Treasure trove of knowledge on Picton Main Street
The Wellington Times, 26 August 2021.
(L-R): Betty Ann Anderson and Dr. Paul Adamthwaite
stand beside a model of Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory
at the Naval Marine Archive in Picton.
The passion and enthusiasm in Dr. Paul Adamthwaite’s voice is unmistakable as the speaks about the Naval Marine Archive (NMA) and its mission as a repository of knowledge about all things related to navies and the nautical industry, particularly the Canadian experience. The NMA is a non-profit organization and operates from the “Victory” building on Picton Main Street. The origins of the NMA go back to about 1997 when Adamthwaite was asked to take over a collection of books and other materials owned by a friend who had recently died. Together, the two of them had several thousand nautical-related books, journals and other items, which at first were stored in a coach house that Adamthwaite had built beside his home. He soon realized that the best way to preserve this accumulated knowledge would be to establish a non-profit charitable organization, and so the NMA was born. With a fast-growing collection, the NMA board began to look for a more spacious location, and in 2004 they purchased the building on Main Street that housed the old Post Office, and began to remodel the space to suit their needs. It took another two years and some tribulation before the NMA finally opened its doors to the public, something that Adamthwaite described as a “victory”, and that is one of the reasons the building is now known as The Victory. The other reasons for the name relate to Admiral Horatio Nelson. The NMA was chartered on October 21, 1999, a date Adamthwaite did not notice for a couple of years and then immediately saw that it was “Trafalgar Day”, marking Nelson’s victory over the Napoleonic navy on that day in 1805. Add to that Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory, and the building name seemed predestined.
The NMA now has a collection of over 75,000 books and 300,000 journals and is considered to be the finest marine archive in Canada, and has become a valuable research resource used by universities and writers. In addition to the printed word, the archive includes related marine items, including models of ships, paintings and other artworks, and related historical items such as diaries or journals. Adamthwaite says there are four main pillars when it comes to the purpose of the archive. “Preservation and conservation, and education and research,” he explains. “Preservation and conservation, particularly when it comes to paperwork and associated elements, including halfmodels— a carving that would later be used to build a full-scale version. Education and research are the second pair. What we want to do is have the knowledge here and that knowledge has got to be preserved, and you have to have the possibility of passing it on to today’s generation and future generations.”
The NMA operates as a non-profit and is primarily funded through philanthropy and through sales of books and artworks and other sundry items. Every year, the NMA hosts an art show and sale by the Canadian Society of Marine Artists (CSMA). The CSMA was founded in Vancouver in 1983, and then in 2003 was brought under the auspices of the NMA. This year’s exhibition is now available for viewing, and Adamthwaite says the artwork is very high quality, since membership in the CSMA is by invitation only after a one- or two-year period as a guest artist. The art all depicts maritime scenes, whether a contemporary sailing yacht, battleships from the Second World War, or ships from the golden age of sail. The artworks are located on the main floor of the Victory building, which is set up for easy browsing. A number of historical artifacts are also available for viewing, and there is a large selection of books available for purchase. The second floor houses the main collection of books and periodicals available to researchers. Located very nearly in the middle of the ground floor is a model of Nelson’s flagship made by Captain Harry Clarke, who donated it to the Picton high school in 1965.
It came into the possession of the NMA a few years ago, and Adamthwaite says they are merely holding it in trust until it can be returned to its rightful place in the high school. One stipulation from Captain Clarke was that the model never be placed behind glass, and so it sits in the open, available for close inspection. Adamthwaite speaks with definite pride about the model ship, and regards Admiral Nelson as one of his heroes. “Nelson stands out ahead of anybody else in the history of any nation’s navy. There is no other example of leadership and seamanship and national pride.”
The Naval Marine Archive is open seven days a week, and is located at 205 Main Street Picton. Admission is free.