The Mariner's Mirror Podcast
The Maritime Silk Road
This is episode six of our special mini-series on the maritime history of China and it looks at the Maritime Silk Road. This fascinating topic is far richer and deeper than the name implies. On the one hand we discover all about the ancient maritime trade route by which silk was transported abroad from China – but as you will discover it is far more complicated than that – and far more interesting as a result. It’s a topic that links Asia and Europe’s deep past with the present day and modern China’s strategic global ambitions. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Tansen Sen, Director of the Center for Global Asia and Professor of History, NYU Shanghai.
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Great Maritime Innovations 1: The Stockless Anchor27:08This episode starts a new mini-series on maritime innovations, and we start with one of the most important: the stockless anchor. A Victorian innovation, the stockless anchor transformed seafaring, making it safer and simpler.The stockless anchor was a simple but clever design which presented many advantages over traditional anchors. Previous anchors were fitted with a stock: a rod set at an angle to the flukes which dug into the seabed. That rod helped the flukes find the right orientation to bite. This feature however, caused the anchor to be an awkward shape, requiring davits suspended over the bows to raise or lower them and prevent damage to the hull. The ship also needed an ‘anchor bed platform’ for storing the anchor when not in use. The stockless anchor didn’t have that rod and the flukes simply pivoted against the main shank. This pivoting action helped the flukes bite and the lack of the stock meant that the anchor was easier to manoeuvre when raising or lowering and could be drawn up into the hawsehole for safe storage. Due to the simple geometrical design of the stockless anchor, it was also capable of free falling through water much faster when it was required. As with all of the best technological inventions it was simple, manifestly a better design, and required someone with a touch of genius to think it up. That man was William Wastenys Smith. To find out more about this brilliant maritime innovation Dr Sam Willis spoke with William Wastenys Smith’s great-granddaughter, Trish Strachan. This episode includes a number of reports and thank-you letters from leading seamen in the 1880s, sent to Wastenys Smith commenting on the remarkable quality of his new invention.
Freak Ships of the Nineteenth Century: SS Bessemer33:18This episode explores ss Bessemer (1874), known as the 'Swinging Saloon Ship.' An experimental cross-channel steamship, Bessemer was designed with a central saloon that moved on gymbals, to counteract the motion of the ship. It was designed to eliminate seasickness. The man behind the idea was the lifelong seasickness-sufferer Sir Henry Bessemer, an avid and successful inventor. He was already well known for transforming the way that steel was made, making it stronger and cheaper, advantages that transformed structural engineering. To find out how he fared when his great mind turned to the maritime world Dr Sam Willis spoke with Zach Schieferstein from the Lloyd's Register Heritage & Education Centre.
Filming The World's Best Ship Models: Stockholm24:51This episode looks at Llloyd’s Register Foundation’s new project Maritime Innovation in Miniature which is one of the most exciting maritime heritage projects of recent years and a leader in terms of innovation in the maritime heritage field. The aim of the project is to film the world’s best ship models. They are removed from their protective glass cases and filmed in studio conditions with the very latest camera equipment. In particular, the ships are filmed using a macro probe lens, which offers a unique perspective and extreme close up shots. It allows the viewer to get up close and personal with the subject, whilst maintaining a bug-eyed wide angle image. This makes the models appear enormous - simply put, it's a way of bringing the ships themselves back to life.Ship models are a hugely under-appreciated, under-valued and under-exploited resource for engaging large numbers of people with maritime history. The majority of museum-quality ship models exist in storage; those that are on display have little interpretation; few have any significant online presence at all; none have been preserved on film using modern techniques. These are exquisitely made 3D recreations of the world’s most technologically significant vessels, each with significant messages about changing maritime technology and the safety of seafarers.The ships may no longer survive…but models of them do. This project acknowledges and celebrates that fact by bringing them to life with modern technology, in a way that respects and honours the art of the original model makers and the millions of hours of labour expended to create this unparalleled historical resource.This episode looks in particular at the extraordinary models that were filmed in 2022 at the Swedish National Maritime Museum in Stockholm.
The Royal Navy at the time of the Great Fire of London34:15The 1660s were a time of great turmoil in England. In 1666 the great fire of London had destroyed much of the country’s capital and just a year earlier the great plague had killed a fifth of the city’s population. In amongst this chaos the new King, Charles II, recently restored to the throne after the English Civil War, began to build an extraordinary navy. From the mid-seventeenth century onwards the capabilities of seapower dramatically and exponentially increased. European powers began to take up permanent positions in foreign countries laying the foundations for the subsequent colonialism that shaped the modern world. Whilst they vied for control of the new global trade that linked east with west, that rivalry led to some of the largest-scale fleet battles ever fought. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Richard Endsor, a world-renowned historian who has has dedicated his life to studying the structures and building processes of seventeenth century ships. Richard has written several award winning books including The Master Shipwright’s Secrets for which he was awarded the prestigious Anderson Medal for the best maritime book published in 2020.
Maritime Scarborough26:11This episode looks at the extraordinary maritime history of Scarborough, a port town on the UK's northeastern coast. Famed for its medieval herring fair that features in Simon and Garfunkel's 1960s version of the traditional English ballad 'Scarborough Fair' it has a lesser known but significant maritime history. Once one of the largest shipbuilding ports in the country, Scarborough had no fewer than twelve yards on its seafront, with supporting rope and sailmaking businesses in the town. Scarborough-built ships have travelled the world encountering pirates and transporting convicts. The fame of the town attracted huge numbers of people from a variety of backgrounds: Scottish 'Herring Lasses' travelled down from the north to work in the booming North Sea herring industry, whilst rich gentleman travelled up from the south to catch enormous tuna and the town became Britain's first seaside resort. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Mark Veysey from the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre.
The Titanic Inquiry 5: Annie Robinson12:34In this the final episode of our dramatisation of witness testimony from the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry, we hear from Annie Robinson. Annie was a First Class Stewardess and one of only three women interviewed at the inquiry. She was asleep when Titanic collided with the iceberg - and this was the second time she had been on a vessel that had collided with an iceberg. Annie led her charges to safety and escaped herself but was troubled for the rest of her life by her experience and ultimately committed suicide by jumping overboard another vessel just two years later.
The Titanic Inquiry 4: Charles Lightoller39:53We continue our dramatisation of witness testimony given at the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry into the Titanic disaster. Today we hear from Charles Lightoller, Titanic's second officer and the most senior officer to survive the disaster. Lightoller is a fascinating character. By the age of 21 he had survived a shipwreck, a cyclone and a shipboard fire. Lightoller was a major focus for both the British and American inquiries. During the Wreck Commissioner’s Enquiry, Lightoller was called to the stand three times over the same number of days and was asked 2951 questions. His testimony is greatly detailed and provides numerous fascinating glimpses into the disaster and its aftermath.
Great Sea Fights 11: Leyte Gulf29:55The battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 was the largest naval encounter in history and the most decisive naval battle of the Pacific War. By its end the Japanese navy had been eliminated as an effective fighting force and resorted to using suicide attacks.The battle was a huge, sprawling affair - not one battle but in fact four separate naval battles - each with its own distinctive characteristics. To understand how it all fitted together requires a birds-eye view.To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke to Mark Stille, retired Commander in the United States Navy and naval historian. Mark is the author of the new book Leyte Gulf: A New History of the World's Largest Sea Battle.
Admiral Lord Nelson, Trafalgar and Heroic Death at Sea46:45On the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar of 1805 we look at a question that is central to the legend that grew up around the events of October 1805. How did a naval officer end up with a state funeral with no precedent for someone who was not a member of the Royal Family? How was death perceived in the Royal Navy of the Age of Sail and why did a heroic death matter so much? To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Dr Dan O'Brien, Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath.