Ship Meteorological Logs

Scope and Content

Our collection is composed of many thousands of worldwide records from Merchant and Royal Navy ships which typically date from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century.We even hold logs made on board certain historic voyages such as HMS Beagle, on which Darwin once sailed with Captain FitzRoy to the Galapagos Islands in 1837; and HMS Erebus which undertook several daring voyages to the poles ultimately ending in tragedy as the ship became icebound in the Arctic.

Administrative / Biographical History

The weather has always played an important role in marine navigation, especially in the days of sailing ships. The sixteenth century saw a vast expansion in the number of long distance voyages to exotic lands and such epic voyages necessitated uniform procedures in weather observing practices, which accordingly generated many paper records.

By the late seventeenth century knowledge of weather at sea had advanced to such an extent that on the basis of that accumulated knowledge the English mathematician and astronomer Edmund Halley was able to produce one of the most valuable contributions to the newly emerging science of meteorology, namely the effect of ocean currents on global trade winds.

Ships meteorological logs performed a vital role in early twentieth century forecasting. In 1907 an arrangement was made between the Met Office and the Admiralty that all weather reports received from HM Ships when cruising in the Atlantic would be sent to the Met Office for the purposes of forecasting UK weather. This proved to be an epoch making decision in the history of synoptic meteorology for it ended the hitherto scarce amount of data available from the very area from which most UK weather originated. The advent of wireless telegraphy at this time also meant that observations of high accuracy could be taken and transmitted to London with immense speed.

This arrangement was still further cemented after the First World War and from that point onwards the Met Office was seldom without reliable reports from the Atlantic, which proved invaluable in the preparation of accurate daily forecasts. In recent years, these once working logs have provided a rich source of historical weather data for modern climate and oceanographic research.