Volunteers Week spotlight – Mike from the Maritime Archives and Library

3 June 2019 by Rachel O'Malley

Mike wearing his volunteer pass

Volunteers are an integral part of National Museums Liverpool, and without them, important work would not be able to take place. To celebrate Volunteers Week we are meeting more volunteers as part of a bumper Volunteer Spotlight series so we can really celebrate the different contributions that our amazing volunteers make.

This month, I met with Mike who volunteers with the Maritime Archives & Library at the North Street Warehouse. Mike has a fascinating back story and holds so much knowledge; I can see why he is a vital part of the department! Mike’s journey with National Museums Liverpool started in the 1980s as a Friend of the Merseyside Maritime Museum and following his retirement, he began volunteering with us in 2012 as a Tour Guide on the Edmund Gardner and has gone on to volunteer with the Education team and now the Archives team. Mike has been more than prepared for his volunteer roles: he has specialist knowledge acquired from his career in ship building and engineering design.

When he started as a Tour Guide on the Edmund Gardiner, Mike explained that he was terrified of public speaking and he was even more terrified after he had undergone his training! However, following the applause that he received after his first tour, he was hooked!

Mike’s current work involves cataloguing plans and drawings from the Vulcan Foundry Archive, the famous locomotive builders from Newton Le Willows; to help with the cataloguing, Mike has created his own template to identify key features.

A previous project involved trying to identify photographs of ships from a series of postcards. Some of the images have the names of the ships visible, so it was down to Mike to recognise the era of the ship. To do this he uses the Lloyds Register which holds information on every ship ever built; so far out of a collection of 500 photographs, there have only been around eight that he has not been able to recognise.

Mike’s favourite part of his archival work has been cataloguing drawings from the Samuel Bond Boatyard in Rock Ferry. He was familiar with the boat yard being from the Wirral and having sailed in their boats. Mike’s work led him to discover a local designer who was responsible for a number of yachts, inspiring him to complete his own research outside of volunteering and publish a supplement for the Archives Department. For the last five years he has been working on research about the Costa Concordia cruise ship and its wrecking off the coast of Italy in 2012 and subsequent salvage. His 227 page book includes hundreds of photographs documenting the fatal voyage, salvage and deconstruction. It’s no wonder that the Edmund Gardiner volunteers call him Mick-i-pedia!

In addition to volunteering, Mike runs the North West Branch of the Amateur Yacht Research Society, which was founded in 1955 and has the aim of improving yacht performance and making the pastime safer, as well as encouraging more young people to take part.

I asked Mike why he would invite others to volunteer for National Museums Liverpool and his response was extremely profound. He explained that after you retire it provides you with three things:

  1. When you are no longer part of a team, volunteering gives you a chance to achieve something tangible and regain your self worth.
  2. Volunteering leads to Companionship and Camaraderie
  3. National Museums Liverpool staff go out of their way to show their appreciation for the work that volunteers do.

Charlotte from the Maritime Archives & Library, who nominated Mike added:

“The specialist knowledge that Mike and our other volunteers bring is invaluable when it comes to cataloguing specialist or technical archives, such as locomotive plans. Mike’s work has made the Vulcan Foundry plans much more easily accessible for research. We’d like to thank Mike for all the time he has dedicated to this project and to National Museums Liverpool as a whole.”

  1. Thomas william Astall says:

    How can I apply for jobs at the museum in Albert dock please

  2. Alfonso P Duncan says:

    I wish I had met Mike when I visited the Museum September last year. Alas, for some reason the volunteers were not working that day.

    We have something in common: I’m a Docent (Volunteer) at the Houston Maritime Museum in Houston, TX. I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and I’ve been living in Houston, TX, for the last 40 years or so.

    My father used to tell me when I was little that our ancestors had ships that sailed from Sabanilla, in the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, to Liverpool. It was family lore but he didn’t know the ships. To make my story short: a distant relative in County Cork, Ireland, sent me letters of my great grandfather to his cousin Leland Lewis Duncan ( and in the text he mentions two ships. The ships were:

    1. The “Celt”, registered in Dumfries, Dumfrieshire, Scotland; and,
    2. The “Savanilla”, a barque, registered in Liverpool, built in Lancaster, Lancashire.

    I know that the “Savanilla” made more than a couple of trips to Liverpool with cargo consigned to Imrie & Tomlinson. The next time I go to Liverpool I hope I can have a talk with Mike; I hope I can see what the archives in Liverpool can have for my research.

  3. Barry Lowe says:

    I was a volunteer maintenance worker on the Edmund Gardner a few years’ ago on a Saturday and I would like to be a volunteer at the Maritime. I was and still am a volunteer at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port and have been a volunteer there for over 30 years so I do have vast experience in working in a museum environment.

    I would like to know how I would go about this please?

    • Rachel O'Malley says:

      Hi Barry

      Thank you for your interest in volunteering with National Museums Liverpool. We cannot predict when venues or teams will require volunteers, but all roles will be advertised on our website

      It would be great to have someone with your experience volunteering with us, so please keep checking the website 🙂

      Best wishes


  4. John Stanley Hall says:

    Dear Sir/Madam
    I`m writing this e mail in the hope I can find some volunteer work with you. I am a 66 year old retired marine engineer who was in the merchant navy and spent many years in the offshore industry working on subsea vehicles in the telephone cable laying industry working for British, French, American and Italian firms. Any type of volunteer work will suit but I have a strong interest in the merchant navy due to my employment history. I hope you will be able to offer some part time volunteer work.I look forward to hearing from you in the near future Regards John

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