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The Times, Wednesday, Feb 07, 1866; pg. 12; Issue 25415; col G

                         THE LOSS OF THE LONDON.


                                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 yesterday, before Mr. TRAILL, police magistrate, and Captain HARRIS and Captain BAKER, nautical assessors.

Mr. O’DOWD appeared for the Board of Trade; and Mr. W. M. HITCHCOCK on behalf of Mr. CUTTING, whose daughter was lost in the ship; Mr. Clifford WIGRAM, one of the owners of the London, was also present.

The first witness called yesterday was Richard LEWIN, an able seaman on board the London, but after answering a few questions he became so confused that his further examination was postponed.

Benjamin SHEALS was then called and examined. He said he was an able seaman on board the London on her last voyage. He had been a sailor 18 years. On the ship leaving Plymouth the weather was fine and calm. On Sunday morning they had a light wind; they were on the starboard tack, and had been so ever since leaving Plymouth. He had taken his turns on the watch, and was on deck from 12 to 4 on Monday morning, when he went below. At 8 o’clock the same morning he came on deck again. It was then blowing hard, but in what direction he could not say. He remained on deck till 12. The wind was increasing. He went below at 12, and came on deck again at 4. The ship was still on the starboard tack, and was then labouring very hard. At 8 o’clock on Tuesday the ship was pitching. The flying jib had been washed away, and he and others went out and restored it. He then went below, and at 12 came on deck again, when the jibboom was pitched away and the head of the foretopmast and the mainroyalmast were gone. During the time he was on deck on Tuesday the lifeboat was washed away. The ship was at that time labouring hard, and the coals on deck were drifting about. No water had then been made. He was on watch from 6 to 8 on the evening of Tuesday, and then a green sea came over the bow of the ship, and the water ran down the main hatch. The wind was at this time a very hard gale, and a cross sea. He went below at 10, came up at 12, and remained till 4 on Wednesday morning. The captain was then on the quarterdeck. During his middle watch the ship was steamed round on the port tack. He was employed at the time in baling water out of one of the saloons. The ship appeared to him to lie easier on the port tack than on the starboard tack; she did not ship so much water over to leeward. He was on deck again at 8, when the wind was blowing almost a hurricane. The watch were then called to get the jibboom in. They got it up and fastened it to the forerigging on the port side; but at 12, when he went below, the flying jibboom was hanging overboard on the port side. The boom had been broken. He came on deck again at 4 p.m., when a heavy sea came and swept everything before it. This happened just as witness was lashing one of the broken parts of the jibboom to the side of the vessel. The water knocked him against a cask, which injured his leg, and he was obliged to be taken below. The two midship ports were knocked away altogether. About half-past 11 that night he crept on deck on his hands and knees, when another dangerous sea swept over the ship, and he was then taken down into the forecastle, where he remained till 8 o’clock in the morning of Thursday. Reports then came that the ship was sinking fast, when he again crawled out and got on deck. He could at once see that she was going and settling hard. He helped to lash some of the gear that was floating about the deck to the forecastle. The ship was taking the water clean across over all; she was clearing herself as well as she could through her ports. At that time they had no command of the ship; her helm was half down. She was laid to the best advantage. Orders were given by Captain MARTIN to get out the boats that were remaining, the starboard lifeboat and the port lifeboat and the cutter having all gone. About 9 or half-past 9 o’clock in the morning they got the starboard iron boat out, when Mr. HARRIS told the men to get into her. Witness was the last man out of six who did so. While the boat was being lowered the bow fall went too quickly, and the boat went down under the ship. Ropes were hanging from the ship, and the men got on board again. They then took the port boat and prepared it. It was impossible to get the iron boat out; the ship continuing to heave so much the boat could not be got clear of her side. Witness then went into the aft saloon, where there were several ladies, and assisted Mr. G. V. BROOKE in baling out the water. He and three or four others went to the port cutter and got bread and two bottles of brandy in her, when Captain MARTIN said, “Hold a bit, men, don’t leave yet.” About that time the ship took a heavy sea forward. They immediately flew to the wheel and heaved her up, cut the braces, and then let her go. This was done in pursuance of orders given by Mr. HARRIS. The ship immediately rode round to the other tack, the foresail being then standing. She flew right round before the wind; he never thought a ship could do anything like it. The ship had never been before the wind till that time since she left Plymouth. As soon as the ship had gone about on her starboard tack Captain MARTIN said, “Go into the boat, some of you.” They did so, witness being one of them. Eleven lowered themselves down. One man asked Captain MARTIN if he would come into the boat. The captain, who was standing close by the mizen rigging, said, “No, my men, I will not come into the boat; I will go with the ship, and passengers, and crew.” KING then asked the captain the course and distance to the nearest point of land. The captain told him E.N.E. for Brest. Witness then heard the captain shout, “Good bye! God speed you!” Eight more jumped into the boat, making 19 altogether. The boat was then pushed off, and the ship was sinking fast. The witness then corroborated the evidence which had been already given as to the skylight of the engine-room being completely smashed.

James Edward WILSON, a passenger on board the ship London, was then examined. He said he was at present residing at No. 4, George-street, Tower-hill, and that he was connected with the gold diggings in Australia. The witness referred to a diary which he had prepared from the day the ship left Plymouth until the catastrophe occurred. He described the wind as increasing from the Sunday, but nothing particular occurred until about 6 o’clock on Monday evening, when the ship gave a considerable lurch, which upset everything. The water then for the first time came in through the skylights, and soon after a heavy sea came down the hatchway. About 10 a.m. of Tuesday the ship pitched considerably; the jibboom was swept away, and the foremast was broken down. The witness described other damage done to the ship; although the day was fine and clear, the sea was strong. The lids of the hatch were closed, but not being tight-fitting they did not prevent the water from coming in. The ladies in the second class showed much terror, the ship continuing to roll very much. During the lull of the sea the hatch was opened to give fresh air to the passengers. He said that the coals which had been put on deck had tumbled out of the sacks and were tumbling about the ship. On Wednesday he noticed a different motion of the ship, when he heard that she was being put about with the intention of going back to England. She was not running ahead on the sea; the motion was that of a ship being close hauled. The weather became worse. On Wednesday the water poured down the hatch incessantly. Everybody was terrified. About 10 o’clock the water on the starboard side of the state room was up to the knees. At 11 o’clock on Wednesday night some sailors came near his state room, and he heard one of them say, “Let us make haste and get a sail, or she will sink.” Immediately after an order was given that all men were wanted aft on the poop. That he understood to apply to the passengers, and he went to the poop. The wind was then at its height. He went below into the cuddy. There was a minister praying at the time. All the first-class passengers were in the saloon. As soon as the prayers were over some of the passengers went to assist, and he then learnt that the fires were out in the engine-room. He assisted in getting up the sails. While he was holding a light to the men he saw Captain MARTIN and Mr. GREENHILL in conversation. The doctor and Mr. HARRIS were also present. On Thursday he was assisting in lading out water, when Captain MARTIN came and said, “Men, put down those buckets, and come and try and secure the engine-room hatch, for that is the only chance to save the ship. Secure that, and we may keep her up.” We all left the buckets, and were going to the saloon, when orders were again given for the sails. Witness went up with a sail, and assisted in nailing it down over the hatch, where a large heap of other sails had been already nailed down. Soon after Mr. GRANT, one of the officers, asked witness to go to the pumps, and he worked at them till the morning. At about 9 or 10 o’clock they were all relieved by the donkey-engine. He met Captain MARTIN, and asked him whether ir was any use to continue baling out water, when he said “You may, but I think it is of no use.” Witness then went to his cabin, and on coming back again he saw that a change had taken place, and that a great mass of water had come down. Nothing was done after that time. He then made up his mind that the ship would not last long, and immediately went to the poop and did not go down again. He saw the sailors preparing the boat, and he stood by waiting his chance of escaping in it, and when it was lowered he got into it, and soon after the ship went down.

The inquiry was then adjourned till this day.