Maritime tales - bowling along

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photo of three bowls featuring sailing ships

Commemorative bowls from our maritime collection. Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo.

Commemorative bowls and plates are something which I, Stephen Guy, like to study as they record moments in time while serving a useful purpose. With billowing sails, ships set off across the seven seas to make contact with distant lands and cultures. These ships are depicted on beautiful Liverpool delftware bowls and other pottery at Merseyside Maritime Museum. They are from the great age of sail when anything and everything seemed possible as Britain’s sea power expanded.

'Success to the John' says one, showing a three-master with flags and a long pennant streaming in the wind. Cannons point menacingly across a blue-green sea. By contrast, 'Success to the Dolphin' shows a small single-masted cutter on a choppy sea.

Others are long-vanished vessels with evocative names such as Nancy (the right-hand bowl of the three shown), Blundell (the centre bowl), Fanny, William and Mary, St Peter, Felicity, Eagle, King George, Thomas and Hannah and Lucy.

These are among the exhibits of delftware (tin-glazed earthenware) and Liverpool porcelain. Often made to commemorate successful voyages, the ships are depicted in full rig, most are flying the red ensign and the prominent colour is blue. Liverpool became a major centre for the production of delftware during the 18th century. As many as a dozen factories were probably in production by the middle of the century.

Bowls were used for many purposes in the 18th century – for holding fruit, flowers, potpourri or punch, a popular drink of the time. The town’s famous Herculaneum pottery produced a variety of wares including creamware, porcelain and stoneware.

On display are several commemorative busts of the leading naval heroes of the day that would have adorned homes of the period.  Busts of the legendary Admiral Lord Nelson date from between 1800 and his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Two other admirals depicted are John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent (1735 – 1823) and Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan (1731 – 1804). Jervis joined the navy at just 13 and had victories in the French Revolutionary War before being created an admiral in 1795. He defeated the Spanish off Cape St Vincent in 1797. Duncan was also made an admiral in 1795. He was a man of great presence who inspired loyalty in his men and this contributed to his decisive defeat of the Dutch fleet at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.