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Ship-Keeping Trainee helps conserve HMS Victory Mast from the Battle of Trafalgar

Museum Ship-Keeping Trainee Meshellae has been helping the National Museum of the Royal Navy, to get items ready for public display when the new Victory Gallery opens.

Here’s a first-hand account of what she’s been working on lately…

My name is Meshellae Payne and I am one of the Museum Ship-Keeping Trainees with National Historic Ship’s Shipshape Heritage Training Programme.

I have been on a placement with the National Museum of the Royal Navy since January 2020, and have worked with various departments to gain experience with different areas of historic vessel conservation.

While at the National Museum of the Royal Navy I’ve gotten the chance to work with the riggers and shipwrights on their projects to recreate the rigging for HMS Warrior’s mizzen mast, work with the conservation team to create an Integrated Pest Management plan for HMS Warrior, and help the collections department with packing and transporting objects.

The project that I have spent most of my time working on during this placement has been the conservation of a cut of HMS Victory’s mast from the battle of Trafalgar.

The mast is on loan from Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection with thanks to Royal Collection Trust and is set to be included in the newly refurbished Victory Gallery exhibition.

It is an extraordinary piece of history, with one of its most impressive features being a cannonball hole that was made during the battle. The cannonball shot straight through the mast, leaving a gaping hole that brilliantly demonstrates the destructive capabilities of cannon. My task has been to clean and consolidate the mast in order to prepare it for transport and display in the Victory Gallery.

I began by dry cleaning the cut using smoke sponges and makeup sponges, in order to remove surface dust.

Next, I went around the mast, cleaning it using a 1:10 volume solution of Synperonic A7 in water. Synperonic A7 is a mild conservation detergent used to remove ground in grime. After this first round of wet-cleaning was completed I consolidated the mast, making sure any loose fragments were adhered to prevent anything falling off when it was set upright by NMRN’s riggers.

Thankfully the lift went forward smoothly, allowing me to begin my second round of wet-cleaning, again using the Synperonic A7 solution.

When I first used this method, the difference was minimal, but after the mast had been set upright I found it was much more effective. This may be because I am now able to go with the grain of the wood more easily.

The process is still slow going, as the grime layer is quite stubborn and there a few areas where the paint is especially fragile and chipping away (which is why it’s best to make up cotton buds for the cleaning process), but it is definitely worth it to reveal original paint layer and allow visitors to see the colour similarities with Victory’s current masts.

As my placement comes to a close, I am extremely grateful to have had a chance to work on these projects and to have gained substantial experience with conserving historic vessels.

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