A farewell to the First and Famous

By Eloisa Rodrigues & Sarah Parsons

(How many nautical phrases can you spot? We may have gone a little overboard…)

From stem to stern, the cataloguing phase of the pilot project has been several intense months of listing, sorting, organising and cataloguing but the time to say farewell has come. The cataloguing phase of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s pilot project ‘First and Famous’ has come an end and we, Eloisa and Sarah, are sad to see it go but certainly proud of the work the whole team has put in. So the title of this blog post might sound a little bit dramatic, but the project itself is not over. This is our farewell to cataloguing all these amazing documents about ships which are the first of their kind, in terms of design and technological advances, or famous in their own right. The pilot project continues now into its next phase, Project Undaunted. This will see the cataloguing of other parts of the collection and also the digitisation of documents catalogued for the pilot project and for Project Undaunted, making this fantastic resource available online for research and discovery.

We (Eloisa and Sarah) have embarked on another short voyage here at the Heritage & Education Centre, cataloguing part of the vast library, before returning to Project Undaunted. In the meantime, here are some of the exciting discoveries we have made while working on the ‘First and Famous’ pilot project.

We have catalogued 112 ‘First and Famous’ ships, totalling 6,911 documents, which include ship plans, survey reports and correspondence. Amongst those items, 547 are ship plans, some of them beautifully drawn and coloured. They are only a small percentage of the archive, and the results and findings of this project make us wonder about the treasures that are still hidden in over 1.5 million documents that comprise the plans and survey reports collection.

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Examples of some of the documents in the archive

The oldest ships catalogued are Lady Kennaway, built in 1817 in Calcutta, and George the Fourth, built in 1825 in London, and the largest ship classed in the 1834 Register Book (this being the year that the Society was reconstituted – you can read more about this in the blog post Class Acts). The most recent one catalogued is the drilling pontoon S.Q.9, built in 1955. S.Q.9 was a sea-going mobile drilling pontoon based at Qatar, and an early example of LR’s work with the offshore industry.

The champion in terms of number of documents catalogued is Lizzie & Annie, with 765 records created – the second and third places go to the barque Pamir and her sister ship Passat, with 535 and 402 records respectively. Lizzie & Annie was built in 1877 and was in service for nearly a century; it was amazing cataloguing her and seeing not only the changes that happened to the ship, but also the changes in the documentation and types of reports.

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Lizzie & Annie documents

The oldest document catalogued, however, dates from 30 June of 1834 and belongs to Undaunted. It is the earliest document for London that we have in the collection and because of that we named our digitisation project after this ship. You can find more about Project Undaunted here. The most recently created item catalogued for the pilot project is a Report of Total Loss for Berlin, ex-Gripsholm, dated 2 December 1966 when the ship was broken up. Built in 1925 in Newcastle, this passenger cargo ship was one of the first ships to use a double-acting oil engine.

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Undaunted, first survey report for London

Famous ships 

We have written a number of blogs about some of the interesting ships we have come across (for example, Orungal and Preussen). Below are some more examples of the fascinating ships we have in the ‘First and Famous’ collection.

Sirius

Sirius was the first iron vessel to be classed by Lloyd’s Register (LR), receiving her ‘A’ classification in 1837 and appearing in the Register Book in 1838. No number of years was added to this classification as iron was still considered experimental in ship construction at this stage and she was subject to annual examinations [1]. Sirius was constructed at William Fairbairn’s yard at Millwall for use on the River Rhône.

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1838 Register Book

Cutty Sark and Thermopylae

Cutty Sark and Thermopylae were composite ships, meaning they were constructed of iron frames planked with wood – this design was used as owners of the ‘tea clippers’ believed that too much iron in the ships’ hulls would taint the tea they were carrying back for sale from Asia [2]. It was actually a Senior LR surveyor (and later Secretary), Bernard Waymouth, who designed Thermopylae [3]. The two ships were built in the mid-19th century and used as cargo vessels over their commercial lives. Cutty Sark survived and is now a museum ship at Greenwich, well-known for being a swift and elegant ‘tea clipper’ in her working life. Cutty Sark was capable of higher speeds than Thermopylae but the two were quite competitive in their day, and Thermopylae made a few journeys faster than Cutty Sark. You can read more about them in our blog, Experimental Improvements in the Construction of Ships.

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Image left, Clipper Thermopylae, source Georges Jansoone, licensed under Creative Commons by 3.0, [https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:M._Reilly.Clipper_ship_Thermopylae.JPG]

Image right, Cutty Sark by Allan Green, source Victoria State Library Allan C. Green collection glass negatives, [https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cutty_Sark_(ship,_1869)_-_SLV_H91.250-164.jpg]

Strathleven and Dunedin

Strathleven and Dunedin were involved in the early trade in frozen meat between Australia, New Zealand and England. Dunedin was an iron sailing ship of 1,320 tons built in 1874 in Glasgow by Robert Duncan and Co for the Albion Ship Co; Strathleven was built a year later in 1875, also in Glasgow, by Blackwood and Gordon for Burrell and Son; she, however, was an iron steamer. In 1880, Strathleven sailed from Australia to the UK with a cargo of frozen meat – 50 tons of frozen beef and mutton. In 1882, Dunedin followed suit, bringing a cargo of frozen lamb from New Zealand to the UK [4]. This was the start of commercially viable transport of frozen meat, opening up markets in the northern hemisphere to the agricultural economies in the southern hemisphere, transforming food consumption habits. The blog Feeding Britain’s City Dwellers looks at this in more depth.

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Dunedin, by Frederick Tudgay; image source: Hockney Library, [https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SS_Dunedin_by_Frederick_Tudgay.JPG]

Fullagar and Vardefjell 

Fullagar was the first fully welded oceangoing ship. She was a motor coaster built by Cammell Laird in 1920, and classed +100A1 with the note “Electrically Welded, Subject to Biennial Survey – Experimental”.[5] In the years prior to the construction of Fullagar, the LR Chief Ship Surveyor, Sir Westcott Abell, carried out research on welding in ship construction and a number of repairs were undertaken using welding before the construction of a fully welded barge in 1918. Abell presented the results to LR’s Technical Committee, and based on this, in 1918 the Provisional Rules for Electrically Welded Vessels were published. [6] A couple of decades later, during the Second World War, there was a need to build more ships as quickly as possible and welding was taken up on a much larger scale than before. However, problems began to appear – there were several incidents of welded ships breaking in two or cracking, a phenomenon known as a brittle fracture. [7] During extracting documents for the pilot project we discovered the ship Vardefjell, who had a very interesting story illustrated by photographic material. As such it was decided to include her in the ‘First and Famous’ project. Vardefjell broke in two in 1942 when travelling in convoy. A Maritime Declaration among the Vardefjell documents showed that her crew – among them boatswain Einer Halvorsen, gunner Harald Skorstad and able seaman Ivar Finnskog – believed that she had been struck by a torpedo. However, this wasn’t borne out by the photographic evidence and other material published by LR. This shows that she suffered a brittle fracture. The damage pictured was of a sheer break along the welded seams of the ship rather than damage with the surrounding material bent back and jagged, as would have been the case with a torpedo explosion. You can read more about all this in the blog Vardefjell – A Puzzle at Sea.

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Vardefjell

Mauretania

Mauretania was a Cunard Line ship. Cunard was interested in the new technology of steam turbines and its application as a method of ship propulsion – they set up a committee to investigate the issue and invited LR’s Chief Engineer Surveyor, James Milton, to take part. Based on the committee’s findings Cunard decided to adopt steam turbines on their new transatlantic liners Mauretania and Lusitania, which became the world’s largest and fastest ships when completed in 1907. They achieved speeds of 24 to 25 knots, an amazing feat at the time. Mauretania even won the Blue Riband award, a trophy for the ship making the fastest westbound crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a regular commercial voyage. Mauretania held the record for almost a quarter of a century. [8]

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Mauretania - full speed ahead; image source: TWAM - Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums; [https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/5609324995/]

Baku Standard

Baku Standard was one of the first oil burning steamers in continuous service. The very first ship tested with a steam-injection oil-burning engine was Himalaya, but the 1885 trial was unsuccessful. Several other ships were tested for oil-burning fuel in the 1890s. One of these was the Baku Standard, built in 1893 and classed in 1894 (she was listed in the Register Book as ‘Burning Liquid Fuel – Experimental’). Rules for the Burning and Carriage of Liquid Fuel were published in 1902. [9]

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1894-5 Register Book

San Demetrio

San Demetrio, a motor tanker built in 1938 for the Eagle Oil Shipping Co, left Halifax, Nova Scotia, as part of convoy HX-84. She was left drifting and on fire after being attacked by the German cruiser Admiral Scheer. However, her crew managed to put out the blaze and get their ship safely to port. There is footage from British Pathé of her return to port: San Demetrio comes home. There was also a film made in 1943, San Demetrio London, about the incident.

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San Demetrio; image source: Imperial War Museum, [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MT_SAN_DEMETRIO.jpg]

While extracting documents for these and other ships of the ‘First and Famous’ pilot project, we also made other interesting discoveries, such as documents relating to Minerva, which showed an example of the surveyor’s observations and recommendations written as a letter, before the Society introduced forms for the survey reports. (You can read more about this particular discovery in the blog post Uncovering Letters. There is much more to explore; the ‘First and Famous’ ships are just a drop in the ocean of what is available from the archive.

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Minerva document

Cataloguing process

As well as discovering the stories of the ‘First and Famous’ ships, we have also had a very interesting time with the cataloguing process. The catalogue has been a developing system, and we have adapted methods and procedures to the particular features of the archive. If you’re interested in reading more about the cataloguing process, take a look at our blogs First Steps and Cataloguing Continues.

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The 'First and Famous' catalogue

Learning by doing

The archive collection is specialised, and as newcomers we had much to learn about the documents themselves. It was very valuable having the knowledgeable support of the rest of the Heritage & Education Centre team, many of whom have been working with the documents for much longer and have an in-depth understanding of them and of LR systems which they reflect. The ship plans and reports, for example, contain information and notations which are unique either to LR or, more broadly, to the classification and shipbuilding industries. We have learned a lot during cataloguing, and there is still much more to learn.

The choice of data being captured has been a work in progress. Part of the way through the project, when there were actual entries in the catalogue to be examined, other data fields were included. This helped to make the catalogue a more complete resource which better represented the data available in the original documents and would aid a wider variety of searches for users. The additional fields included ship type, propulsion, and the local LR offices where survey reports were filed (an addition to the field of where the survey took place, since these could be different) with port abbreviations that reflected those used in the Register Book.

As the project developed we gained better knowledge of the collection and how it could be recorded and presented. Thus, through the length of the cataloguing phase of the project we have been trimming our sails [10] and adapting our cataloguing process to meet changing circumstances and requirements. Regular reviews supported this ability to remain flexible.

Next steps

The catalogue is now ship shape and Bristol fashion, [11] and we will be going full steam ahead [12] with the next step for the pilot project: the digitisation stage. Documents will be going to digitisers to be photographed. Certain documents will be conserved first, to ensure they are strong enough to stand up to the rigours of movement and digitisation.

So keep a weather eye open for future developments in Project Undaunted.

References:

  1. Nigel Watson, Lloyd’s Register: 250 Years of Service (London: Lloyd’s Register, 2010), p. 110.
  2.  Watson, Lloyd’s Register, p. 118.
  3.  Watson, Lloyd’s Register, p. 32.
  4.  Watson, Lloyd’s Register, p. 140.
  5.  Watson, Lloyd’s Register, p. 129.
  6.  Watson, Maritime Science and Technology, p. 258.
  7.  Watson, Lloyd’s Register, p. 129.
  8.  Watson, Maritime Science and Technology, pp. 76-7.
  9. Watson, Lloyd’s Register, p. 135.
  10.  To trim one’s sails: To modify or reshape one’s policy to meet circumstances
  11.  Ship shape and Bristol fashion: Everything in perfect order – a ship ready for sea
  12.  Full steam ahead: Go at top speed/Get going as soon as possible.