Captain Moore’s logbook (1) – An introduction

Cutty Sark closure

Visitor notice: Cutty Sark will be closed on Sunday 1 March for the Vitality Big Half Marathon. The Park Row car park will also be closed to the public all weekend. On 29 February and 1 March access to the National Maritime Museum and Queen's House will be via the Romey Road or William Walk gates. Our other museum sites will be open as usual. Plan your visit

What happened on board Cutty Sark while the ship was in port? To answer that question, Cutty Sark Volunteer Roger Hodge looked into Captain Moore’s personal logbook from 1882, when Cutty Sark was on her thirteenth voyage. The log covers the weeks spent at sea, as well as the time the ship was in port, thus giving us an insight into the daily life of the crew, handling of cargos, illnesses on board and the manner in which trade was conducted in far off lands.

“I expect many of you know Star Trek’s Captain Kirk’s log entries, spoken into his voice recorder, beginning with the words ‘Star date’ and continuing to relate an incident or serious situation the Star Ship USS Enterprise was in. Captain Moore, Master of Cutty Sark from 1882 – 1884, did the same as he wrote his longhand logbook entries in 1882. He recorded the latitude and longitude of Cutty Sark’s position and the state of the weather, along with any incident or event worthy of inclusion as had countless captains before him, certainly as far back as the mid 1500’s.

Captain Moore’s personal logbook

The word log comes from the use of a log to allow sailors to judge the distance they have travelled over a given time span. A log, as in piece of a tree, was attached by rope and thrown overboard. The amount of rope payed out was measured over, say half a minute, and a calculation made to assess the speed. Initially a rather approximate method, but refinements over time made it a useful tool for navigation. The rope had knots tied at regular intervals and the number counted as they passed the hand during that half a minute resulted in the term knots to record a ship’s speed through the water.

Today, maintaining an official log is a legal requirement, as it was in Captains Moore’s day, and it must be handed to the authorities at the end of a voyage. However, many captains also keep a personal log, such as the one that these blogs have drawn upon for their information: Captain Moore’s logbook from 20th August 1882 to 30th January 1883, when Cutty Sark was in the ports of Samarang, Madras and Cocanada, now known as Semarang, Chennai and Kakinada, and on her thirteenth voyage.

The thirteenth voyage covers part of the five year period when Cutty Sark was tramping, a term used for a ship which seeks available cargo in each port, rather than having a set trade. Cutty Sark had lost the tea trade to the steam ships in 1878 and had not yet become involved in the wool trade.

The logbook, written in longhand, was at times a challenge to decipher and there are still a few words that have defeated us. Moore’s punctuation is rare, the use of capital letters erratic, plus some terminology was of its age, and his spelling of some crew names caused confusion against  records of known crew members. He maintained his log through the time the ship was in port which was not a requirement, but a personal choice for which we must be grateful, as it helps to fill in gaps in our knowledge of life aboard and gives a feeling for the kind of Captain he was and how he kept the crew busy.

In this series of blogs various aspects of the daily life of the crew, the interaction with the local population and the manner in which trade was conducted in far off lands will be explored and explained. With the aid of supporting documents relating to the period of the log unearthed in the archives of the National Maritime Museum we are able to add even more colour to the narrative.  This will also be helped by including sections of the log which have been transcribed, as written, to give a feeling for the times in the later part of the nineteenth century.  An example is shown below.

Ship rolling  heavily at  times  four men  and  two  apprentices  a  shore  on  liberty remainder of crew clean Brightwork along Gallant rail  Carpenter planking  Gallant Forecastle  Sailmaker and  one  hand making  New upper Mzn Top sail

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at what the log can tell us about handling cargos, the crew, illnesses and maintenance, among other topics.”


About Roger

“I have been a volunteer at Cutty Sark for eighteen years; assisting with school programmes, acting as a tour guide, carrying out surveys for the archival records and, during the conservation project, assisting with the recording of items dismantled and removed from the ship to be preserved and reinstalled. Recently I was asked to research the log of Cutty Sark’s thirteenth voyage, which has formed the basis for this series of blogs. I also write comedy plays for adults as well as plays and pantomimes for children, several of which have been published. The writing stems from forty years of acting and producing plays with amateur dramatic societies.”