Conservation  |  April 7, 2021
By Meshellae Payne , NMB Conservation Assistant
Reading Time: 4 minutes

As March rolled by once again, I’ve taken a look back at the past year and what a rollercoaster it’s been. At the beginning of last March, I was partway through my traineeship with National Historic Ships, having just joined the Conservation Department at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) in Portsmouth. I was feeling excited and ready for the projects ahead and looking forward to the many conferences, events and tours I had lined up over the next 8 months. I spent those first three weeks of March throwing myself into conservation projects: writing up condition and treatment reports and conserving objects for NMRN’s refurbished Victory Exhibition and swords from NMRN’s Explosion! Museum collection.

Objects from the Victory Gallery at the National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth

Swords from the armoury collection at NMRN’s Explosion! Museum in Gosport

Even as the cases in Europe began to mount and the situation got increasingly fraught, for some reason I never imagined that it would have any significant impact on my life or plans for the future. Thankfully, the NMRN conservator supervising me was a bit more pragmatic about the situation, and decided that we should collect the pest traps on HMS Warrior, HMS Victory and M.33 so that even if we went into lockdown, I would be able to work from home counting and recording the insects to help build a picture of the pest situation on NMRN’s ships. Her move was extremely prescient, as the day we collected the last traps ended up being the last time we would see each other for five months.

Counting the bugs on a pest trap taken from HMS Victory

Thus, the first major shift of the year occurred, as I scurried back to London with a suitcase full of comfy clothes and dead bugs to begin life in lockdown. The months under the first UK lockdown passed by in a bit of a blur, but thankfully I was able to fill my time looking at bugs, doing online courses, attending online seminars, volunteering with different digitization projects and listening to maritime heritage podcasts. In July I got the exciting news that I would be able to return to my placement at NMRN, picking up where I left off with the conservation team.

My next few months were jam packed with exciting projects; packing and transporting objects to NMRN’s new storage building, completing a condition survey on HMS Victory’s hull, cleaning the brass ship wheels on HMS Warrior, deinstalling NMRN’s Jolly Rogers exhibit and conserving a cut of HMS Victory’s mast from Trafalgar.

Working on a cut of HMS Victory‘s mast from Trafalgar

Part of the hull and keel of HMS Victory

Brass ship wheels on HMS Warrior

After my traineeship ended in November, I faced an uncertain future, attempting to find a job in an industry that had taken a massive hit due to the loss of visitors and ticket sales during the lockdown. I headed back to Bermuda in December to spend Christmas with family and a few days before I was set to leave found out that I had been accepted onto the Graduate Trainee Programme being run by the Department of Workforce Development. I had always planned to move back to Bermuda and use my conservation training to work in the heritage industry, so getting accepted onto this programme just meant I’d be realizing those goals sooner than expected.

With acceptance into the Graduate Trainee Programme, not only have I gotten a paid placement at the National Museum of Bermuda (NMB), but we were also provided with Career Development seminars and one on one sessions with HR consultants that have really rounded out our understanding of how to stand out and be successful in our professional lives.

Getting to work at NMB has been amazing, my first month here has flown by. I’ve really loved travelling into work each day on the ferry, getting to have lunch on the beautiful Museum grounds and getting to throw myself back into the heritage world. So far, I’ve spent the majority of my time working on a project to assess and conserve the ship lanterns in the museum collection, which has given me a chance to brush up on metal degradation and conservation, object photography, and writing up treatment proposals.

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I’ve also started working on various research projects which are constantly leading to me discovering new tidbits about Bermuda. That’s one of the things I love most about working at NMB, having the time and freedom to really delve into and engage with Bermuda’s history. Our history is insanely unique and fascinating, so being able to learn more about it and find ways to share that with the Bermudian public and the world has been remarkably fulfilling.

Even though many of the plans and goals I had a year ago have been tossed to the wayside, and I’ve returned to Bermuda way sooner than I expected, I can’t help feeling like in the end, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

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