If you have Navy Ancestors a trip to the Caird Library and Archive at Greenwich Maritime Museum could be worthwhile.
The museum and archive is about 5 minutes walk from Cutty Sark station on the DLR. As you leave the station the first thing you see is the magnificent ship towering above the surrounding buildings.
The layout of the Maritime Museum on the ground floor can be confusing but there are several staff on hand to point you to the library. Once at the library, the usual identity checks, issue of locker keys and reading card take place and you can go into the communal study area or the quiet study zone to look at the catalogue and order your books or papers. However, it is best to register on the website ahead of your visit and order the items you want in advance from the online catalogue. They will then be waiting for you at the desk on your arrival. If you choose to order on the day there are several deadline times for selecting the documents which arrive about 40 minutes later. Cushions to rest and read the documents or books are plentiful and you are requested to use them.
My quest was to look at the private diaries of Midshipman G Codrington, written while on board the HMS Bellerophon in 1894 to see if there was any information about Great Uncle Jim’s attempt to desert. I had obtained his Navy Service Record from a search on Ancestry.co. uk although it is also available on the National Archives Website in series ADM 188, Registers of seamen’s services 1873-1924. I was in luck, Codrington wrote in detail about the attempted desertion of around 20 men while the ship was in dock at Newport, North America. Not only that but he had cut out and added newspaper articles about the incident.
I also examined some other ships’ log books for the following year when Uncle Jim was in the far east. They vary in the detail written within but some contain beautiful drawings, fascinating observations and general accounts of the ship’s voyage. The scent of tobacco smoke was still evident in the pages of one log book.
Uncle Jim died on board the Ben-My-Shree. The log books for this voyage are held by The National Archives at ADM 53/35192. The exact co-ordinates of the ship are noted at the time he dropped to the deck of the ship and died from a cerebral haemorrhage. The following day he was buried at sea. Once again the exact co-ordinates of his burial at sea, off the coast of Syria, were recorded.
There is much to learn about our Naval ancestors. The Caird Library and Archives are full of information that can help us extend our knowledge of their lives at sea and the history of the ships they sailed.