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.

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Poor records mean the valuable contribution of Asian crew members to Britain's mercantile fleet have often remained hidden. However new crew lists found in our archives promise huge potential for future research. 

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It will be five years this July that our team of Navy Board In-letters volunteers: Derek, Roger, Terry, David, John and Fred, have so far provided full page summaries to seventy-six of our volumes from the archive. This is over more than double what had been achieved only two years ago.

Cover of the personal journal written by Gilbert James Inglis

October’s item of the month is a personal journal written by Gilbert James Inglis. He served as purser on board the convict ship Duchess of Northumberland and kept a diary on a voyage from London to Hobart, November 1852 to April 1853 (RMG ID: JOD/150)

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The gold lace on naval officers’ uniforms has traditionally be used to indicate rank. But what are its origins?

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Get up close to the actual uniform Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Lieutenant's logbook for HMS Temeraire 1803-1809

Artist and writer John Kelly delves into the fascinating history of the ship's log and the many experiences and discoveries it has recorded.

Oil Tanker

This item of the month is a 1970s journal kept by the merchant navy’s first female navigating cadet, 18 year old Nina Baker on board British Petroleum (BP) Tanker Vessel British Willow. Nina’s journal influenced me to explore women’s developing role in the merchant navy during the second half of the 20th Century and beyond.

Nuisance helping himself to a full bench on the train

The Caird Library’s archive collection contains numerous captivating stories of naval service from letters written by famous Admirals to journals kept by ordinary seamen. One of the more unusual instances of this is “Just Nuisance”: Life story of an able seaman who leads a dog’s life written by Leslie M. Steyn (RMG ID: LIS/15/4). 

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An early kind of glossy magazine, the Navy and Army Illustrated was a subtler means of recruitment for the Army and Navy

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