Find of the month - The Survey Photo Album - June 2015

The Digitisation Team have been finding some fascinating and beautiful items down in the archive whilst preparing for the pilot digitisation project and we thought it would be simply criminal to not share some of the best with you. Every month, we intend to discuss one of our favourite documents that we have found deep in the archive in the hope that it may intrigue you as much as it has us! 

This month’s discovery was not only wholly unexpected and thus far unique but it was also absolutely fascinating with a surprisingly high degree of detail. From the rest of our blog, it has perhaps become apparent that the majority of the collection consists of survey reports, plans and correspondence, however there is also the occasional photograph that has wriggled its way into the collection. However, even with the existence of these hidden gems, the importance of what was found recently in the archive cannot be overstated.

It began with looking in the sole box the archive has on surveys conducted at Barry. This port was opened in 1889, chiefly to export coal and was located close to Cardiff. Below are some photos of it in the early 1900s - ( 


No. 1 Dock, looking towards the Breakwater. A tug is approaching the roller bridge across the Basin entrance and a steamer is in the lady Windsor lock ready to leave the Docks. 1920’s. 


Quayside of the newly opened no. 2 Dock. 1898. 


No. 1 Dock and Coal tips in the early 1900s

Whilst looking through the various documents, the team came across this perplexing object. Unfortunately, at some point it has been folded and a deep crease spans its width.


Paper albums such as this have not been found elsewhere in the collection so we opened the cover with some curiosity and this is what we discovered…


There were two highly detailed, beautiful black and white photos that portrayed a close up of ship damage.


The album clearly stated that it was related to the survey of the SS Cornwall. She was built in 1896 by Hawthorn Leslie and Co as a steam cargo ship for the Federal Steam Navigation Company (see her register book entry from 1897-1898). 


The pictures are from 29th January 1913 and show the detail of damage made to a wooden beam within the ship.


Interested in why these photographs were taken, the team delved into the associated correspondence for an explanation and were quickly obliged!


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LR’s principal Surveyor at Cardiff, Mr Hand was asked to survey the ship as it was being sold by the current owners to an Italian purchaser, Mr Clerici. There was one particular part of the ship that was of concern, the sole piece of stern frame, which had been eaten away, where the tips of the propeller pass. It was determined that this was likely due to galvanic action as the propeller blades were made of Stone’s Bronze (Galvanic corrosion is an electrochemical process in which one metal corrodes preferentially to another when both metals are in electrical contact, in the presence of an electrolyte).

This had been recognised by the current ship’s owner and a steel plate shoe had been fitted to prevent further deterioration. The damage had occurred when she was engaged in transport service during the South African War when she was laid up for some time at the Cape. The owner stated that it had not further deteriorated in the 9 years this shoe had been in place.


The deterioration was not severe enough to be of concern and although several processes were considered to fix it, it was determined that such solutions were only temporary and would require subsequent examinations at dry dock. As a result it was recommended to fit a new steel plate shoe set in waterproof red lead as a permanent repair and the wasted part of the sole piece be filled in.

The ship was later purchased by Società Anonima Ilva, Genoa and renamed Atlantide (see the register book entry below).


She did however, share an ending that was all too frequent for merchant ships at this time. On 9th February 1918 she was sunk during her passage from Genoa – New Orleans by the German submarine U-156 (Konrad Gansser) off Madeira and that is where she remains, steel plate and all. 

We hope that this little insight into the SS Cornwall’s hidden history has interested you as much as it did us. We were certainly astonished by this part of the collection that has not been seen before and the ship story that has emerged from it. 

All photos of the ship below are from Wikimedia Commons.