The National Maritime Museum is the largest maritime museum in the world and home to treasures such as Nelson’s Trafalgar uniform, the Caird Library and Archive and Turners's largest painting. Greenwich has been home to a naval-based art gallery since the early 1800s, but the idea for the National Maritime Museum as we recognise it dates back to 1927, when a public appeal was launched by the Society for Nautical Research to develop a ‘national naval and nautical museum’.
Sir James Caird, a wealthy member of the Society, purchased the A.G.H. Macpherson Collection of over 11,000 maritime prints, along with ship models and many other items, to help begin the Museum’s collection. The Caird Archive and Library is named after Sir James in recognition of his contribution. Ten years in the making, the National Maritime Museum was opened by King George VI on 27 April 1937, with the Museum’s name having been suggested by Rudyard Kipling. Since then, it has grown to boast the most important holdings in the world on the history of Britain at sea, including maritime art, cartography, manuscripts, official public records, ship models and plans.
Things you should know
The National Maritime Museum is the largest museum of its kind in the world, with a vast collection that spans artworks, maps and charts, memorabilia and thousands of other objects.
The Museum’s name was suggested by Rudyard Kipling, although the writer passed away a year before it opened.
The Museum buildings began life in 1807 as a school for the children of seafarers, and the South-West Wing was built as a dining hall in 1876.
The Museum was opened by King George VI in 1937. His young daughter Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II, was also in attendance.
The uniform Lord Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar is on display at the Museum in the Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery. It is one of the most famous objects.
The National Maritime Museum collection holds over 2.5 million items including astronomical and navigational instruments, ship models and plans, coins, medals and flags, uniforms and weapons, plus historical art, film and photography.
Among the collection of artworks are famous paintings by Great Masters such as J.M.W. Turner, William Hodges, George Stubbs, Willem van de Veldes (Elder and Younger), Hans Holbein, William Hogarth and Thomas Gainsborough.
The Museum houses the Caird Library and Archive, the world’s largest maritime historical reference library (100,000 volumes) including books dating back to the 15th century.
There are a variety of free galleries at the National Maritime Museum, spend a day discovering the stories of exploration that shaped the world we live in today.