Rare Scottish sailor’s logbook charting life on one of Nelson’s ships goes online

Published: 6 July 2010

A Greenock sailor’s view of life on one of Horatio Nelson’s ships during the Napoleonic Wars has been made available online – 200 years to the day after it was completed.

A Greenock sailor’s view of life on one of Horatio Nelson’s ships during the Napoleonic Wars has been made available online by the University of Glasgow – 200 years to the day after it was completed.

Royal Navy sailor Andrew Service’s logbook, which goes live today (Tuesday 6 July, 2010), charts his experiences on board Lord Nelson’s 38-gun frigate Medusa as it did battle in the North and South Atlantic in the early 1800s. 

Service, who was born in Port Glasgow in 1781, joined the Royal Navy as a landsman with no marine skills but left as a fully fledged seaman. He boarded the Medusa in 1801 aged 20 and travelled around the world to the Mediterranean, the East and West Indies and the North and South Americas. Andrew Service Logbook

He was present at the battle of Cape Santa Maria off southern Portugal in 1804 and the Battle of Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1807 and escorted the Governor General of India back to the sub-continent in 1805.

The Battle of Cape Santa Maria was a British success with the seizing of a cargo of gold and silver valued at £1million and led to Spain joining the war on the side of the French. However, the Battle of Montevideo was a British disaster with more than 2,500 men killed or taken captive.

The 175mm x 410mm log book was donated to the University of Glasgow Archive Services in the 1980s by Service’s family but it could not be read or used because it was in such a fragile condition.

Lesley Richmond, Director of Archive Services, said: “We had to have it properly conserved and transcribed so everyone could read Andrew Service’s description of his travels as a sailor in Lord Nelson’s Navy.”

The transcription and background research was carried out by history student Emily Graham, 19, from Bristol, who completed the work as part of Club 21, the University of Glasgow’s work experience programme for students. 

Emily said: “The most difficult part of deciphering Andrew Service’s handwriting was the names of the places that the ship visited.

“The spelling is erratic and you have to sound out the letters to get the word. Place names were really hard to decipher, so I had to use an atlas to check for possible places on the sea routes.

“There are still a few that we have to crack and I hope that someone reading the logbook online may be able to provide the missing ports of call.”

The logbook is a rare source for naval history from below decks, as it was officers who kept the official log of voyages.

Lesley added: “It is a fascinating read of far flung places from the icy waters of Newfoundland to Sri Lanka as well as descriptions of sea battles, the seizing of enemy ships and the deaths of fellow shipmates.

“Even Andrew did not escape unscathed, crushing a finger which had to be amputated. But the one image that sticks in my mind is that of a sailor going ashore with bags of clothes and food singing Rule Britannia.”

Andrew Service probably kept his log book in pencil during his time at sea, as ink entries would have run if they came into contact with water, and wrote in up on his return to Greenock, nine years and 12 days after he had left to join the Navy, completing his logbook on July 6, 1810.

To view entries of Andrew Service’s logbook online visit:



All images from the website can be reproduced if acknowledgement is made to Glasgow University Archive Services.

For more information contact Lesley Richmond, University Archivist, on 0141 330 2089 or email l.richmond@archives.gla.ac.uk / Nicolas White in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 3535 or email n.white@admin.gla.ac.uk

Notes to editors

Archive Services is the central place of deposit for the records of the University created and accumulated since its foundation in 1451. Including University related records deposited by staff, alumni and associated organizations and the records of predecessor institutions. The University’s records are an outstanding resource for Scotland’s educational, intellectual and cultural history.

Archive Services also manage the Scottish Business Archive, internationally important collections of business records covering the whole of Scotland and beyond dating from the 18th century to the present. These reflect the contribution and breadth of activity that Scotland’s business, industry and enterprise has made, and continues to make, to the world economy. 

Archive Services acquires, preserves and develops the use of these University and Business archives for and by the local and global academic community and the wider public.

The Club 21 Business Partnership Programme, based at the University Careers Service, is unique to the University of Glasgow and offers long-term benefits to employers and students alike.

First published: 6 July 2010

<< July