The Tower Museum created an exhibition commemorating the centenary of the sinking of the Laurentic. The famous gold ship, which now lies at the bottom of Lough Swilly, was sunk by German mines from a U-boat on the 25th January 1917. The story of its sinking, its survivors, and the hunt for the 43 tonnes of gold on board to pay for munitions during the First World War has captured the imagination of generations of researchers, historians and divers since.
Our project began when the owner of the wreck, Ray Cossum, approached us with his archive and collection of artefacts from the wreck. Form there the project gathered pace, with the local community coming forward and regaling us with their personal connections the wreck, family members who survived, who saw the ship while berthed in Lough Swilly before its fateful voyage, who remember the dead washed up on shore.
The diving community also got in touch, offering to loan and donate incredible objects from the ship and wreck itself, including the knocker from the captains cabin door, tiles from the pool area, the bell from the bridge (with indentations where it was battered with a wrench as the ship went down). Towel rails, portholes, white star line insignia, all culminated in a fantastic visual exhibition which paid a moving tribute to what was at the time a momentous tragedy.
The exhibition, and the series of the events that followed, proved hugely popular. The hunt for the gold ignited the imagination of the younger generations, while the tragedy of the sinking and the great loss of life proved particularly poignant for those trying to reconnect with the family history during the First World War.
What worked well and what, if anything, didn't?
When the survivors from the Laurentic were brought ashore in 1917, the Mayor of Derry~Londonderry hosted a large dinner event for them in the Guildhall. The Mayor during the centenary event in 2017 hosted a recreation of that historic event, attended by relatives of those who sailed on the ship on its final voyage. It was a fantastically well-received event along with the exhibition.
The difficulty in finding a suitable amount of artefacts for display was difficult at first, but once the exhibition gathered steam and media interest increased we were able to host a fantastic array of objects and documents, more of which arrived after the exhibition opened.
Ronan McConnell, email@example.com, 02871253253