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Manuscript Collection

Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Royal Naval Museum
 Royal Naval Museum
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The manuscript collections at the Royal Naval Museum are in two parts. The larger part consists of the RNM's own collection which has been assembled since 1952 by donation and purchase, or occasionally through transfer from other institutions. There are some notable collections relating to Portsmouth Dockyard, to HMS Victory and to Horatio Nelson, but in fact collecting has been much broader than this. The policy has been to gather unofficial collections that are a source for a social and operational history of the Navy, rather than a history of technological development. The archive is therefore mainly an aggregate of groups of personal papers and subjective accounts of service from all ranks and branches of the Navy. It is particularly strong in personal diaries, memoirs, journals and collections of letters, c1780-2000. Although there are some institutional collections and collections of stray official material, the archive does not include official naval records and is a manuscript library rather than an archive of records. Full descriptions are given in: M. Sheldon, Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Royal Naval Museum, 1997. Copies available at 7.50 + p&p.; Please contact the curator to place an order.

The second part of the collections consists of the manuscript items from the Admiralty Library which have gradually been moved to Portsmouth since the autumn of 1997, to be administered by the Royal Naval Museum. This now covers all the Library's manuscript items, including items judged to have interest for the history of exploration or hydrography which were held at the UK Hydrographic Office from 1995 to 2002. The whole consists of c700 volumes and c2,000 maps, plans and charts assembled in the Library at the Admiralty in Whitehall from 1809 onwards. This includes many small collections of historic interest principally from the 17th - early 20th century; Navy Board records, papers of Admiralty officials, ship and dockyard plans, logs, personal diaries, order books, letter books, accounts of exploration, and an excellent collection of largely 18th century maps and charts. No complete listing of this collection exists, but a Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Admiralty Library Collections is in preparation. Please contact the curator for further details.

Future developments:

A universal database of all the above manuscript collections is in preparation. Watch this space for details.

Annual reports of significant new collections are kept at the National Register of Archives. These are available, along with details of some of the collections from the above guide, via the web site of the Historical Manuscripts Commission


Collections can be consulted in the Museum's Library, open 10.00-16.00, Monday to Friday. Appointments should be made via:

Matthew Sheldon
Curator of Manuscripts
Royal Naval Museum
HM Naval Base (PP66)

Telephone : 023 9272 7577 | Fax : 023 9272 7575
Outside UK - Telephone : 44 23 9272 7577 | Fax : 44 23 9272 7562

E-mail: matthew.sheldon@royalnavalmuseum.org

Below are a few examples of the type of manuscripts in the collection.

Plan of Portsmouth Dockyard, c1786
Plan of Portsmouth Dockyard, c1786. (RNM 1993/443) Royal Naval Museum

Sketch of magazine
Sketch of magazine of HMS Victory from the papers of Gunner William Rivers.
(RNM 1998/41) Royal Naval Museum

The Royal Naval Museum is a Registered Charity : No 266563

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Created on the 25 June 1999
Last modified on the 31 March 2003