Hello, I’m very pleased to be able to introduce myself as Neil Ogg, the Ben Line Cataloguing Project Officer. I’ve recently begun what is to be a 12 month project to catalogue the Ben Line collection here at Archive Services. Last year, staff from Archive Services visited Ben Line’s Edinburgh office to collect around 20 shelf-metres worth of records. This donation complements material already held in the Scottish Business Archive for Ben Line; adding to existing holdings of 162 volumes of the company’s voyage records (1851-1922) and 89 voyage record filing boxes (including details of accounts and finances, cargo and crew) which cover the period of 1939-1978. Details of the existing holdings can be found on our online catalogue.
The newly accessioned boxes contain a rich variety of material dating from the time of early Ben Line ships like Araby Maid (we have the ship’s official log book from 1874) right through to the drill ships and cargo ships of the last few decades that marked Ben Line’s ventures into the oil and freight industries. The material is currently being box-listed (which is the first stage in the cataloguing process to ascertain what material is present in order to determine how best to arrange it for description) but the following should provide a flavour of the material which will be catalogued and searchable online and in our search room when this project is complete:
- Photographs of everything from the company’s ships (being built, launched and at sea) to its staff to photographs taken by crew across the world (I’ve been rather fascinated by hazy images of the Suez Canal)
- General arrangement plans of ships
- Capacity plans
- Further voyage record books
- Newspaper cuttings gathered by the company
- Documentation of the company’s expansion during recent decades into the oil and freight industries
- Calendars, brochures and postcards
- Log books
- Staff record cards
- As well as press releases and correspondence documenting all aspects of the company’s operations throughout its development over the last century and a half at home and abroad – including the role Ben Line, its ships and crew played during both world wars
As well as donating the material, the company also kindly provided Archive Services with funding to hire a cataloguer to process the collection and make it accessible, which is where I come in. I started this post on the 13th January this year, and have over the last few weeks been getting to grips with the collection as well as settling in to the daily goings-on in Archive Services. Having graduated from the MSc Information Management & Preservation course at Glasgow University, I’m excited to now be working within the University’s Archive Services on this project. My role will largely consist of cataloguing the material (incorporating the other Ben Line records already held) and producing an EAD description of the material for delivery through Archive Services’ online catalogue. This process will also involve making appraisal decisions, repackaging the material where needed and working with the preservation manager to address any preservation or conservation issues.
Part of these first few weeks have been spent gathering a broad overview of the company and its history, which has greatly aided my understanding of the material present.
The Ben Line was born out of Leith, Edinburgh, in 1825 when brothers Alexander and William Thomson acquired an 88-foot barque, Carrara, to carry marble from Italy back to Scotland. Soon this business expanded to establish trading links with Canada and Australia, and then the Far East where The Ben Line established itself as a major shipping company after the launch of its first steam ship, the Benledi, in 1871. The company built a strong identity for its fleet through the naming of each ship after a Scottish ‘Ben’ or mountain. The following century saw the company progress through a great many changes, and it was of course not left untouched by the two world wars. However, the initial thread of Ben Line’s foundation can be followed through its expansion into the oil industry and onward to the present day where Ben Line Agencies continues to provide shipping services in Asia.
Already it is clear to me that this collection serves to highlight the wide and varying insights and connections that a business collection such as this provides for us as researchers and curious individuals, as well as Scotland’s connections to the wider world that our pioneering businesses have forged.
As the cataloguing process progresses I will update on my experiences and discoveries of working with what promises to be an intriguing and valuable resource for the history of Scottish business and shipping. There’s also sure to be many intriguing treasures to be uncovered in this collection (I’ve already found many interesting records that threaten to distract me!) and so I will share these regularly with you all as the project develops.
Categories: Archive Services