The mechanical galleon


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

Automaton in the form of a 'nef' or ship table ornament. Gilded brass hull with embossed decoration of the sea with waves and monsters. Three masts with yard arms carrying furled cloth sails. At the top of each mast a metal pennant. Wire rigging ropes and waxed thread ratlines. On the main deck eight figures each with a sword. A small clock is mounted at the base of the main mast, showing hours and minutes on a silver dial with coloured enamel floral motifs In the crows' nests of the main mast sailors strike the hours and quarters on inverted bells. Beneath the main mast heralds and Electors automatically process before an Emperor seated beneath a canopy with a double-headed eagle of the Holy Roma Empire. On the rear deck, two painted figures with swords. The bowsprit contains a wheel-lock canon which fired automatically. A further ten cannons are arranged around the hull. Within the hull, spring-driven clockwork mechanisms operated the automaton figures and provided motion for the machine to run along and also pumped the bellows to provide air for the regal. On the starboard side of the movement a large rotating programme barrel operated the stop on the regal to play the music. Wheels originally at the base of the hull have been replaced with ball feet. A regal organ with bellows played music as the machine moved along. Whilst in motion the tops of the foremast and mizzen mast rotated. Originally the base of the movement was stretched with a drum-skin automatically played when the ship was in motion.


  • Title: The mechanical galleon
  • Date Created: 1580/1580
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 104.00cm; Length: 78.50cm; Width: 20.30cm (excluding cannons)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: embossed; gilded; enamelled
  • Subject: boat/ship
  • Registration number: 1866,1030.1
  • Production place: Made in Augsburg
  • Producer: Made by Schlottheim, Hans
  • Material: brass; iron; silver; enamel
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Morgan, Octavius

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