HC Deb 08 June 1866 vol 184 cc49-51

said, he rose to put a Question to the President of the Board of Trade as to the circumstances which led to the Great Northern going ashore on the Lancashire coast, with 600 human beings on board, on her voyage from Dublin to Liverpool. It appeared from a letter published by a person who did not sign his name to the document, but who evidently was conversant with maritime affairs, that he was a passenger on board the ship when she left Dublin for Liverpool on the evening of the 19th of May. He stated that there were fifteen cabin and between 400 and 500 steerage passengers on board, besides the crew. There were also cattle and other cargo aboard. The writer did full justice to the captain and the chief mate, who, he said, were competent men and anxious to do their duty; but he described in strong terms the disorder of the steerage passengers, and the drunken state of the crew. It appeared that three persons in succession were dismissed from the wheel, owing to their being in a state of intoxication. On being asked for his ticket in the morning, the writer inquired whether the steamer had arrived at Liverpool; but he was informed that she was ashore on the Lancashire coast, thirty miles from that port. There she remained twelve hours, during which time the passengers were landed and conveyed by railway to Liverpool. The fact of these 600 human beings on board having been saved was attributable solely to the providential circumstance of the weather being fine at the time. The persons whose duty it was to steer the ship were drunk, and there was no power to keep even the steerage passengers in order. Instead of arriving at Liverpool at the proper time the vessel ran ashore during the night on the coast of Lancashire, thirty miles to the north of Liverpool, and if the weather had chanced to be stormy in all probability the 600 persons on board would have perished. Now that was a state of affairs which required explanation, for it ought not to be tolerated that the lives of Her Majesty's subjects should be the sport of such circumstances as he had mentioned. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Whether his attention had been called to those circumstances otherwise than by himself when he forwarded to the right hon. Gentleman the letter to which he had referred; and also, in the event of the case having been brought under his notice, what steps he had taken with respect to it? Above all, he wished to know whether this was or was not another proof of the defective state of our law with regard to passenger ships? In this case the ship was not injured, and, because the weather was fine, the lives of those on board were saved. Now, he had been told that, in addition to the defects of the law which he had pointed out on a former occasion in reference to the case of the London, so defective was the law for the protection of passenger ships that, as this vessel was not injured, and because these poor people were not drowned, therefore these shameful proceedings he had referred to were not noticeable by the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite was powerless to inflict punishment on the offenders, and to take steps to insure the safety of the public.


said, it appeared from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that this ship went ashore on the coast of Lancashire under circumstances which were very remarkable. Beyond that statement he had received no information on the subject. Inasmuch as the ship had been got off without any material damage, and there had been no loss of life, the Merchant Shipping Act did not enable the Government to institute an inquiry into the cause of that stranding; but the Government had been making inquiries with a view to ascertain whether this occurrence took place through the misconduct of the master or of the officers of the ship, and if the inquiry should justify such a course, proceedings might be taken against them by the Local Marine Board, and they would be liable to serious consequences if it were shown that their misconduct had led to the stranding of the vessel. Beyond stating this, he really had nothing to say. The case, which was a grave one, had been brought under the notice of the Board of Trade before the communication was received from the right hon. Gentleman, and the inquiry as to the conduct of the master and officers had commenced; but, as the ship herself had been got off without any material damage, and as there had been no loss of life, there was no ground for the inquiry which took place in the case of wrecks. If it were true that the accident occurred by reason of neglect of duty on the part of the officers, he could not imagine any conduct which deserved to be visited with a more severe punishment; but he really could not say whether the newspaper statements were correct, nor could he express any opinion as to the accuracy of the statements contained in the letter referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. The cause of the accident would be investigated, and if it were due to the misconduct of those who were in charge of the ship, such proceedings would be taken against them as the law authorized.