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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Don't forget the poor souls on HMS Warrior.

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Library Assistant Jon Earle delves into the tragedy of the sinking of the HMS Eurydice, through Sir Edmund Verney's work. The specific focus is on those 281 men who lost their lives.

View of 19th century merchant vessel (BHC3594)

Death was never far away for crew members on a merchant vessel in the 1860s. In 1865 one in twelve vessels reported the death of at least one member of its complement. More surprising perhaps is that births also occurred, but less often with only 1% of vessels reporting them. This study examines just over 4,000 merchant vessels’ records of births and deaths in 1865.

The British Empire blog

In this blog we uncover some of the stories which our archives can tell us of the dangers of working in the British Empire in the service of the East India Company.


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.