The manuscript collections held at the Royal Naval Museum are in two parts. Both of these can be searched on-line in the Reseacrch Online catalogue.
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. 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, c.1780-2000.
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 printed descriptions of the collection in 1997 are given in: M. Sheldon, Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Royal Naval Museum, 1997. Copies available at £7.50 + p&p. For a copy, please contact us.
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 historic 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 c.700 volumes and c. 2,000 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 published listing of this collection exists, but it can be searched on-line in the Research Online catalogue. A printed Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Admiralty Library Collections is also in preparation.
Collections can be consulted in the museum’s Library Reading Room. See our Access pages for further information