Thanks to Mat Curtis, who contacted me via my post LLoyds List Online, I'm able to report that it is now possible to read and search a large number of issues of Lloyds Register online.
The Register, published for the years 1764-66, 1768-71 and then annually since 1775, records the details of merchant vessels of the world. Since the 1870’s Lloyd’s Register has tried to include all merchant vessels over 100 gross tonnes, which are self-propelled and sea-going, regardless of classification.
Before this time only those vessels classed by Lloyd’s Register were listed.
Registers published after 1876 contain the ‘List of Ship Owners’ and those published after 1886 contain the list of ‘Late Names of Ships’, which is very useful if you only know the previous name of the vessel. A vessel will remain in the Register until something happens to her; for example if she is sunk, wrecked, broken up, hulked, etc.
So, how do you search for a ship?
Hitting the link embedded in the title above (and also here) leads to a page with a table, which provides links to the volumes of the Lloyd’s Register of Ships that are fully accessible and searchable online.
They say that the early volumes, up to 1899, were scanned in by Googlebooks and by The Internet Archive. These digitised Registers can be searched by any of the fields such as ship name, master, ship owner or place of build (note that some of the fields may be abbreviated such as ‘Capt’. for Captain or ‘Amer.’ for America).
The Registers for 1930-1945 were digitised as part of the Plimsoll ship data project by the Southampton City Libraries and Archives Services in conjunction with Lloyd’s Register’s Information Centre. The fields can be searched by ship name(s), year of build and gross tonnage.
They will soon be adding the Register Book for 1764-66 in PDF format so that vessels can be found in alphabetical order of ship name. This is the first time that pages from this original edition of the Register of Ships, 1764 will be available online. The only surviving volume is on permanent loan to the British Library. *Please note that copyright of all images of the 1764-6 edition remains with Lloyd’s Register.
They ask that if you discover any other (full-access) digitised editions of the Lloyd’s Register of Ships that they have not listed to please contact them at the email address given in the page.