The Sea Company

Monday, November 27, 2006


We held a company to discuss how / where we might more information about John Davies, a sailor on The Red Flotilla. The children suggested: asking his great grand-daughter if any other family members might help; asking the Shipping company he worked for; looking on the Internet; going back to the house where he lived. We also had evidence form the wreck itself to look at - some of it mioght tell us about him. Could one of the skeletons we found be John Davies himself? I told them that there were history experts who might alsobe able to help us by finding documents - would we be interested?

Over the next few days I started to bring in various documents: a letter from the shipping company historian with further details about the shipwreck; a census from 1905 of the village JD lived in; church records showing births, deaths and marriages from the same village and a folder full of photographs of people, objects, buildings and ships that members of the family and our 'history expert' had found . We began to look at these in more detail - making links and connections between the documents and between all the things we knew already about JD. Some of the more able children really grabbed this difficult challenge with both hands - using the family tree to work out ages that family members lived to and making some amazing links between pieces of evidence. They were very excited when they found out certain things I had 'planted' in the documents - like the fact that he had a daughter who had died at the age of 3 just before he set sail on his last voyage - and another daughter who had lived to the age of 99. They also found a family member who died in 1942 which some of them knew was in World War 2.

We decided to make a folder of all the evidence we were putting together to present to Mrs Davies in a couple of weeks. The children were keen to make a nice front cover with 'History of John Davies 1872 - 1906' on it and his photograph underneath. They annotated the family tree, the church records and the census to put in the file and then began to draw some of the finds from the salvage which they thought might have belonged to him, writing their reasons: 'the pearl necklace was a present for his wife', 'the buckled shoe was the right size to fit his foot' The bones team decided that the skull with some remains of hair and a sailor's hat still on it might have been JD. They agreed to do further tests to find out if it was really him. (If it is we will reveive the discussion about the ethics of what to do with human bones - should they be buried / returned to relatives? etc.

They then set to task sorting the photographs - again making links and piecing together evidence to try and draw conclusions. They became thoroughly immersed in all of this as the evidence in the file for Mrs Davies grew and grew. At one point somone asked - is this what real history experts do? Someone else said - 'if they do, I'd like to do this when I grow up - it's fun!' They also kept talking about Mrs Davies - 'do you think she'll be pleased?' was one question.I was suddenly struck with how much more meaningful this approach to history was than discussing historical 'facts' with the children. This work has been about what historians do - how they find out - rather than 'what happened' of 'who it happened to' - I'm sure this learning has been much more powerful and purposeful - the 'evidence' took a lot of time to prepare but was fun and has been completely worthwhile as I have watched what the children have got out of it.


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