HC Deb 12 December 1857 vol 148 cc682-4

, in moving for a Copy of the Reports of the East India Company's Surveyors upon the Screw Steamship Austria upon which she was engaged for the conveyance of Troops to India, together with Copy of the Ship's Register, complained of the misrepresentations which had been made respecting that vessel. He said she was a new vessel of 2,385 tons, and built and fitted out at Greenock. Her engines were made by Messrs. Caird and Co of that plane, men of high repute in their profession. The vessel had a British register, and her owner was a naturalized British subject. Before being taken up as a transport to India she was surveyed by the East India Company's engineer, as were her engines by the assistant to the chief engineer at Woolwich Dockyard, and the reports which those gentlemen made of her were entirely satisfactory. The troops embarked at Cork, and thence the vessel sailed on the 5th of October. When in the Bay of Biscay she encountered one of those storms so common there. She was struck by a sea which swept her decks, broke down and carried away her bulwarks fore and aft, and compelled her to put back to Plymouth for repairs. On examination there her engines were found to be unharmed, and after the ship had undergone the necessary repairs she again proceeded on her voyage. She experienced another storm, however, and unfortunately in the midst of it a part of her engines gave way. The result was that the piston of the engine went through the bottom of the cylinder, and the vessel thus becoming perfectly helpless was towed back to Plymouth a second time. It had been stated that the authorities at the India House ordered that a spar-deck should be added to the vessel for the increased accommodation of the troops. The very reverse of that was the case. That proposition emanated from the owners of the ship; but the Company's surveyors refused their permission, and happily so, for the sea that first struck the vessel in the Bay of Biscay would probably have swept into the sea the whole 200 or 300 soldiers who would have occupied that temporary spar-deck. He thought when the House was in possession of the returns for which he was about to move, it would see that not a shadow of blame was attributable to the India House in the matter. This was scarcely the occasion, or he should certainly have offered some severe comment upon the loose manner in which subjects were often investigated before they were publicly discussed. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the papers.


said, having had an opportunity of going on board the vessel in question on her first return to Plymouth, after she had been nearly wrecked in the Bay of Biscay, he wished to state briefly to the House what he observed on that occasion. He did not profess to have any great knowledge of shipbuilding, but no one could have seen the state of the vessel without being convinced that she was not at all a ship in which to trust one of Her Majesty's regiments on a long voyage to India. There was hardly a door or panel in the ship that was not cracked or destroyed. There were no bulwarks whatever on the upper deck, and of the light iron railing used as a substitute for bulwarks two-thirds had been washed away; four out of the six boats on her deck had also been washed away, and the vessel had been as nearly wrecked as could be with all her troops and crew. Indeed one of the men of the 94th Regiment was washed overboard. The gallant Colonel had not stated the number of the crew and engineers on board the ship, and he (Sir W. Fraser) would endeavour to supply the deficiency. The number of the crew of this vessel of 2,300 tons, which had on board one of the finest regiments in Her Majesty's service, was eighteen; the number of engineers, stokers, and other persons employed in working the engines, was twenty-two; and out of the whole of those forty men only three could speak the English language. He was bound to say that the captain seemed to be a most intelligent man, and to have acted with the greatest intrepidity during those trying emergencies. He (Sir W. Fraser) was told that for forty-eight hours he never left the deck, and that it was mainly owing to his conspicuous energy and prowess that the vessel was able to reach Plymouth. There was a story circulating in Plymouth when he (Sir W. Fraser) was there, though he would not vouch for the accuracy of it, that during the storm in the Bay of Biscay the greater part of the men employed in the engine room declared that it was no use working any longer, because they saw no chance of saving the vessel; upon which the first engineer, procuring his pistols, said, "The first man that goes up that ladder," meaning the ladder leading from the engine-room to the deck, "I will blow his brains out." It was owing, it was said, to that circumstance and to the energy of the captain, that the vessel was brought back to Plymouth. He did not know much of shipbuilding, but he did not think that a regiment could have been conveyed to India in such a vessel.


said, a great deal of dissatisfaction was expressed last Session at the manner in which the East India Company hired transports, and he was then induced to moved for a return on the subject, but that return had not yet been laid on the table, which was much to be regretted, as it was only in that way that the House could form a just opinion on the subject.


wished to know from the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he, in his official capacity, had had any knowledge of the facts just detailed by the hon. Baronet?


said, that the vessel had been taken up by the East India Company, and the Admiralty had no knowledge whatever of vessels so taken up. He had not heard the facts referred to till they were stated to the House by the hon. Baronet who had just addressed them.

Motion agreed to.

Copy ordered— Of the Reports of the East India Company's Surveyors upon the Screw Steam Ship 'Austria,' upon which she was engaged for the conveyance of Troops to India; together with Copy of the Ship's Register.