Talks will delve into fascinating history of 'soul' of Hartlepool's HMS Trincomalee figurehead

The fascinating story behind the 176-year-old figurehead of one of Hartlepool’s biggest tourist attractions will be the subject of two new talks.

Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 2:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 2:31 pm

The distinctive carving of a turbaned man was added to Britain’s oldest floating warship HMS Trincomalee in 1845 before being packed away and put in storage in the 1990s after a 150-year journey.

It was forgotten about for 17 years until being rediscovered when the National Museum of the Royal Navy took over the running of Hartlepool’s Historic Quay.

Last year the figurehead was taken away to be restored by experts to its former glory and now takes pride of place as part of HMS Trincomalee’s exhibition.

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The figurehead from HMS Trincomalee prior to it being restored.

The full story of its history and restoration will now be told in The Soul of the Ship at the museum in September.

Clare Hunt, the museum’s senior curator, said: “Our man was removed from the actual ship in the 1990s and since then he’s been waiting in the sidelines for his time in the spotlight again. 

“He is in pride of place in the gallery dedicated to telling the story of the ship, from building to restoration giving a real 'wow factor' and a big, colourful welcome to visitors.” 

The four-foot tall figurehead was removed from HMS Trincomalee in 1999 whilst it was undergoing restoration.

HMS Trincomalee at the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool. Picture by Frank Reid

Upon being found in 2016 museum staff quickly realised it was made by the well known carver Hellyer and Sons in 1845 at a cost of about £12 – £1,500 in today’s money. 

Figureheads were often thought of as the soul of a ship, offering good luck and protection from the perilous journeys it made.

As such, they were often lovingly cared for by the superstitious crew.

The Trincomalee figurehead is believed to represent a native of Sri Lanka where Trincomalee is a port.

A cigarette card showing the figurehead with red, gold and green colouring used to aid its restoration.

The museum says it has undeniable charm and symbolises HMS Trincomalee's Indian heritage.

Last year, Orbis Conservation, of Greenwich, were appointed to restore it.

It was decided to repaint the figurehead in the red, green and gold colours he sported in a 1931 cigarette card.

The Soul of the Ship talks by Clare Hunt will be held on Wednesday, September 1, and Monday, September 6, at 2pm and are included the price of a museum ticket which are available on www.nmrn.org.uk.

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