Did your ancestor live on the open seas as part of the Merchant Navy? Were they master of a ship, a deck hand or the cook in the galley? Explore these crew lists and agreements from archives and record offices across England and Wales. Over 157,000 of the 570,000 records in this set include images of original documents. The records include many born throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and further abroad. Furthermore, the records include the names of over 700 Lascars from Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
These records come from a variety of sources and archives. Therefore the information available will not be the same in every record. Each record includes a transcript and some include images. You may find a combination of the following facts:
Name and age
Birth year and birth place
Role – position on the vessel
From and to date – these dates refer to the time the individual spent employed on this vessel
Previous port and vessel – the name of the vessel on which the individual was last employed and the port where they were last discharged
Previous vessel year
Indenture date and port
Vessel official number - the official number for that ship. A unique ‘official number’ was given to each newly registered vessel from 1855 and remained with her throughout her existence. Most of the large repositories use a ship’s official number, rather than her name, as a reference.
Vessel registration port
Port registry year and number
Number of seamen
Gross and net tonnage
Master's name and address
Master made mark
Master's ticket number
Owner's name and address
Owner made mark
We have images for the records that come from the South West Heritage Trust and Anglesey Archives. There are various types of agreements and crew lists. Below is a list of the types of documents available and what you will find in each.
Official Log Book
Particulars of the ship
Port at which the voyage commenced and date of commencement
Port at which the voyage terminated and date of termination
List of crew and report of character
Dates of arrival and departure at each port reached
Record of births or deaths at sea
Record of boat drill and examination of life saving applications
Official log of ship – discover what occurred every day on board the vessel
Account of Voyages and Crew of Home Trade Ship
Name of ship, register owner, official vessel number and port of register.
Account of the crew including name of master and crew, birth years, previous ships, date and place of joining present ship, capacity and date, place and cause of leaving ship
Account of the voyage
Half-Yearly Agreement and Account of Voyages and Crew of a Ship Engaged in the Home Trade Only
Vessel registration port and date
Name of managing owner
Particulars of the vessels – name of ship, official number, tonnage, horsepower and nature of employment of ship during the half year
Name of officers employed by Masters, whether they possess a Certificate of Master or Royal Naval Reserve Commission; a Master Mariner is a professional qualification for a person who can be in charge of a commercial vessel.
Officers’ previous vessel name and year, date of commencement of service on present vessel and particulars of discharge
Names of crew and similar information as recorded for the officers
Agreement for those on voyages made on the coasts of the United Kingdom, or to the Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Isle of Man, or to the places on the Continent of Europe between the River Elbe and Brest inclusive
Account of crew of foreign going ship
Name of ship, official number, owner and master’s names, first port and date of departure, final port and date of destination
Crew list includes name, age, birth place, previous vessel and capacity, date and place of discharge from previous vessel, date and place of joining current ship, date and place of leaving current ship and report of character.
If a crew member died or was maimed the circumstances and date was recorded.
Agreement and account of crew of foreign-going ship
Foreign going ship means every ship employed in trading or going between some place in the United Kingdom and some place or places situated beyond the Coasts of the United Kingdom and the Continent of Europe, between the River Elbe and Brest inclusive.
The agreement begins with the name of the ship, official number, port of register, tonnage, horsepower and number of seamen for whom accommodation is certified.
Describes the intended length of the voyage and its destination.
Instructions for crew and agreement of crew’s conduct.
Signature of crew, age, nationality, home address, previous vessel, date and place of signing this agreement, capacity, certificate or reserve commission, date and hour boarded the vessel, wages, particulars of discharge and cause and release date
Certificates of endorsements made by Consuls or by Officers in British Possessions Abroad
Date of arrival at port and date of disposal of goods
Notes on crew if any person is being discharged
Account of all voyages made during the half year, with the nature of employment, draught of water and freeboard
Use the arrows to the left and the right of the image to discover more about the crew, the vessel or the voyage.
The Merchant Navy is a private organisation of commercial and trading ships. It was not regulated by the government until the nineteenth century. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1835, replaced Muster books with agreements and crew lists which were filed at the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen (previously known as the Register Office of Merchant Seamen). The title, Merchant Navy, was given to the service after the First World War by King George V, in recognition of their maintenance of trade during the war and assisting with civilian’s dependence for raw materials and food. They also helped to transport soldiers.
The crew lists and agreements in this collection come from a number of depositories including The National Archives, National Maritime Museum and various local archives and county record offices. These records include agreements from both home trade and foreign trade ships. Home trade ships submitted agreements twice a year and the foreign trade ship agreements were only submitted at the end of a voyage. Therefore, if your ancestor was on home trade ships you could find them on a number of agreements, but those on foreign trade ships may have gaps in years. They do not cover the Royal Navy or provide details of passengers. These lists may be particularly useful in identifying the whereabouts of men missing on the censuses or between census years. During the First World War ships and crew were taken as Prisoners of War.
Part of these records are created from the Crew List Index Project (CLIP), which aims to improve access to the records of British merchant seamen for the late nineteenth century by indexing records from local record offices throughout the UK. The task is ongoing, and volunteer transcribers and checkers are encouraged to get involved. A crew list holds the details of every crew member on board a British merchant ship.
A ship that sailed in British coastal waters completed a crew list every six months. If a vessel sailed outside of British waters then a document called a crew agreement was completed for each voyage. Crew members include a wide variety of professions, such as deckhands, engine staff, stewards, nurses and maids. The crew lists are only for British merchant ships.
The records document the employment of each member of the crew. Individuals would ‘sign on’ when they began their employment, either at the start of the voyage, or when they joined the ship at one of its ports of call. They ‘signed off’ at the end of the voyage or, if they chose not to finish, at a port of call.
Lascars is a term used by Europeans usually to refer to Indian seamen who served on British ships; however, it has been used for other Asian, African and other foreign seamen. We can discover Lascars by their recorded Role on the vessel. Large numbers of Lascars were contracted for British ships because of their knowledge of the local area and skills. However, they were usually paid less than the British seamen employed and were often treated poorly. The life of a Lascar is described in the historic novel * Sea of Poppies* by Amitav Ghosh.
The Navigation Act of 1660 restricted the employment of non-English seamen. This act meant that many Lascars who arrived in England from India could not be re-employed on a British ship back to India, therefore they were abandoned and left to fend for themselves. It was repealed in 1849. Over the years, this practice led to the creation of specialised hostels, seamen’s homes and charitable organisations. Many of the seamen who were stranded in England began to settle, create their own communities and became part of British society. By the 1890s an estimated 12,000 Lascars had settled in Britain.
Some of the Roles for Lascars were recorded differently than those of British seamen. Below is a list of some of the different roles.
Lascars and British equivalent
First Class Lascar – Able Seaman
Second Class Lascar – Ordinary Seaman
Seacunny - Quartermaster
Serang – Bosun or Boatswain
Tindal – Bosun’s Mate
Serang – Donkeyman
Tindal – Donkeyman
Butler – Second Steward
Bhandary – Cook
Masalchi – Galley assistant