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Prisoner-of-war bone model

Date: 1799 - 1800
Overall: 430 x 570 x 140 mm, 2 kg
Medium: Mutton bones, copper rivets
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from The Australian Institute of Navigation
Object Name: Ship model
Object No: 00008530
Place Manufactured:Edinburgh Castle

User Terms

    This intricate model of a 50-gun frigate is believed to have been made by French prisoners-of-war detained in Edinburgh Castle around 1800. Selling these models was a way of earning money to buy extra rations and prisoners at the time produced large quantities of ship models to sell at markets. This three-masted, fully rigged vessel has detachable anchors on either side of the stern and was made from mutton bones and copper rivets.
    SignificanceThis model represents the craft of making bone ship models specifically by French prisoners-of-war during the Napoleonic War.
    HistoryThe majority of prisoner-of war ship models were produced between 1793 and 1815 when French prisoners were detained in Britain during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793–1815). Prisoners received a daily food ration of half-a-pound of beef or mutton on the bone. As a result they accumulated large amounts of bone which could be used to craft a variety of objects, including ship models.

    For both merchant and fighting sailors, a wide range of skills and trades meant they had the ability to craft artefacts during long periods at sea. An extension of this maritime craft was the production of models and other material by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. Many were kept on hulks moored in harbours such as Portsmouth, prisons such as Dartmoor or in castles such as Edinburgh. They used bone and horn from the meat supplied to the galleys to produce fine ship models, trinket boxes, chess sets and the like.

    These models were usually not built to scale and were typically French in style. They were often named after famous ships of the time to attract higher sale prices and were usually designed to appeal to British customers. Some prisoners are known to have worked in teams under an officer and sold the models at markets for a lucrative price. Many British prisons held markets twice a week or even daily. With the open assistance of their officers and guards the models were traded, with the prisoner receiving a percentage which allowed them to purchase additional materials, extra food and tobacco.

    After the war many of the French sailors continued their model work, joining the established bone and ivory souvenir trade in French ports such as Dieppe.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Prisoner-of-war bone model

    Assigned title: Kriegsgefangener, schiffsmodell aus Knochen

    Assigned title: Krijgsgevangenen scheepsmodel gemaakt van botten

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