Figureheads in Greenwich

I’ve always been fascinated with shipbuilding, particularly during the 18th century. 

These impressive wooden carved figureheads are some of the best I’ve seen – they’re currently on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

At one point figureheads were carried by nearly all warships as a sign of strength and power – each a representation of the ship’s name. The end production cost could make up to 20% of the overall ship’s build.

Seen below are a collection of figureheads with particular focus on the warrior Ajax from Greek mythology belonging to HMS Ajax – a 74 gun ship built in London in 1809. 

The last figurehead illustrated below comes from HMS Bulldog and was made by Hellyer & Son, Portsmouth. The ship was built at Chatham dockyard in 1845. 

The bulldog figurehead has the words CAVE CANEM (beware of the dog) etched on its collar. HMS Bulldog was set on fire by her very own captain to stop her from falling into enemy hands during a skirmish off the coast of Haiti. The figurehead was luckily saved from this wooden paddle sloop.

In time as science advanced and the need for speed became of paramount importance, these heavy majestic emblems became obsolete and were all but gone by the start of the 20th century.


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