An interesting visitor to Greenwich is the RRS Sir David Attenborough polar research ship which has completed basic sea trials and is ready to undertake its first expedition.
It is due to spend a few days in Greenwich and will highlight the start of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
International scientific advisers are using the Attenborough to issue statements about the urgent need to address the climate crisis.
The 129m-long Attenborough has spent the past year in trials around the British coast preparing for its first ocean voyage to Antarctica in November. The vessel will deliver supplies to the UK’s main scientific base, at Rothera, and other stations around the Southern Ocean.
The Attenborough is a Polar Class 4 icebreaker and cost £200m to build. It has a helipad, cranes and equipment to deploy minisubs and other ocean-survey and sampling machinery
Yesterday, I took the short walk to The Museum of London Docklands to have a look at their major exhibition entitled London: Port City which explores how the Port of London has changed and shaped the city, its people, places and language. The exhibition covers more than 200 years of experiences and activity on a river.
It is appropriate that exhibition about the Port of London is located in an old warehouse complex which was part of West India Docks, London’s first enclosed dock system and packed with valuable cargoes from around the world from 1802 until its closure in 1980.
The exhibition is based upon the extensive archives of the Port of London Authority (PLA), over the years I have used plenty of information from the PLA to tell some of the remarkable stories of the Port and the Docks. Therefore it was quite exciting to see some of the 222 objects in the exhibition which cover a timeline of over 200 years.
The exhibition illustrates the work of the PLA and an impressive audio visual display allows visitors to watch life into the PLA control room, using large-scale projections to create a day in the life of the Port of London. The PLA was responsible for making sure the docks were fully functional and the exhibition features a 1950s diver’s helmet and air pump used by someone clearing riverbeds.
The exhibition includes a fascinating range of maps, plans and documents like the one commemorating the original unveiling of the statue of merchant and slave owner Robert Milligan, which was removed from outside the museum in 2020.
One of the really interesting aspect of the exhibition is the old films that show the port and docks in their glory days, it is watching these films that you began to understand the scale of the operation. Hundreds of ships and thousands of workers created a bustling and often dangerous environment with cargo from all around the world making its way through the port.
The exhibition tries to give some idea this activity, with exhibits about the various smells and aroma, visitors to the exhibition can experience distinct scents, carefully blended to capture the original pungency of the port.
The exhibition also reveals the stories behind 80 words and expressions associated with the docks that have entered the English language including ‘crack on’, ‘aloof’ and ‘Mudchute’.
Over the 200 years, many different types of cargo entered the port and the exhibition includes examples like a pot of dehydrated meat from the 1940s and a pot of ambergris or whale poop as it is labelled.
The PLA has collected a wide range of art connected with the port and a selection is shown together with films showing how the port has been used in films, tv programmes and video games.
It is not often that the museum itself is an intrinsic part of the exhibition, but this small free exhibition provides an opportunity to enjoy the exhibits and the surroundings. Despite the limited use of space, the exhibition covers a wide range of subjects to tell the remarkable story of the Port of London. The Isle of Dogs is an important aspect of this story and anyone interested in the local history of the area will find the exhibition fascinating.
Modern Limehouse is mainly a quiet residential area, however in the 19th century it was a bustling throng of businesses, ship builders and associated workers. Within this maelstrom of activity was Dunbar Wharf under the auspices of Duncan Dunbar. His fascinating story is told in a new book by Michael Rhodes. The book entitled Lion Rampant: Duncan Dunbar and the Age of Sail charts the rise of Dunbar from his birth at Dunbar Wharf to his death when he was one of the richest men in Britain.
Duncan Dunbar junior was not a self made man but built upon the considerable fortune left by his father Duncan Dunbar senior who arrived at Dunbar Wharf in 1779 after a short time working on Robert Milligan’s sugar plantation in Jamaica. His friendship with Robert Milligan and James Hibbert would be very beneficial for Dunbar when they became the leading lights behind the creation of the West India Docks.
Photograph – Isle of Dogs Life
Dunbar Senior used these contacts when he began his export business which began at Ropemakers Fields in Limehouse as a brandy, wine and beer merchant. Dunbar had noticed a gap in the market providing alcoholic drinks to the various outposts of the British and used his contacts with Milligan, the East India Company and various suppliers to build up a lucrative trade. An interesting by-product of this trade was that traditional British dark beers were not suitable for long journeys, so India Pale Ale was developed by a number of brewers, notably Hodgsons in Bow. The book throws some light onto the ongoing debate about IPA, part of the confusion is that Dunbar IPA was popular throughout the empire but it was often brewed at the Barley Mow brewery owned by Taylor Walkers and exported under the Dunbar label.
Photograph – Isle of Dogs Life
The success of these enterprises allowed Dunbar senior to expand his business along the Thames waterfront and Ropemaker Fields. He took over full control of his business and gradually included his sons John and Duncan as partners. After Duncan Senior died in 1825, the sons were left the business and property at Dunbar Wharf. Although Duncan was only 22 and John 17, they had worked in the business for many years and had a wide network of family and acquaintances.
The main part of the book charts the rise of Duncan Dunbar junior from Dunbar Wharf in Limehouse to shipbuilder and owner of the largest fleet of sail ever assembled. He also founded two insurance companies and two banks and dominated trade routes to Australia, New Zealand, India, and Asia. It is estimated that his ships brought to Australia and New Zealand one-third of all arrivals and supplied transport for the Burmese War, the Crimean, Second Opium War and Indian Rebellion.
However for all his success, Dunbar remains quite an enigmatic figure and a pioneer who has been largely forgotten by history. Over the years this has always been the source of some mystery to myself who has long been fascinated by Dunbar Wharf and its long and varied history.
This book does provide some clues to his personality with a section that delves into his personal life. Duncan Dunbar junior was actually born in a small room at Dunbar Wharf and grew up in Limehouse before being sent to Forres Grammar school in Scotland. Duncan Dunbar senior was a great believer in Scottish education and Forres contained a number of the wider Dunbar family. At the age of 15, Duncan Dunbar junior worked full time at Dunbar Wharf learning the family trade.
Even in his early 20s, Duncan Dunbar junior was a large imposing man and had a reputation as an engaging and enquiring personality. He had followed his father’s footsteps by becoming a member of Blackheath Golf Club, he developed into quite a competent golfer winning the Summer medal more than once. Blackheath Golf Club was much more than just a sporting outlet, many of the members were wealthy and held prominent positions in the business and political world.
However as his business grew, Dunbar had less time for golf and was in demand to sit on Business and commerce organisations like the City of London club, Lloyds Registry, he became a director of the West India Dock Company. He remained unmarried but was surrounded by family at his home in Howrah House in Poplar. Despite his rise in society, it seems that Dunbar was generally liked for his approachable demeanor and good humour, he also seemed to have something of ‘the common touch’ being popular with the Dunbar ship captains and crew.
Duncan Dunbar by Camille Silvy, 18 January 1862, © National Portrait Gallery, London
As he grew older, he developed an interest in art and moved to Porchester Terrace in Bayswater. This move from East to West London was significant on many levels suggesting he was ready to enjoy the fruits of his labours and would leave the day to day running of the business to trusted members of staff. A photograph in the book shows Duncan Dunbar in 1861, the photograph reflects his position as one of the moving forces of the Empire.
However, the stress and strains on his constitution would eventually come to the fore and suddenly in 1862, Duncan Dunbar junior collapsed and died in his Bayswater home. He was only 58 and his death rocked the Stock Market and the business community.
This book comprehensively charts Dunbar’s rise and provides evidence about how quickly Dunbar’s business empire was carved up between family members and the executors of the considerable 1.6 million pound estate. It was the demise of the Dunbar business that probably explains why Duncan Dunbar’s name disappears from history and his legacy is little understood.
Hopefully, this book will change people’s perceptions of Duncan Dunbar, the author has travelled the world accumulating information from a variety of sources to create the most definitive biography of Duncan Dunbar to date. This fascinating biography places Dunbar and Limehouse at the centre of global trade that provided the template for the modern world. Products and labour from around the world became interlinked in a way that had never been seen before. The effects of that trade changed the world forever and this book is a timely and important reminder of the process and people behind that trade.
If anyone wants to buy a copy of the book, find a link here
After the recent visit by Kismet to West India Dock, we have a new arrival with the Dr No which is a 37 m / 121′5″ luxury motor yacht built by Narasaki Zosen in 1995. Dr No last visited the dock in May this year.
The ship is very unusual because it was first launched in 1995 as the Japanese Fisheries training ship Wakachiba at the Muroran shipyard.
The yacht underwent major changes under her first yacht owner, Tom Perkins, who acquired the vessel which was known as Blue Hunter in 2011 and developed it as an explorer yacht. The deck is littered with equipment to enable dinghies or submersibles to be launched.
The motor yacht can accommodate 12 guests in 5 cabins. The owner is not known which is not unusual in the yacht community.
You often see larger ships converted for explorations but very unusual to see something of this size being used in this way. Although some owners enjoy the luxury of superyachts, there is a trend to create explorer yachts to explore some of the world’s more exotic locations.
It has been a very quiet year for boats visiting West India Dock but we have the arrival of a regular visitor over the years. The Super Yacht Kismet was last here in 2019 before the pandemic.
Kismet is a large superyacht and has visited the dock a couple of times before in 2014 and 2016. It often comes to London when its owner Pakistani-American billionaire businessman Shahid Khan wants to entertain guests attending NFL matches in London. His NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars play Maimi Dolphins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on the 17th October 2019.
The yacht is often tucked away at the bottom of the dock for some time before being taken up to near Tower Bridge for entertaining guests.
Kismet is 308ft long has three decks and a private sundeck with a pool-Jacuzzi-BBQ area and all mod cons. The ship features exterior styling by Espen and interior design by Reymond Langton Design featuring marble and rare woods, it will accommodate 12 guests in six staterooms, and has a crew of 20.
This ship is the second vessel named Kismet owned by Mr Khan and estimated to have cost 200 million dollars, a previous 223ft yacht was sold for a rumoured £70 million in 2013. The new Kismet was built at German boatyard Lurssen.
Unusually for the secretive super yacht world, a great deal seems to be known about Kismet and it was rumoured in 2019 that the yacht was up for sale.