The Royal Navy

  • Research guide B6: The Royal Navy: Administrative records
  • Research guide B5: Royal Naval Dockyards
  • Research guide B1: The Royal Navy: Tracing people
  • Research guide B3: The Royal Navy: Sources for enquiries
  • Research guide B7: The Royal Navy: Ship records
  • Research guide B8: The Spithead and Nore mutinies of 1797
  • Research guide B9: The Royal Navy: HMS 'King George V'

This guide lists some of the Museum's books, manuscripts and plans that will help you research the Spithead and Nore Mutinies of 1797.

Background to the mutinies

Mutiny is described as an 'open revolt against constituted authority' by the Oxford English Dictionary, and could be applied to any act of insubordination or defiance by an individual, or collectively by a ship's crew.

In April 1797, 16 ships-of-the-line of the Channel fleet refused to sail, and mounted a collective mutiny at Spithead. Their demands were concerned with improved pay and conditions, and better treatment in general. Some officers considered to ill treat their crews were sent ashore, and their permanent removal demanded. The mutiny at Spithead was conducted in a peaceful and organised manner and within a few weeks their demands had been met and a Royal Pardon granted.

The mutiny at the Nore in May 1797 was potentially more serious, as the mutineers attempted to go beyond the demands made at Spithead. They wanted more shore leave, fairer distribution of prize money, and changes to the Articles of War. When they attempted to blockade the Thames, an important trade route to London, it took a much more serious turn. The Admiralty, which must have felt it had been lenient and generous with the Spithead mutineers, was determined not to accede to any more demands. When the government demanded the suppression of the mutiny and the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, brought in a bill to outlaw the mutineers, disagreements amongst them rose to the fore. Finally, the Nore mutiny fell apart and the mutineers paid the price. The leader of the delegates was court-martialled and hanged from the yardarm of HMS Sandwich, followed by a number of his fellow mutineers, and many others were imprisoned or flogged.


(Reference numbers in italics refer to the Museum's Library catalogue)

  • Bullocke, J G, Sailors' Rebellion (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1938) 355.133(42)"17"
  • Colpoys, Edward Griffith, Sir, A Letter to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Byng Martin . . . Containing an Account of the Mutiny of the Fleet at Spithead in the Year 1797 in Correction of that Given in Captain Brenton's Naval History of the Last War (London, 1825) 355.133(422.7)"1797"(093.2):094
  • Cunningham, Charles Sir, A Narrative of Occurrences that Took Place During the Mutiny at the Nore in the Months of May and June 1797, with a Few Observations on the Impressments of Seamen . . . (William Burrill, 1829) 355.133(422.3)"1797":094
  • Dugan, James, The Great Mutiny (Putnam, 1965) 355.133(422)"1797"
  • Gill, Conrad, The Naval Mutinies of 1797 (Manchester University Press, 1913) 355.133(422)"1797"
  • Guttridge, Leonard F, Mutiny: a History of Naval Insurrection (United States Naval Institute, 1992) 355.133
  • Herbert, David, Great Historical Mutinies: Comprising the Story of the Mutiny of the 'Bounty', Mutiny at Spithead, Mutiny at the Nore. . . . (WP Nimmo, 1876) 355.133
  • Hughes, David T, Sheerness and the Mutiny at the Nore (Sheppey Local History Society, 1997) Pamphlet 355.133(422.3)"1797"
  • James, Lawrence, Mutiny in the British and Commonwealth Forces, 1797–1956 (Buchan and Enright, 1987) 355.133"17/19"
  • Lavery, Brian (editor), Shipboard Life and Organisation, 1731–1815 (Navy Records Society, 1998) 061.22NRS
  • Lavery, Brian, Nelson's Navy: the Ships, Men and Organisation, 1793–1815 (Conway Maritime, 1989) 355.49"1793/1815"(42:44)
  • Manwaring, G E and Dobree, Bonamy, The Floating Republic: an Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797 (G Bles, 1935) 355.133(422)"1797"
  • Memoirs of Richard Parker, the Mutineer, together with an Account at Large of his Trial by Court Martial, Defence, Sentence, and Execution and a Narrative of the Mutiny at the Nore and Sheerness (George Cawthorn, 1797) 355.133(422.3)"1797":094
  • Neale, Jonathan, The Cutlass and the Lash: Mutiny and Discipline in Nelson's Navy (Pluto Press, 1985) 355.133(42)"17/18"
  • Neale, William Johnson, History of the Mutiny at Spithead and the Nore with an Enquiry into its Origin and Treatment and Suggestions for the Prevention of Future Discontent in the Royal Navy (T Tegg, 1842) 355.133(422)"1797":094
  • Pope, Steve Hornblower's Navy: Life at Sea in the Age of Nelson (Orion, 1998) 355.49"1794/1805"(42)
  • Rodger, N A M, The Wooden World: an Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (Collins, 1986) 355.353(42)"17"
  • Yexley, Lionel, Our Fighting Seamen (Stanley Paul, 1911) 355.133(42)"16/19"

Manuscripts & articles


  • Captain Alexander Hood 1758-1798, Official papers. Papers relating to Spithead Mutiny, including correspondence with Admiral Lord Bridport. MKH/15
  • Sir Edward William Campbell Richard Owen, Admiral 1771–1849, Official Papers. Reflections on the Mutiny at Spithead 1797. COO/2/a
  • Logbook of the Clyde, Captain Charles Cunningham, kept by John Smith, 1796–1800. With an account of the mutiny at the Nore. BRK/15
  • Journal of the mutiny at the Nore 1797, probably kept by Captain W.J.Gore, aide de camp to Sir Charles Grey. HSR/B/12
  • Memorandum from Sir Charles Grey to Mr Dundas on the mutiny at the Nore dated 25 June, 1797. AGC/24/5


  • Craig, Hardin, 'Black Dick Howe, the sailor's friend', Mariner's Mirror Vol 35, 1949, p18.
  • Lloyd, Christopher, 'New light on the mutiny at the Nore', Mariner's Mirror Vol 46, 1960, p286.
  • Smith, D Bonner, 'The mutiny at the Nore 1797', Mariner's Mirror Vol 33, 1947, p199.
  • Smith, D Bonner, 'The naval mutinies of 1797', Mariner's Mirror Vol 21, 1935, p428.

Prints, drawings & ship plans

Prints and drawings

(The reference number in brackets is the item's catalogue id and can be used to obtain a reproduction.)

  • Print of Richard Parker. (PAD3034). Engraving published 21 July 1797.
  • Richard Parker President of the Delegates in the late Mutiny in his Majesty's Fleet at the Nore For which he suffered Death on board the Sandwich The 30th June 1797. (PAH5441). Engraving. Harrison and Co. 8 July 1797.
  • HMS Queen Charlotte. (PAF5838). Drawing by Robert Cleveley, 1790.

Ship plans

The Museum collection includes plans of some ships involved in these mutinies:

  • Plans of the Queen Charlotte, including inboard profile and figurehead.
  • Plans of the Royal George.

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.

Last updated April 2008

© National Maritime Museum 2001. All rights reserved

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

This guide outlines the history of the ship HMS King George V, and the National Maritime Museum’s resources relating to this ship.


The official records of this ship are held at the National Archives, but the service records of the personnel after approximately 1920 are retained by the Ministry of Defence and may only be viewed by next-of-kin (see research guide B3).

History of HMS 'King George V'

The King George V battleships were designed by the Admiralty in 1936 under the restrictions of the Washington Treaty. She was laid down at the Walker Navy Yard, Newcastle-upon-Tyne by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. Originally, she was to have been named HMS King George VI following the tradition of naming the first capital ship of a new reign after the monarch. The King requested that the ship be named in honour of his late father, King George V, after whom an earlier class of battleships had been named in 1911. A later member of this class of battleship was named HMS Duke of York in honour of the King instead – the other ships of this class were HMS Prince of Wales (sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers in the South China Sea, 10 December 1941), HMS Howe and HMS Anson.

The King George V was launched by King George VI on 21 February 1939 and following fitting-out and sea trials, she was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 1 October 1940. She was assigned to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, and this remained her principal base until 1944. From here, as flagship of the Home Fleet, she participated in several North Atlantic operations protecting the Arctic convoys. Alongside her sister ships, she provided a deterrent against the threat of the German capital ships Bismarck, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen and Tirpitz. In May 1941 she led the fleet in the attack and sinking of the Bismarck in the North Atlantic, although she nearly had to turn for home before the end as she was running low on fuel.

In 1943 she was temporarily detached to duties in the Mediterranean, and was involved in the invasion of Sicily and attack on Taranto. In 1944 she was redeployed to the new British Pacific Fleet as the flagship of the fleet’s second-in-command, Rear Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings. Although both she and her sister ship HMS Howe had a much reduced role compared with the North Atlantic campaign, often providing anti-aircraft cover for the fleet’s aircraft carriers, they were both involved in the bombardments of Okinawa and southern Honshu, where the King George V last fired her main armament in anger.

Following the end of World War Two, the battleships of the King George V Class had become obsolete and expensive to run. Refitted 1946–47, she was reduced to a training role in Portland. In 1950 the class was laid up in reserve in Gareloch. After the scrapping of the class was approved in 1957, she was broken up at Dalmuir and Troon the following year.

Timeline and battle honours

  • 1 January 1937: Laid down at Walker Navy Yard, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • 21 February 1939: Launched by HM King George VI
  • 1 October 1940: Commissioned – pendant number 41
  • 11 December 1940: Joins Home Fleet at Scapa Flow
  • 1941–1944: Providing distant cover for Arctic convoys
  • 15–25 January 1941: Conveys Lord Halifax to USA to take up his new position as British Ambassador. Returns with a Halifax convoy.
  • 2–6 March 1941: Operation 'Claymore'. Home Fleet provides cover for successful Commando raid on fish oil factories in Lofoten Islands.
  • 1 April 1941: Flagship of Home Fleet – Admiral Sir John Cronyn Tovey (to May 1943)
  • 22–27 May 1941: Bismarck Action in North Atlantic culminating in the sinking of the German battleship at 10.35 on 27 May, 600 miles west of Brest.
  • October 1941: Operation 'EJ’. In support of aircraft carrier HMS Victorious in action against German shipping along the Norwegian coast.
  • December 1941: Home Fleet provides seaward cover for Commando raid on Vaagso Island.
  • 1 May 1942: Collides in fog with HMS Punjabi. The destroyer is sliced in two by the battleship and sinks. Punjabi’s depth-charges explode, blowing 40 ft from the bows of the battleship, requiring repairs and refitting at Liverpool.
  • July 1942: Returns to Home Fleet at Scapa Flow
  • May–August 1943: Reinforces Force H, with HMS Howe, for operations supporting Operation 'Husky’, the Allied invasion of Sicily.
  • 12 July 1943: HMS King George V and HMS Howe bombard Trapani, Sicily and Favigana, Island of Levanzo.
  • 9 September 1943: Operation 'Slapstick'. Attack on Italian Naval base at Taranto at the same time as Operation 'Avalanche', the Allied landings at Salerno.
  • October 1943: Returns to Home Fleet at Scapa Flow
  • December 1943–January 1944: Returns to Gibraltar to collect Winston Churchill, following Cairo and Tehran Conferences.
  • February–July 1944: Refit at Liverpool in preparation for re-deployment to the Eastern Fleet
  • October 1944: Temporarily returns to Scapa Flow to cover possible threat from Tirpitz before the latter was sunk by the RAF on 12 November.
  • 28 October–15 December 1944: Sails to Trincomalee, Ceylon, to join newly-formed British Pacific Fleet (BPF). Hoists flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings, second-in-command BPF and the fleet's tactical commander at sea.
  • November 1944: Whilst on passage stopped at Alexandria – bombards German positions at the Lakida Battery, Milos in the Aegean.
  • January–February 1945: Sails to Sydney. Whilst underway, completes her first at-sea refuelling, taking 12 hours.
  • February–March 1945: Sails to Manus, Admiralty Islands (forward base of operations for the BPF) as part of Task Force 113.
  • March 1945: Joins US Pacific Fleet under Admiral Chester Nimitz (CinC Pacific) for Operation 'Iceberg’ – the Allied invasion of Okinawa.
  • 20 March 1945: Arrives at Ulithi (SW of Guam), base of the US 5th Fleet under Admiral Spruance. British fleet re-designated Task Force 57.
  • 26–27 March 1945: Royal Navy task force attacks six Japanese airfields on the islands SW of Okinawa.
  • July 1945: HMS King George V becomes first RN warship to refuel at sea abeam of the tanker (previously hoses were streamed astern of the tanker, but they were very susceptible to parting).
  • 29 July 1945: Involved in bombardment of Hamamatsu, in the south of Honshu. Start 23.19, range to target 20,075 yards, fired 265 14” shells (of which only seven actually hit the target), firing ceases 23.56. This is the last time HMS King George V fired her main armament in anger.
  • 15 August 1945: VJ Day
  • 2 September 1945: Formal Japanese surrender signed on board USS Missouri – HMS King George V provided the chairs for the signatories.
  • 2 March 1946: Returns to Portsmouth. Flagship of CinC Home Fleet
  • December 1946: Refit at Devonport
  • November 1947: Training battleship based at Portland
  • July 1949: Admiralty announces that the King George V Class to be laid up in reserve
  • June 1950: Towed to Gareloch where she is 'cocooned’ (i.e. 'mothballed’) alongside HMS Anson and Duke of York.
  • April 1957: Approval of class to be scrapped.
  • 17 December 1957: HMS King George V removed from Royal Navy List.
  • 1958: Broken up by Arnott Young & Co at Dalmuir. Hull towed to Troon for breaking up.

Battle honours

  • Atlantic 1941
  • Bismarck Action 1941
  • Arctic 1942–43
  • Sicily 1943
  • Okinawa 1945

Commanding Officers and Admirals

  • 15 July 1940: Captain W R Patterson
  • 1 April 1941: Admiral Sir J C Tovey – CinC Home Fleet
  • 6 May 1942: Captain P J Mack
  • 15 February 1943: Captain T E Halsey
  • 10 April 1945: Captain B B Schofield
  • June 1945: Rear-Admiral Sir H B Rawlings – 2iC British Pacific Fleet
  • 24 November 1945: Admiral Sir E N Syfret – CinC Home Fleet

-major refit-

  • 15 February 1947: Commander D G Clark
  • 6 July 1948: Captain H Dalrymple-Smith (to November 1949 into Reserve)

NMM Collections Information


This is a selection of the books held in the Caird Library relating to HMS King George V, British and foreign battleships and warships in general, and other related subjects.


  • Breyer, Siegfried, Battleships and Battle Cruisers, 1905–1970: Historical Development of the Capital Ship (London: Macdonald & Jane’s), 1973, 0356041913
  • Burt, R A, British Battleships 1919–1939 (London: Arms & Armour, 1993), 1854090682
  • Garzke, William H, Dulin, Robert O, Webb, Thomas G, British, Soviet, French and Dutch Battleships of World War II (London: Jane’s, 1980), 071060078X
  • Raven, Alan & Roberts, John, British Battleships of World War Two (London: Arms & Armour, 1976), 0853681414
  • Tarrant, V E, King George V Class Battleships (London: Arms & Armour, 1991), 1854090267


  • Brooke, Geoffrey, Alarm Starboard!: a Remarkable True Story of the War at Sea (Cambridge: Patrick Stephens, 1982), 0850595789 (The author joined HMS King George V as a Sub-Lieutenant in January 1941.)
  • Humble, Richard, Fraser of North Cape: the Life of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser 1888–1981 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), 0710095554 (Second-in-Command Home Fleet to Admiral Tovey, then CinC Home Fleet, later CinC British Pacific Fleet.)
  • Vian, Philip, Action this Day: a War Memoir (London: Frederick Muller, 1960) (Commander of the aircraft-carrier squadron at Okinawa.)

'Bismarck' Action

  • Mullenheim-Rechberg, Burkard, Baron von, Battleship 'Bismarck': a Survivor’s Story (Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute Press, 1990)
  • Richmond, Ray, Bismarck and those Fateful Months May–June 1941 (Garden Island, NSW: Naval Historical Society of Australia, 1987), [typescript]
  • Winklareth, Robert J, The 'Bismarck' Chase: New Light on a Famous Engagement (London: Chatham, 1998), 1861760760
  • Great Britain. Admiralty, The Chase and Sinking of the 'Bismarck' (London: Admiralty, 1950), BR1736(3/50)
  • Forester, C S, Hunting the 'Bismarck' (London: Michael Joseph, 1959)
  • Kennedy, Ludovic, Pursuit: the Chase and Sinking of the 'Bismarck' (Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute Press, 2000)


  • TOVEY, Lord, Admiral – papers, six albums, diaries [MSS/81/004]
  • FRASER, Lord, of North Cape – gunner notebooks [MSS/82/076]
  • FRASER, Admiral, British Pacific Fleet 1944–46 – papers [MSS/86/096]

Ship Plans and Historic Photographs

The National Maritime Museum holds a large collection of ships’ plans and photographs.

Plans of the King George V-class battleships

  • 1936 sheer plans, profiles, deck plans, armour plans and other detailed plans – 19 plans
  • 1941 plans relating to the refit of several decks and armament – 13 plans

Photographs of HMS 'King George V'

There are at least 13 photos of the ship in our collection taken between 1940 and 1947. Please contact the department, or search in the Historic photographs catalogue for further information.

Ship models

The Museum holds two models of HMS King George V:

  • Vickers-Armstrong Ltd model, builder’s full hull, scale 1:48, 5100x920x640mm [SLR1553]
  • Design tank-testing model, 2422x320x338mm [SLR2681]


  • Bone, Muirhead, 'HMS King George V at sea, edge of a storm', graphite/watercolour, [PAJ2887]
  • Dring, William, 'Members of the crew of HMS King George', pastel, [PAJ2989]
  • Dring, William, 'Portrait of Vice-Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser KBE', [PAJ3003]
  • Eurich, Richard Ernst, 'Bombardment of the coast near Trapani, Sicily by HMS King George V and Howe, 12 July 1943', oil [BHC1566]
  • Langmaid, Rowland, 'The surrendered Italian fleet with HMS King George V and Howe, 1943', oil [BHC2304]

Detailed ship statistics

Building statistics

  • Builder: Vickers-Armstrong, Walker Navy Yard, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • Laid down: 1 January 1937
  • Launched: 21 February 1939
  • Completed: 1 October 1940
  • Fate: Deleted from list 17 December 1957. Scrapped by Arnott Young & Co, Dalmuir starting 1958 – hull broken at Troon.


  • 1940 Standard: 38,031 tons – Deep load: 42,237 tons
  • 1945 Standard: 39,100 tons – Deep load: 44,460 tons


  • Length: 745ft 0.13in overall – 740ft 0.25in waterline – 700ft 0.25in between perpendiculars
  • Beam: 112ft 4.25in max – 103ft 2.56in waterline
  • Depth at side: 51ft 1.31in
  • Draught (1940): Standard – 29ft (mean), Deep load – 32ft 6in (mean)


  • Hull: 13,830 tons (36.4%)
  • Outfit: 1,619 tons (4.3%)
  • Machinery: 2,768 tons (7.3%)
  • Armament: 7,401 tons (19.5%)
  • Armour: 12,413 tons (32.5%)


  • Turbines: 4 x Parsons single-reduction geared, 4 shafts
  • Propellers: 4 x 3-bladed manganese bronze 14.5ft diameter
  • Boilers: 8 x Admiralty 3-drum small-tube with superheaters
  • Working pressure (max): 400lb/sq in

Main Armament

  • 10 x 14in, 45 cal. Mk VII guns
  • Length of bore: 45 calibres (630in)
  • Length of gun: 52ft 6in breech to face muzzle – 54ft 2.8in overall
  • Weight of gun (bare): 77tons 14 cwt 84lb
  • Weight of gun (with counter-balance): 89tons 2cwt 84lb
  • Weight of breech mechanism: 1ton 17cwt
  • Rifling: polygroove, 72 grooves plain section uniform right-hand twist of one turn in 30 calibres
  • Weight of shell: 1590lb
  • Weight of charge: 338lb
  • Muzzle velocity: 2475 ft/sec
  • Muzzle energy: 67,520 ft/tons
  • Barrel life: 375 rounds
  • Gun mountings: 1x MkII twin gun turret (forward) – 2x MkIII quadruple gun turrets (1 forward, 1 aft)
  • Maximum elevation: 40 degrees
  • Rate of fire: 2 rounds per gun per minute
  • Max rate of gun elevation: 8 degrees per second
  • Max rate of gun training: 2 degrees per second
  • Maximum range: 36,300 yards
  • Shell stowage: 80 rounds per gun (100 max)

Secondary armament

  • 6 x 5.25in, 50 cal. Mk1 quick-firing guns
  • Mounting: 8 x twin HA/LA Mk 1
  • Length of bore: 50 calibres (262in)
  • Weight of shell: 80lb
  • Weight of charge: 18.6lb
  • Muzzle velocity: 2600ft/sec
  • Muzzle energy: 3750ft/tons
  • Rate of fire: 10 to 12 rounds per gun per minute (nominal) [actual rate closer to 7–8 rounds as gunners could not load any faster]
  • Maximum elevation: 80 degrees
  • Max surface range: 23,400 yards at 45deg elevation
  • Max altitude range: 29,544ft at 80deg elevation
  • Shell stowage: 400 rounds per gun

Close-range AA weapons

  • 1940 4 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-poms – 4 x unrifled projector (UP) rocket-launchers
  • December 1941: 5 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-pom – 1 x 4-barrelled MkVII 2pdr pom-pom – 18 x single-barrelled MkIIIA 20mm Oerlikons
  • Mid-1943: 5 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-pom – 1 x 4-barrelled MkVII 2pdr pom-pom – 38 x single-barrelled MkIIIA 20mm Oerlikons
  • July 1944: 8 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-poms – 26 x single-barrelled MkIIIA 20mm Oerlikons – 6 x twin-barrelled MkV 20mm Oerlikons - 2 x 4-barrelled American MkII 40mm Bofors
  • September 1945: 8 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-poms – 24 x single-barrelled MkIIIA 20mm Oerlikons – 6 x twin-barrelled MkV 20mm
  • Oerlikons - 2 x 4-barrelled American MkII 40mm Bofors – 2 x single-barrelled RN pattern 40mm Bofors

2pdr pom-pom

  • Shell weight 1.81lb
  • Muzzle velocity: 2,300ft/sec
  • Maximum range: 5,000 yds
  • Maximum elevation: 80 degrees
  • Rate of fire: 115 rounds per minute

20mm Oerlikon

  • Shell weight 0.27lb
  • Muzzle velocity: 2,770ft/sec
  • Maximum range: 4,800yds
  • Maximum elevation: 90 degrees
  • Rate of fire: 450 rounds per minute

40mm Bofors

  • Shell weight 1.98lb
  • Muzzle velocity: 2,890ft/sec
  • Max effective range: 2,500yds
  • Max altitude range: 18,000ft
  • Rate of fire: 120 rounds per minute

Next steps

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

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 2002. All rights reserved.

Last updated April 2008

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

This guide is a brief introduction to Royal Naval Dockyards and the records of each dockyard held by the National Maritime Museum, followed by a selected bibliography of books in the Museum's Caird Library. It will be of particular interest to those researching naval, dockyard and family history.

Records of individual yards include manuscripts (reference numbers are shown where relevant), plans and other material. The Manuscripts Department also holds a card index of senior dockyard officials from the mid-17th century to 1832, which is compiled from The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) classes ADM6,11 Commissions and Warrants Books).


In the 17th and 18th centuries there were six Royal Navy dockyards in England, at Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham, Sheerness, Portsmouth and Plymouth. There were also a number of outports in England and overseas yards, including Gibraltar, Halifax and Jamaica.

Officers at the yards were appointed by the Board of Admiralty, but otherwise yards were under the administration of the Navy Board, represented at the yard by a resident commissioner. The principal officers at each yard were:

  • Master Shipwright: responsible for most workmen and all construction and repair work.
  • Master Attendant: managed the ships in harbour and saw to the maintenance of the ships in Ordinary, i.e. when the ship was laid up.
  • Clerk of the Cheque: mustered the workmen, looked after expenses and kept accounts of earnings
  • Clerk of the Survey: checked the details of all stores received, and issued and surveyed materials.
  • Clerk of the Ropeyard (at Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth): mustered the men, and received and issued stores.

In 1822 a number of posts were abolished, including Clerks of the Survey and Ropeyard. In 1832 the Navy Board was abolished and the yards came under the principal officers of the Navy at the Admiralty. Resident commissioners were discontinued in favour of a captain or admiral superintendent.

Overseas dockyards and outports in England were similarly organised. They received stores, usually from Deptford, but had fewer facilities and personnel.

The dockyards

Chatham Dockyard

Established as a royal dockyard by Elizabeth I in 1567, Chatham became important in the Dutch wars owing to its strategic position (on the River Medway), and by the late 17th century it was the largest dockyard. It was superseded first by Portsmouth, then Plymouth when the main naval enemy became France, and the Western approaches the chief theatre of operations. In addition, the Medway had silted, navigation was more difficult, and Chatham became a building yard rather than refitting base.

In the 1860s the yard had a large building programme and St Mary's basin was constructed for the steam navy. When the yards at Deptford and Woolwich closed in 1869, Chatham again became relatively important and remained so until 1983 when it closed. The site is now a museum, the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

Records: 1,063 letterbooks containing correspondence between yard officials, the Admiralty and Navy Boards, 1669–1900; internal yard records; and a collection of 67 plans of the yard, 1718–1867.
Mss ref: CHA/: ADM/Y/C/:

Deptford Dockyard

Founded 1513, it was the leading dockyard in the 16th century, but due to the silting of the Thames by the 18th century its use was restricted to ship building and distributing stores to other yards and fleets abroad. It shut down 1830–1844 and closed 1869.

Records: Twelve plans. Five show the whole yard; two date from around 1740 and the others from 1810, 1845 and 1878. The 1878 plan includes the adjoining victualling yard. Subsequent alterations are shown in plans for a new entrance to the wet dock, 1813; mast pond, 1828; and slips off the basin, 1844. A plan of three detailed sections through the single and double docks shows dimensions and building materials, 1838.
Mss ref: ADM/Y/D:

Gibraltar Dockyard

The dockyard dates from 1704 when Gibraltar became a British possession.

Records: Forty-six plans, 1704–1875. Two small-scale maps show Gibraltar about 1704 and two show fortifications early in the century. Twenty-seven plans, elevations and sections show the New Mole and Fort, 1728–1751, with proposed alterations and additions to facilities. Fourteen plans and designs, 1734–1747, are for a new hospital. One map shows the dockyard, victualling yard and hospital in 1875.
Mss ref: ADM/Y/G:

Halifax Dockyard

The yard was formally established in 1759 but had a Master Attendant from 1757, and the Admiralty ordered the construction of docks and wharves in 1758. By 1774, it had two careening wharves for refitting ships, and these remained largely unchanged until the mid-19th century when a graving-dock, coaling facilities and torpedo boat slip were added, between 1881 and 1897. In 1907 the yard was handed over to the Canadian Government.

Records: Sixty-six commissioners' and officers' letterbooks, 1783–1887.
Mss ref: HAL/:

Harwich Dockyard

The yard was especially important during the Dutch wars, serving as a small refitting and storing base throughout the 18th century and until it closed in 1829. During World Wars I and II it was a base for coastal forces.

Records: Nine plans of the yard. Five dated between 1722 and 1748. Another unfinished and undated plan includes the street pattern of the town. Three other plans are undated but of the same period; two of the slips in the yard, the other shows a boiler for steaming timber.
Mss ref: ADM/Y/H:

Jamaica Dockyard

From at least 1675, a naval officer was stationed at Port Royal and from then onwards ships were careened there. In the reign of Queen Anne a hulk was established there, and between 1735 and 1744, two careening wharves, capstan houses, storehouses and accommodation for officers and workmen were built. The yard's wharfage and storage capacity was also increased; coaling sheds and wharves were added in the mid-19th century and a torpedo boat slip was installed in 1900. The yard closed in 1905.

Records: Eight letterbooks and two plans.
Mss ref: JAM/: ADM/Y/PR:

Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua

The harbour at Antigua was first used in 1671 as a hurricane shelter and for the careening of warships. The British began to use it as a Naval Dockyard in 1725 when the first buildings were constructed. The Dockyard was developed extensively after 1743 and most of the buildings seen today date from 1785–1792. It was Nelson's principal base in the West Indies during the Napoleonic Wars. The yard fell into gradual disuse and was closed by the Royal Navy in 1889.

The Friends of English Harbours reconstructed the site which reopened in 1961.

Pembroke Dockyard

Established 1815 when equipment and personnel were moved from Milford Haven, which had been a small building yard administered by the Navy since 1800. In 1930, Pembroke yard was reduced to a naval store and fuel depot.

Records: Sixty-four commissioners' and officers' letterbooks, containing letters, 1783–1887.
Mss ref: ADM/Y/PE:

Plymouth Dockyard

Plymouth yard, also known as Plymouth Dock and since 1824 as Devonport dockyard, was founded in 1690. In wartime it maintained the Western squadron during the 18th century. In peacetime it built and repaired ships. It was extended in the 18th century, but the period of greatest expansion came when the Keyham Steam yard was constructed north of the old yard 1844–1853; Keyham Extension was undertaken from 1896–1907.

Records: Seven plans of the earlier south yard, c.1720, 1748, c.1760, 1808, 1821, c.1840, and 1864. Only the 1821 and c.1840 plans are not to scale. All are either labelled or have a key to facilities shown. The c.1760 plan gives the cost of each building; the 1808 plan shows a proposed reservoir and the course of cast-iron pipes for fire-fighting and watering ships. Most records are held at The National Archives (ADM/174)
Mss ref: ADM/Y/PD:

Portsmouth Dockyard

This yard was established in 1495 and used throughout Henry VIII's reign. It was then neglected until the Civil War when new buildings were erected and permanent officers appointed. Extension and improvement of facilities continued during the Dutch wars, and again between 1684 and 1690, 1694 and 1704, and 1716 and 1723. This expansion, plus transfer of major naval operations to the Western approaches, made Portsmouth the most important dockyard from the mid-18th century. During the 18th century the yard had more than doubled in size. In the 19th century it trebled; the most notable additions being the Steam Basin, built 1843–48, and between 1863 and 1868, two locks, three docks and three basins. Expansion continued in the 20th century and the dockyard remains in operation today. See Kitson, H, The Early History of Portsmouth Dockyard, 1496–1800, parts 1–4, The Mariner's Mirror, (1947).

Records: 147 plans for the yard, 1715 to 1884; and 566 volumes of correspondence between yard officials, the Navy Board and the Admiralty, 1675 to 1899 (the volumes are in four groups, relating to the resident commissioner, admiral superintendent, the yard officers and miscellaneous).
Mss ref: POR/: ADM/Y/P:

Sheerness Dockyard

Situated at the mouth of the River Medway, the dockyard was founded in 1665, initially for storing and refitting ships. In 1720, a second dry dock was built and it became a ship construction yard, mainly for fourth- and fifth-rate ships, chiefly in peacetime. Between 1815 and 1826 it was completely rebuilt, and in 1854 a steam yard was established. It closed in 1957. See Fellows, J, Shipbuilding at Sheerness: The Period 1750–1802, The Mariner's Mirror (1974).

Records: Fifty-one plans, mostly 18th century. There is no known body of plans for this yard, although there are individual volumes elsewhere in the collection.
Mss ref: ADM/Y/S

Woolwich Dockyard

Founded in 1512, followed by a ropeyard half a mile away in 1610, it was particularly important during the 16th and 17th centuries. But its value gradually declined owing to limited space, facilities and the silting of the Thames. By 1800 it was restricted to shipbuilding, fitting vessels built at Deptford or merchant yards, and refitting small ships from the Nore. In 1839 a steam factory was established at Woolwich. The ropeyard closed 1835 and the yard in 1869.

Records: Fifty-four plans; dated early to mid-18th century, except one produced 1846. There is no known body of records for the yard.
Mss ref: ADM/Y/W:


The following is a selected list of books on Royal Naval Dockyards held in the Library of the National Maritime Museum

  • Barry, P, Dockyard Economy and Naval Power (London: Sampson Low, 1863) 623.81(42)
  • Barry, P, The Dockyards, Shipyards and Marine of France (London: Sampson Low, Son and Marston, 1864) 623.81(42)
  • Betts, Reg, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Andover: Pitkin, 1992) 623.81(422.7)
  • Burns, K V, The Devonport Dockyard Story (Maritime Books 1984) 623.81(423.5)
  • Crawshaw, J D, History of Chatham Dockyard (I.Garford 1999) 623.81(442.3)
  • Davey, Wilfred, The Royal Marines and the Dockyards 1755-1949 (Southsea: Royal Marines Historical Society, 1986) 355.353.4
  • Duffy, Michael, The New Maritime History of Devon (London: Conway Maritime, 1992-1994) 623.81(423.5)
  • Endacott, Andy, 300 years Devotion to Duty (Saltash: Andy Endacott, 1991) 623.81(423.5)
  • Great Britain. Hydrographic department. Tides and Tidal Streams at Dockyard Ports (Taunton: Hydrographer of the Navy, 1969) 551.465(422)
  • MacDougall, Philip, Royal Dockyards (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1982) 623.81(42)
  • Morriss, R, The Royal Dockyards During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (Leicester University Press 1983) 623.81 (42) A17/18"
  • Patterson, B H (comp) A Dictionary of Dockyard Language (Portsmouth: Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Society, 1984) 623.81(422.7)(038)
  • Patterson, B H, Giv'er a cheer boys': the Great Docks of Portsmouth Dockyard 1830–1914 (Portsmouth: Royal Dockyard Historical Society, 1989) 623.81(422.7)
  • Pringle, Sir Steuart, The historic Dockyard: Chatham, Kent: Four Hundred Years of Naval and Architectural Heritage in One Unique Historical Site (London: Honourable Company of Master Mariners, 1991/1992) 623.81(442.3)
  • South East Arts, Last One, Best One: Drawings of the Chatham Naval Dockyard by Jane Stanton, Charles Shearer and Paul Osborne...touring exhibition (South East Arts: Tunbridge Wells, 1983) 623.81(422.3)
  • Robertson, D H V, HM Dockyard Chatham: the Historic Dockyard, Recovery and Regeneration (London: D H V Robertson, 1983) 623.81(422.3):623.1
  • Watson, P H, The Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Halifax Dockyard (Halifax (NS): Maritime Museum of Canada, 1959) 355.49"1759/1760"(714)
  • Webb, John, An Early Nineteenth Century Dockyard Worker (Portsmouth: Portsmouth Museums Society, 1971) 623.81(422.7)

Royal Dockyard models

Six models of Royal Dockyards – Sheerness, Plymouth, Chatham, Portsmouth, Woolwich and Deptford – are also in the Museum collections. Commissioned by the Admiralty under Lord Sandwich and produced between 1772 and 1774, they were made to a scale of 1:480. They include houses, offices, workshops, stores, dry docks and building slips of the yards and between them show ships of all the main types in every stage of construction.

View the models online:

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching Royal Dockyards:

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 March 2010

© National Maritime Museum 2000. All rights reserved

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


Most official records and service lists of the Royal Navy are held at The National Archives. However, the Archive and Library at the National Maritime Museum has rich holdings of both primary and published material relating to the central administration of the Navy.

This guide outlines these resources, grouped under the various bodies that have been in charge of the Navy since the 16th century.

Administrative bodies

The Admiralty

The Board of Admiralty, made up of seven members, was first commissioned to perform the functions of the Lord Admiral (later termed Lord High Admiral) during the reign of Charles I (1625–1649). It was again commissioned between 1689 and 1701 and from 1709 onwards. Board members, almost always Members of Parliament, acted as political representatives of the Navy. They were responsible to the public for obtaining supplies from parliament and disbursing them efficiently. Acting on the advice of the Navy Board, the Admiralty could only carry out a broadly supervisory role since (apart from the Admiralty Secretary) it was not permanent and often changed with a new political ministry.
The Admiralty was not responsible for naval operations or senior appointments. Operations were handled by the senior Secretary of State. Operations and senior appointments were discussed in Cabinet, which included the First Lord of the Admiralty, and often with the monarch. Orders and instructions were issued through rather than by the Admiralty. But the Secretary of State sometimes dealt directly with Commanders in Chief, for speed and secrecy. The Admiralty, therefore, though executive head of the navy, was not a monolithic entity but part of a largely decentralised administrative structure.

Records held in the National Maritime Museum Archive:

ADM/A/1758 – 3115, Admiralty orders and In-letters to the Navy Board, with occasional letters to the Treasury, 1688-1815 (1,356 volumes).  It should be noted that the preceeding series is held at the National Archives (ADM 2/1-1755, covering 1660-1683, and ADM 106/69/B&C, covering 1688).

The Navy Board

The first of the boards set up to administer the Royal Navy was the Navy Board, established in 1546 in the reign of Henry VIII. Its job was to organise the business of the Navy and advise the Lord Admiral, one of the Officers of State. Until the mid-17th century it covered all aspects of naval administration. But as various specialised departments also developed, the Navy Board concentrated on building and maintaining Navy ships and advising the Board of Admiralty. Members of the Navy Board tended to be professional men drawn from the service, either officers or former shipwrights. In 1832 the Board’s duties were absorbed by the Admiralty.
Material in this series covers finance, medicine, the hospitals at Haslar and Stonehouse, transports, shipbuilding, pre-repair ship surveys (often with cost estimates), disciplinary matters, dockyard industrial relations, and experiments in preserving ship timbers and seamen’s health. There are also lists of ships in commission, parliamentary estimates, Navy debts, accounts of the Course of the Navy (navy bills) and schemes for disbursing parliamentary grants.

Records held in the National Maritime Museum Archive:

ADM/B; ADM/BP: Navy Board in-letters to the Admiralty, 1738-1831 (126 volumes). As the Board was chiefly concerned with the day-to-day running of the Navy, this collection is the richest source for research, even though it includes much mundane material. ADM/B/126/198ADM/B/126/198 Calendars to these volumes are available via the National Archives’ online catalogue and described at piece level. They are referenced as ADM 354 (ADM/B)and ADM 359 (ADM/BP) within the National Archives catalogue. For example, the letter to the right is the 198th piece in ADM/B/126, and is described on the National Archives catalogue here as ADM/354/126/198.

The Victualling Board

Before 1684 the fleet was supplied with food and drink by private contractors. The office of Assistant Controller of Victualling Accounts was created in 1691 and abolished in 1731. These duties then transferred from the Navy Board to a separate Victualling Office.

Records held in the National Maritime Museum Archive:

ADM/C: Admiralty Orders, In-letters, to the Victualling Board, 1707-1815 (400 volumes); ADM/D and ADM/DP: Victualling Commissioners, In-letters, to the Admiralty Board, 1703-1822 (51 volumes)

The Sick and Hurt Board

From 1653 the Sick and Hurt commissioners held office only during wartime. In peacetime its duties came under the Navy Board. In 1740, the Sick and Wounded Board was created. Until the Seven Years War (1755–1763), there was no permanent medical organisation and invalids were put in the care of private contractors. In the 1740s and 1750s hospitals at Haslar and Stonehouse were developed. Of particular research value is the material regarding French prisoners of war.

Records held in the National Maritime Museum Archive:

ADM/E: Admiralty Board, In-letters, to the Sick and Hurt Board, 1707- 1806 (54 volumes); ADM/M: Admiralty Board, In-letters, to the Sick and Hurt Board, 1743 – 1783 (28 volumes); ADM/F and ADM/FP: Sick and Hurt Commissioners, In-letters, to the Admiralty Board, 1742 – 1806 (35 volumes and loose papers)

Artificial collections

Manuscripts concerned with naval administration can be found throughout the artificial collections. The most significant are:

  • Anderson: AND/27–43 
  • Phillipps-Jackson: JCK 
  • Phillipps- Law and Administration: PLA & PLA/P
  • Phillipps-Southwell: SOU
  • Administrative papers including some lists of the Royal Navy are also in RUSI/NM.

Volumes Acquired Singly by the National Maritime Museum Archive (Section 6)

  • General accounts and papers: CAD/A
  • Navy Board, Victualling Board and Treasurer of the Navy duties and instructions: CAD/B
  • Ordnance: CAD/C
  • Law: CAD/D 
  • Lists of the Royal Navy: LRN/1–34. Lists can also be found in ADM B
  • Lists of officers: PRN/1–18

Microfilmed collections

  • MRF/I/1–6 Shelburne Papers (naval papers 1666–1789)

Progress books

PST/49: These are bound photocopies of documents held in the National Archives (catalogue reference ADM/180). They date mostly from the 18th century, and list building and repairs of all classes of naval vessels usually with time, place and cost of building, docking and undocking, graving and cleaning, fitting and refitting. Some survey information is also included. Progress books were first used c.1710, (references to ships of earlier date are backdated information), but there are serious omissions before 1725. Between c.1730 and 1780 details are very full, but are increasingly imprecise after the end of the War of American Independence, and by 1800 items may be grouped together or omitted entirely. There is an index to ships' names available.


  • Baugh, Daniel, ed., Naval Administration 1715–1750 (NRS, 1977).
  • Baugh, Daniel, Naval Administration in the Age of Walpole (Princeton, 1965).
  • Crimmin, P, 'The Financial and Clerical Establishments of the Admiralty Office', Mariner's Mirror, 55 (1969), pp. 299–309.
  • Derrick, Charles, Memoirs of the Rise and Progress of the Royal Navy (London,1806).
  • James, G F, 'The Admiralty Establishment 1759', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, vol. 16 (1938–39), pp. 24–7.
  • James, G F, 'Some Further Aspects of Admiralty Administration 1689-1714', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, vol. 17 (1939–40), pp. 13–27.
  • Oppenheim, M, A History of the Administration of the Royal Navy 1509–1660 (Hamden Conn., 1961).
  • Pool, Bernard, Navy Board Contracts 1660–1832, (London, 1966
  • Rodger, N. A. M. The Admiralty, (London, 1979).
  • Sainty, J C, Admiralty Officials 1660–1870 (London, 1975).
  • Tanner, J R, ed., Private Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Samuel Pepys 1679–1703, 2 vols. (London, 1926).
  • Tanner, J R, ed., Pepys' Memoirs of the Royal Navy 1679–1688 (New York, 1971).
  • Wickwire, Frank, 'Admiralty Secretaries and the British Civil Service', Huntingdon Library Quarterly, vol.28, no. 3 (May 1965), pp. 235–54. 

Other sources of information

British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
Tel: +44 (0)870 444 1500

Private and official correspondence of statesmen and government officials contains much useful information. The Army and Navy Papers of the Duke of Newcastle and the Earl of Hardwicke are particularly relevant to mid-18th century naval administration. The Liverpool Papers are useful for the period 1764–69, especially for naval finances. The BL indexes indicate a wide scattering of material across its collections.

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

Collections complementing administration records at the National Maritime Museum:

  • Admiralty Board Minutes. ADM3. Miscellaneous Admiralty Papers, such as weekly returns from ports and progress reports, abstracts of journals and proceedings, and dockyard visitations. The catalogue to this series is well worth browsing through. ADM 7.
  • Admiralty Accounting Departments. ADM 49.
  • Navy Board Letters and Minutes. These letters correspond with the National Maritime Museum ADM B series but start earlier. Enclosures missing from the Museum’s series may be with equivalent documents at The National Archives. ADM 106.

Treasury Papers also contain some useful papers and returns. T Series.

Next steps

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

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 2000. All rights reserved.

Last updated June 2011

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

This guide explains some of the material available in the Museum's Archive and Library collections which can be used to research people who have served in the Royal Navy.

Official records

It is important to stress that the service records of the Royal Navy and most Admiralty records are deposited with:

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

What you will find there:

  • Few centralised records of naval ratings (i.e. those who were not commissioned officers or warrant officers) were kept before 1853. In general you need to know the name of a seaman's ship in order to look him up. The muster roll or crew list should note where he was before and after his service in that ship, so you can track most people backwards and forwards from that point.
  • Records of Greenwich Seamen's Hospital and other hospitals; pensions and grants received; medals awarded, etc., up to the end of the 19th century.
  • Records of commissioned officers, warrant officers, tradesmen, etc. These begin in the 18th century but it should be noted that no real systematic service records for individual officers were attempted until 1840.

Resources in the Archive and Library

Lieutenant's logs

The lieutenant's logs were kept by the lieutenants of a ship in commission, recording details of weather, navigation and routine of the ship, as well as incidents that occurred during the commission. Printed formats appeared from about 1799, with the Admiralty laying down a standard form in October 1805 when the practice of starting the day's log at midnight to coincide with the civil calendar was begun (the nautical calendar had previously run from noon).

At the completion of each year, a lieutenant's log was required to be deposited in the Admiralty Office, where the chief clerk abstracted details of the voyage and, in return for a fee, sent the log to the Navy Office where a clerk in the off of the Clerk of the Acts made out a certificate entitling the Lieutenant to be paid. At the Navy Office individual logs were bound into volumes by ship name.

For a time in the 18th century the logs were collected by year as well as name, so logs of four or five ships (usually starting with the same letter) may be bound together. Any captain's logs that are bound with these logs are usually duplicates of those kept by The National Archives.


Reference numbers given in italics refer to the Museum's Library catalogue.

  • Steel's Navy List: editions spanning 1787–1816. Incomplete run, but printed as frequently as monthly. Lists officers, ships and establishments including officers of Sea Fencibles before 1810. Miscellaneous intelligence reports, vessels captured, prize money awards.
  • Lean's Navy List: editions spanning 1878–1916. Information on officers alphabetically and by seniority. Particularly valuable in providing dates of birth of officers in the majority of issues and in including short biographies of their service and decorations. Also gives lists of ships and establishments with serving officers.
  • Navy Lists: editions from 1814 to date. The amount of information shown in these lists changes with time but they record officers (retired and active) and ships, where ships were stationed, pay scales, uniform regulations, etc. They were published between one and twelve times a year at different periods. Copies are also held at the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.
  • Charnock, J., Biographia Navalis (London: R Foulder, 1794-98). 92.355.33.094*
  • Marshall, J., Royal Naval Biography, 12 volumes (London: Longman, 1823–30). 92.355.33*
  • O'Byrne, W. R., A Naval Biographical Dictionary, 2 volumes, (London, J Murray, 1849). 92.355.33(42)*
  • Rodger, N. A. M., Naval Records for Genealogists (London: HMSO,1988). A guide to all classes of records and where to find them. 930.253.4:359
  • Syrett, David, ed., The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660–1815, (Aldershot: Scolar Press for Navy Records Society, 1994). This gives an alphabetical list of officers with known dates of promotion. An earlier facsimile copy (unpublished) of this work is available at the National Maritime Museum, annotated with the names of ships on which each officer is known to have served. 061.22NRS

* Many of the entries in these three sources have also been included in the British Biographical Index, edited by D Bank and A Esposito, published in microfiche with printed index by K G Saur, Sevenoaks, 1990.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Royal 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 March 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

The National Maritime Museum does not hold the official records of the Royal Navy, which are held chiefly at the addresses shown below. It does, however, have extensive collections of books, photographs, paintings, prints, drawings and manuscripts dealing with most aspects of the Royal Navy.

General and service records

Before 1972 all Royal Navy personnel were given their records when they left the service. The surviving records until that date only contain basic services details and lists of postings. Further details regarding 20th century service records can be obtained from the Veterans Agency-UK.

The National Archives

The National Archives
Ruskin Avenue
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: (+44) 020 8876 3444
Tel: (+44) 020 8392 5200 (Records Enquiries)
Fax: (+44) 020 8392 5286

The National Archives holds most Admiralty records including official logs of warships, muster rolls and pay books. It also holds all personnel and service records of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines up to at least 1920 – generally personnel records are transferred to The National Archives when they are 75 years old. They include:

  • RN officers to about 1920
  • RN ratings enlisting before 1924
  • RM officers before 1924
  • RM marines before 1924 (arranged by Division and Company)
  • RNR officers prior to WWI (1910–1920 due to be transferred during 2002)
  • RNR Honorary officers 1862–1960
  • RNR ratings for WWI and a selection 1860–1913
  • RNAS officers and ratings for WWI (excludes details of any previous RN or subsequent RAF service)
  • RNAS Russian Armoured Cars WWI
  • WRNS for WWI
  • QARNNS before 1924 (including records of nursing sisters 1884 onwards)

RNR officers were also included in the Navy List from 1862. The RNVR was founded in 1903. In 1958 the RNR and the RNVR amalgamated to form the present RNR.

Ministry of Defence

Ministry of Defence
Directorate of Personnel Support (Navy)
Navy Search
TNT Archive Services
Tetron Point
William Nadin Way
DE11 0BB
Tel: (+44) 01283 227913
Fax: (+44) 01283 227942

This office controls all service records for the years approximately 1920 to at least 1939 which have not yet been passed to The National Archives (excluding Royal Marines – see below). Please note that information can only be given to next of kin.

  • RN officers over 60
  • RN ratings enlisting 1924–1939
  • RNR officers 1920–1950
  • RNVR officers up to 1950
  • WRNS ratings enlisting 1939–1955
  • QARNNS 1923–1955

Ministry of Defence
NPP(Acs)AFPAA Centurion Building
Grange Road
Gosport PO13 9XA

This office controls service records as listed below for the period after 1940. Please note that information can only be supplied to next of kin.

  • RN ratings after 1939
  • 'Hostilities only' records post-1939 (i.e. WWII and Korean War)
  • FAA after 1939
  • RNR ratings after 1945
  • RNVR ratings after 1945
  • WRNS after 1956
  • QARNNS after 1956

Other records

Royal Marines Historical Records

Royal Marines Historical Records
Building 1/151
Victory View
HM Naval Base

Tel: 023 9272 7531 / 3114 / 6063

Personal records of Royal Marines who enlisted into the service during or after approximately 1930. Records prior to 1930 are held at The National Archives (details above).

Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Human Resources Bureau
Fleet HQ
West Battery
Whale Island
Portsmouth PO2 8BY


Gallantry Decorations and Honours & Awards

The London Gazette contains citations relating to the grant of Honours & Awards and decorations, together with the names of recipients. Some citations give no details or only the briefest description of why an award was made. Citations associated with the Victoria Cross and George Cross include details about individual recipients, actions; other citations may allude to operational activity.

The London Gazette is available online. Copies are available at The National Archives, Imperial War Museum, and Royal Navy Museum Library.

The individual papers relating to First and Second World War naval Honours & Awards, i.e. the recommendations that led to an award being granted, are no longer retained by the Ministry of Defence. Few of the Admirality's Honours & Awards records (files) were transfered to The National Archives. If the records are less than 30 years old and not in The National Archives, it may be assumed that they have been destroyed.

Where such records still exist, details concerning recommendations and mentions in despatches may be found at The National Archives in record classes ADM 1 (under Code 85) or ADM 116 (under Code 85). The National Archives online catalogue can be used to search amongst these documents, or they can be accessed via ADM 12. As well as giving details in despatches these papers contain operational records.

The Admiralty Index of Honours & Awards granted during the First World War is in The National Archives. The National Archives also holds various medal rolls for naval gallantry decorations. The Ministry of Defence (Naval Secretary (Honours & Awards)) maintains the current Admiralty Index of Honours & Awards that was started in 1939. This Index is not available for public inspection but much of the information relating to naval Honours & Awards from 1939 to 1959 (1969 for the Fleet Air Arm) has been published by W W F Chatterton Dickson in Seedies Registers. These are available in the Library of the National Maritime Museum, together with other publications about awards of gallantry decorations to Naval personnel (see Research Guide U2).

Naval Secretary (Honours & Awards)
Room G10 (MP G.2)
Fleet Headquarters
West Battery
Whale Island
Hampshire PO2 8BY
Tel: 023 92 628675

Campaign Service Medals

The National Archives holds Medal Rolls up to 1921, and some Rolls after this date in Board of Trade records, e.g. WWII RNR Officers. In the War Office records in The National Archives there are also records of medals issued to Royal Marines and the Royal Naval Division where these came under the Army's operational command.

Ministry of Defence Medal Office
Building 250
RAF Innsworth

The single Services' Medal Offices merged to form the (Joint Service) MOD Medal Office in 2005. Records of later issues of campaign medals are available from the MOD Medal Office. The MOD Medal Office also deals with applications for campaign medals and requests for replacement medals. Enquiries relating to the RFA should continue to be referred to the address above.


The National Archives

  • Muster and Pay Books record deaths of officers and ratings before service records kept.
  • Registers of killed and wounded 1854–1929
  • Reports of deaths 1939–1948
  • Casualty records RNR officers 1939–1946

Imperial War Museum

  • Royal Naval Division casualty ledgers (WWI)
  • Copies of listings of officers and ratings who died, 3 September 1939–30 June 1948 (Originals are in the Royal Naval Museum).

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Details of the burial place or commemoration of those who died in service 4 August 1914–31 August 1921 and 3 September 1939–31 December 1947.

Ministry of Defence

Ministry of Defence
SO3 Memorials and Graves
Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC)
Bldg 182
RAF Innsworth
Gloucestershire GL3 1HW

For records relating to the burial locations of naval personnel killed during non-world war conflicts.

Other sources

Naval Historical Branch
No. 24 Store, PP20
Main Road
HM Naval Base
Portsmouth PO1 3LU
Tel: +44 (0)2392 725 187

Fax: 02392 724003

This library holds the operational history of the Royal Navy, as well as a major archive and the Admiralty Library. Subsidiary collections for the latter are held at the Royal Naval Museum and the Institute of Naval Medicine.

Royal Naval Museum Library
No 12 Store
Semaphore Tower Road
HM Naval Base
Portsmouth PO1 3NH
Tel: +44 (0)23 9272 3795
Fax: 023 9272 3942

Royal Navy Submarine Museum
Haslar Jetty
Hampshire PO12 2AS
Tel: +44 (0)1705 51035
Fax: +44 (0)1705 511349

Royal Marines Museum
Hampshire PO4 9PX
Tel: +44 (0)23 9281 9385
Fax: 023 9283 8420

Shows the history of Britain's sea soldiers from 1664 to the present.

Fleet Air Arm Museum
Box D6
RNAS Yeovilton
Near Ilchester
Somerset BA22 8HT
Tel: +44 (0)1935 840565
Fax: +44 (0)1935 842630

Covers the history of the Royal Naval Air Service and Naval aviation as well as the Fleet Air Arm. Also holds some personnel records for WWI.

Imperial War Museum
Lambeth Road
London SE1 6HZ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7416 5320
Fax: +44 (0)20 7416 5374

Collection covers 20th century naval history and warfare only.

Imperial War Museum
The Photograph Archive
All Saints Annexe
Austral Street
London SE11
Tel: +44 (0)20 7416 5333
Fax: +44 (0)20 7416 5355

Includes the official photographic record of the Royal and merchant navies during the First and Second World Wars.

Veterans Advice Unit
Free phone:
0800 169 2277 (from overseas +44 1253 866043)

Advice on various aspects of military records, including contacting military associations, tracing former comrades, service records, and historical records.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Royal 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 April 2006

© 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


The official place of deposit for records of the Royal Navy is The National Archives at Kew. However, the Archive and Library has many complementary resources which will assist in researching the history, service and crew of Royal Naval ships.

The holdings of the Archive and Library are extremely rich in items on individual ships and actions and it is strongly recommended to search our online catalogues for references to vessels of interest to your research. However, the following are amongst the most useful and comprehensive reference works to act as a starting point, and are all available on open access in the Reading Room:

  • Colledge, J.J., Ships of the Royal Navy: an historical index (2 vols)
  • Clowes, William Laird, The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the death of Queen Victoria (7 vols.)
  • Lenton, H.T., British and empire warships of the Second World War
  • Lyon, David, The sailing Navy list: all the ships of the Royal Navy built, purchased and captured: 1688-1860
  • Lyon, David, The sail and steam navy list:; all the ships of the Royal Navy 1815 – 1889
  • Winfield, Rif, British warships in the age of sail, 1603-1714 : design, construction, careers and fates
  • Winfield, Rif, British Warships in the age of sail, 1714-1792 : design, construction, careers and fates
  • Winfield, Rif, British warships in the age of sail, 1793-1817 : design, construction, careers and fates

Ship lists and movements

Steel's Navy List 1782–1816

Steel’s Navy List provides basic information on Royal Naval vessels, their commanders and their station. It also covers Royal Navy shore establishments, and later issues list French, Spanish and American ships taken during the Napoleonic Wars, and British ships lost, captured or destroyed. Published monthly for much of its history, the Caird Library has almost complete holdings.

Navy List 1814-present

The Admiralty began to publish the official Navy List was following the model of Steel’s Navy List, which soon ceased publication. While the content varies across its publishing history, the Navy List shows all Royal Navy ships and establishments, coastguard vessels, hired vessels and packet ships. It indicates their commander and later issues show all officers, as well as providing information on pay and regulations.

Warship histories

A microfiche compiled by museum staff, alphabetically listing all British warships, c.1650–1950. Entries include launch dates, size, number of men and guns, and brief outlines of ship careers, with commanders.

Admiralty movement books

Photographic copies of official manuscript records, these cover movements of Royal Navy ships (also vessels of the Royal Australian, Canadian and Indian Navies) during World War II. They include vessels on government service down to trawlers but not landing craft, hired vessels or troopships. The books are in two sequences arranged alphabetically by name of ship: one for surviving vessels, another for those sunk. While details vary, they include sailings, convoy numbers, repairs, and incidents such as crews rescued from torpedoed vessels.

20th-century warship histories

Photocopies of an unpublished typescript compiled by the Naval Historical Branch, of the Ministry of Defence, giving service summaries for 20th century Royal Naval vessels. A very useful resource, it should be born in mind that the length of entries varies considerably and the coverage is not comprehensive, but is biased towards more significant vessels, and particularly those serving in World War 2.

Royal Navy Lieutenants' logbooks

Lieutenants' logbooks, 1673–1809, totalling 5205 volumes. Although this is a very full series of records it is not always certain a log exists for a particular ship's commission. A detailed index of logs by ship is available in the Reading Room or from Archive staff.
Lieutenants' logs record weather, navigation and ship routines, as well as incidents occurring during a ship's commission. The logs may record loss or damage to stores, and disciplinary action. Lieutenant’s logs were bound into volumes at the Navy Office. All Captains' and Masters' logs are held by The National Archives at Kew.

Next steps

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

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 2000. All rights reserved

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