TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - A leading article of your paper, in speaking of the loss of the London, appears to cast blame (which is wholly undeserved) on the survivors, implying that they merely looked after their own interests without considering the safety of the passengers. The fact is that the chance of the boat’s being saved was considered so utterly hopeless by the captain, officers, and passengers that all held aloof, and, instead of a rush being made to the boat, there were only two men, the doctor’s mate and a Dutch seaman, who tried in vain to enter. Some of the ladies were invited by the men to come with us, and would have done so, but I myself heard Captain MARTIN dissuade them from entering, for he said it would be only a more lingering death, as “the boat could not possibly live in such a sea.” This was the only occasion on which his feelings overcame him, for through all dangers and difficulties his coolness and composure were remarkable. Had the passengers desired to leave the ship, the pinnace (holding 50) was a larger and safer boat; but none cared to venture in it. The article further infers that we left sooner than we should have done; but had we remained two minutes longer we should certainly have been engulfed with her, for the waves were washing over her poop, and the maindeck was sprung when we left her. The boat was built to hold 12, and she was crowded with 19.
I remain, Sir, yours truly,
WALTER M. EDWARDS, late Midshipman of the screw steamship London.
Ashburnham House, Bedford, Jan. 19.
*** We publish this letter, though we made no such imputations as the writer imagines.
The Times, Monday, Jan 22, 1866; pg. 6; Issue 25401; col B
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - I suppose an investigation will be instituted into the cause of the loss of the London, with 220 lives. It will be needless to censure the captain, who died like a true British sailor at his post, refusing to desert his passengers. He did, I have no doubt, all a seaman could do for the safety of his charge.
Let the inquiry be into the construction of the ship – as to dimensions, fastenings, &c. – when I have little doubt it will be found that her dimensions were such as to render her totally unfit to contend with an ordinary gale of wind and consequent high sea. Indeed, when we see a small boat with 16 people on board ride safely over the waves we cannot understand why a large ship, apparently in good order and well equipped, should succumb. Something must be radically wrong in her construction or stowage. It is a melancholy fact that within the last few years a much larger proportion of ships exposed to severe weather have given in than occurred at any previous time, and to a nautical man the cause is obvious. The ships at present built are of too great a length as compared with their breadth, also the long, fine ends, which have no buoyancy, make them unseakindly and dangerous sea boats. When a seaman is loading a vessel he always puts the dead weight in the middle, leaving the ends either empty, or stowed with light material – thus making the vessel buoyant and inclined to ride easily on the wave. But this system of building the vessels with long narrow ends, having little displacement in proportion to their weight, is acting in diametrical opposition to all true science and practical seamanship. When a vessel thus constructed meets a heavy wave the long attenuated fore end, instead of rising on the wave, cuts into it, burying itself in the water, and either preventing the vessel from rising at all, or, when the buoyancy of the midship section is sufficient to lift the vessel on to the wave, not only has the original weight of the useless fore end to be raised, but it has to be dragged out of the superincumbent water, causing an exceedingly overdue strain on the fore part of the vessel, while, at the same time, a large body of water is thrown along the decks, sweeping boats and every movable thing before it; also, while rendering a ship unsafe in a heavy sea, as I have pointed out, those long narrow ends have another very serious disadvantage – they prevent the ship being kept close to the wind in a high sea, and render it impossible to heave her to with safety, causing her to lie open to the sea; so, consequently, she rolls heavily, and the waves make a clear run over her. Had the captain of the London been able to lay the vessel to, with her bow meeting the sea, she ought to have ridden safely through any gale she might encounter; but the construction of the ship rendered this impossible.
We can all remember the Great Eastern, under similar circumstances to the London, how badly she behaved (to use a sailor’s expression), and no means the commander could use would keep her bow to the sea, consequently she lay in the trough of the sea, and rolled to such a degree that she nearly foundered. The same thing occurs constantly on our north-east coast and in the North Sea during the winter gales every year, when the screw steamers, overrun by the waves, go down, and leave no trace. Hull, Leith, and many other ports have to deplore the loss of valuable vessels, and many more valuable lives, entirely arising from the cause I have pointed out, and such losses will be of constant occurrence while the present mode of draughting ships obtains.
Draughtsmen at present appear entirely to ignore the necessity of giving to the vessels buoyancy, and fitting them to contend with the element on which they are borne. All safety is sacrificed in a futile attempts to gain speed, by a system of construction at once at variance with true science and also with all practical experience.
It would be well if a commission was appointed to inquire into the best form to give a ship, together with the relative proportions to be borne between length, breadth, and depth of a vessel intented to contend successfully with the waters of the ocean, when lashed into fury by the tempest. That a mathematical proportion between these does exist, no one can doubt, and it is odd if no one has ability enough to find it out.
I am your obedient servant,
C. H. GREENHOW, Superintendent Mercantile Marine.
North Shields, Jan. 19.
The Times, Monday, Jan 22, 1866; pg. 6; Issue 25401; col C
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - The loss of the steamer London and the consequent sacrifice of 220 lives is stated to have been caused through the engine-room hatch having been swept away by the force of the heavy seas which broke over the vessel, and the absence of any effective means of preventing the ingress of the volumes of water which poured down the aperture.
I would beg to suggest that in future the precaution should be taken of fixing wrought-iron sliding shutters beneath the deck at all the hatchways, so that by means of a chain and windlass, they could be at once closed in case of accident to any of the hatches, and afford opportunity for repair of the same. Had the London possessed this simple precaution the probability is that the vessel would have weathered the storm. These iron shutters or doors could be made, if necessary, to roll up when not in use, occupying but little space beneath the deck, on the principle of revolving shutters invented by Sir Isambert BRUNEL.
The foundering of the steamer Amalia on the 12th inst. is attributed to the want of proper means of closing the bunkers, the lids having been washed overboard. These shutters would at once have afforded the means of remedying the loss.
I am, Sir, yours obediently,
Manchester, Jan. 19.