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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Race to save UK history
Flag, PA
The Royal Standard: Rescued from the Endurance

An urgent appeal has been launched by the UK's National Maritime Museum to raise 500,000 to buy important relics relating to the historic exploits of Sir Ernest Shackleton, Captain Bligh and Admiral Nelson.


We believe that the items illuminate the stories of three great national figures and belong in the UK

Roy Clare
At three separate auctions over the next five weeks, crucial artefacts of these legendary maritime figures spanning three centuries will go on sale.

They include the royal standard saved by Shackleton from his ship Endurance just before it was crushed in the ice; and the coconut cup used by Lieutenant William Bligh on his voyage across the Pacific after the mutiny on the Bounty.

Also going under the hammer are significant letters relating to the life of Admiral Nelson.

Second chance

"There are letters in the collection which open up whole new insights into Nelson's character and personality," said Dr Robert Blyth, curator of imperial and maritime history at the museum.

"A lot of Nelson's letters have been published, but this material is new and could give us a better understanding of Nelson the man rather than Nelson the hero."

Cup, Christie's
Captain Bligh's cup is expected to fetch upwards of 30,000
The museum has launched a Maritime Legends Appeal, with the hope of raising public money to buy the items.

It will not reveal details of everything it is interested in, but it is known to want Shackleton's Royal Standard, valued at 100,000 to 150,000 - which it tried to buy when it was last sold at auction in 1999.

It is one of only two things that Shackleton saved from his ship before it was abandoned and the explorer set out, with his men, on their heroic journey to Elephant Island.

'Miserable object'

"Shackleton took the standard with him all the way through the Endurance expedition, an extraordinary epic of survival which has had huge worldwide acclaim in the past few years," said Jonathan Shackleton, the family historian.


Three key lots of items in the space of a month is a museum nightmare

Dr Robert Blyth
He said it was "a unique second opportunity" to buy the silk standard and urged the public to support the museum's fundraising efforts.

One highlight of the Bligh relics to be auctioned at Christie's on 26 September is the signed and dated coconut cup which Captain Bligh used when he was cast adrift in the Bounty's launch on another epic boat journey across more than 5,000 kilometres (3,000 miles) of uncharted waters.

His initials and the date - April 1789 - have been inscribed on the cup, along with the evocative inscription: "The cup I eat my miserable allowance out of". Its estimated value is 30,000 - 50,000.

Great figures

Dr Blyth said the museum was trying to find money through various channels, including the National Heritage Lottery Fund, and its own emergency reserves, but added that "the sheer amount of material" and the fact that three important sales were all approaching in quick succession made it difficult to raise the amount needed.

"Three key lots of items in the space of a month is a museum nightmare," he said. "Normally that just doesn't happen."

Nelson, National Maritime Museum
Lord Nelson: Important papers up for sale
Roy Clare, director of the museum, added: "We would welcome all donations, whatever their size, and if we are able to secure any of the objects, we would place them on immediate display for the public to view free of charge in the museum and online.

"We believe that the items illuminate the stories of three great national figures and belong in the UK. We are doing all we can to ensure that this happens."

The Nelson items, if purchased, would form part of the museum's initiative to mark in 2005 the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

The auctions take place on 25 September (Christie's), 26 September (Christie's) and 21 October (Sotheby's).

BBC science correspondent Christine McGourty reports from Antarctica


FORUM
See also:

09 Apr 02 | Entertainment
25 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
10 Sep 02 | Leicester 2002
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