City’s Victorian Dockland history comes alive

More than a million Liverpool maritime records have been published online – offering unique insight into a period in history when the city’s port was one of the biggest in the world.

The Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919 collection has been published online by Ancestry, the world’s largest online family history resource, from original records held by the Liverpool Record Office, and features the names of crew members who worked on vessels registered to the Port of Liverpool.

The records were a form of employment contract between the shipping company and crew, and needed to be completed before any vessel set sail. The collection, which refers to a total of 912 ships and spans nearly 50 years, lists each crew member’s name, age, birthplace, residence and past maritime experience, and even remarks on their general behaviour. There are also details on each list regarding whether crew members were discharged, deserted or died at sea.

The most famous name included in the records is Edward Smith, known for captaining the maiden voyage of the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Smith was controlling the liner when she hit an iceberg on the night of the 14th April 1912 and was one of over 1,500 who perished as the ship sank to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.

In the Crew Lists, Smith is shown to have joined the White Star Line shipping company in 1880 and soon became one of its most respected captains – trusted to guide the largest new vessels in its fleet. He is mentioned in the records in 1901 as captain of the SS Majestic, when he and his crew were called upon to transport troops to Cape Colony to fight in the Boer War. Following these actions, Smith was awarded a special Transport Medal for his service.

However warning signs of later tragedy soon emerged. In 1911, Smith was captaining the RMS Olympic when he collided with British warship HMS Hawke. Following the collision, the ship’s propeller was badly damaged and the vessel had to be returned to port.

Also featured in the collection is the crew of the RMS Scotia, a famous mid-Victorian passenger liner. In 1863 she won the Blue Riband (the award given to the vessel that breaks the record for the fastest Atlantic crossing), making the journey at an average speed of 14.46 knots (16.6 miles per hour).

The history of Liverpool is intrinsically linked to the development of its port throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with its natural harbour helping the city become a powerhouse of the industrial revolution and a key transport hub for travel to the promising shores of America and Australia.

The port also contributed greatly to the diversity found within the city, with Liverpool rapidly developing a uniquely Irish character. Around 300,000 (i) migrants arrived in the city from Ireland in 1847 alone as the famines ravaged Ireland that year, and within five years a quarter of the city’s population were Irish-born (ii).

Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry comments: “From ship captains to their crew, this collection sheds light on a period in which the port of Liverpool was a global transport hub. With more than a million maritime records now available online at Ancestry it will also be of huge significance for anybody looking to trace their seafaring ancestors back to Liverpool at this time.”

Liverpool Record Office based at Liverpool Central Library & Archive holds extensive collections of archives from the 13th century onwards relating to all aspects of the City’s history. It has been delighted to work in partnership with Ancestry over several years on this major project. This now means that for the first time thousands of unique and fragile archives can be made more easily accessible for people tracing their family history and for researching maritime history. Free access to is provided at Liverpool’s libraries.  

To search the Liverpool Crew Lists, visit

(i) According to figures from Labour Migration in England, 1800-1850, by Arthur Redoford (published 1926)

(ii) According to information held by the National Museums Liverpool, in the year 1851 25 per cent of the population of Liverpool had been born in Ireland.

Liverpool Waterfront