Logbooks for British and American Ships in Persian Gulf: 19th Century

I B's picture

Dear All,

My name is Isacar Bolaños, and I am a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University, where I study the environmental history of the Middle East.

I am writing to ask whether anyone on H-Martime knows where I might be able to find logbooks for British and American merchant ships that travelled to the Persian Gulf (as far up as Basra, if possible) during the 19th century. I am also wondering if anyone knows of any books or articles that might mention the names of such merchant ships, since knowing the names may help me in finding specific logbooks, too.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration in reading this message; I appreciate it greatly.

All the best,

Isacar Bolaños

Dear Isacar,

Most of my research is based on nineteenth-century British merchant marine vessels operating in the Arctic and North Atlantic. I am unfamiliar with shipping in the Persian Gulf, but here are a few pointers that may help you in your search:

The largest and most comprehensive deposit of British merchant crew agreements and official ship logbooks is located at the Maritime History Archive (MHA) on the campus of Memorial University, Newfoundland (MUN) in St John's. Their web address is: https://www.mun.ca/mha/index.php. Heather Wareham is the head archivist, and her staff is fantastic.

Other sources for British crew agreements (aka, crew lists) and official ship logbooks are the National Archives at Kew and the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. The National Archives holds most of the records up to 1860/61, and the MHA holds 70% of all official merchant ships' papers thereafter.

Official logbooks contain brief descriptions of every significant event that affected the vessel, crew or cargo during a voyage. Among other things, ship masters were required to record injuries, illnesses, deaths, punishments, desertions, stowaways, discharges and transfers, promotions and port calls. Other logbooks (captain's log, navigational log, engineer's log) recorded different types of details, and it is those which are more likely to contain daily information on weather conditions, sea state, and position.

If you are interested in the official ship logbooks, then you will need to know the vessel's official ship number. All British merchant vessels were assigned an official ship number. Ships could change names and registered homeports, but as long as they were British vessels, they kept the same official ship number.

If you find the name of a vessel, but do not know its number, try using the Crew List Index Project (CLIP). It takes a bit of sleuthing since many ships often shared the same name, but once you lock in the ship number, you can search MHA's crew agreement catalog. The web address for CLIP is http://www.crewlist.org.uk

I hope this helps get you started. You have a fascinating field of study!

Best wishes,

Matt Ylitalo
PhD candidate, Modern History
University of St Andrews

Dear Isacar,

Logbooks of US merchant and whaling vessels survive dispersed across many archives. Some of these archives provide indexes that list ports of call (e.g. New Bedford Whaling Museum, Nantucket Historical Association). For merchant vessels sailing to the Persian Gulf, I assume you could find relevant logbooks in the manuscript collections of the Peabody Essex Museum and the G.W. Blunt White Library of Mystic Seaport. To find names of vessels sailing in this sea area, a promising starting point is to look for the records of the nearest US consulates on the way (I'm not sure which ones would be the most relevant here; US consulates were established 1834 on Zanzibar, 1855 on Mauritius, 1860 on Madagascar, 1867 on the Seychelles, and 1890 in Addis Abeba, among other places). The consulates registered all US ships that frequented the harbour, including information on their next destination. These records can be easily accessed at the National Archives and Records Administration.

For the British case, I suggest you start with 'Lloyd's List' to identify relevant vessels. Many editions have been digitised (http://www.maritimearchives.co.uk/lloyds-list.html), the others can be accessed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Best wishes


Hi Isacar,
If you're interested in Royal Navy ships, the way to do it would be first to look at NMM Kew ADM 8, Disposition lists, which tell you where Royal Navy ships are deployed- sometimes by station, sometimes by specific destinations. Then you can call up individual logs in another series-either at Kew, Caird or MUN