THE LOSS OF THE LONDON.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - I hope you will find me space in your valuable columns for a few words on this sad calamity, which has caused the desolation of so many homes and has wrung the heart of the nation. At length it appears to me that the dawn is breaking on the true proximate cause of the foundering of this noble ship. At the closing of the annual Session of the Institute of Naval Architects, on Saturday last, Sir John PAKINGTON, in speaking on this distressing subject, quoted from the letter of a captain of a ship like the London, stating that he once loaded his ship with iron, closely stacked, and the consequence was that she laboured so much that he believes that if he had met with any very rough weather she would have been jeopardized. In corroboration of this opinion, I beg to state that in the month of February, 1826, I saled as third officer of the Hon. Company’s ship Dunina, bound for Bengal and China; we had on board a heavy quantity of iron, in the shape of bars, and military stores, such as shot and shell, &c., and in consequence of their being stowed too low in the hold, and too compactly, we found the ship as stiff as a poker under canvas, and very laboursome in a sea-way. Now, the old Company’s ships were as near as possible all built on the same model, and were, perhaps, the finest sea boats that ever crossed the ocean. Notwithstanding this, when we got into a gale on the skirts of the Bay of Biscay we rolled our main and mizen masts over the side, leaving nothing standing but the foremast, foreyard, and bowsprit. After the loss of our masts the ship rolled deeper and heavier, shipping large quantities of water; and why? Because the reduction of weight aloft made her still more stiff. It was the general opinion that the old ship must founder before morning. Under God’s good providence we weathered the gale, and, with the aid of jury-masts, we waddled into Cork harbour, where we refitted the ship and re-stowed the cargo, by raising the dead weight. On proceeding to sea again with the same cargo, but more judiciously stowed, we found the ship as lively and comfortable as possible, and we had a pleasant voyage to Calcutta, though we met with several heavy gales.
Your correspondent, Mr. H. Gilbert HIGHTON, has with praiseworthy efforts collected and made public a considerable amount of evidence, - some good, some bad, and some contradictory. In his letter of the 24th he very properly explains the nautical word “crank,” a disposition to upset. I think it right, also, to remind unprofessionals that “stiff” means the converse. Mr. HIGHTON dwells strongly on the dangers of “crankness;” he is in error upon that point. Every competent seaman knows that the crank ship is the easy ship in a gale, the stiff ship the laboursome one. I contend, on the evidence of the stevedore, given on the inquiry before Mr. TRAILL, that the London was too stiff. It is stated that she had 200 tons of kentledge on board, which I apprehend was stowed flat on her inner skin, or lining; then comes the weight of her engines, &c.; then comes 300 tons of iron, which the stevedore states he raised nine or ten inches. In my humble opinion it ought to have been raised from three to four feet, and even then the iron should have been laid very open on grating, &c. Everybody agrees upon one point, and that is, the poor London made very bad weather of it; and why? Not, in my opinion, from being too deeply laden, but from being too stiff, which was the cause of her rolling so deeply, and having, as Mr. HIGHTON’s informant describes it, “scooped up the water” in her rolls. Had she been crank, she would have lain as long as the strength of the wind lasted steadily on her side. I do not attribute the loss of the London to her deep lading. Look at the West Indian sugar-laden ships, their decks within a few feet of the water’s edge; they are usually crank, and waddle home across the stormiest sea in the world, and seldom come to grief. Then, again, the old Company’s tea-laden ships from China. They were always very crank ships. Now, it is an historical fact that the Hon. Company did not lose, out of their large annual fleets, from 1806 to 1834 (when their charter expired), a single tea-laden ship.
The London was a very long ship, and would without her steam power lay-to badly in a gale of wind. When she fell off in the trough of the sea she would, from the placement of the dead weight in her bottom, roll deeply, and when lurching to windward present her deck to the sea and ship large bodies of water.
I will not go into the subject of royal masts on end in the winter season; doubtless, they were the cause of the loss of the jibboom.
I beg to apologize for the length of this letter. I am, however, encouraged by the knowledge that your columns are always open to any suggestion which may prove for the benefit or safety of the community.
I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
Cotterstock, Oundle, March 27.