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The Times, Thursday, Feb 08, 1866; pg. 7; Issue 25416; col E

                         THE LOSS OF THE LONDON.


                                OFFICIAL INQUIRY.

The inquiry directed by the Board of Trade into the circumstances under which the ship London foundered in the Bay of Biscay on the 11th ult. was resumed at the Greenwich Police Court yesterday, before Mr. TRAILL, police magistrate, and Captain HARRIS and Captain BAKER, nautical assessors.

Mr. O’DOWD appeared for the Board of Trade; and Mr. W. M. HITCHCOCK on behalf of Mr. CUTTING, whose daughter was lost in the ship; Mr. Clifford WIGRAM, one of the owners of the ship, was also present.

John MUNRO was the first witness examined. He said he was at present staying at St. George’s Hotel, Aldermanbury. He had served his apprenticeship as a sailmaker, and had since been five years and a half at sea as a sailmaker, in the India and China trade. He left following the sea in June, 1852, and might therefore have forgotten some of the nautical phrases, but he was well acquainted with seafaring affairs. He had made three voyages to Melbourne, Victoria, and the one he was about to go in the London would have been the fourth. The ship left Plymouth at five minutes past 12 o’clock on Saturday morning. The weather was then beautifully fine, but in the afternoon of that day the wind began to freshen. The ship was then on the starboard tack. Sunday was what they called a “dirty” day; it was rainy, and the wind still kept freshening. Between 6 and 8 on the morning of Monday the vessel began to ship water pretty freely, and continued doing so all Monday night. The main hatchway did not fit tight, and the water came down with great force. The ladies in the second cabin were becoming frightened, and he sat up all that night for the purpose of talking to them. Early on Tueaday morning he heard a cry raised that the jibboom was carried away. He then went on deck and saw that the foreroyalmast was swinging to and fro; and soon after the topgallantmast went, and then the foretopsail. These wrecks were swinging about and some of the men went aloft to secure them as well as they could. The jibboom was not touched that day, nor was the deck at any time made entirely clear of water, there being more or less on it all the day. A great quantity of coal was at this time tumbling about the deck; some in bags and some in large lumps lying loose; these were the more dangerous. It was blowing very hard, and the vessel was shipping very heavy seas. He believed that the yards were hauled round to the port tack on that day or in the night, but the first time he saw the ship on the port tack was on the Wednesday morning. On Tuesday night the spanker was blown away. The weather on Wednesday was better than that on Tuesday up to about 12 at noon. On coming on deck on Wednesday he observed the officers and crew at work clearing away the wreck of the jibboom and endeavouring to get it into the ship. They were employed up to dark in doing this. The jibboom was lashed to the fore-rigging; it was lying over the bulwarks. The flying jibboom was got on board, and was lashed along towards the cuddy door, lying fore and aft the deck. The ship was rolling all the time, and therefore the jibboom must have been lashed to something, though he did not observe in what way. About 9 o’clock at night he tried to go along the deck to his own hatchway on the port side, when he saw the flying jibboom rolling about, striking against the bulwarks and then against the combings of the engine-room hatch. The jibboom was at that time totally adrift, and he was afraid to pass, and therefore made his way back again. He did not call the attention of the officers to this circumstance because at that time everyone was engaged; and another reason was that when on a former occasion he had spoken to some of them about something he was snubbed by them. He certainly considered the position of the jibboom to be dangerous to persons passing, and it was very likely to do damage to the ship. About 11 o’clock witness went down into the saloon, and he then heard a great body of water come down the engine hatch, and he immediately saw the engineers and stokers rushing up out of the engine-room, and he then heard that the engine-room hatch was gone. Captain MARTIN and Mr. GREENHILL were at that time on deck consulting together, and witness heard orders given to get sails out of the locker. Witness assisted in getting the sails on to the hatch-way, where spars, mattresses, beds, blankets, and other things were being pressed down to stop the water from going down. He at that time saw the skylight on the starboard side of the deck; but he had not time to see whether it was broken or not. They were, in fact, at work at that time up to their middle in water. He did not notice any attempt being made to replace the skylight; but that might have been done before he came to the hatch, as 20 minutes had elapsed since the accident had occurred. Every effort was made to choke up the hatchway, but it was all in vain. The heads of the nails by which they endeavoured to batten down the hatchway were so small that they would not hold the canvas. On the witness being asked whether he had seen Mr. GREENHILL at any time cover the skylight, he said that he believed he did on the Wednesday, before it was dark, see him putting something over the skylight, as if he was preparing for bad weather. When he attempted to get to his cabin at 9 o’clock on the Wednesday he saw the skylight, but he could not say whether there was any tarpauling over it or not. Before the skylight was broken away he saw the stewards baling out water round the after part of the lower saloon aft the engine hatch. Witness assisted for some time at the pumps till he became quite fatigued. He at the time observed that none of the sailors were working, and he made the remark that it was very strange that none but passengers were at the pumps. He went below, and asked whether any men would turn out and take their spell at the pumps. He then found the boatswain employed, assisted by Mr. ROWE, a passenger, taking down the names of the sailors who were disabled from working either by having been hurt, or being sick, and no less than 21 of the crew had their names put down as being either sick or hurt. Two young men did, however, come out and a lend a hand at the pumps, but with these exceptions none but passengers were working at them. About daybreak on Thursday the donkey engine was set to work, and from that time the men were relieved from the pumps. The weather was at that time frightful, the sea making a clean breach over the deck. The wind was very strong, but not so strong as it had been on the previous night. Half of the maintopsail on the port side had been blown away, while the other half was left, and the whole of the mizen staysail remained set.

Captain HARRIS asked the witness to explain how this could possibly be.

The witness said that, strange as the fact might appear, it, nevertheless, was true that half the canvas held on to the ship and actually went down with her. Renewed efforts were made to batten down the hatchway, but the witness considered they did more harm than good, for by removing portions of the covering from time to time larger masses of water came pouring down into the engine-room. At this time witness heard Captain MARTIN call out to Mr. HARRIS to lower the boats, pointing, as witness believed, to the two iron boats. Mr. HARRIS, addressing Mr. GREENHILL, said, “The old man wants the boats down; what am I to do?” meaning, as witness supposed, that he (HARRIS) did not at that time wish to give up the attempt to cover over the hatchway. Witness again went down into the saloon, and he found that at that time the general impression among the passengers was that all hope was gone. Having heard two of the sailors talk about getting one of the starboard iron boats lowered, he said to one of them that he would lend him a hand, to which the sailor replied “All right.” The witness then described the manner in which the boat was lowered, but was finally lost, and also the way in which he succeeded in getting on board the ship again. About 1 o’clock on that Thursday he saw some sailors sitting in the cutter, which was still hanging by the tackles to the ship; but they all came on board again. KING and SHEALS then went to the captain and told him that they would square the mainyards, and run her before the wind. Mr. HARRIS then called out, “Loose the foresail.” He did not know how many hands went foreward, but the ship paid round by the lee, and he then heard them say, “Lower away; this is the time.” All the men said it. But previously KING was heard by witness to say to the captain, - “Captain MARTIN, will you come with us?” Witness did not hear the captain’s answer, but saw him make a gesture which witness understood to mean that he would remain with the ship. KING then asked the captain what course it was to the nearest land, and a course was given by the captain; but witness did not hear what it was. He was not in the boat at the time the cry was given to lower away; indeed, he was in doubt whether he would go in or not, the other boats having been lost; but, seeing two of his friends already in the boat, he jumped in too and joined them, and he did not think they were two seconds alongside the ship after that. He considered the ship to be deep in the water, and to be less lively and buoyant than other ships. It made worse weather of it when it got into bad weather than any ship he had ever been in.

David Gavin MAIN, also a passenger in the London, said that when he went on board at Gravesend he did not think the ship was such as a passenger ship for so long a voyage ought to be. The hatches were not what they should have been – they admitted water freely, and he observed before reaching Plymouth that the water flowed up on deck from the water-closets. On Wednesday morning he asked Mr. HARRIS why he did not cut away the jibboom which had become a wreck, when he said he was afraid if he were to do so it would damage the screw. The hatchways were not such as any passenger ship should have. The water came in between the combings and the cover, and he considered the combings to be much too low. The witness said that on Wednesday night he was thoroughly exhausted, and had a sound sleep. Mr. MUNRO came and roused him up, saying that the ship was sinking. Witness replied that that was alright, but he did not expect the ship would go down for two or three days. He was at that time quite prepared to die. Nobody on board then had any hope. The ship was like a log on the water. The witness, after giving a similar account of the way in which the boat was lowered to that given by other witnesses, said that before getting into the boat he felt the ship gradually sinking under him, and he then thought there might be a slight chance of escaping in the boat and he immediately jumped into it. The ship was then settling fast, and he believed that at that very time they were all dead on board.

Mr. O’DOWD then observed that the Court had been engaged in that inquiry for nine days, and no less than 30 witnesses had been examined. It might appear unreasonable to ask the Court for a further adjournment; but, notwithstanding every effort to complete the evidence that day, he found there were some material points of the inquiry respecting which it was necessary to adduce some supplementary testimony. One of the witnesses he proposed to call was in a remote part of the kingdom, and under these circumstances he asked the Court to adjourn the proceedings till Monday next. The public were looking very anxiously at everything that occurred in that court, and he hoped very quickly to get through the inquiry in such a manner as to satisfy the public mind.

Mr. TRAILL said the object of the Court was to get every possible information that would tend to throw light upon this deplorable case. A letter had appeared in The Times signed by the captain of a vessel which was supposed to have come under the stern of the London. It would be desirable to get the writer of that letter before the Court if possible.

Mr. O’DOWD said it appeared that the name of the ship was the Courier, and that the captain’s name was PRICE, the ship belonging to New South Wales. If the captain should be in this country at the next meeting, he would call him before the Court.

The inquiry was then adjourned till Monday next.