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 collection of crew lists and masters’, mates’ and engineers’ certificates which are key family history resources for the merchant navy.

Printed collection

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.  

Maps and charts

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.

Iconic items

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.

Accessing the collections

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

Inside the collections storage facility and conservation studio of Royal Museums Greenwich

Explore our collections online

Search our digital database to find out more about our objects, paintings and archives