Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Mechanical Galleon

I can honestly say this: I'm not excited by clocks and I'm not excited by ships. But clock-ships – my goodness, clock-ships! – apparently that's a different story. Just looking at this thing summoned within me genuine feelings of love for the man (Hans Schlottheim) who made it.

The Mechanical Galleon – an automaton built in 1585 – no longer works, but when it did it went something like this:

To mark each quarter hour, the hammer-holding sailors at the top of each mast struck their crow's nests (which are actually inverted bells); one sailor struck for the first quarter, two for the second, and so-on. But this was only to mark time until the grand finale, which came only once a day. 


The grand finale began with music, played by a miniature organ and drum hidden in the ship's hull. On deck, the electors (left) moved back and forth before the Holy Roman Emperor, and the sailors and trumpeters (right) turned in time with the music. When the fanfare ended, the ship rolled forward, firing each of its guns with loud bangs and puffs of smoke as it sailed the length of the table. 

And that's how they marked time in 1585.

The galleon sits in the clock exhibit at the British Museum, about 5 or 6 metres away from this: 


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