The muster rolls are the surviving paperwork for the Whitby Merchant Seamen’s Hospital’s regulation of the ‘seaman’s sixpence’, an 18th century pension provision. This pension provided financial support to injured seamen and to the widows and children of seamen who died whilst serving on merchant ships.
The muster rolls 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 many 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 museum added over 7,000 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. Most of these muster roll sheets are from the period 1747 to 1795.
Since the muster rolls are in a fragile condition the original documents are not 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 have created an Access database so that more varied searches are possible including by crew name. Starting in 2015 our small team of volunteers had transcribed and indexed 5,000 of the muster rolls as of February 2022.
Since the launch of the museum’s new website in 2022 it has been posible to examine and search a subset of the muster role information on line. For more complete details of the entries on the individual muster rolls please contact the Library and Archive team.