Under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1850 British merchant ships were legally obliged to keep a log or diary about each voyage undertaken. Amongst other things, this record required births, marriages and deaths at sea to be recorded. The British National Archives retains these logs under the collection entitled, Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Official Ships’ Logs.
Many of these logs have been transcribed and digitised and their details extracted into a searchable index. Individual logs provide valuable information about the reason for a voyage, the crew, their work aboard the vessel, arrivals and desertions and other disciplinary details. Some logs provide more information than others, but most give an interesting snippet about what life was like at sea. If you have an ancestor who took to sea, this collection might well be of interest, especially as it grows and more records are added.
The search facility can also be used to locate seamen and points to the archives where more information can be obtained. John Kellagher pictured above for example, enlisted as a fireman in the Merchant Navy. Per his navy record he was born in ‘Granshaw’, Co. Monaghan on 11th December 1890. His official service number was K6543. This was used to obtain his medal card and other details from the Southampton Archives, including a listing of all the vessels upon which he served. Armed with the ship name or date of voyage you can order a copy entry from the relevant ship’s log.
The Archives charges £8.50 per page and it generally takes 21 working days to process an application. Some ships were mined and sunk for example or others wrecked, so if you know something about an ancestor’s naval history, the log books can paint a colourful backdrop.