British Naval Logbooks from the Late Seventeenth Century

New climatic information from old sources


  • Dennis Wheeler University of Sunderland


The recently completed CLIWOC1 project funded by the EU has demonstrated the value of the climatic information to be found so abundantly in old naval logbooks (Garcia-Herrera et al, 2005). This project was, however, confined to the period from 1750 to 1850 and, whilst many logbooks, especially in the UK, survive from much earlier times, they were not included in the analysis. This paper takes the opportunity to examine the oldest collection of logbooks that exist in sufficient quantities to provide a daily, regionally-based, series of weather observations and to gauge their value as sources of scientific data and information. Logbooks of this antiquity are those of Royal Navy officers, lieutenants and captains, preserved in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, South East London and in the National Archives in Kew, South West London. They cover the period from 1685 onwards that, fortuitously, embraces both a large part of the Late Maunder Minimum and the coldest phase of the so-called Little Ice Age. The character of the data is examined and some preliminary conclusions are drawn regarding the climate of the period.






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