Merchant Sailors Records, 1855-1948 (featuring Tony Robinson) | Ancestry

I am in Greenwich on board the wonderfully renovated Cutty Sark and we are launching digitally for the first time the records of examinations that all the mates and officers in the Merchant Navy had to undergo between the year 1850 and 1927. These are incredibly interesting records, the Merchant Navy had a real problem which was that so many people were getting drunk on board their ships. I mean you could understand, it on a ship like this people would have been away from home for maybe a year they would have been away from any port for months so they must have been screaming with boredom. In addiction the water would have gone brackish so they could not drink the water. So rum was the only answer. And boy oh boy, did they get a bad habit. And so it was decided in 1850 that it would be a good idea if the senior members of ships underwent an examination to make sure that they could navigate properly, that they could conduct themselves properly and that they were not alcoholics. And that is what we have got now. The records have been here since the 1970’s and they came to us from the board of trade. So we have had them for over 40 years in the National Maritime Museum. Having them digitised is fantastic because they are one of the most heavily used parts of the collection. These records are not just typed neatly out when companies like get them. They are often in a terrible state. They have to be cleaned up over months in order for us to be able to read them properly. All of us now have available to us the history of our family for two, three, four hundred years back. And no one in history has ever been able to do that before and I think that is enormously exciting and privileging.


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