Case Studies

Lloyd’s Register Surveyors in China, 1869-1918.

PhD supported by HEC.

Grant Awarded: £90,000

Time Frame: 2021-2024



In 2019 Lloyd’s Register (LR) celebrated 150 years of operation in China. This doctoral-level research project will assess the influence and impact that LR and its surveyors had on international understandings of health, safety, and risk management, and their broader influences on local infrastructures and imperial cultural knowledge between the years 1869-1918.

The project will investigate not only the social and cultural dimensions of LR’s historic operations in China; it will also consider the role of the surveyors in the developing western understandings of maritime health and safety. It will do so by drawing upon the comprehensive reports produced by these surveyors, the LRF’s extensive digitised archive, and other archival material from across the UK and in China. The project will also contextualise LR’s historic operations in China and assess the impact of the surveyor on Anglo-Chinese society, and the role the company played in managing health, safety, and risk at sea. It will showcase the LRF’s stellar historical archive and offer new interpretations of the collection while also connecting it to other archival collections and historical contexts on a national and global scale.

The PhD is funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) and supported by the University of Portsmouth’s Port Towns and Urban Cultures (PTUC) research group in the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature. The visiting scholarship in 2023 is supported by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) and Dalian Maritime University (DMU), who will host the student, Cory Watson, as a visiting scholar.

The student

Corey Watson won the MA Disseration 2021 prize for his work on Tales from the ‘Desolating Coast’: An exploration of the Narratives of the Naval Surgeon Peter Leonard on the Anti-Slavery Squadron, 1821-1832 (University of Plymouth). Cory's dissertation uses the narratives of the naval surgeon, Peter Leonard, to uncover and understand attitudes towards sailors, empire, race, slavery and naval squadron life in the context of a West Africa. He uses  up-to-date scholarship to consider the role of African mariners in the life of the squadron, and the impact on Europeans of encounters on land. The study situates Leonard’s writing within  contemporary British attitudes to race, patriotism and abolitionism.


The research conducted so far highlights key findings and insights, including the establishment of survey offices in Chinese ports, the surveyors' careers and responsibilities, and cultural exchange. The research will also emphasise the role of family for British migrants, and try to shed light on thir daily lives outside the professional sphere.

In January 2022 PTUC hosted an online conference for postgraduate and early career researchers, exploring the emerging scholarship on many aspects of Chinese port life and work. Cory’s presentation explored the international understandings of health, safety, and risk management, and their broader influences on local infrastructures and imperial cultural knowledge.

>>> Learn more about this PhD project reading the full Progress Update.

Sponsored by Lloyd’s Register Foundation via the University of Portsmouth and the History Department and Modern History Research Centre at the Hong Kong Baptist University, the international conference Port Cities in Comparative Global History: Potentials and Issues took place on the 15th and 16th June 2023. The themes and discussions will foster the continuation of a network created in support of the 'Lloyd’s Register Surveyors in China, 1869-1918' project.

PTUC is now part of the new Centre for Port Cities and Maritime Cultures