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Finding a shipwreck

If you know the name of the ship

There is a great deal of published information about wrecks, accidents and the other fates that befell ships. This section tells you where to find out what happened to a named ship.

Published lists of disasters at sea

First, check if the ship is listed in one of these two books. If so, they may give you just the information you are looking for, or make it easier to find.

Hocking, C. Dictionary of disasters at sea during the age of steam, 1824-1962. Second edition, London Stamp Exchange, London, 1989

Claims to list all ships` losses which resulted in loss of life.

Hooke, N. Modern shipping disasters 1963-1996. Second edition. Lloyd`s of London Press Ltd., London, 1997

This book continues Hocking`s work up to 1996.

Casualty reports

If your ship is not in the published lists, you will need to know the approximate date of the casualty, as most records of wrecks and accidents are arranged in chronological order. The Registers and Records section of this website explains how to find this information.

Reports of casualties have been published by several organisations. The details given are usually:

  • name of the ship
  • voyage and cargo
  • type of casualty (e.g. wrecked, collision, foundered)
  • where it happened
  • the number of those lost (but not names)   

In addition, Lloyd`s List sometimes gives details of any salvage work on the ship or cargo, and brief details of how the crew was rescued.

Anyone using these sources should be aware that they were usually compiled for the benefit of those in the shipping industry, so the focus is on the ship, rather than the crew or passengers. You can see this priority in the title of one of the main series produced by the Department for Transport - Casualties to vessels and accidents to men.

Which reports you go to will depend largely on the date of the casualty, and which ones are held in convenient libraries or other collections.

Lloyd`s List 1740-1990

The daily shipping newspaper gave details of accidents and casualties once a week. Over time, telegraph and radio allowed reports from overseas to be made more quickly. This is reflected by the reporting of casualties by Lloyd`s List.

Its coverage of accidents became fuller, the entries grew more detailed, and appeared sooner after the event. The Guildhall Library [address] has annual indexes to Lloyd`s List. Copies are held by the Guildhall Library, the National Maritime Museum, the British Library Newspaper Library and other libraries.

Wreck Registers UK 1855-1898

Published by the Board of Trade. Copies are held by the Guildhall Library

Lloyd`s Shipping Index 1880-date

Lloyd`s Shipping Index reprints much of the information on casualties from each day`s Lloyd`s Lists. It is in one or more alphabetical sequences, which simplifies searching for a given vessel. Copies are held by the Guildhall Library [address].

Board of Trade Casualty Returns 1880-1918

Published annually, the Board of Trade Casualty Returns listed all British ships lost or partially lost. They also gave a mass of statistical data on where and how ships were lost. There is no inidividual ship data after 1918 and the series is renamed Casualties to vessels and accidents to men. Copies are held by Southampton Central Library [address], Guildhall Library [address] and the National Maritime Museum [address].

Lloyd`s Confidential Index and `Cemetery Cards` 1886-date

Lloyd`s Confidential Index lists the larger ships of every British and (from 1921) foreign owner which were totally lost in the previous decade and gives brief details of the type of casualty, the voyage and cargo carried.

Copies are held by the Guildhall Library, although the last 30 years are not available to the public. `Cemetery Cards` were compiled by the publishers of Lloyd`s Confidential Index, and have details of ships which were deleted form the volumes for the years from about 1920. Their value is that they are a source of information on ships which were scrapped in this period, which is sparse elsewhere. Microfilm copies can be referred to in the Guildhall Library.

Lloyd`s Register Casualty Returns July 1890-date

Lloyd`s Register Casualty Returns give details of every ship in Lloyd`s Register which was lost in the period. Ships which were scrapped are also listed.

Lloyd`s Weekly Casualty Returns/Reports 1920-date

Lloyd`s Weekly Casualty Returns/Reports reprints all the casualty information in Lloyd`s Lists that week, and has a quarterly index.Copies to 1985 are held by the Guildhall Library.

Lloyd`s Register Wreck Books 1940-1977

These large, hand-written books list every ship which has been deleted from Lloyd`s Register of Ships because it has become a casualty or has been broken up. They are particularly valuable because they include details of when, where and by whom a ship has been broken up.

They are held in the offices of Lloyd`s Register [address] and are difficult to read because the abbreviations used are not explained.

Marine News

Published since 1947, the monthly journal of the World Ship Society [address],   Marine News publishes details of ships that have suffered serious accidents and of ships which have been broken up. A number of libraries have copies of Marine News, and the World Ship Society has complete sets.

Other sources

The Times, published since 1785, reported some wrecks, and is well indexed. Many large libraries having copies.

The World Ship Society holds many of the published sources discussed in this section, and also has a number of manuscript records of losses.

Board of Trade inquiry reports will give much more detail on the accident if an inquiry was carried out. Publication of these reports began in 1876, with summaries in the Casualty Returns from 1856. Some were reprinted or summarised in the shipping newspapers.

Southampton Central Library [address] has the largest collection. The Guildhall Library has an incomplete collection.


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