Hindsight Perspectives for a Safer World Project

Lloyd’s Register publications in research - how historians have reconstructed the maritime industry

Hindsight Perspectives brings together historians to explore maritime history topics with resonance for the maritime industry today, and to make use of the archives held by the Heritage and Education Centre at the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (HEC). We want to help historians make a contribution to tackling the great contemporary challenges in maritime - but part of the goal is also to highlight the potential of the archive to historians in their own research. So how have the archives held by HEC and the various longstanding publication series' of Lloyd's Register been used by researchers in the past?

This article (the first of two) takes a look at articles published in the International Journal of Maritime History (£) over recent years that make use of Lloyd’s Register publications. Some of this research relates to the history of Lloyd’s Register itself and its surveyors, but historians have also made use of various sources, online and offline, to reconstruct commercial activity or shipbuilding at different periods, investigate safety responses to innovation, and study the material and logistical underpinnings of the slave trade, among other projects.

A prominent journal in the field, the IMJH was established in 1989. It is multi-disciplinary, international, and incorporates the work of researchers into histories of travel, exploration, migration, the slave trade, organisation, law, warfare, and commercial activity at sea. A search of the journal index reveals that some 50* articles published since 2000 and available online either mention Lloyd’s Register and/or reference its sources (chiefly the Registers themselves, the World Fleet Statistics and a smaller scattering of other publications). A handful of articles discuss the Registers extensively as a source, and several relate events involving Lloyd’s surveyors and business practices.

Reconstructing the maritime industry of the past

A useful starting point is Stephen D. Behrendt and Peter M. Solar’s “Sail on Albion: the usefulness of Lloyd’s Registers for maritime history, 1760-1840” (2014)

Among the shipping sources that survive, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping stands out.2 The Registers are A–Z lists of ships, detailing information on vessel construction, captains, owners, ports and destinations, and affixing to each ship a classification. ‘A1’ and ‘A1 at Lloyd’s’ would become well-known descriptors. Though the Royal Exchange fire of 1838 destroyed many of the organization’s earliest documents,3 there survives a charred Register bearing the date 1764–1765–1766 and a partial volume for 1768, and from 1776 onward there are annual volumes for all but four years.4 In 1969, the Registers were reprinted and sets can be found in most major research libraries; during the past five years these reprinted volumes have been scanned, and now all surviving Registers up to the early 1870s are available online.5

The article puts together information in the Registers with Lloyd’s List, the maritime newspaper (£) (still published online), to show how complete the Registers are as a source and where the gaps are. It also suggests that most historians who have used the Registers have been studying the British slave trade:

Whilst the Registers provide a standard reference work for historians seeking information about particular ships, most who have examined the Registers to discern trends have studied the British slave trade.6 Gareth Rees extracted information on vessels sheathed with copper and found that slaving ships deployed copper sheathing more than did ships in other trades.7 David Williams used the Registers to study both the British slaving fleet in the last decade before abolition and its redeployment thereafter, demonstrating that slaving vessels found ready employment in Caribbean and South American trades.8 In Econocide, Seymour Drescher examined vessels’ years of build to conclude that ‘the slave fleet was a relatively young one in 1807, half of its ships being less than ten years old at the time of their last slaving voyage’. Further, by analysing slaving vessels’ repairs in 1786, 1796, 1804, and 1806, Drescher found that ‘slave-related shipping was continually being rejuvenated’.9

This may be true as a trend across the field, but in this IMJH sample the Registers, or other Lloyd’s Register publications, have been brought into service in all kinds of enquiries. Other scholars have homed in on particular periods and topics. Peter M. Solar again looks in more detail at "Late eighteenth-century merchant ships in war and peace" (2016)

This article assesses Lloyd’s Register as a source for late eighteenth-century maritime history by analysing the ships listed in the 1779 and 1790 volumes. The Registers turn out to a reasonably complete enumeration of the ships involved in the foreign trade of Britain and Ireland, but contain only a small share of ships in the coasting trade.

This abstract alone might give us a hint about what kind of vessels were prioritised for classification (and hence for safety standards).

A similar combination of sources from Lloyd’s Register and others is used by Kate Jordan to reconstruct the Liverpool Northern Whaling industry in the late eighteenth century (2010). June Stanworth and David Humphreys use the Registers as one of a range of sources to build a cluster analysis model of the shipbuilding industry a century later, “Bottom–up: A mathematical model of the UK shipbuilding industry, 1889–1914” (2015):

The shipbuilding industry was an important sector of the UK economy in its golden age before the First World War but the only estimates of its value are based on an analysis made 60 years ago when information was limited or difficult to access. In contrast, data from Lloyd’s Register of Shipping and the archives of UK shipbuilders and shipowners now provides a rich source of statistics. Using cluster analysis, nine passenger and cargo ship types were identified, defined by gross registered tonnage, speed, passenger numbers and price per ton. Building on this, a bottom–up model of the UK shipbuilding industry was developed and the annual values of passenger, cargo and specialist ships were estimated for 1889 to 1914.

Surveyors and engineers at the forefront of change

Lloyd’s Register surveyors themselves are also scattered throughout maritime history research, popping up at key moments in technological and commercial shifts. Here is David J. Clarke discussing the Pacific Steam Navigation Company (2008) and its efforts in the 1820s and 1830s to establish steamer passenger lines along the western coast of South America, where the periodic calms made sailing particularly unreliable and unfeasible for consistent passenger services – what the industry might call a “niche market” for new technologies today. In this case it was a sailing ship, not one of the early steamers, that attracted the surveyor’s concern:

In early 1840, contrary to the advice of a Lloyd's surveyor, the directors bought the wooden sailing vessel Elizabeth to carry coal out to the Pacific coast to supply the company's steamers. Just prior to sailing the crew refused to embark, alleging that Elizabeth was unseaworthy; they were backed by Lloyd's surveyor George Bailey. Wheelwright, accompanied by Captain George Peacock, RN, the company's first steamship commander, inspected the vessel personally and agreed that it was unfit. Both vessel and cargo were sold, the former hopefully for scrap.

Lloyd’s Register the organisation is mentioned as appointing engineers from 1834 in a discussion of the emergence of the engineer (2016) in the British merchant shipping industry over the first half of the nineteenth century and, at the other end of modern maritime history, as sponsoring a “one-year travelling scholarship” for would-be maritime engineers graduating in the 1960s. This scholarship was held by John Craggs, one of the former directors of shipbuilding consultancy APA, and co-author in the journal of a 2018 article about the history of the consultancy – a great example in itself of historians and industry working together to produce insight.

Outside of discussions within the text, Lloyd’s Register publications are also referenced in articles which discuss the establishment of the Danish International Ship Register, the Spanish shipbuilding industry under the Franco regime, the UK shipbuilding industry during the First World War, the shipping/trade ratio in the merchant shipping industry since the 1870s, migrant voyages of the nineteenth century between the UK and Australasia, Liverpool and its population as a trading community, specialisation strategies in Norwegian shipping in the later 20th century, and postwar strategies of Greek shipowners, among many more.

What else can historians find in the Lloyd's Register archive?

Of course, in addition to the Registers of Shipping, ship plans and surveys and other statistical information, the archives hold many valuable categories of record relating to the business of Lloyd’s Register itself, its surveyors, committees and organisation. These have played an important role in Elin Jones’s research on the project and are the subject of her forthcoming report. There is still a huge amount of material for maritime historians to get their research teeth into – check out the stories and blogs on the HEC website for more.

The next article will dive in on some key articles in the International Journal for Maritime History that have resonance for contemporary maritime issues.

*Note: care has to be taken to distinguish mention of Lloyd’s Register from Lloyd’s of London and one or two slight conflations remain in this final figure – the term “Lloyd’s agent” can be used somewhat generically and it is sometimes only apparent from a very careful reading of the context which Lloyd’s is being referred to. Please do email us if you follow these references and spot errors! Alix.mortimer@kcl.ac.uk


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