CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 2940
TitleAberdeen Shipmaster Society papers
Date1630 - 1965
Extent2 boxes, 16 volumes, 6 items and 1 bundle (1.54 linear metres)
Creator NameAberdeen Shipmaster Society (1590 - )
Administrative HistoryThe Seamen's Box of Aberdeen was founded in 1598 and incorporated by charter of James VI in 1600. The objects of the Society were essentially charitable, being established to make provision for families of skippers, masters and mariners who were drowned at sea. By virtue of these interests, it quickly gained considerable importance in the municipal life of the Burgh of Aberdeen, pressing for improvements in both administration and the physical development of the harbour area.

During it's first 200 years, the Society raised funds through the collection of poor money and prime gilt from mariners using the port at Aberdeen, poor money being levied on the wages of masters and seamen belonging to the port, whilst prime gilt, a tax imposed on the tonnage of a ship as well as the wages of her seamen, was due from skippers of both home and foreign-going vessels. In 1775 it brought an action in the High Court of Admiralty against John Auldjo, merchant in Aberdeen, for non-payment of prime gilt for 75 voyages made from the port of Aberdeen. The litigation lasted ten years, going before the House of Lords and the Court of Session before finally being ruled in favour of Auldjo, a decision which brought an end to the practice, and to the provision of charity for foreign seamen which it had funded. It seems that a further consequence of the litigation process was the Society's decision to reconstitute the organisation and to petition for a new charter. This was granted on 16 April 1801, and the Society reconstituted under a new name, the Aberdeen Shipmaster Society.

The Society was a wealthy organisation and a substantial land owner in the city of Aberdeen. As well as holding properties purchased for rental, in 1670 it erected a loft in the Quire of St Nicholas Parish Church, with accommodation for all of its members, and in 1788 purchased St Andrew's Lodge, on the south side of the Shiprow, for use as the Society's meeting hall. The building was sold during the development of Market Street in 1840, and a smaller property at 22 Regent Quay purchased by way of replacement.

See Alexander Clark, 'A Short History of the Shipmaster Society, or The Seamen's Box of Aberdeen' (Aberdeen: William Smith, 1911) for further details.
Custodial HistoryThe records were listed in 1972 by the Department of Economic History, Aberdeen University, for the Survey of Business and Estate Records in North East Scotland. At this time the records were held in the Society's offices at 22 Regent Quay, Aberdeen, and in the offices of Messrs Clark and Wallace (the Society's legal agents), at 14 Albyn Place, Aberdeen. Some of these records were deposited in the University in Nov and Dec 1977 (MS 2940), but others were not present at this time. The deposit was made on behalf of the Society by Mr D. Burnside, and subsequently added to by Captain Edward, treasurer to the Society. It is believed that the missing records were transferred to Aberdeen City Art Gallery with the Society's art collection. They were subsequently deposited in the University in Feb 1981 (MS 3070).
DescriptionThis collection is largely concerned with the Society’s administration and its financial accounts and includes sederunt books, abstracts of accounts, cash books, and various printed reports and official papers and statistics.

The Society also owned fishing rights on the River Don and in the coastal waters around Aberdeen, and the records created in respect of these interests are of considerable value regarding the historic development of the fishing industry in Aberdeen, and the conflicting interests which this created between local land owners and the Society. They include an inventory of 74 writs, compiled in 1776, concerning the ownership of half-nets on the Don from 1541 - 1775, and writs, resignations and dispositions concerning half-nets salmon fishing on the Don and coastal salmon fishing rights, 1630 - 1783.
AppraisalThis material has been appraised in line with normal procedures.
AccrualsNone expected.
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsThe records are available subject to the signed acceptance of the Department's access conditions.
Physical DescriptionThe documents are all in good condition, though some have suffered from storage close to a coal merchants.
Related MaterialMiscellaneous publications relating to the society, including Copy of the Charter to the Shipmaster Society of Aberdeen, granted by George III in 1801 (Aberdeen: Chalmers, ?1801) are deposited in the University Local and Pamphlet Collections. Full reference details can be found in the University Library Catalogue.

MS 3070 - Papers of the Shipmasters Society of Aberdeen (1590-1946)
Publication NoteAlexander Clark, 'A Short History of the Shipmaster Society, or The Seamen's Box of Aberdeen' (Aberdeen: William and Son, 1911)
Related RecordMS 3070
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