Historical records

Sources for Maritime History

The collections relating to maritime history in the holdings of the National Archives are disparate, encompassing official records created prior to the foundation of the state, government departmental records, business archives and small private deposits.

Customs and Excise Records, REV/9

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1786 required the owners of any British ship with a deck of more than 15 tons burden to register it with Customs officers in its home ports. There was a consequent Irish Act in 1787 entitled ‘An Act for the Further Increase and Encouragement of Shipping and Navigation. As a result, Registers of Ships were kept in Ireland by local Collectors of Customs, and transcripts of these Registers were transmitted to the Custom House in Dublin in accordance with regulations laid down by the Irish Customs Commissioners. In the early 1820s there was an amalgamation of the British and Irish Customs services and the provisions of the British Act governing registration of ships were applied to Ireland. From 1824 transcripts of the Registers in Irish Ports were sent to London. The whereabouts of the records generated 1787-1823 are unknown, they probably perished in the Dublin Custom House in 1921.

Some original 19th century Registers of Ships and other records were retained by Custom Houses in Ireland and are available for consultation in the National Archives. These registers provide much information on the ships and their owners, such as number of vessel, port of registry, date of registry, name of vessel, tonnage, name of master, when and where built or condemned as prize, name and employment of surveying officer, number of decks, number of masts. Length, breadth, depth, depth in hold, details of rigging, bowsprit, stern, galleries, type of figurehead, horsepower of engines, names and addresses of subscribing owners and number of share held. Changes of masters and shareholding are also frequently noted.


Records of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, 1860 – 1921

The records of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen consist of crew lists, and agreements with seamen regarding wage rates, conditions of service and related information, of ships registered in what is now the south of Ireland between 1860 and 1921. They came to the National Archives in 1971 and 1978 from the Board of Trade in Britain.

The records are searchable by name, vessel name, departure port, date of event, age, town/county of origin, year of birth, year of death, place of death. Records after 1922 are held with the Mercantile Marine Office.



Department of Marine, 1880s-1960s –  established in 1987 the responsibilities of the department encompass many areas formerly distributed among various government departments and bodies and consolidated under one heading.


Board of Works

The Commissioners of Fisheries were established in 1819 and revoked in 1830. The surviving records among the Board of Works include:

Minute Books 1819-31. Letter book 1823-4; tonnage bounty ledger 1820-1830; general ledgers relating to piers, supply of fishing tackle etc 1821-29; account book 1819-30; Irish Fishery Loan Fund accounts 1826-1830; accounts of the Pier Fund 1826-1830; Piers ledger and accounts 1819-1830; Fisheries cash books 1827-1831.

The Board of Works collection also includes the records of several harbour authorities created under various acts in the early 19th century and whose functions were taken over by the Board, records include:

Donaghdee Harbour Commissioners 1820-1848

Dún Laoghaire (Kingstown) Harbour Commissioners 1815-1884

Dunmore Harbour Commissioners 1831-1848

Howth Harbour Commissioners 1807-1847

Records of Piers and Harbours 1800-1890: early material relates mainly to Howth and Dún Laoghaire, Records include letter books, accounts, harbour engineers office letter book

Irish Reproductive Loan Fund 1847 -1890 :This was a subscription fund opened in 1822 for relief of distress in Ireland, monies from thsi fund was made to the Fishery Commissioners who in the 1840s established six fish curing stations. The records are patchy but date 1847 -1890

Coastguard records: registers 1865-1935; letterbooks 1847-1849, 1866-1873

Maps plans and drawings many relating to harbours and piers from early 19th century

Office of Public WorksHarbour, Navigation and Fisheries Registers 1850-1935


Irish Harbour Authorities

Dublin Port and Docks Board – the majority of the records are still held by the authority themselves but the National Archives hold minutes of the Ballast Office Committee from 1708, letter books from the 1850s and records of operations relating to Custom House Docks from 1912.

Waterford Harbour Commissioners – The largest surviving collection of harbour records in the country dating from its inception in 1816, including a complete set of Board minutes. Pilot station returns books exist in an almost unbroken run from 1817 concerning returns filled in at the stations of Passage and Dunmore. Maps, plans and drawings survive from early 19th century and a large quantity of operational records relating to the engineer’s department relating primarily to harbour engineer William Friel’s career from 1890s to his retirement in the 1960s.

Westport Harbour Commissioners –  minute books 1870-1952; arrival of vessels books 1892-1952, ballast charges book 1856-1934, accounts 1855-1890s.


Companies Registration Office – files relating to companies of maritime interest and dissolved between 1922-1960 will be included.


Business Records – Many collections of maritime interest are held at the National Archives, these include:

DUB 109 – B & I Line, 1836-1938 : the collection also include minutes of companies acquire by the B& I Line such as Michael Murphy Ld; The Dublin and Lancashire Shipping Company Ltd; the City of Cork Steam Packet Company Ltd; the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company and the Dublin General Steam Shipping Company Ltd.

DUB 39 – W.O McCormick and Co. Ltd., Coal Merchants and Shipbrokers, Dún Laoghaire,1852-1900: microfilmed account books

WICK 6 – William J O’Toole Shipbrokers/Stevedores, Arklow, 1930-1966: arrivals and sailings book and a customs clearance book

CAR 15 – Neptune Iron Works, Shipbuilders, Waterford, 1856-1878: records relating to ship building costs for 23 vessels

DUB 126 – R Perry and Co., Ship Chandlers, Dún Laoghaire, 1911

WAT 31 – Graves and Co. Timber Importers, Waterford, 1813-1849: ledgers relating to shipping operations

Chief Secretaries Office Registered Papers

Customs and Excise records and other maritime related records will also be found among this collection. This collection can be searched from 1818-1833:



Private deposits

Atlantic Royal Mail Steam Navigation Company (NAI, M 5383): steamship services from Galway to America 1858-1861

Dublin and Liverpool Steamship Building Company (NAI, M 386): directors minute book 1839-1911

Palgrave Murphy and Co. (NAI, PRIV 989): cash books, journals, ledgers, steamer accounts 1876

Westport Customs and Excise (NAI, PRIV 1081) correspondence 1837-1881

Sir Cyril Wyche Papers (NAI, PRIV 183): letters and papers relating to Ships customs 1692-1693

Appointment of Thomas Milward to be a sub-commissioner of excise for the port of Cork, 1764. (NAI, M 1052)

Lease of Custom House, Kinsale, 1775 (NAI, M 237)


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