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The Making of Monsters of the Deep in Chatham

24 March 2023

Monsters of the Deep is the new exhibition arriving at the Historic Dockyard on Saturday 1 April and the team have been working hard over the last few months to bring this exhibition to life. This includes landmark moments such as the installation of the Orca Whale Skeleton, right the way through to the simplest of things such as repainting the gallery, all of this and more goes into helping our mysterious deep-sea friends feel at home in No.1 Smithery.

Curated by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall with the National Oceanography Centre’s Discovery Collections, Monsters of the Deep breathes life into the supernatural and shows how the fantastical co-exists with science as we try to make sense of what lives down in the depths of the ocean.

Where it all started

Originally opened at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth in 2020 Monsters of the Deep shares creatures from the National Oceanography Centre’s Discovery Collections (first started in 1925) which aim to record life at the darkest depths of the ocean alongside historical stories of myth and legend.

The team in Chatham made several visits to Falmouth over the last 18 months and worked with the team in Cornwall to understand how the exhibition could be safely transported from one end of the country to the other.

In Chatham Monsters of the Deep will be on display in No.1 Smithery until November 2023. Our flexible, temporary exhibition space hosts a brand new exhibition each year.

The first stage of any exhibition installation involves planning how the space will be utilised – this is done months in advance of any physical changes to the space. The team had to take down the previous exhibition (in this case it was Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744), repaint the walls and move the interior walls to reimagine the space for the new exhibition – everything perfectly positioned to give visitors an immersive journey through the history of sea monsters.

Seeing the image above, it must be quite difficult to imagine what it will look like, let’s start installing objects to bring it to life …

The arrival of the Orca Whale

Palaeontologist, Nigel Larkin, installed the magnificent Orca Whale Skeleton, which is the first ‘monster of the deep’ you will see when you enter No.1 Smithery.

The skeleton was delivered largely in one frame, with only the head, fin and a few small extra pieces to be added on once it arrived. This was then hoisted into position high up in the orientation gallery.

Watch the full installation in this short video –

Shortly after this installation, a collection of specimen jars were installed underneath, more on that later…

Building the Circus Tent

Roll up, roll up! Discover a magical mermaid in the immersive Circus Tent that takes you back in time with an interactive video showcasing how ‘mythical creatures’ stared in circus acts.

The lighting, objects and atmosphere place you in the minds of our ancestors, who believed in the legends of these monsters of the deep.

The specimen jars

There are over 150 specimen jars from the National Oceanography Centre Discovery Collections on display in an impressive case. Each jar has been carefully positioned by Dr. Tammy Horton, the scientist responsible for the Discovery Collections specimens and the keeper of the real-life monsters of the deep.

Get up close and personal with a variety of deep-sea specimens from the NOC’s vast collection that was started in 1925.

Made up of over 70,000 items, the NOC has kindly lent multiple specimens to Monsters of the Deep.

Monsters of the Medway

Our team of dedicated Research Volunteers have been working closely with the Collections Team to pull together fascinating discoveries of Monsters throughout history in the River Medway… have you spotted anything lurking in the local waters?

This research is presented alongside the sea serpent figurehead of HMS SALAMIS, launched at Chatham.

Installation of the Bubble Plinth

Unless you are a deep-sea marine biologist you’re unlikely to have got up close and personal with a Giant Sea Spider the size of your face, or come within inches of a carnivorous Giant Deep-Sea Isopod, but thanks to the National Oceanography Centre Discovery Collection you can now encounter species rarely seen by most of the population.

These star specimens, from the most unexplored parts of the planet, are displayed atop tubes of bubbling water.

The home of the historic Coelacanth Fish

Coelacanths are elusive, deep-sea creatures, living in depths up to 2,300 feet below the surface. Known as the ‘living fossil’ due to fact it was thought they had been extinct for 70 million years, until one was discovered alive in the 20th century. This impressive specimen was installed by Keeper of Biology, Dan Gordon from TWMuseums.

Don’t miss your chance to stand alongside the 6ft tall fish.


A word from our Collections, Galleries and Interpretation Manager, Nick Ball, “We are indebted to co-curators of the exhibition Dr Darren Naish, Dr Tammy Horton, the team at NOC and National Maritime Museum Cornwall, for loaning us this unique exhibition which provides a human story of why we study the oceans, how we’ve studied them since time began and how our thoughts on what lives in the oceans has changed over time.  We are now at a time when we can really understand what lives in the depths of the ocean.”

Knitted Sea Creatures

Next to Monsters of the Deep in the Pipe Bending Floor, we have a treasure trove of magnificent knitted sea creatures known as the ‘Guardians of the Estuary’ which has been created in partnership with Medway Swale Estuary Partnership. The exhibition has been created to highlight the amazing wildlife found with the Medway and Swale Estuaries and the plight they face from litter.

This has been a massive community project with a huge number of volunteers knitting and crocheting the creatures and our thanks goes to everyone who has given their time (and their wool) to create this brilliant exhibition.

Are you ready to take a deep breath and plunge down to the dark murky depths of the ocean?

That’s our work done, now it is over to you to set foot in the fantastical world of Monsters of the Deep when it opens on Saturday 1 April.

Access to the exhibition is included in your entry ticket to the Dockyard which you can purchase here.

We can’t wait to open the doors. See you there!

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