Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Chesapeake, to the Bone

Editor's preface: Although it is the home of the annual Brick by Brick Lego model shipbuilding event, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s gallery features the fruits of traditional model shipwright labor in wood and metal, both builder’s models made as a guide for the construction of full-size vessels, and miniature recreations of vessels long gone. For a select few, model shipbuilding of this caliber is a profession. For many thousands, it is an enjoyable hobby. Within the obscure recesses of the history of this pursuit we find a dark chapter; one populated by hundreds of unwilling artisans who were prisoners of the British during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. By 1814, more than 72,000 prisoners languished aboard hulks or in dungeon-like "depots" such as Dartmoor, which held more than 5,000 Americans by early 1815.

Model shipbuilding was not merely a leisurely pastime for these poor souls as they filled the empty hours of their confinement. British regulations allowed prisoners to make and sell items to make their lives more tolerable, as long as the raw materials did not come from the depot's supplies. Thus the fruits of their labor, most crafted from scraps of wood and festooned with ornately carved beef and mutton bones, helped ensure their very survival.

An advertisement for the International Maritime Museum in Hamburg, Germany, shows off their largest and most ornate model, proclaiming it "Unique!" (Manfred Stein, Prisoner of War Bone Ship Models, 2015)
The Internationales Maritimes Museum in Hamburg, Germany, possesses 31 of the approximately 510 ghostly-looking bone models from that period known to exist. Its largest model, the 144-centimeter-long Chesapeake, depicts a ship with a storied connection to Hampton Roads.  It was presumed by bone ship model expert Manfred Stein, based upon the model's original provenance, to have been made by American prisoners, probably at Dartmoor, and presented to the widow of her ill-fated last American captain, James Lawrence.

That is, until our senior docent took a close look at the model.

By J. Huntington Lewis
HRNM Docent & Contributing Writer

Several years ago, I came across a photo of the stern of a very large whalebone model of the United States Frigate Chesapeake that was at The Internationales Maritimes Museum in Hamburg, Germany. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum requested additional photographs, and Mr. Stein kindly provided some snapshots he had taken, as well as a few selected from his book Prisoner of War Bone Ship Models from the Age of the Napoleonic Wars (2015). 

The bone model of the frigate Chesapeake.  Note the plaque at the corner of the display case (closeup below). (Courtesy of Manfred Stein)
The original plaque accompanying the bone model Chesapeake. (Courtesy of Manfred Stein)
Little is known about the provenance of the model except that the a member of The Nautical Research Guild, the ship modeling society, wrote that “The model was made by US POWs in 1813 and given to the widow of Captain James ‘Don't Give up the Ship’ Lawrence after the war.” Mr. Stein, in response to a question from the Guild, said:
I don't know how they brought the model from England to America in the early-1800s, nor do I know how the model came back to London, England, where it was bought by [museum owner Peter Tamm] in 1975. A note accompanying the model and its certificate of authenticity stated “Almost certainly made by American Prisoners of War circa 1813,” The model was in a very bad shape at that time shape at the time, was brought to Hamburg, and years later it was restored by a restorer.

To the left we see the bone model Chesapeake (courtesy of Manfred Stein), while on the right is a detail of a painting by American artist James E. Buttersworth, circa 1815, showing USS Chesapeake's stern during her battle with HMS Shannon on June 1, 1813.  (Courtesy of Joseph Vallejo, Vallejo Gallery, Newport Beach, California)
The decorations on the stern just didn't seem right to me, since the earliest paintings of the engagement between the Chesapeake and Shannon show much less embellishment. I wondered also if American prisoners could acquire the skill to build such a model within the year of their capture by HMS Shannon
The Chesapeake bone model's eagle figurehead. (Courtesy of Manfred Stein)
I later found that some of the early American warships were heavily decorated. One such ship was the frigate United States, as featured in the article "Celebrated Figureheads" by H.D. Smith, in the August 1904 edition of The United Service-A Monthly Review of Military and Naval Affairs. The Chesapeake model has the figurehead of an eagle, but, according to a thoroughly researched article by Eugene H. Pool, “The Frigate Chesapeake” in The Mariner, The Quarterly Journal of the Rhode Island Ship Model Society (1937), the USF Chesapeake did not have a figurehead. 
William James in his Inquiry into Principal Naval Actions between Great Britain and the United States (1816) published by Anthony H. Holland at the Arcadian Recorder's Office, Halifax, mentions that “her outward appearance was much improved in England by giving her a figurehead.” 

But what figurehead?

By chance in continuing research on the USF Chesapeake prisoners, I was lucky enough to find a genealogy blog by Dennis Segelquist entitled “Civil War Days and Those Surnames” which has a long post by British researcher Martin Bibbing dealing with the mystery of the Chesapeake's figurehead. Bibbing reported:
I have also previously come across another contradictory reference to Chesapeake’s figurehead which doesn’t square with my previous understanding.... A book entitled Hampshire Treasures (1982) … has the following: “The figurehead of the Chesapeake was also to be found in the area (near Wickcombe, Hampshire, at Arford House) ...The figurehead of the Chesapeake, which was captured by the Shannon, was formerly on a summer house at the top of the garden - it was a bird, perhaps an eagle, and a portion of it was said to be part of a lamp bracket in the house. When the 'Chesapeake' was broken up, the figurehead was bought by Mr Ewsters, who was then building (or living in) Arford House.”
In researching what happened to the American prisoners, I found an illustration which indicates that the USF Chesapeake had two stars on her transom.
According to the 1866 book Admiral Sir P.V.B. Broke: A Memoir, edited by John George Brighton, the "S" within the star above the figurehead, seen here on display at Broke Hall (home to the man who commanded HMS Shannon to victory over USF Chesapeake), was the only survivor of the two stars (the "U" having been shot away during the battle) that once graced the transom of USF Chesapeake

The transom of the model has two bearded reclining men. A reclining bearded man is the allegorical symbol of a river god. The Shannon is an Irish river. The Chesapeake, correctly a bay, could be considered a very large river. The wreath on the transom is a symbol of victory. Opposing nations brought together are frequently represented by crossed flags. Taken as a whole, I believe the transom decorations are an allegorical reference to the victory of the Shannon over the Chesapeake and could have been added only by the British when they were repairing the Chesapeake.

Chesapeake bone model stern. (Courtesy of Manfred Stein)
The whale bone model of the Chesapeake has an eagle figurehead, and the transom decorations appear to be an allegory of HMS Shannon's battle with the Chesapeake.  Therefore it is a reasonable conjecture that model is of HMS Chesapeake, the repaired former-USF Chesapeake.  Even if there were American prisoners from the USF Chesapeake at Dartmoor (which is very doubtful because they were imprisoned at Melville Island, Halifax, Nova Scotia or returned to the United States in cartel vessels) who had the skill to build the model, they would not know of the installation of the eagle figurehead or the different stern decorations. 

The museum plaque had to have been added some time after the model was built.  It was not made by the builder. The error in the provenance was quite understandable, given that model had "Chesapeake" carved on its stern. The assumption would be that it was of the more famous defeated USF Chesapeake, rather the HMS Chesapeake. It is also reasonable to assume that the whale bone model of the Chesapeake never had occasion to cross the Atlantic.

Who built and under what circumstances the model was constructed may never be known, but it is truly one of the world's most magnificent ship models. So truly the model isn’t the USF Chesapeake, but is still the Chesapeake

Editor's Postscript: The February 2018 Hafencity Zeitung story, "The Secret of the 'Chesapeake': Collaboration with American Colleagues Leads to New Insights," gives Hunt Lewis credit for his helping Manfred Stein reassess the bone model Chesapeake's provenance. Although the story was published in German, it is easily translatable.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Plastic Ships, Plastic Seas, Real Competition at Brick by Brick 2018

Master at Arms 1st Class Michael Moseley, a volunteer judge for the seventh annual Brick by Brick: Lego Shipbuilding competition held at the Decker Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center in downtown Norfolk, points out details near the bow of the riverboat “The Bricktopia,” the largest model entered in the competition, as the other judges, Norfolk Naval Shipyard engineer Mark Anderson (to Moseley’s right in blue T-shirt), and Hampton Roads Naval Museum Exhibits Specialist Don Darcy (in red T-shirt to Anderson’s right) look on.  Bricktopia’s creator Jett Starcher of Gloucester, Virginia, watching the proceedings at far right, spent around 200 hours on the 8 foot-long model, which was made from approximately 20,000 Lego bricks.  (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Last Saturday, 3,116 visitors and volunteers converged on the Hampton Roads Naval Museum's Seventh Annual "Brick by Brick: LEGO Shipbuilding" event, held at the Decker Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center in Downtown Norfolk. Over 150 of them entered their ships into the event's shipbuilding contest, which was divided by age classes and by whether the models were made at the museum or at home. If the models were made outside the museum using parts provided by the builder, they were judged in the "Home-Built" section, while models made between 10 am and 2 pm (the judging deadline) at the event with parts provided by the museum were judged in the "Museum-Made" section. HRNM Education Director Laura Orr pointed out that nearly 100 volunteers, many of them active duty members of the United States Navy, helped make the event such a success. “We could not have done it without them,” she said.
At the Brick-by-Brick check-in area, Rear Adm. Ann Phillips (Ret.), a volunteer from the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation, admires the handiwork of Matthew Hoecker, holding his model "USS Missouri," while his mother Patty (behind Matthew) and little brother Lucas look on. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
During the inaugural Brick by Brick in 2012, said Orr, nearly 800 people showed up, jamming the 6000-square-foot museum, located on the second floor of Nauticus, to the hilt. “I have no idea how we fit them all in,” she said. Year by year, the event grew to encompass the entire second floor of Nauticus, then parts of the first floor as well. As attendance climbed upward, it became obvious that the event was bigger than even Nauticus itself could handle, so the event moved to the first floor of the Half Moone in 2015. This expanded the amount of space three-fold, but two years later, even this wasn’t enough. It was at that point that plans were made to take over the entire cruise terminal and event center for 2018.
The Make-a-Ship area of Brick by Brick 2018 took up most of the top floor of the Decker Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center in downtown Norfolk on Saturday, February 3, more than four times the space it had in years past. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
In the non-competitive Make-a-Ship area of Brick by Brick, Yvonne Galle-Bishop of Carrolton, Virginia takes a picture of her daughter Kaytlin (right), and her friend Angie Hayes with the model of USS Cumberland that have just completed. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
According to HRNM Deputy Education Director Elijah Palmer, preparations for Brick by Brick 2018 began only two days after the 2017 event ended, starting with a “lessons learned” lunch. Narrowing down the designs for the event’s new “Make-a-Ship” models began in May. “We wanted to do something related to the Vietnam War as it’s the 50th anniversary of that conflict,” said Palmer, “but it is also the centennial of World War I, so that also had to be taken into consideration.”
Liam West, 10, prepares to release the Mindstorms robot he has just programmed under the guidance of Sreekanth Ravindran, a NASA Langley post-doctoral researcher volunteering with the FIRST Lego League at Brick by Brick 2018. West went on to earn second place in his age category for the Built at Home portion of the shipbuilding competition. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
As in years past, many sponsors also came together to support the yearly event, including the National Maritime Center Nauticus, the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation, the Historic Naval Ships Association, the Hampton Roads Lego User Group (HARDLUG), the FIRST Lego League (VA-DC), Engineering for Kids, and the newest sponsor, Brickheadz Enrichment Center of Chesapeake, Virginia, which provided the event’s newest section, a “sensory room” to accommodate Lego enthusiasts with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Neil Newlin, also from Gloucester, Virginia, brought back his scale Lego model of USCGC Tornado, which won the 17-and-older division last year, as an exhibit model. Joining Newlin’s marvelous modern model is a new model he made of an older experimental Revenue Service Cutter from the Civil War era, USRC Naugatuck, which exchanged fire with CSS Virginia while commissioned under the name E.A. Stephens as a part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. She also bombarded Sewells’ point while it was under Confederate control.

Also returning to exhibit his intricate large-scale Lego models was photo archivist David Colamaria of the Naval History and Heritage Command, who debuted his six-foot-long model of the cruiser Boston (CA 69), which joined his squadron of vessels, which included USS Lexington (CV 2) and USS Indianapolis (CA 35).

The Winners

Category: Home-Built

In the 17-and-older division, Jett Starcher of Gloucester recaptured the top tier title this year with his eight-and-a-half foot-long riverboat called “The Bricktopia,” complete with a rotating paddle wheel. The model, made up of approximately 20,000 pieces, took about 200 hours to create.

Ages 17+

1st place: "The Bricktopia," by Jett Starcher.

2nd place: "Belfast," by Justin Groth.
Joshua Stubbs with his age bracket-winning entry, "The Rusted Destroyer." (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Ages 13-16

1st place: "The Rusted Destroyer," by Joshua S.

2nd place: "Shinebright," by Dallas M.

Ages 10-12

1st place: "SS Rhino," by Daniel N.

2nd place: "Monitor," by Liam W.

Emerson Duplisea pauses in front of his winning entry in the 7 to 9 year-old bracket of the Home-Built category, "LST-93."  "His dad is a real military history buff," said his mother, Rebekah Duplisea, "and Emerson became very interested in the ships that took part in D-Day." (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Ages 7-9

1st place: "LST-93 ," by Emerson D.

2nd place: "Landonator," by Landon F. 

Six-year-old Victor Nenov, 6, receives an award from Hampton Roads Naval Museum Education Director Laura Orr for his entry, “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine,” which won first place in the 4 to 6 year-old division of the “built at home” category of the seventh annual Brick by Brick: Lego Shipbuilding competition as Deputy Education Director Elijah Palmer looks on. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)

Ages 4-6

1st place: "We All Live in the Yellow Submarine," by Victor N.

2nd place: "A.S.P.," by Elliot J.

HRNM Educator Joseph Miechle, Coast Guard Chief Electronics Technician Neil Newlin, and Russ Babcock of the Hampton Roads Lego User Group judge model ships made at the Decker Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center on February 3. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)    

Category: Museum-Made

Ages 17+

1st place: "Bear Claw," by Doug C.

2nd place: "Ballistic Missile Boat," by Greye S.

Ages 13-16

1st place: "Gray Battleship," by Caleb D.

2nd place: "USS Yellow," by Ethan C.

Ages 10-12

1st place: "USS Captain Alex," by Aeke N.

2nd place: "SS Salvage" by Connor W.

Ages 7-9

1st place: "Mother-Rice," by Genevieve H.

2nd place: "Naval Coast Guard Ship," by Sankalp S. & Naina S.

Ages 4-6

1st place: "Olivia’s Dock," by Olivia L.

2nd place: "Ghostbuster Battleship," by Connor G.

Fan Favorites

Made at Home "Rock and Roll Ship" 

2nd place: "4855-194"