The Board of Trade is a committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, originating as a committee of inquiry in the 17th century and evolving gradually into a government department with a diverse range of functions. In the 19th century the board had an advisory function on economic activity in the UK and its empire including merchant shipping.
In 1927 when Lowry sailed to the Far East, Board of Trade Mercantile Marine Office had several offices on Merseyside due to the size of the port and the Port of Garston had a separate office. The main office was in Canning Place in the Custom House Building in Liverpool. The Chief Superintendent and Registrar RNR was Commander P.O. Griffiths; Superintendent, Paymaster Commander E.A. Taffs and Assistant Superintendent and Cashier H.F.W. Reynolds. There was an office in Birkenhead Docks with W. Lewis Owen as Superintendent and a further office in Garston Docks with F.F. Revell.
The duties of the office are set out in the Merchant Shipping Act 1894:
to afford facilities for engaging seamen by keeping registries of their names and characters :
to superintend and facilitate the engagement and discharge of seamen in manner in this Act provided:
to provide means for securing the presence on board at the proper times of the seamen who are so engaged:
to facilitate the making of apprenticeships to the sea service: and
to perform such other duties relating to seamen, apprentices, and merchant ships as are by or in pursuance of this Act, or any Act relating to merchant shipping, committed to them.
Lowry would have been required to register with the Board of Trade Mercantile Marine Office. He mostly likely registered in Birkenhead as he sailed from there on S.S. Pyrrhus in May 1927. He refers to registering in his novel Ultramarine; "....but he could not get a clearer vision of anyone..than of the clerk in the Board of Trade Office, and of the desk at which the signing on had taken place." (Pg.18) and "When we signed on it was at the Board of Trade Office in Birkenhead, the fellow behind the counter says, 'Do you wish to make an allotment?' ...I was just in front of him. 'An allotment?' he says, surprised like. 'Why,oh, I see this must be your first voyage.'" (Pg. 64); " Do you know what the Board of Trade man said - wouldn't go across the dock in her." (Pg. 142); "Ah, God might cunt all his children, but he didn't count firemen, he left that to the Board of Trade." (Pg.159). In Under The Volcano, Lowry has Hugh signing on in Garston; "and when that day he had presented himself at the Marine Superintendent's office in Garston - Garston because Hugh's aunt moved from London north to Oswaldtwistle in the spring - to sign on board the S.S. Philocetes..." (Pg 161)