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BCMH AGM - Chair's Report

Posted: Wednesday 5th July 2023

BCMH AGM - Chair's Report



Chair’s Report for BCMH Annual General Meeting, 29 June 2023

I am indebted to all of you who have been working to keep BCMH and its events on track and successful throughout 2022-23.

The following are some of the highlights for the Commission over the past year:



Loss of Trustee

Peter Skidmore unexpectedly passed away on 29 November 2022. He was only able to serve for three years, but he was a regular panel member for the John Armstrong Prize. He also made many scholarly contributions to knowledge of coastal trade and shipping in both northwest England and Cornwall during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His obituary can be read on the BCMH website.

New Researchers in Maritime History Conference

This year we held the conference at the University of Portsmouth, organised by James Davey and Cathryn Pearce. While there were some impediments in the organising of the event because of industrial action of university staff and rail, we were able to pull together another successful conference. The Mary Rose Museum waived their entrance fees to provide delegates with a well-received tour of the Mary Rose Museum. Professor Brad Beaven of Portsmouth’s new Port Cities and Maritime Cultures Centre gave a fascinating keynote on ‘The Devil’s Highway: Victorian Anxieties and Sailortown Cultures in London, c. 1850-1900’.

Thank you to Richard Harding for closing the conference, and to Richard, Margarette Lincoln, and Louise Sanger for attending and offering support to our new researchers. Two other trustees registered for the conference, but couldn’t make it. We thank them for trying! The conference continued to uphold its sterling reputation for welcoming new researchers and presenting leading research. I also want to extend my appreciation to the SNR for funding and to the World Ship Society for once again offering bursaries to assist PhD students and independent researchers with travel and accommodation costs. The bursaries were appreciated.

King’s Seminars and Proctor Lecture

The King’s Seminar Series continued to have a strong slate of speakers. This year Alan James was on sabbatical, but he organised the programme before leaving for France with the assistance of Hugh Murphy, Roy Fenton and Andrew Lambert. The seminar continues to be hybrid, with in-person and distance delivery options, which has greatly increased attendance. Our gratitude goes to King’s College London’s School of Security Studies for providing online registration and Zoom links, and to Alex Pickering, one of Alan’s students, for the IT support.  Thanks also to the Society for Nautical Research for supporting the series. It is such a fantastic way to extend maritime history scholarship, and for us to meet BCMH educational aims.

This year we held the Proctor Memorial Lecture for the first time since the hiatus forced by the pandemic. Thank you to King’s College London and Dr Alan James for arranging space while our normal venue, Lloyd’s Register Heritage Foundation, is undergoing refurbishment. I’d also like to thank the LRFHEC for agreeing to support the reception and working so hard coordinating everything, and to Luca for volunteering his services to check people in. Professor Claire Jowitt of the University of East Anglia graciously accepted our invitation to speak about H.M.S. Gloucester project she and new trustee Dr Ben Redding (UEA) have been working on. She kindly shared with us cutting edge news and images that had not yet been made public in her ‘Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck: The Loss of the Gloucester, 1682’. Next year’s speaker will be from our international community. Location TBA.

BCMH Prizes

Thank you to coordinators Alan James (BA prize), Richard Harding (MA prize), Sarah Palmer (Doctoral prize), Roy Fenton (John Armstrong prize) and all panel members for their hard work.

Prize winners for 2022 are:

Undergraduate prizes:

Taylan Campbell (University of Aberdeen), Boyd Cable and his Aberdeen Clippers

Maria Cunningham (UCL), ‘More than Concrete’: Investigating the Preservation of WWII Coastal Defences on the South-East Coast of England

Jack Jenner (University of Oxford), International Shipping through South-West Wales using Evidence from Port Books, 1550-1603

Laura Jones (University of Plymouth), ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’: A Study of the Injuries Sustained by the Pensioners of the Chatham Chest, 1793-4

Andrew Marris (University of York), ‘That great sheet-anchor of our hope’: Naval Patriotism, Representation and Commemoration, 1800-1840

Lucas Pangaro (University of Cambridge), Convict Resistance on Prison Hulks in Britain, 1776-1794

MA prize: Emma Haddon (U of Portsmouth), ‘The Hulks of the Hamoaze: a Study of the Receiving Ships of Plymouth during the Napoleonic Wars’

Boydell & Brewer Doctoral Prize: Jake Dyble (University of Exeter/University of Pisa), ‘Average-Transaction Costs and Risk Management During the First Globalisation (16th-18th Centuries)’

John Armstrong Prize: Dr Aaro Sahari (University of Helsinki) and Saara Matala (Chalmers University of Technology, Stockholm), for ‘Of a Titan, Winds and Power: Transnational Development of the Icebreaker, 1890-1954,’ International Journal of Maritime History, 33 (4), 2021, pp. 722-747.  


Louise Sanger has done a brilliant job maintaining and improving the new BCMH website so it supports our ability to reach out to the interested public. I also thank Louise for tweeting about the papers presented at this year’s New Researchers Conference and for taking the photos of our MA prize winners and posting them on the website. The publicity was quite valuable for us.

Retirements: Looking Back

Finally, the AGM 2023 will see the retirement of two BCMH officers, Cathryn Pearce as Chair and Roy Fenton as Treasurer. We have, respectively, served the Commission for 6 years and 7.5 years. I thank Roy for his service and supporting while both of our roles expanded. He kept our finances on an even keel, and— a highlight— coordinated the creation the John Armstrong Memorial Prize from legacy funds.

I have enjoyed being the head of BCMH, but felt it was time for a change in leadership and a rest from my duties. It has been an eventful six years. I am deeply grateful for the support you all have given me. I almost did not accept the nomination in my shock of ‘who me?’ but I trusted Sarah Palmer and David Starkey’s opinion and so I accepted. I’m glad I did. Sarah and David suggested that I might be able to facilitate new ways for us to meet our objectives. Between the ‘Way Forward’ group and the work of trustees, we were able to:

  1. Coordinate and cooperate with other maritime history organisations. We formed an official affiliation with the SNR with a Memorandum of Understanding to clarify our relationship. Thanks to Margarette Lincoln and Richard Harding for drafting the MoU, which was accepted by the then chairman of SNR, Adm. Sir Kenneth Eaton. There is still much to do with other maritime history organisations.
  2. Increase our communication and outreach by developing a new website. Thanks to Helen Doe for finding Iteracy and working with them to design the site. It has refreshed our public-facing brand and it is now a pleasure to point people to the site for information on our events and prizes. Thanks to Louise Sanger for keeping it updated and working with Iteracy to offer new capabilities, such as the ability to centralize submission of prize nominations.
  3. Encourage the writing of maritime history. We began
    1. Offering MA prize winners the opportunity to work with the editor of the International Journal of Maritime History and to publish a version of their winning dissertations, subject to peer review. Thank you to David Starkey for implementing this. We’ve had two M.A. prize winners published thus far.
    2. Hosting a ‘Writing Maritime History Workshop’, to draw on the talents of Trustees and to engage maritime historians with different forms of historical writing. This workshop is designed to extend encouragement to the public, in addition to the support we give to students. It is a project close to my heart. Thanks to Royal Museums Greenwich for hosting our first workshop in 2019. Its popularity and feedback showed that there was an appetite for this kind of event. I’m obliged to Aaron Jaffer and Richard Blackmore for organising the second workshop, which had to be held online because of the Coronavirus epidemic. The result was an event with an international reach. I would like to extend a huge thank you to all Trustees who presented at the workshops. I’m looking forward to seeing how the workshop develops in the future.
    3. Revitalizing the New Researchers Conference and restoring it to its yearly schedule. Host institutions had cancelled the conference for two of the three years before I became Chair. Thanks to Helen Doe for volunteering as NRC Coordinator and for co-organising successful conferences in Bristol, Liverpool, and Chatham, as well as the organising and running an online conference during Lockdown.
    4. Presenting a frameable certificate for our prize winners. I brought the suggestion to Trustees after a query from a past MA prize winner. Thanks to Louise Sanger and her team for designing and printing the new certificates, which the winners enthusiastically received.
  4. Improve management procedures of the BCMH by
    1. Instituting a new conduct statement for our events to facilitate a safe, inclusive space for trustees, new researchers, and event delegates. Thanks to Richard Blakemore for submitting conduct statements from other organisations and a draft that allowed us to amend our Trust Document and to include a statement on our website.
    2. Producing clearer documentation – annual calendar, role descriptions, rolling responsibilities to clarify lengths of tenure for major roles. We also simplified trustee renewals to once a year and changed the AGM to the summer meeting. These improvements were the result of the ideas and work of Vice-Chairs Richard Harding and Helen Doe.

My tenure also saw the sad loss of four of our Fellows: John Armstrong, Patricia Crimmin, Peter Davies, David Williams. All were not only established scholars, but they were also beloved mentors and founders of BCMH, who fulfilled the aims of BCMH admirably. The BCMH has instituted an ‘In Memoriam’ page on the website and had held memorial lectures. May we continue to honour them through our support of the Commission in the future.

This meeting will see trustees vote in a new, incoming Chair. I hand the proverbial invisible Chair’s gavel to them and wish them well in the years ahead.

Respectfully submitted,

Cathryn Pearce, Chair, BCMH








Image by Catkin from Pixabay