Channel Islands Maritime Museum Receives Generous Gift of Rare Napoleonic Era Prisoner of War Ship Model

The Channel Islands Maritime Museum (CIMM) is thrilled to announce the gift to the Museum of a rare Napoleonic Prisoner of War bone ship model. The model joins and becomes a new highlight in the Museum’s latest permanent exhibit, “Sailors & Prisoners,” which presents a variety of sailors’ arts, including bone ship models, scrimshaw, and woolen embroidery. The exhibit features prominently in Museum tours and the Museum’s educational programming for local students and their teachers.

The model was gifted to CIMM by Professor Kenneth Kambis, Ph.D., shortly after its purchase. The model was previously part of the private collection belonging to the late Douglas Morton and his wife, Marilyn Brown. The Explorers Club of Washington, D.C., also a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, was the recipient of the funds from the sale of the model.

“We were so very grateful for and deeply appreciative of this wonderful gift from Professor Kambis,” says CIMM Executive Director Adri Howe. “We had the honor of welcoming him to the Museum several months ago and sharing our bone model/Napoleonic War exhibit with him. After that visit and the subsequent purchase of the model, Professor Kambis felt that the Channel Islands Maritime Museum was the perfect new home for this unique and delicate model. CIMM is very happy to be that home.”

Napoleonic Era bone ship models continue to awe and inspire more than two hundred years after their creation. Seized from their posts, French prisoners of war in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were left to build new “ships.” These were tiny model vessels carved in exquisite detail from bone. Receiving daily rations of half a pound of meat from their British captors, the French prisoners would work the leftover bones into recreations of the ships they had crewed during the Napoleonic Wars. All this, of course, was done from memory. Because prisoners of war had not technically defied British law, and their sentences were contingent on the course of the conflict, they were often treated with more lenience than criminal offenders. Some converted their sentences into business opportunities, selling their ship models to the general public and leaving prison with substantial fortunes.

About the Channel Islands Maritime Museum

Founded in 1991 and located in Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor, the Museum’s galleries feature rare and beautiful maritime paintings dating back to the 1600s, more than sixty world-class models of historic ships, rotating thematic fine arts exhibitions, and interactive exhibits that encourage visitors to expand their horizons about everything maritime. The Museum is currently open Friday-Monday from 12 pm to 4 pm.

Editor’s Note: this story was published on Oct. 11, 2021.