A tribute to Michael Stammers – 1943-2013
Contributed by John Robinson, UK
Michael Stammers BA FSA, who died on 30 January 2013 after a period of illness, was outstanding among his generation of maritime curators for his energy and diligence; qualities tested over the several years that it required to establish the Merseyside Maritime Museum in the long-neglected Albert Dock complex at Liverpool.
Born in Norfolk UK, Mike arrived in Liverpool in 1969 as Assistant Keeper of Shipping & Transport under Edward Paget-Tomlinson. He led the team that prepared new Land Transport Galleries, opened in 1972, and attended the inaugural Congress of ICMM at Greenwich later that year. Following the rescue of Brunel’s ss Great Britain from the Falkland Islands, Mike made several visits to Port Stanley to investigate and record other historic sailing ships abandoned there, including the Canadian Actaeon of 1838, the British-built Vicar of Bray (1841) and Jhelum (1849) and the American clipper Snow Squall of 1851. Having crawled all over these ships, he used his findings in a seminal paper on Iron knees in wooden vessels, published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology in 2001.
Perhaps it was his familiarity with how these and other vessels decayed over time that bred in Mike a healthy caution towards over-ambitious ship preservation schemes. When other museums in the UK were rashly accepting custody of vessels, which subsequently they were unable to care for, Mike avoided the temptation to fill the Albert Dock basin with the retired vessels that were regularly offered to the Maritime Museum. Thanks to the rigour of his collection policy, the Museum which he led set an example in maintaining a dedicated team of shipwrights and craftsmen to look after the outside exhibits to a high standard. He was dismayed at the change of policy that brought a depletion of those resources following his retirement in August 2003.
Mike retained the honorary title of Keeper Emeritus into retirement, which gave him time to devote to other honorary roles such as Curator of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club’s collection and editorial duties for Maritime Wales and The Falkland Islands Journal. He wrote well over 20 books on maritime and local history topics, and was generous with his support for younger researchers, for whom he always found time during a busy professional life. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and in 2003 was honoured with the Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award, particularly in recognition of his contributions to the events in Liverpool to mark the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, which had been directed from a wartime bunker at the Liverpool Pier Head.
His most substantial publication is perhaps The Passage Makers, a history of the Liverpool-based Black Ball line of Australian packet ships, published by Teredo Books in 1978. Towards the end of his life, Mike set about revising that work, but turned up so much new material in the Bank of England archives, the State Library of Victoria and the Australian National Maritime Museum Library that the result is virtually a new book, published right at the end of Mike’s life by Milepost Research as Emigrant Clippers to Australia.
Those privileged to know Mike will cherish memories of his good humour, patience, generosity of spirit and devotion to the cause of maritime history and responsible curatorship. In the words of Sir Neil Cossons, who worked with Mike at Liverpool from 1969-71, we have lost ‘a kind, generous, deeply knowledgeable man whose contribution to scholarship and maritime history vastly exceeds anything for which he gained credit or recognition’.