History Of Gigs Featured In New Museum Exhibition

Lindsay Sawyer from the Isles of Scilly Museum

Lindsay Sawyer from the Isles of Scilly Museum

A new display featuring the history of gigs in the islands is being launched at the Isles of Scilly Museum.

The exhibit will be open in time for next weekend’s World Pilot Gig Championships, the biggest gathering in the gig-rowing calendar.

It’s been put together by Lindsay Sawyer and Judy Douglas and has taken months of painstaking research and gathering material.

The exhibition focuses on the non-sporting use of gigs, which Lindsay says was mainly for pilotage work around the dangerous rocks of the islands. At one time, there were 67 pilots registered here and the lucrative trade continued right up until the start of the 20th Century when motorised boats started to be introduced.

From Radio Scilly

Lindsay Sawyer talks about the new gig exhibition

The gigs were often used to rescue people from the many wrecks that happened here and which also provided ample salvage opportunity for the boats.

There are lots of artefacts from these ships on display, including a pennant from the King Cadwallon wrecked in 1906 on Hard Lewis. Local man Willy Williams donated that – his grandfather was one of the men on a gig that rowed out to the disaster.

There are also images of gigs being used for a whole range of tasks, like transporting cattle and flowers, ferrying doctors and wedding parties around the islands and even moving coffins.

In a link to today’s sporting role for the boats, there are programmes from the first gig regattas, started in 1902. These featured gig sailing and rowing and continued right up until the First World War.

Lindsay says they’ve tried to represent the history of gigs across all of the islands, including some of the tragedies, like the crewman from St Agnes, a father of nine children, who lost his life rowing to a wreck.

Lindsay says we tend to take the lifeboat for granted these days, but these men went out in all sorts of conditions with very basic equipment to save people’s life and to put food on the table through the salvage.

The display is brought right up to date with images from start to finish of Peter Martin building his newest gig, the Zeeheld, which is due to be launched at the Championships next week.

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