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Perfect unifying forces

A three-year memorandum of understanding has been signed between the Malta Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, in Portsmouth.

The two leading national maritime museums have agreed “to identify opportunities for collaborative research and expertise in developing the awareness and understanding of naval heritage on a regional, national and international level”. The agreement also helps to foster the public’s interest in Malta and Britain in their naval heritage and maritime history.

The coming together of these two maritime museums could not provide a more perfect fit. Portsmouth and Vittoriosa have grand histories and naval connections stretching back over the centuries. Both the British and the Maltese have their roots as maritime nations with rich naval histories to match.

But the real unifying force comes about because of both countries’ association with the Royal Navy and the vital strategic part they played in the 19th and early 20th centuries when Britain was the greatest maritime power in the world, when Malta was a vital naval base and Britannia ruled the waves.

Both museums were established at about the same time when the renamed National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth was set up in the 1980s from the former Dockyard Museum and the Malta Maritime Museum was launched in 1992.

They are united in their passion for naval history and their desire to ensure that very important maritime artefacts telling their maritime island stories are preserved for future generations. Both are housed in historic buildings: in Portsmouth in an edifice facing Nelson’s iconic HMS Victory and in Malta in the handsome former naval bakery designed by William Scamp.

The Malta Maritime Museum includes over 20,000 artefacts illustrating 7,000 years of history including boats, documents, weapons and models of ships going back to the Order of St John and the largest known Roman anchor in the world.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy includes many artefacts as well as the restored World War I warship, HMS Monitor, and a strong focus on the ‘Victory Gallery’ and the ‘Nelson Gallery’, telling the story of Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.

All these historical factors, combined with the strong legacy built between Malta and Britain over the centuries, augur well for the collaboration and research that is promised by this MOU. Now that they have signed this document, it seems remarkable that an MOU of this nature has not happened before. For example, the excellent National War Museum, in Fort St Elmo, Valletta would be a perfect match for the National Army Museum in Chelsea and should be pursued by Heritage Malta.

It is to be hoped that joint research, exchanges of artefacts on loan between the two museums in Vittoriosa and Portsmouth, joint symposiums and exhibitions – but also if this concept could be broadened to embrace others, such as the National War Museum in Malta and the National Army Museum in England – will broaden knowledge of particular aspects of maritime or military history in both countries.

It will also deepen the friendship that always exists naturally between nations such as Britain and Malta whose history has been formed not only by the sea, but also by the defining shared experience of war.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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