Leith Local History Society

Sources for research into the shipping of Leith, 1600-1850

For the 17th century the best single sources are the port books. These are far from comprehensive but do give an insight into the trade of the port of Leith. They identify the ships, skippers, merchants, cargoes and destinations involved. These can be consulted in the National Archives of Scotland, HM Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh. They are organised in two series, the earlier dates 1611-1628 and are referenced NAS.E71.29.5-155, and the later ones NAS.E72.15.1-51 which cover the period 1663-1691. The first series may require palaeographic skills to use but the second series should pose little problem to the average researcher.

After the political union of Scotland and England in 1707 the Scottish customs and excise authority was restructured in line with that of England. Unfortunately the port books do not commence until 1742, however from that date there are continuous comprehensive records which provide much more detail than the former system. These too are now in the NAS and are referenced NAS.E504.22.1-129 which cover the years from 1742 to 1830.

Information on the masters and crews of whaling ships from Scots ports, including Leith, can be found in the bounty papers in the NAS, referenced NAS.E508, which date from 1750.

The best available published source is Sue Mowat’s `The Port of Leith’ which has a substantial bibliography and also a list of pertinent manuscripts held by Edinburgh City Archives and the National Archives of Scotland.

Sue Mowat and Eric Graham have also recently produced a CD entitled `High Court of Admiralty Scotland Records 1627-1750’ which contains abstracts of cases held before the HCAS including many pertaining to ships and shipmasters of Leith of the early modern period. Local newspapers, in particular Leith Commercial Lists which can be accessed in the Edinburgh Library on George IV Bridge, provide regular reports on Leith shipping, cargoes, sources and destinations.


Title Author Published
The Port of Leith, its history and its people Sue Mowat Edinburgh, 1994
A Maritime History of Scotland, 1650-1791 Eric J Graham Edinburgh, 2002
High Court of the Admiralty of Scotland, Records 1627-1750, a CD Sue Mowat Edinburgh, 2005
The Mariners of the Lothians, 1600-1700, in two parts David Dobson St Andrews, 1993
The Mariners of the Lothians, 1700-1800 David Dobson St Andrews, 1995
Ships from Scotland to Australasia, 1820-1860 David Dobson Modbury, South Australia, 2005
Ships from Scotland to America, 1628-1828 , 3 volumes David Dobson Baltimore, Maryland, 1998, 2002, 2004
Ships from Scotland to North America, 1830-1860 David Dobson Baltimore, Maryland, 2002
Scottish Customs & Excise Records Frances Wilkins Kidderminster, 1992
Family Histories in Scottish Customs Records Frances Wilkins Kidderminster, 1993
The Smuggling Story of Two Firths Frances Wilkins Kidderminster, 1993