In Search of Missing Vessels

A Compendium of Potentially Missing Vessels recorded in the British Press in the 19th Century.

By Ed Cumming, NAS Fellow, MIBEC Publications

If you can add to this publication in anyway please make contact with Ed Cumming directly ([email protected])

Part 1 – Waifs of the Sea
An index of identifiable wreckage from shipwreck and / or losses from vessels. Recorded in the British Press in the 19th century

Part 2 – Vessels Recorded Missing
An index of vessels, recorded as missing, in Lloyd’s and other British Newspapers of the 19th century.

Part 3 – Messages in Bottles
A listing of bottles containing a message from a distressed vessel, recovered in the nineteenth century and recorded in the British Press.

Introduction by Ed Cumming

There are in excess of 12,800 records transcribed from various newspaper archives, from 1800 to 1900. Historic newspaper reports are very similar to those of the modern day and should always be treated with caution; users of this data must be alert to misinformation and mistakes. It is recommended that for any information taken from these records, an attempt is made to validate it. Since most of these entries are generally only a précis from a single report, a further search, particularly of the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) and the Internet, will often reveal more data when a vessel of interest is identified in one of these lists. Additional detail could also be discoverable in other archives like local port records, or Lloyd’s Register. Many of these entries certainly have potential for some very interesting and worthwhile research.

Unfortunately, data like this can never be definitive, the aim of all these three listings, in this search for missing vessels, is to at least make a significant start. Further entries will hopefully be added when new material is teased from the existing archives, and others appearing on the Internet. Thousands of new newspaper pages are, for example, appearing in the BNA every year. During the coming years I am certainly hoping I can persuade others to contribute new entries, possibly enhance, and if necessary correct, those already listed. Any contributions will be suitably acknowledged.

Included in some of these transcriptions is contemporary text which often uses the archaic use of capital letters, punctuation, tense, shorthand and variations in the spelling. There is certainly no guarantee of correct spellings; particularly names of the people, vessels and place names. The text transcribed is in fact very close to that found in the individual reports. There is occasional duplication of data in this extensive listing, in the case of Waifs of the Sea, there is the potential for more than one name source on a vessel. There are also a few duplicated reports, since like modern newspapers they shared information freely, and some entries contain more information than others.

Remember most search engines like those at the British Newspaper Archive use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to give a summary of the specific search. The resulting, displayed text is often appalling. In almost all cases you must open and view the publication’s page and read the text on the page selected, to obtain an accurate assessment of whether the text on the page is relevant. This is assuming the search engine has managed to highlight the search word(s) required in the first place. Many of these newspaper copies are poor and have faded with age.

The various incidents have been listed in date order to assist the search process, rather than alphabetically. These lists are also made up of particular periods of the nineteenth century, again, to assist searching. However, with such an extensive listing, searching is not that simple. Where the transcribed information remains in the digital format like, this pdf file, search engines like ‘Find on this page’ work very effectively, probably almost 100 per cent. The ‘Windows 10’ PDF reader works extremely well, and will even read you the text.

It is quite obvious that thousands, of vessels, will sadly never appear, i.e. those lost without any trace or witness or discoverable record in the archives available. Unlike many shipwreck incident listings, very few of these reports indicate a positive outcome for the ship’s company. Part 3 is a good example.

You can download the full searchable Missing Vessel Compendium for free here.