A visit to Greenwich with the Navy Records Society

On February the 18th, I was privileged to visit the Caird Library & Archive at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich with other Navy Records Society members as part of a trip I had arranged.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by archival staff and given a short presentation on the history of the Caird Library, its relocation from what is now the Pacific Encounters exhibition at the museum, and the processes involved in selecting or approving documents to be kept for future generations and researchers. A longer process than many of us had imagined, especially once we were told about the sheer number of documents being offered regularly from private collections. It was interesting for many of us to find out how cataloguing worked and how many people are involved in this process.
Around 5000 people visit the Caird Library every year to consult from around 6,025m of archive & original documents, 4,683m of printed books and 1,247m of maps and charts! So much history, right beneath your feet.
One recent acquisition is a selection of papers from the Colville family. These include the letters of Admiral Colville, who took on the young James Cook as Master of his flagship, the Northumberland. The cataloguing of these papers will take around eighteen months and, as such, these documents have not yet been seen by the research community. We felt very privileged to be allowed a ‘sneak peak’ as it were! Especially as some of the other members are working on topics mentioned in these journals and letters.

(Excerpts from Colville’s journals will appear soon in the NRS Online Magazine)

We were shown some ‘letters from the lower deck’ including a petition from a German seaman on the Foudroyant in 1799, judged as fit to serve, but wanting to go home.
Another was from a Marine, wanting to appeal his disciplinary charge. These documents are always fascinating and seeing them gave us an insight into the priorities of some of these men, and a brief glimpse into their lives.
After the tour was concluded, members headed to The Trafalgar Tavern to swap notes and research stories. It was a wonderful afternoon, and many have said they are already looking forward to the next, to be held at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth later this year.
Interested in naval history? You can join the Navy Records Society from only £20.

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