Plymouth's Other Fleet The Merchant Shipping Registers of the Port of Plymouth 1814-1815 & 1817-1876
By Gary Hicks. Price £18.00 plus £2.00 post and packing, published in 2007 by the author and available from him at 10 Sarum Close, Hartley Vale, Plymouth PL3 5SH. Website
CD-ROM, ISBN 0-9552265-0-3
While most maritime researchers will have used merchant shipping registers from time to time, these will be much less familiar to researchers with interests in local, business and family history, which is a pity because they include a wealth of information on people, occupations, mortgages, bankruptcies, deaths, probate and so on. Perhaps one reason these registers are not more widely used is because they are arranged in chronological order of registration with no indexes available other than to vessels' names. With the full-text search facilities on this CD it is possible to follow any line of enquiry without having to rely on existing indexes.
The format of the registration particulars is closely modelled on the original document. This includes the origin of the vessel, description, owners, masters and the eventual reason for cancelling the registration. These details, for each of the 1800 vessels listed, together with the search facilities would alone make this a very useful resource, but there is much more than this on the CD.
The original Plymouth registration particulars are followed by a summary of transactions including changes extracted from any subsequent Plymouth registrations. Any changes to the vessel itself are followed by changes of owners including details of any mortgages, probate and executors. Changes of master include the date and place at which the change was registered. As those who have done any research on shipping registers will know, these details can only be found by referring to each subsequent registration document together with the associated transaction books.
Supplementing these official details are extracts from local newspapers, either transcribed or as images of the actual press cutting. The newspapers record such details as accidents not appearing in the official record, advertisements for sale and bankruptcy notices. In many cases, information has been included from other sources such as personal communications, published works, Lloyd's List etc. The author has included notes regarding incorrect pagination of the bound registers and their subsequent micro-filming, most useful for anyone wishing to carry out their own research using the original documents.
Although registration of vessels above 15 tons became compulsory in 1786, owing to various misfortunes the Plymouth registers for the years 1786 to 1813 and 1816 have been lost. The author has reconstructed an impressive amount of the missing information by reference to later re-registrations at Plymouth and other ports and to other documents in the National Archives. All the available information is in a file "The Missing Years" which is classified by year and vessel's name.
The CD includes several documents written by the author and containing background information which helps to set the shipping registers in context:-
A list of Plymouth shipbuilders with references to the registers and other documents in which they are mentioned, together with links to histories of the principal shipbuilding families and 19th century large scale maps annotated with the locations of the shipbuilding yards.
A description of the various code flags used during the period, in some cases the register transcript is annotated with images of the flags corresponding to the vessel's signal letters.
A description of rigs with statistics on when and where built and registered for each type of rig.
A fleet perspective giving an overview and statistics relating to the development and decline of shipbuilding and shipowning in Plymouth and its immediate neighbourhood. The statistics include: composition of the fleet by rig; number of registrations by year; tonnage by year; fates of Plymouth vessels; losses by year.
A gazetteer to places mentioned in the registers. Many of the place-names do not appear on modern maps so this is an invaluable reference particularly for those of us without detailed local knowledge.
Notes on the procedure for registering captured enemy vessels as prizes of war.
For those wishing to consult the relevant legislation, the CD also includes the full text of sixteen Acts of Parliament relating to registration of shipping from 1786 to 1872.
The amount of work that has gone into this is enormous, and Gary Hicks is to be congratulated on producing such a valuable research tool.
See also the additional comments from David Clement
Reviewed by Dave Hills
Add your comments
Please note: this is not an email facility, all comments are placed on
this page and on our Forum