Essential Information

National Maritime Museum → First floor → Caird Library & Archive

01 Sep 2021

The Caird Library and Archive at the National Maritime Museum has a rich variety of items which include manuscripts, charts and maps, journals and diaries, prints and drawings, rare books, pamphlets as well as business records, crew lists and masters' certificates. Also included are the modern book and periodical collections.
This article gives a taster of the types of documents and rare items that are under the care of the library team.

by Penny Allen, Librarian

Letter from Nelson to Lady Hamilton, 'Vanguard', 19 May 1799
Letter from Nelson to Lady Hamilton from HMS Vanguard, 19 May 1799 (RMG reference: CRK/19/3).

Highlights from the Archive Collection

Popular personal collections include those relating to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton; Sir John Franklin (FRN), Fisher (FIS) and Flinders (FLI) – relating to the Arctic expeditions; various papers relating to Shackleton and Scott’s Antarctic explorations (HSR/Z); Samuel Pepys and John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (First Lord of the Admiralty) 1718-1792.

List of officers and men from HMS 'Erebus', dated 1845
List of officers and men from HMS Erebus and Terror, dated 1845 (RMG reference: MSS/84/140).

The private journals of Edward H. Cree, Surgeon in the Royal Navy (CRJ) have beautiful hand drawn depictions of voyages to the East between 1837-1856.

There are also business collections such as: the New Zealand Shipping company (NZS), the Oriental Steam Navigation Company (OSN); General Steam Navigation Company (GSN); British India Steam Navigation Company Limited (BIS) and the Peninsular & Orient Line Shipping (P&O) collection which is on loan to the museum. A unique collection is the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association (SRNA).

The archive collection also includes some records relating to the East India Company, however the majority of the records for the EIC are held at the British Library.

Part of the Journals and Diary collection (JOD) are diaries written by officers who were on voyages to all points around the globe. Included are accounts of voyages in various East Indiamen ships, i.e.: the Sea Horse and the Warren Hastings. Some are beautifully illustrated with hand-drawn watercolours and pencil drawings of ships, indigenous people, and landscapes.

The records from the Admiralty collection are also very popular. The National Maritime Museum holds: In-Letters from the Board of Admiralty (ADM); the Navy Board, In-Letters and Orders (ADM/A); Navy Board, Lieutenants’ Logs (ADM/L) to name a few. Please see the book titled Guide to the Manuscripts in the National Maritime Museum by R.J.B. Knight for more details.

Records relating to the Admiralty volumes are often found on the National Archives (Kew) catalogue, please note the "Former Reference in its original department" citation. This should be converted to the Caird Library and Archive’s reference style as explained here

The collection also includes records about Ships, such as the RMS Titanic collection (LMQ) and the Cutty Sark (RSS/CL/CS).  Although many have asked, we do not hold official records for the MV Empire Windrush - these will be at The National Archives. 

Second Class dinner menu from the last night on the RMS 'Titanic', 14 April, 1912, kept by survivor Mrs Bertha J. Marshall (nee Watt)	LMQ/1/12/2
Second Class dinner menu from the last night on the RMS Titanic, 14 April, 1912, kept by survivor Mrs Bertha J. Marshall (nee Watt) (RMG reference: LMQ/1/12/2).

It should also be noted that the museum’s ship plan collections are held in a separate department from the Caird Library & Archive. For more information on ship plans, please see this link.

The Library & Archive's aim is to cover subjects relating to our four sites: the Cutty Sark, the Queen's House, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory. We hold the log books of the Cutty Sark, prints and drawings, some displayed in the Queen’s House, as well as the personal library of the seventh Astronomer Royal, Sir George Biddell Airy which can be found by searching in the rare books collection in the Library Catalogue.

As the National Maritime Museum is situated on the site of the former Greenwich Hospital School, we do have some records titled Royal Naval College, Greenwich (RNCG) mostly consisting of correspondence, exam results, staff records and accounts. There are also some personal items that were donated to the museum that relate to the Greenwich Hospital School and the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich. These include school notebooks, a very few certificates and published material. Searches for this material can be conducted in both the archive and library catalogues.

Unique items in our collection include but are not limited to: the Journal of Edward Barlow, 1656-1703 (JOD/4), the ‘Barlow Journal’; a copy of the American Declaration of Independence (SAN/F/9/16) and a document outlining the Crown’s dispute with the Bishop of Durham about a ship seized, dated 1583 (ADL/A/18).

Plate from Edward Barlow's journal of his life at sea from 1659 to 1703 (RMG reference: JOD/4).
Plate from Edward Barlow's journal of his life at sea from 1659 to 1703 (RMG reference: JOD/4).

A favourite item of the library staff is a diary written by William Brett on one of the expeditions to search for Captain Sir John Franklin and his crew (JOD/282). The library staff refer to this item as the "Hairy Book" as it is covered in animal hair which may be sealskin.

The "Hairy Book" - a diary written by William Brett, unknown date (RMG reference: JOD/282).


Highlights from the Library Collection

One of the earliest published rare books that the library holds is Sacrobusto anglici viri clarissimi spera mundi feliciter incipit by Joannes de Sacro Bosco published in 1478 (RMG reference: PBE5199).

sacrobusto anglici viri clarissimi spera mundi feliciter incipit
Sacrobusto anglici viri clarissimi spera mundi feliciter incipit by Joannes de Sacro Bosco published in 1478 (RMG reference: PBE5199).

A 48 page rare pamphlet written by Edward Chamberlayne in [1649] (RMG reference: PBF7363):

The poore mans advocate : or Englands Samaritan : powring oyle and wyne into the wounds of the nation. By making present provision for the souldier and the poor, by reconciling all parities. By paying all arreares to the Parliament Army. All publique debts, and all the late kings, queens, and princes debts due before this session.

Interestingly the title page notes: "printed for Giles Calvert, at the Black-spred Eagle at the West end of Pauls" [London].

sacrobusto anglici viri clarissimi spera mundi feliciter incipit
The poore mans advocate: or Englands Samaritan by Edward Chamberlayne (RMG reference: PBF7363).

Another favourite of the library staff is the Boat Cloak or Cloak-Boat written by Peter Halkett (RMG reference: 5576-2001) in 1848 describing his invention of a personal floatable boat. Captain Sir John Franklin took one of the two-person cloth boats on his Arctic Expedition in 1845. To find out more about this item, search the library’s rare book collection.


The boat-cloak or cloak boat...invented by Peter Halkett, R.N.	PBA3653
The boat-cloak or cloak boat, invented by Peter Halkett (RMG reference: PBA3653).

For a more detailed look at our collections, please consult these published guides. 

Guide to the manuscripts in the National Maritime Museum (2 volumes) by R.J.B. Knight (RMG reference: PBE0956).

For items in the library collection consult the National Maritime Museum: catalogue of the library (7 volumes) published by the National Maritime Museum (RMG reference: PBB1668).

To find out more about the collections acquired by Sir James Caird, the 7 volume set is very comprehensive, titled: The Caird collection of maritime antiquities or the Catalogue of the Caird Collections compiled by Sir Geoffrey Callender in 1933 (RMG reference: PBD6997).

Our Research Guides written by staff members will answer all types of questions about the collections. A few topics include: Charts and Maps; the Cutty Sark; guides to using Lloyd's publications; tracing people in and ships of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, as well as a guide on African Caribbean family history. 

Explore the Collection

From maps and manuscripts to private journals and periodicals, find out more about the 2.5 million-plus items held by Royal Museums Greenwich