Find of the month - Uncovering Letters - October 2015

On our exciting journey of cataloguing Lloyd’s Register’s archives we have come across a great find of the month; correspondence dating from March 1834 that shows how surveyors worked before the Society implemented Survey Reports in that same year. Until this discovery we did not know of any material from this period to show how surveys were undertaken and reported to the Society for ship classification to take place. Finding these documents proves what we had long suspected– that these reports were made via letter rather than standardised forms, the latter being introduced only after the re-constitution of the Society (also in 1834).

The letters discovered were written by surveyor James Wall and report on the survey he undertook on the Brig Minerva.

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“These do Certify that I did survey and examine the Brig Minerva of Carron, Andrew Graham, Commander, laying in the Graving Dock at Carronshore on the 5th day of December 1833, at which period she had been on said Dock for the span of Two and a half months (…)”.

Wall describes in his letter the detailed alterations that the Brig Minerva went through. For instance, he states that she “got a new Stern Post, 5 new Transom, 46 new first and 2nd futtocks, the greater part of new Top Timbers and half Top Timbers, the whole of which is British oak”. The Brig Minerva (184 tons) was built in 1805 at South Shields by James Craster and belonged to the Grangemouth port; she received the class AE1 and her record can be found in Lloyd’s Register Book of 1834, at record number 983.

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These letters cover a very important period of LR’s history. 1834 was the year of the reconstitution of the Society. Founded in 1760, the Society for Registry of Shipping was created to give merchants and underwriters impartial information on the quality of their vessels by classing them according to certain rules. This information was then published in the Register Book.

It was generally believed that materials and labour used in the North of England was not as high quality as that used in the South (!), which led to disagreements between the shipowners and underwriters that comprised the society. This culminated with shipowners producing their own rival Register in 1799. As observed by Watson (2010:13), the shipowners ‘may have been unhappy but they did not want to abandon the idea of the Register Book. They placed such value on the information it contained – it was, they said, ‘a Book of Authority’ – that instead they started their own”. This was known as the Red Book. The underwriters kept publishing their register, which became known as the Green Book.[1]

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The rivalry between the groups lasted for a number of years, nearly bringing them to financial ruin. In response to this situation a Committee of Inquiry was founded in 1824 to establish a way forward. The committee was comprised of representatives from both registers and it was only with this body that the situation was able to change. In January 1834 its Prospectus of the Plan for Establishment of a New Register Book of British and Foreign Shipping was published. “The Prospectus provided the framework for the unique character of Lloyd’s Register. The united Register would be run by a permanent Committee of 24 members, with equal numbers of owners, merchants and underwriters” (Watson, 2010:14). In addition, the Prospectus also provided the basis of a new classification system. It was not until October that year that the Provisional Committee was dissolved, marking the formal unification of the two registers as Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. 

One of the interesting aspects of the letters about Minerva is that surveyor James Wall signed himself as “late surveyor of shipping for the Red Book”.

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This highlights the truly transitional period in Lloyd’s Register’s history in which these letters were written.

It was during this transitional period that the Society began using survey reports rather than letters. This change was due to the dedicated work carried out by LR’s longest serving chairman, Thomas Chapman.

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Chairman of Lloyd’s Register for over 40 years, Mr. Chapman played a crucial role not only in the process of unification of the two registers, but was also instrumental in putting together committees and reporting procedures, earning him the affectionate nickname - the Grandfather of LR. The survey reports implemented during his time at LR are A3 papers documenting technical details of a surveyed ship, the condition of her materials and her classification. The standard format introduced in this period developed over the years alongside the advancement of technology. Before the implementation of the reports, the surveyors would write letters that served as official ship surveys. This correspondence would then be sent to the office in London, included in the Register Book and finally disposed of. Given that, the correspondence written by James Wall on Brig Minerva is a very rare find in our collection. 

The introduction of survey reports speaks to the standardisation and formalising of Society procedures. Wall’s writing is filled with technical maritime phrases such as “keelson”, “futtocks” and “treenailed” and gives detailed descriptions of all the types of wood used – including British oak, Danzig oak, African oak and American rock elm – the same terminology used in the reports. The first survey report dates from June 1834 and it is on the SS Undaunted – the ship we borrowed the name of our Digitisation project from! 

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You can read below the letters and their respective transcription. Do contact us if you think our transcriptions may be mistaken or if you understand the more unintelligible parts of the document!

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Minerva

Keelson consists of three

thicknesses vis:

1st A log       14 In deep

2nd A log      12 In Do.

3rd A plank  4 Ins Do.

Together 30 Inches

The Minerva was built

at South Shields by James

Craster in the year 1805

A Mast about 38 feet long & 

resting on the Deck, a few feet

behind the main mast has now

been put into the Minerva. 

She formerly had not a Mast

of this kind. It is called a trysail 

Mast.

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These do Certify that I did survey and

examine the Brig Minerva of Carron, Andrew Graham,

Commander, laying in the Graving Dock at Carronshore

on the 5th day of December 1833, at which period she

had been on said Dock for the span of Two and a half

months, and in my instruction at that time, she has

been opened, and a large quantity of new timber put in

to her, and having again been this day called upon

to further survey and examine her, find in examination

that she has got a new Stern Post, 5 new Transom,

46 new first and 2nd futtocks, the greater part of new

Top Timbers and half Top Timbers, the whole of

which is British oak, all new hawse Timber of African

oak, three new hooks British oak, ten new ti—-

Deck knees British oak, entirely new Planks from Keel

to Gunwales as well. American rock Elm from Keel to the

six foot mark from —- to Wales with Dantzig, African and

English oak – Wales entirely African oak, and whole topsides and

upperwork the same entire new Ceiling with the exception

of a very few short hooks and all of Dantzig oak treenailed with best  English oak

Buttis under the Wales, wholly Copper Bolted, new item and

quarter timbers all English oak, -dl– Cen—-, and new upper

stern – and she is further to secure yet, new Decks and what

deficiency may be wanted about the upper Deck beams, and Knees,

as with as a new windless,          For further instruction before

the service of the surveyor who may be appointed for Leith and

the Firth of Forth, when called upon by the owners of said

Vessel for final examination, so as she may be faithfully

reported and classed, in the Lloyds new Register Book at No. 72

Cornhill London.  Given under my hand at Carronshore

this the 6th day of March 1834 years.

James Wall late surveyor of shipping

for the Red Book.

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Carronshore 6th March 1834

Sir,

Seeing at the period no Surveyor yet appointed when the new establishment at Leith

including the Firth of Forth – I have been called upon

being the late Surveyor for the Red Book in this

quarter to examine and inspect the Brig Minerva

in Dec last on this day previous to her being

closed up which is unquestionably necessary

so as facts may be stated respecting/inspecting her Timber

before her Ceiling is in and when you are called

upon I refer you in some ? to the

certificate I have drawn up and left in the

of party concerned – she after this your note observed

in the ? new Decks – and every diffecency

about the upper beams and knees –

a repair you with see? she? is almost ? her

keel and keelson altho not ruined? just now

having been chosen very recently – is must excel-

=ent  – and she thus I note her able to get rated

in the first letter for several years. And

I am Sir yours most ?

James Wall late Surveyor

of shipping for the Red Book

for ? and Ports adjacent


[1] Their names reflected the colour of the binding of each register. You can learn more about Lloyd’s Register history here: http://bit.ly/29nHev9