The Mariner's Mirror Podcast
Friday, May 26, 2023
The Hunt for Bismarck
The pursuit of Germany's most famous battleship is one of the most dramatic stories of the Second World War and one of the best tit-for-tat / an eye for an eye stories in history. It began with Bismarck sinking HMS Hood, pride of the Royal Navy, in May 1941 and ended three days later with Bismarck being hunted by sea and air by a huge British squadron until she was trapped and destroyed. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with naval historian Angus Konstam.
Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Elizabeth II's Navy 1952-2022
The passing of the Queen in September has encouraged historians to shine a light on the era of her reign - the 70 years between 1952 and 2022 - an extraordinary period in which the world fundamentally changed several times over. One particularly revealing way to look at this period is through the experiences of the Royal Navy. It’s quite a story. Throughout Elizabeth’s reign the Royal Navy changed beyond all recognition. In 1952 the UK was still a global and maritime superpower with a large empire. It had the second largest navy, the largest shipbuilding industry and the largest merchant fleet in the world. The vast networks of seaborne trade routes were policed by a navy of a size and versatility that it was able to engage independently in most foreseeable types of conflict. Today, the UK’s superpower role is much diminished, and its empire has gone. The nation’s shipbuilding industry and merchant fleet are shadows of their former selves. This change all happened in the shadow of the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the Falkands war, and the Cod Wars - just to name a few of the significant international maritime events of that time. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with the maritime historian Paul Brown author of Elizabeth's Navy: Seventy Years of the Postwar Royal Navy
Thursday, May 11, 2023
Essex Heritage Work Boats
This episode explores the wonderful Essex coastline – for those of you not familiar with the geography of England, this is the beautiful area a little to the north and east of London.We find out about boats built in Essex and the history of the boatbuilding infrastructure that created them, and in particular about 130 surviving vessels all built in Essex before 1965 that have somehow survived, many in the most surprising of ways. Some have assumed new roles for which they were never originally intended; others have been rescued from a rotting death on the shoreline and lovingly restored in sheds, up estuaries, on beaches all the way along the Essex coast. They vary from 80ft Thames Barges, three classes of Fishing Smacks to important pulling boats, skiffs and bumpkins. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Lyndon March, who helps run a community dedicated to preserving these wonderful craft and also to telling their story…you can find Essex Heritage Work Boats on Instagram @essexheritageowrkboats
Thursday, May 4, 2023
The Last Convict Ship: The Edwin Fox
The historic ship Edwin Fox has a remarkable history. Built in Calcutta in 1853, she is the only surviving ship that transported convicts to Australia; one of the world's oldest surviving merchant ships; she served as a troop ship in the Crimean War; carried indentured servants to the Caribbean from China and immigrants to New Zealand. She is now preserved in Picton, New Zealand. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Heather Fryer, a volunteer researcher at the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum.
Saturday, April 29, 2023
Death at Sea
With frequent headlines in the news highlighting the plight of refugees suffering shipwreck in the Mediterranean, death at sea is an important contemporary issue. This episode explores the historical context of death sea. The age of sail was a period of expedition and conflict where seafarers were increasingly important to the fortunes of the nation. Their work at sea was complicated with many unique hazards which brought them closer to death, whether their own or that of those around them. Accidents and military action were joined by the dangers of disease and nutrition that were amplified in the tightly enclosed world of a floating vessel. Death was another challenge for a crew to overcome and their success depended on.A focus on the ways in which the dead were treated and remembered by those around remind them is a compelling window into the values of the seafaring community. What were the practical considerations of burying the dead at sea? How was the dead body prepared and disposed of? What was the importance of folklore and supernatural to the seafaring community? How were deaths at sea memorialised?To find answers to all of these questions and many more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Dr Dan O'Brien, historian of undertakers and funerals in eighteenth century England with a particular interest in death at sea.
Friday, April 21, 2023
Mary Celeste: The Mystery Explained
This episode looks at one of the greatest of all maritime mysteries – the extraordinary tale of the Mary Celeste.On 4 December 1872, in the middle of the Atlantic near the Azores, the brigantine Dei Gratia chanced upon another brigantine. She was under sail but entirely silent, and it soon becomes clear that she was entirely deserted. She was called Mary Celeste.Ever since - for over 150 years - the mystery of why the Mary Celeste was abandoned and what happened to the ten souls on board has spawned thousands of conjectures, conspiracy theories, fictions and fantasies; mostly myths made from fractured truths.To find out more – and in a bid finally to unpick the myth from the reality, Dr Sam Willis spoke with maritime historian Graham Faiella, author of The Mysterious Case of the Mary Celeste: 150 Years of Myth and Mystique . They discuss her story from beginning to end – from her construction in the Bay of Fundy, through her life as a merchant ship, on to her final fateful voyage, and then to the remarkable enquiry that took place in Gibraltar, as British maritime authorities were the first to embrace the challenge of trying to understand what happened.
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
Mozambique Island: Maritime Africa 6
We continue our mini-series on the maritime history of Africa with an exploration of the extraordinarily colourful history of Mozambique Island - a UNESCO World Heritage site complete with fortified city and historical links that take us back to the era of the Portuguese exploration of Africa in the fifteenth century. Vasco da Gama was the first European to arrive here in 1498 and returned in 1502 with Portuguese settlers, and it went on to become central in Portuguese plans to control trade in the Indian Ocean. The island of Mozambique was particularly valuable as the first safe harbour after ships had endured sailing around the Cape of Good Hope but still had many thousand of miles to go on their voyage to the east. Unsurprisingly the island has a significant history and heritage that links the African, Arabic and European worlds, and also is surrounded by very important shipwrecks. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Ricardo Duarte, an archaeologist based in Mozambique Island, where he develops research in shipwreck studies and Underwater Archaeological sites, supporting UNESCO efforts to protect this endangered heritage. Ricardo has also studied coastal sites linked to early urban development in Eastern Africa, and the history and social organisation of coastal societies and their relation with the sea.
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
Ship-Model Maker Extraordinaire: Gerry Westenberg
The fourth episode on our mini-series on the maritime history of Australia takes us to Perth and the workshop of Gerry Westenberg. Gerry has been hand-crafting scale model ships for well over 50 years and has built more than 130 in that time. He started this lifelong job by trying to modify a 1/600 scale Airfix kit of HMS Ajax to be HMAS Perth...with mixed success. Over time he has improved his skills and found a scale that works for him – 1/192 - based on the Empirical scale of 1 inch to every 16 feet. Over the years Gerry has built ships such as RMS Queen Mary, a Roman bireme, an Egyptian Royal Barge, HMS Hood, HMAS Sydney I, II, III and IV, RY Britannia, and HMS Barham, to name but a few. He has had two exhibitions held at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle, the first in 2019,with the second held in 2021, whilst a third exhibition will commence on April 8th this year running for approximately 3 months. The centrepiece of Gerry's collection consists of over 40 Australian fighting ships tracing all major classes from the inception of the RAN to today’s modern fleet. To find out more Dr Sam Willis visited Gerry at his workshop.
Friday, March 31, 2023
William Dampier and HMS Roebuck
This is the third episode in our mini series on the maritime history of Australia. In episode one we learned about the arrival of the Dutch in Australia; in episode twp we learned about the Dutch ship Duyfken, the first European ship to land men on the Australian mainland; and today we’re moving on in time to hear about William Dampier and his ship HMS Roebuck. Dampier is an extraordinary character. A natural scientist, explorer and pirate, Dampier was the first Englishman to explore any part of Australia as well as the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. Dampier was born in 1651 and died in 1715, and so he lived in this fascinating period in English history in the aftermath of the execution of Charles I and at a time of giant leaps in maritime capabilities. The world was changing at intense speed. Dampier began life in the merchant navy, joined the Royal Navy, fought against the Dutch, joined the buccaneer Bartholomew Sharp’s crew’ and sailed around the world, all the while keeping a diary that would become one of the most important and popular travel narratives of the period. He was then given a ship, HMS Roebuck, and a mission to explore the east coast of New Holland, the land we now know as Australia. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with historian and archaeologist Dr Mac MCarthy – the man who actually tracked down and found HMS Roebuck.