Our first unit project – Taking Measures – required us each to choose a location along the Thames and prepare a series of three equally sized collages to describe the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the site; and to communicate our individual responses, including social, cultural and historical information, as well as geographic, demographic and topographic data.
I chose to research the history of the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich, with an eye on the possible application of my findings in a present day or near future project. What I discovered is that while the Merchant Marine and Royal Navy were both heavily involved in the Napoleonic Wars (1802 – 1815) only crews of Royal Navy ships were allowed into the Naval Hospital. Merchant Marine crews were simply left to roam the streets of London, regardless of how seriously sick of disabled they may have been left by their service.
This would only change in 1821 with the founding of the Seamen’s Hospital Society. Their solution was to deploy the first of three hospital ships in the Thames: HMS Grampus was moored in Deptford and served from 1821-1831; HMS Dreadnought was moored in Greenwich Reach – an area west of the Naval hospital – from 1831-1857; and the second HMS Dreadnought – formerly HMS Caledonia – was also moored in Greenwich Reach from 1857-1870. From 1870 onwards the hospital occupied the old Royal Navy Infirmary, and was renamed the Dreadnought Hospital.
The ships were not specially designed for the job, but were actually converted former Royal Navy vessels; cannons, rigging and sails were all removed and the ships towed into position by tugs or steamers.
My plan is to use this historical scenario as the template for a modern interpretation of a Hospital ship. Rather than focus on returning people to health, the modern ships would be designed to create a simulation of various alternative conditions, and modify or augment the abilities of potential colonists so they can live in otherwise hostile environments.