Tuesday, February 05, 2008




24 Hour Museum
February 04, 2008

A replica of the Drebbel Submarine, which
originally dated to the early 1600s, and
used oar power. © National Maritime
Museum Cornwall.

Exhibition Preview – Under the Sea – ongoing at The National Maritime Museum Cornwall

It is said that the under sea world is as strange and inhospitable as outer space. Little wonder then that we have gone to extraordinary lengths to train our bodies and invent all types of equipment just to explore it.

Now the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall is launching its own exploration of this fascinating environment with an exhibition called Under the Sea. Exploring the fascinating underwater world of shipwrecks, diving, submarines, physiology, underwater warfare and photography the new exhibition promises to get you as close to the underwater world as possible – without getting wet.

One of the key exhibits is a replica of the very first submarine designed in 1620 by Cornelius Drebbel. Made of wood, this four-oared, underwater rowing machine is the beginning of a journey that focuses on the advancement of technology in submarines and submersibles, that plumbs the murky depths of everything from underwater exploration to sub-aqua warfare.

Visitors can climb inside a bell and chamber to see for themselves how time has enabled new advancements in technology and allowed greater deep-sea exploration.

Underwater warfare is also a key element of the exhibition and visitors can examine a 1930s Italian Mark 1 human torpedo, otherwise known as a Siluro a lenta corsa (SLC or slow-speed torpedo). These manned torpedoes were used in one of the most daring missions ever conducted by the Italian submersible fleet during WW2.

In 1941 the torpedoes and their crews were carried through the minefields of the Mediterranean by submarine and deployed just outside Alexandria harbour in Egypt. Navigating through the cold water, the manned chariots found their way inside the enemy harbour and disabled two of the most powerful ships in the British fleet.

Much like the early days of submarines, the genesis of people diving the depths of the ocean with breathing apparatus began in the 1600s and the exhibition takes an in-depth look at this phenomenon. Displays include an early diving bell as used in Falmouth Docks, a hyperbaric chamber and a number of valuable objects showing early diving compared to today’s modern technology.

As befits a museum in a county boasting its own champion free diver, the Cornish museum also explores the world of diving underwater without breathing apparatus. The history of this unusual sport also dates back centuries and hands-on exhibits examine the amazing pearl and sponge divers of Korea and Japan and how they contrast with the growing sport of today.

Apart from its nautical traditions, one of the reasons Cornwall has such a strong connection to diving is the abundance of shipwrecks that dot the coastline – it is currently estimated that there are over 3,000 wrecks off the south Cornish coast alone.

Highlighted are a few of the most famous wrecks with some rare and previously unseen artefacts. From the Flying Enterprise saga, including stunning artefacts retrieved from the wreck to the stories of the SS Mohegan, Cita, Anson, Association and Suevic the exhibit shows the truth behind shipwrecks and the challenges of salvage.

One of the great pioneers of underwater exploration and sport diving also gets a look in with a celebration of the great underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. A huge icon in the diving world, Cousteau and his adventures are celebrated through film footage and objects for his studies of the sea and the life within it.

For many it was Cousteau that really opened up the world of under sea exploration and a number of award winning images by underwater photographers Alex Mustard and Mark Webster are displayed within the exhibition to bring home the wonder and beauty of the underwater world. Offering a fish eye view, the images illustrate the range of colours, the richness of our wildlife and the leisure element of our seas.

Alongside the images are objects chronologically charting the development of underwater photography such as the Calypsophot, developed for Jacques Cousteau’s underwater research group, which featured in the Bond thriller Thunderball and an early Rolleiflex camera from 1951.

The exhibition closes by looking at climate change and the Wave Hub project - a groundbreaking renewable energy project in the South West that aims to create the UK's first offshore facility for wave energy generation.

Timed to coincide with the launch of Wave Hub activities in 2008 and touching on this new technology, Under the Sea explores the plans for using the sea’s natural abilities to solve today’s energy crisis.


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