The most important source of information on all the activities of the Navy is the correspondence of the Admiralty Board, in ADM 1, ADM 2, ADM 12 and ADM 13. Refer to the research guide on finding naval correspondence using ADM 12.
These series can be difficult to use, but fruitful. Access is by original means of reference, available at The National Archives.
2. Admiralty Board
2.1 In Letters
The Admiralty Board In-letters (ADM 1), surviving from approximately 1698, include reports of proceedings and other letters from flag officers and from commanding officers of HM ships, vessels and establishments. Letters from lieutenants before 1791 and from Promiscuous (i.e. miscellaneous) Correspondents before 1801 were lost by enemy action. The correspondence is arranged by the different correspondents, in annual sequences. From 1793 there are annual Indexes and Digests to this correspondence in ADM 12, which provide references to names and subjects, and a précis of the contents of each paper.
2.2 Out Letters
|Date range||Catalogue reference||Description|
|1660-1688:||ADM 2||Incomplete. Duplicated, and to some extent supplemented, by records in the Pepysian Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.|
|1689-1815||ADM 2||Lords Letters: signed by three or more Lords Commissioners, and directed chiefly to the Secretary of State, the Navy Board and the Ordnance Board .|
Orders and Instructions: formal orders, both to sea officers afloat and naval officers ashore, initialled by members of the Board
Secretary's Letters: all other letters, signed by the Secretary of the Admiralty 'by command of their Lordships'. From 1746 these were further divided into 'Public Offices and Admirals', and 'Secretary's Common Letters'.
|1815-1859||ADM 2||In series corresponding to the different Branches of the Admiralty Secretariat|
|1859-1869||ADM 13||In series corresponding to the different Branches of the Admiralty Secretariat|
|1869-||ADM 1||Copies of out-letters are included with the in-letters|
In the 1820's the practice of binding up 'cases' (i.e. subject files) was begun in a small way. By 1900 it had become a common method of treating papers on important subjects. Early cases will be found in ADM 7, later ones in ADM 116. A joint index is filed with the list of ADM 116. References to case numbers need to be found in ADM 12 and cross referred using the joint index mentioned above.
The minutes of Admiralty Boards and Lord Admirals' Councils from 1689-1802, and the 'rough minutes' (working papers) from 1793-1839, are in ADM 3. Board minutes from 1869 are in ADM 167. In both cases these are records of decisions taken at the Board, and not of the discussions which preceded or the motives which directed them.
3. Secretaries of State and Navy Board
From 1689 to 1782, especially in wartime, the control of strategy and general naval policy, and at some periods of naval operations in considerable detail, rested with the Secretaries of State. Their correspondence is in the State Papers Naval, SP 42.
The correspondence of the Navy Board, ADM 106, though chiefly concerned with the administration of the Navy, contains much material bearing on operations, especially in the seventeenth century. These are increasingly being catalogued making them easier to search.
A miscellaneous variety of correspondence, letter and order books; lists of convoys, passes, protections, letters of marque and prizes; Admiralty and other Instructions; and papers concerning signals, the Arctic and the Slave Trade, can be found in ADM 7.
4. Station records
Station records vary greatly in character and completeness:
|" (Correspondence)||1842 onwards||ADM 131||ADM 143|
|" (Orders & Memoranda)||1821-1825||ADM 148|
|Africa||1797 onwards||ADM 123||ADM 124|
|Atlantic||1902-1910)||ADM 145||ADM 146|
|China||1828 onwards||ADM 125||ADM 126|
|East Indies||1808 onwards||ADM 127|
|Ireland (Correspondence)||1816-1912||ADM 149||ADM 150|
|Mediterranean||1843 onwards||ADM 121|
|Nore||1805 onwards||ADM 151||ADM 152|
|North America & West Indies||1810-1913||ADM 128||ADM 129|
|Pacific||1843-1858||ADM 172||ADM 155|
|Plymouth (Orders & Memoranda)||1859 onwards||ADM 130|
|Portsmouth||1880 onwards||ADM 179|
5. Stations and movements of HM ships
You should be able to discover the station, movements and sometimes employment of HM ships from:
|Type of document||Date range||Catalogue reference|
|Abstracts of Ships' Journals||1736-1795||ADM 7/569-575|
|Board Minutes||1869-1894||ADM 167/l to ADM 167/27|
|Board Room Journals||1796-1829||ADM 7/229-296|
|Board Room Journals||1842-1880||ADM 13/105-179|
|Daily Returns to the First Lord||1812-1830||ADM 7/502-538|
|List Books||1673-1893; 1903-1909||ADM 8|
|Muster Books||1741-1759; 1772-1804||ADM 7/413-501|
|Stations of Ships||1696-1714||ADM 7/550A|
|Stations of Ships||1802-1804||ADM 7/557|
|Stations of Ships||1812-1822||ADM 7/560, ADM 7/561|
6. Logs and journals
ADM 50 contains Admirals' Journals of varying forms and completeness from 1702. Journals of brief periods of command are occasionally bound up with reports in ADM 1. The main series of ships' logs is the Masters' Logs in ADM 52 and ADM 54. These logs were a record of the ship's movements and of the weather, kept for navigational purposes by the masters. From these the Captain's Logs, ADM 51, were copied with the addition of whatever general information the captain might think appropriate, or might be obliged by regulation to give - which was usually little beyond shipboard routine and the loss or damage of stores. The lieutenants' logs, now in the National Maritime Museum, were similarly derived. Captains' and Masters' Logs, together with some private journals, of voyages of exploration will be found in ADM 55. All these series were by the mid-19th century superseded by the Ships' Logs, ADM 53. A small collection of miscellaneous logs, 1648-1707, is in ADM 7/777, ADM 7/778, ADM 7/779, ADM 7/780.
7. Shipbuilding and repair
For abstracts of the date, cost and nature of building, repair and refitting work undertaken on HM ships, look in the Progress Books in ADM 180 (1620-1912) . For the 19th century, look in the Ships' Books (ADM 135): a small selection only of later Ships' Books has been preserved in ADM 136. Also in ADM 180 are lists of the dimensions of HM ships, and in ADM 95/23-82 are reports of their sailing qualities, draught and other particulars, 1743-1847. Ships' Draughts, Ships' Covers (ADM 138) and Contract Specifications (ADM 168 and ADM 170) are now held in the National Maritime Museum. Details of ships' armaments may sometimes be found in the Ordnance Board Miscellanea, WO 55.