The building itself was built in 1871 as the Dock Office, home of the Hull Dock Company which ran the entire dock system. The museum has occupied the site since 1975 having moved from Pickering Park which was set up in 1912 as the Museum of Fisheries and Shipping.
The collections in the museum record the city’s maritime history mainly from the nineteenth century to the present. There is however a small display describing the oldest boat remains from the region, the Bronze Age craft from North Ferriby, and alongside is an example of a mediaeval dug out found when digging the foundations of the Guildhall.
An entire gallery is devoted to Arctic whaling which reached its peak in the 1820s when the port was sending more than 60 vessels to the Greenland Fishery every season. Contemporary paintings, ship models, personal relics, log books and journals give a comprehensive picture of whaling out of Hull. A focus of the displays is the skeleton of a whale surrounded by harpoons and all the other tools of the trade. The museum also has the largest collection of ‘scrimshaw’; the folk art of the whaler this side of the Atlantic. Whale jawbone, whalebone (baleen) and Sperm whale teeth were decorated with designs made with the point of a knife.
Learn more about the whaling industry and the art of scrimshaw in two other resources here on My Learning:
As the whaling declined in the 1850s so the North Sea fishery began to develop. The fishing gallery shows the ‘coble’ the traditional craft used for centuries on the east coast, for fishing with a ‘long line’ or crab pots, and still in use today though with an engine not under sail.
Throughout the museum there are fine images of local ships by local artists and there has been a continuous tradition of marine painting since the eighteenth century down to the present. Souvenir items of pottery, glass and porcelain are also displayed including pieces made to commemorate ship launches and famous incidents such as Grace Darling’s heroic rescue of the passengers and crew of the Hull-Dundee packet Forfarshire.