Sea transport

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Theme Convener: C. Hamilton Ellis

The great story of British shipbuilding is the subject of the “Sea and Ships” Pavilion; British discovery at sea occupies a whole section of the Dome. But there is yet another aspect of our maritime heritage which must be added if the development of our theme is to be a true one – the operating of ships.

Without the enterprise of our ship owners and their associates in the vast business of operating shipping lines, the growth of the British Commonwealth would have followed very different trends. Without a mercantile marine such as we have now, we people of Britain and our industries would starve.

This section of the “Transport” Pavilion exists for the display of the things we produce to make safe and sure the operation of ships. It is just, however, that they should be shown against a background which epitomises the rise and preeminence of our mercantile marine. Most of its great strides forward have been made well within the last hundred years.

Of all the recent developments in the business of ship operating, the coming of wireless was probably the most revolutionary. Nowadays, after his charts and compasses, the captain looks to his wireless as his prime source of necessary intelligence. News, weather, orders, distress, arrangements at the port of destination – all these go through the wireless officer.

But still the brain of the ship at sea is her bridge. Here are her compasses and the gyropilot, to steer her automatically on a selected course when she is clear of navigational hazards. Here the helmsman is at the wheel. Revolution and rudder indicators tell the bridge of the ships performance, and order telegraphs carry instructions from there to the engine-room. Examples of all such vital equipment are gathered in the bridge area of this Sea Transport section.

Below the bridge area, and hung out from the side of the Pavilion, is a modern ship’s lifeboat, built of all-welded steel and capable of carrying eighty people. Around it are grouped appliances designed to maintain safety at sea and to preserve lives. Britain has taken a leading part in framing the rules that ensure safety in the ships of all nations.

But safety at sea depends most on the charting and marking of the navigable waterways. For us this is, in short, the achievement of our hydrographers, and of Trinity House, which maintains the lighthouses, lightships and buoys, and licenses the pilots of our home waters. Essential, too, are the dredgers that keep the channels clear, and the pilot boats and the tugs that see the great ships safely to their berths.

One of our islands great natural advantages is a coastline with many natural harbours. But our industry would long since have outgrown them if the skill of our engineers had not kept pace with the growth of the ships and the enterprise of those who operate them. Lowestoft is one example of a small port where engineering works have kept the vagaries of the coastline at bay and improved our heritage.

“Sea Transport” and “Sea and Ships” together show how we live on the sea and by it. Sea routes are the lifelines of this nation, and we have no more vital spots than the docks and harbours where they terminate. Here our essential foodstuffs and raw materials are brought ashore, here the products of our commerce and industry are poured out to the world. Here, too, are the gateways of Britain for the travellers by sea. The most recent of our docks and harbours to be completed is Southampton. This we display to illustrate the complexities and the achievements of a modern meeting place of land and sea.

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