The world's largest collection of manuscripts and original documents relating to maritime history
The Library and Archive collection at the National Maritime Museum is the largest collection of manuscripts and original documents in the world relating to maritime history, stretching over 12 kilometres of shelving.
It includes the papers of famous naval officers, diaries, journals and logs of ships and voyages and business records of some shipping lines and shipbuilding companies. We also hold collections of crew lists and masters’, mates’ and engineers’ certificates which are key family history resources for the merchant navy.
Please note the following information before emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to request your order.
The Crew Lists, Masters' Certificates and Engineers' Certificates do not appear as orderable items on the catalogues. We require the following information to a) retrieve an item for your visit or b) scan for digital download.
Crew Lists: please provide an Official Number, the Ship's Name, and the year of Voyage. The National Maritime Museum holds crew lists for the years 1861, 1862, 1865 and every year ending in '5' thereafter up to 1995.
Note: Crew Lists for 1945 are held at the National Archives.
For the First World War Centenary, the National Maritime Museum digitised and transcribed the 1915 Crew Lists. This is provided for free on the museum's website: 1915 Crew Lists
Please see Research Guide C1: Merchant Navy Tracing People, Crew Lists and Official Logs for information about where other collections of crew lists are held. Official numbers can be found on the Crew List Index Project or in the Lloyd's Register. Digital copies of the Lloyds Register may be found on the Lloyds Heritage and Education Centre's website.
Masters' Certificates: It must be stressed that these records are not complete and only cover service between 1845 and 1927. Our Masters and Mates Certificates collection has been digitised by Ancestry, however, the originals are orderable. They are boxed by certificate number and year, so it is helpful to provide the name of the Master, the certificate number and the year to complete your request.
Engineers' Certificates: our collection of certificates and surviving applications are organised by mariner’s number and not name. In order to find the mariner's number, please consult the official registers at the National Archives. Registers of Certificates of Competency: Engineers (1861–1921) National Archives (catalogue references: BT139 – BT142).
For further information about these collections please see our Research guide C2: The Merchant Navy : Tracing people - Master-mariners, Mates and Engineers which includes information on Skippers of Fishing Vessels, Colonial Records and Cooks.
The Library and Archive is also home to a collection of 80,000 historical sea charts and maps dating from the 15th to the 21st century.
The printed collection is one of the most comprehensive reference resources of its kind in the world. It includes over 12,000 rare books printed before 1850 and can be used to research all aspects of maritime history including slavery, piracy, naval battles, shipwrecks, shipbuilding, navigation, exploration and biographies of naval figures. The Library also holds issues of over 400 periodical titles.
The archive holds the pre-eminent collection of Nelson-related manuscripts, an essential research tool for his career and key personal and professional relationships. There are also items such as Sir John Franklin‘s last message, written during the ill-fated North-West Passage expedition (1845-47), sat alongside large collections of personal papers such as those of Admirals Codrington, Pellew and Beatty.
The collections are available to anyone interested in maritime history and can be accessed at the National Maritime Museum's Caird Library for free in person once you have registered for a Reader's Ticket.
How to register for a Reader's Ticket
Find out about visiting the Caird Library