From the late 17th onwards Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse, initially in Tower Street but moving in late 1691 to Lombard Street in the City of London, was a popular meeting place for sailors, merchants and shipowners. Edward Lloyd catered for them by providing reliable shipping news. Out of this grew two unrelated internationally-known and enduring institutions bearing Lloyd’s name. The first is the insurance market Lloyd’s of London; the other is the maritime classification society Lloyd’s Register. Further details can be found in Wikipedia.

In 1760 the Society for the Registry of Shipping, later to become called Lloyd’s Register, was formed by customers of the coffeehouse. The Society printed its first Register of Ships in 1764 to give both underwriters and merchants an idea of the condition of the vessels they insured and chartered. Ship hulls were graded on a lettered scale (A being the top), and ship's fittings (masts, rigging, and other equipment) was graded by number (1 being the top). Thus the top classification was "A1", from which the expression A1, or A1 at Lloyd's, is derived, first appeared in the 1775–76 edition of the Register.

Not all ships were surveyed and included in the Register. From 1834–37, an attempt was made to include all British vessels of 50 tons or over, although very little information is given about those which had not been surveyed. From 1838–1875, only vessels which had been surveyed were included in the Register. After that date, the Register was extended to take in all British vessels over 100 tons, and from 1890 its scope was broadened to include all British and foreign sea-going vessels over 100 tons. It is always possible to determine whether or not a ship had been surveyed from the entry in Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, as the resultant Lloyd’s register classification will be given.

A vessel will remain in the Register until something happens to her; for example if she is sunk, wrecked, broken up, hulked, scrapped, etc.

From 1834 onwards Lloyd’s Register was published mid-year and covered the period 1 July–30 June the following year. To reflect this, volumes published after 1868 started to give both years, e.g. 1869–1870.

Some indexing to Lloyd’s Register has been undertaken.

Content of Lloyd’s Register

The scope and arrangement of the register varies as the nature of shipping changes. Full details are to be found in Barriskill, D.T., Guide to the Lloyd’s Marine Collection and related maritime sources at Guildhall Library (Guildhall Library, 3rd edition, 2006) on which the list below is based. Amongst the information to be found is:

  • Name, and previous names if any, of the vessel from 1764
  • Official number from 1872/73
  • Signal code from 1874/75
  • Rig and/or description from 1768
  • Tonnage from 1764
  • Dimensions (load-draught) 1775-1833
  • Dimensions (length, breadth and depth  from1863
  • Description of engines from 1874/75
  • Date and place of building from 1764
  • Name of builder from 1860
  • Name of owner from 1764
  • Name of master 1764-1920/21
  • Number of crew 1764-1771
  • Port of registry from 1834
  • Port of survey from 1764
  • Classification of vessel from 1764
  • Casualties etc 1775-1966/67
  • Destined voyage 1764-1873/74

Key to the earliest registers

The columns in the 1764 Register are:

Column 1:

Former name, if applicable

Column 2:

Present name

Column 3:

Master’s name

Column 4:

Port of registry, or home port

Column 5:

Port of destiny

Column 6:

Tons burthen, approximately equivalent to present-day net tonnage

Column 7:

Number and size of guns, and description of vessel

Column 8:

Possibly mean (M) draft

Column 9:

Place and year of build

Column 10:

Name of owner

Column 11:

Classification of vessel

Examples of place name abbreviations

Place names were often shortened in the early Registers, due to a lack of space. Examples are as follows:

Amftm = Amsterdam

Apldre = Appledore

Bdfrd = Bideford

Br = Bristol

Cheftr = Chester

Dntzc = Dantzig

Dort = Dortmund

DStrt = Dover Strait

Elfinr = Elsinore

Gbrltr = Gibraltar

Glafg = Glasgow

Grnds = Grenada

Grnfy = Greenland Fishery

Hmb = Hamburg

Hlnd = Holland

HlStraits = Hull Straits

Imdm = Isle of Madeira

Jy = Jersey

Lbrdr = Labrador

Lncftr = Lancaster

Lh = Leith

Li = Lisbon

Ly = Lynn

M/Mn = Moulmein, Burma

MRIMC = Merrimac, Wisconsin, or

R Merrimack, New Hampshire

Mrypt = Maryport

Nflnd = Newfoundland

Petrfb/Ptrfbg = St Petersburg

Pifcat = Piscatagua Harbour

Po = Poole

Qebc = Quebec

Rofth = Rostock

Trdm = Rotterdam

Sdrld = Sunderland

Swnfe = Swansea

Tbag = Tobago

Wtfd = Waterford

Wn/Whtvn = Whitehaven

Ya/Yrmo = Yarmouth

Yghal = Yourgha

Lloyd’s surveys

The classifications that appear in Lloyd’s Register are based on actual surveys of the ships. Survey reports survive, from 1834 onwards, and are preserved at the National Maritime Museum. Details are to be found in Research Guide H6: Lloyd's: Lloyd's Register survey reports.

Other similar publications

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, 1907–1994 (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 Mercantile Navy List is the Board of Trade official list of all British-registered vessels, started in 1850. Most annual volumes exist from 1857–1976 and are in the National Maritime Museum library.

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 their UK offices at:

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.

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.