The Times, Saturday, Feb 03, 1866; pg. 10; Issue 25412; col F

                         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, the Police Magistrate, and Captain H. HARRIS and Captain BAKER, nautical assessors. As on the previous days of the inquiry, Mr. O’DOWD appeared for the Board of Trade. Mr. Clifford WIGRAM, one of the owners of the ship, was also present; and Mr. BURRELL, solicitor, of Glasgow, who lost a son in the London, was in attendance on his own behalf and that of Mrs. TENNENT, of Edinburgh, who lost her husband. The witnesses examined yesterday were Mr. JONES and Mr. GREENHILL, the first and second engineers of the London. Their evidence is of great importance, particularly that of Mr. GREENHILL. It was during his watch the tremendous sea broke over the vessel which swept away the engine skylight, carried two men bodily down the hatchway, instantaneously filled the engine-room with water to a depth of 5ft., almost as suddenly extinguished the whole of the boiler furnaces, and stopped the engines within seven or eight minutes. It will be found that one of the nautical assessors anxiously inquired as to whether the door in the bulkhead separating the engine-room from the screw tunnel was shut by the engineers immediately the heavy sea had descended into the former. Both the witnesses stated that it was, and one of them said that he himself had closed it and screwed it tight. This is a point of great moment. The tunnel is some 65ft. or 66ft. long, 8ft. deep, and 4ft. wide; and if filled, the presence in the after part of the ship of such an immense volume of water as the tunnel would contain would go far to account for her settling down by the stern. It will be seen that by four o’clock in the morning of the day on which she sank the water was 14ft. deep in the engine room, and that by 1 p.m., about an hour before she went down, it had risen to 19ft. GREENHILL was much affected while detailing his last interview with Captain MARTIN, in which the latter directed him to take to the boat, and, replying to the question as to the course the boat’s crew should steer, cried out “N.N.E., 80 miles to Brest.” Four minutes afterwards the ship, with its heroic commander and 219 other souls sank, and not a vestige of the London remained to be seen on the surface of the waves. On Monday, in examining witnesses, Captain HARRIS asked whether the shutters on the skylights of the engine room hatchway in ships of war were used to prevent the men from “going down” when the ship was cleared for action. In consequence of some misapprehension in the minds of naval officers as to his meaning, Captain HARRIS wishes it to be understood that he used the words “going down” in the sense of “falling down.” At the sitting of the Court yesterday,

Mr. John JONES was examined, and said he held a certificate of competency from the Board of Trade as first engineer. He was chief engineer of the London on her last voyage. He had not previously acted as engineer in that vessel. The ship left London on the 28th of December. On the passage from London to Plymouth the machinery acted without giving those in charge of it the slightest trouble. Mr. GREENHILL was the second engineer, and there was a third engineer on board. There were also a leading stoker, storekeeper, six firemen, and three coal-trimmers in the engine-room. The fires were lighted when the London left the East India Dock, though she was towed by a steam tug. The engines of the ship were going slowly – about 30 revolutions a minute, on the way down to Gravesend. When the weather became rough off Dungenness the engines were working well, the speed being about six knots. A log was kept in the engine-room, but it is lost. Nothing particular happened in his department between London and Plymouth, nor while the ship was at the latter port. They had five or six tons of coal on board when they arrived at Plymouth, on the morning of the 5th of January. There they replaced the coal which they had consumed on the passage down from London. The coal put in at Plymouth was stowed round the engine-room hatch and the steam chest. He should think that they had not 20 tons on the deck when they met with their misfortune. This was on the 11th of January, the ship having left Plymouth on the morning of the 6th, or just after midnight of the 5th. In the storm he saw some of the coals washing about the deck. This was towards the last. He saw none washed down below, but he observed lumps rolling about as the vessel shipped seas. It had broken loose from the sacks. He did not see any thrown overboard after it had broken loose. Before the vessel shipped the big or disastrous sea he was thrown against the lee scuppers and his shoulder was injured. On leaving the breakwater at Plymouth the ship proceeded at about 8 knots an hour. The weather was then very mild, and continued so during the whole of the day. It freshened at from 6 to 7 in the evening, but nothing to speak of. It continued to freshen on the 7th. It was not to say squally, but the wind and sea increased. He could not say positively, but he thought she kept her course by steam on the 7th. Up to that day she had not made any water that he was aware of. Early on the 8th the wind had increased to almost a gale; and about 8 a.m. the engineers received orders from the captain to stop the engines, lift the screw, and put the fires out. The weather continued the same till about 5 in the evening, when it moderated. Steam was then got up again. About midnight of the same day the wind began to increase, and continued increasing up to the time the ship went down. Indeed, he did not think there had been any lull at all during that interval. He thought one of the lifeboats was carried away on the morning of the 9th, but he did not see the occurrence. They were steaming all this time. He went on deck that day, and saw the foretopmast, the topgallantmast, and the royalmast hanging down. He did not go far enough forward to see the jibboom. He did not see the spars secured that day, but he believed they were secured the next day. At the time he went on deck the ship was steaming with her head to the wind. On the 10th he observed that the spars were secured. They were lashed round the stump of the foremast. While the ship’s head was to the sea on the 9th she was not shipping much water. The engine-room was quite free of water. The engines worked well up to 3 a.m. on the morning of the 10th. At that time the captain ordered Mr. GREENHILL, the second engineer, to go at full speed. Witness did not hear the order given, because he was not in the engine-room at the time. It was then Mr. GREENHILL’s watch. At half-past 4 a.m. witness went into the engine-room and commenced his watch, which continued till half-past 8. The engines were going at full speed during the whole of that watch. The second engineer relieved him at half-past 8, and he did not go on duty again till half-past four in the afternoon; the division of his time was four hours on and eight hours off. It was blowing a complete gale of wind when he went off watch at half-past 8. To his knowledge nothing material happened between half-past 8 and half-past 4. At the latter hour he found everything right in the engine-room, and the engines were going at full speed. No casualty occurred during his next watch – from half-past 4 till half-past 8 p.m., when he was again relieved by the second engineer, and went into his cabin, where he remained till the big sea came at half-past 10, and washed away the skylight of the engine-room. He came from his berth directly, and went down into the engine-room, where he found the second engineer standing by the engines. The engine-room was then flooding, and a body of water was coming down through the hatchway. He ran up on deck again and found that the whole of the skylight hatch was gone.

Captain HARRIS asked whether it was unshipped or broken to pieces.

Mr. JONES replied that he could not tell. He saw the aperture and found that the hatchway was gone. He returned to the engine-room at once. The water had come right down over the engine-room and flowed into the stoke-hole. When he went down the second time he found that the fires were entirely out.

Mr. TRAILL inquired whether they were out when he went down the first time after leaving his cabin.

Mr. JONES said he had not observed. Within about ten minutes after the big sea had come down the engines stopped. They did not stop immediately the fires were put out, because there was steam on at the time. When they found the fires out the engineers shut the door upon the after bulkhead – the door which led to the screw tunnel. They then went up on deck. At that time there was not a continuous downpour into the engine-room, but the water streamed down as the vessel shipped seas. She was labouring very heavily, and almost continually shipping seas. Tarpaulins and canvass were brought, which the men tried to nail down over the aperture. They had the flying jibboom there, which they tried to put over the aperture, but it was blowing a hurricane, and the canvas and the men who were trying to batten it down washed into the lee scuppers. He saw the forward pumps going, and the crew behaved well. He did not hear any complaints against the crew. Many of the passengers assisted at the pumps, and they were also baling out the water with buckets. The saloon as well as the steerage passengers worked to relieve the ship. He could not say what canvas the ship was then carrying. When rolled into the lee scupper in the morning his arm was severely hurt, but no bones were broken. Subsequently, when getting into the boat in which he was saved, he was struck on the head with an oar. From half-past 10 on the night of the 10th up to the morning of the 11th nothing particular occurred that he witnessed, but he was not much on the deck in the interval. He came on deck about daylight, and he then noticed that the ship had been making water, that she was continually being washed, that she was in the trough of the sea, and that she was in a most disabled condition. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the 11th he was between decks, near the engine-room; he ran up and across the deck, and jumped from the poop into the port cutter, which had been launched previously. The boat rose with the sea, and he had to make scarcely any descent from the gunwale in getting into her. She rowed off immediately. As witness was passing from between the main decks he met for the last time the captain, who was going towards the saloon. The captain asked him how he felt, and he replied, “Not well.” He thought the captain’s remark had reference to the state of his mind rather than that of his body. On second thoughts he could not say the exact time at which he met Captain MARTIN. It might have been an hour or two before he got into the boat. The passengers and crew were calm. Among the passengers he heard preaching and praying and some groaning, but no screams. All hope of the ship had been given up. He believed he was the last to get into the boat. The ship was about 80 or 90 yards from them, and they had left her about four minutes, when the ship went down. She went down stern foremost. Those in the boat saw her for a moment with her bows up; then the boat itself sank in the trough of the sea. When it rose again not a vestige of the ship was to be seen. There were a few biscuits and some vegetables in the boat, but no spirits, wine, or water that he was aware of. He and his companions remained about 20 hours in the boat. The boat did not make much water; what she did make they baled out with a tin pot. The sea was very rough; there were five oars, and generally they had sufficient way on the boat to escape the seas as they came down towards them. On the morning of the 13th a bark was sighted, when they hoisted an old shirt on the top of a pole by way of signal. When the crew of the bark saw the boat they waved their hats and signalled for the boat to approach them. The boat did so and a log line was thrown to the boat’s crew from the bark. Several longer lines were thrown after the log line, and all the boat’s passengers, amounting to 19 (16 of the crew and three passengers), were pulled up on the bark; all hands on board the latter assisting them, except the man at the wheel. The wind had lulled somewhat by this time, but it was still rough. It was his opinion that the boat was steered principally by the oarsmen and not from the rudder. He heard no one in particular give orders. There was shouting every moment – sometimes to go forward and sometimes to back oars; and it was his opinion that the boat was principally governed by the oars. In the broadest sense of the term, the captain of the bark, the Marianople, behaved with the greatest kindness and generosity.

By Captain HARRIS. – He had been at sea six years. He had served his time as an engineer, and had been chief engineer for 2½ years. He had received a first-class certificate for competency on examination. He had been in the West India mail service, and subsequently had been in a small boat on the English coast. The consumption of coal on board the London after she left Plymouth was from 8 cwt. to 10 cwt. an hour, or about 12 tons a day. Up to the time the ship went down they had been burning the coals they took in at Plymouth. They had not commenced to use the coal in the bunkers. Up to the morning of the 8th of January they had been going with the ship’s head to the wind. The ship was then put under canvas, because the engines were not able to make way against the wind. It is usual in auxiliary screw vessels to ship the screw under such circumstances. He believed she was still going head to wind on the 9th, when the masts were carried away. The engines were then driving her against the wind, but she could scarcely keep headway – not more than 2½ or 3 knots an hour. At this time the bilge pumps were at work, but the suctions were dry. There was no appearance of water in the engine-room, and no intimation had been given to the engineers that the ship was making water elsewhere. There was a donkey engine on board, but no additional pumps were being used. The bilge pumps are always working when the engine is working, but generally they are sucking dry.

By Captain BAKER. – On the night of the 10th when he left the engine-room he thought the engine was making about from 48 to 50 revolutions, which would be a speed of about three knots an hour. A little spray had been coming into the engine-room, but no water to speak of before the very heavy sea.

Captain BAKER asked whether any of the spars which were lying about could have by possibility come in contact with the skylight of the engine-room.

Mr. JONES replied that they could not when he saw them. He could not say how the ship was going when the very heavy sea struck her.
Captain BAKER asked how many feet of water were in the engine-room when the witness last left it.

Mr. JONES said he thought there were about 14ft. That, he thought, was about midnight of the 10th, but he could not exactly say. He did not notice then whether there were any sails on the ship. He could not say how the engine-room skylight was fastened as he had been so short a time on board the London.

Captain HARRIS asked the witness whether the water would not have flowed into the tunnel of the screw before they shut the door of the bulkhead.

Mr. JONES replied that they shut the door immediately – as soon as the engines were disabled.

Mr. John GREENHILL examined. – I was second engineer on board the London during her last voyage. I hold a certificate of competency from the Board of Trade, given, after examination, in 1863. I joined the London on her first voyage as third engineer, and became second engineer on her last. When we left London for the last voyage the engines were in very good condition indeed. After the second voyage they merely required cleaning. She had 50 tons of coal on deck when we were leaving the West India dock. We consumed somewhere about 47 tons between London and Plymouth. The quantity on deck when leaving Plymouth was 50 tons, as we got a fresh supply there. I produce a receipt for these coals. From London to Plymouth the engines went very well indeed. While we were at sea on the morning of Monday, the 8th, it was blowing, but not very hard. On the morning of that day, at 7 o’clock, Captain MARTIN gave me directions to stop the engines. He did not say why, but it is a common occurrence to stop the engines of auxiliary screw steamers when the wind is blowing. Towards the afternoon the wind moderated, and at 5 in the afternoon we got up steam again, and continued steaming till Wednesday evening. The wind kept increasing towards the 9th. Some time during the morning of the 9th some of the spars were carried away, but I don’t know at what hour. I saw them after they were carried away. The foretopmast and the topgallantmast, the royal mast and the maintopgallantmast were hanging by the rigging when I saw them. The jibboom I did not see; I believe it was gone. I heard of the occurrence when they were carried away, but I did not go on deck at the time to see them. When I did see them they were swinging, but not much. They were aloft. From what I heard I believe every exertion had been made to secure them, and I saw them when they were secured. They had got the jibboom on board again, and it was lashed to a spare topmast. The port lifeboat was washed away on the Tuesday, but I don’t know at what hour. The gale continued to increase during the whole of Tuesday. The chief engineer kept his watches regularly up to the Wednesday, when he became unwell and was not able to do so. At 3 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday we were going half speed, and the captain ordered that full speed should be got up; he gave me the order, and told me the reason of it was that he intended to turn the ship round and run for Plymouth. I cannot say how the wind was then. Up to that time the engines were in good working order, and the skylight all perfect. I never studied the compass, and I really cannot tell in what direction we were in as to the wind. Between 7 and 8 the same morning, I believe, we were still head to the wind. I suppose the ship bore up when the captain gave the order, but I am no sailor, and cannot of my own knowledge say. After we put on steam the engines went quicker, but not very much. There would be some difference in the revolutions as between going with the wind and going against it, but not very much. I understand the wind had changed after we put about. I have no doubt the order given by the captain was at once carried out. During the 10th it was blowing very hard, and a cross sea was running. At half-past 10 o’clock on the night of the 10th the engine-room skylight was washed away. I was in the engine-room at the time. A very large body of water came down, and within three minutes from that occurrence the fires were out. A succession of seas rushed in. The engines did not stop for seven or eight minutes after the fires were put out. I was well acquainted with the construction of the engine-room hatchway. It was composed of teak wood. The framework was not smashed by the sea; but a deal of the glass and some of the wood of the small parts of the skylight came down into the engine-room with the sea. As far as I know, the body of the skylight was carried away. The skylight was closed at the time, fastened inside and outside, and battened down with tarpaulin. The tarpaulin was battened with slips of wood and nails round the combing. It was battened to the combing.

Captain HARRIS. – How did the sea get through the skylight if it was so battened down?

Mr. GREENHILL. – That is the mystery. Two men were washed down through the hatchway, with the water and glass – one passenger and the other a sailor, I believe; and they told me that the skylight was gone. The skylight had been battened down all day on Wednesday.

By Mr. O’DOWD. – The door between the engine-room and the bulkhead, the door of the screw tunnel, was open before this. I shut it in about ten minutes after the water first came down. The bottom of the tunnel-door is 6ft. 11in. from the ship’s bottom, and the fires are 5ft. When the fires were put out the water was not within 18in. of the lower part of the tunnel door. I am positive that no water in any quantity had passed into the tunnel when I shut the door. The door was a sliding one, working in a groove, and fastening with a screw. After it was shut no water could have entered the tunnel, unless the bulkhead gave way.

Captain BAKER. – Which I have no doubt it did before the ship went down.

Mr. GREENHILL. – Very possibly.

By Mr. O’DOWD. – I came on deck about a quarter to 11 o’clock, after the fires were out. I daresay there were about five feet of water in the engine-room when I left it. When I came on deck the chief officer and several of the crew and passengers were endeavouring to secure the hatch by means of tarpaulins, sails, mattresses, blankets, and whatever else they could find, having placed ladders, pieces of wood, and spars across the aperture as supports. To some extent this was effective in preventing the water from going down. They kept on in a similar manner trying to stop it till 4 in the morning. By 4 in the morning there were 14 feet of water in the engine-room, the whole of which, I believe, had come in through the hatchway, in spite of all the efforts to keep it out. At that hour the stern ports were driven in, and then I noticed a considerable increase of water between the decks. These ports are above the deck; they are a sort of window.

By Mr. TRAILL. – I could not notice that she was settling down by the stern then.

By Captain BAKER. – Certainly, she was settling down. I could notice that.

By Mr. O’DOWD. – At daylight the water had still increased, and the ship was gradually going down. She was head to wind then. I heard Captain MARTIN give orders about the boats that morning. He was on the poop and he ordered them to be got ready. The two pinnaces and the port cutter were then cleared ready for lowering, and bread and water put into them. I know this was done with the starboard pinnace. I am not sure about the bread and water being put in the other pinnace. Those pinnace boats were iron. On the starboard pinnace being lowered she was at once swamped; there were four of the crew and one passenger in her; they all got on board again. She was lowered by a tackle at each end. I think the same thing might have happened to a timber boat. She was lowered by the crew. She was the only boat lowered then. At 2 o’clock Captain MARTIN ordered the port cutter to be launched. In the meantime no other boat had been launched. She was lowered safely. I and six or seven others were in her. She had common tackle falls and no patent lowering apparatus. We lowered ourselves from the boat herself. I, as second engineer, was supposed to have charge of that boat. The captain came to me about five minutes to 2, told me the boat was ready for lowering, and bid me go into her. I said I did not think it was any good. He answered that it was the only chance. He again remarked that there was no chance in the ship, but there was some in the boat, and I then proceeded towards the boat, and when I was stepping in he shook hands with me and bid me “Good by” and God-speed. I then went into the boat, and she was lowered in a few minutes. The first engineer and several others, to the number of 19 altogether, got in after. We then pushed off as soon as we could, seeing that the ship was going down. In four or five minutes after we left the ship I saw her go down stern foremost. We had a compass on the boat.

Mr. TRAILL. – Was anything said about the captain going or not going?

Mr. GREENHILL. – Not that I heard.

Mr. TRAILL. – Did he give you a course?

Mr. GREENHILL. – Before the boat was lowered one of the sailors called out to the captain, “What is the course?” The captain replied, “E.N.E., 80 miles to Brest.”

Captain HARRIS. – I believe you had very little hope of saving your life?

Mr. GREENHILL. – None whatever.

By Mr. TRAILL. – We shipped a good deal of water in the boat, but baled it out with tin cans and a bucket. We had two or three cans on board. We were obliged to throw our fresh water out as the salt water got into it. After 20 hours we were taken into the Italian bark.

By Captain BAKER. – Both the lifeboats had been carried away from the London.

By Captain HARRIS. – There was no one near me when the captain told me to take to the boat. Some of the crew might have heard him. When I lowered my boat there were the port pinnace and the jolly-boat on deck. They went down with the ship. One of the cutters had been stove in. After we shoved off I noticed a rush to the remaining pinnace, which was on the davits. But previously, after the starboard pinnace had swamped, there was an indifference as to making any further attempt in the boats. About noon on that day the foresail was set and the ship was got before the wind; but I suppose, finding that she shipped more water, she was again brought to the wind. Every time the ship went to leeward she was taking the water in by tons over the gunwale as she lurched in the trough of the sea. The sliding door of the screw tunnel was fastened by a screw from between the decks.

Captain HARRIS. – Could it be possible that the door was not properly closed?

Mr. GREENHILL. – It is possible, but very improbable that it was not properly closed after I shut it. I am sure I closed it down. The substance of the bulkhead on which the door was fixed was of 5/8ths of an inch.

In reply to other questions from Captain HARRIS, the witness said: - The after bulkhead of the engine-room came up to the lower deck. The ship made very little water indeed before she shipped the heavy seas. The sluice-valves were opened from the engine-room to the main hold, and had been open from the time we left Plymouth, so that had there been any water in the main hold we must have seen it running into the engine-room through those valves. I did not hear anything said by Captain MARTIN or any other of the officers as to the height of the barometer. Captain MARTIN came down the hatchway to the lower deck and spoke to me repeatedly during the night after the fires were out. He spoke to me of his hopes of saving the ship by sailing her. They were carrying the water up in buckets from the lower saloon through the upper saloon and up to the upper deck. We had a boiler on deck for the donkey engine, and I believe that engine was working its pumps when the ship went down. The pumps it was working drew from the main hold. The sluices between it and the engine-room were kept open just sufficiently to allow enough of water into the main hold to be pumped out. The coals stowed on deck were thrown overboard, and the forward bunkers had been opened a few hours. There were no coals on deck at the time the skylight was washed away. For many hours before I left the ship I was satisfied she was settling down by the stern. Her bows were visibly up. The screw had not been hoisted, but was in its place when I left the ship. About 8 o’clock on the evening of the 10th I went along the tunnel and found the stuffing box quite tight.

Mr. TRAILL. – The water in the engine-room alone would not have settled the ship down on her stern hatchway.

By Captain HARRIS. – I never heard that the topgallant had come down by the run and broken the skylight. Since I came home I have heard it reported that some spars had come down. There were several mattresses and pieces of canvas hanging down from the spars into the engine-room, but none of those things had come into the engine-room and stopped the engines, and it is not true that the engine-room was blocked up by spars.

By Captain BAKER. – I sounded the engine-room at 1 o’clock on the day I left the ship, and found the depth of water there 19 feet. Captain MARTIN was present at the time. When we hove to after the attempt to run before the wind, I think the mizen staysail was set, but I am not certain. I had no difficulty in lowering the boat in which I got away. I believe one end of the pinnace, the boat which swamped, was down before the other.


The inquiry was then adjourned till to-day.