Research guide G1: Passengers: Sources for enquiries

This guide outlines basic information about how to research specific passengers on ships.

It is difficult to trace individual passengers on board ships before 1890, and the National Maritime Museum does not have any passenger lists in its collections. However, the museum does have numerous books listing emigrants to America, and 'First Fleeters' who sailed to Australia in the late 18th century.

This is because virtually no original lists before 1890 survive in the United Kingdom: a copy of a passenger list was usually handed in when a ship reached its eventual destination, so the local record office near the port of arrival may be able to provide assistance.

A few lists for vessels arriving in the United Kingdom between 1878 and 1888 have, however, survived. These, and surviving lists for the period 1890–1960, are held at The National Archives (see below).

National Maritime Museum

The Museum holds very little material on individual passengers. There are, however, a few examples of:

  • passengers' journals and diaries, printed and in manuscript
  • shipping company archives which contain details of fares and conditions, tickets, menu cards or guide books, but these seldom include records of individuals

The New Zealand Shipping Company archives are rare in that they include 'homeward' passenger lists, 1883–87, and outward 'passenger books', 1894–1955. These are not indexed by name, so you need to know the date to find an entry, and virtually no personal information such as addresses, occupations or relationships, is given.

For further information, contact the Manuscripts Department: E-mail: manuscripts@rmg.co.uk.

The National Archives

Ruskin Avenue

Kew

Richmond

Surrey TW9 4DU

Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444

The National Archives holds passenger lists for ships arriving in British ports from 1878 and departing from British ports after 1890. These are arranged by port and date and do not have indexes of passengers' names. In general it is necessary to know either the name of the ship and approximate dates when passengers travelled; or the port and date of departure or arrival.

To find the exact dates, you can then refer to Lloyd's List – a newspaper of shipping movements and casualties, originally issued twice weekly, later daily, and summarised from 1882 in Lloyd's Weekly Shipping Index.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching passengers are:

For general research help see:

Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.