-seven feet tall, plenty big enough to house the full sized elm trees they planted inside. Queen Elizabeth noted to the Duke of Wellington that there were an awful lot of sparrows in there. The Duke proposed a solution, “sparrowhawks, ma’am.”

But the most important thing was that the Crystal Palace was large enough to house the first world’s fair. The American Institute Fair picked up and came over the Pond and others were not to be outdone. Exhibits from Australia, India, New Zealand, Denmark, France and Switzerland moved in, bringing with them things like looms, envelope machines, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays, the world's biggest known diamond, the precursor to today's fax machine, Colt’s marvelous revolvers and a   barometer that used leeches.
The fair was a success. Over six million people flooded in to see the sights, equivalent to one third of Britain’s population. Lots of notables came, not to mention Samuel Colt, Charles Darwin, members of the OrlĂ©anist Royal Family and the writers Charlotte BrontĂ«, Lewis Carroll and George Eliot. At the opening on May 1, 2,500 tickets were sold, the total that had been printed for the day. England raked in the dough, in total four and a half million shillings, £19,580,504 in today’s money, or roughly $31,659,687.77, more than enough to pay back what it had coast.

It was all over by October and the United States, Australia, India, New Zealand, Denmark, France and Switzerland packed up and left. The surplus money from the fair was used to build the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, all located in Albertopolis south of Hyde Park. Once they were done, there was still some money left over, so it was used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research. It continues to do so today.

The fair was so popular, it was decided that the Crystal Palace would hold a permanent exhibit. It was
relocated to Sydenham, south of London. Because people just couldn’t leave it alone it was outfitted with two railway stations between 1857 and 1864. The Crystal Palace held the world’s first world’s fair, so it seemed fitting that it held the world’s first cat show in 1871. There was a poem written for it in 1851 and another in 1909. In 1911 it housed the Festival of Empire to celebrate the coronation of George V. During the First World War, it served as a naval training facility under the name of HMS Victory VI. Most people slipped up and called it the HMS Crystal Palace instead. It burned down in 1936.  
This is a cat

The Great Exposition was the first of many world’s fairs, the most famous and largest of which, was probably the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1892, which had not one building, but two hundred. We have never seen another like it. The Eiffel Tower, one of France’s most famous landmarks, is a relic of another world’s fair, the Exposition Universelle of 1889.

Since then World’s Fairs have been held more often than the Olympics. They pop up all over the place, Ecuador, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Panama, India, just to name a few. Just think of a country, and it’s probably had one. There’s even one in Milan in 2015, if you’d like to go, and there was one in South Korea last year, if you want to think about where you could have gone.   

And it was all Prince Albert’s idea.     


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Building a model of the Fair American

"...without a Respectable Navy, Alas America!" -Captain John Paul Jones, 17 October 1776, in a letter to Robert Morris.
I’ve had this project I’ve been working on for nearly four years now and still haven’t finished. Yes, I procrastinate, but most of the time has been spent in research.
The project is a solid hulled model of an American privateer from around 1780. The model originally belonged to my grandfather, but he died back when I was three and I have no memories of him. Since starting the project, I’ve had this weird feeling of getting to know him. Somehow doing something he would have loved to do makes me feel a little closer to him.
Now, a little background.
Fair AmericanIn 1776, when Thomas Jefferson penned the famous lines of the Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress declared the thirteen American Colonies independent, America was at war with Britain, the greatest power on earth, in a conflict that became known as the American Revolution. America won the war in 1783 through the heroism of many American men and after a train of events that were no less then miraculous.
Some of these heroic men were the American privateersmen.
A Privateer is a ship outfitted for war with a letter-of-marque. A letter-of –marque was permission from a king or governor granted to the captain of the Privateer allowing him to take prizes and sink ships, providing they sailed under the flag of an enemy. It was simply legal piracy…in fact, in earlier days many of the renown pirates who sailed the seven seas held letters-of-marque.
Fair American
Over two thousand privateers took part in the American Revolution. They sank or captured sixteen British frigates and almost three thousand British merchant ships, contributing many supplies to the commander of the continental army, General Washington.
The Colonies founded a navy in 1775, which linked some privateers together into a more organized body, as well as adding gunboats and other small warships that were built under the supervision of Benedict Arnold. Regardless of the navy, the privateers won the glory. The number of ships that were specifically built for the navy dwindled in size from thirty-four ships to seven.   
It was hardly difficult for America to start turning out well-built, efficient ships for use as privateers. By the
Fair American
time of the Revolution one third of all vessels operating for England were built in the American Colonies and from 1700-1775 the averaged size for a ship launched from American shipyards had increased from four thousand tons to thirty five thousand.
Perhaps this is why, when privateers were being built in the early years of the Revolution, they were simply armed merchant men. As the British navy moved in to patrol the coasts of America, the slow heavy privateers suffered great losses. The heavy merchant men were replaced by a new breed of privateer. 
The privateer had to fit many requirements. She had to be fast enough to overtake another vessel, or run when a larger force attempted to take her. She had to be stiff and strong to carry the great expanse of sail necessary to make her fast and she had to be a good sailor, safe and weatherly in a storm or calm.
Fair AmericanA privateer could be as small as a single masted sloop and as large as a small three masted frigate. Most were two masted brigs and schooners.
The Fair American was a brig. A brig is small, with two masts, fore and main. She is rigged with square sails. 
The Fair American had a length of sixty-eight feet and a beam of twenty-four feet. She had sixteen guns and a crew of one hundred twenty, more men then would normally be needed to man her, because some extra men were needed to man a prize.
The Fair American was captured by the British somewhere between 1780 and 1781 and caused a bit of a stir when she came into port in England. In 18th century terms, she was state-of-the-art, far faster and more agile than anything the English had. Detailed plans of her hull were drawn up and when those plans were discovered more recently, some people had the bright idea to make a model out of her.

Fair AmericanThe model I’m in possession of is the 1952 Model Shipways solid hulled model of the Fair American. It wasn’t supposed to be a difficult model, but to me, after building only one other scale wooden model, the Bluenose (which you may hear about some other time), it was quite hard enough. None of the pieces, except the hull, was pre cut, and my father and I had to draw patterns on blocks of wood and whittle away at them with a carving knife and a band saw. We made them out of cherry, which is one of the hardest woods (no joke).
The hull of a privateer would have been made by first laying the keel, or backbone, of the ship, and bolting U-shaped frames, or ribs, to it. After the frame was up, long planks would have been steamed until they were bendable and bolted lengthwise on the frame. Then the gaps between the planks would have been filled with hemp and tar to waterproof the hull.
Fair AmericanModel Shipways provided me with a roughly shaped solid hull, so I was spared the arduous work of a shipyard, though models built from the keel up can be acquired.
The bow rails were perhaps the hardest to carve. Ships have nearly always been covered with unnecessary decorations and in the 17th and 18th centuries, ships were sometimes covered with intricate carvings and gold leaf. The Vasa, a 17th century Swedish man-o-war capsized because her massive stern castle over balanced her. She was refloated in the ‘60’s and is the oldest complete ship on land anywhere in the world.
I painted the bottom of the hull white, with a black stripe above the waterline. I left the outside of the bulwarks natural, but in actuality, they would have been painted brown. Painting the hull white was possibly inaccurate because white paint at the time usually dried with a yellowish tint and was very expensive.
Fair AmericanBut despite all the setbacks of building the hull, the rigging has been the hardest thing of all. There would literally have been miles of rope on a full-sized Brig and while I’m not dealing miles it’s still daunting. I’ve been doing rigging for the past two years.
The Fair American has been a lot of fun, and though it still is not finished, I have learned a lot from the building. I have learned history, ship designs from the time and most of all; I have learned patience from the hours of laborious work that have gone into the model. Someday, I hope a full sized replica will be built and I will really get to see the Fair American all sails set and a bone in her teeth.

But, if you're interested in ships of the time period that are big enough to go aboard, you could visit the US Brig Niagara, or the HMS Victory, or the USS Constitution. The Lady Washington is a movie star you might recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean and the HMS Surprise sailed the seas in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Unfortunately, the Bounty sank last year, but there's still the Friendship of Salem and the Fame and the Sultana.
"We sailed and we sailed and kept good cheer, For not a British frigate could o’ercome the privateer.”
- Old Sea Shanty


Friday, July 12, 2013

A bit more about us

We started this blog to share our love of well...everything... with anyone who happens to stop by, which would mean you, if you're reading this. I want to talk about writing...write about writing, actually, because I love writing.

Not long ago, I went to a discovery day at a college in our area (I'm actually attending that humble institution at this moment) and got to sit in on a sample writing class. Our teacher handed out some books and told us to search through and find five verbs, five adjectives and five nouns.

I came up with five nouns: deep, trawler, moment, star, farm
five verbs: changed, running, peek, breathing, ruled
and five adjectives: brief, brilliant, beautiful, smooth, lazy

By this point, I was wise to her, so I guess I was cheating a little, because I knew she was going to tell us to write something surrounding those words. It's a great exercise, really, something that's definitely worthwhile to try. Even if you don't think you can write, give it a go, you'll stretch your imagination a little further.

I wrote away happily, wondering what everyone else was creating out of the words they had selected. When I write, even a short story, I find its important to create a background, to put more in than I write down. As I wrote, I could see a sweeping hill, a barn, a curve of beach and the ocean running into the distance.

I think I was done before most everybody, some people read their creations and I sat there, getting more and more nervous. There's something about being last I always like, it's a little like putting a period at the end of a sentence, or dotting an 'i'.

With a pounding heart, I read what I had written and when I had finished, there was a dead silence in the room.

This is what I wrote:

The last stars were fading from the sky when the smooth fingers of the tide lifted the fishing trawler from the beech and set it floating lazily in the deep. The movement of the tide was like breathing, running to and fro, as predictable as the cows that came to the farm gate to be milked at the same moment every morning.
The coolness of morning was brief, already the sailors had ruled it time to be out on the brilliant water with their fishing nets. The sky had changed, but like the tide and the cows peeking through the gate, it was the same.