Information sheet


Sheet number 38

The Maritime Archives and Library holds information on shipwrecks in both original archive sources and publications.  These sources can assist in increasing knowledge of the specific ship, locating an accurate date of shipwreck and furthering knowledge of the incident itself.

Archive sources

Liverpool Registers of Merchant Ships

The Maritime Archives and Library holds volumes of the original official certificates of registry for merchant vessels registered in the port of Liverpool 1739-1942.  Originally kept in the Liverpool Customs House these are often referred to as Custom’s Registers.  The Liverpool Ship Registers also contain some data for the port of Runcorn (1862-1915).

When a vessel registered in Liverpool was wrecked this information would be recorded in the record of registry for that specific vessel before the registry was cancelled.  This record can often be useful in pinpointing the date of a shipwreck and occasionally further information regarding location and context.

Wool Act Register  C/EX/L/2/1  1739 - 1792   

Plantation Registers  C/EX/L/3/1 - 4  1743 - 1784 

Volumes of Certificates of Registry C/EX/L/4/1 - 121  1786 - 1942 

Board of Trade Reports of Enquiries

The Board of Trade Enquiry Reports held at the Maritime Archives & Library are reports of enquiries into accidents and disasters at sea.  They vary in detail and length and are not a complete series.

The Board of Trade Enquiry Reports  1878 - 1925    2 Volumes  531/BOA/R/OS

The Southampton City Archives’ Maritime Collection holds a more complete series. 

Board of Trade Enquiries into Wrecks:   1876 - 1972

The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich holds the following Admiralty/Board of Trade Registers regarding ship losses.

Board of Trade Wreck Registers: 1855 - 1895

MDHB Wreck Files 1881-1950

These are records relating to wrecks in and around the Mersey and it’s approaches.  235 files survive, varying in length, but all are quite comprehensive, including Notices to Mariners and newscuttings.

The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board usually took responsibility for any salvage work and records relating to this can be located in other sections of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Archive.

MDHB/ WR /1 - 235  1881 - 1950  26 Boxes 

The Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society

The Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society was founded in 1839 following a hurricane that wreaked havoc in the Irish Channel and the Mersey area on 7-8 January 1839.  The absence of funds available to aid the unfortunate victims of what was said to have been the first hurricane ever met in the area, prompted a public meeting, on 9 January 1839, to raise funds to assist the victims and to reward the heroes.

The medals and awards of the Society cover three main areas: Marine, Fire, and General. Life-saving proficiency medals and awards are also given.

D/LS  1839 - 1990  6 Boxes

Minutes  1839 - 1975

Annual Reports   1901 - 1990

Published sources

Lloyd’s Marine Collection

 The Lloyd’s Marine Collection can be an invaluable source for locating data on shipwrecks and ship losses.

The Loss and Casualty Books (1837-1988) are large manuscript volumes containing reports of shipping casualties.  These reports can also be located in Lloyd’s List which, in addition, contains subsequent reports regarding salvage and further details.  The Index to Lloyd’s List, commencing in 1838, is invaluable in locating ships, shipping movements and related marine casualties.  There is presently a project to compile a further index prior to 1838.

The Maritime Archives & Library holds both the Lloyd’s List (1741-1974) and Lloyd’s List Indexes (1838-1927), but does not hold the Loss and Casualty Books.

 Lloyds Weekly Shipping Index (1880-1920)and the Lloyd’s Weekly Casualty Reportsprovide a short report on marine casualties.  The Maritime Archives & Library holds these records within the Lloyd’s Shipping Index, a summary of information contained in Lloyd’s Lists, which is listed alphabetically and split into two sections for sailing vessels and steamers.

Lloyd’s War Losses (1914-1918) and (1939-1945)record vessels lost during First World War and Second World War.  Both also have an alphabetical index of ship names.  The Maritime Archives & Library holds these publications along with further library sources on British Merchant ship losses in both World Wars.

Any Lloyd’s records not available at the Maritime Archives & Library can be accessed by visiting or contacting the Guildhall Library or utilising their enquiry service at

LARN, Richard and Bridget.  'Shipwreck Index of the British Isles'.  London: Lloyd’s Register of Shipping.  1995.

This index, held at the Maritime Archives & Library, was compiled by Richard and Bridget Larn, it records every known shipping loss around the coast of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, from about 1100 AD to 1995.  It is an historical record of many thousands of vessels, compiled on a regional basis, which is unique to the British Isles.

 Due to the requirements of fishermen, divers and the offshore exploration industry, the offshore area covered is 30 miles and around the Scottish Islands 70 miles.  This work forms the basis of the MAR (Maritime Archaeological Records) of underwater sites for England.

Lloyd's Register publish all six volumes of this work, under the title Shipwreck Index of the British Isles. The volumes are: Volume 1: The South West; Volume 2: The South Coast; Volume 3: The East Coast; Volume 4: Scotland; Volume 5: West Coast and Wales; Volume 6: Ireland.  Each volume catalogues shipwrecks in date order.  The series of six volumes is accompanied by accumulative alphabetical index of all the shipwrecks in all volumes to date.

 Direct enquiries are welcome, but should be accompanied by a stamped addressed envelope, and a search fee may be necessary if any enquiry requires any degree of research or other work.  Please contact:

Shipwreck & Marine
  Buzza Hill Road
  St. Mary's
  Isles of Scilly
  Cornwall TR21 0NQ
  Tel/fax: +44 (0)1720 423679

HOCKING, Charles.  'Dictionary of Disasters at Sea in the Age of Steam, 1824-1962, including sailing ships and ships of war lost in action, 1824-1962'.  London:Lloyd's Register of Shipping.  1969.

One of the most comprehensive works on shipping losses worldwide, this dictionary contains details of:

  • Ships of war (surface) lost in enemy action or by marine risk.
  •  British Merchant ships of 500 tons and over, foreign vessels of 1,000 tons and over, lost by ordinary marine risk with loss of four or more lives.  In addition ships of 10,000 tons and over with or without loss of life.
  • British and foreign merchant ships, of 500 and 1,000 tons, lost by enemy action in First World War and Second World War, whether loss of life reported or not.
  • Other losses outside these categories have been included for reasons of general interest.

HOOKE, Norman.  'Maritime Casualties, 1963-1996'.  London: Lloyd’s Information Services.  1997.

Contains reports relating to all Merchant and Naval vessels of 500 tons or over reported to have been totally lost or constructive losses due to all causes, including war losses, for the period 1963-1996.

'Nautical Magazine'

Contains reports of wrecks and courts of enquiry.  The Maritime Archives and Library holds the incomplete series around the following periods: 1839-1848, 1867, 1955-1992. 

  The 'Nautical Magazine' is also available at the:

  • Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, London
  • National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
  • Southampton City Archives, Southampton

'The Times Index'

Can also be utilised for locating wrecks and shipping losses. Complete collection held at the:

  British Library Newspaper Library, Colindale Avenue, London,  NW9 5HE

  Tel 020 7412 7379

Further reading


BOURKE, Edward J.  Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast, Vols. 1-3, 932-2000.  Dublin: Published by Author.  2000.

MICHAEL, Chris.  The Wrecks of Liverpool Bay.  Liverpool: Liverpool Marine Press.  1994.

WILSON, Ian.  Shipwrecks of the Ulster Coast.  Coleraine:Impact.  1979.

WYNNE JONES, Ivor.  Shipwrecks of North Wales.  Ashbourne: Landmark Publishing.  2001.

Famous Ship Losses

BALLARD, Robert D. & MARSCHALL, Ken.  Lost Liners.  London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1998.

BARKER, Ralph.  Children of Benares, A War Crime and it’s Victims.  London: Methuen. 1987.

BEVAN, David.  Drums of the Birkenhead.  Aylesbury: Larson.  1972.

LEMON, Andrew & MORGAN, Marjorie.  Poor Souls, They Perished, The Cataraqui, Australia’s Worst Shipwreck.  Melbourne: Hargreen Publishing, Australia.  1986.

MARSHALL, Logan.  The Tragic Story of the Empress of Ireland.   London: Patrick Stephens Ltd.  1972.

MCKEE, Alexander.  The Golden Wreck: The Tragedy of the Royal Charter.  London: Souvenir Press.  1986.

WEST, John L.  The Loss of the Lancastria.  Rossendale: Millgate Publishing.  1988.

Useful addresses for maritime research

1. Guildhall Library

Tel: 020 7332 1868/1870
Fax: 020 7600 3384

2.   Imperial War Museum
Department of Documents
Lambeth Road

Tel: 020 7416 5220/1/2/3
Fax: 020 7416 5374

3. Liverpool Record Office and Local Studies Service
Central Library
William Brown Street
Liverpool L3 8EW

Tel: 0151 233 5817
Fax: 0151 233 5824

4. The Archivist
Maritime History Archive

Memorial University of Newfoundland
St John's
Canada A1C 5S7

Tel: 709 737 8428/9
Fax: 709 737 3123

5. National Maritime Museum
Romney Road
London SE10 9NF

Tel: General Enquiries - 020 8858 4422
Plans and Photographic Enquiries - 020 8312 8600

6. The National Archives (PRO)
Ruskin Avenue
Kew, Richmond
Surrey TW9 4DU

Tel: 020 8392 5200
Fax: 020 8878 8905

7. Registry of Shipping and Seamen
MCA, Cardiff
Anchor Court
Ocean Way
Cardiff CF24 5JW

Tel: 02920 448800
Fax: 02920 448802
Email: registryofshipping&

8. Curator of Manuscripts
Royal Naval Museum
HM Naval Base
Hampshire PO1 3NH

Tel: 023 9272 7577
Fax: 023 9272 7575

9. University of Liverpool
Special Collections and Archives
Sydney Jones Library
PO Box 123
L69 3DA

Tel: 0151 794 2696
Fax: 0151 794 2681

10. Southampton City Archives
Southampton City Council
South Block
Civic Centre
Southampton SO14 7LY

Tel: 023 80873 2251

Return to information sheets homepage