English East-India Company logbooks, 1785-1835

Positions of the 270,000 records rescued (Video page)


The English East India Company ships trading between the UK and India started making systematic instrumental weather observations in about 1790, and the logs of these ships (up to 1834) are preserved in the India Office Records in the British Library. (Image samples are in the paper). Following-on from the successful Royal Navy WW2 project, we set out to rescue these observations in a similar way.

The data discovery and imaging were in this case funded from the UK, but the transcription was again done by CDMP. The data conversion and analysis was again done by the Met Office.

CDMP’s professional contractors made just as good a job with these records as they did with the Royal Navy WW2 project, but these much older logbooks were harder to read, so it took a lot longer.

Costs and efficiency

Date run 2008 - 2011
observations rescued 614,583
Elapsed time (per ob.) 3.5 years (3 minutes)
Financial cost (per ob.) £1.1 million (£1.80)
Effort required (per ob.) 14 person years (2.2 person minutes)

How are these (very uncertain) numbers estimated? (& Data source).

Lessons learned

  • In data rescue, some observations are more difficult than others. Older records are harder to read, more variable in format, more difficult to interpret. These records took more than 10 times as much effort to transcribe as simpler records from later periods. (They were of much greater scientific value, as well).