Tag Archives: linked data

Posted - 19-09-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News / Research

Aberystwyth shipping records

Creating linked open data for Victorian shipping registers

Volunteers at the National Library of Wales have been transcribing 19th century shipping records for Aberystwyth and these are now being shared openly on Wikidata by the Library’s National Wikimedian.


For the first time it is now possible to visualise and query this rich historical record giving us a glimpse of life in 19th century Aberystwyth.


In the 18th and 19th Century the Welsh ‘interior’ was not easy to reach. Before the coming of the train and the invention of tarmac, the best way to get goods in and out of West Wales was by boat. Shipping was a booming industry in towns and villages along the West Wales coast and Aberystwyth was no exception. Records for more than 500 ships registered in Aberystwyth survive at the National Library of Wales and Ceredigion County Archive.


Aberystwyth Harbour by Alfred Worthington


Volunteers at the National Library began transcribing the Aberystwyth shipping records in 2012. The data they extracted contained information about the ships, their crew and the voyages they undertook.


In 2016 the library began to explore the possibility of enriching some elements of the data using Wikidata as a platform to share this data. If you are unfamiliar with Wikidata, it is part of the Wikimedia family of websites, which includes Wikipedia, and is a massive database of free to use data. It isn’t even six years old but it already contains 50 million data items about all sorts of places, people, things and concepts, all added by volunteers and organisations wishing to share their data with the world. The library’s Wikimedian collaborated with Ceredigion County Archives, who held additional information about the ships in order to create linked data about the ships themselves. This data included details such as the type and size of each ship, the date and location of construction and, where known, their fate.


From this, we were able to begin digging around in the data, and creating revealing visualisations. If you wanted to see the most popular names for ships registered in Aberystwyth, for example, we can easily retrieve and present this information. A map of where the ships were built revealed some interesting facts too. As you might expect, many ships were build locally in Aberystwyth, Borth and Aberdyfi, for example, but the data also reveals that dozens of ships were built in Canada. A little more research revealed that the government of the day was so concerned about a French invasion that they deliberately established ship building yards in safer lands, such as Prince Edward Island off the Canadian Coast, in order to safeguard the ability to move good around the uk by boat.

Word map of most popular ship names


Left; ships built in eastern Canada. Right; Ships built in Aberystwyth and Aberdyfi


We were also able to plot all the shipwrecks mentioned in the records. This not only highlights the perils of 19th century shipping, but reveals how ships from West Wales villages were traveling the world. From India, China and Africa to South America and even the South Pole, Welsh sailors were very well traveled.


The location of shipwrecks recorded in the shipping records


After the initial transcription work, many of the volunteers who had worked on the collection were keen to do more, to collect more information about the ships, their crew and their owners, so in 2017 a series of new tasks were set. Volunteers began searching for photographs and paintings of the ships, investigating the fate of more of the vessels, recording the owners of each vessel and they began the mammoth task of researching the lives of every ship’s master mentioned in the records.


Whilst the task of identifying all the ships masters will take some time yet, the first of the tasks  has now been completed. Data about the owners of each ship exists in the original shipping records, but was not within the scope of the initial project, so two of the volunteers who worked on the original project, Lilian and Myfanwy kindly went back through the records, and other sources such as the Crew List Index Project and extracted the the data. Much of this has now been incorporated with the rest of the data for each ship on Wikidata. Apart from providing an easy way to search and explore the data held within the collection the improved Wikidata allows us to query and visualize the data in new ways, which helps us better understand what these records tell us.


The new data now means that for many ships, we can chart its ownership throughout its life on the seas. We have also been able to create data items for each of the ships owners, be they individuals or established shipping companies. We know where the companies were based, and where individuals lived, and we know, from their names whether they were men or women.


For example we know that of the 630 owners identified, 47 were women. More research would be need, but at first glance it would appear that most of those 47 took ownership following the death of their husbands.


The records show how the ships often changed hands regularly. If we take the rather appropriately named ‘Volunteer’ we can plot a chart which shows all of its owners, the other ships those people owned, and the other owners of those ships – painting a complex picture of the business of ship ownership in West Wales. And it should be stated that the 630 owners identified will, in many cases, simply be the majority shareholders, or the appointed owner/manager. Many of these ships had multiple shareholders, meaning people from many walks of life could afford to invest in the busy shipping trade.


Owners of the ‘Volunteer’ with other connected ships and their owners


We can also see who the big players were in Aberystwyth by querying ship owners by the number of ships they owned. Thomas Jones, an Aberystwyth shipbuilder comes top of the pyle, owning more than 20 vessels at one time of another.


Ship owners, ordered by the number of ships they have owned


Timeline showing the ships owned by Thomas Jones


Wikidata, like Wikipedia, is a platform which anyone can edit so any one can now help to improve the data. If they spot mistakes, or have extra information it can be easily added directly to Wikidata. Our volunteers are still working hard to collect even more data so the amount of data connected to the Aberystwyth Shipping records will continue to grow over the coming months and years. Everyone is free to explore and reuse the data, so for the technically minded among you, please feel free to hack, create, mash and re-work our data, and be sure to share the results with us!


Jason Evans

National Wikimedian

Tags: , , , , , ,

Posted - 27-06-2018

Collections / Digitisation / News / News and Events / Research

Welsh Portrait Collection

4800 Welsh portraits added to Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata

Over the last 4 years the National Library of Wales has worked with Wikimedia to provide open access to more than 10,000 public domain images. These include the Welsh Landscape Collection, photographs, maps and manuscripts.


This partnership has led to more than 455 million views of Wikipedia articles containing National Library images to date.



Now the Library is pleased to announce that nearly 5000 portrait prints, photographs and paintings have been placed in the public domain on Wikimedia Commons.


Along with the images, the Library’s National Wikimedian has also shared rich metedata for every image as linked open data on Wikidata.


The Library’s main goal in releasing such content is to increase access to our collections and to contribute to the creation and sharing of knowledge about Wales and its people.


It is now hopped that the Wikimedia community will begin to use these images to illustrate Wikipedia articles. The National Library also plans to run a project to increase engagement with this collection, and hopes that volunteers will be encouraged to create Wikipedia articles about the Welsh sitters, artists, printers and photographers involved in the collection.


Because all these images are freely downloadable and in the public domain, we also encourage others to reuse them for any purpose they see fit, from education to the creative industries this is a free resource for everybody.


The creation of linked data for the collection also offers interesting opportunities for researchers and academics. For the first time we can properly disambiguate (untangle) the names of the artists and sitters in order to better understand the makeup of the collection. For example 12 different individuals named John Jones have been identified in the collection, and we now know who they all are, and many are now connected via Wikidata to Wikipedia articles or Dictionary of Welsh Biography entries.


We can query and visualize the data in a number of ways using a Sparql query service. For example, we can analyze which engravers copied works by specific artists, and we can see the most frequently depicted types of people (clerics, by a country mile) and features, such as coats of arms, and border decoration.

visualisation of the data showing which printers copied work by certain artists
Visualization of the most frequently depicted things in the collection

We can easily visualize the sitters who appear most in the images using Wikidata’s ‘Main subject’ property. General Thomas Picton, a Welsh born war hero is depicted most often, with 32 portraits. Interestingly his Wikipedia article reveals he was not such a great hero after all, having been convicted of abusing women.

Visualization of the most frequently depicted sitters

We can also explore the collection chronologically and a first look reveals a clear correlation between the popularity of certain types of portrait and historical events. For example the number of images of preachers and clergymen increase dramatically at times of Religious revival.

A timeline of the most frequently depicted things in the collection over time


Wikidata is a multilingual platform, so it also allows us to utilize the multilingual nature of Wikidata’s descriptive labels to view our data in dozens of languages. The Metadata held by the library for this collection was only available in English, however, by converting it to Wikidata 83% of the 40,000 data items were automatically available in Welsh, thanks to the work of Wikidata volunteers, who have added Welsh language labels to many Wikidata items. We hope to engage with Welsh speaking volunteers in order to make 100% of the data available in Welsh.


Linking our heritage

Another advantage of sharing our data on a public platform like Wikidata is that many other institutions have done the same, and this means that we can begin to build an extensive network of connected data. The data allows us to connect our own collections together, so for example we can see which publishers have published works in both the Welsh Portrait Collection but also the Welsh Landscape Collection. We have also been able to quickly identify over 400 portraits of people featured in the dictionary of Welsh Biography, and we are now connecting those portraits to the Welsh Biography Website.

All images by one publisher. Blue denotes images in the Welsh Portrait Collection and yellow shows images published by the same publisher which now form part of the Welsh Landscape Collection

Beyond our own institution, we can see which of our sitters also have portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, and we can identify the artists and sitters in our collection who have an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry. In this way the worlds cultural heritage can be connected together to provide the public with easy access, in one place, to a rich and diverse range of sources.


Jason Evans, National Wikimedian

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted - 23-06-2016

Collections / Digitisation / Research

The life and times of Mr Herbert Ellerby: Linking Llandudno, Lancashire, and Moggill, Australia

A guest post by the National Library’s Wikidata Visiting Scholar

More than three-quarters of the 4,800 prints in the Welsh Landscape Collection have now been added to Wikidata as part of the Linking Landscapes project, which was launched in April. The goal of this project is to create high quality Wikidata for the entire collection, with every print being represented by an item in the database and linked with other items by statements that capture the characteristics of each work. In order to achieve this goal, metadata for the collection have been converted into statements that are comprised of Wikidata properties and values, thus forming links between the prints and other entities in the database. The properties correspond to metadata elements, such as title, description, artist, publisher, date, medium etc., and the values can record temporal or quantitative data, such as publication date and dimensions, or can link to related Wikidata items. These items can be the people involved in creating and distributing the prints, such as artists, engravers, printers and publishers, production methods like etching, aquatint and mezzotint engraving, subjects depicts, for example geographic locations, and descriptors of image content, which can include objects, concepts and activities.

After the initial process of assigning a Wikidata property to each metadata element and structuring the metadata in a spreadsheet so that it was in a suitable format to upload via the Quick Statements tool, it was possible to replace a large amount of the semantic metadata with the Qxx number of the corresponding Wikidata item. Metadata for approximately 3,000 prints were fully converted into Wikidata statements in this manner, which enabled the project to progress quickly. Lists were generated of the geographic locations/features, artists, and publishers that remained in their semantic form due to either the absence of an equivalent Wikidata item or lack of necessary information to identify and/or disambiguate them.

Most of the publishers have now been identified using a combination of the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) and British Book Trade Index (BBTI) databases and the information, such as addresses, contained within the prints themselves. In many cases, the publishers and artists overlap, particularly where the publisher is a lithographic printer or print seller for example, and the same resources, along with Benezit Dictionary of Artists, have, therefore, also been valuable for identifying and describing artists and engravers in the collection. The information gathered from these sources has been used to create Wikidata items for some 150 publishers and, if possible, a statement containing the VIAF identifier has been used to link these data to existing authority files. In the instances where a publisher does not have an entry in either VIAF or BBTI, it has been necessary to conduct further research to identify them, drawing on a range of digitised newspapers, directories, books and documents. Bring together the information available in range of dispersed sources has the potential produce interesting, and somewhat unexpected, results, as the example below shows.

The Library of Congress’ copy of the fourth edition of John Hicklin’s The hand-book to Llandudno has been digitised and we find, bound in the back of it, sixteen pages of publisher’s advertisements under the title Catherall and Prichard’s hand-book to Llandudno. Although Catherall & Prichard were co-publishers of this book and, as stated in the colophon, they were also responsible for its printing, the mere presence of the colophon before these extra pages and the change in running head confirm that they are not part of Hicklin’s work. This well disguised supplement was included by Catherall & Prichard, who evidently seized the opportunity to increased their earnings on this title by selling advertising space to local traders, thus providing them with a medium through which they could promote their establishments to an audience of Victorian tourists who purchased this travel guide, which had been published in London, Chester and Bangor, before or during their visit to the Queen of Welsh Resorts, Llandudno. These advertisements are a valuable source of information concerning several of the publishers in the Welsh Landscape Collection.

The firm Catherall & Prichard, comprised of the Chester bookmen Thomas Catherall and George Prichard, was itself responsible for publishing around eighteen of the prints during their partnership; Catherall also issued nearly one hundred prints under his name alone. At the foot of the third page of Catherall & Prichard’s hand-book, William Bridge (1808-86), a bookseller and stationer based in Conwy, who published around fifteen of the prints in the collection, advertises the Llandudno branch of his circulating library which, in addition to lending books for a fee, offered visitors to the town a selection of newspapers from London and the provinces every Saturday, presumably received in the weekly delivery of books and periodicals that he received from London. Indeed, Bridge’s Llandudno premises seems to have catered for the tourist market, which flourished after the town was connected to the railway network in 1858, with ‘views’, i.e. prints and photographs, and hats, both straw and fancy, for ladies and children amongst his range of souvenirs. On the very same page is the advertisement of another bookseller, Herbert Ellerby (1817-95). Unlike Bridge, who lived and worked in Conwy all his life, Ellerby was new in town.

Herbert Ellerby was born in York, the fourth born child of William (1771-1839) and Martha (1783-1859). His father was a shoemaker in Leeds until he became a travelling agent for the Religious Tract Society, and it was due to the responsibilities of this role that the birthplaces of his six children were distributed between Leeds, York and Whitby. The family crossed the Pennines when William Ellerby established a Religious Tract Society bookshop at 31 Piccadilly, Manchester and it was here that Herbert cut his teeth in the book trade. After William Ellerby died on 6 July 1839, Herbert supported his mother, who had signalled her intention to carry on trading from the Religious Tract Repository in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of 20 July 1839. Shortly after the Repository had relocated to Market Street in 1842, the booksellers were trading as M. Ellerby and Son, an acknowledgement of Herbert’s role in the business, and their advertisements were a regular feature in the Manchester Guardian, until the announcement of their closing down sale appeared in the 17 March 1849 issue of the same newspaper.

Three months later, Herbert Ellerby and his wife Sarah, who he married in 1845, their daughter Maria, and Mrs Ellerby senior were the only cabin passengers on board the Lima when it set sail from Whence, London for the four month journey to Port Jackson, Australia. The crossing does not appear to have been entirely to Ellerby’s satisfaction. In a letter, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 31 December 1849, he recounted how ‘many of the passengers … [were] victimized to a considerable extent’ and described ‘the conduct of Dr [John Dunmore] Lang’, who chartered the Lima, ‘as cruel and unjust in the extreme’. It seems that his discontent did not end there, for the Moreton Bay Courier reported that Ellerby had sued two of his fellow passengers in a dispute over the conveyance of his luggage. After a bad start to his life down under, Ellerby completed the purchase of fifty-five acres of land at Moggill, Brisbane, for fifty-five pounds, in March 1851. It was reported that he planned to use fourteen acres to grow cotton. It is possible that he was successful in this venture, since on 20 January 1855, the Cheshire Observer and General Advertiser noted that a warehouse in Todd Street, Manchester belonging to Herbert Ellerby had burnt down, destroying cotton with a value of £60. The Ellerbys had sailed back to London in March 1854, with two additional members, daughters Jessie and Francis who were born during their time in Australia.

Herbert and Sarah Ellerby arrived Llandudno their three daughters and his mother, during the summer of 1856 and established a bookshop, known as the Central Library, at Tudno House, Church Walks where they had taken up residence. Ellerby’s time in the town is well documented by the advertising and directory listings in The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality, which reveal that he was lending books for a penny per day in 1858, when his first promotional material appeared. In the 24 July 1858 Chronicle we find Ellerby’s announcing a recently published ‘1s. packet of Llandudno Views’, which he ‘offered at 9d’. It is possible that this packet contained some of the prints in the Welsh Landscape Collection, which were engraved by Rock & Co., and published by H. Ellerby in late August and early September 1857. Amongst these five prints, there is one that is distinguished by an initial W., partially erased but not replaced with an H., leaving a gap before the family name. On another print, we find the name W. Ellerby intact, an indication that Herbert’s elder brother, the printer and publisher William Porter Ellerby (1812-81), who was based in Manchester, had some connection to the business in Llandudno.

By June 1859, Ellerby’s Central Library had relocated to new premises on Mostyn Street, as depicted in prints by Day & Son (above) and W. Banks & Son, and he was now offering ‘a great variety of stereoscopic slides … [and] photographs of Welsh scenery’, in addition to his standard range of views, maps and guide books. Indeed, Ellerby seemed determined to cater to even the niche tourist markets and he announced in the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald and North and South Wales Independent of 11 June 1959 that he had published J.M. Coley’s Medical guide for visitors at Llandudno, which he would post to anywhere in the United Kingdom for seven penny postage stamps. Facing competition from two other libraries in the town, Ellerby strived to make his new bookshop the premier haunt for the literary holidaymakers, and he bolstered his own list by offering ‘a selection from Mudie’. If any confirmation is required of just how enticing the town’s libraries were to its visitors, it is provided by Mr Morrell, who advertised his boarding house on Church Walks as ‘situated within three minutes’ walk of the public baths, libraries, and promenade’. But relations between the competing librarians must have, on the whole, remained amiable, for Ellerby published a series of photographic views in collaboration with the postmaster Mr Powell and one of his rivals, Mr Stavely, who could offer his subscribers, in addition to his library stocked with Mudie’s books, a reading and news room, billiards, and warm or cold showers and baths. This innovative combination was apparently not a success and the enterprise was wound up in July 1862. The original premises of the Public Baths, occupying the site of the present-day Grand Hotel, can be seen in one of the prints published Ellerby.

On 14 July 1859, Martha Ellerby died, aged 76. In the years that followed, Herbert Ellerby focused his energy on the Central Library, with his advertisements increasing in both size and number as he promoted his latest publications and new products. However, the loss of his youngest daughter, Henrietta, aged 17 months, on 15 November 1862 seems to have sapped the ambition from Ellerby. He ceased advertising entirely during 1863 and even in the following year those advertisement that carried his name were limited to new titles that listed the booksellers in the town who had stock on hand. Then, on 4 February 1865, an advert appeared in The North Wales Chronicle offering ‘For immediate disposal, A bookseller and stationer’s business, the best in the Town, and thoroughly established.’ Although, Ellerby does not elucidate his reasons for selling, he does reveal that ‘the time is limited’ and states sufficient reasons for the relinquishment will be given. Tantalisingly we are not privy to that information, but it seems probable that his hand was forced by events elsewhere. The London Gazette, 10 February 1865 documents the dissolution of a partnership between one William Porter Ellerby and Frederick Augustus Banks, who were advertising agents operating as Ellerby and Company, on the very same day that the Central Library was put up for sale. The extent to which Herbert Ellerby was exposed to the debts incurred by this concern is not known, but he found a buyer for his business within a month and the only further details of his departure from Llandudno are provided by George Felton of the Mostyn Estate Office, who had been instructed to sell Ellerby’s remaining belongings, household goods including his furniture and carpets, by auction at the Central Library on 14 March.

Ellerby left Llandudno with his family in the spring of 1865 and worked as a bookseller in Sandbach, Cheshire, for some years before moving to Manchester where he lived with his daughters. On 26 April 1895, Herbert Ellerby was admitted to Manchester’s Withington Workhouse, and died there a few weeks later on the 9 May. He is buried in Brooklands Cemetery, Sale, Cheshire, alongside his wife Sarah, and daughters Ethel and Marion. Even though Herbert Ellerby spent less than a decade in Llandudno, he is linked to the town by the prints and books that were published at the Central Library and the output his marketing campaign.

Hopefully, as the remaining items from the Welsh Landscape Collection are added to Wikidata more details will emerge about the artists and engravers who created these prints and the printers, publishers, booksellers and other traders who disseminated them. The activities of some of these individuals are not well documented so it will be fascinating to see if queries in Wikidata can reveal links between their work and others in the book and print trades in Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And even if no connections are discovered in the course of this project all is not lost because there is always the potential for a Wikidata item to link with another item in the future when more collections are added to the database.

Simon Cobb

Volunteer Wikidata Visiting Scholar

National Library of wales

Tags: , , , , , ,




About this blog

A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

About the blog