Bringing the lists together
In 1966, some nine million crew lists were due to be transferred from the Register General of Shipping and Seamen to the then Public Record Office. The sheer scale of the collection led to the decision being made by the Public Record Office to preserve just a 10 per cent sample with the remainder being scheduled for destruction.
Needless to say this decision was met with considerable opposition from maritime, social and labour historians as no collection existed containing such comprehensive information on working men’s lives. In the face of this growing opposition, the National Maritime Museum agreed to take a further 10 per cent. Among the selection was the remainder of the years ending in ‘5’ that had not already gone to the Public Record Office. This was to prove significant for the 1915 project.
Local record offices were then invited to take crew lists that were of local interest, such as ships that were built, registered or frequently used the local port. This still left about 70 per cent of the collection without a home, and it was some home that was required for the approximately 6,500 metres of lists remaining. In the end, one was found at the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland ( www.mun.ca/mha).
To give an idea of the collection’s scale, it was shipped out to Canada in six shipping containers. Although the collection is far too vast to ever be united physically, the Crew List Index Project ( CLIP), The National Archives, the Maritime History Archive and the National Maritime Museum are working towards reuniting the collection online, with TNA’s 1915 project just one element of this huge undertaking.