I thought this list might be interested in some research I have done
recently on records relating to seafarers in West Wales. Of course, the
coastline of Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and as far as
Swansea and beyond up the Bristol Channel to Cardiff and Newport, means
there is a strong tradition of going to sea in ships of all shapes and
sizes. And, of course, we have the wonderful websites put together over
several years now by Reg. Davies and others to help us already.
I have been interested recently in two maritime-related questions / problems
which may have wider implications for such research.
Crew Lists 1836-1851
The first was the fate of a George Picton, who was baptised at Carew in
Pembrokeshire in 1790 and whose date and place of marriage and death I have
never been able to find, even including the deaths at sea index - now online
and easily searchable for the first time at FindMyPast.
I am not sure if he ever married, but he had a son, Levi Picton, by a woman
called Elizabeth David and he was baptised in 1820 at Molleston Baptist
Chapel in the parish of Narberth. He married at Neath twice, in 1841 and
1855. On his marriage certificates his father is described as George
Picton, mariner, and George Picton, mariner, deceased.
One of the large, unindexed series of records at the National Archives,
contemporary with the 1841 and 1851 Census Returns, are the Agreements and
Crew Lists in Class BT 98. These cover both the Ports of Milford and
Swansea and all of the associated smaller ports in-between and run from 1835
There are a large number of Welsh seafarers in these documents, many of whom
are probably not recorded in these Census Returns if they were away from
home on the night of the Census. Because of the importance of the copper
and other mineral trades going into and out of the Lower Swansea Valley at
this time - then many mariners from the Dyfed coastline were probably
employed on vessels bringing these minerals and other items into the Swansea
Ports, so any search needs to extend beyond that of the Port of Milford.
This is my working hypothesis as to where George Picton may have gone, and
might explain how his son, Levi Picton, got to Neath. These records give the
age and place of birth of the merchant seamen, so they are almost as good as
the Census Returns - and indeed can be considered superior to the 1841
Census in several respects, like giving the age and place of birth.
Royal Navy Ships Muster Rolls Prior to 1809
The second query I have faced was trying to understand how the process
worked for getting seamen who were persuaded to join the Royal Navy in West
Wales from Milford Haven and surrounds to Plymouth before the construction
of the shipbuilding facilities and the arrival of the Royal Navy at Milford
and then at Pembroke Dock from 1809 onwards.
Again I was prompted by records I had dug up on a William Picton, who had
died in October 1793 at Antigua on board HMS Solebay. I don't have all the
answers as yet - but this is how far I have got.
I had turned him up from Reg. Davies website - where he has abstracted the
entries in Class ADM 26/1 for Wales. These were payments made to relatives
of deceased seamen - and in the case to David Picton of Keeston in the
parish of Camrose in 1796.
The main series of records which describe where each ship in the Royal Navy
was deployed on a month-by-month basis is Class ADM 8 at the National
Archives, so from this you can work out when HMS Solebay left Plymouth, her
size and crew numbers, etc. The Ships Muster Rolls for HMS Solebay in Class
ADM 36 for 1793 enables you to discover when William Picton joined the ship
at Plymouth. From this it is clear that he transferred from HMS Cambridge
to HMS Solebay in about late May of 1793, just a few days before she sailed
from Plymouth to the West Indies.
As an aside the vessel was crewed with about 182 sailors (the nominal muster
roll for a 32-gun ship was 220) and 32 marines. Such was the mortality in
the West Indies at this time from yellow fever and malaria, etc. that if 20
of this ship's complement came back alive towards the end of 1795 when HMS
Solebay returned to port, I would be surprised.
HMS Cambridge seems to have served as a Depot Ship for new seamen at
Plymouth, where they were enrolled on her books whilst probably undergoing
further basic training. Her Muster Rolls reveal a very high turnover of
naval personnel. A note against William Picton referenced two other
previous vessels - HMS Myrmidon and HMS Hope.
HMS Myrmidon was a slop ship - where the new seamen would have received
their uniform and kit. So this vessel again had a very high turnover of
seamen, although it has not yet proved possible to locate William Picton on
the Muster Rolls.
HMS Hope was a naval tender. This was a small vessel, commanded by a
Lieutenant and a crew of only 8 seamen. This vessel plied between Milford
and Plymouth (and elsewhere) - and when carrying seamen from Milford the
number of Supernumeraries on board increased to well over 100. Again, for
the period of interest, it seems that the majority of seamen were taken off
this tender and on board HMS Culloden at Plymouth - which was a 74-gun
A search on the National Archives website revealed 26 Tenders on the Royal
Navy books for 1793 - none of which are recorded in the Class ADM 8 series
but whose Muster Rolls survive at Kew. So I asked the expert at the
National Archives on Naval Records, Bruno Pappalardo, about this. This is
Thank you for your recent enquiry in regards to Tenders.
Like you I would have expected to have found the information you require in
ADM 8. Having eliminated this resource there a several other sources worth
For example ADM 7/456-460 (musters books abstracts) for 1793; ADM 7/555
(list of ships and stations) for 1793; and ADM 7/575 (abstracts of ships'
journals) for 1793. If these sources prove not right then I would suggest
that you would need to look at the correspondence of the Navy Board, which
administered the dockyards, in ADM 106 or even the indexes to Admiralty
correspondence in ADM 12.
Needless to say but the last two suggested sources will require speculative
and time-consuming searching.
It seems that each major Royal Navy Dockyard in Britain had a network of
tenders acting in a communication and transport capacity between them and
the other significant 'local' ports in the British Isles. If you could
identify which tenders were localised to which Dockyards, perhaps especially
Plymouth in the case of West Wales, you should be able to pick up those
Welshmen who joined the Royal Navy from these tender Muster Rolls.
Although this is a time-consuming process, any alternative procedure is
likely to prove even more time-consuming - such as searching the actual
Ships Muster Rolls of the Royal Naval vessels assigned to the Plymouth
So it seems to me that scanning and indexing the BT 98 series of documents
for the Ports of Milford, would be a considerable boon to complement the
Census Returns now all online - and this would not be too arduous a task for
the professional information handling companies themselves. The actual
records would also probably benefit from less handling in future. They are
not so fragile as the BT 26 and BT 27 documents now indexed and online - but
nevertheless do get quite crumpled in the boxes in which they are bundled.
I have found occasional Crew Lists misfiled also - I think I have counted
three so far in the boxes for the port of Swansea.
The Royal Navy tender documents are more of a 'work in progress' - and as I
make any more progress I will keep you informed.