Archive visit

By Iain Grant

Visit to The National Archives – 2nd September 2011

It is a long term aim of the project team to create a digital archive of all historical documents relating to Hazardous and where possible to provide transcriptions of them. This will both enhance the archive and hopefully reveal more detail of the ship, her construction, history and fate. Much research was done in the early days of the project but that was long before modern technologies such as the www and digital photography were available and only summary data was captured in many instances.


Team member Dave Johnston paid his first visit to the National Archives at Kew to initiate our further historical research relating to Hazardous.

The National Archive at Kew is housed in an imposing but welcoming modern building on the banks of the River Thames at Kew, a short walk from Kew Gardens and Kew Bridge stations.

First impressions of this facility, which is free to use and open to anyone, is how unbelievably efficient and well organized it is.

The first task was to visit the new user registration point on the second floor. You register through an online application form and by completing a short online tutorial / question and answer session on how to handle historic documents in a safe and responsible manner – after all, these are the originals, in many cases hundreds of years old and irreplaceable! Then you have your photo taken, present your proof of identification and receive your reader’s card (valid for 3 years). The whole process takes about 20 minutes and costs nothing except a smile for the camera!

Then back down to the ground floor to deposit coats and possessions in a free-to-use locker (you are restricted in what you can take into the document reading rooms; pencils, paper and cameras / laptops / phones, but no food, drink, pens, rubbers or bags (other than clear plastic ones).

Then up to the first floor general enquiries room where there are dozens of computer terminals on which to search the online databases for the relevant documents (you can also do this from home). There are also enquiries desks manned by experts to help you track down exactly what you need. We know from previous searches that the Captain’s and Master’s logs and Pay Books are available at Kew but we are also interested in tracking down any correspondence relating to Hazardous and were given useful starting points for this. The fact that Hazardous was a prize vessel turns out to be most helpful as there was a specific Admiralty Court which dealt with prize claims. Whilst at the terminals you can request access to the original documents, and select a seat allocation in the reading room – there are seats with free to use camera tripods located near windows (no flash photography allowed) and general reading seats as well.

With little spare time on this first visit, it was decided to request a single document – the Master’s log for the Looe for 1703. This was because, quite coincidently, Peter Jolly had recently found a booklet on the Looe which said that she had towed Hazardous into port following her capture. Having reserved a seat and requested your documents there is an average 45 minute delay until they arrive – time to visit the ground floor bookshop (very tempting) and café (both excellent and reasonably priced).

You access the reading room by swiping in your reader card and passing through security to check that you are not taking in any forbidden items. Along one side of the room are a series of glass fronted lockers, numbered according to seat position, into which the documents you ordered are delivered. You are then free to take them to your seat. In addition there are open access camera stands with digital SLR cameras that allow you to photograph documents and have them emailed direct to your registered email address – again free to use.

The documents ordered (ref ADM 52/205) turned out to be a slip case containing 10 thin, cloth bound log books, only 2 of which (numbers 6 and 7) related to the Looe, the others being for other the Lancaster, Lyme and Lowestoft. On this visit there was only time for a very quick inspection of log #7 (16 May 1703 onwards) – we believe that Hazardous was captured in November 1703. Mercifully, the ink is still quite bright and the Master’s writing relatively quite neat (once one gets one’s eye in). The top of each right hand page summarises the vessel’s position. This suggested that in November 1703 Looe was anchored in Milford Haven, rounded Lands End in late December, was in Plymouth in February 1704, then by April was in Barnstable Bay preparing to sail to Newfoundland – no mention of Portsmouth and it would seem no time to have sailed there and back (especially towing a wrecked warship)!

Interestingly, 2 pages covering February 1704 appear to say:

???? on board the Plymouth hulk (in) ????? (could this be harneais – ? harness)



It is obviously going to take quite some time to digitize these pages and to then decipher and transcribe the handwriting, but the first impression is that maybe Hazardous wasn’t towed to Portsmouth by the Looe after all, but to Plymouth?

The mystery deepens – to be continued.