The Times, Wednesday, Jan 31, 1866; pg. 6; Issue 25409; col C

                         THE LOSS OF THE LONDON.


                                OFFICIAL INQUIRY.

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 resumed in the Greenwich Police Court yesterday, before Mr. TRAILL, police magistrate, and Captain BAKER and Captain HARRIS as nautical assessors. It will be found that none of the evidence taken as yet adds one particle to our information on the subject of the sinking of the ship and 220 passengers. With one exception, the witnesses hitherto examined either had surveyed the ship, or been in some way or other connected with her construction. Their evidence has been a detail of her excellent qualities and those of her engines and rigging. These witnesses have been examined in chief by Mr. O’DOWD, acting for the Board of Trade, from written documents which appear to contain pretty much what they are about to state. The magistrate and the nautical assessors frequently interpose with questions; but though Mr. T. SALTER appears for the relatives of Mr. and Mrs. THOMAS, who, with their children, went down in the ship, and Mr. A. BURRELL, of Glasgow, who lost a son in the London, attends on his own behalf and that of Mrs. TENNENT, of Edinburgh, whose husband was drowned at the same time, neither of those gentlemen have up to this felt it necessary to take any part in the examination. Mr. O’DOWD has shown considerable anxiety to elicit the opinions of surveyors on the question of protecting the engine-rooms of steamships by coverings between the main and the upper decks. It will be recollected that on Monday Mr. BARBER, a shipwright surveyor under the Board of Trade, gave evidence strongly in favour of that arrangement; but it will be found that one of the witnesses examined yesterday is of opinion, even after what occurred aboard the London, that it is not at all necessary. At the sitting of the Court,

Mr. Thomas W. WAWN, Surveyor to Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, was examined by Mr. O’DOWD. He said the object of that association was to furnish records to underwriters, merchants, and shippers of the qualities of British and foreign shipping, and he had been acting for it during 12 years. His duties were to look after the building of vessels, and to see that they were built according to the rules. He inspected the London while she was building, and examined her structure and materials. The latter were of the best descriptions and the workmanship was of an equally high quality. The plates and angle-iron used in her construction all worked remarkably well, which was the best test of their quality. He now held in his hand a plan of her midship section, which he had worked by. The garboard streaks were 14-16ths of an inch; thence to upper part of the bilge the plating was 13-16ths; thence upwards to half the height between the orlop and main deck 12-16ths; thence to the lower edge of shear streaks 11-16ths; the shear streak plates 13-16ths; the plank shear plate 8-16ths. This in wooden ships would be called the covering board which prevents the water from getting down between the inner and outer skins. The timbers of the frame of the London were run up higher than they usually are in such ships. The witness then read in detail a series of figures showing the proportions in inches of the stringer plates, the angle irons, the kelson plates, &c. He then stated that the upper deck of the London was of yellow pine, four inches thick, and fastened to the beams with through screw bolts and nuts. She had five watertight bulkheads, two of them being furnished with sliding doors – one between the engine-room and “coal reserve” and the other at the fore part of the screw tunnel, which would be the after bulkhead of the engine-room. The angle irons and plating of the frame of the ship were “Weardale best, best.” Lloyd’s do not recognize anything but the best iron. All the masts went down to the kelson, except the mizenmast, which was stepped on the orlop deck beam. The lower masts were double rivetted at the butts and edges. The topmasts were of wood, with the yards, except the lower and topsailyards, which were of steel. When first surveyed she had two foretopsails, two mainsails, two maintopsails, and a single set of other sails. She had a patent windless capstan and stern-winch, which was fitted to work the pumps; she had two iron pumps on deck and her engine-pump. This and the rest of her outfit was in strict conformity with Lloyd’s rules, and the butt-straps of her outer plates were carried on to the edges of the plates above and below, which latter arrangement was not required by Lloyd’s rules. On his report the London was classed “Aa 1.” He had reported that she was, “in all respects, a good vessel,” and that, in his opinion, she was entitled to be so classed. Having been classed she would retain her class subject to being surveyed periodically. Subsequently he surveyed the London in last December, when he found her in every respect in good condition – in every way as good as she was at first, so far as he could see. He had heard the evidence of Mr. GLADSTONE, and quite concurred with him as to the seaworthiness of the vessel. He had also heard Mr. BARBER’s evidence with reference to the protection of the engines and fires from heavy seas. He had himself considered the question of protecting engine hatchways from heavy seas, and he agreed with Mr. BARBER as far as this – that his plan was right in spar-decked vessels, and could be very easily carried out, but in vessels with poops and forecastles there were great objections to it, unless the engines were right aft. In this latter case the plan could be adopted. He had never seen vessels better fitted than the London, except those intended to be overladen or to be blockade-runners.

Mr. TRAILL asked the witness in what respect might the London have been improved.

Mr. WAWN thought that the “combings” might have been of iron, as, in case they met with an accident, a loose spar might knock them up.

Mr. O’DOWD inquired whether the witness had any plan of his own for protecting the engine-room.

Mr. WAWN said there might be a wooden cover for the hatchway in bad weather. Of course, such a cover would stop ventilation.

Captain HARRIS inquired what in that case the engineers were to do for ventilation.

Mr. WAWN replied that they must get it elsewhere than through the hatchway.

Mr. O’DOWD observed that such a covering would not be wanted often. It would be used only in a storm and when there was danger of the vessel shipping seas.

Mr. TRAILL inquired of the witness whether he was of opinion that such an arrangement was required.

Mr. WAWN replied that he was not, and there was this objection to its adoption – the moment the cover was put on down would go the steam and up would come the engineer, so that the ship might as well be without the arrangement.

Captain HARRIS asked the witness whether if he was going to sea himself he should want such an arrangement.

Mr. WAWN said he should not. He should be satisfied with the protection afforded by a grating and tarpaulin for the hatchway, such protection as that provided in the London.

In answer to Mr. O’DOWD, the witness said he thought that the ships spoken of by Mr. BARBER, the Atalanta and the Bellona, as two of those on board which the poop had been carried forward as a protection to the engine-room, were spar-decked vessels, but he was not sure. Had he been sent by Lloyd’s to survey the London for her winter passage to Australia, he should have certified her if she were drawing 21ft. 3in. amidships.

Before leaving the witness-box Mr. WAWN observed that he thought the covering on the spar-decked vessels referred to by Mr. BARBER had not been put up for the purpose of keeping the water from the engine-room. He thought the object of that covering was to keep the heat of the engine-room from the passengers, and that Mr. BARBER was mistaken as to its intended use.

Mr. TRAILL did not think Mr. BARBER could have made such a mistake.

Mr. WAWN had seen these covers used for the purpose to which he had just referred.

Mr. Samuel SMITH, shipwright foreman to Messrs. WIGRAM, was the next witness. In answer to Mr. O’DOWD, he stated that he had had a long experience in the building and repairing of iron ships. When the London was about being built he was instructed by the Messrs. WIGRAM not to admit any bad workmanship whatever in her construction, and any improvement which he suggested with the object of increasing the strength of the vessel was adopted by these gentlemen without regard to expense. Lloyd’s inspector had made no objections to her, but complimented him on the construction of the vessel. Witness examined her previously to her last voyage, and found her in no weakness nor tendency to weakness.

By Captain HARRIS. – The ship drew 15ft. 3in. when she was docked in December without cargo.

Mr. Thomas HARDING, foreman in the firm of HUMPHRYS and TENNANT, stated, in reply to Mr. O’DOWD, that on the first voyage of the London he was in charge of her engines as chief engineer. He had never seen a pair of engines work better than those of the London did. The voyage on the occasion to which he referred was one to Australia and back, and he had only to stop the engines for 15 minutes for repairs and adjustment during the entire voyage out and home. Previously to her last voyage he inspected her engines, and found them in perfect condition. On the last voyage of the London he went with her as far as Plymouth. Mr. HUMPHRYS had sent him to see how the engines worked, and whether they could be improved. They could not have worked better than they did on that occasion. There were four bilge pumps, one capable of lifting 4,000 gallons a minute, and two others capable of lifting 250 gallons a minute between them, and another of lifting 100 gallons a minute, so that the four were capable in all of lifting 4,350 gallons per minute.

Mr. TRAILL asked the witness whether there was anything doubtful about the engines that induced Mr. HUMPHRYS to send him in the London to Plymouth.

The witness replied that there was not. It was customary for the firm to inspect engines they had manufactured, and he went as far as Plymouth because he had business at Pembroke.

Mr. Isaac COLE, a ship rigger, was examined on the subject of the rigging of the London. He described the lower rigging and stays as of galvanized wire rope, and also the topmast and topgallant stays and rigging. The box stays and bowsprit shrouds were of chain, and the jibboom guys of galvanized wire rope, and the martingale stay and backropes were of the same material. The lower and topsail lifts were of hemp. The lower and topsailyards were of iron, and the gallant and royal yards were of wood. The running rigging was of the best hempen rope. In fact, all the rigging was of the best quality.

Mr. Thomas NORTH, foreman mast-maker and boatbuilder to the Messrs. WIGRAM, stated that the masts of the London were made under his superintendence. The three lower masts and the bowsprit were of iron; the three lower yards and fore and maintopsail yards were of iron. All the rest of the spars were of wood. The lower mast was made in four plates with four internal angle irons, all of the best Low Moor iron; the lower yards in plates, with three internal angle-irons; the length of the foremast was 96ft. 8in., and its diameter 33in.; the length of the mainmast 100ft. 9in.; the length of the topmast was 58ft. The masts were of the best Low Moor plates. They were double rivetted, and the butt strips were treble rivetted. The London was not overmasted in proportion to her size. Three times the length of the ship is the usual calculation for the length of the mainmast.

The assessors having referred to the dimensions of the London found that her breadth was 35ft. 9-10ths, which would have allowed of a mainmast 8ft. longer than hers was.

The witness stated his opinion that iron masts and yards were lighter than those of pine wood.

Captain LEAN, chief emigration officer for the port of London, acting under the Emigration Commissioners, was then examined. He stated that it is a part of his duty to see that certain requirements are complied with in all seagoing passenger ships. He is bound to look to the seaworthiness of the ship, and two surveyors acted under him. As regarded the Passengers Act, he was of opinion that the London was perfect in every way. The regulations of the Act of Parliament as regarded the number and size of her boats were complied with. Her tonnage was 1,460 tons, and with that tonnage she was bound to carry six boats. She had seven. The Act did not require that the boats should be of any particular capacity. “Suitable boats” were the words used. One long boat and a properly fitted lifeboat were specified in the Act. The London had two long boats and two lifeboats. She was fitted with davits to carry six boats; the seventh boat was carried on the forepart of the deckhouse. The boats of the London were very fine boats, both as to size and construction. She had one standard and either four or five steering compasses, an azimuth, five chronometers, and a fire-engine, with conducting hose, &c.; 36 rockets, 36 blue lights, one gun and 50 rounds of ammunition, signal lanterns, a fog horn, a bell, a booby hatch, and tarpaulins for each hatchway. Her crew was large and an excellent one. He felt no hesitation whatever in giving the certificate which enabled the master to get his clearance. He surveyed her himself at Gravesend, and the two surveyors acting under him had surveyed her in dry dock before the cargo was put in.

Mr. TRAILL asked the witness whether he considered it necessary that there should be a sufficient number of boats on a ship to carry all the passengers.

Captain LEAN said this was not required. A ship could scarcely carry boats to accommodate all her passengers if she had her complement. Of course, if she had not her complement, she might be able to accommodate all the passengers in her boats.

In answer to Mr. O’DOWD, the witness said that when he went aboard the London at Gravesend, on her last voyage, he thought she was in very good trim. It appeared to him that she had 8ft. of free board at either side amidships, which was the lowest part. He had heard Mr. BARKER’s evidence, and that of Mr. WAWN, on the subject of engine hatchways. He thought it most desirable there should be every facility for battening down the hatchways of ships. With reference to the London, when he surveyed her he took it for granted that her engine hatchway was constructed in the usual way. The glass on the roof of the hatchway was, he thought, 2in. thick, and the hatchway itself was very strong. He had not had much experience of steamships. The London was the first steam passenger ship cleared by him from the port of London for Australia under the Passengers Acts.

By Mr. TRAILL. – It had never occurred to him that additional precautions were required for securing the hatchways; but since the discussion on the point had been raised he had arrived at the conclusion that in future it would be improper to allow a steamship to go to sea without a provision for battening down the engine hatchway.

Captain HARRIS. – But has not every ship the means for battening down the hatches? Has she not nails and tarpaulins?

Captain LEAN believed they had.

Mr. TRAILL. – But are you prepared to suggest any additional provision?

Captain LEAN was not. The matter was one which required consideration.

By Mr. O’DOWD. – When the London left Gravesend he understood she had 50 tons of coals in bags on the upper deck. The bags were carried in such a way that they required no extraordinary security. He saw no other stores on deck.

By Mr. TRAILL. – He did not feel called upon to interfere because of the coals on deck, as it was probable that the 50 tons would be consumed in three days, and she was going to Plymouth. His survey was made on the 30th of December, and the ship left the same day.

Mr. O’DOWD. – What sails had she?

Captain LEAN. – I have a list of the sails here.

Captain HARRIS. – As you saw them?

Captain LEAN. – No, I did not see them.

Captain HARRIS. – Then you don’t know whether she had storm staysails or trysails.

Captain LEAN. – I was furnished with a list of them.

Captain HARRIS. – Would it have been your duty, looking to the safety of life on board ships surveyed by you, to see that the requisite sails were on board?

Captain LEAN. – It has never been the practice. We only ascertain that she has two sets of sails.

Captain HARRIS. – But how can that be done, except by your own inspection?

Captain LEAN. – We are obliged to have a certain confidence in the owners.

Mr. TRAILL. – Oh, no; no confidence.
Captain LEAN. – We don’t think it likely that the Messrs. WIGRAM or any other respectable house would deceive us on those points.

Captain BAKER. – We have it in evidence that the London had two sets of sails, but you don’t look upon it as a part of your duty to inspect the sails?

Captain LEAN. – No; we do not.

Captain HARRIS. – Then though a ship might nominally have two sets of sails, one of her sets might be so worthless and bad that her stock of sails might be quite insufficient to carry her to Melbourne.

Mr. TRAILL. – There seems to be an omission as to an inspection of the sails.

Mr. O’DOWD. – Though the Passengers Act mention medicines and various other matters in respect to which a personal inspection is to be made by the emigration officers, it would appear from these enactments that the Legislature never intended that the emigration officers should examine the sails. This duty is thrown more on the shipwrights of the Board of Trade.

Captain HARRIS. – But between the stools the examination may fall to the ground.

Mr. O’DOWD. – There are three stools; for the Merchant Shipping Act enables the Board of Trade, whenever they entertain any doubt as to a ship being properly supplied in this way, to appoint an inspector to examine her. The fact is, there is a want of uniform legislation and of a consolidation of the departments under which those provisions should be carried out.

Mr. TRAILL. – Where did you get the list of sails, Captain LEAN?

Captain LEAN. – I was furnished with it by the owners at my request.

Mr. TRAILL. – When did you get it?
Captain LEAN. – I think yesterday or Saturday. (A laugh.)

Robert MAXWELL, a foreman engineer, who had superintended the fixing of the engines on board the London, gave evidence as to their efficiency. On the 23rd of December he was on board the ship in the East India Docks.

By Captain HARRIS. – There were two discharge pipes on each side of the ship. The valve box was fitted with an expansion joint, which was water tight. The bilge injection acted with a centrifugal pump, and would have discharged the ship of water more rapidly than the ordinary bilge injection. He should say it would have thrown out 4,000 gallons a minute. There was nothing complicated about the machinery of the London which would have rendered the discharge of water more difficult than it would be in other ships.

By Captain BAKER. – Supposing the ship were drawing 20½ feet of water, he thought the engines of the London would have propelled her 8 or 8½ knots an hour.

By Mr. TRAILL. – You could not have drawn a shutter across the engine hatchway flush with the deck without interfering with the action of the piston rod.

The inquiry was then adjourned till this morning.