For those wishing to trace apprentices in the British Merchant Navy the
following information may be useful.
The Merchant Shipping Act in 1823 required all ships over 80 tons to
carry at least one apprentice. The legal documents binding an apprentice
to his Master and known as indentures, were required to be filed with
the Customs Officers in the ports at which the apprentice was enrolled.
Records of these early indentures may be found amongst customs records
in CUST classes at the Public Record Office.
The Merchant Shipping Act of 1835 formalised the registration of
Apprentices. From this date, registration of apprentices in London was
to be conducted by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen.
Indentures for Apprentices at other ports continued to be filed with the
local Customs Officers, and further regulations in 1844 required that
these indentures were to be submitted quarterly to the Registrar General
of Shipping and Seamen.
Compulsory apprenticeship for all was abolished in 1849, but indentures
of those apprenticed continued to be filed and submitted as before. The
Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen extracted names from these
indentures and entered them in registers. These registers are now held
by the Public Record Office as follows:
BT150 Indexes of Apprentice
Piece numbers 1-15 give name, age, date and the length of indenture,
plus the name of the Master to whom he was apprenticed.
Piece number 15 onwards includes the port at which he was first signed
on, and the name of his first ship.
There are separate registers for London and for Outports, each register
covering a span of dates. The registers are alphabetical and the
information of a good standard.. ie in the main, the information
required has been correctly entered. Searching is straightforward.
Only those indentures for every fifth year have been preserved and these
are now held in classes as follows:
BT151 Apprentices' Indentures 1845-1950
BT152 Apprentices Indentured for Fishing 1895-1935
Many apprentices did not complete their term or else did not complete it
with the same Master. They may turn up in ordinary seamen's registers
from 1835. If the apprentice was indentured after 1835 but no ship name
is shown, it may still be possible to locate the ship as long as the
name of the master is given. By tracing the service records for the
Master (see previous posting on tracing British Master Mariners) and
locating all crew agreements for the relevant period, the name of the
apprentice is often discovered. Note that it is not possible to do
forward searches in crew agreements, only retrospective searches are
possible based on the information given concerning 'previous ship in
which served.' Note also that apprentices will often also appear in
later indexes and registers of seamen's tickets or indexes of Master
Mariners and Mates and a retrospective search allows a full record to be
This is a brief guide to searching apprentice records at the Public
Record Office. There is an online leaflet at their website
http://www.pro.gov.uk which explains in greater detail what may be