Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section

Text of a talk given on the records of Lloyd’s marine collection held in the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library, 4 November 2008

The official distinction between the Lloyd’s records held in the Printed Books Section and in the Manuscripts Section is that the Manuscripts Section holds the items which are handwritten, while Printed Books holds the items which are printed. However, you could also say that, in general, if you’re interested in a ship, go to Printed Books, but if you’re interested in people, come to Manuscripts.

This distinction between people in Manuscripts and ships in Printed Books isn’t completely accurate, but it is true that the vast majority of visitors who use Lloyd’s marine collection in the Manuscripts Section are interested in a captain.

Every day in the Manuscripts Section there is at least one visitor who is consulting Lloyd’s Captains Registers, often three or four. The Captains Registers give details of the careers of captains and mates of merchant ships who held foreign-trade masters’ certificates and who were active between 1869 and 1947. If the master mariner was active in 1869, the Registers will also give information on his earlier career, back to 1851 or the date of obtaining the certificate, whichever is the later.

The Captains Registers are arranged in three series: the earlier series (Ms 18567) covers the years 1851-1911. It is consulted in the original. There are two later series which together cover the period 1912-47 (Ms 18568-9). These two later series are consulted on microfilm and copies can be taken using the microfilm reader/printer. There are also two supplementary card indexes: Ms 18570 (1912-47) and Ms 18571 (1932-47).

So how can you find out if a master mariner you are interested in appears in the Captains Registers? One way is to visit us: there is no need to make an appointment to look at the Captains Registers, either the original volumes of the earlier series or the microfilms of the later series. The later series are arranged in alphabetical order, so it is a quick process to check them for a particular name. The earlier series is however arranged first by periods of about seven years, and then by name, so you may need to look at three or four volumes to trace the career of a master mariner. We have an on-going project to index this series. Indexes for surnames beginning with A-E, I-Q, U-V, and Y-Z have already been done. The indexes can be consulted in the Manuscripts reading room, or here.

Unfortunately not all searches in the Captains Registers for men who are elsewhere described as a master mariner are successful. A possible reason is that the man was a captain or mate on a British merchant ship but did not hold a foreign-trade master’s certificate. A full list of reasons for unsuccessful searches is given in the Captains Registers leaflet.

If the master mariner does appear in the Captains Registers, what information can you expect to find? The Registers give his place and year of birth (but not home addresses in later life); they give the date, number and place of issue of the master’s certificate; any other special qualifications, including the “steam” certificate from 1874; the dates of engagement and (sometimes) discharge as master or mate after the certificate was obtained, with the name and official number of each ship; the general area of destination of each voyage; casualties (sinkings, collisions etc); and notes (e.g. reprimands, special awards). Much of the voyage information is given in abbreviated form. There is a list of the meanings of these abbreviations in the Captains Registers leaflet.

Having noted the information from the Captains Registers, what is the next step? If the mariner you are interested in was unfortunate enough to be involved in a collision or sinking, I would suggest this is the area to explore next. Collisions and sinkings are written in the Captains Registers in blue. They will normally give references to Lloyd’s List and sometimes to a Board of Trade Inquiry Report or a Confidential Report. These references are well-worth following up.

To illustrate this, I am going to use the example of Captain Charles Richardson Hird who was in charge of the s.s. Crusader when it ran aground at Bird Island in Algoa Bay in 1910.

According to Charles Hird’s entry in the Captains Registers (Guildhall Library Ms 18567/79), the loss of the s.s. Crusader was reported in Lloyd’s List on March 2nd and 3rd 1910. Captain Hird’s master’s certificate was suspended for 6 months from March 8. There is a reference to a Court of Inquiry report, no. 7347, and a reference to Confidential Report no. 528.

Out of these references, the Confidential Report sounds perhaps the most interesting. However, these reports are usually disappointing. We only hold a small number of these reports, those numbered 500-699 and covering the years 1908-46 (Ms 36855). The information in the reports was extracted from the ‘Black Books’ of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen.

The Confidential Report relating to loss of the s.s. Crusader states that Captain Hird ‘was found in default for failing to use the necessary precautions to verify the ship’s position and his certificate was suspended for 6 months from 8th March 1910’.

Thus the only new information that we find out from the Confidential Report was that Captain Hird was found in default for failing to use the necessary precautions. We already know from the Captains Register that he was suspended for six months.

The notices of the loss of the s.s. Crusader in Lloyd’s List, and the Board of Trade Inquiry report together give a lot more information. So I would suggest, if you are short of time whilst at Guildhall Library, focus on Lloyd’s List and the Board of Trade Inquiry Report (both held in the Printed Books Section of Guildhall Library), rather than the Confidential Report.

From Lloyd’s List we find out that the events as they were reported to Lloyds: the s.s. Crusader ran ashore on 25 February. The captain and part of the crew landed on the island on March 1. The captain reported the decks under water; will probably be a total loss. All hands safe. A tug was sent with a Lloyd’s Registrar surveyor, who reported a total loss. Salvage impracticable.

From the Board of Trade Inquiry Report, we get details of the events leading up to the loss. At 5.45pm on the day of the loss, Captain Hird visited the bridge and asked the chief officer if the Bird Island lighthouse was in sight. The chief officer said yes, and gave the bearings of the lighthouse. The captain understood this as a compass bearing, whereas the chief officer had meant it as a true bearing. This misunderstanding involved a difference of approximately 26 degrees or nearly 2½ points. At 7.15pm the vessel struck and remained fast on the East Reef. The Report then gives its judgement as to where the blame lay – both the captain and chief officer were found at fault.

At the beginning of my talk I said that the Manuscripts Section holds the records relating to people, and Printed Books hold the ones relating to ships. I did say that that was not entirely accurate, and the Loss and Casualty books held in the Manuscripts Section are proof of it. The Loss and Casualty books cover the years 1837-1998 and they give reports of casualties, entered daily as received. They were intended as display items, so that brokers could easily see the new reports received that day. These books are still compiled today, and the current volume, together with the one for a hundred years previous, is displayed at Lloyd’s.

The information in the Loss and Casualty books was taken from the initial reports in Lloyd’s List. Thus, you will not find any new information here. The entry for the s.s. Crusader in the volume for 1910 (Ms 14932/69) is only brief and repeats what we have already found out from Lloyd’s List.

I started my presentation by talking about the division between the records held by Manuscripts and by Printed Books. But the most important message that I would like to get across, is that Lloyd’s marine collection is an archive that works together as a whole. One series of records leads to other set of records, and even if that means going back and forth between the two Sections, it is well worth the effort. The best way to get an overall picture of how the marine collection works is the Guildhall Library guide: A Guide to the Lloyd’s Marine Collection and Related Marine Sources at Guildhall Library. It is available to buy in Guildhall Library bookshop.

Last updated November 2008

Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section