The Merchant Navy

  • Research guide C2: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Master-mariners, mates and engineers
  • Research guide C4: The Merchant Navy: Sources for enquiries
  • Research guide C5: The Merchant Navy: Sources for ship histories
  • Research guide C6: The Merchant Navy: The Mercantile Navy List
  • Research guide C8: The Merchant Navy: Wrecks, losses and casualties
  • Research guide C9: The Merchant Navy: World War One
  • Research guide C1: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Crew lists, agreements and official logs
  • Research guide C10: The Merchant Navy: World War Two
  • Research guide C11: The Merchant Navy: The Handy Shipping Guide
  • Research guide C12: The Merchant Navy: Ship registration and Custom House records
  • Research guide C13: The Merchant Navy: Tracing merchant seamen: Sources of information in the National Maritime Museum

This research guide outlines the surviving records of the careers of master-mariners, mates, engineers, skippers and mates of fishing boats, and cooks in the British merchant navy.

Master-Mariners

A master-mariner is a man judged to be qualified to be in charge of a vessel, and is frequently referred to in non-official sources as a captain. Master-mariners were issued with a certificate, many of which have survived, but it must be stressed that these records:

  • Are not complete
  • Only cover service between 1845 and 1927

Pre-1845

There was no system of examination or qualification to become a master-mariner, and therefore there are no separate records for masters before this date.

1845–1854

Examinations were introduced in 1845, but did not become compulsory for the foreign trade until 1850, and the home trade (i.e. those trading in UK coastal waters and with north European ports) until 1854. Records for this period are therefore partial.

1854–1927

All master-mariners operating during this period would have been required to hold a certificate, of which many have survived and are now in the care of the National Maritime Museum.

1928–date

Certificates from 1928 onwards have not survived, but there are some registers of certificates applied for and issued at the National Archives.

Content of the records

Certificates record the mariner’s name, the date of examinations were passed, and the mariner’s signature.

Smith's certificate as Extra Master - frontCertificate of competency as Extra Master for Edward Smith (of the Titanic)

However, in many cases, the original application forms to be examined have been preserved with the certificates. For example, the applications and certificates from Captain Smith as Second Mate and Extra Master. These can provide more personal details, such as his date and place of birth, home address, whether he already held a certificate, whether previous applications for a certificate had failed and why, and details of voyages. In the majority of cases, applications provide a record of every ship on which the applicant had previously served.

Accessing master-mariners’ records

All master-mariners’ certificates were filed by the Board of Trade by certificate number, not by name, and this is still true. In order to find a certificate, it is first necessary to locate the mariner’s number. This can be done from a variety of sources:

  • Registers of Certificates of Competency and Service at the National Archives. These registers (catalogue references: BT 122 – BT 128) are the most reliable and comprehensive source of mariners’ numbers. They must be consulted in person at the National Archives.
  • Lloyd's Captains’ Registers, 1851–1947. These printed and manuscript registers, listing masters alphabetically, were compiled by Lloyd’s and are held at the Guildhall Library. The Guildhall Library has added partial Indexes to the Registers to its website, providing certificate numbers and the years in which service is recorded. The National Maritime Museum also holds microfilm copies, but the quality is variable and sometimes difficult to read. It was begun in 1869 and only masters still active at that date are listed for the preceding years.
  • The Mercantile Navy List, published by the Board of Trade, lists masters alphabetically and by certificate number between 1857 and 1864. The Archive and Library at the National Maritime Museum holds copies.

Once a number has been found, certificates can be consulted in the Caird Library Reading Room at the National Maritime Museum free of charge, or copied for a fee.

To order a certificate to view in the reading room, please order online.

Points to be stressed

  • Because a man is officially registered as a master-mariner, and because a number can be found, does not guarantee that a certificate has survived. Many were removed from the records to be replaced or destroyed for a variety of reasons before they were deposited at the National Maritime Museum.
  • Many mariners declare themselves as masters on census forms and other official records such as marriage or birth certificates without officially holding qualifications.

Further details

The Registers at the National Archives are divided between Certificates of Competency and of Service. In the earlier years of the certification, men who already had proof of their experience as masters were issued with a Certificate of Service, and were excused sitting the examinations. Certificates of Competency were issued to those mariners who passed the examination.

First and Second Mates

First and Second Mates were subject to a similar system of certification by the Board of Trade. The records themselves are similar in content to those for Masters, and again applications listing the ships on which a mate previously served often survive.

A Second Mate could then progress to First Mate, Only Mate (able to take control of a vessel should the master be incapacitated) and Master. Frequently, if a man passed through these stages, he kept one number, and all applications and certificates will be found under the same reference. However, sometimes one man will have held several numbers, and in such cases multiple searches must be made.

Accessing mates’ records

The date ranges for surviving records are the same as for master-mariners above, so that mates’ certificates and applications will only be found for service between 1845 and 1927.

If a man did not progress beyond first or second mate, then the arrangements for access are similar to those for master-mariners above. Certificates are again arranged by mate’s number and these numbers can be found from:

  • The Mercantile Navy List, published by the Board of Trade, lists mates alphabetically and by certificate number between 1857 and 1864. The Archive and Library at the National Maritime Museum holds copies.

Outside of this date range, the Archive and Library have no means of assisting in locating a mate's number, and the only registers available are the:

  • Registers of Certificates of Competency and Service at the National Archives (catalogue references: BT 122 – BT 128)

Engineers

The system of engineers’ certificates is similar to that for mates and masters (see above). However, records are only available between 1862 and 1921.

Accessing engineers’ records

Certificates and surviving applications are again organised by mariner’s number and not name. The only way to identify an engineer’s number is by the official registers at the National Archives:

  • Registers of Certificates of Competency: Engineers (1861–1921) National Archives (catalogue references: BT139 – BT142).

Skippers of Fishing Vessels

The museum's archive also contains some certificates for skippers of fishing vessels, which were issued in a separate series. These are again organised by certificate number, and the only means of identifying a man’s number is by consulting an official register at the National Archives:

  • Registers of Certificates of Competency: Skippers and Mates of Fishing Boats (1884–1921). National Archives catalogue reference number: BT129 – BT130.

Cooks

From 1908, the Board of Trade required a similar system of certification and registration for cooks. However, none of the certificates have survived. The museum's archive does, however, hold a set of registers of certified cooks that can be consulted on request. It should be noted that these are arranged only by number, which in practice means that they are in chronological order, but there is no available index.

Researchers must therefore browse through the volumes, and this is only practical where there is already strong evidence of the approximate date of certification.

For further advice:

Email: manuscripts@rmg.co.uk
Tel: 020 8312 6516.

Where a cook can be located in these registers, only basic information will be supplied, typically the man’s full name, place and date of birth and his certificate number.

Colonial records

British colonial ports were responsible for issuing certificates to mates, masters, and engineers, and used their own numbering sequence. To the best of our knowledge, none of these certificates have survived, although researchers are advised to contact archives in the relevant countries. However, the Caird Library does hold partial registers (Item ID: PBN8617) to certificates issued in:

  • Bengal (1876–1929)
  • Bombay (1876–1929)
  • Canada (1871–1931)
  • Hong Kong (1884–1931)
  • Malta (1875–1916)
  • Mauritius (1891–1914)
  • Newfoundland (1877–1931)
  • New South Wales (1872–1917)

These registers are in the form of periodic printed reports from the Board of Trade, bound in a single volume. They are arranged in purely chronological order for each territory, as one continuous list for all classes of certificate. The information provided is restricted to full name, place and date of birth, and place and date of the certificate’s issue. These can be consulted in the Caird Library Reading Room, but it is strongly advised to check availability before undertaking a trip to the Museum.

Useful addresses

National Archives, Kew
Ruskin Avenue
Kew
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: 020 8876 3444
Website: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Guildhall Library
Aldermanbury
London EC2P 2EJ
Tel: 020 7332 1863/70
Website: www.history.ac.uk/gh

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching merchant ships' crews 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.

Last updated May 2010

© National Maritime Museum 1998. All rights reserved

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8858 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

Sources

There are many sources, both printed and manuscript, that can assist with research into aspects of the merchant navy. Which of these is most useful, in any particular case, will depend on the research being undertaken, e.g.

  • Merchant ships and shipping companies
  • Merchant navy officers and seamen
  • Merchant navy activities in the First and Second World Wars

The National Maritime Museum holds a range of material that may assist and is especially strong in its collection of published works. Details of these, together with archive material, may be found from the Library catalogue and the Archive catalogue. Researchers may also find it useful to consult the Prints and Drawings Catalogue.

Further guidance on material in the Archive and Library collections at the National Maritime Museum, categorised by subject, is to be found in the range of Research Guides. A list of the most relevant is below under 'Next Steps'.

Despite the depth and breadth of its collection, the material held by the National Maritime Museum will probably need to be supplemented by material held elsewhere. This guide lists places which, like the National Maritime Museum, have records and information that will help you research various aspects of mercantile history:

Boats and barges that plied the inland waterways did not fall within the scope of the legislation controlling merchant shipping and so researchers should not expect to find records of them there. The best starting point for research into those topics is The Waterways Archive.

County and local record offices

Many county record offices and local archives in the UK hold material related to shipping in their area. Amongst this may be found local ship registration documents maintained by Customs officials. Some also hold agreements, crew lists, and official log books related to ships registered in their area (1863–1913) other than those held by The National Archives and the National Maritime Museum. A list of those record offices holding crew lists is to be found in the National Archive’s Research Guide Merchant Seamen: Log books, Agreements and Crew Lists after 1861. More detailed listings are to be found on the website of the Crew List Index Project. Contact details (as at 2005) for many local archives can be found using English Record Offices and Archives or Google.

British Library
Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections
(Formerly Oriental and India Office Collections)
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7873
Fax: 020 7412 7641
E-mail: apac-enquiries@bl.uk
Holds the surviving archives of the East India Company and related manuscript and printed material.

British Library
Newspaper Library
Colindale Avenue
London NW9 5HE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7353
Fax: 020 7412 7379
E-mail: newspaper@bl.uk
Note: The Newspaper Library will gradually be moving out of Colindale between 2009 and 2012: check their website for details.
The Library holds national and provincial newspapers, maritime and trade papers.

Bristol Record Office
'B' Bond Warehouse
Smeaton Road
Bristol BS1 6XN
Tel: +44 (0)117 922 4224
Fax: +44 (0)117 922 4236
Email: bro@bristol.gov.uk
Holds material related to the port of Bristol, ship registration documents for Bristol (1824–1886) and agreements, crew lists and official log books for Bristol-registered ships (1863–1913) other than those held by The National Archives and the National Maritime Museum.

Guildhall Library
Aldermanbury
London EC2V 7HH
Tel: +44 (0)20 7332 1868/1870 (printed books) or +44 (0)20 7332 1863/3803 (manuscripts)
E-mail: printedbooks.guildhall@cityoflondon.gov.uk (printed books) or manuscripts.guildhall@cityoflondon.gov.uk (manuscripts)
Holds the Lloyd's Marine Collection, providing a wide range of information on the shipping movements and casualties and the Lloyd's Captains' Registers, which also provide an index to some categories of Masters certificates, (Guildhall Ms. 18567 – Ms 18571); also archives of Trinity House and the Watermen and Lightermen's Company; and many other valuable historical sources.

Maritime History Archive
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St John's
Newfoundland
A1C 5S7
Canada
E-mail: mha@mun.ca
Holds between 70% and 80% of agreements, crews and logs for British merchant ships between 1863–1938, and 1951–1976. Details of their holdings are to found on their website and on that of the Crew List Index Project.

Maritime Archives and Library
Merseyside Maritime Museum
Albert Dock
Liverpool L3 4AA
Tel: +44 (0)151 478 4499
Holds records of Liverpool and area shipping, trade and emigration, but not passenger lists; also Customs Bills of Entry.

National Archives of Scotland
H M Register House
2 Princes Street
Edinburgh EH1 3YY
Tel: +44 (0)131 535 1314
E-mail: research@nas.gov.uk
Holds a wide range of shipping records related to Scotland.

Registry of Shipping and Seamen
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Anchor Court
Ocean Way
Cardiff CF24 5JW
Tel: +44 (0)2920 448800
Fax: +44 (0)2920 448820
E-mail: rss@mcga.gov.uk
Holds the Register of Merchant Seamen (but no service details) from 1973; Register of Officers’ Certificates from 1966; Agreements, crew lists, and official log books from 1995; ship registration details from 1994; register of births and deaths at sea from 1965.

Society of Genealogists
14 Charterhouse Buildings
Goswell Road
London EC1M 7BA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7251 8799
Fax: +44 (0)20 7250 1800
E-mail: library@sog.org.uk
Holds a microfilm copy of Trinity House Petitions 1780–1890 having transferred the originals to the Guildhall Library.

The National Archives
Ruskin Avenue
Kew
Richmond
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444
E-mail: via online contact form
Holds apprenticeship records from 1824–1953; registers of seamen's service 1835–1857, and 1913–1972; registers of certificates of competency and service of officers from 1845–1921; all surviving muster rolls from 1747 onwards; and crew agreements for British merchant ships 1835-60 and 10% for all years 1861–1938 and 1951–1994; with much other unique material. They have a wide range of Research Guides that may assist.

The Waterways Archive
Llanthony Warehouse
The Docks
Gloucester GL1 2EH
Tel: 01452 318225
Fax: 01452 318225
E-mail: via contact form on website
Holds records relating to inland waterways, the boats that used them and their owners.

The National Waterways Museum (Ellesmere Port) formerly known as the Boat Museum
South Pier Road
Ellesmere Port
Cheshire CH65 4FW
Tel: 0151 355 5017
Fax: 0151 355 4079

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching merchant ships' crews 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.

© National Maritime Museum 1998. All rights reserved
Last updated May 2009
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8858 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

There are many different aspects to merchant navy history and considerable information survives about British merchant ships. It is, however, scattered through various sources in a number of libraries and archives, and what exists and the location of that information depends on the type of vessel, its history and the period.

This short guide can therefore, only give an introduction and general advice.

General sources

Early tax records from the 13th–19th centuries and ship registration records from the 18th century until 1994 are held at The National Archives and in other archives; but probably the best starting place is Lloyd's Register. Some early (17th century–1830) documents relating to the movement of ships in and out of Scottish ports, are to be found at the National Archives of Scotland.

Lloyd's Register was first published in 1760 (the earliest known surviving copy is dated 1764) and then annually since 1775. Apart from 1834–37 when all British vessels of 50 tons and over were listed; until 1875 Lloyd’s Register only included ships that they had surveyed. All merchant ships over 100 tons worldwide are listed from 1890-91. Some indexing to Lloyd’s Register has been undertaken at the Register of Ships.

This gives a variety of information which, like Lloyd's List (see below), becomes more comprehensive in the 19th century. Copies from 1764 to the present (excluding 1785, 1788 and 1817, for which there are no known surviving copies), are held at the National Maritime Museum, Guildhall Library, Merseyside Maritime Museum, British Library and some other large libraries and museums.

Once you know who owned a ship, you can find out whether any fleet or company history exists, which may provide a ready-made history of the ship. Some shipping company records and many published histories of the companies are in the National Maritime Museum library. See the online Library catalogue.

The Mercantile Navy List is the Board of Trade official list of all British-registered vessels, which started in 1850. Most annual volumes exist from 1857–1976 and are in the National Maritime Museum library.

The National Maritime Museum library also holds copies of:

  • Lloyd’s Register of Yachts for the years 1879–1939, 1947–1996.
  • Hunt's Universal Yacht List, 1866–1934 (an incomplete run with gaps: 1867–1871, 1873–75, 1893, 1910–12, 1915–1933).
  • Olsen's Fisherman's Almanac, 1907–94 (an incomplete run with gaps: 1908, 1910, 1926–27, 1929, 1932–1942, 1944–46, 1949, 1951–54, 1956–57). This lists British fishing vessels over 15 tons.

The Registre Veritas is published by the French shipping registration agency Bureau Veritas, who are based in Paris. It can sometimes prove useful for 19th century British and American ships trading with the continent. The register is available on microfilm in the National Maritime Museum library for the period 1829–1985.

For more information, contact Bureau Veritas' UK offices:

Bureau Veritas
Tower Bridge Court
224–226 Tower Bridge Road
London SE1 2TX
Tel: +44 (0)20 75508900
Fax: +44 (0)20 70897084
E-mail: via online contact form

The Record of American Shipping is the US record produced by the American Bureau of Shipping. The National Maritime Museum library holds copies for most years from 1879–1980. These are outstored and notice is required to consult them.

Voyage records

Lloyd's List gives information about the movements and casualties of ships engaged in both foreign and home trades. The earliest surviving issues date from 1741: a complete run is available from 1779. This has been published daily, excluding Sundays, since 1 July 1837. It gives details of arrivals and sailings port by port, and casualty reports.

Indexes to Lloyd's List can be found as follows:

  • Pre-1838: the Guildhall Library has been working on an index to incidents and casualties, although this will not give a full index of every entry.
  • 1838–1927: an annual index (Lloyd’s List Index) arranged by ship was compiled in manuscript and can be seen on microfilm at the National Maritime Museum (and a few other archives including the British Library Newspaper collection and the Merseyside Maritime Museum). From 1880 printed indexes were also produced, but these, although sometimes a useful shortcut, are not as comprehensive.
  • 1927 onwards: the annual index was replaced by a card index system, the Voyage Record Cards. The index is until August 1974, and can be consulted by prior arrangement at Guildhall Library.
  • Lloyd's List Weekly Summary and Shipping Gazette Weekly Summary, between them cover the period 1882–1932. They give summaries of the Lloyd's List movement and casualty entries (indexed) and contain detailed summaries of enquiries into shipping losses.

The following are outstored and need to be ordered in advance:

  • Lloyd’s List, 1893–1973
  • Lloyd’s Weekly Summary, 1884–89, 1891–1914, 1915, March 1917–December 1919, 1920–1930, 1937
  • Lloyd’s Weekly Shipping Index, 1913–16.

Crew agreements (see below) can be useful for researching the movement of ships in the home trade, as these were submitted twice a year and usually listed all sailings and arrivals for the half-year. Vessels in the foreign trade only submitted agreements at the end of voyages, and gave only a general description of the voyage as originally intended with start and end dates (though some details can be noted from consular and other stamps added at different ports of call).

In 1939 the Admiralty issued an instruction to the Board of Trade that masters of merchant vessels were not, for reasons of security, to enter destinations or ports of call in the logs or on crew lists and agreements. But as it was still important to know and record the movements of merchant vessels, a series of movement cards was created. These are at The National Archives in series BT 389: information on World War Two Merchant Shipping Movement Cards is available on DocumentsOnline and cover the period 1939–1946. For the period 1939–1950, the Registry of Shipping and Seamen also kept an Index to Logbooks and Crew Agreements on which are recorded the filing of such documents. These often give some details of ship movements: they are at The National Archives in series BT 385.

Merchant ship crew records

Records begin with early crew lists, known as muster rolls, in the 18th century, drawn up for collecting a levy from seamen's wages for a relief fund. In the 19th century, the Merchant Shipping Act 1835 and following Acts were passed to create central registers of all seamen, to provide support of the Royal Navy in wartime. This registration was stopped between 1857 and the First World War. The registers of seamen’s service for 1835–1857 and 1918–1941 are in the process of digitization and will become available soon online. A subsequent register covers the period 1942–1972. All these records are held The National Archives.

Full details of merchant crew records are shown on separate Research Guides (see Next Steps, below) covering crew agreements, lists and official logs; certificates and records of master mariners, mates and engineers and others; and general guidelines for family historians tracing ancestors through maritime records. In brief:

  • Crew agreements formed a detailed contract between the seaman and his employer. Copies are divided between several archives. The National Maritime Museum's holdings start at 1861, and only cover certain years. Currently these are outstored. For details of how to order in advance, see Research Guide C2.
  • For agreements held in Canada and at county record offices, the National Maritime Museum has finding aids but to access these you will need to know a ship's official number. Assistance with determining a ship’s official number, together with finding the location of these records, can be found at the Crew List Index Project.
  • Official logs for merchant ships were required to be kept from October 1851 onwards, and are are usually filed with crew agreements. These are not a daily diary of the ship's passage, as many researchers assume, their content being set out in statute. In the logs are recorded incidents such as collisions, disciplinary action against seamen and officers, and details of births, deaths and marriages. Entries were made if such events occurred.

Passenger records

The National Maritime Museum does not hold passenger lists.

There are very few records of passengers arriving in the UK before 1878. The National Archives holds lists of aliens arriving at British ports for the period August 1810 to May 1811 and 1826–1852. These will be available online shortly at www.ancestry.co.uk.

Before 1890 there was no requirement for ships to keep passenger lists in the UK. A few lists for vessels arriving here between 1878–1888 are available in The National Archives, but most lists surviving pre-1890 were handed in at a ship's destination overseas, and should be sought in archives and libraries at the ports of arrival.

Board of Trade Passenger Lists, Inwards, 1878–1888 and 1890–1960, list the names of people arriving in the United Kingdom from places outside Europe, but not within the Mediterranean Sea, unless the vessels sailed originally from outside Europe and picked up passengers in a European or Mediterranean port en route. The Board of Trade Passenger Lists, Inwards, have been digitised and are available at www.ancestry.co.uk. The alien arrival documents, 1826–1852, are in the process of being digitised and will become available on that website.

The Board of Trade Passenger Lists, Outward, 1890–1960, record the names of passengers on all ships leaving the United Kingdom for places outside Europe, but not within the Mediterranean Sea. The Board of Trade Passenger Lists, Outwards, have been digitised and are available at www.findmypast.com.

Numerous arrival and departure records survive for ports in other countries especially the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The national, state and provincial archives of the sites are a good starting point in locating these records.

Shipowner records

Lloyd's Register and the Mercantile Navy List give names of ships' principal or managing owners. From 1825 however, ownership of all vessels was divided into 64 shares and could therefore be complex. For full details of ownership it is necessary to consult the ship registers (indexed 1786–1907) among the Board of Trade archives in The National Archives. The National Archives' Research Guide Merchant Shipping: Registration of Ships, 1786–1994 provides helpful details. Local Custom House copies of registration documents, sometimes predating surviving national registration documents, can often be found at a county or local record office for the area in which the port of registration fell.

From 1876–77, Lloyd's Register included a separate shipowners' section, and from 1886 Lloyd's Confidential Index gives more detailed information on the managing owners and their fleets. This is particularly useful up to 1920, but after that some categories of information were dropped. A complete set is in the Guildhall Library.

Some shipping company records are held by the National Maritime Museum. The National Register of Archives and Access to Archives maintained by The National Archives can often be useful in locating records of shipping companies.

Published histories exist for many companies, and the National Maritime Museum has bibliographies for the most famous shipping lines. Book lists for a number of other companies can be compiled on request from the Library catalogue and the Archive catalogue.

Useful information on individual companies can also be found in books about particular trades, such as trans-Atlantic shipping, emigration, ferries and so on. Fleet lists for many companies have also been published in the journal Sea Breezes which has a general index.

Final fates of ships

The last entry for a ship in Lloyd's Register may indicate briefly what became of her: 'wrecked', 'broken up, 'condemned', etc. If there is no such entry from 1876–77 onwards, you should check the index for changes-of-name for the following year.

If there is no entry there, search the annual indexes to Lloyd's List for the last entry relating to the vessel. Vessels wrecked or lost by war or marine causes are usually easily traced in this way: those which were broken up, hulked or sold foreign can be more difficult.

The journal Marine News includes from 1947 onwards, sales, transfers, renaming, casualties and demolitions, and has an annual index.

For ships on the British register, the monthly returns of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen (published under a variety of titles, but effectively forming a monthly supplement to the Mercantile Navy List), 1875–1946, should indicate the reason for a vessel's registry being closed.

Ship registration documents 1786–1994, are held by The National Archives: see their Research Guide Merchant Shipping: Registration of Ships, 1786–1994 for fuller details. More recent information can be obtained from the Registry of Shipping and Seamen.

Other sources which may be useful for particular periods, areas or classes of loss are available in the National Maritime Museum, such as books on shipwrecks in particular areas.

Useful addresses

Guildhall Library
Aldermanbury
London EC2V 7HH
Tel: +44 (0)20 7332 1868/1870 (printed books) or +44 (0)20 7332 1863/3803 (manuscripts)
E-mail: printedbooks.guildhall@cityoflondon.gov.uk (printed books) or manuscripts.guildhall@cityoflondon.gov.uk (manuscripts)

Maritime Archives and Library
Merseyside Maritime Museum
Albert Dock
Liverpool L3 4AA
Tel: +44 (0)151 478 4499

National Archives of Scotland
H M Register House
2 Princes Street
Edinburgh EH1 3YY
Tel: +44 (0)131 535 1314
E-mail: research@nas.gov.uk

Registry of Shipping and Seamen
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Anchor Court
Ocean Way
Cardiff CF24 5JW
Tel: +44 (0)2920 448800
Fax: +44 (0)2920 448820
E-mail: rss@mcga.gov.uk

The National Archives
Ruskin Avenue
Kew
Richmond
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444
E-mail: via online contact form

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Merchant Navy 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.

© National Maritime Museum 1998. All rights reserved
Last updated May 2009

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

This guide gives a brief introduction to the Board of Trade's official list of all British registered ships.

Background

The Mercantile Navy List, compiled by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, was first published from 1849 to 1855, and annually thereafter from 1857 until 1976 (with supplements up to the end of 1977); excluding 1941 to 1946, during the Second World War. Monthly supplements were issued under various titles from 1886.

Content

As the official, comprehensive listing of all merchant vessels registered under the British flag, it is one of the most important reference tools for anyone researching the history of British merchant shipping, and includes many ships not listed in its nearest equivalent, Lloyd's Register.

It provides basic information on each ship, which can be used to trace other records and to compile an outline history of a ship and its owners. Early volumes also include useful appendices, such as lists of pilots, receivers of wreck, and obituaries, and records of awards and testimonials for services at sea.

Access

Although a basic reference source, it is considerably rarer than Lloyd’s Register or other equivalent series, such as the (Royal) Navy List. Only a few near-complete sets exist; even the British Library set is missing two volumes. The National Maritime Museum editions cover the period from 1857 to 1976.

The Mercantile Navy List provides a comprehensive index to ships' official numbers from 1849 to 1976, and an index to certificates of competency up to 1864.

The same numbering system is used for crew lists and certificates held at The National Archives and in other repositories, making the Mercantile Navy List a primary resource for searching maritime records.

Next steps

Others guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Merchant Navy are:

Research guide C1: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Crew lists, agreements and official logs
Research guide C2: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Master mariners, mates and engineers
Research guide C4: The Merchant Navy: Sources for enquiries
Research guide C5: The Merchant Navy: Sources for ship histories
Research guide C8: The Merchant Navy: Wrecks, losses and casualties
Research guide C9: The Merchant Navy: World War One
Research guide C10: The Merchant Navy: World War Two
Research guide C11: The Merchant Navy: The Handy Shipping Guide
Research guide C12: The Merchant Navy: Ship registration and Custom House records


For general research help see:

Research guide A2: Principal records for maritime research at the National Maritime Museum
Research 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

Last updated April 2006

© National Maritime Museum 1998. All rights reserved

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

This guide outlines some ways in which you can trace information about wrecks and losses of merchant shipping vessels.

NB: Information on losses due to war causes in the First World War and Second World War is available in separate Research Guides:

Introduction

It can be frustrating for researchers that information on shipwrecks and losses is often incomplete, and spread across a broad range of official and non-official sources. However, this is a strong area of interest for many people, and in many cases, other researchers will have already identified the data available and compiled it into published texts. It is therefore wise to consult some of the following volumes before undertaking exhaustive searches of original sources.

  • Larn, Bridget and Richard, Shipwreck Index of the British Isles (London: Lloyd's Register, 1995–97). An extremely useful, comprehensive and well referenced, multi-volume register of shipwrecks of the British Isles.
  • Huntress, Keith, A Checklist of Narratives of Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea to 1860, with Summaries, Notes and Comments (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1979). Useful for its coverage of the period before centralised records began.
  • Hocking, Charles, Dictionary of Disasters at Sea During the Age of Steam (London: Lloyd's Register of Shipping, 1969).
  • Marx, R. Shipwrecks of the Western Hemisphere (New York, World Publishing Co, 1971). Several thousand losses before up to 1825 listed and briefly described.

In addition, the Library has very large collections of works on the shipwrecks of particular areas, and of individual losses so it is always worth checking the library catalogue.

Official sources

Prior to 1786

There was no official requirement to register the loss of ships before the Merchant Shipping Act of 1786. Prior to this, researchers are reliant on sources such as Lloyd’s List (from 1741: see below).

1786–1850

From 1786, Transcripts of Registration submitted to the Registrar of Shipping record the date of closure of a register when a ship was lost or recorded as missing. These records are available at The National Archives.

1850–1854

The Admiralty was briefly made responsible for recording wrecks and losses from 1850 to 1854. Copies of the Admiralty Wreck Register were published annually as Parliamentary Papers. The library at the National Maritime Museum has the edition covering losses in 1854 only.

1854 onwards

Board of Trade Wreck Registers (1854–1898)

By the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854, the responsibility for maintaining a systematic wreck register was taken over by the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. The archive at the National Maritime Museum has the original Board of Trade Wreck Registers from 1854 to 1898, after which date they were abandoned. The volumes give the details of wrecked British vessels, including the name, official number, port of registry, port number and year of registration, tonnage, name of managing owner and master. In addition, it gives the date and place of wreck, some idea of the cause, and the number of lives lost. For more information, see the entry in the Archive catalogue

Board of Trade Casualty Returns

From 1856, the Board of Trade published abstracts of the wrecks and casualties of which it was notified. While the content varied over time, the abstracts include information such as the dates and circumstances of significant losses and awards made to mariners for bravery during losses. Earlier issues (1856–1876) also contain a précis of the official special inquiries held by the Board of Trade into wrecks, including details of the judgment passed on the master of the vessel. The library at the National Maritime Museum has copies of the abstracts from 1856–57, 1873–75, and 1877–1918. After this date, the abstracts continued to be published but contained only statistical information and nothing specific to individual losses.

Official Inquiries

Wreck reports 1876–1988 are held in the Maritime Collection of Southampton Central Library, although these are now being put online. Transcripts and images of the original reports for 1876–1894 and 1926–1951 can be seen via the PortCities Southampton website. It is impossible to trace a report unless the date of loss is known. From 1989 reports are published by the Marine Accident Information Branch (MAIB). The library at the National Maritime Museum has only annual reports containing statistical information rather than details of individual losses.

Non-official sources

Lloyd's List

One of the best sources of information on shipwrecks, not least because of the span of its coverage, is Lloyd’s List. From 1741 this shipping newspaper gave a daily record of information on shipping casualties received in London. As Lloyd's intelligence network grew, its information became increasingly accurate and comprehensive. The library at the National Maritime Museum has complete holdings of Lloyd’s List, but it should be noted that there is no index available before 1838 (see Research Guide). In practice, this means that for earlier years it is essential to know the approximate date of a loss.

Lloyd's Register of Shipping

The earliest of these registers date from 1775. The registers have often been overlooked as sources of shipwreck information. While these will not go into detail, issues were frequently amended before going to press, with notices inserted next to the entries for vessels reading ‘foundered’, ‘burnt’, etc. For early years, this may be the only readily accessible confirmation of a vessel’s fate.

Lloyd’s Weekly Shipping Index, Lloyd’s List Weekly Summary, and Lloyd’s Weekly Casualty Reports

NB: It should be noted that the National Maritime Museum’s holdings of the Lloyd’s publications listed below are not complete, while they are very significant. In most instances, the Lloyd’s Marine Collection at the Guildhall Library will provide greater coverage.

From 1880 to 1920, Lloyd’s Weekly Shipping Index reprinted the casualties sections of the preceding week’s Lloyd’s List, but in alphabetical order by ship. The Library at the National Maritime Museum has copies for 1885–86 and 1893–1916.

In the same period, Lloyd’s List Weekly Summary repeated much of this information, but until 1915 it is particularly useful as it contains an annual alphabetical index to casualties and official inquiries. The Library at the National Maritime Museum has copies for 1884–89, 1891–1915, 1917–1930 and 1937.

From 1920 to 1992, Lloyd’s Weekly Casualty Reports effectively continued the casualties section of Lloyd’s Weekly Shipping Index (see above). It is a collation of the reports of wrecks and losses from the previous week’s Lloyd’s List, with supplementary quarterly indexes. The library of the National Maritime Museum has holdings of the reports and their indexes, 1967–1987 only. However, with all of these three publications, if the approximate date of the loss is known, the information can still be retrieved from Lloyd’s List, for which there are indexes for the period 1838–1927.

Lloyd's Register Casualty Returns

(Also known variously as Lloyd’s Register Wreck Returns and Return of Vessels Totally Lost, Condemned etc).

From 1890 to the present, this quarterly publication lists the vessels over 100 tons removed from Lloyd’s Register, with brief statements of the circumstances of the loss. Its entries are divided into British and Foreign vessels, then arranged by cause, so that there are separate lists for vessels burned, destroyed by collision, foundered or wrecked etc. This means that if the date but not the cause of a wreck is known, it is necessary to browse several lists. It also includes extensive statistical tables about losses. The Library has issues 1890–1900, and 1907–1993, although many of these are photocopies, and so for legal reasons cannot be further copied. From 1994, the content of the title was partially transferred to the new World Casualty Statistics, which no longer listed individual losses.

Other sources

Newspapers

For significant wrecks or those involving loss of life it is frequently rewarding to search newspapers and periodicals. Those held at the library of the National Maritime Museum which are particularly useful, are Mitchell's Maritime Register and the Shipping Gazette, before both merged with Lloyd’s List. Significant losses are also often reported in detail in national and regional newspapers. The Library offers full electronic access to The Times from 1785 to 1985, and to the British Library’s ongoing 19th century newspapers online project. For licensing reasons, access is only available onsite at the Museum (see Electronic resources)

Lloyd's Captains' Registers

If you suspect that a ship's master whose name you know was in charge of a wrecked vessel, it is also worth consulting Lloyd's Captains' Registers. These printed and manuscript registers, listing masters alphabetically, were compiled by Lloyd’s and are held at the Guildhall Library. They were begun in 1869. The Guildhall Library has added partial Indexes to the Registers to its website. The National Maritime Museum also holds microfilm copies, but the quality is variable and sometimes difficult to read. Lloyd’s staff have often noted inquiries and their verdicts next to the master’s names, for example 'no blame', 'certificate suspended', etc.

Sources elsewhere

The Lloyd’s Marine Collection offers much that assists in identifying wrecks, and they have a detailed research guide on the topic.

The National Archives similarly has many valuable sources, notably the Board of Trade Marine Department correspondence, records of the Collectors of Customs and the Coastguard Service. They also have their own research guide.

The Pastscape website, documenting the English Heritage National Monuments Record, aims to record the details of every known wreck in British territorial waters and currently contains some 40,000, searchable by name. The level of information available varies but it is an excellent and authoritative resource, particularly as a first step. A useful tip is to add the word 'wreck' to your search along with the name of the vessel.

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.

Last updated February 2011

© National Maritime Museum 2011. All rights reserved

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF

Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

General information

This guide outlines the main sources for researching the activities of merchant ships and their crews during the First World War, 1914–18. There is a wide range of material both in printed and manuscript form. This is distributed across a number of libraries and archives and the researcher should be prepared to seek out material that addresses the particulars of the research problem.

The National Maritime Museum holds some key works that are likely to assist with most research problems, namely:

  • Lloyd's Register of Shipping and the Mercantile Navy List (British ships) for 1914–18 give basic information about merchant ships: owners, official number, port of registry, size, date and place of build, etc. But as they were published annually, some ships were too short-lived to be included. Some foreign-registered vessels were missed out because it was hard to gather information in wartime. Some indexing to Lloyd’s Register has been undertaken at the Register of Ships.
  • The Registre Veritas of the French shipping registration agency Bureau Veritas in Paris, is bi-lingual for the period.
  • The Record of American Shipping produced by the American Bureau of Shipping.

Merchant Ships used by the Government

Some British merchant ships were bought into the Royal Navy and commissioned as warships. Details of these can be found in:

  • Jane's Fighting Ships, an illustrated guide to classes of Royal Navy vessels, annual editions from 1898.
  • Ships of the Royal Navy, vols 1 and 2, by J J Colledge, (London: Greenhill Books, revised edition, 1987–89). 623.82(42)

Other ships were employed on Government service but not bought into the Royal Navy. These are shown in the Admiralty service lists:

  • Service List: List of Vessels Engaged for Naval, Military and Commercial Purposes, produced by the Shipping Intelligence Section of the Ministry of Shipping (London: HMSO, 1921). Owners, size, speed, cargo and nature of service are often given. A list of Q-ships is given as an appendix.
  • The History of the Military Sea Transport During the Great War, a collection of Admiralty documents, is held at the National Maritime Museum, but is not indexed.

Records of commissioned ships and naval operations involving merchant ships are at The National Archives. Their Research Guide Royal Navy: Operational Records First World War, 1914–1918 provides fuller details.

  • The Merchant Navy, 3 vols, by Archibald Hurd, (London: John Murray, 1921–29), the official history of the merchant navy in the Great War, has lots of useful information. 940.45.656.61

Shipping movements

Day-to-day movements of merchant ships were, for a while, recorded as in peace time in Lloyd's List, excluding troop ships and special operations. But once publication of such information in war time was seen as unwise, the movements and casualties section was removed from the List and printed separately as Overseas Shipping Intelligence (1 January 1917–15 November 1918), for restricted circulation.

Copies are held (with annual indexes 1838–1927) by the Guildhall and other libraries, as well as by the National Maritime Museum.

It should also be possible to determine some details of a ship’s movements by consulting its official log. See below.

Crews and gallantry awards

No registers of service exists for the crew of merchant ships for the period of the First World War. But there are records of the issue of seamen’s identity cards from 1918–1921 on microfiche, in series BT 350 at The National Archives; the originals are held by the Southampton Archives Service. These include passport-sized photographs of seamen and also give some voyage information. These records are in the process of digitization and will become available online.

The primary source for details of a merchant seamen’s service are agreements and crew lists. These are mostly unindexed and so it is necessary to know the ships on which a seaman served to be able to locate them.

Most crew agreements and official logs for British-registered merchant ships for the period 1914–18 are with the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, except for the following:

  • The National Archives hold 10% of crew agreements for each year, plus a small number of 'celebrated ships', and official logs for the whole period (NB. official logs are not a daily diary of ships' movements; that information was in deck logs, which rarely survive).
  • The National Maritime Museum has 90% of crew agreements for the year 1915 only.
  • Local record offices hold crew agreements for ships of special local interest.

The location of the records for a particular ship, if they are held at The National Archives or a County Record Office can most easily be located using the Crew List Index Project.

Records of merchant ships taken into service complete with their crews, under a T124 Agreement, are to be found in a separate series of documents at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Agreement and Account of Crew of Commissioned Chartered Ships, T124, 1914–1920.

Records of Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels should be found amongst those of the merchant navy described above. Sometimes though they may be amongst those for the Royal Navy.

Records of masters and mates, their certificates of competency and location of certificates, are outlined in Research Guide C2: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Master mariners, mates and engineers.

Many seafarers, both officers and ordinary seamen, saw service in the Royal Naval Reserve. Their records are to be found at The National Archives and details are to be found in the National Archives' Research Guide: Royal Naval Reserve.

Merchant Seamen were mostly entitled to the British War medal and the Mercantile Marine medal; records of the issue of these are to be found in series BT 351 on microfiche, at The National Archives.

The London Gazette reported all gallantry awards to merchant seamen and other British citizens, and is available (indexed) at the Guildhall Library.

Lloyd's Medals 1876–1989: A History of Medals Awarded by the Corporation of Lloyd's, by Jim Gawler (Toronto: Hart publishing Co., 1989) includes citations for many of the awards. 355.124.22.

Lloyd's Captains' Registers sometimes mention medals awarded to masters, and can be consulted at the National Maritime Museum and Guildhall Library. The National Archives' Research Guide Merchant Seamen: Medals and Honours provides more details on the subject.

Records of Q-ships (merchant ships with concealed weapons, designed to lure submarines into making surface attacks) are to be found at The National Archives. Log books are in series ADM 53; and some movement records in ADM 131 and ADM 137.

Ships sunk by war causes

There are a wide range of printed sources related to merchant shipping casualties during the First World War Records; these include:

  • Lloyd's War Losses: the First World War: Casualties to Shipping Through Enemy Causes 1914–1918 (Lloyd's of London Press Ltd, 1990). This covers British, Allied and neutral vessels including those missing, detained or sunk by mines after the war ended.
  • Merchant Shipping (Losses) House of Commons Paper 199, 1919 (London: HMSO, 1919), the official Admiralty list. Reprinted as British Vessels Lost at Sea 1914–1918, it was never revised and has some errors and omissions.
  • Foreign Vessels Sunk or Damaged (unpublished) was produced for official use only. Although not the best source, it also includes a unique list of vessels attacked but not sunk or damaged.
  • Government War Risks Insurance Scheme: List of Vessels Lost, Damaged or Missing (Board of Trade, c.1921). Vessels sunk by war causes came under the Government's war risks insurance scheme. Records relating to this, including cargo details, are held by the Department of Transport, Shipping Policy Emergencies Division.
  • Digest of Cases Decided in British Prize Courts, August 1914–November 1927, by Hubert Hull (London: HMSO, 1927). 341.362.12
  • Lloyd's Reports of Prize Cases Heard Before and Decided by the Right Honourable Sir Samuel Evans...during the European War Which Began in August 1914, edited by John Bridge Aspinall and Edward Louis De Harte, 7 vols, (London: Lloyd's,1915–21). 341.362.12
  • British Merchant Vessels Sunk by U-boats in the 1914–1918 War, by A J Tennent (Starling, 1990). A useful compilation that identifies the ship's owner and, where possible, the U-boat. 940.45.656.61
  • Der Krieg zur See: Der Handelskrieg mit U-Booten, by Arno Spindler, 5 vols, (Berlin: E.S.Mittler, 1932–1966). Gives a full account of the U-boat war from the German viewpoint, but only has indexes for the two final volumes, which were published later. The Admiralty commissioned a translation of the first three, titled The Submarine War Against Commerce, which are available at the National Maritime Museum. 940.45

The National Archives hold a range of manuscript material related to the loss of merchant vessels by enemy action. Many reports of sinkings are to be found, for the period 1916–18, in Admiralty: Historical Section: Records used for Official History (ADM 137) and the Catalogue often lists these under the ship’s name. Alternatively, reference to the appropriate file may be found in Admiralty: Digests and Indexes (ADM 12) under the name of the ship, and perhaps under the names of key individuals. Lists of British merchant vessels attacked by enemy submarines, with reports of actions and sinkings (1916–18), are also to be found in Admiralty: Station records: Plymouth Correspondence (ADM 131/113 to 118). Both these sets of files often name the casualties and those killed or lost as well as giving the circumstances.

Ships sunk by marine causes

Merchant vessels lost due to ordinary perils of the sea (i.e. by foundering, stranding, collision, fire, etc) do not appear in the published lists of war losses. They are, however, included in the Overseas Shipping Intelligence.

Lists of missing vessels whose fate was unknown are given in Lloyd's War Losses. Additional information can often be found in the manuscript Lloyd's Missing Vessels Books, available in the Guildhall Library.

A large number of vessels lost without trace, and fate unknown, were declared 'missing'. A Joint Arbitration Committee considered the evidence and assessed, for insurance purposes, whether a loss was likely to be due to war or marine causes.

Prisoners of War

Lists of merchant seamen captured and held as prisoners of war have not systematically been preserved. But some lists have survived amongst the Foreign Office (FO 383) and Colonial Office (CO 693) records at The National Archives.

Deaths of seamen

Many seamen died at sea either because of enemy action or the perils of their occupation. Those dying from enemy action should be recorded in the Debt of Honour database of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Records of death, whatever the reason, should be recorded in the ship’s official log: see above. Details would then have been copied into the registers of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen: series BT 334 at The National Archives. These should cover both deaths that actually occurred at sea as well as on board in port or in a local foreign hospital. Those where the death actually occurred at sea will then have been reported to the General Register Office for England and Wales, and where the seaman was Scottish or Irish, a copy sent to the General Register Offices in Edinburgh or Dublin. Each General Register Office maintains a Register of Marine Deaths with a separate index: most of these indexes are now online through several commercial organisations.

The National Maritime Museum library holds:

  • Alphabetical Returns of deaths of merchant seamen, July 1916–1989
    These consist of printed returns published monthly from the Registrar General's information. These returns, which refer to deaths caused by illness, accident or even occasionally murder, rather than by enemy action, are arranged by date (year and month) and then alphabetically by name of seaman. Also listed are ship name, official number, date, place and cause of death.
  • Returns of Deaths of Merchant Seamen arranged by name of ship 1914–1919
    These are transcripts from official logbooks recording deaths of crew, arranged by date (year and month) then alphabetically by vessel name. They Includes details of the circumstances that led to the death and sometimes include a surgeon’s or coroner’s report. They refer to deaths caused by illness, accident or even occasionally murder rather than by enemy action
  • Births and deaths of passengers, January–June 1915

Cargo

Brief information about the cargo carried by vessels sunk by war causes should be in Lloyd's War Losses: the First World War. Additional details may be found in reports in the Overseas Shipping Intelligence if salvage work was carried out at the time, or if wreckage was washed ashore.

Cargo manifests sometimes survive amongst the Custom House records at the vessel's last port of departure. These archives will now normally be at the County Record Office covering the area in which the port is to be found. The central file of Bills of Entry, now held by Merseyside Maritime Museum, may be more comprehensive. The British Library Newspaper Library has a file for London Bills of Entry only.

Miscellaneous sources

Shipping company archives may, in a few cases, include valuable information. The National Register of Archives  and Access to Archives maintained by The National Archives, can often be useful in locating records of shipping companies.

A few shipping companies (notably Clan Line, Royal Mail, and Union-Castle) commissioned special wartime histories of their ships, some detailing honours awarded and seamen who died. A company’s general or fleet history may also give information, either published separately or in journals such as Sea Breezes. In a few cases, books have been devoted to individual vessels, e.g. the Lusitania.

Useful addresses

British Library
Newspaper Library
Colindale Avenue
London NW9 5HE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7353
Fax: 020 7412 7379
E-mail: newspaper@bl.uk

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2 Marlow Road
Maidenhead SL6 7DX
Tel: 01628 507200
E-mail: via website

County and local record offices

Contact details (as at 2005) for many local archives can be found using English Record Offices and Archives on the Web or Google.

General Register Offices

England and Wales

General Register Office
Smedley Hydro
Trafalgar Road
Southport
Merseyside PR8 2HH
Tel: +44 (0) 845 603 7788
E-mail: certificate.services@ips.gsi.gov.uk

Scotland

General Register Office for Scotland
New Register House
Edinburgh EH1 3YT
Tel: +44 (0)131 334 0380
E-mail: records@gro-scotland.gov.uk

Northern Ireland

General Register Office (Northern Ireland)
Oxford House
49-55 Chichester Street
Belfast BT1 4HL
Tel: +44(0)28 9025 2000
Fax: +44(0)28 9025 2120

Ireland

General Register Office of Ireland
Government Offices
Convent Road, Roscommon.
Republic of Ireland
Tel: +353 (0)90 6632900
Fax: +353 (0)90 6632999
E-mail: via website

Guildhall Library
Aldermanbury
London EC2V 7HH
Tel: +44 (0)20 7332 1868/1870 (printed books) or +44 (0)20 7332 1863/3803 (manuscripts)
E-mail: printedbooks.guildhall@cityoflondon.gov.uk (printed books) or manuscripts.guildhall@cityoflondon.gov.uk (manuscripts)

Maritime History Archive
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St John's
Newfoundland
A1C 5S7
Canada
E-mail: mha@mun.ca

Maritime Archives and Library
Merseyside Maritime Museum
Albert Dock
Liverpool L3 4AA
Tel: +44 (0)151 478 4499

Southampton Archives Service
Civic Centre
Southampton
SO14 7LY
Tel: +44 (0)23 8083 2251
Fax: +44 (0)23 8083 2156
E-mail: city.archives@southampton.gov.uk

The National Archives
Ruskin Avenue
Kew
Richmond
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444
E-mail: via online contact form

Next steps

Others guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Merchant Navy 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.

© National Maritime Museum 1998. All rights reserved
Last updated May 2009

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

This guide gives details of crew agreements for British-registered merchant ships, crew lists or muster-rolls and official ships' logs.

They are of particular interest to genealogists and people tracing family history, and to anyone researching specific ships or seafaring generally.

Introduction

Crew lists

Crew lists, originally termed muster-rolls or muster-books, began in the 18th century and were initially kept in order to collect a levy from seamen's wages for a relief fund, and as a record of the names, ratings, dates of entry and final discharge for all men serving on board a ship. The 1835 Merchant Shipping Act and its successors were intended to create central registers of all seamen who might be called on to support the Royal Navy in time of war.

This central registration stopped in 1857 and only began again in 1914 with the start of the First World War.

Crew agreements

Crew agreements, detailed contracts between a seaman and his employer, carried on beyond 1857, and provide greater information about the crew, apprentices, ships and voyages.

For ships engaged in the Home trade (operating in UK coastal waters, or from UK to North European and Baltic ports) records of agreements were submitted twice a year and usually include a list of all sailings and arrivals for the half-year.

Agreements for vessels in the foreign trade were submitted at the end of each voyage and do not include this information, just a general voyage description with dates.

Official logs

Official logs of British merchant ships also have some details of crew members but they are not, as many people assume, a daily diary of a ship's movements. They are more a 'parish register' for the ship, noting vital information about the crew and passengers, and only had to be kept if there were relevant entries to record. These include new arrivals on board (such as births or the signing on of a new crew member); departures (death, disappearance, desertion, or signing-off of a crew member at an intermediary port before the end of the voyage); marriages, illness, and any disciplinary action taken against a crew member.

The log will usually give the ship's position at the time of any birth or death, but may have no other reference to the ship's movements. Sailing and arrival dates are sometimes noted but were not required. The crew agreement, which provides at minimum the date and place of the beginning and end of the voyage, is often more informative in this respect.

Where to find records for...

1747–1860

All surviving muster rolls and crew agreements for British-registered merchant ships up to and including 1860 are held by The National Archives. Muster rolls exist for 1747–1851, but prior to 1800 only those for Bristol, Dartmouth, Liverpool, Plymouth, Shields and Scarborough have survived. Crew Agreements are available from 1835.

Up to 1854 records are arranged by port and registry number; subsequently by ship's official number. These and other valuable sources are described in The National Archives' Merchant shipping: Crew Lists and Agreements, 1747–1860.

After 1860, crew agreements have been divided between a number of repositories.

1861–1938

A 10% specimen group of crew agreements for each year, taken at random (every tenth box of papers) together with those for famous vessels (with some exceptions, such as those for the Cutty Sark and Great Britain), is in The National Archives. The remaining 90% for 1861, 1862, and years ending in '5', are held by the National Maritime Museum. To request a crew list to view in the reading room, please order online. For other years, some crew agreements were taken by local record offices. Information on holdings at The National Archives and local record offices are described in The National Archives' Merchant Seamen: Agreements and Crew Lists after 1861.

All those remaining (about 70% of the total) are now in the care of the Maritime History Research Collection, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John's, Newfoundland, A1B 3Y1, Canada. The Collection offers a research service and will provide copies of documents for a fee based on cost recovery. Crew agreements for foreign-going vessels were submitted to the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen at the end of the voyage (replacing the copy deposited with the port authorities before departure) and it is this date that determines the year in which an agreement is filed. Coasters and fishing vessels submitted crew agreements bi-annually.

1939–1950

All surviving agreements and crew lists with their logbooks are held by The National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU. Information on the holdings of The National Archives are decribed in The National Archives' Merchant Seamen: Agreements and Crew Lists after 1861.

1951–onwards

A 10% specimen group of all crew agreements is in The National Archives; the remaining 90% for years ending in '5', up until 1995, have been deposited with the National Maritime Museum. The Museum currently, therefore, has 90% of the crew agreements for 1955, 1965, 1975, 1985 and 1995. All remaining papers up to 1976 have been transferred to the Maritime History Archive in Canada (detailed above). However, from 1977, all crew agreements not deposited in the National Archives or in the National Maritime Museum (i.e. 90% of all years not ending in '5)have been destroyed.  Any enquiries about the deposit of recent crew lists should be addressed to the Registry of Shipping and Seamen.

Indexes

No indexes by ship's name or by names of crewmen have yet been compiled for the agreements held in the four main repositories, although some local record offices have indexes by ship's name to their holdings.

All agreements held at the National Archives can be located by official number through their online catalogue. The Maritime History Archive in Canada has also produced an excellent online search facility (by official number only) for its holdings of agreements, which also indexes many in British archives and record offices .

Official ship's number

This can be found by consulting the Mercantile Navy List or post-1872–73, Lloyd's Register of Shipping. For muster rolls and agreements before 1854, the ship's port and registry number can be found through the indexes to ship registrations, 1786–1854, in The National Archives.

Official logs

British merchant ships were first required to keep an official log under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1850 and logs start to appear among official records from 1852 onwards. Many were later discarded, with only those recording a birth or death on board normally being retained. The survival rate is about 20%, except during the First and Second World Wars, for which all logs containing any entries were preserved.

Surviving logs are always to be found with the appropriate crew agreement, except between 1905–12 and 1914–18. For those years most are kept separately, at The National Archives, in class BT 165. The indexes to the Maritime History Archive's holdings of crew agreements indicate whether or not a log is available with the crew agreement. Copies of deck logs or journals survive only in rare instances and are not among official records.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching merchant ships' crews 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.

Last updated June 2011

© National Maritime Museum 1998. All rights reserved

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8858 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

General Information

This guide outlines the main sources for researching the activities of merchant ships and their crews during the Second World War, 1939–1945. There is a wide range of material both in printed and manuscript form. This is distributed across a number of libraries and archives and the researcher should be prepared to seek out material that addresses the particulars of the research problem.

The National Maritime Museum holds some key works that give basic information, such as owners of ships, a ships’ official number, port of registry, size, date and place of build, etc. The journals below are likely to assist with most research problems.

  • Lloyd's Register of Shipping for the years 1939–1945 and the Mercantile Navy List (British ships) for 1939–1940 only, as it was not published again until 1947. Because both are produced annually, some ships were too short-lived to be included, and some foreign-registered vessels were omitted from the Register because of the difficulty of gathering information in wartime. Some indexing to Lloyd’s Register has been undertaken at the Register of Ships.
  • The Registre Veritas of the French shipping registration agency, Bureau Veritas.
  • The Record of American Shipping produced by the American Bureau of Shipping.

Merchant Ships used by the Government

Some British merchant ships were bought into the Royal Navy and commissioned as warships. Details of these can be found in:

  • Jane's Fighting Ships, an illustrated guide to classes of Royal Navy vessels, annual editions for 1939–1945. 623.82'1939/1945'
  • Colledge, J J, Ships of the Royal Navy (London: Greenhill Books, volumes 1 and 2, revised edition 1987–89). 623.82(42)

Other ships employed on Government service are shown in the Admiralty service lists, printed by the Ministry of Transport, 1946–49, which give dates and type of ships' duties:

  • Service List: British and foreign merchant ships in the service of HM Government at any time since 3 September 1939
  • Small Craft Service List.

Admiralty Movement Books record the movements of vessels in use as armed merchant cruisers or commissioned for other types of service, including vessels such as trawlers, in use as patrol vessels or minesweepers.

Other records of commissioned ships and naval operations involving merchant ships can be found in the Admiralty archives in The National Archives especially in series ADM 199.

Records of commissioned ships and naval operations involving merchant ships are at The National Archives. The National Archives' Research Guide Royal Navy: Operational Records Second World War, 1939–1945 provides fuller details.

Details of merchant ships can also be found in books on specific operations, such as:

  • Ruegg, Bob, and Hague, Arnold, Convoys to Russia: Allied Convoys and Naval Surface Operations in Arctic Waters 1941–1945 (Kendal: World Ship Society, 1992). 940.542.1(47)
  • Winser, John de S, The D-Day Ships (Kendal: World Ship Society, 1994). 940.542.1'1944'
  • The Dunkirk List, compiled by Lt. Col. G P Orde as the official history of the evacuation, named 'Operation Dynamo'. Though never published, copies are available in several places including the National Maritime Museum (there is a separate information sheet on the List, see next steps below).
  • The Merchant Ships series of books, compiled, drawn and edited by E C Talbot-Booth (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Co. Ltd). Issues for 1936, 1940, 1942 and 1949 are in the National Maritime Museum and other specialist libraries.

Where a merchant vessel was part of an Admiralty-controlled convoy, then the Convoy Lists (ADM 199/2184 to ADM 199/2194) have been indexed both by convoy number and by ship name in The National Archives Catalogue.

Shipping movements

Day-to-day movements of merchant ships, excluding troopships and special operations, were recorded and published, for restricted circulation only, as a separate section of Lloyd's List entitled ‘Confidential Movements’. Copies are in the National Maritime Museum, Guildhall Library and other places with a special interest in maritime history. Please note that the indexes, known as the Voyage Record Cards, are only at Guildhall Library.

Troopship movements were naturally kept secret at the time, and can be difficult to trace. Full records of ships which survived the war are in The National Archives, but equivalent records for vessels lost have not been traced. Partial records can be found in company archives; and in manuscript notebooks, known as Confidential Movements of Vessels on Government Service, which are being collated at Guildhall Library.

During the Second World War, the Admiralty instructed masters of merchant ships not to record in the log book the ports at which their ships called or details of their voyages, in case this information got into enemy hands. Instead, these details were recorded on movement cards held and maintained at the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen. These are now to be found at The National Archives in series BT 389 and are available online at DocumentsOnline.

In addition The National Archives holds in series BT 385, Index to Logbooks and Crew Agreements (1939–1950) that may incidentally give details of ship movements.

Crews and gallantry awards

Records of service of merchant seamen are covered by two sets of registers held by The National Archives; these are described in the Archives' Research Guide Merchant Seamen: Sea Service Records 1913–1972. The first of these registers, the Fourth, or Central Indexed Register, which should cover those who saw no service after 1941 is in the process of digitization and will become available online shortly.

Crew agreements and official logs for all British-registered merchant ships, and some allied ships with British crew, for the period 1939–1950 are held by The National Archives: see the Archives' Research Guide: Merchant Seamen: Log Books, Agreements and Crew Lists after 1861(NB. official logs are not a daily diary of ships' movements; that information was in deck logs, which rarely survive).

Records of Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels should be found amongst those of the merchant navy described above. Sometimes though they may be amongst those for the Royal Navy.

Many seafarers, both officers and ordinary seamen, saw service in the Royal Naval Reserve. Their records are to be found at The National Archives and details are to be found in their Research Guide Royal Naval Reserve.

Some seamen saw service on Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS). No service details seem to have survived for these ships. However, the following resources may assist:

Merchant seamen were entitled to campaign medals and many received gallantry awards. The National Archives' Research Guide Merchant Seamen: Medals and Honours provides more details on the subject.

Campaign medals were not issued automatically but had to be applied for. Details of claims for, and issuing of these, are to be found in DocumentsOnline; details from files referenced there need to be sought from the Registry of Shipping and Seamen.

Merchant seamen also received a range of gallantry medals. Registers or rolls of honour have been published for most of the major gallantry awards and are available in many reference libraries.

  • The London Gazette records awards to merchant seamen or other British citizens. Copies, together with indexes, are also available at the Guildhall Library. Seedie's roll of naval honours and awards 1939–1945 (Tisbury: Ripley Registers, 1989) gives a single alphabetical list by name, including merchant seamen. Wherever possible entries give a man's name, the nature of the award, his rating, ship, an indication of the action for which the award was made, and the date of the London Gazette entry. It is available at the National Maritime Museum.
  • Lloyd's List published citations for some medals awarded to merchant seamen.
  • Lloyd's Medals 1876–1989: a history of medals awarded by the Corporation of Lloyd's, by Jim Gawler (Toronto: Hart Publishing Co., 1989) includes citations for many of the awards. 355.124.22
  • Under Hazardous Circumstances: A Register of Awards of Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea 1939–1945, compiled by R J Scarlett (Dallington: Naval & Military, 1992) 737.2. Citations for Lloyd's medals not given in these books can be obtained from the Manager's Secretarial Department, Lloyd's, 100 Leadenhall Street, London EC3A 3BP.
  • Lloyd's Captains Registers (Guildhall Mss.18567-71) include details of awards to some masters.

Further information can sometimes be found in the series Treasury: Ceremonial Branch: Second World War Civil Defence Awards Files (GCD Series) T 336 at The National Archives.

Ships sunk by war causes

The most direct way into records of ship losses are the files and associated indexes held at The National Archives in Daily Casualty Registers and Index to Ships, War of 1939–1945 (BT 347). This series contains daily casualty registers, kept by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, recording daily ship casualties mainly due to enemy action but also including other routine causes. Each incident is recorded naming the class of vessel, the ship's name, nationality of the ship, date and time, cause and approximate position, voyage details and cargo and latest information available.  References are made in the index both to the Casualty Lists themselves and to Lloyd’s List.

Printed works that can assist are:

  • The Admiralty's List: British Merchant Vessels Lost or Damaged by Enemy Action During the Second World War (London: HMSO, 1947) has been reprinted, though never revised, and has some errors and omissions.
  • Lloyd's War Losses: the Second World War (London: Lloyd's of London Press Ltd, volumes 1 and 2, 1989) covers British, Allied and neutral merchant ships, including vessels missing or sunk by mines after the end of the war which are not covered by the Admiralty list. It was compiled principally from War Loss Cards, now in the Guildhall Library, which sometimes provide more detail.
  • Axis Submarine Successes 1939–1945, by Jurgen Rohwer (Cambridge: Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1983, English edition) based on German Admiralty records, is a useful supplement to British lists, though neither is totally reliable. 940.545.1(43)

Transcripts of interviews with masters or senior officers of merchant ships attacked or sunk by the enemy are now held by The National Archives in series ADM 199. Interviews depended, of course, on an officer surviving an attack, and even they did not always reach home safely. Mortality among merchant seamen in the Second World War was higher than in any other armed forces.

There is a two volume typescript, compiled by Bob Childs, of Survivors' Reports WWII. The reports were submitted by US Navy officers and cover British/American/Foreign Warships and Merchant ships. Some reports are very detailed.

Information on enemy merchant vessels sunk by war causes is often difficult to trace, particularly Japanese ships whose names can be represented in various ways:

  • The original typescript of Lloyd's War Losses: the Second World War, volume 3, is at the Guildhall Library and is particularly useful. It uses the Romaji system of transcription for Japanese names, officially adopted in 1937 and used during the war, though later abandoned.
  • Japanese Naval and Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II by All Causes (Washington DC: United States Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, 1947) is in the National Maritime Museum. 940.545.656.61.086.2(52)
  • Lloyd's Register of Shipping 1938–39 may help with names, as its changes-of-name appendix gives both the Romaji spelling and earlier version (for example Yeijun Maru/Eizyun Maru).

Record series BT 385 and BT 389, described above under Shipping movements are likely also to give details of losses.

Ships sunk by marine causes

The Daily Casualty Registers and Index to Ships, War of 1939–1945 (BT 347), held at The National Archives and described above, is the best way to start looking for such losses.

Vessels sunk 1939–1946 by marine causes, i.e. by ordinary perils of the sea, such as foundering, stranding, collision, fire, etc., are not included in published lists of war losses. They are included in Lloyd's List: Confidential Movements and can be supplemented by files of Marine Loss Cards and Missing Vessels Cards at Guildhall Library.

A large number of vessels lost without trace, and fate unknown, were declared 'missing'. A Joint Arbitration Committee considered the evidence and assessed, for insurance purposes, whether a loss was likely to be due to war or marine causes.

Record series BT 385 and BT 389, described above under Shipping movements are likely also to give details of losses.

Prisoners of War

There are extensive records of merchant seamen held as prisoners of war in the series BT 373 at The National Archives. These give the circumstances of capture and the eventual fate of UK and Allied Asian merchant seamen. Details of ships captured or lost due to enemy action are in to be found there also and are searchable in The National Archives Catalogue by ship's name. These contain miscellaneous papers relating to the circumstances of loss or capture.

It is possible that some records of merchant seamen held as prisoners of war may be found amongst the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.

Deaths of seamen

Many seamen died at sea either because of enemy action or the perils of their occupation. Those dying from enemy action should be recorded in the Debt of Honour database of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Records of death, whatever the reason, should be recorded in the ship’s official log: see above. Details would then have been copied into the registers of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen – series BT 334 at The National Archives. These should cover both deaths that actually occurred at sea as well as on board in port or in a local foreign hospital. Those where the death actually occurred at sea will then have been reported to the General Register Office for England and Wales, and where the seaman was Scottish or Irish, a copy sent to the General Register Offices in Edinburgh or Dublin. Each General Register Office maintains a Register of Marine Deaths with a separate index – most of these indexes are now online through several commercial organisations.

The National Maritime Museum holds:

  • Alphabetical Returns of Deaths of Merchant Seamen, July 1916–1989
    These consist of printed returns published monthly from the Registrar General's information. The information is alphabetical by deceased's name. Also listed are ship name, official number, date, place and cause of death. The return for 1946 also includes supplement of merchant seamen who died while prisoners of war, 1939–1946.
  • Deaths of Crewmen, January 1914–1960s
    These contain forms giving personal details of the crewman and circumstances of death which sometimes includes a Coroner's report. They can also contain correspondence from UK consulates if a death occurred overseas.
  • Death by Enemy Action, 1939–1945
    A card index arranged alphabetically by name of seaman, containing the person's address, rank, date, place and cause or supposed cause of death, ship's name and official number.
  • Death by Natural Causes 1939–1945

A card index arranged alphabetically by name of seaman and gives the person's birthplace, rank and date and place of death and cause if known together with the ship's name and official number.

Within the Returns of Births and Deaths of Passengers 1939–1963 there are for 1939–1945 also records of deaths of soldiers on hospital and troopships, but it is necessary to know the name of the ship.

Some useful printed works include:

  • The Roll of Honour of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets 1939–1945, 3 vols (London: Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, c.1958) lists more than 33,000 merchant seamen who have no known grave but the sea and whose names are on the Merchant Navy memorial, Tower Hill, London, and other memorials, e.g. in Hong Kong. The list gives each seaman's ship, date of loss and memorial on which he is named.
  • The Memorial Register, British Merchant Navy Officers Killed at Sea, 1939–1945 compiled by P.J. Barber.
  • The Book of Remembrance: the Merchant Navy World War Two, researched by Ian Stockbridge/International Maritime Research and published by NUMAST, contains the names of 32,000 merchant seamen, 1,200 Maritime Royal Artillery gunners and as many RN personnel as possible, who lost their lives on British merchant ships. Includes those who died in Prisoner of War camps in Germany and Japan. It is arranged alphabetically by name of ship.

Cargo

The Shipping Movement Cards, mentioned above, record the movements of both British registered and Allied vessels engaged in the war effort. Each set of cards records the name of the ship, any former name it had, its size (tonnage), to whom it was registered, the ship’s destination, date of arrival and sometimes ports of call. They also record any cargo carried on board. Importantly the cards also show if the ship was torpedoed, mined, damaged or sunk. These are now to be found at The National Archives in series BT 389 and are available online at DocumentsOnline.

Records of the Government War Risks Insurance Scheme, now found at The National Archives in series BT 228, are particularly useful for researching a ship’s cargo.

Lloyd's War Losses has brief information on cargo. Some extra details may be found in Lloyd's List: Confidential Movements if salvage work was carried out or wreckage was washed ashore.

Cargo manifests sometimes survive in Custom House records at the vessel's last port of departure. The location of archives for specific British Custom Houses can be obtained from the Customs & Excise Departmental Records Unit. The central file of Bills of Entry, now held by Merseyside Maritime Museum, may be more comprehensive. The British Library Newspaper Library has a file for London Bills of entry only.

Miscellaneous sources

Shipping company archives may in a few cases include valuable information, and the National Register of Archives can help locate surviving archives for particular companies.

A few shipping companies commissioned special wartime histories of their ships, some detailing honours awarded and seamen who died. A company's general or fleet history may also give information, either published separately or in journals such as Sea Breezes.

There are a few books on individual ships, such as the City of Benares and the Queen Mary.

Useful addresses

British Library
Newspaper Library
Colindale Avenue
London NW9 5HE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7353
Fax: 020 7412 7379
E-mail: newspaper@bl.uk

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2 Marlow Road
Maidenhead SL6 7DX
Tel: 01628 507200
E-mail: via website

General Register Offices

England and Wales

General Register Office
Smedley Hydro
Trafalgar Road
Southport
Merseyside PR8 2HH.
Tel: +44 (0) 845 603 7788
E-mail: certificate.services@ips.gsi.gov.uk

Scotland

General Register Office for Scotland
New Register House
Edinburgh EH1 3YT
Tel: +44 (0)131 334 0380
E-mail: records@gro-scotland.gov.uk

Northern Ireland

General Register Office (Northern Ireland)
Oxford House
49-55 Chichester Street
Belfast BT1 4HL.
Tel: +44(0)28 9025 2000
Fax: +44(0)28 9025 2120

Ireland

General Register Office of Ireland
Government Offices
Convent Road
Roscommon
Republic of Ireland.
Tel: +353 (0)90 6632900
Fax: +353 (0)90 6632999
E-mail: via website

Guildhall Library
Aldermanbury
London EC2V 7HH
Tel: +44 (0)20 7332 1868/1870 (printed books) or +44 (0)20 7332 1863/3803 (manuscripts)
E-mail: printedbooks.guildhall@cityoflondon.gov.uk (printed books) or manuscripts.guildhall@cityoflondon.gov.uk (manuscripts)

Library and Research Service
19 Avenue de la Paix
1202 Geneva
Switzerland
Tel: +41 (0)22 730 20 30
Fax: +41 (0)22 730 20 82
E-mail: via website

Maritime Archives and Library
Merseyside Maritime Museum
Albert Dock
Liverpool L3 4AA
Tel: +44 (0)151 478 4499

Registry of Shipping and Seamen
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Anchor Court
Ocean Way
Cardiff CF24 5JW
Tel: +44 (0)2920 448800
Fax: +44 (0)2920 448820
E-mail: rss@mcga.gov.uk

Southampton Archives Service
Civic Centre
Southampton
SO14 7LY
Tel: +44 (0)23 8083 2251
Fax: +44 (0)23 8083 2156
E-mail: city.archives@southampton.gov.uk

The National Archives
Ruskin Avenue
Kew
Richmond
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444
E-mail: via online contact form

Next steps

Others guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Merchant Navy 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.

© National Maritime Museum 1998.

All rights reserved. Last updated May 2009

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8858 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

Introduction

This guide provides a brief introduction to the Handy Shipping Guide, published between 1887 and 1988.

The Handy Shipping Guide was published weekly on Saturdays, from 30 April 1887 until December 1988. It is an important source of detail for economic and maritime history research, covering a period of just over a century. It supplements both Lloyd's Weekly Shipping Index and Lloyd's Loading List (the National Maritime Museum only holds certain issues of both) and is therefore a useful research tool.

The Guide contains various important sources of information:

  • A list of all foreign, continental and coastwise ports and the ships presently to sail thereto. This gives details of all vessels that were being loaded or prepared for voyages, by destination port (arranged alphabetically by port). In this way, it offers much the same information as Lloyd’s List, but by destination, not current position
  • Arrived outwards from home ports. This lists every ship that has arrived at an overseas port in the preceeding week, having left a UK port (but including vessels registered in any country), alphabetically by ship name. This list is not broken down by destination.
  • Cleared Outwards. Organised by port, then date, then alphabetically by ship name, this lists all vessels in British ports that have cleared customs in preparation for departure in the preceeding week. This information was gathered directly from the Customs service.
  • Entered Inwards. This is again a list based on customs information, listing all vessels coming from overseas ports into the UK and entering customs
  • Homeward Bound. This lists all UK registered ships that had left foreign ports bound for the UK and had not yet returned, with notes such as 'long overdue', when relevant. It is arranged by port of departure, then alphabetically by ship.
  • Lists of Loading Brokers. These lists provide the contact details of loading brokers, arranged by (British) port.

The format of the Guide varies slightly over time, and from 1945 until the end of its publication, only the first list is included. It is also worth noting that there is an extensive range of advertisements for shipping companies and support industries, with full indexes.

The Handy Shipping Guide is a rare publication, and the Library is fortunate to have a significant collection. However, there are several gaps in our holdings. We have the following issues available for consultation:

  • January 1887–March 1890
  • December 1899–December 1900
  • January 1910–December 1910
  • January 1920–December 1920
  • January 1930–December 1930
  • January 1938–December 1988

Please note that due to the size of the collection, the Handy Shipping Guide is currently held off-site, and up to eight days' notice is required to retrieve issues for readers. Please email the Library at library@rmg.co.uk for assistance.

Next steps

Other guides which may be useful for researching the Merchant Navy 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

Last updated February 2010

© National Maritime Museum 1998. All rights reserved

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF

Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

This guide outlines the history of ship registration in Britain, from the mid 17th century until 1857, when the official Mercantile Navy List was first published. It also explains where to find transcripts of ship registers from Custom Houses throughout the British Isles.

Ship registration

Before 1786, there were no central government records of ship registration, although ships began to be registered around the middle of the 17th century.

  • 1661: Foreign-built ships were required to register with Custom Houses in order to obtain the same trading privileges as British-built ships.
  • 1695: British-built ships also had to register before trading to or from the colonies. This was later extended to ships importing wool from Ireland.
  • 1786: The Merchant Shipping Act (1786) required all British ships of more than 15 tons to register with Customs in their home port. A copy, known as a transcript of each entry was sent to the Custom House in London or Edinburgh.
  • 1814: Fire in the London Custom House destroyed all the early transcripts sent from other ports. However, registration books for the Port of London itself survive, as do some local records kept by Custom Houses at other ports (see below).
  • 1835: The official method of calculating tonnage was revised; for steamships, engine-room space was deducted.
  • 1854: The Merchant Shipping Act (1854) introduced official numbers for all newly-registered ships and further revised calculations of tonnage.
  • 1855: New measurement became compulsory for any ship re-registered or transferred to a different registry.
  • 1857: The first generally-available Mercantile Navy List was published, covering all ships registered in Britain or at Empire (subsequently Commonwealth) ports, and was issued each year until 1976.

Custom House ship registers

England and Wales (A–H)  | England and Wales (I–W)  | Rest of UK

Transcripts of ship registers made at every Custom House in Britain, 1814 onwards, should be found at The National Archives (see London, below); these include transcripts from Custom Houses in the South of Ireland until 1922. A list of Custom Houses for England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, along with the dates for which they have ship registration records, is given below:

England and Wales (A–H)

Aberystwyth (1824–1925)
Ceredigion Archives, Swyddfa'r Sir, Marine Terrace, Aberystwyth, SY23 2DE
Tel: 01970 633697/8
E-mail: archives@ceredigion.gov.uk
Website: Ceredigion Archives.

Aldeburgh (1824–1845)
(see Ipswich)

Appledore (1786–1908)
(see Barnstaple)

Arundel (1824–1855)
(see Chichester)

Barnstaple (1824–1906)
North Devon Record Office, Barnstaple Library & Record Office, Tuly Street, Barnstaple, EX31 1EL
Tel: 01271 388607/8
Fax: 01271 388608
E-mail: ndevrec@devon.gov.uk
Website: North Devon Record Office.

Barrow (1868–1925)
Cumbria Record Office and Local Studies Library, 140 Duke Street, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, LA14 1XW
Tel: 01229 894377
Fax: 01229 894364
E-mail: barrow.record.office@cumbriacc.gov.uk
Website: Cumbria Record Office and Local Studies Library.

Berwick (1824–1910)
Berwick-upon-Tweed Record Office, Borough Council Offices, Wallace Green, Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 1ED
Tel: 01289 301865
Fax: 01289 330540
E-mail: lb@berwick-upon-tweed.gov.uk
Website: Berwick-upon-Tweed Record Office.

Bideford (1786– )
(see Bristol (1786–1831))
(see Barnstaple (1831– ))

Blyth (1897– )
Northumberland Record Office, Melton Park, North Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE3 5QX
Tel: 0191 236 2680
Fax: 01289 330540
Website: Northumberland Record Office.

Boston (1827– )
Lincolnshire Archives, St Rumbold Street, Lincoln, LN2 5AB
Tel: (+44) 01522 525158
Fax: 01522 530047
E-mail: archive_bookings@lincolnshire.gov.uk
Website: Lincolnshire Archives.

Bridgwater (1786–1906)
Somerset Archive and Record Office, Obridge Road, Taunton, TA2 7PU
Tel: +44 (0)1823 278805
Fax: 01823 325402
E-mail: archives@somerset.gov.uk
Website: Somerset Archive and Record Office.

Bridport (1832–1880)
(see Lyme Regis)

Bristol (1824– )
Bristol Record Office, 'B' Bond Warehouse, Smeaton Road, Bristol, BS1 6XN
Tel: 0117 922 4224
Fax: 0117 922 4236
E-mail: bro@bristol-city.gov.uk
Website: Bristol Record Office.

Brixham (1864–1905)
(see Exeter)

Caernarfon (1840– )
Caernarfon Record Office, County Offices, Caernarfon, LL55 1SH
Tel: 01286 679095
Fax: 01286 679637
E-mail: archives.caernarfon@gwynedd.gov.uk
Website: Caernarfon Record Office.

Cardiff (1824–1932)
Glamorgan Record Office, The Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF1 3NE
Tel: +44 (0)2920 780282
E-mail: glamro@cardiff.ac.uk
Website: Glamorgan Record Office.

Cardigan (1824– )
Pembrokeshire Record Office, The Castle, Haverfordwest, SA61 2EF
Tel: +44 (0)1437 763707
Fax: 01437 768539
Website: Pembrokeshire Record Office.

Carlisle (1786–1886)
Cumbria Record Office, The Castle, Carlisle, CA3 8UR
Tel: 01228 607285
Fax: 01228 707274
E-mail: carlisle.record.office@cumbriacc.gov.uk
Website: Cumbria Record Office and Local Studies Library.

Carmarthen (1839–1849)
Carmarthenshire Archives Service, Parc Myrddin, Richmond Terrace, Carmarthen, SA31 1DS
Tel: 01267 228232
Fax: 01267 228237
E-mail: archives@carmarthenshire.gov.uk
Website: Carmarthenshire Archives Service.

Chepstow (1786–1881)
(see Gloucester)

Chichester (1837–1852)
West Sussex Record Office, County Hall, West Street, Chichester, PO19 1RN
Tel: +44 (0)1243 753600
Fax: 01243 533959
E-mail: records.office@westsussex.gov.uk
Website: West Sussex Record Office.

Cley (1839–1853)
(see King's Lynn)

Colchester (1786–1849)
Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, Essex
Tel: +44 (0)1245 244644
Fax: 01245 244644
E-mail: ero.enquiry@essexcc.gov.uk
Website: Essex Record Office.

Cowes (1786– )
Isle of Wight County Record Office, 26 Hillside, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 2EB
Tel: +44 (0)1983 823820
Fax: 01983 823820
E-mail: record.office@iow.gov.uk
Website: Isle of Wight Record Office

Dartmouth (1824–1900)
(see Exeter)

Deal (1824– )
Centre for Kentish Studies, Sessions House, County Hall, Maidstone, ME14 1QX
Tel: (+44) 01622 694363
Fax: 01622 694379
E-mail: archives@kent.gov.uk
Website: Centre for Kentish Studies.

Dover (1824– )
(see Deal)

Exeter (1786–1934)
Devon Record Office, Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter, EX2 7NL
Tel: +44 (0)1392 384253
E-mail: devrec@devon.gov.uk
Website: Devon Record Office.

Falmouth (1842– )
(see Truro)

Faversham (1824– )
(see Deal)

Fleetwood (1897– )
(see Preston)

Folkestone (1855– )
(see Deal)

Fowey (1786– )
(see Truro)

Gloucester (1824– )
Gloucester Archives, Clarence Row, Alvin Street, Gloucester, GL1 3DW
Tel: +44 (0)1452 425295
E-mail: archives@gloucestershire.gov.uk
Website: Gloucester Archives.

Goole (1828– )
East Riding of Yorkshire Archive Service, County Hall, Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire, HU17 9BA
Tel: 01482 393939
Fax: 01482 393375
E-mail: customer.services@eastriding.gov.uk
Website: East Riding of Yorkshire Archive Service.

Grimsby (1824–1918)
(see Boston)

Hartlepool (1845– )
(see Middlesbrough)

Hartlepool West (1860– )
(see Middlesborough)

Harwich (1824–1884)
(see Colchester)

Hull (1804–1902)
Hull City Archives, 79 Lowgate, Kingston-Upon-Hull, HU1 1HN
Tel: 01482 615102/110
E-mail: city.archives@hullcc.gov.uk
Website: Hull City Archives.

England and Wales (I–W)

Ilfracombe (1824–1837)
(see Barnstaple)

Ipswich (1824– )
Suffolk Record Office, Gatacre Road, Ipswich, IP1 2LQ
Tel: 01473 584541
Fax: 01473 584533
E-mail: ipswich.ro@libher.suffolkcc.gov.uk
Website: Suffolk Record Office.

King's Lynn (1836–1922)
Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich, NR1 2DQ
Tel: (0)1603 222599
Fax: (0)1603 761885
E-mail: norfec@norfolk.gov.uk
Website: Norfolk Record Office.

Lancaster (1786–1905)
(see Barrow)

Littlehampton (1855– )
(see Chichester)

Liverpool (1739–1890)
Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AA
Tel: +44 (0)151 478 4499
Website: Merseyside Maritime Museum.

Llanelli
(see Carmarthen)

London (1786– )
The National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444
Website: The National Archives.

Lowestoft (1852–1946)
Suffolk Record Office, Clapham Road, Lowestoft, NR32 1DR
Tel: 01502 405357
Fax: 01502 405350
E-mail: lowestoft.ro@libher.suffolkcc.gov.uk
Website: Suffolk Record Office.

Lyme Regis (1786–1880)
Dorset County Record Office, Bridport Road, Dorchester, DT1 1RP
Tel: +44 (0)1305 250550
Fax: 01305 257184
E-mail: archives@dorsetcc.gov.uk
Website: Dorset History Centre.

Malden (1786–1920)
Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT
Tel: +44 (0)1245 244644
E-mail: ero.enquiry@essexcc.gov.uk
Website: Essex Record Office.

Manchester (1894– )
Manchester Archives and Local Studies, Central Library, St Peter's Square, Manchester, M2 5PD
Tel: +44 (0)161 234 1980
Fax: 0161 234 1927
Email: archiveslocalstudies@manchester.gov.uk
Website: Manchester Archives and Local Studies.

Maryport (1838– )
(see Carlisle)

Middlesbrough (1861– )
Teesside Archives, Exchange House, 6 Marton Road, Middlesbrough, TS1 1DB
Tel: +44 (0)1642 248321
Fax: 01642 248391
E-mail: teessidearchives@middlesbrough.gov.uk
Website: Teesside Archives.

Milford Haven (1827– )
(see Cardigan)

Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1786–1872)
Tyne & Wear Archives Service, Blandford House, Blandford Square, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 4JA
Tel: +44 (0)191 277 2248
Fax: 0191 230 2614
E-mail: twas@gateshead.gov.uk
Website: Tyne & Wear Archives Service.

Newhaven (1856–1895)
East Sussex Record Office, The Maltings, Castle Precincts, Lewes, BN17 1YT
Tel: 01273 482349
Fax: 01273 482341
Website: East Sussex Record Office.

Newport (1824– )
Gwent Archives, Steelworks Road, Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, NP23 6DN
Tel: 01495 353362
E-mail: enquiries@gwentarchives.gov.uk
Website: Gwent Archives

Padstow (1824– )
(see Truro)

Penzance (1786– )
(see Truro)

Plymouth (1824–1920)
Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, Unit 3 Clare Place, Plymouth, PL4 0JW
Tel: (+44) 01752 305940
E-mail: pwdro@plymouth.gov.uk
Website: Plymouth and West Devon Record Office.

Poole (1855–1893)
(see Lyme Regis)

Portsmouth (1824– )
Hampshire Record Office, Sussex Street, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 8TH
Tel: +44 (0)1962 846154
E-mail: enquiries.archives@hants.gov.uk
Website: Hampshire Record Office.

Port Talbot (1917– )
(see Swansea)

Preston (1786– )
Lancashire Record Office, Bow Lane, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2RE
Tel: +44 (0)1722 263039
Fax: 01772 533050
E-mail: record.office@ed.lancscc.gov.uk
Website: Lancashire Record Office.

Pwlheli (1840–1851)
(see Caernarfon)

Ramsgate (1850– )
(see Deal)

Rochester (1824– )
(see Deal)

Runcorn (1862– )
Cheshire and Chester Archives and Local Studies Service, Cheshire Record Office, Duke Street, Chester, Cheshire, CH1 1RL
Tel: +44 (0)1244 602574
E-mail: recordoffice@cheshire.gov.uk
Website: Cheshire and Chester Archives and Local Studies Service.

Rye (1855–1946)
(see Newhaven)

St Ives (1786– )
(see Truro)

Salcombe (1867–1918)
(see Exeter)

Sandwich (1786–1849)
(see Deal)

Scarborough (1781– )
North Yorkshire County Record Office, County Hall, Malpas Road, Northallerton, DL7 8AF
Tel: +44 (0)1609 777585
Fax: 01609 777078
E-mail: archives@northyorks.gov.uk
Website: North Yorkshire County Record Office.

Scilly (1786– )
(see Truro)

Shields, North (1866–1931)
(see Newcastle upon Tyne)

Shields, South (1859–1891
(see Newcastle upon Tyne)

Shoreham (1821– )
(see Littlehampton)

Southampton (1855– )
(see Portsmouth)

Stockton (1838– )
(see Middlesborough)

Sunderland (1786–1915)
(see Newcastle upon Tyne)

Swansea (1824– )
West Glamorgan Archive Service, County Hall, Oystermouth Road, Swansea, SA1 3SN
Tel: +44 (0)1792 636589
E-mail: archives@swansea.gov.uk
Website: West Glamorgan Archive Service.

Teignmouth (1853–1939)
(see Exeter)

Truro (1824– )
Cornwall Record Office, County Hall, Truro, TR1 3AY
Tel: (+44) 01872 323127
Fax: 01872 322292
E-mail: cro@cornwall.gov.uk
Website: Cornwall Record Office.

Wells (1832–1859)
(see King's Lynn)

Weymouth (1786–1913)
(see Lyme Regis)

Whitby (1786– )
(see Scarborough)

Whitehaven (1786– )
(see Carlisle)

Wisbech (1836–1854)
(see King's Lynn)

Woodbridge (1786–1880)
(see Ipswich)

Workington (1839– )
(see Carlisle)

Yarmouth (1834–1886)
(see King's Lynn)

Rest of the UK

Scotland

Registers should have been transferred to Scottish regional record offices, but some volumes are held by local history societies. The regional record office should be able to advise on the current location for any Custom House in its area. Any queries regarding Registers of Shipping should be directed to:

The West Search Room
National Archives of Scotland
West Register House
Charlotte Square
Edinburgh
EH12 4DF
Tel: +44 (0)131 535 1400
Fax: 0131 535 1430
Website: http://www.nas.gov.uk

Ireland

Dublin ship registers were destroyed in 1920, but transcripts of these and other ship registers for the South of Ireland until 1922 are held by the National Archives (see London, above). Ship registers for Northern Ireland are held by:

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
66 Balmoral Avenue
Belfast
BT9 6NY
Tel: +44 (0)28 9025 5905
Fax: 028 9025 5999
E-mail: proni@dcalni.gov.uk
Website: http://www.proni.gov.uk

Transcripts are available in:

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
Cultra
Holywood
Co.Down
BT18 0EU
Tel: +44 (0)28 9042 8428
E-mail: uftm@talk21.com
Website: http://www.nidex.com/uftm/index.htm

Isle of Man

Ship registers are held by:

The Manx Museum
Kingswood Grove
Douglas
Isle of Man
IM1 3LY
Tel: +44 (0)1624 648000
E-mail: enquiries@mnh.gov.im
Website: http://www.gov.im/mnh/ManxMuseum.asp

The Caird Library holds registers for the following Isle of Man ports:

  • Douglas, 1824–1908
  • Derbyhaven, 1824–1853
  • Castletown, 1824–1947
  • Ramsey, 1824–1900 (except 1856–1876)
  • Peel, 1824–1953 (except for the period 1850–1863)

Channel Islands

Jersey

Ship registers 1803 to the present day are held at:

The Registry Office
Jersey Harbour Department
Maritime House
La Route du Port Elizabeth
St Helier
Jersey
JE1 1HE

Guernsey

A number of the original Register ledgers from 1895–1922 are missing. Registers after 1922 are held at:

The States of Guernsey Registry of British Ships
Registry of British Ships
P.O. Box 631
St Julian's Emplacement
St Peter Port
Guernsey
GY1 3DL.

Tel: 01481 720229
Fax: 01481 705824 / 714177
E-mail: shipsregistry@gov.gg

Next steps

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

For general research help see:

Although care has been taking 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.

© National Maritime Museum 1998. All rights reserved.

Last updated November 2007

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8858 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632

This Research guide should be used in conjunction with Research guides C1 and C2. It gives further details of records in the National Maritime Museum relating to merchant seamen, useful to genealogists or family historians.

You can search the Library and manuscripts collections via our online catalogue.

Introduction

The majority of records relating to merchant seamen are with The National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU. These include the First, Second and Third Registers of Merchant Seamen's service, 1835–1856. There are no registers between 1856 and 1914.

The Fourth Register covers the period 1914–1940 and is on microfiche. Southampton City Archives hold the original records of the Central Index Register of Merchant Seamen 1918–1941, and crew lists 1863–1913. Registers 1941–1972 are with The National Archives; 1999–2002 are with the Registry of Shipping and Seamen. Records for individual seamen were not kept between 1973–1999.

However the National Maritime Museum has records that will be of use to the family historian, although it is worth bearing in mind that, apart from the Marine Society archive (see below), the Museum has no records relating to merchant seamen before 1860. We hold crew lists for the following years only: 1861, 1862, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925, 1935, 1955, 1965, 1975, 1985, and 1995.

The National Archives
Kew
Richmond
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444

Southampton City Archives
Southampton City Council
South Block
Civic Centre
Southampton SO14 7LY
Tel: +44 (0)8083 2251
Fax: 023 8083 2156
Email: city.archives@southampton.gov.uk

Registry of Shipping and Seamen
MCA Cardiff
Anchor Court
Ocean Way
Cardiff CF24 5JW
Tel: +44 (0)29 20448800
Fax: 029 20448820

NMM records

Marine Society, 18th–20th centuries

The Marine Society was founded in 1756 by Jonas Hanway to provide poor or destitute boys willing to go to sea, with clothing and a place on board a ship. Boys entered both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. From 1786 boys were prepared for sea aboard a training ship; in 1862, the Warspite, a third-rate built in 1807 was obtained from the Admiralty and although she has been replaced by other vessels, the name was retained. The Marine Society is still in existence today and their records are on loan to this museum.

The records include Registers of Apprentices sent to Merchant Ships 1772–1950. The information contained in these includes name of boy, age and height, former employment, and the name of the master and ship to which the boy was sent.

19th–20th centuries

Crew Lists

These are covered more fully in guide C1.The museum holds crew lists of British registered merchant ships for voyages undertaken in the years 1861–1862, then for the years ending in 'five', the most recent being 1995. Information relating to 19th century merchant seamen included in these crew lists, is age of crew member, country of origin, rank and the names of previous ships served on. The logbooks of the ships may also give details of the fate of crew members such as death, disappearance or desertion. The logbook and crew list are filed together, although not all logbooks have survived.

Cooks' Certificate Registers, 1915–1958

These are arranged in order of certificate number, and give information on a persons' name, place of birth, when they gained the certificate, any awards received, cause of death if applicable, and sometimes other miscellaneous comments. Please note that the Museum does not hold the actual certificates.

Registers of Engineers' Certificates of Passing and Renewals, 1905–1930

The Registers are lists of engineers who were awarded certficates or had their certificates renewed between 1905–1930. The lists are arranged in order of certificate number, not alphabetically by surname. Therefore an engineer cannot be traced in these registers without knowing his certificate number.

Returns of Deaths, 1914–1919

The Returns actually cover births as well as deaths, giving details supplied by the ship's master of the member of crew or passenger concerned, and the event, plus a transcript of the relevant entry from the logbook. These are filed in separate folders, each covering the returns for one month. Within each folder, the Returns are in alphabetical order by name of the ship. The Returns were discontinued for a time after 1919, being succeeded by the Lists, Casualties and Deaths 1920–1938, divided into two sequences for merchant ships and fishing vessels.

Returns of Deaths of Seamen, 1920–1938

These Returns consist of two boxes of printed returns which were published monthly from the Registrar General's information. The information is listed alphabetically by deceased's surname. Also listed are ship name, official number, date, place and cause of death.

Deaths of Crewmen, January 1914–1960s

These contain forms giving personal details of the crewman and circumstances of his death, which sometimes include a Coroner's Report. Correspondence from UK consulates may also be included if a death occurred overseas.

Death by Enemy Action, 1939–1945

A card index arranged alphabetically by name of seaman, containing a person's address, rank, date, place and cause or supposed cause of death; ship's name and official number.

Death by Natural Causes, 1939–1945

A card index arranged alphabetically by name of seaman, which gives a person's birthplace, rank, date and place of death, and cause if known, together with the ship's name and official number.

Record of Merchant Navy Reserve Pool for WWII

In 1940, a Merchant Navy Reserve Pool of labour was set up to reduce delays in ships sailing. This offered seamen continuous, instead of casual employment. The records consist of lists of seamen arranged alphabetically, containing surname, date of birth, last ship and rank, nearest relative and date of acceptance into the reserve pool. The records contain some applications for identity cards, some of which may have a passport size photograph of the seaman attached.

Additional material

In addition, the museum holds the archives of many shipping companies, some of which include personnel records. Listed below are the company records we hold, which include personnel records:

British India Steam Navigation Company

Records of commanders, officers, engineers, cadets and stewards 1868–1957 are contained in 40 volumes.

Cairn Line

Officers' records of service covering masters, mates, officers, cadets, chief stewards and engineers 1942–1969, plus records of staff serving in HM Forces c.1939–1950

Coast Line

War Honours 1939–1945 to members of staff ashore and afloat.

Devitt and Moore

Records relating to officers and cadets including lists of ships' officers and cadets 1864–1916, Registers of Apprentices 1868–1899, 1902–03, 1906–1917 and Registers of Midshipmen 1897–1917.

General Steam Navigation Company

Employee Record of Service book, containing entries on date of commencement, advances, monies paid etc., in respect of all staff, sea-going and shore based c.1850–1914.

P&O

Staff records include: officers' registers 1849–1957; engineers' registers, 1845–1957; stewards' registers 1891–1940 and petty officer' registers, 1900–1949. Apart from giving details of individuals' entry into the company and listing their subsequent appointments, these registers will usually contain a reference to a man's ability and conduct. There is also a 'Death Book' which records the deaths of P&O sea staff with the cause of death, 1848–1922.

New Zealand Shipping Company

Registers of Captains 1897–1956, Registers of Officers and Engineers 1901–1923, 1923–1933. Register of Engineers 1929–1938, Register of Stewards in Charge 1912–1950, Surgeons Register 1919–1947.

Orient Steam Navigation Company

Stewards–Report on Character (no index) 1884–1926, War records, POW's etc 1939–1945 and Lists of Officers and Engineers of the Fleet 1927–1937.

Please note that the majority of these records are not on-site but are stored at an out-station. Please contact our Manuscript Section in advance if you wish to view.

Bibliography

  • My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman, C. Watts and M. J. Watts (Society of Genealogists, 1998) 930.233.1 (422.1)
  • Sailors: English Merchant Seamen, 1650–1775, Peter Earle (Methuen, 1998) 656.61.071.22 (A social and economic history of the lives of English merchant seamen in the 17th and 18th centuries)
  • A New History of British Shipping, R. Hope (J Murray, 1990) 656.61(42) (A history of British merchant shipping.)
  • Seedies List of Awards to the Merchant Navy for WWII (Ripley Registers, 1997) 355.134: 656.61

Additional sources

The National Archives
Ruskin Avenue
Kew
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: 020 8876 3444

Guildhall Library
Aldermanbury
London EC2P 2EJ
Tel: 020 7606 3030

The Registry of Shipping and Seamen
MCA Cardiff
Anchor Court
Ocean Way
Cardiff CF24 5JW
Tel: 02920 448800
Fax: 029 20448820

The Maritime History Archive
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St Johns
Newfoundland A1C 5S7
Email: mha@mun.ca

Next steps

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

© National Maritime Museum 2001. All rights reserved.

Last updated April 2006

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8858 4422 ~ Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632