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- Edition: The Loss of the London 1866 The Loss of the London 1866
THE LOSS OF THE LONDON.
The inquiry directed by the Board of Trade into the circumstances under which the London foundered in the Bay of Biscay on the 11th inst. was commenced at Greenwich yesterday. Mr. TRAILL, police magistrate, with Captain H. HARRIS and Captain BAKER as nautical assessors, presides at the investigation; Mr. James O’DOWD conducts the proceedings on behalf of the Board of Trade; and Mr. Talfourd SALTER appears for the relatives of Mr. and Mrs. THOMAS, who with their children went down in the vessel. The anxiety felt by the public to learn from the testimony of the survivors all that had happened to the passengers and crew from the time they left our shores till the moment when the London disappeared beneath the waves has been very much heightened by the discussions which have been going on as to the construction of the ship herself, the weight to which she was laden, and the manner in which she was handled by her captain. It would appear to be the intention of the solicitor for the Board of Trade to elicit information on all these points. Up to the hour of adjournment yesterday three witnesses had been examined. The evidence of the first two of these, though it is of what may be called a preliminary character, will have an important bearing upon much of the testimony which is to follow it; while the statement made by the third, as to the plan adopted in several ships built on the Clyde for securing the engine-room of steam-vessels from being inundated, as that of the London was soon after she had begun to ship heavy seas, will, no doubt, commend itself to the attention of the shipping interest. Mr. R. WIGRAM, one of the owners of the ship, was present at the inquiry yesterday, as were also a number of other gentlemen with shipowning firms. Every portion of the police-court – the place in which the investigation is being held – was crowded throughout the day.
Mr. O’DOWD, in opening the proceedings, said that, everything considered, he was not afraid of not being able to produce a sufficiency of testimony to enable the Court to arrive at some practical and definitive conclusion. The course which he proposed to adopt in dealing with the case would be – first, to offer evidence as to the structure of the ship and the quality of the materials used. Upon this point the Shipwright Surveyor to the Board of Trade, under whose inspection she was built, would give material evidence. As this, however, would apply to the hull and general framework of the ship, he should produce the Engineer Surveyor to the same department, who inspected her engines and machinery in 1864, and twice in 1865, with reference to her obtaining her certificate as a passenger steamer. One of the port of London surveyors for Lloyd’s Registry of British and Foreign Shipping would attend and produce the survey which he made the same year, as also the further survey which he made in 1865. This gentleman would tell the Court that on each occasion he granted the owners the usual declaration of efficiency. The second head under which it became material to adduce evidence would apply to the question whether the London had complied with all the requirements of the Passengers’Acts, and whether the Emigration Officer acting under the authority of the Emigration Commissioners and of those enactments, after a careful survey and inspection, had certified her to be seaworthy, in safe trim, and in all respects fit for her intended voyage to Melbourne. He need not say that he would produce evidence as to the number and cubical capacity of her boats, how they were placed, and by what description of apparatus they were lowered. And on this point he begged to call the attention of the Court to the 27th section of the Passenger Act, 1855, which provides that every foreign-going passenger ship of 1,500 tons and upwards shall carry seven boats, one of such boats in all cases to be a longboat, and one a properly fitted lifeboat, and carried in such a manner as to be, in the opinion of the officer, most available for immediate services, each of such boats to be of suitable size and description. In addition to the evidence of the Emigration Officer at the port of London, the Court would be informed of the results of the inspection and survey made by the officer at Plymouth previous to the departure of the London from that port. The next point on which the Court was entitled to the fullest information, as bearing upon the seaworthiness and ultimate fate of the vessel, related to the cargo on board. Mr. CAULIER, the principal searcher in the Long-room of the Custom-house, would produce the shipping bills of the London, representing the particulars of the cargo, which he had analyzed and carefully checked in his office with the manifest of the cargo delivered to his department by the brokers on the 4th of January, in conformity with the requirements of the Customs’ Consolidation Act, and he would tell the Court that there were shipped on board the London about 347 tons 4cwt. 3qrs. and 18lb. of dead weight – viz., iron-plates and bars, sheet iron, lead and shot, stone, blocks, iron nails, and screws, &c.; that there weree about 14 tons of hardware and agricultural implements, all of which would not probably be considered dead weight, though some of it might be so considered. Mr. CAULIER estimated the value of the cargo generally at 124,785L. 17s. 4d. As respects its stowage the stevedore who superintended the loading of the London at the East India Docks would be examined. It would appear by his evidence that the bar and sheet iron were stowed from the afterpart of the main hatchway to the afterpart of the fore hatchway, fitted in closely, and occupying a space of 56ft., and that the other cargo, consisting of light goods, and amounting to about 1,000 tons, was stowed over the dead weight and in the afterpart of the ship. The quantity of coal supplied for the engines was as follows: - Remaining on board from the previous voyage, 45 tons; shipped in London, 460 tons; making 505 tons. Of this, there was expended on the voyage to Plymouth 47 tons, leaving 458 tons. There was shipped at Plymouth, &c., 50 tons; so that the weight of engine coals in the ship when she left Plymouth was 508 tons. In addition 15 tons had been shipped for the use of the galley fire. The number of passengers that went on board in London was 125, and these were increased to 180 by the embarcation of 55 at Plymouth. The master and officers were as follows: - John Bohun MARTIN, master; Robert HARRIS, first mate; Arthur William TICEHURST, second mate; Arthur C. ANGELL, third mate; John JONES, first engineer; John GREENHILL, second engineer. The master, officers, and crew were in number 83, and there were 15 foreigners among the seamen. On the register the London was described as a screw steamship, built at Blackwall, in the county of Middlesex, in July, 1864; she had two decks, three masts, was ship-rigged, and clincher-built; her gross tonnage was 1,752.29, deducting from which 323.60 tons for the propelling power, left her a register tonnage of 1,428.69; her length from the forepart of the stem, under the bowsprit, to the aft side of the head of the sternpost was 267ft. and 2-10ths; her main breadth to outside of plank, 35ft. and 9-10ths; and her depth in hold from tonnage deck to ceiling at midships, 24ft. The length of her engine-room was 36ft. She had two high and low pressure direct-acting engines, built by Messrs. HUMPHREYS and TENNANT, of Deptford, in 1864, and of the combined power of 200 horses nominal. She was the property of Messrs. Charles Hampden WIGRAM, Clifford WIGRAM, and Robert WIGRAM to the extent of 56 shares; Messrs. Franklin ALPORT and Charles MORGAN, shipbrokers, being owners of two shares each, and her unfortunate master of four. With reference to the length, breadth, and depth of the ship, as stated upon the register, and to some suggestions as to her narrowness of beam for a vessel of such length, he had deemed it his duty to inquire whether the alleged disproportion was peculiar to the London, and the result he had ascertained was that it exists in a much greater degree in some of the finest ships afloat. The length, for example, of Her Majesty’s transport ship Himalaya is 340ft., while her breadth is only 44.7. The same might be noticed in the case of other steamships, of which he should hand in a tabular statement to the Court capable of authentification by the production of the official copies of their registers. He should now proceed to the voyage. The London left the East India Docks on the 29th of December, 1865, bound for Melbourne. She was under the command of Captain John Bohun MARTIN; a Trinity House pilot, who was engaged to take her to Plymouth, being also on board. Her draught of water at Gravesend was, according to the statement of this pilot, 19ft. 9in. forward, and 20ft. 9in. aft. Several passengers got on board at Gravesend. On the morning of the 30th she left Gravesend and proceeded as far as the Nore, where, owing to the severity of the weather, she anchored and remained during the whole of the 31st. On the 1st of January she got again under way, proceeding on her voyage under steam, the wind still blowing strongly from the S.W. The Downs were cleared by noon, and the ship went down the Channel against a strong head wind. On the 3d it became so boisterous and the indications of the barometer so threatening that at about 2 p.m. the pilot decided on taking her to Spithead for shelter. She anchored on the Motherbank at 4 p.m., and lay there until daylight of the 4th, when she steamed out through the Needles passage, the wind being then south-westerly. She arrived off Plymouth at daylight of the 5th, and at 9 a.m. she was boarded by a Plymouth pilot, who took her into the Sound. In two hours afterwards she was anchored inside the breakwater. The remainder of this day was occupied in embarking the remaining passengers and shipping an additional supply of coal. A short time after midnight the anchor was hove up, and she took her final departure from England on the morning of the 6th. The weather was described as then moderate, the wind blowing lightly from the northward, and little or no sea running. Having cleared the breakwater the ship proceeded on her intended voyage, the course steered, as was believed, S.S.W., and the speed at the rate of about eight knots an hour. They sighted the Lizard lights at about 5 a.m. The weather continued the same until 6 a.m., when the wind veered to the westward, and the sea began to rise. On the 7th the wind, which was still westerly, increased in violence, with strong squalls and a high sea, which caused the ship to roll considerably. On the 8th the wind freshened to a gale from the S.W., and at 9 a.m.of that day the captain ordered the fires to be extinguished and sail to be made on the ship. These orders were obeyed in the manner which the witnesses would describe, and the ship was hauled to the wind on the starboard tack. At 5 p.m. the weather improved, when all sails were taken in, and the fires were ordered to be lighted. Early on the 9th the wind increased to a hard gale from S.W., with a very heavy sea, the ship then going through the water under steam only, and at the reduced speed of about two knots an hour. At this time she pitched with much violence, taking whole seas over her bows. At 7 a.m. an unusually heavy sea broke into the lifeboat stowed on the port quarter, filling the boat, and carrying her away completely, with all her gear. At 9 a.m., the ship gave a tremendous pitch, so as to bury herself forward, when the sea carried away the jib and flying jibbooms, and they took with them the foretopmast, the foretopgallantmast, foreroyalmast, with all their spars, sails, and other gear. The masts fell on board, and hung suspended by their rigging, but the jibbooms remained under the bows, fastened to the ship by their stays, which were made of wire. Every effort to get them clear failed until next morning, it having blown a furious gale during the night from the south-west, with a sea that kept constantly washing all forward. On the morning of the 10th the gale continued without the least abatement, and at 3 a.m. the captain gave orders to put back to Plymouth in order to refit there. The ship was accordingly turned round, the fore and mizen staysails were set, and she steamed N.N.E. at the rate of five or six knots an hour. In the course of the morning the masts, which up to that time had been swinging about aloft, were secured, and the wreck of the jibbooms cleared away from the ship. Observations taken at noon of this day indicated her position to be lat. 46 48 N., long. 8 7 W. At 6 p.m. both the fore and the mizen staysails were blown away by a furious squall. The lifeboat and the cutter, which were stowed on the starboard side, were carried away by a violent sea. At 9 p.m. the wind increased to a perfect hurricane from N.W., the squalls blowing with a degree of fury seldom paralleled. The maintopsail was soon blown away in shreds. The captain then ordered the engines to be set in motion, and the ship’s head was kept N.N.E. Up to this time, notwithstanding the heavy seas she encountered, it did not appear that the vessel had shipped much water. At half-past ten p.m. a terrific sea broke upon the ship over the weather or port gangway, and an immense mass of water descended almost perpendicularly over the hatch of the engine-room, and smashed it right in. There being nothing to obstruct the rushing in of the sea, the engine-room began to fill with water. The fires were extinguished at once, and the engineers could work no more. The large bilge pumps also became useless for the same reason. Her condition then became utterly helpless, the vessel often falling into the trough of the sea, rolling gunwale under, and labouring heavily. Every endeavour to secure the hatchway proved unavailing. This would be described by the witnesses, as also the excessant exertions of the crew, aided by the passengers, in working the pumps and doing all in their power to bale out the water. At 4 a.m. of the 11th a tremendous sea struck the ship abaft, which stove in four windows of the upper or poop cabin. Through the breaches thus made the sea rushed into the ship in such quantities that the ‘tween decks were soon half full of water. The ship was at this time settling fast in the water. The captain went into the engine-room and with the engineer (GREENHILL) took soundings, when it was found that there was 14 feet of water in her. The captain then told GREENHILL that he had abandoned all hope of saving her, and shortly afterwards made a similar communication to the passengers. At about 10 a.m. the captain ordered the boats to be got ready, which was done; and the starboard pinnace, which was of iron, was lowered into the water, but was almost immediately upset by the sea and lost. At 2 p.m. the vessel appeared to be sinking rapidly, the channels being nearly level with the water. The captain then said to GREENHILL that, as the port cutter was ready for lowering, he had some chance of saving himself, and that he had better get into her. The boat was lowered, and four others named JONES, DANIELS, NAIL, and SMITH, followed by others of the crew and three passengers, got into her. One of the crew called out to the master to come with them. He answered, “No,” and, wishing them God speed, gave them the course – N.N.E. Those in the boat saw that the ship must sink, and, apprehending that their boat might be sunk with her, they moved off; but while yet at only a short distance from her they saw the London go down by the stern. They drifted with the wind for about 20 hours, when they fell in with the foreign bark Marionopoli, whose captain, CAVASSA, treated them with great kindness, and landed them at Falmouth on the 16th of January. He might observe that the Board of Trade had presented Captain CAVASSA with a valuable chronometer, on which was engraved a suitable inscription. These were the facts of the case as he believed they would be proved in evidence. Captain MARTIN had met with an untimely fate, and met it with the gallantry of a hero. He had no foes; he was a seaman of high character; but it did not follow because the captain of a vessel had perished that therefore there should be no criticism on his navigation of the ship in which he had perished. He was sure, however, that the Court and its assessors would deal as tenderly with the deceased as the ends of justice would permit them to do. The only object the Board of Trade had, and the only object the public could have, was to arrive at the truth and to make the experience of the past available for guidance in the future.
Mr. George Joseph GLADSTONE was the first witness. In reply to questions from Mr. O’DOWD and the nautical assessors, he stated that he was shipwright surveyor to the Board of Trade and senior surveyor to the port of London. It was a part of his duty to survey passenger steamships from time to time during their construction. There were no stated periods for his inspections. He saw the ship London about four different times when she was building. She was the property of the Messrs. WIGRAM and Co. He held in his hand a copy of the official entries made by him in reference to the London. He saw her before she was in frame, when she was in frame, when the deck was laid, and before she was launched. According to his judgment the materials of which she was constructed were of the first quality. The materials were angle-iron frame, iron beams, stringer plates, and kelsons. The plating of the bottom was of iron, and the kelsons were plates. The garbord streaks were seven-eighths of an inch thick; those above the garbord for 13 streaks up were three-quarters of an inch, and thence to the gunwale 11-16ths. She was double riveted from keel to gunwale. All her fastenings were sound and good. She had stringer plates to all her decks, and beams properly fastened. She had four bulkheads, four compartments – two before and two abaft the engines. Her launching draught was 9ft. and 11ft. Her hatchway was 11ft. 6in. by 9ft. 6in. He had no recollection of these dimensions without measuring the plan. He had measured the ship’s decks upwards of a year ago, and he thought the dimensions of the engine hatchway were then 12ft. 6in. by 9ft. 6in. The hatchway was fixed on “combings” 5in. thick, and made of teak. It had a “saddle” skylight. The cover was a wooden frame, glazed, the glass being protected by a grating of brass or galvanized iron. The London was a poop and forecastle ship. There were three other openings on her upper deck, and, besides these, she had a companion aft the poop. Her bunker shoot was on the upper deck. The combings of the bunker shoot were flush with the deck. It appeared to him on his inspection of the ship that in the event of bad weather the engine hatch was sufficiently protected to secure the engines. He was of opinion that the bars or grating of the skylight, with a tarpaulin battened down over them, would be sufficient to protect the engine-room. It never occurred to him that a grating between the engines and the skylight would have been desirable. Such a contrivance certainly would be a good thing, and it would not be in the way of anything. It would not interfere with the working of the engines. The London had a middle deck. The height of the bulwarks was 5ft., he thought. The area of the upper deck was 3,226ft., and that of the poop deck 2,036ft. In his opinion the hatchway of the London was quite sufficient for the purpose intended. There were hinged ports for the escape of the water above the covering board. There were four of these and two gangways, in addition to five scuppers on each side of the ship. The accommodation for fore cabin passengers was on the main deck before the main hatchway. There was space for 130 in hammocks and 128 in berths, making altogether accommodation for 238 persons. That for after-cabin passengers amounted to 132 berths and space for 10 hammocks – giving, in all, accommodation for 142 persons. This accommodation was on the poop and steerage, between decks. The ship was ventilated by ports and scuppers, between decks, and hatches in her upper deck. She had three bower anchors, a stream anchor, and two kedges; two bower cables of 300 fathoms, six hawsers and warps, two sets of sails, and two patent hand-pumps fitted on deck; steering gear complete; rockets, blue lights, cannon powder, two signal guns, two lifebuoys, seven boats, and a set of tarpaulins for all the hatches. The dimensions of the boats were – the jollyboat, 24ft. in length, 5ft. 10in. in width, and 2ft. 3in. in depth; one of the quarter cutters, 26ft. in length, 7ft. in width, and 2ft. 8in. in depth; the other cutter, 26ft. long, 6ft. 1in. in width, and 2ft. 6in. in depth. One of her iron boats was 26ft. long, 8ft. 1½in. in width, and 3ft. 3¾in. in depth; her other iron boat of the same dimensions. He first saw those iron boats when they were ready for launching. He mentioned at the time that he did not like iron boats, and suggested to the Messrs. WIGRAM that large bags filled with corks should be placed under the thwarts to make the boats buoyant. The owners at once acted on his suggestion. Two sets of davits were fitted complete for the boats, which were carried abaft the main rigging at the break of the poop. There were two lifeboats, 26ft. 1in. long, 7ft. 2in. wide, and 2ft. 8¼in. deep. The total number of boats was seven, giving an area of 3,583 cubic feet, which was an amount of accommodation in excess of that required under the Merchant Shipping Act. The excess was, he thought, about 400ft. He had certified that the London was in every way fitted for sea. He last surveyed her in December last, completing his survey on the 22d of December. He had surveyed her previously in the month of June. The certificate of the Board of Trade would be good for six months from the time of the survey. His declaration was that the London had all the requirements under the Merchant Shipping Act. His belief was that when he so reported in December she was as fine a ship as ever left the port of London. He spoke with reference to her materials, workmanship, and general outfit. In his opinion there was nothing in her proportions which affected her seaworthiness. She had as much beam in proportion to her length as ships of her class generally had. The proportion of her length to her breadth was about 7½ to 45. Her height between decks was seven feet; the engine-room was open to the main deck. She had an elliptical stern, with, he thought, seven stern windows under the poop deck. The windows had dead lights, which shut down like a shutter. The shutters of the windows were of wood, 2in. thick. He thought the windows were about 2ft. broad by about 2ft. 6in. high. Only five of the windows moved up and down; the other two were shams. The space between the windows was about a foot. Supposing she was drawing 20ft. 9in., aft the sill of the window would be about 8ft. from the water-line. Her topmasts were wood and her lowermasts iron. The masts were not telescopic, but of the ordinary kind. He thought the bowsprit was iron. Her topmasts and jibboom were fir; the mizenmast was also of iron, stepped on to the hollow beam. A 96ft. 9in. foremast would have been in proportion to the diameter. The diameter of the foremast was about 32in., and that also would have been in proportion to her tonnage. Her four bulkheads were fitted with sluiceheads, working from the maindeck. The bulkheads were fitted in the usual way with angle-irons. The stringer plates ran fore and aft the bulkheads. The first bulkhead was about 22ft. from the stem; the next, just before the mainmast, and 108ft. from the first; the next (the engine-room bulkhead), 56ft. from the second; and the fourth, 63ft. 6in. from the after bulkhead. The bulkhead aft of the engine-room, having a sliding door, was perfectly water-tight when closed. The davits were good sound ones, fitted in the usual way. He did not think the boats were fitted with any patent lowering apparatus, such as CLIFFORD’s, but only with the ordinary blocks. The gunwales of the boats, when the latter were swung upon the davits, would have been about 20ft. from the water-line. Sea-going ships are not required to have any shelter for passengers on deck. Under the Act, 15 cubic feet were required for each passenger in the boats carried in such a ship as the London. She was certified to carry 400 passengers. It was not at all obligatory on the Messrs. WIGRAM to build the London in water-tight compartments. Her partitions were strong enough to bear any pressure. He should think the mere fact that the engine-room was filled with water was sufficient to sink the ship. He was of opinion that the stern ports of the London were quite strong enough. Her rigging was all wire with rope lanyards.
Mr. Robert TAPLIN, Engineer Surveyor for the port of London to the Board of Trade, was next examined. – In answer to Mr. O’DOWD, he said it was his duty to examine the engines, safety-valves, and fire-holds of passenger steamers. He usually made his examinations twice a year on each ship. His inspection was with a view to the certificate of the Board of Trade, which was given for a period of six months. He surveyed the London three times. He first surveyed her in October, 1864, when her engines were new. He next surveyed her in May, 1865; and lastly in December, 1865. In these surveys he had directed his attention to the engines, boilers, and machinery. Her horse-power was 200, nominally. The pressure on her boilers was 29lb. to the square inch. The screw shaft passed through the after engine-room bulkhead, with a leather washer round it to prevent the water passing through. It was properly fitted, and seemed to him to be water-tight. The plates round the suction pipes were very good and sound. The furnaces were about 3ft. 6in. or 3ft. from the stokhole platform. He granted the London the usual declaration of efficiency.
By Captain HARRIS. – The engines were high and low pressure, with direct action. The discharge pipes were copper, with gun-metal valves, and fitted with expansion joints. He did not think anything could have gone wrong with the engines of the London, so as to make her ship so much water. The diameter of the flange was about 20in., and that of the pipes 1ft.
By Mr. O’DOWD. – The working of the ship would not have been impeded by a covering between the skylight of the hatchway and the engines. Such a contrivance would have interfered with the draught of air, but such interference might have been counteracted by artificial means. He had only seen instances of the necessity for such protection in two or three cases. The most advisable plan in the case of the London would have been to have procured a covering for the engine-room on the main deck.
Captain HARRIS asked the witness whether he had ever been to sea.
Mr. TAPLIN replied that he had not.
Captain HARRIS remarked that these things sounded very well in theory, but the matter was different when a ship had to encounter a raging sea in the Atlantic.
Mr. O’DOWD observed that they had something more than theory for the plan of covering the engine-room; this plan had been reduced to practice on the Clyde.
In reply to Captain HARRIS the witness said the London had accommodation for 370 tons of coal.
Mr. George BARBER, Shipwright Surveyor under the Board of Trade, was then examined, and stated that while stationed on the Clyde, before his recent transfer to the port of London, he had seen steamships fitted with coverings over the engine-room, and between that room and the hatchway. The plan adopted was this: - Suppose a vessel had a full poop originally, and her engine-room skylight on the upper deck before the poop, the poop was carried out for some feet before the engine-room hatchway, and a water-tight bulkhead was carried from the main deck up to the poop. This plan had been adopted in several ships. There were two in the port of London at present – the Atalanta and the Bellona – which were fitted with such a protection. He approved the plan, and did not see why it might not have been carried out in the case of the London. It might have been adopted on board that ship by the poop being carried out about 15ft. beyond the engine hatchway. Another plan which might be made available for merchant ships was that adopted in the Royal navy. Shutters might be used for the protection of the engine-room hatchway.
Captain HARRIS. – For what class of steam vessels are they used in the navy?
Mr. BARBER. – For every class.
Captain HARRIS. – How is ventilation obtained?
Mr. BARBER. – There are several contrivances aboard those ships for obtaining ventilation.
Captain HARRIS inquired of the witness whether the shutters he spoke of were used in the navy to prevent men from going down when the ship was cleared for action, or to prevent the water getting into the engine-room.
Mr. BARBER replied that he had never heard they were for the former purpose.
In answer to a question from Captain BAKER, the witness said he believed that if such a ship as the London was now being fitted up in the Clyde her engine-room would be protected by a poop covering and bulkhead.
In reply to Mr. O’DOWD, Mr. BARBER said he belived that the London was fitted in the same manner as foreign-going passenger steamers out of the port of London usually were.
The inquiry was then adjourned till this morning.