(A post from Heather Noel-Smith on the Explore Your Archives event that she was lucky enough to participate in at The National Archives last week.)
It was a good experience sharing the Indefatigable 1797 muster as part of the Explore Your Archives event at The National Archives last weekend.
The muster book, like all the documents being shown, was “hidden” in an archive box and the idea was that visitors could open the boxes and lift the documents out to read and handle them. It turned out that many people felt nervous about doing this and I had to keep reassuring them that it really was allowed – at least this once!
I had also taken along the working copy of the muster that Lorna and I use, which is a slightly enlarged copy, annotated with lots of tiny post-it labels, as well as some images of the Indefatigable in action, portraits of Sir Edward Pellew and those members of the midshipmen’s berth whom we have found portraits of – sadly not many.
Alongside this were copies of some of Forrester’s Hornblower novels and some stills from the ITV Meridian television production and the earlier 1951 film, Captain Horatio Hornblower, starring Gregory Peck. These I think drew people’s eyes and resulted in several conversations about how, in many cases, the true life stories are every bit as dramatic and dashing as the fictional, if not more so.
One of the best comments made, for me, was from a visitor who, on seeing the rating and re-rating of some of the young gentlemen and hearing about the way in which Pellew moved them between ships in the squadron remarked “Now there was a man who knew about training – a man ahead of his time”. It was great to hear someone really appreciating the role Sir Edward Pellew played in these young men’s lives.
In all about eighty visitors took part in the day as a whole and I hope it is an experiment that the archive might repeat in some form or another sometime soon.