This guide outlines useful sources for research on women and the sea, chiefly at the National Maritime Museum but also The National Archives.

The subject of women and their relationship to the sea has been neglected in wider research given that women have had their own unique experience with the sea as pirates, passengers, in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), as fishermen's wives, deckhands, marine scientists, shipboard nurses and so on. Now, however, interest and research are growing steadily. To reflect this, the museum has set up various resources to aid research on the topic.

National Maritime Museum sources

Manuscripts collections

The National Maritime Museum is home to over four and a half miles of manuscript material which is available for consultation in the Library reading room. Some of the items within the collection are held off site so discussion with the curator is advisable before ordering.

Women's Royal Naval Service (HMS)

Most material relates to the work of the WRNS during World War I and II. They include the HMS Dauntless archive, personal papers, photographs, slides, service documents and correspondence.

Journals and diaries

Many of the journals and diaries held within the manuscripts collection may also hold relevant information. See the manuscripts catalogue for further information.

Hydrography and chart collections

The Museum holds copies of charts made by Marie Tharp, who successfully mapped the floor of the world's oceans, making millions of measurements and, in the process, developing the theory of sea floor spreading and continental drift. The collection includes:

  • Hazzan, Bruce C and Tharp, Marie, The floor of the oceans, based on bathometric studies, supported by the United States Navy, Office of Naval Research, third edition, third printing. Painted by Tanguy de Remur, 1980 (G201:1/57)
  • Hazzan, Bruce C and Tharp, Marie, World Ocean Floor, United States Navy, Office of Naval Research (G201:1/58)

Printed books

The Museum's catalogue lists over 70 titles related to women and the sea (reference 656.61.07.22-055.2). The following are some of the most popular and useful:

  • Cogill, B, When God was an Atheist Sailor: Memories of a Childhood at Sea 1902–1910 (W W Norton 1990)
  • Creighton, M, Iron Men and Wooden Women: Gender and seafaring in the Atlantic World 1700–1920 (John Hopkins University Press 1996)
  • Edited Druet, J, Hen Frigates: Wives of Merchant Captains under Sail (Souvenir 1998)
  • Drummond, C, The remarkable life of Victoria Drummond Marine Engineer (Institute of Marine Engineers 1994)
  • Lelan Fields, L, The Entangling Net: Alaska's commercial fishing Women tell their Lives (University of Illinois 1997)
  • Fodie, S, Watermata Ferry Tales (Auckland 1991)
  • Greenhill, Basil and Gifford, Ann, Women Under Sail: Letters and Journals concerning eight women travelling or working in sailing Vessels between 1829 & 1949 (David & Charles 1970)
  • Jackson, B, A Girl Before the Mast (Charles Scribner 1934)
  • Heriette, L, Sailors in Skirts : a Serendipity of Sea-faring Incidents (Regency Press 1980)
  • Mahon, J, Kate Tyrell A Lady Mariner : the story of the extraordinary woman who sailed the Denbighshire lass (Basement, Dublin 1995)
  • Stanley. J, ed, Bold in her Breeches: Women Pirates across the Ages (Pandors 1995)
  • Stanley, J, Women and the Sea (typescript 1994)
  • Stark, S, Female Tars; Women in the age of Sail (Naval Institute Press 1996)

The National Archives sources

Registers of seamen's service - 20th century

In 1910 an advisory committee on merchant shipping proposed to the Board of Trade that a Central Register of Seamen be created. The Central Register (sometimes referred to as the Fourth Register of Seamen) was started in October 1913 and was maintained until 1941. The complete register consists of four large card indexes which will become available on microfiche. Records of particular interest to researchers into women and the sea are:

BT 348-BT 350 (1921–1941)

These include details of all categories of people who went to sea, not only ordinary seaman but mates, engineers, trimmers, cooks and stewards. Only a small proportion refers to women but it reflects the start of their acceptance as seafarers.

Series X

This series (fully indexed) consists of confidential editions of the Navy list. They contain information about seniority and disposition lists of all commissioned and warrant officers, including retired and reserve officers in employment, together with yard and civilian officers, WRNS, QARNNS (Queen Alexandra Royal Naval Nursing Service) and other admiralty officials.

Next steps

This is one of a series of research guides produced by the Museum to help you to explore the collections. For general research help see:

Research guide A2: Principal records for maritime research at the National Maritime MuseumResearch guide A3: Tracing family history from maritime records

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.