Alston Kennerley is a maritime historian.

Kennerley was born in Liverpool; however, his early years and education were split between Liverpool, Fremantle in Western Australia, Southport, and Oswestry. Although he passed eight ‘O’ levels, he left school aged sixteen to join the Merchant Navy as apprentice, rising to navigating officer. He passed the government examination for its Certificate of Competency as Master Mariner. 

After ten years at sea, Kennerley decided on a change of direction, through, hopefully, attending university. UCAS applications for that year had already closed. The Assistant Curate at Abergele, Revd John Chalk, suggested it might be worth Alston writing a personal letter to Lloyd Thomas, the principal of St David’s College.  Kennerley’s Lambretta 125 scooter took him down to Lampeter for his interview. Lloyd Thomas understood the value of his nautical professional qualifications and was willing to take a chance by admitting him without A-levels. Kennerley upgraded his scooter to a Lambretta 150, fitted with a side car to carry his luggage! 

His four subjects in his first year were history, philosophy, Greek and biblical studies. During their first term, undergraduates were expected to sit an essay examination on alternate weeks, writing a composition on one of six subjects chalked on the board. Although at first Kennerley found this impossible, he gradually learned to write. Away from studying, he joined the hockey club; despite its small membership, the side went unbeaten through the eleven matches in Kennerley’s final year. Kennerley was awarded hockey colours. He also remembers singing in the choral society and reading in chapel. Everyone took part in the annual rag day events. Kennerley still has a picture of Revd. F.J.T. David, at that time the mayor of Lampeter as well as lecturer in history and theology, being towed around the town in a chair on the college truck! 

Kennerley graduated with history honours in July 1964. He moved to University College, Aberystwyth, to take a postgraduate course in education, combined with a course in biblical studies. His next post was as a Lecturer in Nautical Subjects at Plymouth College of Technology, (the former Plymouth School of Navigation). A long-established institution, Plymouth School of Navigation provided vocational education to merchant seamen. At the time of his appointment, Kennerley was the only graduate on its staff! He was subject leader for Liberal Studies (anything not on the nautical syllabus) for all 300 of the Merchant Navy cadets on the register. His second subject was navigation. 

Kennerley was to stay in Plymouth for the rest of his career. Eventually, the College of Technology was to become Plymouth Polytechnic, next Polytechnic South West and most recently the University of Plymouth. Kennerley has instructed students at a variety of levels, including OND, HND and B.Sc. As well as navigation and maritime history, he has taught cargowork, seamanship, study techniques and library usage.  

Kennerley’s PhD, awarded in 1989, was entitled ‘British seamen’s missions and sailors’ homes, 1815 to 1970: voluntary welfare provision for serving seafarers.’ He has published numerous journal articles and book chapters on a range of nautical subjects. Book chapters included the maritime history of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. Other themes included the education and welfare of seamen, seamen’s religion, and Joseph Conrad. His official history of his own institution, The Making of the University of Plymouth (published by University of Plymouth) was issued in 2000.  He described the process of consolidation that eventually produced a complex multi-campus university with all its opportunities and challenges. Together with Richard Harding and Adrian Jarvis, Kennerley edited British ships in China seas: 1700 to the present day, (National Museums Liverpool, 2004). The volume collects nineteen papers given at a conference held at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. Jamieson commented, ‘Collections of conference papers can be highly variable in quality, but this particular set are of a generally high standard, with full references after most papers … The book will be of use to both those interested in the history of British shipping and those looking at the economic development of China.’ 

Kennerley was also one of the three editors of The maritime history of Cornwall, (University of Exeter Press, 2014). Surprisingly, although the sea has been central to Cornwall’s story, this was the first full maritime history of the peninsula. Milne wrote, ‘The underlying research base of the book is very substantial, and the range of sources formidable … The editors are to be commended for pulling so many threads together in such a capable way, and their editorial contributions certainly make the volume much more coherent than is often the case with multi-author projects on this scale. This book sets some important standards for maritime-regional studies.’ At the “Cornish Bookers” for 2015, Gorsedh Kernow’s Holyer an Gof awarded the volume the 2015 award for Non-fiction (marine, industrial heritage and environment). 

Kennerley has contributed articles on Frank Thomas Bullen and Agnes Elizabeth Weston to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. His biography of Bullen is in the hands of a publisher. He is a fellow of the Nautical Institute, a Churchill Fellow (1991), a member of the Society for Nautical Research, the South West Maritime History Society and the International Maritime History Association. He has been an honorary fellow of the University of Exeter since 1990. He is still an Honorary Research Associate at Plymouth University and continues with his own programme of maritime historical research. 


Robbins, R. (2003). Universities: past, present, and future. Minerva, 41(4), 397-406. Retrieved June 7 2021 from 

Jamieson, A.G. (2005). Book review: British ships in China seas: 1700 to the present day. International Journal of Maritime History, 17(1),300-302. 

Review: The Maritime History of Cornwall. (2015). International Journal of Maritime History, 27(3), 604–606. 

Parker, S. (2015, July 28). Study of archaeology and landscape scores hat-trick at ‘Cornish Bookers.’ Western Morning News. Retrieved June 7 2021 from