Century-old logbook of doomed HMS Drake given to Kentish Town Oxfam by mystery donor

PUBLISHED: 08:14 31 October 2014

Keith Matthews, Oxfam shop manager, who was handed a log book from HMS Drake by a mystery donor.
 Picture: Nigel Sutton

Keith Matthews, Oxfam shop manager, who was handed a log book from HMS Drake by a mystery donor. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email

A century-old logbook detailing life aboard the doomed HMS-Drake has been handed into the Kentish Town branch of Oxfam by a mystery donor.

The delicate 300-page manuscript charts two years of the ship’s history from 1907, a decade before it was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Northern Ireland.

With notes on everything from daily chores to naval manoeuvres, alongside water-colours of broken machinery and maps of the night-time sky, the logbook is a maritime time-capsule.

“When I saw it my eyes nearly popped out; it was like finding pirate treasure,” said Keith Matthews, manager of Oxfam Books in Kentish Town Road, who intends to auction the logbook in the hope of raising over £1,000 for the fight against Ebola.

“I was completely knocked out by the level of detail. The donor said they wanted it to make as much money for Oxfam as possible.

“I tried to ask questions but it was clear they just wanted to hand it over. And then they were gone.”

In the 12 years he has worked for Oxfam Books, Mr Matthews has seen a couple of first editions but never anything as old and unique. He spent days studying the mystery donation.

“I was so intrigued, I had this great big book in front of me and just started to wade through it, page by page,” he said.

“I’ve become very close it. Even though the content is not personal you get to know the person behind it... the handwriting, the spelling mistakes.”

Built around 1900, HMS-Drake was one of a class of ceremonial armoured cruisers not intended for duty in the battle-fleet.

“It was all very jingoistic,” said Mr Matthews. “The ship literally flew the flag around the world to show Britain ruled the waves.”

But with the outbreak of the First World War, the cruiser was taken off the reserve list and given battle-fleet escort duties. Its first job was leading the Titanic’s sister ship, The Olympic, to Liverpool.

Then on October 2, 1917, a torpedo struck its boiler room. HMS-Drake sank five miles north of Rathlin Island, with the loss of 18 lives. The wreck is now one of the most popular dive sites around the Northern Ireland coastline, where parts of the Spanish Armada also perished.

Mr Matthews wants to drum-up as much interest as possible before setting an auction date.

Experts believe the book could fetch anything from £500 to £1,000.

“I’ve been told we should do a sealed bid, but I don’t think you can beat the excitement of an open one,” said Mr Matthews.

While the auction might attract a few Titanic fanatics, the temporary custodian hopes a group of museums will club together to make the purchase, so the manuscript can be widely enjoyed.

“But I wouldn’t want it to be far away from the men who died on that ship,” Mr Matthews added. “My heart tells me it belongs in Northern Ireland.”


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hampstead Highgate Express visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hampstead Highgate Express staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hampstead Highgate Express account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Hampstead & Highgate News Stories


Robbers attacked the post office inside the Sherriff centre in West Hampstead yesterday.

21 minutes ago

The head of English at St Anthony’s School for Boys is a double champion after wining two gold medals at the European Masters Marathon Championships in Poland.

Yesterday, 17:51

The developer behind plans to restore Hornsey Town Hall has announced the firm tasked with running its arts venue.

Yesterday, 10:28

London’s policing service is being destroyed and Londoners must come to terms with what is happening.

Wed, 18:04

A woman remains in hospital following a collision on a busy high street.

Wed, 15:37

It’s not every day shoppers spy Hollywood A-listers racing out of their supermarkets with panic etched across their faces.

Wed, 14:59

A man has been found guilty of robbing an 87-year-old artist who was left fighting for her life after the attack in her Camden home.

Wed, 14:51

A family has paid tribute to a “kind and gentle man” who has died after his clothes mysteriously caught alight while he was out for an afternoon walk.


Japanese baby and children’s clothing company Familiar is making their first venture into Europe with a pop up event in Hampstead

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read Hampstead & Highgate news

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now