Chosen by Jennifer Mason, member of staff
This register, from the archive of Marine and General Mutual Life Assurance Society of Worthing, provides a fascinating insight into life at sea in the 19th century. The entries record the far-flung cities sailors visited, from Alexandria to Hong Kong, Bombay to Balaklava. The volume also records the role each sailor performed on board ship, giving a sense of the many and varied jobs which were required to keep a ship afloat. On a more sombre note, the register lists the different causes of death among sailors. Drowning was a common occurrence, as were outbreaks of infectious diseases, like typhoid, which spread quickly through the crew. Shipboard accidents accounted for many deaths too. Thomas Esson, for instance, died after a paddle wheel float fell on his head.
In fact, life on board a ship was so dangerous (mortality among seafarers was estimated at 50% higher than average) that life insurance for sailors was extremely problematic. Marine and General Mutual, established in 1852, aimed to address this by “offering advantages to the seafaring portion of the community, which no office has yet attempted”, and by the end of its first complete year, had more than a thousand seamen on the books.
The first formal meeting of the founders of Marine and General Mutual was held on 20 January 1852 at the offices of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (later P&O) in Leadenhall Street. Attendees included men from prominent maritime organisations, such as P&O, the Honourable East India Company, the General Screw Steam Shipping Company, and the General Shipowner’s Society. A Deed of Settlement for the society was signed on 25 June 1852, it was registered on 5 July, and the Society commenced operations.
The Society was originally based in London but in 1974, after the expansion and development of the company prompted a search for larger premises, moved to Worthing. The new offices, known as MGM House, were built on the site of the old Heene Baths and were opened by Lord Denman on 2 October 1974. To accompany the new head office, it was decided to transform Marine and General Mutual into MGM Assurance. The company is now dormant, following the transfer of business to Scottish Friendly on 1 June 2015, but it remains Great Britain’s longest-registered company, holding the company registration number 00000006.