A view of the Nonsuch ketch, a full-sized replica, from a pier-like exhibit space. The ship is dry-docked and you can see the white paint of the hull, as well as the blue stripes and carvings around the portholes along the side. There are two masts with the sails hanging down and the 1668 Red Ensign flag flies off the stern.

Loving Thy Nonsuch – Care of a Beloved Ship

Loving Thy Nonsuch – Care of a Beloved Ship

By Carolyn Sirett, Senior Conservator

In 1973, the Nonsuch replica made its final resting place at the Manitoba Museum where it has become the largest artifact in the Museum’s collection and one of the most beloved. The preservation of this treasured little ship falls onto the shoulders of the Conservation department, whom over the past 50 years have taken great care in ensuring it sticks around for generations to come. So how does a team of trained Conservators look after a ship that has been stored indoors for the last fifty years?

Behind-the-scenes, weekly, monthly, and bi-annual maintenance tasks are completed, ensuring that Nonsuch stays in working condition.  Regular cleaning of woodwork, removal of dust from decks, and polishing of metal components keeps everything in tiptop shape.  Historical changes in footwear have also helped greatly in the preservation of Nonsuch.  There are stories from the early 1970s of Conservators removing studs from high-heeled shoes that would get stuck in the deck seams almost daily. The flat-bottomed footwear of today’s fashion style has been much more sympathetic and favorable to the lasting conditions of the ship.

An individual wearing a flat cap and rubber gloves polishing a brass surface on a large wooden ship.

Assistant Conservator, Loren Rudisuela, polishes the brass on the tiller handle of Nonsuch. ©Manitoba Museum

An open binder with a loose sheet unfolded beside it. Notes about Nonsuch care and the ship.

Log books with maintenance records and drawings from the 1980s are still used today to track and record preservation tasks by the Conservation department. ©Manitoba Museum

Woman wearing a pink harness and holding a paint brush with tar, on the Nonsuch rigging.

Senior Conservator, Carolyn Sirett, climbs the ratlines to apply pine tar to the standing rigging as part of the ship’s maintenance. ©Manitoba Museum

The more challenging jobs are completed above the main decks, in the rigging and sails that soar high above the gallery space.  With a stomach for heights, the ratlines or rope ladders, are used by Conservators to climb up to the various sections and apply pine tar to the standing rigging.  Pine tar, an oily black substance brushed on to the ropes, is what gives the ship and gallery its iconic smell – a smell that has been said to spark memories of first field trips, first dates, and first visits.  Caring for Nonsuch is a passion for the Conservation team, and a longstanding tradition of ship secrets that have been passed down from one Conservator to the next.

Carolyn Sirett

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
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