The Times, Friday, Feb 02, 1866; pg. 5; Issue 25411; col A

                         THE LOSS OF THE LONDON.

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                                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 ult. was resumed in the Greenwich Police-court yesterday, before Mr. TRAILL, Police Magistrate, and Captain BAKER and Captain H. HARRIS, Nautical Assessors. Mr. BURRELL, solicitor, of Glasgow, who lost a son in the ship, attended on his own behalf and that of Mrs. TENNENT, of Edinburgh, whose husband was drowned at the same time. Mr. Talfourd SALTER, barrister, who on the previous days of the inquiry appeared for relatives of Mr. and Mrs. THOMAS, who with their children went down in the London, retired from further attendance under circumstances which will be found detailed in this report. Mr. Clifford WIGRAM, one of the owners, was again present. The evidence given yesterday was much more interesting than that which had been hitherto brought before the Court. It will put the public in possession of important particulars with regard to the amount and disposition of the cargo carried by the London. The history of the ship, as detailed by the witnesses, now carries us down to the time when she was fairly afloat on her last voyage, and the evidence of Mr. THOMPSON, the Trinity-house pilot, who had charge of her from the East India docks to Plymouth, contains a close and clear account of her performance from the Thames to the Sound, and of the weather she encountered up to the time when she finally left our shores. The narrative of this voyage will be taken up and continued to-morrow by Mr. GREENHILL, her chief engineer. At the sitting of the Court yesterday,

Mr. T. SALTER, on behalf of the relatives of Mr. and Mrs. THOMAS, expressed his desire to say a word to correct a misapprehension which appeared to have arisen with regard to the part they took in this inquiry. It would have appeared, no doubt, by the public reports that they had put no questions to any of the witnesses who had been examined. He might now state publicly what had occurred between Mr. TRAILL and himself when he first attended there for the relatives of Mr. and Mrs. THOMAS. On that occasion Mr. TRAILL told him it was not customary in inquiries like the present to permit counsel to put questions directly, or to cross-examine witnesses; but that if counsel had any questions to ask he could state them to the Court, and it would put them to the witnesses. He had acted on this suggestion, but he now felt – and he was sure Mr. TRAILL’s experience as a barrister would lead him to sympathize with him – that cross-examination, or anything on the nature of it, could not be effectually carried out in the way presented by the Court. He had some conversation on the subject with his clients, and their feeling was that if the magistrate was still of opinion counsel should not be permitted to cross-examine witnesses it would be better that they should not be further represented in the inquiry. He was quite aware that the course which the magistrate pursued was the usual one in these cases, though it might not be the course best calculated to elicit the truth. His duty was to abide by the decision of the Court, and to withdraw should it be adverse to the application he now made for permission to cross-examine witnesses.

Mr. TRAILL said the course adopted in this case was the usual one, and he scarcely thought the Court could depart from it. There were a great many persons deeply interested in the inquiry, and, of course, they had a very strong feeling with regard to the evidence. If Mr. SALTER were allowed to cross-examine witnesses, each of those persons might ask to be permitted to appear by counsel and do the same thing. He did not think, therefore, the Court could go further than allow any question to be suggested to it in order that it might put the question to the witness.

Mr. SALTER had anticipated that such would be the decision of the Court, but he had thought it advisable to set himself right with the public, in order that they might understand exactly how far counsel were permitted to take a part in the inquiry. He wished further to say that his clients had no pecuniary interest in the inquiry, but were simply actuated by an anxiety that the fullest light might be thrown on the circumstances under which relatives near and dear to them had lost their lives.

Mr. TRAILL said the Court had a great many suggestions thrown out to it, and he and the Nautical Assessors had taken every opportunity of putting in the most ample manner any questions suggested to them by persons interested in the inquiry. But to allow counsel to cross-examine witnesses in an inquiry like this would lead to great inconvenience.

Mr. SALTER could quite understand that; but, though he should be sorry to cause any embarrassment to the Court, he was so accustomed to cross-examine personally, that he did not feel he could cross-examine effectively in the manner prescribed by the Court.

Mr. TRAILL remarked that in inquiries of this nature the Court did not adjudicate as it did in other cases. The Board of Trade wished to receive the best information they could on the loss of the ship; and he and the Assessors were only acting as a commission of inquiry. Mr. SALTER would, therefore, see the force of their not allowing any regular cross-examination of the witnesses. He, however, hoped the learned counsel would not retire.

Mr. SALTER repeated that he felt it his duty to do so.

Mr. John R. STOLL was then examined by Mr. O’DOWD. He said he was a captain in Her Majesty’s Navy and Emigration officer at Plymouth, acting under the Emigration Commissioners and the Passenger Acts. He had been acting as emigration officer for 12 years, eight of which he had been at Plymouth. On the 5th of January he went aboard the London in the discharge of his duty, accompanied by the captain and the surgeon of the ship, who had been on shore. On that occasion he made such an inspection as he usually made of a passenger ship. He did not observe that the London had sustained the slightest injury on her voyage from London to Plymouth. In his inspection he went round the decks, examined the boats, saw the lifebuoys and all that sort of thing in their places, and took a general view of her rigging and spars. He also looked down into the engineroom and sent for the chief engineer. That officer reported to him that his department was in perfect order. Witness had a general conversation with him as to how her engines had behaved coming down to Plymouth, with respect to the rate at which she had steamed, as he knew the weather had been very bad. He forgot what the rate stated by the engineer was, but it surprised him it was so good, knowing, as he did, that the maximum rate of the vessel was not more than nine knots at the best of times. From what he heard he felt convinced the ship must be in good trim. He saw a surgeon and got his report. Plymouth was only a port of call for the London, and he made as complete a survey as was usual under the circumstances. She called there to take in passengers and to take in coals in place of those consumed on the voyage down. The quantity paid for was 50 tons, but he scarcely thought she took in so much. What she took in was stowed in bags on the upper deck. None of the coals were placed on the after combings of the engineroom hatch. They were stowed all round the hatchway and steam chest. She shipped no cargo whatever at Plymouth, or no considerable quantity of passengers’ luggage, but only articles for the present use of the passengers that were shipped there. It was not customary to take off the hatches and inspect the dead weight of ships calling at Plymouth, but it was his duty to examine the London as to the general state and seaworthiness. He did not notice critically her draught of water. There was a good deal of “wash,” and, therefore, one could not well judge of her draught. He did not notice that she was too deep, and he certified that she was in good trim – that was, not too deep. Of couse, every steamer must be a little too deep on leaving port, otherwise her fan would soon get out of water. He was convinced now that his opinion was right, because he had seen from Mr. O’DOWD’s statement that she had steamed down at the rate of eight knots. He had a memorandum of the readings of the barometer on the 5th and 6th of January, taken on board the Harbour-master’s vessel in the Sound. On the 5th, at 8 a.m., it was 29.90; at noon, 30.04; at 4 p.m., 30.07. On the 6th, at 8 a.m., 30.17; at noon, 30.25; at sunset, 30.18. On the 7th, at 8 a.m., 29.76; at noon, 29.78; at sunset, 29.78. The London left Plymouth at midnight on the 5th, the weather being calm and fine. It continued fine during the whole of the 6th, but on Sunday it was blowing a gale.

Captain BAKER. – In fact, during the whole of the three days the barometer never was very low.

Captain STOLL. – Certainly not; and the weather was so fine on the 5th that I should have gone to sea even in the middle of the day. I was of opinion that the weather was very favourable on the 5th and the 6th for any vessel to go to sea.

By Mr. TRAILL. – His principal duty was to see to the accommodation for passengers and to the ventilation. What he said as to the coals that were stowed on deck was in no way objectionable. It did not interfere with the navigation of the ship, or with the comfort of the passengers. The coals were stowed lengthways; four bags deep and four bags high. They were not secured artificially. They were secured by their own weight. He knew of his own knowledge that on a previous voyage the London carried her coals in the same way. If everything had gone on well, those coals which she so carried on her last voyage would have been consumed in a few days. He had heard remarks on this point; but surely the idlers on board could have thrown those coals overboard in half an hour had any necessity arisen for doing so.

Mr. TRAILL. – Yes; but if bad weather came on, the question was whether those coals might not be sent adrift.

Captain STOLL. – But bad weather does not come on so suddenly as that measures could not be taken to prevent such an occurrence as that.

Mr. TRAILL. – Well; we had better not be reasoning on the matter. What we want are facts.

In reply to the Assessors Captain STOLL said the last time he saw the London was at 1 o’clock in the day. She was then ready for sea; she then had her upper gallant yards crossed. He did not muster the crew; but the captain and chief officer assured him that they were the same as those they had started with from London, and the captain said he was going to take in three extra hands. In point of fact, he did take five, though witness was sure that none of the crew had left the ship at Plymouth. It was not compulsory on witness to muster the crew, unless he suspected fraud. One of the five additional men got drunk and did not go to sea. He wished to observe that the vessel was in beautiful order. All merchant ships go to sea in winter with their royal masts on end, and the gallant yards across. You cannot get the captains to strike them. He was astonished at this, though it was universal. It never was done on board a man-of-war.

Mr. TRAILL. – I suppose, as you say you are astonished, you do not think it a prudent course.

Captain STOLL. – I do not.

Mr. TRAILL. – Have you ever remonstrated with any captain for so acting?

Captain STOLL. – Yes. An emigrant ship that lay in the Sound since the loss of the London adopted the usual course. I remonstrated, but could not induce the captain to send his gallant yards on deck, the weather being threatening at the time. The witness here explained that his observations with regard to it being imprudent of merchant ships to act in the manner he had described had reference to bad weather, and not the winter weather generally.

Captain HARRIS. – My question is whether you think it prudent for merchant vessels to go to sea in the winter months with the royal masts on end and the jibbooms flying – with all this “hamper,” as we call it, aloft?

The witness replied that if the weather were not bad it would not be wrong and might be done; but he thought it would be more prudent and “snugger” if in the winter months merchant ships went to sea with “stumped up” gallant masts instead of long masts.

Mr. Isaac COLE, stevedore, was then examined as to the shipping of the cargo of the London, which he had inspected under the superintendence of Mr. Charles WIGRAM previously to her last voyage. He did not know what quantity of coals was put in; but he did know the quantity of her dead weight, which consisted of iron bars and sheet and bundle iron. The dead weight was 345 tons. It was stowed in the after-part of the main hatchway and in the after-part of the fore hatchway, leaving a space at the sides of about 4ft. That was a proper part of the ship to stow the iron. It was all stowed in grating fashion, or cross-ways. It occupied a space of about 56ft. in length, about 24ft. in breadth, and about 5ft. in depth. The iron was the principal dead weight in the cargo. There were some agricultural implements in casks, but these were not, he thought, received as “dead weight,” but by measurement. He was not sure of this. There also were some cases and bales of goods amounting to 963 tons measurement. He did not know whether this included the agricultural implements or not. He took it that on an average about 35 tons weight to 100 tons measurement would be the cargo of the London. He put the “kentledge” (the ballast of the ship) on board the London on her first voyage. It was 200 tons; it was iron kentledge. The measurement goods were stowed over the iron in the main hold and in the after hold. None of the cargo was stowed on deck. He weighed the ship’s provisions and water. The provisions were about 120 tons weight. He did not know the weight or the quantity of the water. He had no memorandum on the subject. The greater part of the passengers’ baggage was stowed away while the vessel was in the East India Dock. That which was not required on the voyage was stowed in the fore hold. The passengers’ baggage occupied about 50 tons space of room. He superintended the stowage of the London’s cargoes on all her voyages. She carried as much cargo on her former voyages as on her last one. On her first voyage she had 189½ tons of dead weight (iron) and 773 tons measurement. He could not give the weight and measurement tonnage separately for the second voyage, but the total was 1,347 tons. On the third and last voyage the total was 1,308 tons.

Mr. TRAILL. – Had you a larger or smaller proportion of dead weight on the second voyage than on the third?

Mr. COLE. – About the same.

Captain BAKER. – You had a larger tonnage on the second than on the third voyage?

Mr. COLE. – Yes, we had.

By Captain HARRIS. – The kentledge was stowed, 150 tons down the main hold, from the after part of the main hatchway to within about 20ft. of the after part of the fore hatchway, and the rest in the after hold from the fore part of the after hatchway to the tank-room, which he should think was about from 15ft. to 20 ft. There was none in the midship body. The tanks were on either side of the screw alley, run close up to the deck. The iron in the main hold was stowed on billet wood. When the measurement goods were put in the hold was filled chock up to the beam. That was the case in both the fore and the after hold, but there was no iron in the after hold, except the kentledge. Wet provisions were stowed in that hold. Measurement goods, passengers’ baggage, and dry provisions for the home voyage were stowed in the fore hold. There were 15 tons of coals in the fore peak; there was no hanging platform there. It was his duty to take in her spars. She had a spare topmast, topsail yard, jibboom, flying jibboom, and two or three spare topgallantmasts. The topsail and topsail yard were stowed on deck, and the other spars on top of “the house.” The latter were lashed to ringbolts.

By Captain BAKER. – She had topgallantmasts and royalmasts on one spar fore and aft. The flying jibboom was distinct from the jibboom. The tanks were not up to the upper deck, but to an orlop deck laid over the screw tunnel. In his opinion none of the cargo or spars would have been likely to “fetch way” (break adrift) in bad weather.

By Mr. O’DOWD. – There was a second officer down in the hold, but he never interfered with witness in respect of the stowage. One of the owners, Mr. Charles WIGRAM, was on board every day; and, as far as the dead weight was concerned, he would have directed witness in regard to the stowage.

Mr. Henry CAULIER, Principal of the Searchers’ Department in the Long Room of the Custom-house, was then examined. He said his department had to do with the shipping bills of foreign-going ships. A shipping bill was an entry outwards of goods to be exported, declaring their value, quantity, and quality, and was prepared by the exporter. In respect to British and foreign free goods, it had to be prepared in conformity with an official form. It was certified by the Controller of Accounts. Assuming that the shipping bills gave a correct description of the goods, they contained a very minute account of the ship’s cargo. The accuracy of the contents of the bill was checked by the manifest of the broker. This was a list of all the goods, but did not give the contents of each package. It was not possible to obtain a more accurate description of a ship’s cargo than that given by the shipping bills. He had made an analysis of the bills of the London. The manifest was sent in by the broker on the 4th of January. The dead weight, such as iron plates and bars, sheet-iron, lead and shot, stone blocks, iron, nails, and screws, was declared to weigh 347 tons 4cwt. 39qrs. and 18lb. Then there was other weight, such as hardware, agricultural implements, and a similar description of goods, amounting to 13 tons 19cwt. 3qrs. and 4lb. He did not think this could fairly be called “dead weight,” because it was enclosed in cases. He could not give the weight of the other portions of the cargo. There was a vast quantity of millinery, haberdashery, woollen goods, flannels, cotton slops, glass, and such other articles as usually were carried by ships going to Melbourne. The total declared value of the cargo was 124,785L. 17s. 4d. That was irrespective of the bonded goods, of which the Custom-house had not the value. There were very few of these – cigars probably formed the principal portion of them. From 100L. to 200L. would, he thought, be about their value.

Mr. COLE, having been recalled, said after everything had been put aboard the London he saw her draught of water in the dock. It was 20ft. forward and 20ft. 9in. aft.

By Captain HARRIS. – There were three heights of kentledge in the main body and two heights in the after hold.

Mr. O’DOWD said this disposed of all the evidence he had to adduce in reference to the cargo and the stowage. The next branch of the case was the management of the ship on the passage from London to Plymouth, and the first witness with reference to this matter would be the pilot.

George James THOMPSON, a Trinity-house pilot, was then examined, and stated he had been a pilot for upwards of 34 years. He piloted the London on her last voyage from London to the entrance of Plymouth Sound. He went on board early in the morning of the 28th of December. He took her to Gravesend, and made her fast to one of the mooring-buoys. After they had shipped live and dead stock and baggage there, he took her draught. It was 19ft. 9in. forward, and 20ft. 9in. abaft. He had piloted her on both her former voyages. On her first voyage, at Greenhithe, she drew 19ft. forward and 20ft. abaft, and on her second 18ft. 3in. forward and 21ft. 9in. abaft. She left Gravesend on the 30th, and anchored at the Nore the same evening, and remained there till the 1st of January. It blew a gale of wind, S.W., on the 31st. On the 1st January they got under way at daylight and proceeded for the Downs; passed the South Foreland as they were lighting the lamps, about 4 in the afternoon. Before that they had fore and aft canvas set, but on rounding the South Foreland, the wind being ahead, they took it in, and went down under steam only. About 8 p.m. they passed Dungeness; at 2 a.m. of the 2d they were abreast of Beachy Head. Having got a good offing they turned the yards round, kept the Channel course, and set fore and aft canvas, lower topsails, and foresail. During the day the wind began to freshen very much, and not being able to weather St. Catherine’s Point they put the ship about. Witness then consulted Captain MARTIN, suggesting whether it would be better for them to go to the Motherbank, as the weather appeared so squally and unsettled. The captain went down and looked at his glasses, and on returning said he thought it was the most prudent thing to do. They anchored at the Motherbank about half-past 3 p.m. During the night it blew a heavy gale, the wind being from the S.W. At 10 am on the 3d they got under way and proceeded for the Needles, which they passed about 4 p.m. There was a heavy sea outside, but the ship made very good way, and about 8 p.m., he thought, they passed Portland. At 2 a.m. on the 4th they sighted the Start Light, and about 7 they were abreast of it. The weather then became thick, with rain and strong wind from the S.S.W., and a heavy confused swell on. At about half-past 9 a.m. they distinguished the land, steered for Penlee Point, and entered Plymouth Sound at noon on the same day. The voyage from the Needles occupied about 22 hours. There was a very heavy sea all the way, but the ship behaved very well. She took some seas on the 4th, when there was a tremendous and confused sea; but she made about four knots, which he thought to be very good behaviour. When they got to Plymouth the ship had only three or four bags of coal on deck. The coal on deck did not shift at all, though she made one or two heavy lurches. The fore and main hatchways had the tarpaulins on them, but they were not battened down. It did not appear to him that the London was too deep in the water. Mr. HARRIS, the chief mate, told him that he had nearly 9ft. clear side from the water’s edge, and had a foot to spare.

By Captain HARRIS. – The pilotage is charged by the foot, and not by the fraction of a foot; and therefore, in taking the London’s draught at Gravesend he would give the extreme draught. The draught lightens in salt water by about 2in. for 4ft. Some vessels lighten more than others, and a flat-floored ship like the London would lighten more than others. They were 20ft. 11in. on leaving the East India Docks, but she had lightened to 20ft. 9in. by the time they arrived at Gravesend. He should not call the London a wet boat. She answered well to the helm, but, being a long ship, she required care. He set the mainstay sail, which he considered a good storm sail, as they went down, and they set the forestay sail at Gravesend. He thought they could have carried the mizenstay sail in a gale of wind. There was plenty of canvas in the ship and plenty of rope. In his opinion, the London carried sufficient canvas to “lie to” in any gale of wind. He thought the canvas was sufficient in point of position as well as of quality. The witness pilots the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s ships out of London.


The inquiry was then adjourned till this day.