Muster Rolls

Whitby Merchant Seaman’s Muster Rolls

Conservation Example
Conserving muster rolls Example of a muster roll

The Muster Rolls are a unique series of historical documents which are the surviving paperwork for the Whitby Merchant Seamen’s Hospital’s regulation of the “seaman’s sixpence”, an eighteenth century pension provision.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 record a wealth of information about crews and ships, and offer a particularly rare insight into working men’s lives.

The Muster Rolls record age and place of birth; port where and when enlisted; where and when leaving the ship; name of the ship and its owners.

The Library holds on microfilm the Whitby Muster Rolls from 1747 to 1795 and also some Whitby Muster Rolls from 1800 to 1850.

The Museum added over seven thousand Whitby Muster Rolls 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 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 Muster Roll images has been produced and these are available on a computer network in the Museum Library. The next stage of the project is the digitisation of the information in the Muster Rolls so that it can be made available to researchers in a searchable format. A team of volunteers was assembled in 2015 and this transcription process has started, although it will be several years before all of the images have been processed.