The Times, Monday, Feb 05, 1866; pg. 11; Issue 25413; col B

                         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 at the Greenwich Police Court on Saturday, before Mr. TRAILL, Police Magistrate, and Captain H. HARRIS and Captain BAKER, nautical assessors. 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, appeared on his own behalf and that of Mrs. TENNENT, of Edinburgh, who lost her husband. The evidence given on Saturday is more remarkable than any which preceded it. Two witnesses were examined. One of them starts a theory, perfectly novel as far as the knowledge of the public is concerned, to account for the loss of the ship. If what the other states be correct, Captain MARTIN never did what up to this we all had been told he did, and nine-tenths of the nautical criticism which has been indulged in on his seamanship are founded on the presumption of what never took place. The first accounts of the foundering of the London represented that the engine-room hatchway had been swept off and carried away by the direct action of the sea; and all the witnesses examined up to Friday evening appeared to accept that as a correct version of the disaster which led to the subsequent loss of the vessel. But the carpenter’s mate, who was examined on Saturday, entertains quite another opinion. From his evidence it appears that the flying jibboom, having been carried overboard, was subsequently recovered and lashed to the deck, close to the combings of the hatchway, and underneath the ledge of the skylight. His idea evidently is that the jibboom was thrown by the sea up against the ledge, which it prized off; the inference from which is that if the jibboom had not been placed in that unusual position the hatchway would have been safe enough. To enable the general reader to understand correctly the effect of this witness’s evidence it may be as well to describe briefly the construction of the hatchway and skylight. The portion of the permanent hatchway structure which is carried from below up to the upper deck is called the “combings.” These combings, which rise to a height of 16 inches, are made of very strong timber. On the top of the combings the skylight is placed, and rises to some feet in the shape of a roof or canopy. On the hatchway of the London, the ledge of this roof projected an inch and a half beyond the combings. According to the evidence of the carpenter’s mate, the flying jibboom was lashed to ringbolts by the side of the combings and underneath the ledge of the skylight. The flying jibboom was a heavy spar from 9in. to 12in. in diameter, and when lashed to the deck one end of it extended to some distance aft of the hatchway. Now, if it forced off the skylight, it must have done so in either of two ways. A heavy sea might have struck and raised only that portion of it which lay along by the combings, in which case a fulcrum would have been established on the deck at that end of the jibboom which lay aft of the hatchway, and a powerful lever would have been brought to bear under the ledge of the skylight; or a heavy sea might have lifted the whole of the jibboom, which, by one or a succession of blows, sent the skylight flying about the deck. The carpenter’s mate swears positively that the skylight had been battened down with a sail doubled, and a tarpaulin, and that when found after it had been carried off the sail and tarpaulin had been torn off the skylight, the batten nails not having been drawn out. It is worthy of observation, however, that this witness did not see the skylight carried away, nor did any of the other witnesses who have been examined. It is in evidence that two men were carried down the hatchway the moment the skylight disappeared. If either of them is living, or any other person who was near the hatchway at the time of the occurrence, it would be very desirable to have him produced. Then, as to the second feature in Saturday’s evidence. It had been stated, and generally taken for granted, that, after having gone with the ship’s head against the wind, Captain MARTIN changed her course, and ran her before the wind; and several nautical men have expressed their opinion that such a proceeding was an error of judgment on the part of the gallant commander. But one of the quartermasters of the London states distinctly that the captain never did anything of the kind. In reply to close questions on the point by Captain BAKER, he asserts over and over again that from the time the ship left Plymouth she never was before the wind except for a few minutes when they were wearing her round, adding what seems to prove conclusively that such a course would not have been a judicious one – “During those few minutes she rolled more and laboured heavily, the seas coming right over the poop.” More evidence on this point also will be looked for with anxiety, because, though showing no indisposition to speak the truth and tell all he knew, the quartermaster was by no means a satisfactory witness. He was unable to tell the day on which some very important movements affecting the ship’s fate took place, though he himself had taken a principal share in them; and he described the wind at a particular point when the ship was on a particular tack, which, according to the nautical assessors, would have been impossible consistently with that tack. It is believed that Captains HARRIS and BAKER are very desirous to have both these important matters fully cleared up, and therefore the proceedings at the inquiry today will be looked to with even more than the interest which has been displayed both inside the court and by the public generally since the investigation commenced. At the sitting of the Court on Saturday,

Mr. O’DOWD said that before the Court proceeded further with the examination of witnesses he thought it necessary to state he had received a great number of communications since the commencement of the inquiry from, he had no doubt, benevolent and intelligent writers, submitting a variety of means for promoting the safety of passengers on foreign voyages. Some of the suggestions contained in those letters might be very valuable, but it appeared to him that they were not pertinent to the present inquiry. No doubt, before a Select Committee of the House of Commons those suggestions would have that consideration to which they would be entitled; but that Court had met for a different object. As it was wholly out of his power to make replies to the very numerous letters he had received on the subject, he trusted the writers would receive that statement as an acknowledgment of his having received their letters and be satisfied that no disrespect or discourtesy was meant towards those who had been so kind as to address him.

Mr. TRAILL. – The inquiry here is as to whether the construction of the ship or her management led to this unfortunate occurrence. If improvements are suggested during the course of the inquiry it is not for us to come to any decision upon such suggestions. The proper course is to submit them to the Board of Trade. If they think fit to direct an inquiry into the merits of proposed improvements they may do so; but it is no part of our duty to consider them.

Mr. O’DOWD. – Clearly not.

Mr. William HART, carpenter’s mate on board the London, was then examined. He said his first voyage in the London was that which he made in her when she last left London. He did not sign the articles of agreement. He was to have done so at Gravesend, but as he was going to leave the ship at Melbourne he supposed that was the reason he did not sign them. It was understood that he was to sign them before he left the ship. He had nominal wages of 1s. a month, but got a free passage. There was a carpenter on board, but he was lost in the ship. The witness had been nine years a carpenter, and had been to the West Indies as a ship’s carpenter. So far as his own employment, he was well acquainted with the construction of the London. He was of opinion that she was a very strong and a very safe ship. Nothing particular happened to her on her voyage to Plymouth. There she took in 50 tons of coal, most of which were stowed on deck round the funnel. She left Plymouth just after midnight of the 5th of January. Nothing happened on the 6th to call for his services. On Tuesday, the 9th, at about 9 in the morning, the foretopmast and the jibboom were carried away. All through Monday afternoon there had been a very strong breeze, and it came on to blow hard during the night. On the Tuesday morning the ship was under steam with her head to the wind. When he came on deck he found the jibboom lying on the starboard bow, right over in the water, and the topmast was swinging in the rigging. The foreroyalmast was hanging down and swinging with the motion of the ship. At 10 o’clock the mainroyalmast was carried away, having broken off above the rigging. The maingallantmast was not carried away. They tried to get the jibboom in, but at that time they could not get hold of it. When he saw it hanging over, it was not likely to do any damage to the ship from knocking against her. He was acquainted with the engine-room hatchway skylight. It went into a rabbet and was fitted with brass fastenings on the inside. The frame of the skylight was of teak, and about three inches thick. The panes of glass in the skylight were plate glass, about 12in. by 9in., and about half an inch thick. It appeared to him, as ship’s carpenter, that the hatchway was sufficiently secured. The skylight grating was composed of  ¾-inch galvanized iron, the bars being round and two inches apart. The rabbet was about 1½in. thick. He remembered the night of the 10th, when the skylight was carried away. The first he heard of it was when he was called from his berth to secure it. The third officer came and told him that it had been nearly washed off. He attempted to go aft, but was washed against a steam winch by the heavy seas which were coming over the port side. He got up, and reached the hatchway in about two minutes after he had been called. On reaching it he found that the skylight had been knocked right off. It was lying flat on the deck, at the starboard side. The glass was all whole, or, if broken, much of it was not so. He and others tried to put the skylight on again. About 20 made the attempt; but the heavy seas sent it and them to leeward, and it was smashed to pieces. After that they tried to nail sails over the combings of the hatchway, but as fast as they did so the sails were washed off. Before the hatchway was carried away the skylight had been battened down with a tarpaulin and a large sail doubled. The carpenter had battened it down on the morning of Tuesday, the 9th. After the sails which they attempted to nail on the hatchway on the Wednesday night had been blown away they put spars fore and aft the hatchway, and some boards and sails, but the boards and sails were carried away. The spars remained, and they then filled up the hatchway from the engine-room to the upper deck with mattresses, which rested on the engine.

Mr. TRAILL. – Now, without forming an opinion from anything you may have heard from any other person on deck, would you say there was anything to account for this?

Witness. – Well, on Wednesday afternoon the flying jibboom was carried aft by the men and laid alongside the combings of the hatchway. I saw the boatswain take a piece of 2½-inch rope and lash the flying jibboom down to ringbolts by the side of the hatchway.

Captain HARRIS. – Now, what was the diameter of the flying jibboom?

Witness. – From nine inches to a foot.

Captain HARRIS. – Was the flying jibboom raised on chocks, or laid flat on the deck?

Witness. – It was laid flat on the deck.

Mr. O’DOWD. – Describe in what way the flying jibboom lay in respect of the hatchway.

Witness. – Right fore and aft besides the combings on the port side. It went to the combings of the after hatchway.

Captain HARRIS. – Was it close underneath the projecting edge of the skylight?

Witness. – It was under the combing, and one end went close up to the bulkhead of the saloon.

Mr. TRAILL. – Was the middle of the flying jibboom at about the middle of the skylight of the engine-room hatchway?

Witness. – No; the middle of the flying jibboom was at the after part of the skylight.

Mr. TRAILL. – Where were the ringbolts to which the flying jibboom was lashed?

Witness. – They were on the deck, close to the hatchway.

By Mr. O’DOWD. – When the skylight was washed away, he noticed the jibboom flying about the deck.

By Mr. TRAILL. – When he and the carpenter nailed down the hatchway on the Tuesday they used three-inch batten nails and wooden battens. The battens ran the whole length of the combings, and the nails were about an inch apart. The battens were of American elm. The tarpaulin, when battened down, would protect the edge of the frame of the skylight, the tarpaulin being battened to the bottom of the combings. The tarpaulin and sail were knocked off on the weather side, and lay to the leeward. The nails were not drawn, but the sail and tarpaulin had been torn away close to the battens.

Captain HARRIS. – From your answers I would infer that you think the skylight was carried away by the flying jibboom?

Witness. – Partly I think by the flying jibboom and partly by the sea.

Captain BAKER. – You think that one started it and the other carried it away?

Mr. TRAILL. – I suppose you don’t mean to give so close an opinion as that, to say that one started it and the other carried it away; but you mean that between them it was started and carried away?

Witness. – Yes.

Mr. TRAILL. – Were the fastenings of the skylight carried away?

Witness. – I don’t know.

By Mr. O’DOWD. – After the skylight was blown away he and others were employed throughout the night in nailing down the sails and tarpaulins over the hatchway, but the seas kept constantly carrying them away. About 3 o’clock on the morning of the 11th of January he was called from the hatchway by the purser to secure the stern ports on the port side. He went to the stern ports and saw them working in and out as the sea struck them. The sliding shutters were down. They had been put down on Tuesday morning, and kept down. There were bull’s-eye dead lights in the centre of the shutters, which were as strong as the shutters themselves. Two of the shutters on the port side were working in and out, and had knocked the sashes right in. The grooves of the upper part of the shutters had given way and broken the glass of the sashes inside. Such shutters slide up and down. The inner part of the port frame was of wood about three-quarters of an inch thick. The outer part was of iron. Inside the ¾in. wooden head there was a great thickness – he supposed the frame of the ship. The shutters were not broken, but the glass and frames of the sashes were, and he endeavoured to secure the ports by shoring them with a spar placed against a post on the main-deck, so as to make the shutters bear right out against the iron frame. At that time not much water had entered through the ports. The fixing by means of the post stood for a little time, but as the ship got deeper in the water the sea drove the ports entirely in, the water entering in large quantities. The seas ran down through the upper and into the lower saloon. About 7 o’clock he saw the two ports on the starboard side partly driven in, and the sea washed in through them also. At about 8 o’clock the carpenter gave him orders to see the plugs all in the boats, and he put plugs into all the boats then on board. These were the port cutter, the two pinnaces, and the jolly boat. The two lifeboats and the starboard cutter had been washed away previously. The lifeboats had been carried on the davits abaft the binnacle. They had been washed away on the Tuesday morning. When the plugs were in one of the iron pinnaces was lowered. There were sailors in her when she was lowered, but he did not know how many. Her head came down first, and she filled before the stern reached the water. Subsequently he got the port cutter ready, and put some buckets and other things into her. This was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He was in the cutter, and helped to lower her. After the iron pinnace was lost, which was between 9 and 10 o’clock, the captain gave orders that the foresail should be loosened and the main yards braced, so that the port side of the ship should be brought to the lee side, and the ship was brought to on the starboard tack. As she was wearing round the fore tack was carried away, and nothing more could be done. The ship then merely rolled about in the sea. The mizen staysail had been blown away that morning while she was on the port tack. There was nothing in sight that day. Every one was anxiously looking out, but nothing being seen it was thought useless to hoist a signal. The crew in the port cutter had considerable difficulty in getting the boat away from the ship, for the ship sucked her in. They waited for “a smooth” and then lowered her. As soon as she pitched in the water they unhooked the tackle, hauled their oars foreward, and shoved her bow round before the wind. Others jumped in as they pushed the boat round. They then pushed off, fearing that the boat would get too full, and in from three to five minutes they saw the ship go down stern foremost. After 20 hours at sea they were picked up at sea by an Italian bark and brought to Falmouth.

William DANIELL was the next witness. He said he was quartermaster on board the London during her second voyage and her last one. The London left Plymouth on the morning of the 6th ult. about 20 minutes after 12 a.m. The weather was then fine. That was Saturday morning. On Sunday evening it came on to blow very heavily from the S.W. and continued increasing in violence up till about noon on Tuesday. About 7 o’clock that morning the port lifeboat was washed away. The sea having struck the ship, she lurched over to leeward and unhooked the lifeboat. He was at the wheel at the time. The vessel was then on the starboard tack and heading about W., and the wind was S.S.W.

Captain BAKER. – Then, the ship was on the port tack?

The witness, - No, Sir; she was on the starboard tack.

Both the Nautical Assessors said this could not be. If the vessel was heading as described by the witness and the wind on the points he stated, the vessel must have been on the port tack. The wind must have been about N.N.W. if she was on the starboard tack.

The witness persevered in stating that the ship was on the starboard tack, but when told two or three times over by the Nautical Assessors that she could not have been so, if the wind was S.S.W., he ultimately said that perhaps it was N.N.W.

In reply to further questions from the Nautical Assessors, the witness said he was at the wheel when the ship was tacked and brought on the port tack. That was about 3 in the afternoon, but he could not say on what day. She was brought round head to wind, with all the fore and aft canvas down. When she was brought on the port tack the fore and aft canvas was set again. They were then going slowly ahead, her head being N.N.E. and the wind N.W. He heard no directions given any time by the captain or any other officer of the ship to make to Plymouth, but he concluded they were making for Plymouth when the ship was put round. At 4 o’clock he was relieved, and went below. This was either on Wednesday or Tuesday, but he did not know upon which of those days. It was before the water broke into the engine-room. The ship was on the same tack – the port tack – when the hatchway was carried away on the Wednesday night. He could not recollect how many hours before the hatchway was carried away she was brought round to the port tack. She was changed round again to the starboard tack about 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning of the day she sank. This was to bring the boats round from windward. The mizenstaysail was set when the ship went down. Half the maintopsail was also set; the other half was blown away at the starboard side just after the engine-room hatchway had been carried away. The vessel then fell into the trough of the sea, and the mizenstaysail was set to keep her up. She was on the starboard tack when she went down, her head about W., and the wind N.W.

By Mr. O’DOWD. – Having gone down below about an hour after the vessel had been turned on the port tack, before the hatchway was carried away, he returned to the deck at 8 o’clock, when he went to the wheel again and remained at it till 10. Nothing happened during those two hours. He was called up a little after 10 on the Wednesday night. All hands, the crew, and passengers, except the women, were called up at the same time. He was told to come and lend a hand to secure the hatchway. All went up, and when he got on deck some of the men had one sail, and were just covering it over the hatchway. They got more sails and nailed them down over the hatchway one after another. At that time he saw the skylight down on the leeside. He could not say whether it was broken or not. He continued on the deck or between decks, but did not go into the engine-room. He did not know what became of the skylight eventually. He next went to the wheel at 2 o’clock on the morning of the 11th. The ship was then heading N.N.E., and the wind was about N.W. or N.W. by W. He found that the ship was settling down by the stern before the stern-ports were forced in. He noticed that at 2 a.m. He did not notice that the breaking-in of the stern-ports made much difference in the progress of her settling down. He was at the wheel from 2 to 4, and went to it again at 6, and remained till he left in the boat at 2. The vessel was still close to the wind. He remained at the wheel because no other quartermaster came to relieve him. All hands were at work baling out water from the under saloon.

By Captain BAKER. – The ship was never before the wind from the time she left Plymouth except for the few minutes during which they were wearing her round. During those few minutes she rolled more, and laboured heavily, the seas coming right over the poop. In getting away from the ship they broke one of the oars. He was quite sure the ship was never before the wind except for the few minutes he had mentioned, though she had square sails set for some time.

By Captain HARRIS. – When they got into the boat he pulled an oar sometimes and sometimes steered. He had a bow oar when they were leaving the ship. He took no particular charge of the boat, but he gave his opinion and advice.

Captain HARRIS. – I believe, though, you took a little of a lead?

The witness. – Well, I did. Others also gave their opinion. When she was being put round the ship gave a very heavy lounge, but nothing was carried away. The topmast had gone before. He saw the jibboom after it had been taken in. It had gone over under the bows and right into the water, where it floated along by the ship on the starboard side, held on by the wire-guys. It was got in on the Wednesday afternoon.

By Captain BAKER. – He did not know whether the water had increased in the lower saloon during the morning while the passengers and crew were baling it out. After the flying jibboom was got in he saw the lashings at the aft end cut, and that end secured over the hatchway. He saw some one lifting the other end, but whether the lashings were cut at the fore end he did not know. That was after the skylight was carried away.


The inquiry was then adjourned till to-day.