Bone Model Ship
This is a model of a 74 gun ship which was built around the beginning of the 19th century. The model is made of bleached white bone.
This was a very common type of warship during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
This period was the era of the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and the slightly later Napoleonic Wars. Consequently the British Navy had a real demand for warships.
During this period these models were incredibly common and were often painstakingly constructed
This model, named 'Cesar', is roughly 65 centimetres (about 2 feet) long and is made almost entirely of bleached white bone. As mentioned above, the real-life warships of this period had 74 guns. The model in question has 78, but this was usual for the models of this period. It was common to exaggerate the features of the ship, but this is part of an overall attention to detail that has set this genre apart.
Further examples of detail can be seen in the accuracy of the rigging. All the different types of ropework (shrouds, cables and hawsers) and the actual form of the running and standing rigging have been faithfully reproduced. Fine decorative carving can be seen on the figurehead, the quarter-gallery and the stern of the ship and even on the railings of the fighting-tops.
A further feature of this model is its base which is boxwood, inlaid with walnut and mahogany, and has a boxwood and ivory balustrade. In addition there is a cord coming out of the side that runs up into the ship and operates the gun retracting mechanism.
This model, donated to Dover Museum in the late 19th century, is reputed to have been made in Dover Castle by a French prisoner of war in about 1802.
An interesting, albeit probably apocryphal, story says the model was unfinished at the time of the short-lived Peace of Amiens in 1802 and so, rather than be repatriated, the prisoner stayed on in the Castle to finish it off. By the time he had done so, Britain and France had resumed hostilities!
READING : Ewart C. Freeston : Prisoner-of-War Ship Models 1775 - 1825; Nautical Publishing Company Ltd. (Lymington, 1973)