This research guide is a brief introduction to the main records held by the National Maritime Museum, which has the most comprehensive maritime library in the world. It contains more than 100,000 printed books dating from 1474 to the present day, 20,000 pamphlets, over 8,000 rare books, 4,500 periodicals, 500 current maritime/naval history titles, specialist journals, microforms and a selection of CD-Roms.

The Caird Library is also the access point for the Museum’s collection of manuscripts, which occupies over four miles in shelf length and covers all aspects of British seafaring from the 14th century to the 20th century. It includes public records relating to the administration of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, shipping company records, and personal papers comprising journals, diaries and letters.

For more information, or to arrange to see specific materials, contact:

Library and Manuscripts


Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 6516
Library opening hours : Tuesday to Friday 10am to 4:45pm

Or search the library catalogue and manuscripts catalogue

Lloyd’s marine records

The history of Lloyd’s association of underwriters began in London in 1688, in a coffee house where a group of merchants met daily. By 1713, it was a noted centre of commercial activity and underwriting, especially marine insurance. In 1760, it became a formal association of members. Lloyd’s of London had already begun to record and issue details of ships and ship movements, and soon developed into a group of societies and companies dealing in marine surveying, intelligence and publishing as well as insurance.

Lloyd's information is in various forms and publications, compiled on a daily, weekly, quarterly or annual basis depending on the subject. It is useful for researching:

  • Ships' technical details
  • Ship movements
  • Crews
  • Ship losses and casualties

Lloyd's of London chief records are as follows:

Lloyd's List

A newspaper reporting ship movements and casualties. First issued weekly in 1734, then twice weekly from 1737, in 1837 it became a daily record of maritime news, general commercial information and details of vessels arriving at ports in England, Ireland and elsewhere. The earliest surviving issue in our collection dates from 1741.

Lloyd’s List (Index)

The first annual indexes were compiled in 1837 and were replaced in 1927 by Voyage Record Cards. In 1880, casualties and selected movements began to be reprinted weekly as Lloyd's Shipping Index. Weekly reprints continued under various titles including, from 1920, Lloyd's Weekly Casualty Reports. Publication of casualties and movements was dropped during the First and Second World Wars and replaced by confidential listings for restricted circulation.

Lloyd's Captains' Registers

A series of volumes listing merchant navy captains and mates who received captain's certificates between 1851 (when Board of Trade exams and certificates became compulsory) and 1948. Entries are alphabetical and show the person's name, year of birth, certificate details, subsequent career and vessels served in and other special qualifications. The Museum has records dating 1851–1947 on microfilm.

Lloyd's Register chief records are as follows:

Lloyd's Register of Shipping

Lloyd’s Register is now a registered charity. It was formed as a society in the 18th century to draw up rules regarding the construction of merchant ships. The register is an annual list, by ship's name, of merchant ships that meet Lloyd's specifications and are sound and seaworthy. It gives details of type of vessel, master's name, size, tonnage, owners, and where and when the ship was built.

The earliest surviving issue in our collection is dated 1764. With a few gaps, copies exist almost continuously from 1775. Listings from 1876 include all British merchant ships over 100 tons, and from 1890 all merchant ships over 100 tons worldwide. From 1775 editions were 'posted' with casualties, often explaining the fate of a ship, such as 'foundered', 'condemned', 'collision', sometimes with dates.

Other Lloyd's of London or Lloyd’s Register records – Lloyd's Register Survey ReportsLloyd's Register Casualty ReturnsLloyd's War Loss BooksLloyd's Register of YachtsLloyd's Register of American YachtsLloyd's Confidential IndexLloyd's Medals, etc. – are outlined in a Guide to the Lloyd's Marine Collection, by Declan Barriskill (London: Guildhall Library, 2nd edition 1994).017.1(42)Guildhall:368Lloyd’s

The National Maritime Museum has originals, facsimiles and microfilm copies of many of Lloyd's documents (Lloyd's own Marine Collection is at the Guildhall Museum, see below). For details of the Museum's collections, see the list of research guides below.


Royal Navy records

The Navy List

The official list of ships in the Royal Navy was first published quarterly, in 1814. Previously there was Steele's Navy List, printed 1787–1816. The information contained within the Navy List changes from year to year. As well as ships' data and all commissioned officers appointed to each ship, it provides information on officers' careers starting from commissioned and warrant officers, pay scales and uniform regulations.

Admiralty Movement Books

These provide a repair and maintenance record of naval vessels during World War Two, and some information about the movement of vessels.

Merchant Navy records

The Mercantile Navy List

The official list of all British-registered merchant vessels was first produced by the Registrar-General of Shipping and Seamen in 1849, and published annually, 1857–1977, excluding the period 1941–46. It lists ships alphabetically by name and gives similar technical details to Lloyd's Register, plus a list of masters and mates, with certificate numbers for the first few years. It has been succeeded by the Department of Trade Official List of Registered Ships. With some gaps, the Museum has copies for 1857–1976.

Crew lists, muster rolls, agreements and official logs

Crew lists, originally known as muster rolls, have been kept since 1747, but few survive before 1800. Agreements (detailed contracts between mariners and their employers) have been kept since 1835 and give more detailed information about crews and apprentices, as well as ships and voyages. From 1850, ships also had to keep official logs to record crew members’ and passengers' illnesses, births and deaths on board, punishments, desertions and misconduct. Logs were usually filed with crew lists, though many have been destroyed. Details of where to find crew lists are outlined in Research Guide C1.

Shipping company records

Business records of shipping lines and shipbuilding companies vary from minutes of shareholders' meetings to financial accounts, voyage records and log books. Records or part-records of some companies have been deposited with the National Maritime Museum. The National Register of Archives in London and Edinburgh, shows which company records have been archived and where (for more detailed information and addresses see Research Guide C4.

Certificates of competency and service

Until 1845, when the Board of Trade introduced a voluntary system of examinations and certificates for masters and mates on foreign-going ships, qualifications were not needed. In 1850 qualifications became compulsory, and this was extended in 1854 to the home trade, and to engineers in 1861. Applications and copies of all classes of certificate (masters, mates, engineers), 1845–1927, are at the National Maritime Museum. Later certificates are held by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen. See Research Guide C2.

The Handy Shipping Guide

Published weekly, 1887–1988, it lists ships sailing to ports worldwide, with considerable detail of cargoes and loading. See Research Guide C11.

Board of Trade Casualty Returns and Inquiry Reports

Casualty Returns began in 1850 covering wrecks around Britain, and was later extended to British ships lost anywhere in the world, and foreign vessels wrecked off UK coasts or British territories overseas. The Returns were prepared for parliament and published by HMSO, and give statistics of shipping casualties, fatalities and until 1921, details of individual ships lost. Board of Trade Inquiries were not held into every loss. Lloyd's List carried news of Inquiries and the Department of Transport Marine Library has a complete set of reports. The National Maritime Museum has copies of some reports pre-1908. The Guildhall Library has reports for 1908–1965.

Parliamentary papers

Special surveys (apart from Board of Trade Casualty Returns and Inquiry Reports) were periodically prepared for Parliament on both Royal and Merchant Navy matters. They include reports on packet boat services, vessels built at specific ship yards, safety and seamen detained as prisoners of war, etc.

The manuscripts collection is described in the two-volume Guide to the Manuscripts in the National Maritime Museum, by R J B Knight (London: Mansell,1980) 017.1(26:421)09KNI.

Records held elsewhere and other sources of information

Research records and resources are held in a variety of locations, such as The National Archives, the Guildhall Library, the Admiralty Library, and the Marine Information Centre. Information about the holdings of other institutions are listed within the Research Guides.

Next steps

This is one of a series of Research Guides produced by the Museum to help you to explore the collections. 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.