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Miniature model of a gun ship with three masts, rigging and some deck detailing.

A brass plaque on the case bears the inscription 'MODEL OF 68 GUN SHIP MADE BY A FRENCH PRISONER IN EDINBURGH CASTLE IN THE YEAR 1799. PRESENTED BY JAMES G. BRIDGES. LEITH 1899'. On display in Trinity House, Leith.

A miniature ship model of a 68-gun ship with 3 masts, rigging and some deck detailing, hull painted red and black, the mahogany glazed case with legend and brass plaque.

This smallest and oldest ship model in Trinity House collections was made by a French prisoner at Edinburgh Castle in 1799.

The crew of a French privateer was brought to the castle in April 1757, and many other captured Frenchmen (mainly sailors) followed, so that by the end of the war there were over 500 incarcerated in prisons beneath the Great Hall.

The castle vaults were used again during the American War of Independence, where several nationalities made up the prison population.

The wars with Napoleonic France saw the climax of the Castle's function as a prison of war. Sailors and later soldiers from Wellington's victories in Spain came to stay in the vaults during this conflict.

The varied origins of these men included Holland, Germany, America, Spain, Italy and of course France.

In the overcrowded and extremely squalid conditions, it was not unusual for squabbles to develop into feuds between the various nationalities.

Between these spells of conflict, the inmates could be quite an industrious lot, making trinkets and ornaments out of bone and wood to sell to visitors. Our model is just one example of their craftwork.

Enterprising prisoners used their plentiful spare time, to forge banknotes using dies (printing blocks) also formed from these materials.

Trinity House

Trinity House and its remarkable historic collections give amazing insights into Leith’s celebrated maritime past. The present building was the Port of Leith headquarters of the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters for nearly 200 years.

This charity was set up to support the needs of injured and retired seamen and their families. Its origins can be traced back to 1380, when it was granted the right to levy a tax known as prime gilt on goods imported into Leith.

Thomas Brown designed the elegant Georgian building that now stands on the Kirkgate. It was built in 1816 on the site of a former Trinity House and hospital dating from before 1550.

Read more on the history of Trinity House [PDF, 8MB]

Maritime treasure house

The layout and historic furnishings of Trinity House still have many unique features that emphasise its former maritime function.

The War Memorial Window designed by W.J.R. Cook in 1933 honours local merchant sailors who died in the First World War. It was rededicated in 1945 for those killed in the Second World War.

The ground floor has a grand entrance and inner hall, with a unique collection of chairs commissioned by the Incorporation from the Edinburgh cabinetmaker William Trotter. Off the hall is the Master’s Room, a cosy space with a fine collection of paintings showing Leith as a busy commercial port in the 1700s and 1800s.

The highlight of Trinity House is the Convening Room on the upper floor, where the Incorporation held meetings around the long mahogany table. Maritime subjects feature in the ceiling’s ornate plaster friezes, and the table now displays a fascinating variety of objects to do with shipping, navigation and the whaling industry.

On display in the room are:

  • navigational instruments
  • wartime charts
  • whaling harpoons
  • rare objects such as narwhal tusks
  • ship models – ranging from early whaling ships to modern merchant ships

Hung on the walls are portraits of famous mariners and former Masters of the Incorporation – some by the great Edinburgh artist Sir Henry Raeburn. Vasco da Gama Encountering the Spirit of the Storm, a huge oil painting by the Scottish artist David Scott, is also on display.

The vaults below the building, which date from the 1500s, once housed a school for young mariners.

 

Find out more about Trinity House

Details

Date Made
1799
Dimensions
104 x 35 x 95mm
Property Information
Trinity House
Object Number
TRH392
Access Status
Display

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