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.


Patterns in time

With one and a half million words transcribed since the launch of the MarineLives project in September 2012, MarineLives project volunteers can now look for patterns in English Admiralty Court data.

Help us identify and confirm trends and patterns in seventeenth century commercial life. You don’t need to be a historian. You do need to be a pattern seeker.

When did the tobacco ships arrive and depart from Virginia, and what was cost of delay? How did hurricanes affect the Bermudas and Virginia to London trade? How did the harvesting of grapes in the Canaries affect the export of Canary wine to England? How long did it take to sail from the Port of London to the Port of Zant to load raisins for the London market?

Please join us as we build a visual timeline of commercial activities in the 1650s (supplemented by an Access database of commercial events). Help us build the timeline and help us find the patterns in the data.

Please contact us to access the MarineLivesTimeline and, if you wish, to contribute to the same timeline, by exploring our wikis of English Admiralty Court records.

The Timeline

We are building our timeline of commercial activities in the 1650s in a web accessible  Excel based Google document. In parallel with the Google document, we are building an event driven Access database. We are making all data freely available.

The Google document lists events by specific day (where the data are available), and by month (if no day is specified)


Colour coding

We are colour coding events by broad categories to help us as we look for patterns. Currently we are doing events as follows:

Blue: An event concerning a named individual or the crew of a ship

ML_Blue_Feb3rd_1655Brown: An event involving the dispatch of a letter of advice, or some other type of communication, concerning commercial matters






Green:  A general shipping event, such as the arrival or departure of a ship from a specified port


Grey: An event driven by weather conditions








Lilac: An event involving the seizure of a named ship


Purple: An event involving the purchase or sale of a named ship





Red: A political event, such as an embargo imposed by a nation on another nation’s shipping

ML_Red_Feb_1656Yellow: An event involving specified commodites, such as the lading or unlading of goods into or out of a named ship



Summer Programme 2014

We are launching a new collaborative MarineLives programme this June and we hope that you, your friends, your colleagues and your students may be interested in participating.

All activities can be done online from home, at times of the day to suit your personal schedule, and you will be personally supported online by MarineLives team facilitators.

The programme will be run by Jill Wilcox and Colin Greenstreet, and will offer an opportunity for you to improve your manuscript transcription and research skills. The programme is offered without charge to participants – in return we are looking for two to three hours of your time per week for the length of the programme.

We will be running the programme for twelve weeks, from the first week of June through to the end of August, with some leeway for participants who want to get going in the second half of May, or who need to take a holiday break in July or August.


Two goals

Firstly, programme participants will transcribe a portion of HCA 13/73, a volume of English Admiralty Court depositions from the years 1659 to early 1661, and will publish their work on the web. We have already made a start, so you can get a sense of the content by clicking on Annotate HCA 13/73 and looking at some transcribed pages.

Secondly, programme participants will develop their research skills using our accumulated transcribed Admiralty Court material, and through their research work will develop their and our collective understanding of the material – by developing short biographies, thematic analyses, and geographical profiles. If you, or someone you know, are considering an undergraduate or graduate thesis paper next year, this would be a great way to explore potential topics.

We have plenty of suggestions you may wish to follow up on, ranging from the nature of the mid-C17th Thames shoreline, with its docks, wharves and warehouses, to the prevalence of foreign language skills amongst mariners. You may also wish to try mapping some of our datasets, to explore the location of different occupations, or to study the trade routes followed by specific commodities.


Experienced facilitators

We will be running the programme with experienced team facilitators, who will work with small online groups of three to four people.  If the mix of people who sign up is anything like before, we expect to have participants from Europe and the US, and of a wide range of ages and experience. Already signed up to the programme are four second year undergraduate students from Bath Spa University.


So if you are, or know, someone with an interest in social, material and marine history who would like to do something fun and different this summer, please get in touch, by contacting us to learn more about the programme.

Progress since our last collaborative programme in autumn 2012 and spring 2013

What started as the glimmer of an idea in summer 2012 has become a substantial corpus of transcribed material made available on the web through our wikis, through MarineLives-Transcript, and through our blog, the Shipping News.


We have transcribed 2800 pages of material from seven volumes of Admiralty Court depositions in the 1650s and early 1660s, amounting to just short of one and a half million words, and plan to take this to five million words by the end of 2016.

We are also working with Bath Spa University, and the Universities of Mannheim and Saint Andrews on a collaborative research programme.

The first fruits of our research programme will be heard in Reykjavik this May, when academics from the University of Mannheim will read a paper authored in collaboration with the MarineLives team, entitled: Named Entities in Court: The MarineLives Corpus.

The paper introduces the MarineLives corpus to the Natural Language Processing research community, and presents experiments using NLP tools to extract named entities from the corpus.

Perhaps most excitingly, we are developing a bid for Heritage Lottery funds to support the expansion of our activities operationally and in terms of educational outreach.  Our initial pathfinder application has met with a positive response from the Fund, and we are now working on the full proposal.

Sample MarineLives web resources

Communicating MarineLives

The MarineLives project uses a variety of digital and social media to communicate with its volunteers, and to reach a wider and developing public. 

Today’s Shipping News article examines our approach to communication and reviews our use of three specific vehicles – Facebook, Twitter, and the Shipping News blog – and explains our thinking behind their use.

Our early strategy

Our early communication efforts were centred on our website,, and on a wiki-based project manual we developed for our team of transcribers. 

We advertised for volunteer transcribers and team facilitators in a number of online media, ranging from the IHR website to genealogy fora. We also encouraged our early volunteer recruits to recommend the project on to friends and colleagues.

The role of our website was to provide a first port of call for potential volunteers seeking quick information about the project, but our focus was on eliciting email expressions of interest in volunteering.

The conversion rate from an emailed expression of interest to a signed up volunteer was remarkably high at about three to one, and the drop out rate after starting was relatively low.  This we attribute to our explict statement to all volunteers as to our expectations from them in terms of time, and our commitment to train and support volunteers who were grouped into virtual teams of three to five volunteers, with each team supported by a volunteer team facilitator. 

The most productive of our recruitment initiatives was to publish a short article in History Today about the project. 

This single article was the prompt for more than one third of the eventual thirty volunteers who worked on the MarineLives project between September and December 2012.

Our evolving social media strategy

We opened Facebook and Twitter accounts just a couple of weeks after launching our website, in July 2012.  Whereas we had some prior experience of Facebook, Twitter was a completely blank page.

In the early days of the project, we attempted to use Facebook and Twitter to drive viewers to our website, with the hope this would lead to volunteering. We had limited content to share, and the strategy was not a big success.  This was reflected in relatively low views per posting on Facebook.

Our Twitter followership grew more rapidly, with a decent level of response measured in interactions and mentions. We encouraged our volunteers to open their own Twitter accounts and to retweet and comment on our own postings.

Analysis of the followership shows a large number of academics from the fields of history and English literature, at all stages in their careers, together with a significant number of PhD candidates. The third well represented field of followers is drawn from digital humanists, digitally oriented librarians, and web oriented computer scientists. In total, they are drawn mainly from the United Kingdom and North America, but include Italians, Germans, Russians and Japanese.

Our breakthrough in terms of communication with our academic and wider audience came when we established the Shipping News blog in September 2012. This blog has become our vehicle to communicate synthesised content from the English Admiralty Court archives. After an early flurry of articles, we have settled down to a publishing rate of two or three new articles each month.

As our blog has grown in importance, it has replaced our website as our primary vehicle to publish synthesised material.  And as our corpus of full text transcriptions has grown to over 1.5 million words, the citations supporting our blog articles increasingly point through hyper links to a range of wikis containing the full text transcriptions, such as Annotate HCA 13/72 (the Admiralty Court deposition book for the years 1657-58).

Tempting as it has sometimes been to get content “out there”, our most read articles have been those into which we have put most work, in terms of text, images, and interactive maps. Good examples of highly viewed articles are: Fishing for whales, part one (January 22, 2013), The Admiralty Court and the Spanish West Indies (October 7th, 2013), and Language and Identity (November 8th, 2013).

The final piece in the strategy has been to use Colin Greenstreet’s personal account as a repository for published project documents. This is probably not the long term solution, but has the short term merit of being easy to use, with decent analytics of document views, and easy integration with other social media.

The top documents viewed via this repository are our Digital humanities and technical partnership discussion document (July 23, 2013) and our Case study of London whaling ship, the Owners Adventure, in 1656 (September 12, 2013).


Launched: July 20, 2012
Stats: 66 posts, 54 likes, average views per post = 35, highest view post = 270, lowest view post = 16
Use: Steer traffic to Shipping News blog and MarineLives Twitter account


Facebook – MarineLives Masthead, 24/11/13

Recent postings offering strong content and new functionality have achieved significantly higher viewership per posting

Facebook postings, Sep 2012 – Nov 2013

Facebook provides useful tools to monitor organic reach, post clicks, likes, comments and shares

Facebook – MarineLives: All posts, Aug 26 to Nov 23, 2013


Launched: July 11th, 2012
Stats: 364 tweets, 422 followers, average monthly tweets = 21
Use: Publicise new Shipping News blog entries, generate and maintain interest in MarineLives project, create a project voice, and support recruitment of project volunteers


@Marinelivesorg: Profile page

Twitter useful for (1) Recruitment of volunteers (transcription; PhD Forum) (2) Promoting blog and blog postings (3) Establishing academic connections leading to partnership, e.g. Bath Spa University, Universities of Mannheim and Ancona.

The Shipping News blog launch – Twitter response 60 minutes post announcement

PhD Forum – Twitter response 60 minutes post announcement








Launched: September 22, 2012
Stats: 32 postings (avg 2 per month), 20,000 blog visits since launch (vs. 2300 + Facebook visits since launch)
Use: Communicate synthesised, strongly visual content; encourage trial of other MarineLives resources –,,


Shipping News blog views are reported as running at over 2000 per month since the middle of 2013. These data strip out spam and spiders, but still probably contain some automated and other attempts to access or post to the blog.

Close inspection of the individual IP addresses, combined with country of origin, and the specific pages the viewers enter on and dwell on, suggests that the true viewership of the blog is running at 1000 + views per month.

Shipping News: Monthly blog postings, visits and page views, Sep 2012 – Nov 2013

The effect of social media promotion of new blog postings is quick, as can be seen for our posting on the Admiralty Court and the Spanish West Indies in the figure below

Shipping News: Twitter and Blog response to Spanish West Indies blog posting

 The interactive Google Map displayed in the blog posting above has been accessed 240 times since its publication on October 7th 2013.  An earlier map of Admiralty Court depositions by French witnesses in HCA 13/71 (1656-57) was published on December 16th, 2012, and has been viewed a remarkable 2,758 times.


In the figure below, the first peak in blog views was generated by the first two of three Tweets, and the second peak was generated by the one Facebook posting.  First day responses to Tweets and Facebook postings are almost instantaneous, with the great bulk occuring within sixty minutes of the postings.

Shipping News: Twitter and Blog response to Google the Court blog posting

An ideal Twitter response combines straight Retweets of a message with a repackaging and commenting on a message by opinion leaders, as in the example below

@MarineLivesOrg: Twitter interactions to Google the Court posting



Undoubtedly our use of social media will continue to evolve as we gain in experience, and as our project needs change.

We would be delighted to hear your own experiences of using social media as part of your communication strategy with volunteers and audiences of different types.

Please feel free to post your comments to the Shipping News blog, or alternatively to contact us directly.

Google the Court

Google now indexes English Admiralty Court records for the years 1657 and 1658 (HCA 13/72). Through Google searches, you can find and access transcribed  witness depositions transcribed by the MarineLives project team. In addition, the Marine-Lives Tools wiki has been indexed by Google, offering you a quick way to search for hearth tax and probate records related to the depositions.

How to find Court records on Google

The key to finding specific Court records on Google is to preface your Google searches with the term Annotate HCA. This term should be placed in inverted commas as below:

Then add you desired search term or search string.

To find records of Captain Christopher Myngs (1625-1666), a Commonwealth naval commander, try “Annotate HCA” + “Myngs”. The resulant Google search produces four results, consisting of two sopecific folios in the deposition volume HCA 13/72, and

Search string: “Annotate HCA” + “Myngs”

If you click on one of the folio references in Google you will go directly to our transcription in the MarineLives HCA 13/72 wiki:

HCA 13/72 f.163r – MarineLives transcription

If you click on one of the other Google references, you will go to related MarineLives material. For example, our biographical profile of Christopher Myngs on our Shipping News blog:

Sample search: Places

Geographical terms can be entered as single or multiple words. For example, the search string “Annotate HCA” + “Spanish West Indies” yields fourteen Google results showing MarineLives resources:

Search string: “Annotate HCA” + “Spanish West Indies”

Sample search: Commodities

Are you interested in material history?

Try searching for commodity references in the HCA records using Google.

How about: “Annotate HCA” + beere, which yields eight results.

HCA 13/72 Materials look up page




The first result is to a page named HCA 13/72 Materials.  You can use this page to look for spelling variants of the commodities you are interested, or simply to browse a listing of all commodities identified to date in HCA 13/72.


How to find MarineLives-Tools resources

The key to finding MarineLives-Tools resources on Google is to preface your Google searches with the term MarineLives-Tools. This term should be placed in inverted commas as below:

Then add you desired search term or search string.

For example, you may be interested in a particular merchant or mariner, and wish to know if there are MarineLives resources available to supplement references to that merchant or mariner in an Admiralty Court transcription.

Let’s take the merchant Jacob Lucie.

The Google search string “MarineLives-Tools” + “Lucie” reveals a transcribed probate record. The abstract and contextual note states that he was the brother of Luke Lucie and the widow of Captain Jeremy Blackman.

PROB 11/390/418Jacob Lucie will - MarineLives-Tools

PROB 11/390/418 Jacob Lucie will – MarineLives-Tools

The Google search results reveal a further MarineLives-Tools resource in our annotated Hearth Tax records for London, Middlesex, Kent and Surrey. In this case it is a footnote to the 1664 hearth tax records for Woolwich.

The note tells us that Captain Jeremy Blackman purchased a “Sugarhouse in Woolwich” together with Luke Lucie (Jacob’s brother) and Captain William Ryder. It also identifies the purchase of Tower Place in Woolwich by Blackman, Jacob Lucie and William Bovie, consisting of wharf, warren and marsh.

MarineLives project

The MarineLives project team is now working in partnership with a group of early modernists at Bath Spa University, coordinated by Dr Alan Marshall, and with informatics researchers at the University of Mannheim and University of Ancona.

We have also applied to join the Digitised Manuscripts to Europeana project with which the Mannheim and Ancona informatics groups are closely associated.

In terms of content, we are exploring how we can expand the annotated textual corpus to cover the years of the protectorate (1653-1659), using team faciitators and project volunteers.

In terms of technical capability, we are looking at semi-automated entity recognition and, closely linked to this, at web based semantic annotation using the tool Pundit.

We are also exploring the potential to link entity recognition in our textual corpus to entity recognition in archival metadata at national and county level. 

If you would like to learn more about our project plans and contribute to those plans please contact the project team by

clicking on
our contact form