Strandingsmuseum St George is a site specific museum. Though located in a small and remote fishing village on the Danish west coast, we tell world history. Most of the stories from the sea stay hidden for us. Strandingsmuseum St. George aims at bringing the stories ashore to our guests.
The core of the museum is our unique collection. Nowhere else in the world can you find a collection of everyday objects from the British Navy in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, like ours. The objects are with us, because the sea brought them to us.
Both tourists and full time inhabitants are in Thorsminde because of the sea. Most visitors visit us during the summer months, and experience a sea of grandeur and beauty. The inhabitants of the area live by the sea as an intrinsic part of life. We recognize the very different states of the sea, and the possible prosperity, that can be won from fishing, diving, collecting items on the coast. The inhabitants in the area have a strong sense of ownership to the stories from the sea.
This is why, we were awarded the Siletto Price 2019. The museum aims at telling the story in our local area, in a manner that raises pride in the area, and recognition of the strong story behind the small and decreasing fishing society. The story telling in the museum is strong, and uses natural materials, so that the design and story telling are adapted to the site of the museum. But first and foremost, the museum is run in a tight co-operation with our local community. We do not only feel responsible for the institution, we are a part of a larger – still small – community, that really needs and appreciates the strong story telling of a museum.
The museum aims to safeguard the strong, local ownership and pride, while, at the same time, revealing the secrets of the beautiful North Sea during summer – mainly towards tourists, gradually discovering the area.
Throughout the history of mankind, the sea has been the primary means of transportation. “Sea connects, and land separates” we say in Denmark. Here on site in Thorsminde, ships have passed on their way from the lucrative markets in the Baltics or with exotic goods from the far North. The seamen knew that the west coast of Denmark is dangerous. From land it seems kind and sandy; but the flat coast with up to three sandbanks under water and with heavy storms during winter, is extremely dangerous to navigate – especially for ships without engines and GPS. We want guests to sense the traffic and the changing times of the year. Our hope is to give visitors an initial impression of the site, seasons changing and coastal people’s lives.
Thereafter, they are able to grasp the tragedy of the two British ships of the line. It is a sad story of seamen wanting to make it home for Christmas during the Napoleonic Wars, of the hierarchical society onboard a British naval vessel and of the individual stories of singular individuals that the rescued documents mainly from HMS Defence reveal to us. It is a true story frozen in time – the recovered objects give guests an immediate connection to the dead seamen, their shoes, plates, buttons.
Life is a number of decisions, and sometimes you make the wrong ones – or the people in power make wrong decisions. The rudder from HMS St. George was lost in the Baltic in November 1811. The captain decided to continue the journey home. The two ships of the line stranded in a terrible winter storm.
Thus, the museum exhibitions use emotions, because our story is sad, a tragedy – but also a story of decisions and hope and fear. We aim at being true to this fact in our exhibitions.
In the new museum, we also tell the story of other strandings, of the cultural meetings between coastal people and the farers of the sea. The most exotic of these is a Russian Steamer, that stranded in 1902 with a crew that included a group of Chinese. The Chinese were re-dressed in Danish manner, and photographed for post cards, and the teachers and newspapers of the area wondered how mankind could be so “strange and hideous…"
The stories of stranded ships and cultural meetings includes a simple installation with postcards, where visitors are invited to tell others what they would offer foreign surprise visitors. This installation works beyond all our expectations, with children and adults alike, men and women answering the question according to their true beliefs, and mirroring the society, we live in today.
Finally, guests continue into a gallery that explores the still untold stories that lie out there, just outside the museum. If we find objects – or if the maritime archaeologists do – we still need to interpret what they are: Are they cultural heritage, rubbish, degraded, eaten or well preserved by the natural conditions in situ? There’s also a fun opportunity for visitors to hunt for treasures we have hidden for them on the museum seabed.
The museum gallery for special exhibitions is a multifunctional room, where present day stories of the sea can be told, conferences and parties can be held, and papers can be presented. We like the museum to be alive and welcoming all year round and for multiple purposes.
The core of the museum though, is our tower. Maybe the largest show case in Europe, hosting the rudder from HMS St. George, and inviting guests up in the open to enjoy the full view of the Dangerous West Coast of Denmark, and the fine little fishing village, Thorsminde. In the end it is all a matter of telling the place, the site.
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