Records of Aberdeen Shipmaster Society

Scope and Content

Most of the records on deposit date from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, although some deeds and miscellaneous legal papers date from the sixteenth century. They provide a full and detailed record of the Society's activities, including details of its constitution, administration, financial affairs, charitable activities, properties and fishing rights.

A full series of sederunt books survive for the period 1751 - 1969. The earliest minutes, which would have covered the period 1598 - 1750, do not seem to have survived, but copies of the original charter, early acts, and inventories of papers have been entered in the eighteenth century sederunt books. Financial records cover the period 1722 - 1970. They include accounts relating to poor money, 1722 - 1817; papers relating to prime gilt, 1590 - 1781 (compiled in the eighteenth century); members' pension book, 1872 - 1936; and Cushnie Fund account book, 1835 - 1927 (the fund was established in 1801 for the fishing community of Footdee).

Records relating to the ownership and income of the Society's properties cover the period c 1738 - 1922. They include tacks, assedations and other titles, c 1738 - 1863; rentals, 1790 - 1808; and lists of feu duties compiled in 1886, 1888, 1902 and 1922. The Society also owned fishing rights on the River Don and in the coastal waters around Aberdeen, and the records created in respect of these interests are of considerable value regarding the historic development of the fishing industry in Aberdeen, and the conflicting interests which this created between local land owners and the Society. They include an inventory of 74 writs, compiled in 1776, concerning the ownership of half-nets on the Don from 1541 - 1775; and writs, resignations and dispositions concerning half-nets salmon fishing on the Don and coastal salmon fishing rights, 1630 - 1783.

A considerable volume of unsorted legal papers, c 1598 - 1885; correspondence, 1764 - 1956; and printed papers, 1782 - 1967, has also been deposited. These include papers concerning the constitution of Trinity House, Leith, 1782; reports of the Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards, 1961 and 1967; scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine cuttings re. ships and shipping, particularly the naval history of north east Scotland, c. 1930. There are also 6 early twentieth century photographs of the Society's premises at 22 Regent Quay, Aberdeen,

Administrative / Biographical History

The Seamen's Box of Aberdeen was founded in 1598 and incorporated by charter of James VI in 1600. The objects of the Society were essentially charitable, being established to make provision for families of skippers, masters and mariners who were drowned at sea. By virtue of these interests, it quickly gained considerable importance in the municipal life of the Burgh of Aberdeen, pressing for improvements in both administration and the physical development of the harbour area.

During it's first 200 years, the Society raised funds through the collection of poor money and prime gilt from mariners using the port at Aberdeen, poor money being levied on the wages of masters and seamen belonging to the port, whilst prime gilt, a tax imposed on the tonnage of a ship as well as the wages of her seamen, was due from skippers of both home and foreign-going vessels. In 1775 it brought an action in the High Court of Admiralty against John Auldjo, merchant in Aberdeen, for non-payment of prime gilt for 75 voyages made from the port of Aberdeen. The litigation lasted ten years, going before the House of Lords and the Court of Session before finally being ruled in favour of Auldjo, a decision which brought an end to the practice, and to the provision of charity for foreign seamen which it had funded. It seems that a further consequence of the litigation process was the Society's decision to reconstitute the organisation and to petition for a new charter. This was granted on 16 April 1801, and the Society reconstituted under a new name, the Aberdeen Shipmaster Society.

The Society was a wealthy organisation and a substantial land owner in the city of Aberdeen. As well as holding properties purchased for rental, in 1670 it erected a loft in the Quire of St Nicholas Parish Church, with accommodation for all of its members, and in 1788 purchased St Andrew's Lodge, on the south side of the Shiprow, for use as the Society's meeting hall. The building was sold during the development of Market Street in 1840, and a smaller property at 22 Regent Quay purchased by way of replacement.

See Alexander Clark, A Short History of the Shipmaster Society, or The Seamen's Box of Aberdeen (Aberdeen: William Smith, 1911) for further details.


There are presently two lists for these records - one for the deposit made in 1977 (GB 231 MS 2940), and another for the deposit made in 1981 (GB 231 MS 3070). The records are item or bundle listed in a running sequence - no obvious arrangement has been followed.

Access Information

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

See Archival History

Other Finding Aids

Item level lists are available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives, University of Aberdeen. Contents of this list are searchable on-line at, via the Historic Collections database.

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

The records were listed in 1972 by the Department of Economic History, Aberdeen University, for the Survey of Business and Estate Records in North East Scotland. At this time the records were held in the Society's offices at 22 Regent Quay, Aberdeen, and in the offices of Messrs Clark and Wallace (the Society's legal agents), at 14 Albyn Place, Aberdeen. Some of these records were deposited in the University in Nov and Dec 1977 (MS 2940), but others were not present at this time. It is believed that the missing records were transferred to Aberdeen City Art Gallery with the Society's art collection. They were subsequently deposited in the University in Feb 1981 (MS 3070).


No accruals expected

Related Material

Miscellaneous publications relating to the society, including Copy of the Charter to the Shipmaster Society of Aberdeen, granted by George III in 1801 (Aberdeen: Chalmers, ?1801) are deposited in the University Local and Pamphlet Collections. Full reference details can be found in the University Library Catalogue available online


Alexander Clark, A Short History of the Shipmaster Society, or The Seamen's Box of Aberdeen (Aberdeen: William and Son, 1911)

Additional Information

This material is original

Geographical Names