Maritime History Research Guide

A guide to archives and published sources relating to maritime history.

Although a land-locked county, Derbyshire Record Office does hold maritime records created or collected by Derbyshire people

Ships and boats

Material relating to ships and boats has all been subject indexed in our online catalogue under the term ‘seagoing vessels’.  You can also search for narrower terms such as: ships, yachts, privateers and submarines. Some ships have been name indexed on our catalogue.

In our collections we hold a small number of photographs, artworks, and plans of ships and boats. There are also a few ships logs, including logs for British Navy ships HMS Leander for 1820-1822 and HMS Satellite for Feb-Aug 1822.

Accounts for the merchant ship Lady Fitzherbert 1829-1832 include equipment, crew and cargo manifests for journeys between London and Jamaica transporting rum, sugar and spices produced through enslaved labour.


Material relating to people serving on board ship has been indexed under the term ‘sailors’. There are a small number of records relating to pirates but the majority of the records we hold relate to naval personnel. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, younger sons of gentry families often went into the Royal Navy, and records relating to them, usually letters sent home to their family, are found in family collections.  Examples are:

Commander Augustus Peter Arkwright (1821-1887), who served in the Royal Navy from the age of 12 until 1869

Captain Charles Barker (1811-1860), who served in the Americas, West Indies, East Indies and China

Sir John Franklin (1786-1847), who led the doomed Franklin Expedition in 1845

Admiral Sir George Mundy (1777-1861), who captained HMS Hydra during the Napoleonic wars.

Henry Miller Mundy (1803-1822), who went to sea at 14 and was training as a midshipman when he died aged 19.

Twentieth century records are more likely to relate to sailors during the Second World War, such as Frank Byard, Leading Stoker, who served on HMS Birmingham.

Experiences of ship passengers

Searching our catalogue for the term ‘ocean travel’ will bring up all records that are known to mention journeys by sea.  Travel journals and letters of ship crew and passengers can include information about life on board ship and ports visited.  Some examples are:

The journal of Benjamin Bakewell from London to New York in 1793, which recounts an eventful journey: being boarded by a press-gang, chased and boarded by French and British ships, a smallpox outbreak and resulting deaths, as well as descriptions of the weather, sailing conditions, sea life encountered, and so on.

The journal of William Porden describing a trip across the English Channel to France in the ‘Eliza’ in 1816, which includes a diagram of the accommodations on board.

The 1836 journal of Eleanor Franklin, the 11 year old daughter of Sir John Franklin, of their voyage to Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania, Australia] to which Franklin had been appointed Lieutenant Governor.

Letters from William Adlington Howitt whilst travelling to and from Australia in 1885-1886.

Cruising and yachting for pleasure

In the nineteenth century, wealthy people were able to holiday on yachts, and by the twentieth century they could travel on luxury cruise ships. Records of such holidays can be found by searching our catalogue for the term ‘ocean travel’.

Photographs and photograph albums of ocean travel include trips on yachts and cruise liners, and we also have accounts and paperwork relating to yachts owned by wealthy families.

The archive of Nellie Hodgkins, a stewardess for the Cunard Line cruise ships from the 1920s to 1960s, includes letters, photographs and other material relating to world cruises.

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