A urine flask possibly used by a king and a remarkably preserved leather pouch embossed with crown symbols are some of the extraordinary artefacts featured in the Gloucester shipwreck exhibition, opening soon at Norwich Castle Museum. The newly announced items also include a brass trumpet mouthpiece.
Along with wine bottles, spectacles, navigation tools and the ship’s bell, they were recovered from the wreck site by Norfolk brothers and divers, Lincoln and Julian Barnwell, and their friend and ex Royal Navy submariner and diver, James Little. The exhibition, The Last Voyage of the Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck, 1682, opens February 25.
The Gloucester sank in the North Sea in 1682 while carrying James, Duke of York, before he became King James II and VII. The wreck has been called Norfolk’s Mary Rose.
Exhibition visitors will be able to see artefacts recovered from the seabed after more than 325 years and learn the story behind the ill-fated journey, researched by maritime history experts Prof Claire Jowitt and Dr Benjamin Redding of the University of East Anglia (UEA). The exhibition is co-curated by Norfolk Museums Service and UEA.
The objects rescued from the Gloucester wreck site appear in the exhibition with the permission of the Ministry of Defence and Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks.
The distinctively shaped glass urine flask, found in 2018, would have been an essential part of 17th century physicians’ equipment to assess patient health.
Records show three medical professionals on board the Gloucester: James’s personal physician, Sir Charles Scarburgh, the ship’s own surgeon, John Jones, who was part of the crew, and James Livingstone, personal physician to Sir David Falconer, a senior Scottish judge.
Other artefacts connected to medicine and health feature in the exhibition, along with a leather pouch that bears five crown symbols and is likely to have been the property of one of James’s servants – a vivid physical reminder of the ship’s royal status.
Additionally, the trumpet mouthpiece hints at the atmosphere of celebration and pageantry that would have been occasioned by James’s presence on board.
Prof Jowitt and Dr Redding, and co-curators Ruth Battersby Tooke and Dr Francesca Vanke, of the Norfolk Museums Service, said the artefacts speak movingly of the tragic events of 6 May 1682.
“Artefacts rescued from the seabed are displayed for the first time, revealing some of the secrets that this important historic ship has to offer and providing unique insights into the lives and experiences of those onboard.
“It has been a privilege to work with Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and James Little to tell their remarkable story of the wreck’s discovery in 2007.”
Lincoln and Julian Barnwell said: “The discovery of the Gloucester has been an incredible adventure for all three of us, and we feel very honoured that this important part of history is being told in such a professional and detailed manner.
“The Norfolk Museums Service and UEA have done real justice to the Gloucester and all the people on board, some of whom sadly lost their lives in the tragedy.
“We are confident that anyone who visits the exhibition will have a better understanding of the events and what happened on the ill-fated day May 6, 1682.”
Cllr Margaret Dewsbury, Cabinet Member for Communities, Norfolk County Council, said: “Norfolk is home not only to the most remarkable heritage, but also the expertise needed to research this heritage and display it for the public to experience and enjoy.
“The partnership between James Little, Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, the Norfolk Museums Service and the University of East Anglia are a testament to this culture of innovation and excellence.”
The research underpinning the exhibition is funded by the Leverhulme Trust as part of a three-year project at UEA.
It is hoped one day that a permanent exhibition might be created in Norfolk, and a new charity - The Gloucester 1682 Trust – is in the process of being formed to provide project support, fundraising and governance, chaired by Norfolk Deputy Lieutenant and former head of the British Army Lord Dannatt.
The Last Voyage of the Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck, 1682, has been created by Norfolk Museums Service and UEA in partnership with Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks and The National Museum of the Royal Navy. It is sponsored by Adnams plc, Alan Boswell Group and Birketts LLP.
The Last Voyage of the Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck, 1682, runs from Saturday 25 February - Sunday 10 September 2023, at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norwich, NR1 3JU. Tickets to the exhibition are free with museum admission (See admission prices). It is recommended to book tickets in advance.