The Times, Thursday, Feb 01, 1866; pg. 7; Issue 25410; col A

                         THE LOSS OF THE LONDON.

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                                OFFICIAL INQUIRY.

The official inquiry directed by the Board of Trade into the circumstances under which the London foundered in the Bay of Biscay on the 11th ult. was resumed in the Greenwich Police-court yesterday, before Mr. TRAILL, police magistrate, and Captain H. HARRIS and Captain BAKER, nautical assessors. Mr. O’DOWD appeared for the Board of Trade; Mr. T. SALTER for the relatives of Mr. and Mrs. THOMAS, who, with their children, went down in the ship; and Mr. BURRELL, of Glasgow, who had lost a son in the London, on his own behalf, and that of Mrs. TENNENT, of Edinburgh, whose husband was drowned at the same time. It will be seen from the statements of the witnesses that additional testimony was borne as to the qualities of the ship; and an emigration officer gave evidence as to the manner in which her dead weight was stowed. Mr. HUMPHREYS described the arrangement of her engine-room, with the view of showing that she was furnished with a very superior kind of bilge pump. It will, however, be remembered that the fires of the London are said to have been put out, not by a flow of bilge water, but by a torrent of sea water which had swept over the upper deck, rushed down the hatchway, extinguished the furnaces, and made it impossible for the engineers and stokers to remain at their posts. If this be so, no bilge pump, however efficient for its purpose, could have prevented such an inundation; and the question raised by the occurrence is that of a better covering for engine-rooms as a protection against water from above.

Mr. William BUNDOCK was examined, and in reply to Mr. O’DOWD said he was sailmaker and ship’s husband to the Messrs. WIGRAM. He made the sails for the ship London, and now held in his hand the sail report book, which contained a list of the sails of that ship, signed by Captain MARTIN. The witness read the list, annexed to which were memoranda as to the condition of the sails on the 28th of November, signed by Captain MARTIN, the commander of the ship. The witness saw these sails before the London proceeded on her last voyage; five of them were new, and all were made of the best Irish flax canvas. Those of them which had required repair were repaired before the ship started on her last voyage.

Captain HARRIS. – From that list she does not appear to have any storm sails?

The Witness. – The storm sails were the foretop staysail and the mizen staysail.

Captain HARRIS. – What canvas were they made of?

The Witness. – They were of No. 1.

Captain HARRIS. – Are you in the habit of fitting out the sailing ships of the Messrs. WIGRAM?

The Witness. – Yes.

Captain HARRIS. – And is it your practice to have storm sails for them?

The Witness. – No; not other storm sails than those I have mentioned.

Captain HARRIS. – Not for a vessel going on a voyage in the winter months?

The Witness. – No.

Captain HARRIS. – Did Captain MARTIN forward any requisition for additional sails, or make any request on the subject?

The Witness. – No, none whatever. Captain MARTIN was on the survey of those sails.

Captain HARRIS. – Had he done so, would they have been supplied?

The Witness. – No doubt they would have been.

Captain HARRIS remarked that no description of storm sail could have been of stronger canvas than the No. 1 canvas referred to by the witness.

Captain Peter John REEVES, general surveyor of shipping, was the next witness. In answer to Mr. O’DOWD, he said he had been for 23 years acting as a surveyor. He surveyed ships on his own account, and also for the Emigration Commissioners. He surveyed the London on the 28th of November last. The witness handed in the memoranda of the survey, which stated that the London had been examined throughout; that she was a strong-built ship, and well fastened in every respect; that he and another surveyor who had conducted the survey with him found her in first-rate order, and scraped and painted; that some of her upper-deck water-ways had been caulked; and that her anchors, chains, davits, &c., were “the same as before.” Mr. REEVES stated that some of the upper water-ways had required caulking, which was not an extraordinary occurrence in a new ship. The caulking was done, and though he made a report that the ship was in such first-rate condition, no special observations concerning her were called for. He had surveyed her on two previous occasions, and the words “same as before” referred to his previous surveys.

Mr. Samuel T. CORNISH, a general ship surveyor, who, in conjunction with the last witness, had surveyed the London previous to her last voyage, stated that he had heard Mr. REEVES’s evidence and concurred in it. He had signed the report put in by Mr. REEVES.

Mr. Alexander GNUN [?GUNN], a clerk in the Record Department of the Registrar-General of Seamen, produced the official copy of the articles of agreement of the London. These articles were between the master and the crew. There were 15 foreign seamen on board. There were in all 34 able seamen – foreigners and British subjects included; all the foreigners were able seamen. The total number of the crew “all told” was 83. He believed that previous records would show the conduct and ability of the crew on previous voyages. The articles to which he referred were signed on the 23d of December last. Of the 15 foreigners it appeared from official records that 12 had previously served in British ships.

Mr. John Thomas FOSTER, Second Emigration Officer of the port of London and Staff Commander in the Navy, stated that, with Captain LEAN, he inspected the London, in the East India Dock, while she was taking in her dead weight previously to her last voyage. Captain LEAN requested him to go on board and see how they were stowing the railway iron there, and there was a lot of it alongside the ship. He inquired from the officer of the London how much of this iron they intended to take on board, and the latter said about 350 tons. On that basis witness went into the main hold and satisfied himself that the iron was being stowed in a correct and proper way. There was at that time about 150 tons in the hold, and the “lumpers” were at work at the other end passing more iron in. He did not go into the hold afterwards; but, subsequently, he visited the ship a second time to inspect the provisions. On the occasion of his second inspection the hold was full. The ship got her clearance certificate, so far as the dead weight and provisions were concerned, on his report. The iron which he saw in the ship was stowed between the main hatchway and the fore hatchway. It was laid lengthways to answer as ballast. It was not raised.

By Captain HARRIS. – He did not consider that in such a ship such a quantity of iron required to be raised. Had there been a much larger quantity he should have required it to be raised.

Captain LEAN, in correction of his evidence given on the previous day, wished to say that the glass in the skylight of the hatchway was half an inch thick. From the report in The Times it appeared that he had said it was two inches thick. This was a verbal mistake on his part, and he wished to correct it.

The correction requested by the gallant Captain was then made in the depositions.

In reply to Mr. TRAILL, Captain LEAN said that previously to the departure of the London he mustered the crew at Gravesend, and those described in the articles as “able-bodied” seamen he passed as being entitled to that description.

Mr. Edward HUMPHREYS, of the firm of HUMPHREYS and TENNANT, was then examined in reference to the engines of the ship. He said they had been made in his house, and from his designs. The instructions of the Messrs. WIGRAM were that the engines should be constructed in the best possible manner and of the best possible materials. They paid him the best price for the work. He had read the reports of the previous days’ proceedings at this inquiry in The Times, and wished to explain some matters in connexion with the engine-room of the London. The witness exhibited a plan of the engine and the engine-room arrangements. He explained that when it was required to draw water from the bilge and discharge it overboard, it would only have been necessary to drive a centrifugal pump, with which the engine-room was supplied. That pump was provided with a non-return valve. The diameter of the revolving disc of the pump was 3ft., and it was driven by an independent auxiliary engine. For ordinary purposes of condensation, 70 or 80 revolutions a minute would be sufficient, but the revolutions could be increased to 200, or even 300, if necessary. Indeed, with the required pressure, there was scarcely a limit to the speed at which the machine might be driven. The auxiliary engine was from 16 to 20 horse power. No stress of weather was likely to affect the valves or discharge pipes. At about the ordinary speed – he did not in this case pledge himself to the exact number of revolutions – the engine would discharge upwards of 4,000 gallons a minute.

Captain HARRIS. – That would be a larger amount of water than an engine on the old plan would throw out?

Mr. HUMPHREYS. – You could not pass that quantity of water through one of the old engines without its breaking down. The centrifugal pump has nothing to overcome but the friction of the water passing through the pipes and the condensers. All we do is simply to facilitate the passage of the water. We are now supplying bilge suctions, on the principle I have explained, to two Government transports; we have supplied them to ships of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, and are making some for the Messageries Impériales.

A previous witness, having been recalled, stated that when he last inspected the London there was nothing wrong with the non-return valve of the centrifugal pump. Had there been, he must have discovered it; and, therefore, he had no doubt that it was all right.

Mr. FOSTER was also recalled, and in reply to Mr. O’DOWD said he thought the engine hatchways of a steamer should be capable of being protected, so as to become as strong as the deck, by some arrangement or other.

By Captain HARRIS. – The hatchway would be similar to what it was at present, but stronger. He would increase the strength of the present skylights, so as to make them as strong as the deck; stronger than that there would be no use in making them. The bars of the skylights might be put so close as that they would withstand any pressure.

Captain HARRIS. – Would you be in favour of a permanent structure to cover the engine-room?

Mr. FOSTER. – If the ship were a two-decked one that would be convenient enough; but in other ships it would not be convenient.

Captain HARRIS. – Among other inventions, some gentleman has proposed to fit revolving iron shutters over the engine-room. And I have received a letter from an eminent and practical man who says that, having considered the subject, his opinion is that ordinary tarpaulins are more effective than such coverings as have been suggested, and certainly a less impediment to ventilation. He further states that in his experience of many years there has been no instance of a skylight of any ship belonging to a particular company to which he refers being injured by sea. To make the hatchway strong, he would recommend a simple angle-iron grating with flat cross-bars, and, to cover all, a good tarpaulin, which could be rolled up in fine weather. He believes this would be less expensive than the ordinary glazed skylight, and not so liable to go out of order.

Mr. FOSTER observed that he thought the plan suggested a very good one. If glass was not thought strong enough, planks might be put in.

Captain HARRIS remarked that this question of further protection to the engine-room was one for consideration.

A gentleman here addressed the Court, stating that he had come from London with the object of offering some suggestions as to the safety of ships generally.

Mr. TRAILL told him to communicate with Mr. O’DOWD.

Mr. O’DOWD requested the gentleman to communicate his views to him in writing.

The Court having asked whether there were any other witnesses in attendance,

Mr. O’DOWD said he required the attendance of a surveyor from Plymouth before he should be able to complete the first branch of the case – that relating to the ship herself; and as this gentleman had not yet arrived, he must ask the Court to adjourn.


The inquiry was then adjourned till this morning.