Becoming an Engineer


Eileen researched the voyages of SS Virago which had only been built in 1871. She seemed to follow a similar course to the Bertha, through the Mediterranean to the Port of Suez, down the Canal and into the Indian Ocean with a stop at Ceylon and then on to India. On the return journey, Virago stopped at Gibraltar and then the Port of London.

SS China

We needed to find more documentation. Allan was a qualified marine engineer so there should be records of his certificates and of his engineering experience. There should also be official papers because the ship's Log was a legal requirement and would have been filed back in England and, every seaman had to sign a Crew Agreement when he undertook a new voyage. If only we could get hold of these!

SS Egypt

We looked on the National Archives website and found that information about engineers is held at Kew but the Crew Agreements and Logs for British shipping, instead of still being stored in Britain, have been split between archives around the world because they were taking so much shelf space. We were looking for papers from around 1872, so documentation on the Virago should be held at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University, St John's, Newfoundland

Instead of going to Canada, we visited the 2008 Who Do You Think You Are? exhibition. There we found a stall belonging to the Maritime History Archive, Newfoundland! The archivists accessed the University records and were able to confirm that the records of both the "Bertha" and "Virago" should be in their hands, if they still existed. We enquired about costs and promised to email everything we knew about Allan to one of these archivists at the University, Tanya Macdonald.

Engineer's certificate

To find Allan's engineering records we crossed London to Kew and almost immediately struck gold! An on-line search on the National Archives site told us that Kew held Certificates of Competency for ships' engineers. The entries we found for Allan gave the names of the ships he worked on between 1863 and 1872, although with some gaps. We were able to follow his progress from Third Engineer to Second until he reached the pinnacle of his career and attained the position of First Engineer, 13 September 1866. The record even contained a rather sad note for 1872 saying, "discharged, Port Said, 31.10". We assume he was too ill to work because he died two days later.

To see Allan's voyages from when he first became a ship's engineer, use the links in the right-hand column.

Next: Allan's life at sea