Skip to content

By Merel van der Vaart on

Oar-some Boats!

I’m James Fenner, a PhD student at the Science Museum researching the models, figures and displays in the former British Small Craft Exhibit.  Now that the gallery has closed (after nearly 50 years) I thought I should share with you some of its highlights.

I recently told you about the tiny gun-punt model that was on show in the British Small Craft exhibit at  the Science Museum, now closed to make way for a major new gallery on communications. Today, I’ve got three models from the sea boats display to show you: the cutter, gig and lifeboat.

The sea boat models (cutter, gig and lifeboat) formerly shown on the mezzanine of the Shipping Gallery (Image: Science Museum)

The cutter model represents the general utility boat used by the Navy and carried on their warships at the beginning of twentieth century. The label explains that it is clincher-built (overlapping plank construction) and ‘is very much heavier, both in design and construction than a gig.’

Detail of the cutter (Image: Science Museum)

It goes on to say that it was pulled by 12 oars, six aside with each oar equalling one man.  But if you look closely at the model you see that it actually has seven rowlocks down each side making 14 in total, not 12.  This model, along with the gig, was lent to the museum by a Lieutenant Colonel H Wyllie in 1934.

Detail of the gig (Image: Science Museum)

In comparison, the gig (as a boat type) was lightly built using the carvel building method (plank edges fused together side-by-side) creating fine lines for speed. This model represents a captain’s gig used in the Navy at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Because it was a more elegant and lightly built craft it needed fewer men to pull it along, hence the six visible metal rowlocks – three on each side.

Detail of the ship’s lifeboat and the ‘davits’ (Image: Science Museum)

This model of a ship’s lifeboat is shown ‘on davits of a quadrant type, patented by Mr A. Welin in 1900’ as the accompanying label explains.  Axel Welin was a Swedish inventor and industrialist who founded his own engineering firm, the Welin Davit & Engineering Company Ltd.  The model shows his quadrant design for the davits – with the horizontal mechanism movement – which meant that a life boat like this could be lowered quickly and safely over the side of a ship in an evacuation.

 I’ve one more British Small Craft story to share with you – watch out for my final post.