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.

Ernest Shackleton 2.jpg

The National Maritime Museum holds the nation’s finest collection of historic maritime photographs.

Mother's Day 1.jpg

The archive is full of emotive letters writen by sons aboard distant ships to their mothers. This Mother's Day we're sharing a few.

The East Indiaman 'Princess Royal' (BHC3564)

James Creassy’s journal (Item ID: JOD/304) is over 300 pages long and written in perfectly legible handwriting – a rare find for material from 1777! He does not say why he is travelling to Bengal, but records in detail the entertaining, dramatic and sometimes rather distressing events that take place during the journey.


A disease that's mostly been wiped out in the western world, scurvy has proved fatal for sailors throughout history. 


A hand-drawn story book from 1879 containing three stories, 'The Adventures of a Castaway', 'The Adventures of Tom and Jerry' and 'Ye Pirate'.


The ship’s biscuit was an important part of the sailor's sea diet before the introduction of canned foods. 

A group of passengers with lifejackets aboard 'Kungsholm' (1966), undergoing life boat drill Waterline Collection, National Maritime Museum, London tile.jpg

The Waterline Collection consists of 16,500 photographs that tell the story of the leisure-cruising industry. 

Watercolour showing Noss Head, by Horatio Nelson Head (tile)

Graham Thompson presents a collection of drawings by a midshipman who showed much promise, but died young before he had established his reputation as a Royal Navy officer. 

H.M.S. Theseus (PAF1833)

From 2014 the archives department has been focusing on cataloguing World War One manuscripts. In October 2017 while cataloguing, I came across the diary of a man who wrote only so his children would have something first hand from their father rather than just what they read in the news.


Learn how to make coffee according to a recipe used by 19th century seamen (warning: this is definitely not your regular flat white).