Monday, November 19, 2012

CSMM + RCN = Interesting Connections

As those famously humorous Pythons from across the pond have said, "And now for something completely different!" What was it that we thought our blog readers would "wheely" like to read about? Why it's one of our favorite artifacts: a ship's wheel that is more than a century old!

Just like the comedic troupe, the wheel can trace its origins back to Britain, where the ship called the Niobe was built and then commissioned in 1898. From there, she sailed westward in 1910 to her new home in Canada where she became one of the first two warships of the Royal Canadian Navy. There she was re-commissioned as the HMCS Niobe. 

The ship was only in service for ten years, largely due to the fact that she and her crew had the misfortune of being docked in Halifax when the famous Halifax Harbor Explosion occurred in 1917. Almost two thousand people in the area were killed, including many of the Niobe's crew. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (part of the Nova Scotia Museum) has more information about the explosion on their website, as well as a link to digitized images of the "Remembrance Book" of those killed in the explosion. Below is an example of one of the pages that lists Niobe crew fatalities. Also check out the MMA's "Halifax Explosion" webpage for more interesting insight into the tragic event.

The Canadian War Museum's website also has some great information about Canadian Naval history. Check out their "Objects and Photographs" page for photos of the Niobe, her crew and more. That museum displays the ship's wheel from the Rainbow. She's the ship that shares the Niobe's distinction as being one of the first two ships of the Royal Canadian Navy.

How then did the Niobe wheel end up in the Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum? After her somewhat short career in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Niobe was towed to Philadelphia in 1920 and broken up for scrap in 1922. The Merchantville Country Club acquired the wheel and kept it in their clubhouse until 2010, when it was then loaned to our museum for permanent display. One of our own very dedicated board members, Frank Foord took on the task of building a stand for the Niobe wheel and will be working on completing the esthetic details soon. Michael Lang, Larry Coslow, Kevin Castagnola, and the folks at Urban BoatWorks and Americorps were also instrumental in what Mr. Foord calls the "trucking and manhandling logistics." We appreciate all of their efforts!

Mr. Foord has a special connection to the Niobe wheel as well as maritime history, as he too served in the Royal Canadian Navy! We truly appreciate the time and effort Mr. Foord has spent on the acquisition of the wheel and the construction of its stand. We look forward to the day when the museum's own construction is complete and the Niobe wheel has a permanent place of honor for all to come and see!

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