Case study 2: Finding the details and background of a voyage

Gloucester to Limerick

Fig 1: Edward Grindle
Image © Karen Trepte

The man in the picture is Edward Grindle who was an able seaman in the 1880s.

His descendant, Karen Trepte, had found him on the 1881 census but had not been able to make out the name of the ship - a common problem. We were able to read the name and provide pointers to CLIP data available on Findmypast which luckily provided details of several of his ships, going on from 1881 to 1895 when he died.

According to a family story Karen told us, he had his caul and kept with him as it was supposed to protect seamen from drowning, but had lent it to someone else before the voyage on which he died.

In the picture, he is wearing a gansey - the standard working clothing for seamen, particularly fishermen. That is a fairly plain one but they were considered smart enough for wear ashore (for a studio portrait, for example) as well as at work. Our thanks to Karen for permission to use the picture.

One of his ships was the George and Susan of Dublin. That was lucky, because the crew lists for ships from Irish ports were digitised by the LDS Church many years ago and are now available online on a National Archives of Ireland site.

This case study illustrates how to follow that path to find out more about one voyage in the 1880s and its historical context.

We are most grateful to Karen for the information, the photograph and for allowing us to base this case-study on her research.

Using this case study

The case study can be followed step by step, or you can jump to a step by following one of these links:

Using online indexes Using the shipping news in newspapers online Finding the weather

Some of the steps have a 'More information' panel which you can open by clicking on the panel.

If some of the screen shots are too small, from a keyboard you can enlarge the page using Ctrl + (Ctrl 0 resets it).

Please note

We receive many requests for assistance from researchers. We do not do individual research, but we are happy to provide a bit of advice if anyone has hit snags. We know how daunting and complicated this can be.

As in this case, we sometimes follow the research trail from the initial request, out of curiosity and because we often learn things along the way.

More information about indexes of seafarers and about ganseys...

As well as the CLIP data, there are several indexes of seamen online. One or two of them provide images of the crew documents, which is a tremendous bonus, because getting a copy of a document usually involves contacting the archives that hold it and buying a copy.

These are the CLIP details of how to use indexes including a list of indexes at local archives and indexes online.

There are several sites about ganseys. For example, they are an important part of Scotland's fishing heritage and there are details here:

These links open a new browser page or tab and we suggest that you keep the present page open and return to it to follow the case study.


Using online indexes

Using the National Archives of Ireland crew list site

This is a link to the National Archives of Ireland search form.

Enter the details in the search form and click the Search button. Then follow the links through to the Details screen which has links to the images for that document.

Fig 2: Using the National Archives of Ireland crew list site
Fig 3: Results of the search
Fig 4: List of images for that document

These are the images for the half-yearly crew agreement (Eng 6) for the George and Susan. One of the pages was blank. It was a home trade agreement because Ireland was part of the United Kingdom at that time.

Fig 5: Front cover of the Eng 6 agreement
Fig 6: The crew list, showing when Edward Grindle signed on and off
Fig 7: List of voyages for the George and Susan. Cargoes are not usually shown

The crew list confirms that Edward Grindle was aboard, with his birthplace and age.

The voyages show several trips between the west of Ireland (Foynes, Kilrush and Limerick) and ports in the Bristol Channel. We wondered what cargo might have been carried?

We also wondered why the return trip from Limerick had taken much longer than the outward bound voyage, given that the prevailing wind in the Celtic Sea is south-westerly. Was the ship sheltering from November Atlantic gales?

More information about crew lists...

There are details about crew lists and agreements on our site, here:

There is also the excellent site, 'More than a list of crew', prepared by the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland, the home to 70% of the crew documents for British ships. Highly recommended.

The links open a new browser page or tab and we suggest that you keep the present page open and return to it to follow the case study.

The next step

Finding details of cargoes is not easy. Unfortunately, crew agreements show details of the voyages but rarely show the ship's cargo.

You can sometimes infer the cargo from the port. For example, a South American port might mean guano, North Wales ports probably mean slate and South Wales ports imply coal.

There were also well travelled routes. West country ships travelled to maritime Canada, sometimes with emigrants, back across the Atlantic with salt fish to the Mediterranean and then back to Britain with olive oil and wine. Earlier, there was the notorious and shameful triangular trade from Britain to west Africa with goods, to the Caribbean with slaves and back to Britain with sugar.

In recent years, access to newspapers online has made it possible to get more details about the cargoes of individual ships. Many newspapers carried business news, which included details of shipping movements, and in some cases the goods that were being carried. Emigrant ships frequently advertised a voyage for some weeks before sailing.

We've shown how that works below.

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Using the shipping news in newspapers online

Searching the shipping news

There are several web sites which provide access to newspapers and our site has links to them - see below:

Searching sometimes takes a little patience.

You can use some combination of the ship's name, the port, the master's name, and adding the word 'Shipping' sometimes helps. Ships were often identified by their master's name, so 'Mary Jane, Jones' refers to the ship Mary Jane with a master named Jones.

Filtering for particular newspapers, such as Lloyd's List, might help, but remember that many newspapers for inland towns also carried shipping news.

Narrowing the date range for the search can be highly effective if you are looking for a particular voyage, but bear in mind that information often took days or weeks to be transmitted across the world and that reports of inquiries into sinkings might be published some time after the event.

Fig 7 shows one entry for the George and Susan with her leaving Gloucester with a cargo of salt. There is also some more interesting information.

Fig 8: The Gloucester Journal for 8 October 1887

The newspaper cutting showed the George and Susan's master - Kearon - and that she left Gloucester with a cargo of 161 tons of salt for Limerick.

That's a lot of salt.

It also shows where the salt came from: Corbett. Using a search engine with a search for 'Corbett salt' turned up more detail about that.

'Corbett' refers to John Corbett who had a large salt manufacturing business near Droitwich, so the salt will have come down to Gloucester by canal barge. Gloucester was then a major port linking through the canal system and the River Severn to the whole of the west Midlands and beyond, with access to the sea via the Gloucester and Sharpness canal and the Severn Estuary. There were huge warehouses, which still stand, as does the Mariners' Church, which Edward Grindle will have seen.

This useful site provides historical details of several industries, including a page about John Corbett, the salt king:

Well, what was anyone doing with 161 tons of salt in Limerick?

A bit more searching online for 'Limerick salt' turned up the answer. Salt has always been a vital commodity and, in the time before modern food technology and refrigeration, it was the main way of preserving food. Limerick was famous for bacon which needs salt to cure it; other major uses were in salting fish and in curing hides to make leather. These were all important trades in the west of Ireland. Limerick was at the mouth of the Shannon and had good railway links north, south, east and west, so was an excellent place to set up business as a salt merchant.

The company which was almost certainly the one which bought the salt was John R Tinsly, which is still in existence in Limerick and still selling salt. It is now owned by the McGuire family, but retains the original name.

So that provided an interesting context, going beyond a general historical overview to a more detailed picture.

More information about newspapers online...

CLIP information pages have details of newspapers online with another example of how they can be used.

The link opens a new browser page or tab and we suggest that you keep the present page open and return to it to follow the case study.

The next step

One question remained to answer. Why did the George and Susan take so long to get back to the Bristol Channel?

We found out what the weather was for that voyage.

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Finding the weather

The Met Office has a huge digital library and archive which is available online. The daily weather reports date back to 1860, with several pages for each day, including a synoptic chart together with a written summary which will give a good overall impression of the weather around Britain for that day.

Finding the Met Office daily weather reports

The Met Office digital library and archive is here:

Met Office digital library and archive

You will need to search amongst the various data sets for the Daily Weather Reports.

Then navigate down to the decade, year and month that you require.

From the digtial library home page, the sequence is:

Browse Archive

-> UK Observation Data & Reports

-> UK Observations

-> Daily Weather Report/Daily Weather Summary

Then navigate to the decade, year and month that you require. You can then browse through day by day.

The chart for 12 November 1887 is shown in Fig 10.

Fig 9: Daily weather reports
Fig 10: Weather chart for 12 November 1887

The chart shows high pressure over Ireland with fairly light easterly winds in the Celtic Sea and the Western Approaches, rather than the westerly gales that might be more normal in November. The George and Susan was not storm-bound, but probably making slow progress tacking against light headwinds and that's why the voyage took as long as it did.

The next steps

We didn't try to find out what the return cargo was from Limerick to Bristol. You could go on indefinitely...

There are many other interesting paths to follow, for example the history of the ship from her building, to her owners, changes of owners and her eventual fate.

This case study serves to illustrate one way of using the plentiful resources available to find day-to-day details of the life of a Victorian seafarer.

You can put those details into a context of the ships, ports and businesses of which they were a vital part, as well as the wider historical context, to provide a rich picture of the life of a long-dead seafarer.

That is why we find crew lists fascinating.

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