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23rd October 2020

Aaron Baldwin talks about his volunteering experience at the Hull Maritime Museum.

In these uncertain times, it can be difficult to find things to do. Sadly, a trip to the Hull Maritime Museum is currently off the cards for most people, as the building is closed for refurbishment. This does not mean that the contents of the museum are entirely off-limits to you though. In the coming months, the Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City project aims to share photos, videos and blog posts to keep you informed about the changes being made to the museum. To that end, a team of volunteers have been brought in to help achieve this goal.

Here's Aaron's blog.

I was extremely excited to be contacted by the Hull Maritime project about a volunteering opportunity. I had registered my interest in volunteering at one of Hull’s Museums in December 2019 and was told I would be informed about any opportunities. Due to Covid-19, volunteering was put on hold, but this September I received an email asking if I would be interested in being one of the first volunteers to return to the Maritime Museum. I jumped at the chance and after a short back-and-forth by email and a meeting on Microsoft Teams, I was ready to start at the museum.

Aaron Baldwin at the Hull Maritime Museum

My first day was Tuesday 13 October. I had filled out some health and safety forms online and was aware of the necessary precautions being taken by all members of the team at the Maritime Museum. On arrival I was informed that I was one of three volunteers in the building that day. We started at 10am with a short briefing on our goals and some other general points like health and safety. Then we were essentially ‘let loose’ in the museum, to photograph the things that interested us and we would perhaps want to write about. I wandered the galleries alone for a while, feeling a bit like I wasn’t supposed to be there. You don’t really realise quite how big the Museum is until you’re one of only half a dozen people inside.

I took photos of a number exhibits and artefacts that I was interested in and had a few quick socially distanced chats with the other volunteers and the Museum staff, until I spotted the highlight of the day’s events. The conservators were setting up a frame to lower the skeleton of an Orca, a species of dolphin more commonly known as a Killer Whale, from the ceiling it was suspended from in the corridor adjacent to the Whaling Gallery. Though we look back on whaling as a cruel and barbaric practice, its significance as a part of Hull’s Maritime History must never be overlooked. When I first arrived at the Museum for the day I had seen another skeleton bound to a frame ready for transport, and watched as it was carried into the conservator’s truck to be taken for refurbishment. I had seen the end of the process and was intrigued to see how it was carried out from the beginning.

Conservation and Engagement Officer briefs volunteers

The whole process of lowering the skeleton and preparing it for transport took the conservators (Nigel Larkin and Phil Rye) about ninety minutes. I used this opportunity to take lots of photos for the Museum’s records, as well as some notes to help me remember the steps the conservators took to get the Orca’s skeleton down from its ceiling mount. Though this is of course a simplification of a difficult and time-consuming process, I found it too interesting to not attempt to record and share it.

After removing the Orca’s head to be transported separately, two large support scaffolds were set up beneath the skeleton that would take its weight and provide a frame for the ropes.

Orca Skull safely removed and packed

Using straps, ropes and pulleys, the skeleton was secured to the large support frames to make sure it would not fall when the chains currently suspending it were removed.

Assembling the support frame

When the skeleton was firmly secured by the frames and ropes, the conservators removed the old chains, leaving the skeleton suspended by the new ropes.

Using the pulley system, the skeleton was lowered until it hung at waist height.

Two smaller support scaffolds were brought in and placed over the skeleton at the neck and bottom end of the ribcage, allowing a crossbeam to be rested between them, parallel to the skeleton.

The skeleton was then securely strapped to the crossbeam and disconnected from the ropes and pulleys on the large scaffolds.

The skeleton is supported on the smaller scoffolds

The conservators then lifted the crossbeam from the smaller scaffolds, moving the supports out of the way and completely lifting the skeleton themselves.

The skeleton was then carried through to the whaling gallery, where a frame had already been set up. The skeleton was fitted inside the frame with the crossbeam across the top.

The skeleton was strapped to the frame until it was completely secure and suspended safely with no risk of it moving or coming loose.

The Orca skeleton placed in a secure frame ready to transport

Finally, the secured skeleton and frame were moved to the conservator’s truck for transport.

To conclude, my first day volunteering as a member of the Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City project was a great experience. Getting to be a part of such an interesting project that’s dedicated to exploring the history of my hometown is an amazing opportunity that I am very proud to be a part of. I am excited to see the upcoming changes to the Maritime Museum and I’m greatly looking forward to being able to help document them for the Hull maritime website and social media.