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Dundee Shipping Lists
Four burgh registers of shipping, known as the Dundee Shipping Lists, survive for the years 1580 to 1713, with gaps. The presentation and quantity of information about imports vary from volume to volume, but generally the skipper "compeared" before the baillies or the Dean of Guild and rendered an account of his cargo, giving the names of the merchants. A good consideration of this source can be found, with a partial transcript of the volumes up to 1618, in the appendix to A.H. Millar's analysis of "David Wedderburne of Dundee's Compt Buik" (Scottish History Society no.28, 1898).The first volume, which runs from 1612 to 1677 with a few additional entries, has a title page with examples of writing practice, no doubt by later hands, but more significantly, two dated inscriptions: 1612 The book of entries of ships arriving at the port and harbour of Dundee. Begun in the month of March AD 1612 and 1651 Sir Alexander Wedderburne, Clerk of Dundee, His book of ships entries 1651.The second book, running from 1694 to 1700, has no title page. Records from 1612 to about the early 1660s usually give additional information about the ownership of specified items of cargo The Compt Buik is in the rare books collection of Dundee Central Library. Lists, hand-written on paper sheets, were rebound in two volumes in the mid-19th Century. They describe only the inward movements of ships and cargoes to the port of Dundee.
The hundred or so ships and their cargoes which make up the presentation were selected from a mass of other entries, including the arrival of vessels from the Baltic ports - carrying timber - and from France - bringing wine and salt. It was not difficult, however, to identify the important and sustained traffic with the Low Countries and with Veere in particular. To give a broader and more balanced sample it seemed appropriate to include arrivals which appeared to come from other locations. Neither the ships' masters nor the clerks were likely to be too specific about ports of departure and our suspicion is that, since it was the Scottish Staple Port, the ships from places identified as Zeland and Flanders probably came from Veere.
The records give an insight into the diverse range of goods being imported into Dundee, then a very important port on the East Coast of a largely independent Scotland. By the nature of the records we have no indication of what was being exported from Dundee on the same ships. The majority of the imports appear under the general heading of 'goods'- variously also described as Dry Goods ('dry ware geir' in the Scots of the time), Flanders Wares, Hollands Wares, Merchandise and Staple Wares. We can only guess at the contents of such shipments but in essence they would have included anything available in the Low Countries for which there might be a market in Dundee and on which a profit could be made. Of the named cargo items the most common are onions - spelled by the various clerks in most imaginative ways. Soap figures next. The salt, wine and tobacco were presumably being transhipped through Veere since at other times these items came directly from France. Hemp, iron, madder and timber each clearly had their uses whilst apples and bere (a form of barley) supplemented the Scots' diet.
Perhaps it is the people who are mentioned that make the records most intriguing. The material goods we can categorise but the characters offer scope for greater imaginative interpretation. The names are easily recorded but who were these merchants and mariners? What did they look like? What was their lifestyle? How did they communicate with one another? … and so on. We can recognise family names that recur throughout the mercantile history of Dundee, such as Baxters and Yeamans as merchants and the Kinnears and Knights as shipmasters. Others clearly were important at the time but would not now be familiar names. Work on other Dundee archival sources is needed to begin to fill out the story of these local characters. Perhaps the appearance of individual masters from Veere may stimulate a similar interest at their home port.
You now have access to records of some of the ships sailing between Veere or other ports in the Low Countries and Dundee between 1580 and 1696. The records provide information on the vessels, their masters, their cargoes and the owners of cargoes.