Q. What does a shell, a cable and a football match ticket have in common?

Today’s blog has been written by Katharine Robinson,  a placement student at the museum. The blog looks at the strange links you can find between two very different object.

A. They are all linked in some way to the SS Great Eastern. It is amazing the kinds of similarities and links you can find between seemingly unconnected objects within the collection. The point of this blog was to highlight the connection found between two objects which at first glance were of different materials, different purposes and different relevance to the collection. 

The first object is a shell. James Cunningham a Butler, Brewer and eventual mayor of Blackburn visited Bristol in 1861 where he took a trip to see the ‘Great Eastern’, the steam ship built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and at the time the largest ship in the world. There he bought this souvenir shell with an image of the ship painted on the surface and the inscription ‘Purchased on board by James Cunningham’. 

The Shell bought on Board the Great Eastern by James Cunningham

The second object is a piece of Atlantic cable from 1858. Those of you with some knowledge of the field will know that the Great Eastern was the ship which laid the successful telegraph cable connecting Europe with Americain in 1866. Whilst the cable in the collection was considered unsuccessful – communications lasted no longer than a month – it did send the first ever trans-Atlantic message, from QueenVictoria to US President James Buchanan. 

"Hello James, It's Vicky" - The first translatlantic message ran along this cable

The connection of these objects got me thinking; what is the criteria we use to group things together? Must we always prioritise one thing about an object over others? For example, the shell is exhibited due to its connection to James Cunningham, but it could also be displayed alongside other souvenir memorabilia or with a collection of shells, just as the cable could be exhibited alongside a letter, telephone and email. And when does a connection become too dubious? Well there is a Liverpool VS Blackburn Rovers match ticket in the collection that links straight back to the Great Eastern via the fact that the ship’s mast became Anfield’s flag pole! Too tenuous? Perhaps.

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Blackburn Museum can be found in Blackburn, Lancashire. It houses objects documenting Blackburn's industrial past as well as a world class collection of Fine Art, Japanese prints, Icons, Numismatics and Manuscripts. Come and visit us to find out more.

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