An Elizabethan Galleon

Lot Number 75. A Model Galleon.

Lot Number 75.
A Model Galleon.

I came across this model in an Auction in Edinburgh.  From the photographs on the  Auctioneers website it looked in a decrepit, dirty and unloved state.  Underneath all this though could be seen the fine lines of a rather nice model struggling to shine once again after the application of some T.L.C.   Speaking to the Auctioneer there was no reserve and so with the words ‘You might be lucky’ ringing in my ears I put in a very nominal bid and was delighted to be the only bidder and so secured the future of this fine model.

The precise origins of the model are unknown as the builder did not (as far as can be ascertained) write his name on the vessel nor give the date of construction.  Two notes were found in the hull which did offer some information.

Both are in German which leads to the conclusion the modeller was German.

Sailing Ship, Galleon Model, Elizabethan, for sale, Walter Raleigh, Spanish Armada

One of two notes found in the hull of the Elizabethan Galleon

The model is built to a scale of 1:50

Overall Length of the model 1.10m

Overall height of the model from bottom edge of the keel to top 0.95m

Overall width over main spar 0.48m.

Unfortunately some of the text on this note is illegible.


Sailing Ship, Galleon Model, Elizabethan, for sale, Walter Raleigh, Spanish Armada

Second note found in the hull of the Elizabethan Galleon

The second note is written in pencil on paper which translated reads:

“English Ship (four masts) 1574.  Reconstruction according to Copperplate engraving of that time.  Scale 1:30”

This means there is an anomaly over the scale, which I resolved by comparing the dimensions of the model  with dimensions given for the Mary Rose, Elizabeth Jonas and the average height of an Elizabethan seaman.  This gave a correct scale of 1:50.

It is assumed that the builder wrote the note on the piece of wood and that someone else wrote the paper note and for some reason incorrectly copied the scale.  This was corroborated by a retired Police Inspector who examined both notes.  He felt that an uneducated hand wrote the first note (with the correct scale) and that a more          educated hand wrote the paper note, possibly to record more detail of the model.

Regrettably the writers did not sign or date the notes or give any indication as to the source of the Copperplate engraving thus leaving these questions unanswered.

Further evidence of the builder being German came in an e-mail from John Graves, (Curator of Ship History, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich) who wrote:

‘Thank you for sending the images of your model which I have now examined; they were also shown to Simon Stephens, who is Curator of Models here.  We are both somewhat  perplexed by the model and what it depicts. It certainly shows a warship though only the largest English warships built in the sixteenth century had two large gundecks. However we note the “un-English” shape of the lower part of the stern, the characteristics of which are more Dutch, or possibly north German. The fine shape of the bow is very untypical of vessels of this period and the steeply-raked stem is found on English warships of a century later.’  John Graves added: ‘We have a couple of models in our collection here that were based on engravings and, with the best will in the world, one is not going to be able to produce a model of any accuracy, and it is more likely that the reference material could easily be misinterpreted and any inaccuracies in that material will be amplified.

Anchors, catsheads and bowsprit all required repair

Missing porthole and damaged rigging


More ‘as acquired’ pictures





Modelling an Elizabethan Galleon   

Because the date for the Ship of 1574 is so specific I decided that before restoring the model I would undertake research to try and identify either the name of the ship or the source of the ‘Copper plate engraving’ cited in the note.  It quickly became clear that there are absolutely no complete drawings or plans available of any Elizabethan Galleon or ship.

The limited documentation that is available is due to Mathew Baker (c.1530-1613) who was a royal master shipwright under Queen Elizabeth I.  Baker was emerging as an   important figure within the small, but developing, naval establishment.  Along with one and sometimes two senior colleagues, Baker had the responsibility for constructing or rebuilding many of the ships which tackled the Spanish Armada of 1588.

A manuscript begun by Mathew Baker was christened ‘Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry’ when it was acquired and preserved by Samuel Pepys.  Pepys chose the title deliberately as ‘Fragments’ is not a coherent volume.  Stephen Johnston ( describes the manuscript thus on his website: Its pages display an enormous variety of format and style.  Some parts are finely executed,     perhaps for a planned presentation volume, while other sections are no more than notebook pages.  There are coloured draughts of ships with their full decoration;      historical and mythological sketches; a map; plans, elevations and sections of ships; and practical mathematical devices for scaling and generating proportions.  Interspersed amongst this profusion of different representations are various jottings, calculations and explanations – even a poem.  The diversity of material in Fragments complicates the question of its dating. Though the volume illustrates and records details of ships built by Baker between the early 1570s and the mid-1580s, it is possible that the surviving text and images were drawn up in later years.  Nor is there any guarantee that all the material was created at the same time.  There is thus no secure way of linking Fragments to a particular stage of Baker’s long career.

It seems that during the Elizabethan period and earlier the craftsmen who built the ships relied on practical knowledge and experience which was passed on through word of mouth and apprenticeships.  Development was based on improving what worked and changing what didn’t (how many people lost their lives this way?) – assuming that what didn’t work returned to port for comment!  Elizabethan Shipwrights didn’t even build models; this also seems to be a later practice.

The conclusion of this research was that there are no definitive plans available.  All models are based on a ‘best guesstimate’, paintings or engravings and written descriptions.  All of these are open to interpretation by the artist or author.

If the modeller was unable to establish certain details from the copperplate engraving (if, for example it was an engraving of it at sea and so could not see below the waterline) then he is going to interpret it as best he can, based on his knowledge and experience.  Hence the German influence on some of the detail.

Please also remember when considering this model that there is a total absence of any specific plans or accurate models from the Elizabethan period and therefore one needs to rely upon engravings, paintings and written descriptions of third parties when producing models or replicas 400 years later.

Sources of information used for the restoration and completion of the model

The Science Museum, London, has a model of the ‘Elizabeth Jonas’ as rebuilt in 1597 – 1598. They offer for sale a hull plan produced by the model makers titled Model of Elizabethan Galleon (C.1600), made in the Science Museum London, from the             contemporary plans, “Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry” preserved in the    Pepsyian Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.  The plan is to a scale of 1:96, and the date of the plan copy is 1953.  The Elizabeth Jonas was originally launched in 1559, but will have been substantially altered during her rebuild.

The model of the Elizabeth Jonas has a number of significant differences to this model, but I used the plan to provide information on deck gratings, Cannon, Anchors, Forward and After Cubbridge Head entrances.

The booklet Period Ship Modelling by R. K. Battson printed by Percival Marshall in (I think) the 1950’s showed an illustration on the front cover which looked very similar to this model.  The book is subtitled Constructional notes, with sixty five diagrams on the making of an Elizabethan Galleon.  Unfortunately the level of detail is very sketchy indeed and the only useful information it provided was a little bit on the rigging as it did describe this in reasonable detail.

Another source was a book Historic Sail, the glory of the Sailing Ship from the 13th to the 19th Century by Joseph Wheatley with text by the leading Naval Historian Stephen   Howarth, first published in 2000.  In the introduction by Stephen Howarth he writes about Joseph Wheatley: ‘He…. devoted himself to the study and graphic reconstruction of historic sailing ships.  Over the years he created for his own pleasure a large and still growing collection of highly detailed, intricate reconstructive drawings.  Joseph Wheatley returned wherever possible to original sources.  In building his own conclusions he found that in the absence of proof positive, where evidence is literally sketchy, such conclusions must to an extent be speculative informed guesses.  Where a degree of uncertainty exists over the reconstruction of a given ship, it is noted in the accompanying captions and remains open to discussion.’

Such is my philosophy in restoring and completing this model.

The following illustrations in the aforementioned book were taken as guides for the model: Triumph, 1562; White Bear, 1564 – 99;  A light Elizabethan Galleon, 1574; Revenge, 1577; Golden Lion, 1582; A large Elizabethan Galleon, 1586; A race-built English Warship, 1586 and Ark Royal, 1587.  These provided information on the positioning on deck of the Ship’s Boat, different designs for the Forward and After Cubbridge Head entrances, rigging plans for the standing rigging, lanterns and flags.

The final source was the BBC programme The Ships that built Britain presented by Tom Cunliffe which featured John Cabot’s Ship, the Matthew of 1497.  Now, I realise that this predated the model by 80 years, but it confirmed some interesting detail such as how what looked like portholes at the rear opened.  Not as I thought like portholes, but as a complete fixture rather like a small door, presumably for ventilating the Ship and loading/unloading stores.  It illustrated the absence of footrope and stirrups on the main Yard as this was lowered to the deck and the sail close fitted there and then hauled aloft.  Hence the Capstans situated immediately below deck for the Fore and Main Course to provide the necessary ‘muscle’ to raise and lower these enormous sails.  The vertical post tiller and its relative size to a man.  The lack of water tightness in the Fo’csle deck.  The colour of the Hull below the water line being black instead of white as is shown in most illustrations of Elizabethan warships.  The original modeller painted this black and so on the strength of this I have left it black.

The philosophy in restoring / completing the model

The original workmanship is of a very high standard, although some of the earlier repair work and additions did not reflect this.  Where possible these additions have been   removed and the poor repairs reworked. For example the Crows nests have been re-repaired and where missing shields have been replaced they are clearly marked.

Dusty, derelict, desperate for tlc.

The model as received was very, very dusty and although cleaned up has retained a rather pleasing natural weathered look.  Battson did offer this advice with regard to the character of the model which was god advice and I quote: ‘Do your best to impart atmosphere and character.  These qualities, I know, are imponderables.  The models failed to convince because they were too perfect.  Picture in your mind the old ships as they were blown about the seas of the world;  their hulls shabby, salt stained and weather beaten; their running gear spliced and repaired; their canvas sometimes old and grey and patched.  Their sides did not glisten like mirrors in the sunshine, nor did their sails always gleam white in regular geometric curves’.  Further confirmation of my philosophy in restoring and completing this model.

Ships boat without masts and rigging

The Ships boat is scratch built (apart from the hull) based on a model in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, the ‘Medway’.  Although this is of a later period I felt that in the absence of any specific drawings for an Elizabethan Ships Boat that this was the closest I could get and besides, I liked the look of the model!

More photographs of the Ships boat model.

Muzzle end of cannon



The cannon are based on the drawings from the Elizabeth Jonas and an illustration in the Daily Mail of the cannon recovered from a wreck half a mile off the coast of  Alderney.  The model cannon are turned from steel.


Courser gratings; one completed, one under construction

It has been commented on that the gratings fitted are too fine for the period.  Well I originally modelled the gratings truer to scale, but I considered they looked far too coarse and clumsy when fitted.  As this is not a museum standard model, but rather a good representation of an Elizabethan Galleon I adopted the philosophy that it had to look right and so I remade them finer as in my opinion they look better.  The same goes for the rigging.  It has to look pleasing to the eye and not clumsy.


Possible date of construction

A number of people with knowledge of ship models who have studied this model have suggested the following points of note:

An interesting comment was that the copperplate engraving could have been in a Church as apparently it was quite customary for Sea Captains to have these made as part of their memorials.

Another knowledgeable individual has suggested that the rope work originally on the model was most likely made by someone with experience of serving on sailing ships.  As the builder is most likely to be German then perhaps they served in the Imperial German Navy and received their initial training on a sailing ship?  Read about the Germanic Connection.

They may also have had access to the copperplate engraving if they attended a local Church.  Some of the rigging is extremely delicate perhaps again indicating age.  A lot of it has been covered in wax to preserve it ( but this is still an accepted modelling technique).

In conversation with John Graves, (Curator of Ship History, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich) to whom I sent photographs he postulated that it might be late Victorian as apparently this type of model was quite popular at this time.  He could not say definitely though and would need to thoroughly investigate the interior of the Hull and even send some paint away for analysis.

My curiosity was further aroused by a photograph I saw in the book ‘The Battle of Britain’ by Leonard Mosley printed by Time Life Books in 1977 and reprinted in 1998.  On page 83 there is a photograph of Hermann Göring with an almost identical Galleon model.  The photograph is credited ‘Stefan Lorant, © Ernest Sandau, Berlin; Library of Congress.


All this confirms the modeller was German and makes me think it might be constructed in the 1940’s by a German POW held in Scotland – but I cannot prove it.

The model is for sale