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The Merchant Navy needs you!
- Are you interested in volunteer work?
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If you can answer “yes” to these three questions, then we would love to hear from you.
In partnership with The National Archives (TNA) the National Maritime Museum last year launched a project to transcribe and make available online, all of the surviving Merchant Navy crew lists from 1915. As there are no records for individual merchant seamen from this period, these records are of national significance in high lighting the vital contribution made by the Merchant Navy during the First World War. They are also of immeasurable value to family historians, as one of the few sources of information about the contribution of our sea-faring ancestors active in 1915. If you had an ancestor at sea in the British merchant navy in 1915, there is a high chance a crew list for one or more voyages survive. Approximately 39,000 crew lists have been photographed and NMM and TNA volunteers from as far afield as Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, France and Ireland as well as all over the UK are transcribing these records to make them available and searchable. This is marvellous effort really demonstrates the international interest and demand for the information these records contain.We hope to launch the project in August 2014, to coincide with the centenary of the start of the First World War and really contribute something valuable to our memory and understanding of this conflict.
Your Museum Needs You: Could you invest some hours and transcribe a box of crew lists and help this valuable project?
For more information please contact:
There will be an opportunity to view a selection of the Caird Library’s rare manuscripts on maritime history. If you’ve ever wondered what life was really like in Nelson’s navy, how sick and injured seamen were cared for, or you simply want to explore your own maritime connections, this session will introduce you to the documents that can help you uncover the answers.
This session will be repeated on the 4th Thursday of April, May and June. The session is free, but places do need to booked in advance by contacting email@example.com
The session will be taking place in the Quiet Study area of the Caird Library, which will be closed to readers from 10am – 12:30pm to allow the session to take place. Library visitors can continue to use our collections in the Group Study area, which remains open as usual.
Hello, my name is Tara and I recently joined the Manuscripts team as an Archives Assistant. Prior to this, I studied English Literature and subsequently the art of graduate job-hunting. After various stints working in smaller archives, I’m enjoying being in a large, specialist archive. I’m still getting used to just how vast the collection here is! Given that the role of archives is focussed very much on increasing public access, it is a great opportunity for me to be part of a team that spends a great deal of time helping members of the public get the most from the NMM archives collections. Whilst we can’t do everyone’s research for them, we do our best to guide researchers to possible sources for the information they seek. So when I’m not on duty in the library helping readers in person, I am usually answering public enquiries and trying to absorb the knowledge around me!
One of collections that I find interesting are the Atlases, Maps and Portolans (archive catalogue reference ‘P’). Consisting of fity-eight manuscript atlases believed to date from as early as the thirteenth century, the collection is a fascinating insight into how our ancestors navigated the seas. I spoke to the NMM Curator of Hydrography and learned that these atlases are made up of navigational sea charts known as a ‘portolan charts’. Emerging in the thirteenth century, portolan charts are a mystery of sorts as they appear to have been created right through to the eighteenth century before disappearing. It is not known exactly who first created them or how, yet it is believed they were used for over four hundred years to navigate the seas, primarily by judging the distance and direction between ports, and demontrate an impressive accuracy in their depictions of coastlines and dimensions.
A fascinating example of the detail of these charts can be seen in Basil Ringrose’s ca. 1682 atlas: A Waggoner – ‘Shewing the making and bearing of all the coasts from California to the Streights of Le Maire done from the Spanish original by Basil Ringrose’(archive catalogue reference P/32: you can scroll down to click on the individual pages refered to here in brackets beneath the image). ‘Waggoner’ means sailing directions and the manuscript consists of 106 individual charts with explanatory notes, covering the Pacific coast of the Americas. The origins of the atlas are rather interesting – Basil Ringrose was part of a group of English Buccuneers who on capturing several Spanish vessels, also captured a book of charts and sailing directions. On returning to England, he created his own atlas from the stolen Spanish charts. Drawn against a sqaure pencil grid, Ringrose used a coloured line to show the coastline clearly and employed a variety of symbols to mark features as well as annotations about places and ports. A compass rose, a typical feature of early charts, shows the direction of the winds. Opposite each chart, is accompanying text with information gained from the seafarers who used these type of charts, mostly to navigate between ports for trade purposes. Below are some examples.
Reference: P/32(11). This chart shows the coast of Acapulco, Mexico. The chart is one of the more detailed on the atlas and includes the compass rose, a note of the lattitude, depth soundings (the numbers in the sea area) as well as the dot textured areas to indicate shallow waters and red symbols for anchorages. Written opposite (not shown here), the text begins ‘Acapulco is a great port of trade it is the place whence the Spaniard embarques from Mexico for China and the Fillipines’ and goes on to explain that this is ‘a peculiar privilige it hath for no other port dares trade to any parts of the East Indies.’ Considering that the atlas is based on stolen Spanish charts, it’s not hard to see how valuable it was for the English to learn the Spanish trade routes. Indeed, on return to England, Charles II, far from punishing the buccaneers for their piratical deeds, expelled the Spanish Ambassodor! The text describes how ‘all goods are carryed on mules’ how during the journey the Spanish pass through ‘a nation of Indians’ who have ‘tiranicall masters’.
Reference: P/32(26). This chart shows the coast of El Viejo, Nicaragua. This chart is well annotated and shows the port of El Realejo, which was once the principal port of Nicaragua. During the early seventeenth century, it fell victim to piracy and declined in importance. It is therefore curious to see it charted by a buccaneer shortly after this period! The chart is detailed including extensive shallows and various ancorages. Intriguingly there are symbols for two nearby churches and a ship is shown coming by river from Fonseca…
Reference: P/32(2). Basil Ringrose’s waggoner also demonstrates the extent of European knowledge of the New World at the time: recording California as a separate island!
To see more images from Basil Ringrose’s South Sea Waggoner, search the online charts and maps collection here: http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections.html#!csearch;searchTerm=basil_ringrose
If you are interested in knowing more about the NMM atlases, charts and maps, browse our archive catalogue here: http://collections.rmg.co.uk/archive/objects/492065.html using the finding reference ‘P’ and look out for a coming item of the month post about London map and chart maker William Hack’s elaborate 1685 atlas of the same coastlines!
Further books available in the Caird Library catalogue:
Portolan Charts and Atlases in the National Maritime Museum
Pflederer, Richard L. [Library ID: PBF7917]
Finding their way at sea : the story of portolan charts, the cartographers who drew them and the mariners who sailed by them
Pflederer, Richard L. [Library ID: PBH5595]
Tara (Archive and Libary)
An exciting Letter from Admiral Horatio Nelson to the 2nd Earl Camden dated 11 October 1804 has been put on display and revealed to the public for the first time. The letter concerns Camden’s nephew, Francis James, who, having lost his ship and his clothes, evidently decided he was not cut out for a life at sea! As Tunbridge Wells Museum’s Object of the Month for December, the letter sits alongside supporting text provided by our own Mike Bevan, Archivist at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. You can take a look at the letter online: http://www.tunbridgewellsmuseum.org/Default.aspx?page=2363. The full article is also available via the link and as a PDF. This version reveals letters from the NMM’s Archive, specifically the Croker collection (CRK) and puts the exhibited letter into a wider context concerning patronage, naval operations and reminds us that the call of the sea didn’t suit everyone!
The letter has already generated some local media attention:
Readers of the blog may be interested to learn that a project to digitise the Museum’s collection of masters’ certificates has been completed. The certificates are now available to search and view via the genealogical website ancestry.co.uk. The Ancestry website also features a guest blog from our very own Mike Bevan!
The masters’ certificates are a fantastic resource for researchers interested in somebody who served in the merchant navy as a master or mate between 1845 and 1927. You can find out more about them by reading our research guide, available here.
Whilst sites such as Ancestry allow access to manuscripts from anywhere in the world, this particular archivist still thinks there is a certain pleasure to be had from viewing the original document. In addition to free access to Ancestry from our reading room computers, the Caird Library remains the only place where researchers can get their hands on the real thing!
The Warship Histories is an alphabetical index of Royal Naval vessels, originally compiled by Commander Pitcairn-Jones but with later additions and corrections. Whilst the published list of naval vessels, by J.J. Colledge, gives similar information in some respects – technical details, launch and fate – Pitcairn-Jones’ index goes further. The index records captains’ dates of commission and, in many cases, actions in which the vessel has participated.
Due to the size of the undertaking some weaknesses are inevitable in the Warship Histories. However, for the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries they represent the most accurate combined index thus far produced. Information for this period was taken from the “list books” at the National Archives, Kew which record all vessels in commission, who was in command, and where the vessel was stationed. The sample was drawn by consulting the lists for July of every year (although it should be remembered that vessels may have gone out of, or come into, commission during the intervening months). For the 19th and 20th centuries, the Navy Lists were the main source used. Outside periods of hostilities, however, the sample was only taken every five years and once again commissions may fall within the intervening period and hence not be recorded.
The length of entries to be found in the Warship Histories is dependent on the type of vessel, for instance line-of-battle ships would normally be laid up in times of peace whereas frigates would often see a more continuous service during these times. This was particularly the case in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. For the 20th century, material between the two world wars is not consistent, for example the First World War “C” class cruisers have had their inter-war service covered in great detail whereas this is not the case with many vessels which served in both world wars.
Unfortunately the Warship Histories has not yet been digitised or made available online. Additionally, the poor quality of print obtained from the microfiche means that we tend not to take remote orders to print from this resource as we would do for many other texts. Therefore the only practical method of consulting the source is to come to the Caird Library where prints from the fiche are available. On a positive note we are now open six days a week with a late evening on Thursday. No advance notice is required to consult the Warship Histories as it is available in the reading room.
Warship histories / [Chris Ware, J.J. Colledge, Charles Gray Pitcairn Jones]
Physical description: 84 microfiches (ca. 264 frames each)
Publication info: London: National Maritime Museum, 1986.
Gregory (Assistant Librarian)
Last month we explored how to conduct family history research when one’s relative is currently in the Merchant Navy. Today let us investigate the very same query but this time about an individual still serving in the Royal Navy.
Caird Library staff have written several research guides on various maritime related topics. The guide entitled ‘Research guide B3: The Royal Navy: Sources for enquiries’ may help you learn how to seek information on a person who is serving in the Royal Navy. The research guide can be found on our website at http://www.rmg.co.uk/researchers/library/research-guides/the-royal-navy/research-guide-b3-the-royal-navy-sources-for-enquiries.
We have extensive collections of books, photographs, paintings, prints, drawings and manuscripts dealing with most aspects of the Royal Navy, thus it is always worth searching the Library Catalogue or the Archive Catalogue. However, it is important to stress that the service records of the Royal Navy for approximately the last 90 years are still deposited with the Ministry of Defence. These records should be transferred to The National Archives from the Ministry of Defence when they are 75 years old. So if your relative was in the Royal Navy, you might visit the Veterans UK website for information about how to request a summary of their service record from the Ministry of Defence. Bear in mind that these records are not available to members of the general public so you have to be the subject of the record or next of kin. It is also worth pointing out that before 1972 all Royal Navy personnel were given their records when they left the service. The surviving records until that date only contain basic service details and lists of postings.
The Royal Navy publishes an annual list of active and reserve officers, and a biennial list of retired officers. Editions of the Navy List date from 1814 to the present day. Although the amount of information shown in these lists changes with time, they record officers (retired and active) and ships, where ships were stationed, pay scales, uniform regulations, etc. Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) officers, including the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), were also included in the Navy List from 1862, so this is a ‘must check’ if one’s relative is a Royal Naval Officer of the 20th century. As The National Archives holds most Admiralty records – including official logs of warships, muster rolls, pay books and all personnel and service records of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, up to at least 1920 – you might be able to find information there too.
The National Archives
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444
The Ministry of Defence, Directorate of Personnel Support (Navy) office controls all service records for the years approximately 1920 to at least 1955 which have not yet been passed to The National Archives (excluding Royal Marines). Please note as it was mentioned earlier that information can only be given to next of kin.
Ministry of Defence
Directorate of Personnel Support (Navy)
TNT Archive Services
William Nadin Way
Tel: (+44) 01283 227913
Fax: (+44) 01283 227942
The Ministry of Defence, NPP (Acs) AFPAA office controls service records for the period after approximately 1955. Please note that as always information can only be supplied to next of kin and unfortunately they can only be reached by mail.
Ministry of Defence
AFPAA (C) NPP (ACS) 1E
Hampshire PO13 9XA
Gregory (Assistant Librarian)
Regular readers of the blog may recognise the name Susannah Middleton. Her collection of letters, written from Gibraltar in the early nineteenth century, is a real favourite with staff and readers of the Caird Library. In December, a selection of the manuscripts she wrote to her sister in London featured as our item of the month.
It was thus with some interest that, in 2011, I learnt that a descendent of Susannah’s was planning to visit the library. Alison Board spent a day in the old Caird Library reading Susannah’s letters. Alison explained that in addition to being an ancestor of the Middletons, she was also a fine art student at the Arts University College, Bournemouth. On the look-out for inspiration, Alison had hit upon the idea of turning Susannah’s words into a work of art. The result of the research can be seen in the image on the right as Susannah’s writing continues to influence the artwork Alison is creating.
I’ve always known that manuscripts had the potential to inspire far more than academic studies (although don’t get me wrong, they’re very important too!), so it was great to see an example of a different approach to using archives. Thanks to Alison for keeping in touch and sending the image to us. If you would like to find out more about her work, Alison maintains a blog which can be read at: www.susannahandthecaptain.blogspot.co.uk.
Richard (Assistant Archivist)
Image: © Alison Board
Are you doing family history research related to the Merchant Navy? Are you stuck with finding the Official Number of a British-registered vessel? Perhaps you have a list of Official Numbers but do not know the ship names?
Knowing a ship’s Official Number is crucial when you do family history research, because the large repositories holding crew agreements and logbooks, including the National Maritime Museum, the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland and the National Archives at Kew, use Official Numbers as a reference point, rather than names. From 1855, merchant vessels were given an unique number when they first registered with the Board of Trade, and this number stayed with the vessel throughout her life, even if she was re-registered or re-named.
There is a very useful free online database called the Crew List Index Project (CLIP) which was set up to improve access to the records of British merchant seafarers of the late 19th century and has gathered the largest database providing details of the locations of surviving crew lists. This site currently contains over 450,000 records of vessels’ names and Official Numbers with a complete coverage of British-registered vessels with numbers from 1 to 200,000 and covering the period 1855 to the 1950s.
Searching by names: (This is an index of vessels by name; it shows matching names and their Official Numbers, sorted first by name, then by number.)
Searching by Official Numbers: (This is an index of vessels by Official Number. You must bear in your mind that ships were often re-named so there may be several different names for one vessel.)
Once you know the relevant name and Official Number, the next step is to track down the crew lists for that ship. The National Maritime Museum’s research guide C1: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Crew lists, agreements and official logs may help you how to do so. For more information, please follow the link: http://www.rmg.co.uk/researchers/library/research-guides/the-merchant-navy/tracing-people-crewlists-agreements-logs
Most of our enquiries start off with a sentence well known to us: “my great-grand father was a seaman”. A recent query received by the Library made me think how we can assist those who are researching current activities in the Merchant Navy.
As always crew agreements for British-registered merchant ships should be the best to start with. These are of particular interest to genealogists and people tracing family history, and to anyone researching specific ships or seafaring generally. Of the more recent records, a 10% specimen group of all crew agreements from 1951 onwards is in The National Archives; the remaining 90% for years ending in ’5′, until 1995, have been deposited with the National Maritime Museum. All remaining papers up to 1976 have been transferred to the Maritime History Archive in Canada, but sadly from 1977 to 1994 all crew agreements not deposited in the National Archives or in the National Maritime Museum (i.e. 90% of all years not ending in ’5) have been destroyed. Log Books and Crew Agreements from 2001 to 2006 are held at the Registry of Shipping and Seamen in their entirety. A certificate of sea service for individual seaman who sailed on ships from this period may be obtained from these records. Also important to note is that no official logbooks and crew agreements have been retained covering the years 1996 to 2000. Any enquiries about the deposit of recent crew lists should be addressed to the Registry of Shipping and Seamen.
The majority of records relating to merchant seamen for the years 1941–1972 are also with The National Archives, and for the years 2000–2009 are with the Registry of Shipping and Seamen. Records for individual seamen were not kept between the years 1973–1999 as after 1973 the Registrar General was not required by legislation to keep these records.
The second avenue of research should be Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, an annual list of merchant ships providing an excellent aid to research. The Caird Library has copies up to, and including, the most recent edition. The 2011-2012 issue is in four volumes, consisting of almost 7000 pages. The Library also holds volumes up to the last issue of the Mercantile Navy List (or Official List of Registered Ships as it was called by 1985), the Board of Trade official list of all British-registered vessels.
Some recent shipping company records are held by the National Maritime Museum. The National Register of Archives, maintained by The National Archives, can often be useful in locating records of shipping companies. Published histories exist for many companies and the National Maritime Museum has bibliographies for the most famous shipping lines. Book lists for a number of other companies can be compiled from the online Library catalogue. An example from our recent acquisitions is a book on the tragically wrecked Costa Concordia:
Costa concordia : architettura sospesa nel blue = architecture suspended in the blue by Tiziana Lorenzelli (Milano : Electa ; [Genova] : Costa, 2006) 629.123.3COSTA CONCORDIA – PBH4693
Maritime History Archive
Memorial University of Newfoundland
The National Archives
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444
Registry of Shipping and Seamen
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Cardiff CF24 5JW
Tel: +44 (0)29 20448800
Gregory (Assistant Librarian)