This record is held by West Sussex Record Office

Details of SR
Reference: SR

The records are those of the Registrar-General of Shipping and Seamen


They are the returns which were required to be made to the Registrar-General by masters of all vessels in pursuance of the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1854 - 1906


The P.R.O. retained a random sample, and the National Maritime Museum has taken a complete sample at intervals of 10 years (1865 etc.). Local R.O.'s were then offered the rest, and in West Sussex it was decided to take the records of all ships known to have been registered at Shoreham and Arundel (later Littlehampton) in the period. East Sussex took a sample of records for ships registered at Rye and Newhaven


In September 1970 visits were made to the Custom Houses at Shoreham and Littlehampton to examine the Merchant Shipping Registers and to extract the Official Numbers of vessels registered in the two ports. Visits were then made to the P.R.O. repository at Hayes, and arrangements made for the transfer of the records to the W.S.R.O


The records cover the period 1863 - 1913, and fall into three main categories : Log Books, Agreements, and Accounts of Crews and Voyages


Log Books


The 1854 Act required that an Official Log be kept in all ships, except those employed exclusively in trading between ports on the coasts of the U.K., while the 1894 Act extended those requirements to cover all ships. Masters were required to make entries concerning offences committed by crew members with their punishments; illnesses and injuries to crew members and the treatment given; births, deaths, and marriages on board ship, and collisions in which the ship was involved


Voyages of sailing ships to the Baltic lasted only 2 - 3 months, but those to Mediterranean ports took 9 or 10 months, and voyages to South American ports occasionally took as long as 18 months. Discipline was not always easy to maintain on such long trips, and occasionally degenerated to near mutiny. The Captain of the ANDROMEDA of Shoreham on one occasion reports that he was compelled to do all the work himself and only saw the crew when they staggered on deck and swore at him for not steering the ship in a straight line (S.R. 275/21)




The master of every ship except those of less than 80 tons employed only in the home trade, was required to enter into an Agreement with each member of his crew. This specified the nature and likely duration of the voyage; the number and description of the crew; the capacity in which each crew member was to serve; the wage each crew member was to receive; and the scale of provisions to be provided


Accounts of Crews and Voyages


The master of every ship was required to make a return showing the number and date of the ship's register and her registered tonnage; the length and general nature of the voyage; and the names, ages, and birth places of all the crew, with their ratings, last ships or other employment, and dates and places of joining the present ship


These records are mainly concerned with the crews and the voyages undertaken by the ships. Almost no explicit given about cargoes, or about ship construction and ownership, which can be got from the Shipping Registers in the Customs House of the port of registration


Some conclusions can be drawn. The general pattern of trade for coasting vessels appeared to be the collection of coal from the N.E. (e.g. Newcastle, S. Shields, Hartlepool, and Sunderland) or S. Wales (e.g. Cardiff, Swansea, Llanelly, and Pembrey), its transport to London, the South Coast or Northern France, and a return voyage to the coal ports in ballast


In the Foreign trade, voyages to the Baltic and Gulf of Bothnia were common (Cronstadt, Gothenburg, Norrhoping, Stockholm) - probably for Iron Ore, deals etc. Regular trips were made to the Mediterranean and Black Sea Ports - Alexandria and Constantinople. Voyages were also made to S. America (Colombo, Valparaiso), and to Australia and New Zealand


There are records for 461 ships, sometimes over 50 documents per. ship, and altogether there are about 110 boxes of shipping records, mostly for sailing ships of 100 - 500 tons, and steam ships only appear on the lists from the early 1870's


A separate list showing the ports visited by a ship on each voyage is also available on request


In the catalogue, 'Title' comprises the following information: Name of ship; official number; port number/year of registry; where registered; home/foreign; steam/sail; when built; where built; tonnage; destination; number of documents

Date: 1863-1913
Held by: West Sussex Record Office, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, 1872-1992

Physical description: 461 files
Access conditions:

Records are open for consultation unless otherwise indicated

  • West Sussex
  • Sea transport

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