Monday 29 June 2020

Jeux avec des galères anciennes : del II

Seeing as how my hobby-horses, coins, cockle-shells, drums, trumpets, fiddles, pallets, maggots and butterflies have been parading across the blog, I thought it would be interesting to show some examples of old-time model ships. Not an exhaustive survey but some interesting snippets.


Often dismissed as toys or throw-away votive offerings, there are many surviving clay models of ships from antiquity. There are also many wooden models from ancient Egypt and northern europe of the Dark Ages.

Aya Napa clay galley : Cyprus 6th cen BC

Some have holes for masts and can float so they are likely to have been toys.

Others are definitely votives found in temples or grave chambers.

Sailing a soul to paradise?

The Erment ship could be a votive but it is crudely made. It is painted, so it was an object for viewing, whIlst it could never float!


Not the ones they were kepr in...

Prisoners kept in England were allowed to earn money by selling toys and models they made from wood and often from meat bones.Many of the ships that survive are far better than simple toys - they are expertly made.

Just a hull remains of this example : at Launceston Museum HERE

The detail is superb.. earning money and passing the time for the prisoner. Today they are eagerly collected and worth a bomb.

Ship in mirrored case : ship is 25cm long : Sold at auction HERE

Amazing detail.


An unsung hero of the Napoleonic war at sea is a Scotchman, John Clerk of Eldin. In 1782 he published a pamphlet on naval tactics. Clerk was  a man of many parts - including geologist, he even worked with James Hutton ! - but he was not a naval man, so the chances of his ideas getting noticed by such a conservative profession were slight. One problem hindering the promotion of his ideas was that he considered them so important that they should not get into French hands - therefore they were not widely circulated. Clerk's idea was that an attacking fleet could disrupt an enemy fleet and defeat it by focussing effort on one point in the line. The prevailing idea was that two lines produced a series of duels between matched ships. His pamphlet, 'An Inquiry into Naval Tactics' (Edinburgh, 1782) came into the hands of Captain, later admiral and lord, Rodney, and many other influential naval officers. Rodney even demonstrated Clerk's ideas using cherry stones at a dinner in the 1780's.

Better than cherry stones!  Clerk's models : from MM article

Study of late 18.century naval actions reveals Clerks influence in at least 6 actions. No less an officer than Nelson admired Clerk's idea and Hardy recorded that Nelson encouraged his captains to read them.
As is often the case, Clerk died before receiving recognition for his contribution to naval tactics and his work has been forgotten since. Jim Tildsley of the Scottish Maritime Museum has unearthed Clerk's story in a fascnating article in Mariners's Mirror (MM106:2 May2020, 162-4)

Amongst his discoveries, Tildesley found that model ships survive with Clerk's family, which he used to demonstrate his ideas. There were two sets of ships, made in light and dark wax with simple sticks pushed into them to show masts.

from Tildesleys MM article


This is a fantastic piece of logical anachronism from the film Cleopatra. As well as the large scale models beinfg used to stage the Battle of Actium, along with two or three full-size 'war-galleys', there are scenes on Cleopatra's flagship where the commanders are watching the action being plotted out on a beautiful 'marble' table.
'I was up all night painting these ..'

Ships models are moved as the fleets move, and then , as each galley is lost it is set on fire by a flunky so the course of the action can be followed.
Double 6 ! Octavian is finished !!
This is a great idea. Technically possible to have been done and it looks the part. What such a system probably lacked was some form of telescope or the view of the whole battle would have been difficult without a system of runners .. but that is not th epoint with such films. It looks fantastic and it makes the point of the doom of Antony's fleet brilliantly.

'How is the wind for Egypt?'...