steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Raising the St Cuthbert

Last year, as you may remember, I transcribed my grandfather's account of being wrecked on a trans-Atlantic cargo ship in 1908. At the time, endlessrarities suggested I donate the MS to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. It took me about a year to get round to doing so, partly because I'd been working from a typescript I'd made thirty years ago and wasn't sure where the MS had got to. However, a couple of months ago my mother dug it out, and with her permission I offered it to the Museum.

For anyone steeped in children's literature, the act of Offering Something to a Museum is a well-known ritual, the various stages of which are as well established as the Mass. First, one climbs the massive marble steps, ventures through the columned entrance, and presents oneself to the uniformed attendant just beyond. There one learns that the person to see is Professor Greengrass, who is the world's expert in this area. However, he is far too busy to see you today. Far, far too busy, except--why, here is Professor Greengrass himself, who has come up the steps a few paces behind you and heard his name mentioned. "You had better bring your find to my office," he says in a vague yet avuncular way. He ushers you down some stairs and along many twisty corridors lined with cardboard boxes, stuffed dodos and the like, and at length into a ramshackle, book-lined office. Shyly you hand over your find. Until now, Prof. Greengrass's manner has been friendly but you get the impression he's been humouring you. However, the moment he sees the Object his demeanour changes. He stiffens like a pointer. He voice comes out as a whisper. "Do - you - know - what - you've - got - here?"

With the Maritime Museum I was denied these pleasures, because these days there's an online form. There's also a warning that the Museum only takes about 10% of what it's offered. Still I thought we were in with a fair chance given that (according to its acquisitions policy) they're particularly open to material deriving from people who were ordinary sailors rather than admirals or captains. My grandfather was officially Fourth Officer on the St Cuthbert, but he was also just a 19-year-old apprentice, and the ship was a rough-and-ready affair, so I think his counts as a voice of the people.

I heard nothing for seven weeks, but today received an email expressing interest and asking for more details. This is very exciting. I believe the next step, if they decide to go ahead, is for a curator to come to us rather than for us to be summoned to Greenwich. Either way, if it happens I will report back here.

I trust that any curator who comes will at least be wearing tweed.
Tags: family history, real life, st cuthbert
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