Guest blog author: Michael Launchbury, Digital Archivist, Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

Since 2016, the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, Heritage & Education Centre has embarked on an extensive digitisation project to conserve, catalogue and digitise its historic Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection.

The Collection, which dates from the 1830s-1970s, holds over 1.25 million documents and details the design, construction and maintenance of ships classed by Lloyd’s Register. Through survey reports, ship plans and handwritten correspondence, the collection highlights the important role Lloyd’s Register has played in the development of marine safety.

Deep in an archive storage facility in Woolwich, London, sits a treasure trove of 1,133 port boxes, from Aberdeen to Yokohama. The contents of each of these port boxes can vary. Most of these boxes will hold selection of survey reports; periodical surveys carried out by Lloyd’s Register surveyors that include information on a ship’s build, dimensions, owner, classification and voyage. But there is a plethora of other document types that are frequently found in these boxes. Telegrams, memos, forms, certificates, photographs and ship plans also reside in the collection; highlighting the sheer diversity of the collection’s holdings and educational value. As the Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection has never been catalogued before, the Heritage & Education Centre are frequently uncovering never before seen documents.

Figure 1 Cabin Plan for City of Simla, Undated LRF-PUN-W377-0197-P

Many famed ships are included in the collection such as Cutty Sark, Mauretania and Bakuin (one of the earliest modern tankers, constructed in 1886). We have surveyed many technologically innovative vessels; two of which I will now discuss in more detail.

Lloyd’s Register classed the world’s first fully welded ocean-going ship, the Fullagar, a motor coaster built by Cammell Laird in 1920, classed ‘+100A1’, with the note, ‘Electrically Welded, Subject to Biennial Survey – Experimental.’ She was intended for coastal trade, carrying 500 tons of cargo, which would be the ultimate test of the strength of her welding. The Fullagar changed name several times over the years- Caria, Shean and Cedros. She spent the inter-war years proving the worth of the method of welding, withstanding 17 years of rough service and several accidents. In 1937, Fullagar (Cedros) collided with the vessel Hidalgo and sank 30 miles off Baja California, Mexico. Though a ship with a successful service history, shipbuilders were reluctant to use the welding method until the Second World War. Our website holds 140 documents for this vessel.

Figure 2 Quarter Deck Plating Plan for no. 882, Cedros, 4 November 1918 LR-FAF-TB23-0025-P

Dunedin was the first ever vessel to transport refrigerated meat from New Zealand to London. Achieved in 1882, this was the start of commercially viable transport of frozen meat and dairy. This opened markets in the northern hemisphere to the agricultural economies in the southern hemisphere, and subsequently transformed British food consumption habits and accelerated New Zealand’s early twentieth century economy. However, as with all innovative projects, there were a few issues. One unwanted problem was that the boilers used to power the refrigeration plant kept setting the sails on fire. On our website, we hold 17 documents for this vessel, including first entry reports, plans and a letter for expenses.

Figure 3 Plan of Steel Donkey Boiler for Bakuin, 20 April 1886 LR-FAF-SA16-0009-P

As we approach the end of this blog I would like to end on a more light-hearted note. The remarkable documents held within the archive depict the work and life of a Lloyd’s Register surveyor and their frequent dealings with shipbuilders, shipowners and, quite peculiarly, animals. Below you can find a report stamped with the paw prints of an insouciant cat… and the less said about the stains on the right the better.

Figure 4 Report of survey for Seneca, 24 October 1855 LRF-PUN-STK901-0375-R

Currently over 276,000 documents for over 45,000 ships are available to view and download, for free, on the Centre’s website. Each month this figure will grow by approximately 30,000. With a global audience spanning over 190 countries worldwide, the digitised collection is a unique resource that is being used by maritime historians, economists, linguists, ship model enthusiasts and family historians.

The digitised collection reinforces the Centre’s commitment to open access to the Heritage & Education Centre’s resources whilst also enhancing public understanding in marine and engineering science and history.

To view the digitised Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection, visit hec.lrfoundation.org.uk