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How to research a wrecked ship


I am told that an ancestor was lost on the Otranto during the First World War. Where and when was it wrecked?

First, check in the references books listed on this website by Hocking and Larn: both have brief details of the Otranto being wrecked on Islay, Scotland in 1918. If it is a small vessel, or outside the time or geographical frame of these books, you will need to know approximately when it was lost, ideally to the year or better. To find how to do this, see the Records and Registers section of this website. When you know the approximate date, it is a matter of checking the various casualty reports for the period.

Where can I discover how many ships Alfred Holt`s Blue Funnel Line lost?

The bi-annual volumes of Lloyd`s Confidential Index, published since 1886, list the ships a company lost in the previous decade. There are also many histories of shipping companies, published as books or in journals, which usually give full details of the ships and their fates. Most well-known companies have been covered in this way, including Alfred Holt`s Blue Funnel Line.

An ancestor of mine was on the Royal Charter; what happened to him when it was lost?

Sadly, the sources listed on this site rarely concerned themselves with the names of crew or passengers who were lost in a given shipwreck, although they usually noted how many of the crew were lost. If your ancestor was a crew member, the Crew Agreement for the period or voyage may indicate whether or not he survived. Those for the Royal Charter , wrecked in 1859, will be in the Public Record Office [address]. Unfortunately, there is no similar source of information on passengers. The most likely sources are contemporary accounts in newspapers, local ones for minor wrecks and national ones for major disasters.

How many of the ships which my grandfather served on or commanded were lost?

There`s no short cut to this. You have to find which ships he served on (from his discharge book [ definition]) and then check their careers and fates individually. If they are not in the reference books listed in this section you will have to find them in Lloyd`s Register of Ships or the Mercantile Navy List and then go through subsequent volumes to see when it drops out because the ship was lost. The Registers and Records section of this site will explain more about doing this.

I`ve been diving on a wreck off Devon. How can I find the name of the ship?

First refer to the appropriate volume of Shipwreck Index of the British Isles by Richard and Bridget Larn. Whilst not infallible, this lists all known wrecks around the UK and Ireland and may help to identify the wreck. Also, a number of books have been published, often by divers, listing wrecks in a given area. A local library may well have copies or you could find them in bookshops

How can I find out what happened when the Clan Keith was wrecked in 1961?

Most of the sources listed on this site will tell you little more than when and where the ship was lost, and the type of accident - whether it foundered or sank in a collision. Remember that they were more concerned with reporting what happened than why it happened. If there is an official Board of Trade inquiry (there was with the Clan Keith) this will have examined evidence from the surviving members of the crew, and the report will give you the information. See the Investigations section for more details and where copies can be found.

What cargo was the Politician carrying when it was wrecked and who owns the cargo now?

Most casualty reports give a general indication of the cargo, such as coal, stone or general, and usually nothing more. For details of the general cargo of the Politician (which included Scotch whisky - the wreck was the basis of Compton Mackenzie`s book and film `Whisky Galore you will have to contact the Salvage Association [address]. This organisation acts for the people who insured the ship and its cargo, and may have appropriate records. However, they may charge a fee, and may reserve the right not to give out information.

What efforts were made to rescue the crew when a certain ship was lost?

Reports of casualties sometimes specify whether the crew were rescued but often give few details. Local newspapers may well describe what would be a major local event but these reports may well have been secondhand and need to be treated with caution. The report of an official Inquiry may also help. Try also the records of the local RNLI lifeboat station; they usually proudly display details of the rescues in which the local lifeboat has taken part.

What salvage attempts were made on a given shipwreck?

The shipping newspaper Lloyd`s List sometimes printed details of salvage attempts. However, these usually relied on the salvor [ definition] passing on information. Often, he just got on with the job. The Salvage Association [address] may also have records.


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