Plymouth’s Other Fleet

The Merchant Shipping Registers of the Port of Plymouth 1814 to 1945

Over 2,500 vessels, registered in the Port of Plymouth prior to 1945 – transcripts of the registers giving details of construction or capture, launches and losses of the vessels and details of the people – builders, owners, masters and lenders, now available on CD.

The Fishing Boat Registers of the Port of Plymouth 1880 – 1945

A listing of over 800 boats with information extracted from statistical returns or transcribed from the surviving registers with many photographs.

This site is intended to give an overview of content of the CD and provide the opportunity to browse some example pages. To browse now, Click Here.

Who will this CD interest?

The CD makes the historic merchant shipping and fishing boat registers of the Port of Plymouth more easily available to those interested in maritime history and to genealogists; it may also encourage a wider use of the registers by others, such as those interested in economic and social history.

The Merchant Shipping Registers of the Port of Plymouth 1814 to 1945The requirement to register vessels over 15 tons burthen, not used solely on inland waters, was introduced in 1786. The original registers for the Port of Plymouth from 1786 to 1823 are lost and copies forwarded to the Commissioners for Customs in London prior to 1814, did not survive the great Customs House fire of 12 February 1814. The CD therefore reproduces the surviving copies sent to London after 1814, from the National Archives (BT107/163 to 171) and the original register books from 1824 to 1945, at Plymouth & West Devon Record Office (894/1 to 894/12 and 2907/1 to 2807/5). The separate registration of fishing boats commenced with an Act of 1823, but again the surviving records are incomplete, comprising the Fishing Boat Returns from the 1880s and the Register Books from 1920.

Since the CD has been prepared by tackling the whole of the available Merchant Shipping Registers and Fishing Boat material, it has proved possible, where information was incomplete, or only partially legible, to remedy this in most instances from subsequent material and separate research has completed the picture in many cases where the original records themselves are silent. Sufficient information is provided to allow the history of any particular vessel to be rapidly followed and, where there are several vessels of the same name, it will enable the correct vessel to be identified, even where only limited information may be available. Computer search tools enable research, even with minimal, flawed or conflicting information, to be pursued with every prospect of success. The CD will facilitate research into the history of vessels which remained at Plymouth and also those which may have started or ended their working lives at other ports. The computer’s ability to compress days of searching into minutes, or seconds, opens the way to information, the extraction of which, from the original material, would be too laborious to contemplate and it is hoped, that this in itself, will prompt further innovative use of the material. This was a possibility which heavily influenced the decision to transcribe the material verbatim, rather than merely create a database, thus preserving the ability to follow any line of enquiry which it is possible in the originals.

For family historians the registers will open a fascinating window into the past; giving details of the vessels which their ancestors built, owned or sailed and providing information such as year of build, official number, Port number, rig and date of loss, essential for further research.

Where the Merchant Shipping or Fishing Boat Registers survive all owners are shown, with their share-holding; many are, of course, in trades associated with the sea; but the registers depict a share owning society; grocers, yeomen, farmers, miners, a silver refiner, widows and gentlemen, also owned shares. Many owners lived within the Three Towns (Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse) but all the communities along the banks of the Four Rivers (Lynher, Tamar, Tavy and Plym) and the nearby port of Looe, are very well represented, less frequently the inhabitants of inland market towns owned shares, while other owners reveal links to south Wales or the great ports of Liverpool and London. See the Port of Plymouth.

From the beginning of the period until 1854, master’s names and dates of appointment are given in the Merchant Shipping Register and, for a shorter period, the register also names the builders, in all cases these have been transcribed where given in the original sources. In many instances the lack of a builder’s name has been supplemented from other contemporary, or more recent, sources. The Fishing Boat Registers name skippers and owners.

Schooner Sea Nymph. George Wright Commander leaving the Port of Venice