Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

25 April 2013

History and science meet

The East India Company ships' journals are a vital source of information for climate scientists because of the detailed information they contain about the weather.

Drawing of East India Company ships from journal of the Rochester

Log of the ship Rochester, 1710 [IOR/L/MAR/B/137B] Noc

This early journal of the Rochester is typical in that it recorded the wind direction and described the weather for each day. The Rochester journal is unusual in that it also includes some beautiful drawings, and a skull and crossbones mark each death during the voyage. On this occasion, the sailor was thought to have fallen overboard ‘being in liquor’.

Journal of the ship Rochester showing a skull and crossbones marking when someone died on board
Journal of the ship Rochester, 1710 [IOR/L/MAR/B/137B] Noc

Later ships' journals give instrumental weather data such as pressure readings, and these are even more useful for climate scientists because of their greater precision. The weather data for several hundred East India Company ships' journals 1789-1834 has been extracted and used for climate modelling studies and weather and climate reconstructions (reanalyses). Philip Brohan of the UK Met Office talks about our journals and their usefulness for climate studies on Euronews today at 17-15 UK time.  The story will be on euronews.com/space and also on esa.int.

The website Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth gives more details of how historic records can contribute to climate studies.

The British Library, UK Met Office and the Centre for World Environmental History, University of Sussex, have recently signed an agreement to collaborate to develop understanding of climate through the use of historic records. 


Penny Brook

Lead Curator, India Office Records   Cc-by

Further reading -
P. Brohan, R. Allan, E. Freeman, D. Wheeler, C. Wilkinson, and F. Williamson, 2012:  ‘Constraining the temperature history of the past millennium using early instrumental observations’ Climate of the Past 

Gilbert P. Compo, Prashant D. Sardeshmukh, Jeffrey S. Whitaker, Philip Brohan, Philip D. Jones and Chesley McColl,  2013:  ‘Independent confirmation of global land warming without the use of station temperatures’ Geophysical Research Letters

Search our Catalogues Archives and Manuscripts


The comments to this entry are closed.

Untold lives blog recent posts



Other British Library blogs