Life at sea

Gain a fascinating insight into the lives of sailors and seamen throughout history. From the protocols of the Royal Navy to the traditions, customs and working lives of 18th and 19th century crewmen, we explore what life was really like on the high seas.

Nikki and Greta at sea on La Vagabonde, Day 10, 2019. credit: Nikki Henderson

Having skippered her first Trans-Atlantic race at just 20, Nikki Henderson is one of the UK’s leading young sailors. In 2018, Nikki became the youngest ever skipper of a round the world race at the age of 25.


When Cutty Sark’s crew engaged to sail on the ship, the provisions allocated to them were detailed on the Agreement and Account of Crew for the passage.

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In the 19th century, MP Samuel Plimsoll campaigned for load lines to be painted on the side of ships to prevent them being overloaded and sinking.


Rum has long been a part of Britain’s maritime heritage - but what is the real history of “Nelson’s Blood”? Find out more about rum and the Navy below.

Burial at Sea

What exactly happened in the past when someone died during a voyage and was buried at sea? 

‘Trotsky’ the bear being transferred to HMS Ajax from HMS Emperor of India in 1921

There is a long history of animals and seafarers coming together at sea. Seamen often kept cats and dogs as pets or ship’s mascots, but more exotic companions such as parrots, bears and monkeys also joined the crew. Horses, mules and even elephants were transported across the sea to be used in battle, while cattle, pigs, goats and chickens on board provided a source of fresh milk, eggs and meat.


Today's guest blog was written by Anne Massey, Professor of Design at Middlesex University. She explores the role of design and designers on board three ships; the Mauretania, Lusitania and Aquitania.


The introduction of steam power in the 19th century revolutionised the shipping industry and made Britain a world-leader in shipbuilding.

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Archivist, Mike Bevan, looks at the diary kept by Henry Teonge (1621-1690). Is it ‘the most important description of seagoing life in the seventeenth century’?

‘The Way of the World’ by C. J. Grant and J. Kendrick, 1834 (PAH3318)

The Caird Library has recently installed a new display of archive and library material. The theme is Medicine and Health at Sea and reveals the main diseases particularly prominent during long sea voyages. These included scurvy and yellow fever.