The items on display in the Vancouver Maritime Museum represent a fraction of the material in our collections. Like most museums, we have objects of great beauty and historical significance hidden away in storage. Our collections associate Mary Elizabeth Harris writes about one such piece, a beautiful model of a vessel with a controversial origin. 

King Charles I who ascended the throne of Great Britain in 1625 wanted to build a galleon warship that exuded unparalleled wealth, power and ornamentation. In 1635 he commissioned Sir Phineas Pitt to build the largest, most decorated and commanding ship ever seen. The vessel was so massive that it could not be manoeuvred in the harbour. Regardless of protest made from the Corporation of Trinity House, who’s duties and powers oversee marine surveying, lighthouses, naval inspections, and more, the ship launched in 1637.

To help fund his naval engineering plans, King Charles I demanded Ship Money from the people of England and Wales. Ship Money was a special levy imposed on coastal towns to pay for naval defense. Though he was not the first to demand Ship Money, Charles I was the first to demand it during peacetime.

Once completed, Sovereign of the Seas carried 102 bronze guns and had three decks. The hull had a draft of 23.5 feet, with a broadside width of 46 feet and 127 feet long keel line. The ship cost £65,586 (equal to over £8 million today). The figurehead resembled King Edward riding a raging horse over seven enemy corpses. Also carved over the stern (and translated into English) was “Might who governs the waves, the winds, and the ships protect this vessel, oh Charles the Great!” The effects of this warship’s appearance is best summed up by the Dutch seaman who called it Golden Devil

In 1696 the ship went up in flames from an overturned candle and lack of supervision by a watchman.

This ship model of Sovereign of the Seas was built in 1983 and has been on loan to the Vancouver Maritime Museum since 1987. It’s a scratch-built model, which means the ship model builder created each element from raw materials and did not assemble it via a prefabricated or commercial kit. At approximately four feet high, Sovereign of the Seas is one of the larger ship models in the VMM collections.

This model is VMM Collections item number L000.011.001