Of Dolphins and Sea Captains

Julie asks:

What’s happened to the statue of Captain Cook and the Dolphin Sundial that used to be outside the Maritime Museum?

The Phantom replies:

Captain Cook, I am told, is safely in storage while the new Sammy Ofer wing is being built. I am hoping he’ll make a reappearance when the new entrance is opened.

The fabulous Dolphins, which have to form the prettiest modern sundial in the world, worried me for a while when they also suddenly disappeared from outside the NMM tearooms, but I am very happy to say that they’ve found an even nicer home now.

The sundial is designed by Christopher Daniel, who worked at the National Maritime Museum from 1964 until 1986, when he left to become a sundial designer, which has to be one of the most romantic jobs ever. His elegant but brief webpage proves that he doesn’t just deal in dolphins – I particularly like the stained glass dial at the Merchant Adventurers Hall in York.

The scuplture part of the dial is by Edwin Russell, and the whole was created to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

What’s so lovely about the Jubilee Dolphin sundial is the way it works. There’s a tiny gap between the dolphins’ tails and when the sun shines it gleams through the gap onto the ‘page’ below and tells the time, on wavy lines that means it’s accurate in the summer and winter.

It can now be found in the sweet, if slightly baffling, Titanic Memorial Garden at the Observatory. It’s a lovely little formal garden round the back (which now forms the entrance to the old buildings) which used to be paved over in a very dull fashion. They have finally made a feature of Flamsteed’s Well and though it’s still just a little round brick thing filled with gravel, and hasn’t been excavated (chiz) it does at least have an explanatory plaque there now. 

The garden, opened in 2009, is London’s first permanent memorial to the 1912 disaster, but why exactly it’s at the Royal Observatory, or, indeed, what dolphins have to do with the Titanic, I have no idea.

If you’re really into sundials, you might like the little Shire book that Christopher Daniel wrote, Sundials. Hell – I’m even tempted to join the British Sundial Society, so I can learn how to make my own, though I’m suspecting it won’t be quite as lovely as the dolphins…


the attachments to this post:

titanic 2
titanic 2

titanic 1
titanic 1

flamsteeds well 2
flamsteeds well 2

flamsteed's well
flamsteed’s well

dolphins 3
dolphins 3

dolphins 2
dolphins 2

dolphins 1
dolphins 1


4 Comments to “Of Dolphins and Sea Captains”

  1. scared of chives says:

    where’s the first photo taken from…did you climb up the outside of the building…?!

  2. Chris says:

    Surely the dolphins were originally in their own Titanic memorial garden at the Maritime Museum which was created a few years before 2009. This garden itself has now been ‘re-created’ further to the West and has a plaque explaining this.

  3. Steve says:

    Scared Of Chives – next to the gift shop there are stairs leading up to some spiral stairs which then lead out onto the roof, whence the photo was taken I’d guess.

  4. scared of chives says:

    never knew they were there – thanks steve