Frequently asked questions to Maritime Archives and Library

My ancestor came over from Ireland to Liverpool sometime in the 1860s. Do you have any passenger lists?

Many ships sailed between Liverpool and Ireland, with some calling en route to and from the USA. No official records were ever kept of passengers travelling by sea within the British Isles, including Ireland. See Information sheet 31: Passengers on board ship.

My great grandparents emigrated from Liverpool to America sometime in the 1850s. Can you tell me the name of the ship they left on?

Unfortunately, no official lists of passengers exist in any local repositories in the UK. There are no records of passengers departing the UK before 1890. The National Archives (PRO) holds Board of Trade passenger lists of vessels travelling to and from British ports, including Liverpool, from the 1890s to 1960 - see Information sheet 31: Passengers on board ship. The only way to find out about emigrants before 1890 is to locate official lists of passengers arriving in the USA. See Information sheet 13: Emigration to USA and Canada.

How can I find out about my father's career in the Merchant Navy?

The Maritime Archives and Library does not hold official records of seafarers, but Information Sheet 43: Tracing Seafaring Ancestors in the Merchant Navy provides details of sources available in the UK and elsewhere for tracing seamen on British registered ships.
The Maritime Archives and Library holds many records of major shipping companies operating from Liverpool. These include Ocean Transport & Trading that incorporated Blue Funnel, Elder Dempster, Bibby Line, T&J Brocklebank and Pacific Steam Navigation Company. We also hold career papers of individual seafarers.

We also hold the records of two of the merchant navy training ships, which were moored on the Mersey in the latter half of the 19th century. These were HMS Conway and the TS Indefatigable, founded to give sea training to poor boys. Both of these collections contain records of the cadets who trained on them. See Information Sheet 9: Training Ships and Educational Establishments.

Do you have any information on a ship my grandfather sailed on, called Ann, around 1885?

You would need to look at the Lloyd's Register for 1885. This is an annual alphabetical list of vessels giving details current at the time of publication. Until 1890 it was almost exclusively limited to British-registered vessels, although some foreign vessels that regularly traded with the UK were included. As well as being available at the Maritime Archives and Library copies are also to be found in other archives and libraries with maritime collections - see Information Sheet No. 47: Holdings of Lloyd's register and Lloyd's list

Lloyd's Register will provide you with the name of the owner and the port at which the ship was registered. If it belonged to the Port of Liverpool you will be able to find out more from the Registers of Merchant Ships (1739-1988). We may also have records of the shipping company who owned the ship.
We may also be able to provide you with a photograph or plan of the ship your ancestor sailed on, from our collections of photographs and plans.

Did the Titanic ever visit Liverpool?

No. Although the Titanic was registered at the Port of Liverpool, she sailed from Southampton which was White Star Line's main transatlantic port in 1912. See Information Sheet 41: RMS Titanic or the Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress gallery for further details.

My father served on the merchant ship [name supplied]. Do you have a photograph from which I can obtain a reprint?

Often we can supply the image requested or suggest alternative sources - see Information Sheet 33: Alternative Photographic Sources & Further Research. It greatly assists our search if you can include an approximate date associated with your query, ie when your relative served on the ship you are enquiring about. Ships from different shipping companies and in service at different times can all bear the same name, and so providing an approximate date reduces confusion. Please contact our photography department, who may already have a copy of a suitable image of the ship you are interested in, at and who will be able to advise you on the service they offer. You could also see Information Sheet 33: Alternative Photographic Sources and Further Research.

My ancestors emigrated to Australia in 1845. Can you supply me with a photograph of this ship?

Photography came into the public use in 1839, so very early photographs are rare. Whilst we do have some early images, the majority do not go back further than the 1860s. However, we have some images illustrating ships built prior to the 1860s, although the photographs are not contemporary with the build date. For ships in service from 1839 to 1860, it is worth contacting us to see what we might have, but images of early emigrant ships are more likely to be represented in an engraving or painting. We may be able to find an illustration of a generic ship type, eg a schooner or barque, rather than an illustration of a specific ship. Please contact our photography department, who may already have a copy of a suitable image of the ship you are interested in, at and who will be able to advise you on the service they offer. You could also see Information Sheet 33: Alternative Photographic Sources and Further Research.

If we are not able to find an image of the ship we might be able to supply details of where it was built, which could help in locating the shipbuilding archives, which may contain illustrations of the vessel.

I've heard that enslaved Africans were kept in cellars beneath buildings along the Goree and Strand in Liverpool city centre, and that the original shackles can still be seen. Is this true?

Almost certainly not. While Liverpool vessels were responsible for shipping thousands of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to plantations in the Americas during the years of the transatlantic slave trade, relatively few Africans made it as far as Liverpool. They were generally sold in America and the ships were loaded with cargoes like cotton, sugar and tobacco before returning to Liverpool. The few Africans who were brought to Liverpool came as domestic servants as it was considered fashionable amongst the upper classes to have a Black servant. Some Africans also came to the city as seamen: the Davenport collection features wage books listing Africans as crewmembers.

The ‘shackles', which do exist in several waterfront cellars, are actually simple metal rings. The quickest and easiest way to lower cask goods into a shallow basement was by the technique known as 'parbuckling'. Two ropes secured to rings in the basement wall are passed over the top of the cask, which is then rolled down the wall under control by a man on each of the ropes. When you consider the variety of goods that used to be packed in casks you understand why there were lots of 'slave rings' in Liverpool cellars.

Further information about the transatlantic slave trade and Liverpool's involvement is on the International Slavery Museum website.