Amgueddfa Blog: General

What does ‘Wales and the Sea’ mean to me?

Well, quite simply, it’s a huge part of who I am!

Through my late father, I am the nephew, grandson, great nephew, great-grandson and great-great grandson of seafarers from the Ceredigion coastal village of Aber-porth.

They were all part of the massive, disproportionate even, contribution that Welsh seafarers made to the British merchant fleet during the two centuries 1750-1950.

Almost all reached the rank of master mariner, and over the centuries they commanded vessels that ranged in size from little coastal smacks that brought culm and limestone to Aber-porth in the 19th century, to the largest bulk carrier under the Red Ensign in the late 1960s.

One of them lies deep in the cold waters off Newfoundland where he drowned after his ship struck an iceberg. Another lies buried in the British cemetery at Chacarita in Buenos Aires, where he died whilst the Cardiff tramp he commanded was discharging Welsh coal to power Argentina’s railways and meat packing plants. Another had to deal with a murder on his ship after a dispute between two crew members over a gambling debt got way out of hand.

But mine is just not a story about seafaring men.

Communities like Aber-porth, where, at any one time in the early 20th century, up to half the village’s male population might be away at sea, were matriarchal communities, where strong women brought up families single-handed and endured the absence of their loved ones over extended periods. It is difficult to fathom the anguish and worry that they must have experienced on countless stormy nights, with thousands of miles of forbidding seas between them and their loved ones.

Nevertheless, there were advantages to being a captain’s wife! If their husband’s ship was in an UK or near-continental port, they would often travel to meet them for a brief interlude of conjugal company, taking advantage of their visits to sample the best shops with the latest fashions in Cardiff, Newcastle or Glasgow - even Antwerp or Hamburg!

And the wives of master mariners were always accorded the respect ashore that their husbands had at sea – my great-grandmother would always have been addressed as Mrs. Captain Jenkins!

With such an ancestry as this, it is ironic that accidents of employment meant that I was brought up miles from the sea in the heart of Montgomeryshire; visits to relatives in Aber-porth, when we fished for mackerel and set lobster pots, were confined to school holidays!

Montgomeryshire is my mother’s ancestral home; members of her family have been farming in the north of the former county since Elizabethan times at least, and one might think that the sea had little impact on their daily lives.

Nevertheless, in the mid-1880s, they had to leave their home, Ty Ucha' in the village of Llanwddyn, because the River Efyrnwy was being dammed to provide water for Liverpool, then at the height of its commercial success as one of Britain's foremost ports.

The impact of the sea extends far beyond our coasts, so this year’s event should be an event for all of Wales, not just our coastal communities.

Dr David Jenkins, Honorary Research Fellow.


The discovery of the Welsh dinosaur Dracoraptor showed us that dinosaurs lived in the Jurassic of south Wales 200 million years ago. However if you went back to that time you would also have seen little shrew-like mammals hiding in the undergrowth, these are the very earliest mammals.


The bones and teeth of these tiny, furry creatures are preserved in caves and fissures in rocks, where perhaps they were sheltering, or even hibernating during cold winters. Fossils of these minute mammals were first found in a quarry in south Wales seventy years ago. Palaeontologists have pieced together the fragile bones to reconstruct what the animals would have looked like. One early mammal has been named Morganucodon which means "Glamorgan tooth”


New research undertaken at Bristol University, funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council, used powerful X-rays to scan these tiny bones making it possible to piece together the fragments digitally. Then, using modern mammals as a guide, palaeontologists digitally recreated muscles on scanned images of the skeleton. Bristol scientists used computer simulations to work out how a skeleton worked. By looking at their teeth they could tell that some early mammals were able to crunch insects with hard wing cases, while others could only bite softer ones.


We have a new display in our Insight gallery highlighting this research which includes an amazing model of Morganucodon, made by palaeoartist Bob Nicholls. It looks unbelievably lifelike and answers to the name Morgie!

Ahoy there!

You might have heard that 2018 is Wales’ Year of the Sea – and to celebrate, we’ll be sharing some amazing stories about the people, places and objects that make up Wales’ marine and maritime history.

Every week, we’ll be posting about our events, collections and exhibitions – as well as ways for you to take part in Year of the Sea, wherever you are in Wales!

Every one of our seven museums will be taking part : you’ll find tales of treachery and treason in a brand new Pirates exhibition at the National Waterfront Museum; explore the diverse seashore of Wales in the natural history galleries of National Museum Cardiff, and even visit a knitted underwater grotto at the National Wool Museum!

Keep an eye on our website for some special sea-themed blogs, and follow us on   twitter @AmgueddfaCymru, and on facebook /amgueddfacymru to find out more.

Nearing the four-month mark since I stepped into National Museum Wales for the first day of my Professional Training Year (PTY) placement from Cardiff University, my goal of achieving new experiences in the world of marine invertebrate research is definitely underway. This is now taking form in the way of the Magelonidae, the shovelhead worms, a family of polychaetes with many unanswered questions hovering around them in regards to their ecology, taxonomy and behaviour.

Through starting with live observations in the museum lab in July of Magelona alleni, a rather chunky species of magelonid, my project has developed into some exciting discoveries regarding not only the feeding of these amazing worms, but also how they poo, hence the title of the blog post! As boring as worm defecation sounds, this is not the case when you watch how these amazing animals decide to actually get rid of their dinner (there will be more about the details of this in my next blog post when we have finished working on this interesting behaviour).

These findings have led me down a road of using many new techniques to be able to present my work in a professional and scientific manner. This includes scientific drawing using a camera lucida attachment on a microscope, photography in the way of time-lapse captures, film and image stacking, image editing, reviewing relevant literature, statistical analysis, dissection and SEM (scanning electron microscopy) to name but a few.

In addition to these skills I have learnt much about day to day tasks the museum carries out, including learning methods of curation for an impressive collection of marine invertebrates, holding over 750,000 specimens and having the opportunity to partake in sampling trips to collect more animals for the further development of my project and other projects around the museum. I have also settled into the role of tank maintenance for not only the shovelhead worms, but also some of our resident anemones, hermit crabs, starfish, sea potatoes and prawns. I have even tried my hand at outreach on one of the museum’s stands during the evening event ‘After Dark at the Museum’ with Cardiff University, which saw nearly 2000 people (mainly families) enjoy a hands on experience.

One crucial advantage that I feel I have obtained over these last few months is that I am starting to enjoy a great appreciation for the diversity of life in our seas, from the very tiny, such as organisms like diatoms and foraminiferans to the impressively large, like the young humpback whale skeleton on display in the museum, which I get the pleasure of walking past most days. All in all, my experiences so far have been beyond valuable and who knows what the next few months of research here will bring.

Find out more about how I got on when I first started at the museum

We've had a great few days at the museum, being half term we created lots of different art activities for visitrs to try in the 'Who Decides' exhibition. People created monsters and put them on sticks and took photos of their favourite things in the gallery.

Visitors made monsters and photgrpahed them with tehir favourite art

Inspired by the sculpture they made sculptures from pipe cleaners. The Besson ceramics collection let people be creative by making their own designs on plates. The visitors really enjoyed taking part and we had a great time to, talking about the art we've chosen with visitors.

sculptures from pipecleaners

There was a (nice!) mess on the floor afterwards but Mike did a great job clearing up!

A happy mess!

If you took part dont forget to share your photos on social media using #wallichXart

Visitors to the exhibition have left some great messages

There will be lots more events and activities happening in the gallery over the coming months. Check our events web page for more information.