See the seven artefacts from the Mary Rose appearing on BBC Two's Great History Quiz Christmas special

| 24 December 2015

When captains Dr Lucy Worsley and Dan Snow lead their teams into battle in a Tudor special on BBC Two's The Great History Quiz, one of the rounds to navigate will feature seven artefacts from the Mary Rose Museum

Urethral syringe

A photo of an ancient syringe from the mary rose
© Mary Rose Trust
This syringe was one of three recovered from the surgeon’s cabin of the Mary Rose. Of the trio, it is the only one made of pewter, with a bronze ‘needle’ and a leather washer on the plunger. It measures 260mm with a plunger of 150mm.

Syringes such as this were used for urethral irrigations, inserted into the urethra and flushing it out with caustic fluids such as mercury, which would burn off sores caused by diseases such as syphilis.

Curators are careful to add that, although traces of mercury were recovered from the surgeon’s chest, none of the human remains showed traces of syphilis.

The ship's bell

A photo of an ancient golden bell from the mary rose
© Mary Rose Trust
This cast bronze bell was found near the sterncastle of the Mary Rose, close to a beech structure believed to have been the bell hanger.

It would have been rung every half hour, telling the crew how far they were into their watches, which are believed to have lasted for four hours.

One thing it does tell curators is that the ship is the Mary Rose. The Mary Rose's name isn't written on any part of her hull, nor on her artefacts. But studies of the rings in the timbers allows comparison with known climates, so you can tell that none of the Mary Rose timbers date from later than 1545.

The recorded site in the Cowdray engraving is very close to where she actually went down, and on this bell is cast the legend "Ic ben ghegoten int yaer MCCCCCX’".

For those of you not up on your Flemish,  that means "I was made in the year 1510", so the ship it belonged to must have been built then.

As all the evidence points to her being an English warship, you have to consider which ships were under construction in 1510. There were only two; The Peter Pomegranate - which remained in service until 1558 - and the Mary Rose. It therefore must be the Mary Rose.


A photo of an ancient brown long implement from the mary rose
© Mary Rose Trust
This is one of 44 Linstocks, from the dutch word lontstok, meaning "match stick", found on board the Mary Rose. It is made of ash and was found in the Hold, although it may have drifted after the ship went down.

Linstocks were a vital piece of equipment on board a warship like the Mary Rose, as they were used for firing the large iron and bronze guns while keeping the gun crew at least two arms-lengths away from danger.

A cord soaked in saltpetre, which burns very slowly, would be wrapped around the linstock and slotted in to the mouth. Once the gun was primed and ready to fire, the smouldering tip of the cord would be placed to the touch hole, triggering an explosion that could fire a piece of shot over a mile.

It is believed that the gun captains would have decorated their own linstocks, carving them in their own time. As well as the dragon on this example, clearly inspired by the flaming cord in its mouth, curators also found lions, other reptiles and even two examples in the form of a clenched fist, with the thumb protruding between the fingers – a gesture that is both considered luck and rude! Perfect for a superstitious sailor.

Hailshot piece

A photo of an ancient long grey implement from the mary rose
© Mary Rose Trust
20 Hailshot pieces were recorded as being on board the Mary Rose, but only four were recovered. While this might seem like a small number, it’s four more than anybody else has.

Made of cast iron, this was an anti-personnel weapon, iron cube-shaped shot, loaded into a rectangular bore which caused it to scatter upon firing, causing damage to any poor soul who might get in range.

Each one weighs about 31lb (14kg), making them too heavy to hold when firing. The fin on the underside would be hooked over a rail on the side of the ship, while the wooden stock would allow it to be directed safely, preventing the operator from burning himself on the hot metal.


A photo of an ancient brown long implement from the mary rose
© Mary Rose Trust
Earscoops were used to remove wax build-up in the ear. The presence of two in the barber-surgeon's cabin suggests this was considered necessary for all crew members.

Clearly washing your ears wasn't part of every sailor's daily routine. There is a story that the archers would use the earwax to waterproof their bowstrings, but it's likely to be a myth.

Enema pipe

A photo of an ancient brown long implement from the mary rose
© Mary Rose Trust
This brass tube was found inside the surgeon’s chest, and was for some time believed to be some kind of piston whistle, similar to a modern swannee whistle or bird warbler, which were used to teach songbirds to sing.

The design, however, makes this difficult, as when your mouth is placed on the end it overlaps the window on the top, preventing it from sounding. In any case, why would a surgeon keep one of these in his chest?

More recent examination and comparison with other similar items showed that it wasn't a whistle at all. It appears that it’s actually a clyster, an enema pipe which would have had a pig’s bladder mounted on the flanged end, allowing fluid to be administered rectally.

Tally sticks

A photo of a series of small long thin light brown implements from the mary rose
© Mary Rose Trust
These four tally sticks, found in a chest outside the carpenter’s cabin, were often used as a method of receipt for payments made. Notches were carved into the flat surface, each one representing a single unit, with ten being represented by an X.

The top one features decimal counting, suggesting it was a count rather than recording currency, weights or measures, none of which were decimalised at the time.

While official Exchequer tally sticks were split lengthways, allowing both the payer and payee to keep a copy, these appear to have been kept as a single piece. This suggests that, rather than being receipts, they were actually designed to aid their owner in record keeping.

More on the Mary Rose:

Faces of the Mary Rose: Meet the reconstructed crew at the Mary Rose Museum

Mary Rose Museum to re-open in 2016 with "best ever", "unrestricted" views of ship

Dried and salted cod served to crew of Mary Rose came from Canada and Iceland, bones reveal

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