Navy Records Society Summer Event, 5 July 2023

Thanks to everyone for attending and/or contributing to a highly successful event at King’s on 5th July. We heard presentations from

  • Emma Cooper, The men who fought on board the Temeraire at the Battle of Trafalgar – Part 2
  • Mark Hoskin: The experience of the Royal Navy in East Asia 1860-1960
  • Stuart Heaver: Churchill and the Worst Naval Disaster of the First World War

Do keep the 3rd of July 2024 free in your diary for next year’s similar event. More to follow in due course.


Lloyds Register Heritage Centre Visit

Following on from our successful archive trips to Greenwich and Portsmouth, on 18 November NRS members had the opportunity to visit the Lloyd’s Register Heritage Centre.  Lloyd’s Register began life in Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House in 1760, as a location for London merchants to meet and discuss their business interests . From that moment, the Society grew into an international organisation and successive owners of the coffee house continued to specialise in providing customers with up-to-date and accurate information about shipping and the marine insurance market. In around 1786 the Society for the Registry of Shipping moved from Lloyd’s Coffee House and over the next few years continued to grow, with over 200 subscribers to the Register Book.

The ship classification system was updated, but the changes disadvantaged ships being built outside of London and so those outside the city set up their own Register in protest. By 1815, it was decided that a joint register was the way forward and an agreement between both parties was reached in 1834 when the two groups met for the first time as the Committee of Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. By the end of the nineteenth century, and with Britain’s ever increasing merchant fleet, Lloyd’s Register came into its own, developed vastly and moved to its current location at 71 Fenchurch Street, London.

The Heritage & Education Centre look after the history and heritage of Lloyd’s Register and the Foundation. They have a library and archive holding material from over 250 years of marine and engineering science and history, some materials dating back to the 1830s.

We started with a talk from Charlotte Ward, the Education and Outreach Coordinator, in the historic General Committee Room. This beautiful room is filled with Italianate architecture and names of noted British scientists and explorers, Cook most notably. We were told about the history of Lloyd’s, of the building and how they work with Lloyd’s of London. After walking down the beautiful staircase, past models of ships and carvings of vessels throughout history, we visited the old library before heading to look at some wonderful archive documents.

This time, we looked at more than just documents, even a Lloyd’s Register cricket trophy which was blown up as it was left in a holdall at a train station. We saw stories of wild cricket dinners and some Lloyd’s surveyors even played for England (and in train carriages), records regarding the Titanic (which Lloyd’s Register did not classify – they actually only worked on the anchor).

Some notable documents were documents relating to the Royal Yacht Britannia, including a Post Office telegraph, blueprint of the vessel and the survey report listing

Owner: ‘HM King George V.
Residence: Buckingham Palace”

Another interesting find was the  1835 Surveyor report of the Hecla, launched in 1815. In 1819 this ship was converted to an arctic exploration vessel and made three journeys in search of the northwest passage, as well as one to the North Pole, all under Lt William Edward Parry or Commander George Lyon.

An interesting use of the Register books was by the Germans in WWI. These books were readily available to anyone and German naval officers could easily calculate tonnage and tick off merchant ships they had sunk.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and we’re already planning our next!


2019 AGM and Annual Summer Party REPORT!

On 3 July we held our annual AGM onboard HQS Wellington and what a perfect location it was. Built at Devonport Dockyard in 1934, Wellington was one of 13 Grimsby class vessels built for service in the Commonwealth and spent time patrolling the waters of New Zealand.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, HMS Wellington was recalled to perform convoy escort duties in the Atlantic. During six years of wartime service she rescued over 450 Merchant Navy seamen and was active at both Dunkirk and the North African landings.

After the AGM concluded, we heard from a number of Society members on their current research projects, before concluding with talks from Dr Cat Beck and Professor Andrew Lambert.

Our first speaker, Mark Porter, covered the ships built by Francis Baylie, a shipbuilder in Bristol c1650 – c1680. Pepys called him an illiterate, unable to draw a draught of a ship but Baylie was known for producing ships which regularly and consistently out-performed those built by Master Shipwrights in the Royal Dockyards. Despite this, he is relatively unknown and so Mark has looked through around 300-400 letters mentioning Baylie, all in The National Archives at Kew or in Bristol. Mark hopes to write and submit an article about Francis Baylie for possible inclusion in a future volume of the NRS, or the ‘Mariners’ Mirror’.

After Mark, we heard from Barbara Rich, currently working on research and a book about Captain Edward Wheeler (1721/2-1761). The son of ironmasters, Wheeler entered the Service in 1736 at the age of 14, and was commissioned around 5 years later at Port Royal by Admiral Vernon.  He served in the Caribbean, was court martialled court-martialled and dismissed his ship for disobeying orders and disrespecting his Captain, and the court martial records show that he defended himself by complaining that the Captain did not use his officers like gentlemen. He later took part in a three-year voyage to West Africa and Jamaica.

In early 1755 he was sent to Newcastle as Regulating Captain, and there met Frances Stephenson, the woman who became his mistress. Later in 1755 he was given the command of the ship, Isis (50), of which he remained captain until his death in the course of an engagement with the French ship L’Oriflamme off the Barbary Coast on 1 April 1761, having been fatally wounded by a cannonball fired across the quarter deck which killed two of his officers.  

He was unmarried and had no children, and his will expressed strong and sometimes unconventional views about his mistress and her family, his family, his friends and about the rights of women and of illegitimate children to inheritance. 

Our third speaker was Derek Nudd, author of Castaways of the Kriegsmarine, which examined the interrogation of German naval prisoners of war in early 1944,covered the development of the interrogation of German naval prisoners of war from 1914-1948.

Interrogators’ essential techniques – and most of their initial staff in 1939 – were inherited from the section created by Lt Cdr Vivian Brandon and Major Bernard Trench RMLI in the First World War.

His current project looks at the development of the service and its increasing sophistication across both wars and the immediate post-war period.  He has been utilising diaries from Major Trench, the Admiralty Telephone Directory at the National Museum of the Royal Navy and  interrogation reports in the ADM 137 series at The National Archives in Kew, which track the section’s growing professionalism and impact.

Our final speaker on research was Sunny Mandich, who discussed WWII British-Yugoslav joint naval operations from Vis.

The British presence on Vis is not widely known when considering the war in the Mediterranean, due to it being outside the traditional sphere of influence, but British and Yugoslav forces conducted joint operations against German and Italian occupation there. The Yugoslavs carried out several seaborne landings on neighbouring islands with help from the Royal Navy and Commandos. The British used Vis sporadically as a military base for the Land Forces Adriatic, which included several British Commando units, the 2nd Bn. The Highland Light Infantry and other troops, with the Royal Navy operating from two ports. Marshal Tito used Vis as the political and military centre of the liberated territories until 1944.

These joint naval operations provide insight into the combination of regular and irregular methods of warfare for successful seaborne operations.  

Sunny is researching how the British influenced political negotiations with Tito; how the Yugoslav forces transitioned from partisans into a naval force before the end of the war; and how the Yugoslavs were able to liberate the coast. In order to do so, she will make use of a range of sources now available for research both in the UK and the former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the military archives from Croatia and Serbia.

After a short break, talks continued with Dr Catherine Beck, Pearsall Fellow: Institute of Historical Research who spoke on insanity in the Royal Navy 1740-1820. With a limited time of 15 minutes, Dr Beck covered as much as possible in what was an absolutely fantastic talk. Her research aims to cover incidences of mental derangement and nervous disorders, the behaviours the navy either expected or thought unacceptable and where this division lay and the pressures on those at sea in dealing with these issues.

One memorable example was a man who was disciplined, leading to his mental health issues being discovered when fellow mess mates spoke for him, declaring the problems they knew him to have been dealing with for months. It’s certainly interesting to consider whether this was more commonplace than thought and we look forward to following this research as it progresses.

Our final talk of the evening was from Professor Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Naval History in the Department of War Studies at King’s College. Covering the formation of the Navy Records Society, a little on its “politics” at the beginning and a little on one of our founder members – Sir John Laughton. Laughton was arguably the first to argue for the importance of naval history as an independent field of study and frequently corresponded with incredibly well-known names such as Mahan. Mahan started his career as an instructor for the Royal Navy, before becoming Professor of Modern History at King’s College London. Over his lifetime he wrote the biographies of over 900 naval personalities.

Professor Lambert explained about what was or wasn’t chosen for the Navy Records volumes to begin with, and mentioned that if you look at the historical documents being penned and written up, they will match closely with what was happening politically at the time. What could be saved that would prove useful for officers, and defence officials in terms of lessons to be learned, for example.

It was a fantastic evening, with a good number of members in attendance and we look forward to next year’s event!


Members’ Trip to the Archives of the National Museum of the Royal Navy

On Monday 24th June we hosted our second archive visit, this time to the National Museum of the Royal Navy Library in Portsmouth. This followed on from our successful visit to Greenwich earlier in the year. The Library at the NMRN is an excellent resource for the study of British naval history and includes naval biographies, social history, operational history, navigation, naval architecture, naval science, and ship, port & station information 1856-1914, as well as documents from the Second World War.

Our Navy Records Society trips are a chance to go ‘behind the scenes’  – and behind the scenes we went! The Library at Portsmouth is currently undergoing quite a few changes, including the amalgamation of their current collection with that of the Royal Marines Museum in Eastney and the Submarine Museum in Gosport.

The NMRN Library is within the Naval Base, adjacent to the Museum and Historic Dockyard, within what was once a naval storehouse – the perfect location for anyone researching naval history! We were given a tour on arrival of the bookstore, which is environmentally controlled in order to preserve the documents being held there. Racks upon racks of wonderful documents meant some of our members were very easily distracted. We were then taken upstairs, which currently sits empty but is about to have a full renovation. Upon completion there will be a photography & conservation area, as well as more racking for storage of documents and artefacts. One of the major concerns with amalgamating collections is that documents will be lost, move on elsewhere or even be ‘thrown  away’ as one of our members stressed. The curators and library staff were adamant that this would not be happening, and this is why there is the need to expand into the upstairs area, to create space for these collections.

After a tour, we were taken back down to the reading room, which can seat around 24 people, where they had laid out a number of wonderful documents for us to look at from a variety of time periods. We saw ship plans for the Victory and the Horatio, diaries from men serving on the Victory at the time of Trafalgar in 1805, eighteenth century tattoo designs, letters from John Jellicoe and even one of Winston Churchill’s famous cigars. There were a number of photos of the London Volunteer Naval Reserve around the time of the First World War as well as photographs and plans from naval operations during the Second World War.

We were then taken into the new Jolly Roger exhibition within the NMRN, where members were free to wander as they pleased. A few sat and discussed their research projects and shared resources. We then finished with a brief visit to The Ship Anson pub to discuss our discoveries in a building filled to the rafters with naval paintings, photographs and cap tallies.

If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘to take the King’s shilling’, The Ship Anson pub is right next to where this expression supposedly originated. The story goes that a lady named Louisa Walcott ran a pub called the London Tavern and dropped coins into unwary customers’ tankards. Traditionally, once they drank, they had taken the King’s shilling and were recruited into the Navy. According to some reports, she recruited 26,572 men into the Royal Navy this way. It’s a great story, if nothing else…

We had a wonderful day, and our next trip is in the planning stages, so make sure you check your emails from the Society and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!


Caird Library, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

On 18 February, members of the Navy Records Society were given the chance to visit the Caird Library & Archive at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

We were greeted by archive staff and given a short presentation on the history of the Caird Library, its relocation from what is now the Pacific Encounters exhibition at the museum, and the processes involved in selecting or approving documents to be kept for future generations and researchers. It is a longer process than many of us had imagined, especially once we were told about the sheer number of documents being offered regularly from private collections. It was interesting to find out how cataloguing worked and how many people are involved in the process.

Around 5000 people visit the Caird Library every year to consult documents from 6,025m of archive & original documents, 4,683m of printed books and 1,247m of maps and charts! One recent acquisition by is a selection of papers from the Colville family. These include the letters of Admiral Colville, who took on the young James Cook as Master of his flagship, the Northumberland. The cataloguing of these papers will take around eighteen months and, as such, these documents have not yet been seen by the research community. We felt very privileged to be allowed a ‘sneak peak’!, especially as some of our members are currently working on topics mentioned in these journals and letters. Excerpts from Colville’s journals will appear soon in our Online Magazine.

We were also shown some letters from the lower deck including a petition from a German seaman on the Foudroyant in 1799, judged as fit to serve, but wanting to go home. Another was from a Marine, wanting to appeal his disciplinary charge.  Seeing these documents  gave us an insight into the priorities of some of these men, and a brief glimpse into their lives.

After the tour was concluded, members headed to The Trafalgar Tavern to swap notes and research stories. It was a wonderful afternoon, and many have said they are already looking forward to the next, to be held at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth later this year. We hope you can join us!

Kate Jamieson.