Project Undaunted - an epic digitisation project!

By the Project Undaunted team

We are excited to announce that after two years of planning, Project Undaunted began in October this year.  No small undertaking, this ambitious digitisation project will focus on the Ship Plan and Survey Report collection of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LR Foundation) which is estimated to exceed 1.25 million documents. During the first, three year phase of the project, 10% of the collection will be looked at. This section of the LR Foundation archive is a product of Lloyd’s Register’s (LR) work in ship classification. The archive was created during the inspection of ships by LR surveyors from 1834 to the late 1960s and by the shipyard that built or repaired the vessel.  LR’s surveyors undertook classification surveys by inspecting the materials used, assessing the condition and workmanship of vessels under construction or under repair for ships in service. Periodical surveys were also undertaken throughout the period that a vessel was classed by LR. This unique collection contains plans, survey reports, correspondence, notes and copy certificates. Later records from the 20th century also include information on the ships’ demise, whether wrecked or broken up. In many cases, these are some of the few surviving documents for a particular ship and certainly some of the most detailed, giving the potential to track the life of a vessel while classed by LR, as well as opening up a whole realm of further research possibilities. The 10% involved within the first phase covers mainly the 19th century material within the collection and will include the first three outport boxes for each port of survey, all of the 19th century material for Glasgow including plans, and all of the Wreck Reports housed at Fenchurch Street, which date from 1892-1940.   

Project Undaunted aims to improve the educational utility of this important collection by increasing public awareness of the archive and improving both physical and intellectual access to the documents. This will involve rehousing the whole collection so that the 10% being focused on for the first phase can be conserved (where necessary), catalogued and imaged before being published online. Members of the public can then interrogate and use the digitised information. The Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre (HEC) will also create corresponding educational and research resources online to help people to interpret the documents which can, at times, be daunting in their specialised complexity. Potentially, the collection holds great discoveries about maritime history and engineering, as well as the corresponding history of LR. The wealth of information on these documents is difficult to capture in its entirety by a team of five with a tight time constraint, but with guidance from Barbara Jones and her research on other maritime projects, we have identified what we think are the fields that are most likely to be helpful to members of the public, researchers and academics so that they can be searchable. In this way, we hope to open the collection up so that it can be of use to everyone. Public access to the scans online, once they become available, will mean that the uncatalogued information will also be available for research. 

Why Undaunted?

The project’s name comes from the first vessel in the London port box to be surveyed by LR which, very aptly, was named Undaunted.

Who makes up the team?

The Project Undaunted team has recently been completed with the addition of our third cataloguer, Miles Deverson and conservator, Nicole Monjeau. Also on the team are our two cataloguers, Eloisa Rodrigues and Sarah Parsons (who were with us during the First and Famous pilot project) and project manager Charlotte Willett. The team are guided by the expertise of the Curator of Maritime History and Heritage, Barbara Jones, whose years of experience and knowledge of LR’s heritage and the maritime industry are key to unlocking the potential of the collection.  

Charlotte Willett – Project Manager 

I am Charlotte Willett, the Project Manager for this venture, reporting to the HEC manager, Victoria Culkin. My primary responsibilities are to co-ordinate and manage the project and suppliers; provide specialist knowledge on digitisation including answering queries on such from the team; and helping to collate information to ensure that the project is running to time and budget. Although these are my main roles, I have also been dabbling in a little cataloguing myself. It has been lovely to get back to the actual collection and immerse myself in the fascinating history you can find there. One of the most exciting things about cataloguing is the sense of discovery you feel while going through a box. Particularly with this collection, which has been largely unpublicised, you could be the first person to look at one of these documents since they were originally placed in the archive boxes 50 years ago. 

Eloisa Rodrigues – Archives and Collections Officer

I am Eloisa Rodrigues, one of the cataloguers for Project Undaunted. My main responsibility is to catalogue the survey reports, ships plans and other documents, entering them into our database and also looking for particularly interesting or unusual items that we come across during this process. In these first few weeks, I have been cataloguing the survey reports for surveys that were held at Aberystwyth and some of the Wreck Reports covering the years 1892 to 1893. 

Survey Report for Providence, Aberystwyth, August 1834

Survey Report for Providence, Aberystwyth, August 1834

It is been a very exciting first month. Whereas in the pilot project we were cataloguing all the documents related to a specific ship, for Project Undaunted we are doing so by port, or in the case of the Wreck Reports by books organised alphabetically by ship name within year. If cataloguing by ships gives us a great outline of the lifespan of a ship, cataloguing by outport box provides us with a great overview of that specific location. Additionally, you can get to know the surveyor of that port very well! For instance, the 300 plus documents we have for the Aberystwyth Port box cover the period from 1834 to 1870 and during these years William Julian was the surveyor responsible for the surveys carried out there, at least until 1869, when Thomas Bateman took over. I have not only got used to Julian’s handwriting, but also to the way he writes the reports and letters.

Signature of Surveyor William Julian

Signature of Surveyor William Julian

Letter from William Julian

Letter from William Julian

Another interesting aspect is to observe the sea trade happening in this period. The survey reports have a field for “destined voyage”, and the majority of ships surveyed in Aberystwyth that we have in our collection were “coasting”. This is indicative of the very rich coastal trade in that region, although we do find evidence of some ships sailing overseas. Those are only a few of the great number of interesting findings we can gather from this fantastic collection and we are looking forward to what else we will find in these next three years.

Original Seal

Original seal

Sarah Parsons – Archives and Collections Officer

I am Sarah Parsons, another of the cataloguers for Project Undaunted. As Charlotte and Eloisa noted, since beginning work in October we have been focusing on two main parts of the collection – the Wreck Reports bound together and housed at LR’s Fenchurch Street office in London, with their rich array of details on the losses and casualties suffered by ships at sea, and the survey reports organised by particular ports and held at the archive off-site store. 

The first port that I have been looking at is the port of Banff, up in Scotland, with much of the shipbuilding taking place at local places including Garmouth and McDuff. Following the trail of documents through one port has been really interesting, especially as it gives a window into the lifetime of work from the surveyor there, James McDonald. 

One of the most interesting documents I have discovered so far is an impassioned letter McDonald wrote to the LR Secretary, Charles Graham, regarding the ship Jean & Catherine

Jean & Catherine report and letter

Jean & Catherine report and letter

From McDonald’s letter, it seems the original communication to McDonald may have been questioning some of his decisions. Writing on 30 March 1847, McDonald argues for the merits of using Rock Elm in shipbuilding, and states for the ship Jean & Catherine that “shurly this little craft that was so well Sesoned and well fastened” warrants being classed for eight years. He says that his recommendation is based in his “long experience in ships since I was 14 years of age and now am 67”, having worked with ships ranging from 10 tons to 1,400 tons in that time. 

Jean & Catherine McDonald quotes

Jean & Catherine McDonald quotes

After a short interlude in his letter to address another ship, Janet Hay, McDonald again recommends that Jean & Catherine be classed “8 years A1” before closing the letter. 

His recommendation was not upheld – the survey report shows that the Classing Committee in London decided to class Jean & Catherine A1 for only six years. 

Classing Committee decision

Classing Committee decision

Miles Deverson – Archives and Collections Assistant

My name is Miles Deverson and I have recently joined the LR Foundation as a cataloguer with the Project Undaunted team. I am very much enjoying it so far and have learnt a lot over the last month about maritime history and the history of LR itself. My last job was working in the curatorial team in a maritime museum in Great Yarmouth so it has been great to build upon my previous knowledge and get a better understanding of the technical side of life at sea.

My time has split between working on early 20th century Wreck Reports at Fenchurch Street and on early 19th Century Aberdeen Survey Reports. It is an interesting contrast that illustrates the dramatic change in shipbuilding over that century. Ships in the 19th century were rarely over 500 gross registered tons compared to 20th century ships where I have come across ships of 5,000 gross registered tons.  For the 19th century ships I have had to learn about the different types of rigs and the great variety of wood types they were built out of while by the 20th century wooden sailing ships were overwhelmingly replaced by metal steam ships.

I enjoy seeing small snap-shots of life in the past that the documents provide like the news extracts of ships exploding in the Wreck Reports or the survey of a ship built in 1815 and named Waterloo. I look forward to writing more blogs in the future and bringing these stories to light.

Waterloo

Waterloo