Secrets of White Star Line Ship Logs. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to our donor, John Sayers, for another fascinating post giving insight into the significance of shipping ephemera

As with the shipping logs of every other line, the White Star Line Voyage Logs provide a day-by-day record of the voyage, and a summary of the average speed of the ship. However, the White Star Line logs are important at a higher level of shipping research.

Log for 1898-12-21 A Britannic WB
1898-12-21 A Britannic WB

When Cunard took over the White Star Line in 1934, they phased out most of the White Star Line ships fairly quickly. Only the relatively new Georgic and Britannic remained in service. The White Star administrative offices were integrated into Cunard, and the records of the former are reported to have been destroyed.

So, the only surviving information about the line and its ships is in the on-board documentation that has been saved by passengers, such as the Logs of each voyage. As with so many other lines, these are difficult to find and, by this collector’s assessment, worth acquiring even if not in perfect condition. The importance of the message trumps the condition of the medium.

For example, ships are sometimes compared in terms of their rated maximum speed. But running a ship at maximum speed may be neither prudent nor possible. Wear and tear, fuel consumption, and risks such as icebergs (as encountered by Titanic) can all serve to reduce the practical working speed. The advertised top speed may not be the actual average rate in crossing the Atlantic, and so the Logs’ values provide a more accurate practical assessment of the ‘working’ speed of a ship in service conditions.

To passengers who have come through a rough voyage, the reminder in the form of the printed Log is probably not likely to be retained. For other voyages, once the Log has been shared with admiring friends and relatives, its value to the traveler has diminished, unless it represents memories of a winning guess in a day’s Pool for the distance travelled, so it is no longer a useful memory.

This material, and a vast quantity of other ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.