Our team: Reflections from the 2014 Summer Programme (Part 3)

Teachers, students, academics, writers, family researchers, sailors, and the just-plain-curious… our team of volunteer transcribers at MarineLives come from diverse walks of life. We are taking this time at the end of the calendar year to reflect on our successful transcription programmes in 2014, and to show our gratitude to the associates who made it all possible.

This is the third in an occasional series of posts, in which we’ve asked some of our associates to reflect on their experiences with the HCA corpus. Katherine Parker is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently writing her dissertation entitled “Toward a more ‘perfect knowledge': British geographic knowledge and South Seas exploration in the eighteenth century.” She worked alongside Colin Greenstreet, Dr. Philip Hnatkovich, and other members of the MarineLives group during the summer of 2014 over a period of twelve weeks.


Herman Moll, A New & Exact Map of the Coast, Countries and Islands within the Limits of the South Sea Company (1711)

I first heard of the MarineLives project in 2013, when they set up a PhD forum to review their project to digitize High Court Admiralty documents. I am a PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, completing a dissertation on the creation of geographic knowledge about the Pacific in the long eighteenth century. Some of the main actors in my study of exploration and print culture are Admiralty officials and Royal Navy officers, thus the MarineLives project piqued my interests.

On summer research trips to London in 2011 and 2012, I had looked at a few HCA documents and knew that the cases recorded in them offered rich material for social, economic, and naval history. Over the course of several skype meetings, I and other PhD students got to give our opinions about the proposed platform and methodology for transcription. Working with a team created a strong community aspect to the project from the beginning; I have always been impressed by the inclusiveness and openness that drives MarineLives. Also, it was refreshing to have my opinion valued as a PhD student, as sometimes that stage in one’s education is isolating and transitional—you are not yet qualified as an expert, but also not unknowledgeable about certain fields.

The value MarineLives placed on the voices of the PhD forum made me want to participate further, even though the works being transcribed were not strictly within the chronological bounds of my dissertation project. Thus, when the summer transcription project was created, I jumped at the opportunity to use paleographic and transcription skills I had gained after a year in London archives on a Social Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (2013-14).

Writing styles change over time, just like clothing and furniture styles. Thus, the letters inscribed within HCA volumes from the mid-seventeenth century posed a challenge for me, as I am used to the fluid, upright cursive (often written by a trained scribe or clerk) of the mid-eighteenth-century Admiralty. I came to enjoy the challenge of squinting at the digital pages in front of me, willing the words to make sense, filling in paragraphs slowly until suddenly they all made sense. Shakerley_1370_JPG Beyond the joys and frustrations of transcription, I also enjoyed working within a team environment, wherein each week the other members of my group discussed our progress via skype. My team was diverse, including academics, computer programmers, software developers, and retired professionals. Such a group underlines the power and importance of history to a broad audience; it is not a subject for the elite white tower of university study, but one for the streets; or more appropriately it is not a subject for restricted libraries, but for the open pages of the internet.


The digital aspect of MarineLives is my final point of interest. Digital humanities, digitization of sources, online museum exhibits—these are the history platforms of the future. As a person interested in, yet not particularly proficient in, educational technology, the MarineLives transcription summer project offered a soft landing to the leap into digital work. It was also gratifying to contribute to a piece of work that will democratize history research, eventually allowing students around the world to access documents that were limited previously to archival researchers. The MarineLives project does more than provide a digital product, it also trains and nurturers those involved with it. I am glad to count myself as someone who has benefited from my participation and hope the project continues to grow in the future.

Our team: Reflections from the Summer Programme 2014 (Part 2)

Teachers, students, academics, writers, family researchers, sailors, and the just-plain-curious… our team of volunteer transcribers at MarineLives come from diverse walks of life. We are taking this time at the end of the calendar year to reflect on our successful transcription programmes in 2014, and to show our gratitude to the associates who made it all possible.

This is the second in an occasional series of posts, in which we’ve asked some of our associates to reflect on their experiences with the HCA corpus. Thomas Davies is a third year history undergraduate student currently studying at Bath Spa University. He worked alongside Dr. Philip Hnatkovich and other members of the MarineLives group during the summer of 2014 over a period of twelve weeks.


This year I took part in the MarineLives summer transcription programme, which I was introduced to through Bath Spa as a third-year module. It was a twelve-week course in which we transcribed a series of documents from the records of the English High Court of Admiralty in 1660.

There were some challenging aspects of the programme — the main being distance. This was because we worked as a team and half of the team were based in the United Kingdom and half were based in the United States, so we had to be aware of time differences and that we would be unable to meet in person. To combat this we used email, Google Hangouts, and Skype and made good use of all the resources available to stay in touch when working on the documents together. We had weekly calls to discuss team business. The weekly calls helped because we would talk about the problems or issues we faced weekly and how the transcriptions were to be presented covering topics such as layout or abbreviations.

I found certain tasks I did really helped me throughout the module. I went to Bath archive before the programme began to get some practise and some tips from an expert who was used to working with these documents all the time. The archive also allowed me firsthand experience of being around these documents myself. I would ask for two or three documents and I would then try and read them or transcribe them and any words I struggled with ask for help (I needed help most of the time at this point) but the employee there gave me some great pointers and it adjusted my eyes to the style of writing. The background articles I was sent in the beginning weeks of the course also gave the work we were to be doing some more meaning as I understood why we were doing them and I had more knowledge surrounding sailors and what they faced in legal battles and also the language they would use on the ships.


The biggest challenge I faced in the transcription itself was becoming accustomed to the peculiar writing and distinguishing letters. Some letters look very similar, such as f’s and s’s, r’s and c’s not to mention t’s and l’s. I began transcribing effectively by taking it slow and working out the letters individually instead of looking at the word as a whole as we do with modern writing. I found this approach to be very effective.

MarineLives created a Bath Spa student section that helped me significantly, showing templates of letters and the different forms they have. This allowed me to tackle the many different writing styles the clerks used. Once I was able to distinguish between letters more clearly with considerable practise, I found I could transcribe enough of the page to get a good idea of what was being said in the documents. Then, I could alter words that did not fit within the context of the deposition, or using the context as a guideline as to what certain words should be.


The module has shown me how interesting history can be when you unveil it yourself. I would recommend it to any student looking to do a flexible module over the summer or anyone what wants to learn how to transcribe in a friendly, welcoming environment. Studying with MarineLives allows you to research at a deeper level by extracting information yourself so you know the transcription is reliable because you have done it. It gives a deeper sense of satisfaction when compared to using other people’s statistics or information in a book because you get the first-hand knowledge.

A final comment is that no other historian has touched this document so you feel like a pioneer taking your own path and discovering new information about the past, which is particularly rewarding especially if the document holds interesting information. I also gained knowledge about the seventeenth century that I feel I would not have gained through reading books about that time period. You have to read pages from that time to understand, for example, shortened words, slang terms of the time, and the style of language.


Our team: Reflections from the Summer Programme 2014 (Part 1)

Teachers, students, academics, writers, family researchers, sailors, and the just-plain-curious… our team of volunteer transcribers at MarineLives come from diverse walks of life. We are taking this time at the end of the calendar year to reflect on our successful transcription programmes in 2014, and to show our gratitude to the associates who made it all possible.

This is the first in an occasional series of posts, in which we’ve asked some of our Summer Programme associates to reflect on their experiences with the HCA corpus. Roger Towner is a maritime regulator and former seafarer based in Southampton. He worked alongside Dr. Philip Hnatkovich and other members of the MarineLives group during the summer of 2014 over a period of twelve weeks.

I have spent all my working life either at sea or connected to it. I have had more than 25 years at sea as a navigator or Master, and nearly another twenty as a regulator dealing with seafarers’ qualifications. As a pastime I have been involved for over 20 years in 17th-century re-enactment, and as a part of that I have read and transcribed many original documents. I am delighted to be taking part in the MarineLives project where all these things come together.

Here we have the joy of reading manuscripts that possibly no one has needed to open since they were recorded, and knowing that by digitising these documents you are making the information not only accessible to anyone with an interest but also putting them into a searchable format for those trying to make sense of the past.

Some of the depositions bring back my own memories. I remember my first foreign port in January ’71 coming to anchor off the Grand Bahama, with the light dancing off the waves and the pastel houses amongst the trees. Later voyages to the Far East, West Indies, and West Africa where you can smell the spices and wet vegetation more than twenty miles out to sea. The terms of “factors” (now called “agents”), “super cargoes”, and “bills of lading” are all still common parlance. Writs are still affixed to ships’ mainmasts (a bit difficult now they are usually made of steel!). Luckily men are not still flogged at the Gear Capstan, but ships still have capstans and anchors and Masters.

PrincipalNavigations_jpgLook at Hakluyt’s writings with descriptions of voyages, Captain John Smith’s Sea Grammar for technical details and “The Safeguard of the Seas or Great Rutter” for seagoing directions where it says “…to the southwards of the high land of Dartmouth, in sight of the land, it is about 43 fathoms deep, & the ground is white sand, with some little shelles amongst it, and verie little small long things like unto such maggots as are sometimes in bacon.” No such vivid description in today’s Channel Pilot!


Watermen’s Hall (1778-80). Credit: Steve Cadman.

Look again at the deponents and depositions along the Thames in London. Take a walk along the modern banks with an old map: Wapping, Shadwell, Poplar, Tower Wharf, Billingsgate are all still identifiable, and Queen Hythe still looks much the same as it did near Pudding Lane. Read Pepys’ Diary and his travels up and down the river. The watermen and lightermen giving evidence belonged to the Honourable Company of Watermen and Lightermen, which still exist today with their headquarters at St. Mary the Axe near the Tower. They were incorporated by Henry VIII and well over 100 years old when we read their depositions in the Admiralty Court. I wonder if I’ve been dealing with their direct descendants today.

Kings and Queens and battles and politicians no doubt give you the skeleton of history, but original records about everyday people and their actions that you can read for yourself surely put the flesh on the bare bones of history. This is one of the outcomes that makes MarineLives so important.

Please adopt a witness

The MarineLives Summer Programme is underway. With the first week of transcription coming to a close, we  have fifty transcriptions under our belt, together with metadata for over three hundred manuscript pages.

Take a look at the following list of English Admiralty Court witnesses. They are described by name, occupation, residence, and in most cases their age, and are from folios 400r to 531r in the book of Court depositions covering the years 1659-1661 (HCA 13/73).


If you click on the links you will go to our HCA 13/73 wiki, where you will find an image of the original manuscript page on which the witness appears.

In most cases you will find a space, waiting for our team to transcribe the image. For witnesses marked in blue you will see both an image and a transcription.

Then contact us, and tell us if there is a particular witness about whom you would like to learn more, and if you know something already about that witness, please share it.



[WWW]Robert fframpton of Limehouse Shipwright late Carpenter of the ”Brazil ffrigot” (Thomas Heath Master) aged 35 yeares
[WWW]Phillip Manning of London Merchant aged 35 yeeres
[WWW]Daniel Boone of London merchant aged 23 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Davies servant and Aprentice to Edward Thompson of Shadwell Dealemerchant aged 19 yeeres
[WWW]John Shawe of Tower wharfe Sailemaker aged 20 yeeres
[WWW]George Settle of Shadwell Cooper aged 25 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Shute of Shadwell Brewer aged 20 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Etheridge of Limehouse Ropemaker aged 38 yeeres
[WWW]Nicholas Pyburne Living in Schoolehouse Lane in Ratcliffe Ropemaker aged 22 yeeres
[WWW]Robert Hooker of Ratcliffe Ropemaker aged 38 yeeres
[WWW]Richard Hartshorne of Tower Wharfe sailemaker, aged Eighteene yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Severne of Lymehouse Mariner Masters Mate of the ship the ”John and Catherine” whereof John Miller was Master Aged 60 yeeres



[WWW]Robert Scotting of Wapping Mariner aged 32 yeers
[WWW]Captaine William Jopp of Redriffe Mariner aged 45 yeeres
[WWW]Edmund Yorke of Redriffe aged 40 yeeres
[WWW]John Gibbs of Bermonsey in the County of Surry Marchant aged 50 yeeres
[WWW]William Bugbey of Lymehouse Mariner aged 49 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Rastel of London Merchant aged 30 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas ffeild of harwich in Essex Shipwright aged 53 yeeres
[WWW]John Godfrey of Dover Court neere (XXX) Mariner aged 32 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Cole of Acton neere Ispwich Mariner, Gunner of the ship the ”Mary Rose”
[WWW]John Turner of Ipswich shipwright Carpenter of the ship the ”Mary Rose”, aged 41 yeeres


[WWW]John Brand of Acton aged 44 yeeres
[WWW]Robert Marten of Acton neere Ipswich Mariner aged 51 yeeres
[WWW]William Howe of the parish of ffanchurch London mariner aged twenty fower yeeres
[WWW]George Whales of the parish of Saint Mary Magdalen Bermondsey Shipwright aged thirty yeeres
[WWW]Andrew Stone of the parish of Saint Olave in Southwarke mariner but borne at Stockholme in Sweden Carpenters mate of the ”Redd Rose” aged thirty fower yeares

CAPTURE_DETAIL_Marke_Oliver_Langdon_HCA1371_f455r_030113 ff.430r-439v

[WWW]John Johnson of the parish of Allhallowes Barking London Mariner aged twenty eight yeares
[WWW]John Triggs of the parish of Saint Mary Magdalen Bermondsey aged forty five yeares
[WWW]Phillip White of the parish of Saint Olave in Southwarke Mariner aged thirty three yeares
[WWW]Francis Hampton of Ratcliff. Shipwright aged about forty yeeres
[WWW]Richard Pigg of Cheeke (?Lane) near West Smithfeild (?Cooper) aged 29 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Hulman Lieutenant of the ”ffairfax frigot”’ (Captaine Robert Story commander) aged 43 yeeres


[WWW]Captaine Robert Storey Commander of the ”ffairfax frigat” in the immediate service of this Commonwealth
[WWW]Captaine Willoughby Hanham commander of the ”kentish frigot” in the immediate service of this Commonwealth



[WWW]Captaine John Stokes Admirall of the Squadron of shipps of this Commonwealth in the Mediterranean sea, aged 49 yeeres
[WWW]John van lynen master of the said shipp ”Saint XXXX” aged thirtie eight yeares
[WWW]John Moller of Amsterdam Merchant aged 28 yeares
[WWW]Ide Symonson Burch of Amsterdam Mariner master of the shipp the Marcus Aurelius of Amsterdam, aged 48 yeeres
[WWW]Jurian Houltho(?use) of Amsterdam Merchant, aged (?40) yeeres
[WWW]Abraham van(?ventur) of Amsterdam Merchant, aged 28 yeeres


[WWW]Rocus van der maes of (?Sizicksea) by birth but living in the hague in holland Merchant aged 37 yeeres
[WWW]John Wilkinson of Ipswich in the County of Essex Mariner, aged 44 yeeres
[WWW]William Hitchcock of Wapping in the County of Middlesex aged 60 yeares
[WWW]Henry Hare of Shadwell waterman aged 41 yeeres
[WWW]Ide Symonson Burch of Amsterdam mariner Master of the said shipp aged 48 yeeres
[WWW]Abraham van Dentur of Amsterdam Marchant, aged 28 yeeres
[WWW]Rocus Maes of Ziricksea but dwelling in the hague in holland Merchant, aged 37 yeeres


[WWW]Francis Holt of Portsmouth gentleman aged 43 yeares
[WWW]John Thistlethwaite of Portsmouth gentleman aged 37 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Garret of Redriffe Shipwright late Carpenter of the Ship ”Anne”, (John Adkins late Master) aged 20 yeeres
[WWW]John Mente of Saint Catherines neere the Tower of London Chirurgion aged 23 yeeres
[WWW]Gerbrand Sas Doctor of Lawes
[WWW]Francisco de Moralis of Saint Lucars de Baramuda in Andalusia Captaine of the shipp the ”Pea henn” belonging to Saint Lucars aforesaud, aged 30 yeeres


[WWW]Andries Verhoogh in Zeeland Mariner, aged 37 yeeres
[WWW]Diego de Guevara of Sivile in Andalusia Master or Sopracargo of the said shipp the ”Peahen”, aged 34 yeeres
[WWW]Lewis Francis of Calice in ffrance Merchant, aged 49 yeeres
[WWW]Pedro Michel of Marseilla in ffrance Mariner, aged 32 yeares
[WWW]James Ru(?p)eleau ofM(?orenar) in (XXXX) in the Realme of ffrance Mariner, aged 41 yeeres
[WWW]John Erable of Mornar neere Rochell in the Realme of ffrance Mariner, aged 35 yeeres
[WWW]John Burnelau of Mornau in the Realme of ffrance Sailor, aged 28 yeeres
[WWW]John (?S)ooker of the Parish of Saint (?Buttolphs) Bishopsgate London Mariner Master of the ship ”Richard and Martyn”, aged 52 yeeres
[WWW]Phillip Widdoson of the parish of Saint Olaves in Southwarke yeoman aged 37 yeeres
[WWW]John (?Porolim) of Shadwell in the parish of Stepney in the County of Middlesex Mariner aged 29 yeeres
[WWW]John Frost of New England mariner but belonging at present to the ship the ”Exchange” of London (John Peirce master) aged 22 yeeres


[WWW]John Clarke of New England Mariner but at Present belonging to the ship the ”Exchange” of London (John Peirce Master) aged 19 yeeres
[WWW]Richard Taylor of Saint Katherines Mariner, aged 20 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas More of Horsey downe in the County of Surry Shipwright, aged 25 yeeres
[WWW]Abraham Ripley Chirurgeon resident at present in the parish of Saint Michaell Woodstreete London, and borne in or neere the same parish, aged 33 yeeres
[WWW]John Duce of Wapping in the County of Middlesex Mariner aged 36 yeeres
[WWW]John Hunter native of Eddenborough Scotland but residing at Present at the signe of the Ball in Saint Lawrence Pountneys Lane London Merchant aged 48 yeeres
[WWW]John Taylor of Limehouse Marriner late Boatswaine of the ship the ”hopewell” Arthur Perkins Master aged about 35 yeeres


[WWW]Godfrey Hembling of Waborne in (?Clay) in Norfolke aged 40 yeeres
[WWW]Morris Briggs of Saint Katherines waterman aged 58 yeeres
[WWW]Abraham Barnaby Citizen and (?Grocer) of London Living at the Tower Liberty aged 32 yeers
[WWW]The Answer of the foresaid Godfrey Hembling to the Interrogatories
[WWW]The answer of the said Morris Briggs To the Interrogatories
[WWW]Captaine Thomas Sprittiman Native of Peterhead in the County of (?BoughXX) in Scotland Mariner, late Master of the ship the ”Golden Starre”, aged 37 yeeres
[WWW]Cornelius De Gelder of London Merchant aged 38 yeeres
[WWW]Henry hart of ffalkirke neere Glascoe in Scotland Mariner aged 30 yeeres
[WWW]Henry hart of ffalkirke (?neere ?Glascoe) in Scotland Mariner aged 30 yeeres
[WWW]Captaine Nathaniel Cobham of dunkirke Commander of a foote Company there, aged 40 yeeres
[WWW]Richard Shament Living in Grubstreete London Chirurgion aged 23 yeeres


[WWW]Alexander Kerr native of Greenock in Scotland but living at Ayre in Scotland Mariner aged about thirty yeeres
[WWW]Alexander Keir of Borrowstonesse neere (?Aenborow) in Scotland Mariner aged about 19 yeeres
[WWW]Alexander Keir of Burroghston neere Edenborowe in Scotland Mariner aged about 19 yeeres
[WWW]James Ker of Glascoe in Scotland Merchant aged 22 yeeres
[WWW]Robert Cuming of Glascoe in Scotland Merchant aged 34 yeeres and upwards
[WWW]Edward Paine of Saint Ives in Cornwall gentleman aged 31 yeeres
[WWW]Collaert Budaert of Calice in ffrance mariner late Master of the ship the ”Saint Lewis” aged 50 yeeres
[WWW]Phillip Mansell of Swanzey Merchant aged 30 yeeres


[WWW]Christianus Tepffer Native of (?GXXX) but lodging at Present in New Gravell Lane in Wapping Mariner aged 32 yeeres
[WWW]Laurence Tyrer of Liverpool in Lancashire Mariner aged 25 yeeres
[WWW]Captaine Owen Sallevanne of Munster in Ireland, Gentleman aged 26 yeeres
[WWW]Colonel Edward Freeman Governour of Tinby Castle in the County of Pembro(?ke) in Southwales aged about 49 yeeres
[WWW]Garret Johnson Conneke of (XXXX) in north Holland mariner aged 35 yeares
[WWW]Jacob van Wallendal dwelling at Rochell Marchant aged 35 yeeres
[WWW]Daniel van Liebergen of Rochell but borne at Amsterdam aged 26 yeeres
[WWW]William Jackson servant to Thomas Burton of London Merchant, aged (XX) yeeres
[WWW]John Bell of Lower Shadwell in the parish of Stepney and County of Middlesex Smith aged 36 yeeres


[WWW]James Do(?w)glas of Allhallowes Barking London Skinner aged 30 yeeres
[WWW]Thomas Greeneleafe of BeereLane London wine Cooper aged 22 yeeres



How long did it take?

The MarineLives project team is sifting its growing corpus of English Admiralty Court transcriptions to build a date driven database of events.  We are entering all events to which a clear day, month and year can be assigned, or at least a clear month and year, in combination with a geographical location.

The database is tool to finding individual records and groups of records of interest. For example, all ships in the 1650s Admiralty Court records trading with the Canaries, or all ships carrying coals to various English and continental ports. 

We are building the database in Access, but are prototyping it in Excel. It is work in progress, and will grow and change over the next few months.  But already it has value as a navigational aid and as an analytical tool.

Example: Sailing times

The following figures present sample travel times for ships making voyages between named ports.  In several cases, where ships have been seized near a port on a specific date, this has been used as a proxy for the port itself.


The data are real, but should be understood as illustrative, since at this stage of building the database few port to port routes have more than one or two timed examples.

The duration of voyages varied considerably with weather conditions, with the season, and with the need to wait for convoys during times of warfare.  We do not suggest that the individual voyage lengths between ports are averages for the period, and hope to explore the variability and drivers of variability as the database grows.


The impact of adverse weather can be seen in the second figure, for longer distance voyages, in which the London to Dublin voyage in 1654 of the ship the Unitie took place in very adverse conditions, as did the following leg from Dublin. The ship had been intended for Barbados, but was diverted in desperate weather conditions to the island of Antego. The traumatic ninety nine day voyage resulted in the abandonment of the ship on the island.


Data accuracy and specificity

Admiralty Court witnesses were frequently asked to confirm the day, or at least month, of the departure and arrival of their ships at various ports, and of other events of significance to the court case. These other events might include the dates on which the crew entered full pay, the dates the lading or unlading of goods commenced, and the date of the seizure of a ship.

Their answers varied in specificity, according to how distant the events are in time, and whether they had an aide memoire to refer to.  Masters, master’s mates, pursers, boatswaines, quarter masters, and passengers all mention the keeping of written records, whether they be log books, journals, or goods entry books.

Occasionally the dates of specific events are recalled differently by different witnesses, or the events and dates are contested.  In these cases we are capturing the variation in dates and in the characterisation of the events in our database.

Old style/new style dates

Witnesses often distinguished between “old style” and “new style” dates. We are adjusting “old style dates” by calendar year, so that February 1656 “old style” becomes February 1657 in the database.  For the moment we are recording “new style dates” (which were ten days out from the “old style” date) as they are given, without yet making the ten day adjustment.