Muster Rolls

Whitby Merchant Seaman’s Muster Rolls

Conservation Example
Conserving muster rolls Example of a muster roll

The muster rolls are the surviving paperwork for the Whitby Merchant Seamen’s Hospital’s regulation of the “seaman’s sixpence”, an eighteenth century pension provision. This pension provided financial support to injured seamen and to the widows and children of seamen who died while serving on merchant ships.

The muster rolls can record a wealth of information about crews and ships, and offer an insight into merchant seamen’s working lives.

The muster rolls often record age and place of birth; port where and when enlisted; where and when leaving the ship; name of the ship and its owners.  However some muster rolls had only brief details entered.

The individual muster roll sheets were completed by the master or the mate and then sent to the Whitby Seaman’s Hospital. The information on each sheet was then transferred into a ledger. The Library and Archive has digital images of the pages from these ledgers  from 1747 to 1795.  The only way these ledger images can be searched is by ship name.

The Museum added over seven thousand Whitby muster roll sheets to our collection in 2010. These Muster Rolls were in need of repair and conservation and Whitby Museum worked in partnership with North Yorkshire County Record Office, ICON (The Institute of Conservation), and teams of volunteers on a conservation project. We are very grateful to the Thomas William Varley Roe Deceased Trust for providing the funding to allow for the purchase and conservation of these muster rolls.

Since the muster rolls are in a fragile condition the original documents will not be made available for research. A set of high resolution images of the muster rolls  have been produced as part of the conservation process. We are transcribing and indexing the information found on these images and are creating an Access database so that more varied searches are possible including by crew name.   Starting in 2015 our team of volunteers had transcribed and indexed nearly  3000 of the muster rolls as of February 2018.

At present searches can only be done by staff of the Library and Archive.