To provide an insight into the range of objects the Scottish Maritime Museum has in their collection, I will be using this blog to share the stories of some of the objects I encounter during the Collections Review.
The first object I have chosen is this figurehead from the “Ellen and Mary”, which I came across whilst looking at the loan documentation for a related item.
Figureheads have a long and interesting history, having been used on ships since prehistoric times, with the practice continuing in many seafaring civilisations. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time when many European navies were expanding, figureheads became ever more ornate. However, it was only in the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that it became common for figureheads to reflect the name of a vessel. One of the main reasons for this was to help those who could not read to identify ships. Prior to this, the most popular figurehead across much of Europe was the lion. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, new ship designs led to the use of figureheads vastly declining as there was no longer an obvious place to put them.
This figurehead was loaned to the Scottish Maritime Museum by the Ayr branch of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen in 1990. A national charity, the Fishermen’s Mission has worked for over 130 years to help fishermen and their families.
The museum was unsure as to which ship the figurehead belonged to however, until it was featured in an article about the Museum in The Herald in 1992. This resulted in a letter from a Mr. MacCallum who recognised the figurehead as belonging to the “Ellen and Mary”. He explained that the vessel had been skippered by Captain David McGuffie and upon retiring he had beached her in front of his house in Port William. He had then removed all that he could, including the figurehead, which he put on a pole in his garden as a reminder of his time at sea.
In the 1970s, Captain McGuffie gave the figurehead to Mr. MacCallum who restored the figurehead, including giving it a new nose from a mould of his wife’s, and then gifted it to the Fishermen’s Mission.
Today, the figurehead is on display in the Museum alongside several others, and is a reminder of the affection and pride that seamen have for the vessels on which they sail.