A valuable resource for genealogists and maritime historians alike has recently been made available on-line on the Library’s Full Catalogue. The Aberystwyth Shipping Records contain crew accounts and agreements (generally known as crew lists) and logbooks, together with associated papers and correspondence, 1856-1914, for 544 merchant vessels registered at the port of Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire. Included are ships confined to British coastal waters, together with vessels carrying cargo to all parts of the world. The records have been arranged alphabetically by each vessel with associated crew lists and logbooks arranged chronologically.
In addition to listing the crew on each separate voyage, the crew lists contain details as to their age and place of birth, home address, previous vessel on which they served, date of leaving their present ship, in what capacity they were employed, together with reasons for leaving, if relevant. The official logbooks kept by the ship’s master record accidents, illnesses, birth or death on board, misconduct, deserters, punishment, and other entries relevant to the conduct of crew members – for example, skulduggery on board the ship Lovina in July 1867 is recorded in an entry relating to John Nicholson, aged 37, a cook from London, who threatened the captain and other crew members with murder and mutiny were he not discharged at Cagliari.
The harsh realities of life on the ocean waves are brought into stark relief in entries recording the death of individuals and the fate of vessels shipwrecked or lost at sea. From accidents on board ship (e.g. Thomas Oliver Jones from Aberystwyth, master of the ship Ellen Beatrice, who died at Cowes ‘by an iron hook falling on his head, from the boom, whil[st] in collision with ketch Alford’, 1910); to drowning at sea (e.g. John H. Jones, aged 15 from Borth, Cardiganshire, who fell overboard and was lost off Dover, 1886, or the crew of the vessel Maelota, lost with all hands in Holyhead Bay on passage from Dublin to Swansea, 1883); and crew members succumbing to illnesses and diseases on distant shores (e.g. John Owen, aged 21, of Blaenau Ffestiniog, who died in 1909 of typhoid in Genitschesk [Ukraine], John Thomas, apprentice, who died in hospital at Santos, Brazil, of yellow fever, 1877, or Samuel Morris, aged 28, of Cardigan, who died of leprosy at Rangoon, 1868), the fate, often tragic, of individuals and ships can be traced from one voyage to the next over several decades. Whilst children from the age of 12 onwards are often listed as crew members, Evan Davies, 9 years old, from Llansanffraid, Cardiganshire, included in 1857 as a crew member on board the vessel Ellen (‘this being his first ship’), is surely the youngest crew member listed among the records.
A volunteering project to transcribe available information relating to all crew members on ships registered at Aberystwyth is now underway at the Library. The end product will comprise a searchable database containing thousands of names of crew members, ships and ports, both in the UK and abroad. For more information, or to register an interest, please contact:
Gwyneth Davies, Volunteers’ Co-ordinator
Phone: 01970 632991
Alwyn J. Roberts