The Mariner's Mirror Podcast


The Maritime History of Time

The history of time and how it relates to the maritime world is one of the most significant chapters in global history. The question of time is nothing less than the question of civilisation; the question of us. Time itself has been harnessed, politicised and weaponised; clocks have been used to wield power, make money, govern and control; to exchange knowledge and even beliefs. For the maritime world, the history of time takes us from some of the most ingenious inventors and scientists the world has ever seen to the spread of empires around the globe. To find our more Dr Sam Willis spoke with David Rooney, an expert on the history of timekeeping and civilisation who has worked as the Curator of Timekeeping at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and is the author of ‘About Time: A History of Civilisation in Twelve Clocks.’

More Episodes

  • The Brisbane Dry Dock

    Our mini-series on Maritime Asutralia continues with an episode dedicated to Brisbane's fabulous dry dock. The dock now sits in the grounds of the Queensland Maritime Museum on a bend on the south side of the Brisbane River and contains the magnificent historical vessel HMAS Diamantina, a river class frigate built in the 1940s, and the Carpentaria, a lightship built in 1917 which provided a crucial service warning mariners of dangerous shoal waters off Fraser Island and off the western approaches tot he Torres Strait. The dock itself, the third oldest in Australia, and built in 1876, offers a fascinating insight to Australian maritime history, and in particular shipbuilding and maritime trade in Queensland. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Russell Cobine, a retired shipwright with a lifetime of experience working in dry docks.
  • Queensland Maritime Museum

    Our mini-series on the maritime history of Australia continues with a tour of the Queensland Maritime Museum in Brisbane. Dr Sam Willis explores the museum with volunteers and local historical experts Kasper Kuiper and Keith Boulton. We explore the museum's extraordinary collection of ship models including the Orion (1934), Otranto (1925), Orcades (1947) all of the Orient Steam Navigation Company; immigration to Australia; wrecks off the coast of Queensland and the navigational dangers of the Great Barrier Reef; the Queensland Government's paddle ship Lucinda; the skiff Fury (1939) and the champion racing boat Estrellita (1951).
  • 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.
  • 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 
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.