Aspect 5: Ships' Logs

The captain of a ship - today and in Nelson's time - is responsible for keeping a record of the weather and all other main events which take place on a ship at sea. It's a sort of ship's diary.

The diaries or 'logs' from Nelson's time are very helpful to historians and scientists. The weather pattern for the battle of Trafalgar has been reconstructed from the logs of the ships and other observations taken at that time.

If you click on Log of the Carcass, September 1773, you will find the log of the ship Nelson was on in that year, as a 14 year old, very junior, officer. You will find a page from this part of the log printed on pages 30 and 31 of "Nelson - I am myself a Norfolk man" so that you can see what the original looked like.

See if you can answer some of the following questions using the log. Use the 'back' button of your web browser to move back from the log to this page.

  • The Carcass was sailing back down the North Sea from a journey of exploration to near the North Pole with another ship. What was the name of that other ship?

  • The Carcass lost contact with that other ship for several days. How many days were they out of contact?

  • They were measuring their distance from Hackluit's Headland, well north in the Arctic,until they saw the coast of England. Where in England did they first see land?

  • Where near London did they finally anchor at the end of their journey?

  • Find one day when the weather was particularly bad. Give your account of what that day was like and what emergency action they had to take on the ship.

  • Navigation, particularly working out longitude, was very difficult in Nelson's time. How big an error did they find they had made in their navigation when they were finally able to check it against known land?

  • Choose five words from the log which you think are part of the special language used by sailing ships, and see if you can find out what those words mean. This may involve some research on the Internet.

A note about the log

As you will see from the book, the handwriting of the master of the Carcass is quite good, but there are some points where we haven't been able to be sure of what he has written - and occasionally when we have been very unsure, we have put in a question mark. Generally we have used the spellings and abbreviations he used, but a computer can't always write the text in exactly the same way. For instance, we have had to write out the words 'two thirds' rather than show them as a figure.

Occasionally we may have interpreted something wrongly, and if you're a real expert on 18th century writing and ship information, please send us a note and we will change the file!

The word Do. or do. is short for ditto, which means 'the same as before'.

The log of the Carcass is the copyright of the National Archives in London.