§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I rise, Sir, pursuant to the notice I have given, to call attention to that melancholy event, the loss of the London, and to the nature of the inquiry into that loss. The subject is as far removed as any subject can be from anything like party considerations; but it involves to a very great extent the welfare and the safety of a large portion of Her Majesty's subjects. I bring it forward without the least intention to attack or censure any of the parties concerned. I am not aware that I ever saw Mr. Traill, the magistrate who tried the case, or the Messrs. Money Wigram, the owners of the ship. I had no relation or connection on board the London; and I have not been requested by any of the friends of those who were lost to call attention to the mat- 525 ter. I am influenced by but one motive—namely, to appeal to this House, to the Government, and, above all, to the President of the Board of Trade. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not shrink from the responsibility which devolves upon him and his office in connection with this melancholy event, but that he will be ready to say that he feels—as I do—that this dreadful occurrence forces upon us the question whether the present state of our law for the protection of that portion of the public who are compelled by their business to pass to and fro between the colonies and the mother country does not require amendment. The sea-going public who have to travel between this kingdom and the colonies are specially exposed to two sources of danger. The one the desire of profit which prompts the shipowners to overload their vessels, the other the eagerness with which rival companies compete in conveying their passengers with the utmost possible speed. If the House will permit me, I may briefly remind it of the facts of this deplorable case:—Early in January last two of the finest ships that ever sailed from England—ships with respect to which the public were invited to pay extra fares for the superior accommodation and security against accident which they held out as far as human skill could go—left our ports almost at the same time. One of them was a steamship, called the Amalia, of no less than 3,000 tons, which left the port of Liverpool; while the other was the London, which, including her engines, measured no less than 1,700 or 1,800 tons, and she sailed from the port of London, Within a very few days from their departure they were both overtaken in the Bay of Biscay by that tremendous storm which we must all well recollect. They were overwhelmed by the sea. "Within a very few hours, if not minutes, of each other, within a few miles of each other, these two magnificent vessels sunk to the bottom like stones. In the case of the Amalia providentially another ship was at hand, and the passengers were saved. In the case of the London no fewer than 233 human beings in full health and strength were suddenly called together by that gallant man, the captain (Captain Martin), and told in the early hours of the morning that their time was come—that human help was beyond their reach; and before that day closed they were no more. The mind, Sir, can hardly imagine a scene more 526 awful or more touching than that which must have occurred on board the ill-fated London. But while these two vessels, supposed to be the finest of their class, were unable to contend with what we read; of as a wild and raging sea, all the passengers and the crew of the Amalia were conveyed in her small boats in perfect safety to the vessel which was near at hand for their rescue. As regards the London, within a few moments of her going down, nineteen persons intrusted themselves to a boat—a common gig—calculated to carry only twelve persons in smooth water. Notwithstanding the fury of the storm, those nineteen persons, after remaining in that frail boat for somewhere about twenty-four hours, were safely placed on board a small Italian bark! During those twenty-four hours that little boat fell in with no fewer than four or five ordinary sailing ships, one of which heard the cries of those in the boat during the night. So far were they from being overwhelmed by the fury of the waves—if I remember aright, that vessel was only a cutter—that this cutter actually tacked about during the hours of the night, trying, but trying in vain, to pick up the boat, which she could not see, though she was able to hear the cries of those who were in it. When, therefore, these two splendid ships were overwhelmed and lost, while ships of an ordinary character and even little boats were able to float in safety, can it be matter of surprise that the inquiry ordered under the Merchant Shipping Act by the Board of Trade into the causes of these extraordinary catastrophes was regarded with unusual interest by the public? Sir, I do not stand here unnecessarily to attack anybody in discharging the duty which I have undertaken; but I stand here as one of the public, and as such I have no hesitation in saying that in my opinion that inquiry was a mockery and a delusion as far as it regarded the great question of the public safety. Sir, my object is to guard the public for the future. "We cannot recall to life the un-: happy persons who were lost; but we must, if we can, guard the public for the future; and looking at the matter from that point of view, I say that that investigation was utterly futile for any purpose of discovering what were the real causes of the unfortunate calamity to which I am referring. Sir, the first fact which excited a feeling of dissatisfaction in the public mind was the astonishing announcement in 527 the newspapers that the magistrate who conducted the inquiry had prohibited a counsel retained by the relatives of some of the lost passengers, who attended not with any vindictive feeling, but for their own satisfaction—their natural satisfaction—to endeavour to ascertain what were the true causes of this melancholy event from cross-examining a witness. In consequence of that refusal of the right to cross-examine on the part of the magistrate, I put a Question in this House to my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Milner Gibson) asking him whether it was really the fact that counsel had been prohibited from cross-examining the witnesses; and I confess I heard the answer which my right hon. Friend gave me with very considerable surprise and regret. My right hon. Friend used these words—Mr. Traill, therefore, thought that the inquiry into the loss of the London should be conducted strictly in conformity with the law; but in the exercise of his discretion, had he allowed counsel to appear on behalf of the relatives of persons who had perished, he would have caused long delay, and might have unnecessarily prejudiced rights and liability which were proper to be determined in a Court of Law."—[3 Hansard, clxxxi. 507.]The construction which I put upon this language is, and I do not see what other construction it is open to. [Mr. MILNER GIBSON made a remark.] I am very glad that my right hon. Friend takes some exception to my interpretation of his answer, because I was about to say that I hope he has reconsidered it, and that he does not think that in the conduct of that inquiry it was the duty of those who presided over it so to shape their proceedings as not to compromise—whom? Why, the owners of the ship, who of course were the persons with regard to whom, although not actually under any charge or accusation, the important question deeply interesting to the public mind was whether or not this dreadful event had been caused by any default or neglect of any sort in the building or the finding of the ship. Therefore, it was that when my right hon. Friend made me that answer I immediately gave notice that I could not allow the matter to rest there, that I must raise the question in this House. And I do so now with the anxious hope that he will meet me in the spirit in which I am bringing it forward. Sir, I hold in my hand the Report signed by Mr. Traill and the nautical assessors. In the early part of that Report Mr. Traill refers to this question, whether or not he, 528 as a magistrate presiding over the inquiry, was empowered or was in duty bound to allow counsel to cross-examine the witnesses. He states that at the commencement of the proceedings an application was made that counsel on behalf of the friends of passengers might cross-examine the witnesses; but as permission to do so was not granted by the Act of Parliament, it could not be given. Now, I wish first to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the question whether Mr. Traill was right or wrong in the opinion he expressed with regard to the cross-examination of witnesses in the case to which I refer. This is a matter upon which, of course, I am bound to speak with deference to the opinion of legal Gentlemen around me; but it does appear to me from the section of the Act which regulates such inquiries as that upon which I am speaking, that Mr. Traill arrived at an erroneous conclusion. The clause in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1854, bearing upon this point, is as follows:—If the Board of Trade so directs, he shall apply to any two justices, or to a stipendiary magistrate, to hear the case; and such justices or magistrate shall thereupon proceed to hear and try the same, and shall for that purpose, as far as relates to the summoning of parties, compelling the attendance of witnesses, and the regulation of the proceedings, have the same powers as if the same were a proceeding relating to an offence or cause of complaint upon which they or he have power to make a summary conviction or order, or as near thereto as circumstances permit; and it shall be the duty of such officer or person as aforesaid to superintend the management of the case, and to render such assistance to the said justices or magistrate as is in his power, &c. … Such justices or magistrate may require any master whose conduct is called in question, or appears likely to be called in question, to deliver the certificate, and he shall hold the certificate so delivered until the conclusion.The Law Officers of the Crown are better able to judge of the force of the words in the above clause than I am; but they appear to me to bestow full power upon the magistrate to conduct the inquiry in such a way as shall elicit the whole truth of the matter. I am perfectly convinced—and I think nobody experienced in Courts of Law will differ from me—that when any party has established a particular view of a certain question, the only way to obtain the whole truth of the matter is to subject the witnesses to a searching cross-examination. Now, I have good reason for believing that some individuals who toot part in the inquiry respecting the loss of the London do not think the opinion of Mr. Traill a sound one; but I will leave this point for the 529 decision of the Law Officers of the Crown. I now come to another paragraph in the Report which I read with a great deal of surprise, if not with indignation. Mr. Traill proceeds to draw a distinction between two points involved in the inquiry. The first had nothing to do with the case in hand, as it related to the trial of a master or mate of a vessel for dereliction of duty, by which their vessel was either seriously damaged or it became necessary to abandon it. The second point, however, very materially affected the inquiry. The 432nd section, part 8, runs thus—Whenever any loss, abandonment of, or serious damage to a ship, or any casualty causing loss of life, shall have happened as therein mentioned, to inquire into the cause of such loss, &c.Mr. Traill then remarks that—In the former of these two in instigations there is something to be determined—namely, 'the cancelling or suspending the certificate;' and in this case, therefore, the Act has provided for an appearance by counsel, by directing that the master or mate 'shall have full opportunity of making his defence in person or otherwise.' In the latter investigation, on the other hand, there being nothing to determine, and no person on his defence, no such provision is made.Such a statement, that there was "nothing to determine and no person on his defence," is exceedingly strange, for Mr. Traill in a previous sentence plainly showed that his duty was to inquire into the cause of the loss of the vessel and the passengers. It is hardly possible, I think, to imagine a case more seriously affecting the public interests than that which Mr. Traill was called upon to examine, and which he himself stated—namely, the cause of the disaster to the ship London. Mr. Traill has stated that there was no person on his defence. I say that in every sense of the word the owners of the ship were morally on their defence. It was imperatively necessary that that inquiry should be conducted with the most jealous regard to the public interests, and the public interests only; and that it should not assume the character—which I am sorry to say beyond all doubt it did assume—of an inquiry the object of which was to protect the owners of the vessel from blame. I hope the House will kindly permit me to read some short extracts from two letters bearing upon the subject, because it is my wish to show the spirit and the manner in which the inquiry was conducted. The first is from Mr. Thomas, a gentleman who had the misfortune to lose a brother and a sister-in-law in the ill-fated vessel, and who retained Mr. Talfourd Salter as 530 counsel to watch the inquiry. I should, however, have before stated—what is well known to the public—that after applying again and again in vain for permission to cross-examine the witnesses, Mr. Talfourd Salter retired from the inquiry in disgust. Mr. Thomas thus writes—We were most anxious to obtain every information, and secured the services of able counsel and a shorthand writer to report verbatim whatever might transpire in the Court of Inquiry. Those steps were rendered useless by the course pursued. Not even the simplest question was permitted to be put direct to any witness, and no cross-examination, of the evidence was allowed. The presence of our counsel was even misrepresented by the press; the public were informed that he had not seen fit to ask any questions. We were compelled, therefore, to decline being represented, and to withdraw from an inquiry where, from whatever cause, nothing but one-sided testimony appeared to be sought. To those who watched the proceedings they appeared to be mainly an examination of officials by a tribunal of their own. The fact that private persons like ourselves, who come forward at some cost and inconvenience, were not permitted, even by counsel, to try to elicit anything, lest it should be adverse to the owners of the ship, or the administration of the Board of Trade, speaks for itself, and I venture to hope that you may see fit to press for a more full and impartial inquiry into the circumstances attending a calamity which is the cause of mourning to thousands at home and abroad.The next letter I will read, with the permission of the House, is written by a gentleman known, I have no doubt, to many hon. Members—Mr. Ralph Benson. A short time ago Mr. Benson, who is an able young man, was in active practice as a barrister; and, having lost a brother in the London, he took a deep interest in the inquiry, and was present during the greater part of the proceedings. He thus writes to me—I think that we, the relatives of the lost, regarded collectively in the eyes of the Court as we are one in the sorrow of our bereavement, should be allowed the privilege of cross-examining such a succession of witnesses as have been adduced in the present case, who for days together consisted of either crew and dependents of the owners, or persons directly interested in proving that no fault could attach to the ship or her fittings. See how the aspect of things changed when the only independent testimony was adduced—namely, the three surviving passengers; they were strong in denunciation of the behaviour of the vessel, and all were men accustomed to the sea; one had been by profession a sailor. I never heard anything so unsatisfactory as the way their evidence was taken; it was removed from the hands of Mr. O'Dowd to those of Mr. Traill, and if I had not myself pressed, after the examination I was concluded, that certain questions should be put, they would not have been asked, though the magistrate had the brief under his own eyes containing statements derogatory to the vessel.531 I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that it is unfortunate that any gentleman placed in the position of Mr. Benson should be under the necessity of writing such a letter as that I have just read. He, and the other gentlemen who have communicated with me on the subject, have done full justice to the personal kindness and courtesy of Mr. Traill. I am bound to make this admission; but courtesy and kindness were not the great objects sought in such a serious case. What was required was a bonâ fide searching inquiry into the whole of the circumstances of the dreadful catastrophe, and the fullest scope should have been given to all parties for the purpose of eliciting the truth. I submit to my right hon. Friend that there should have been no attempt for a moment to suppress legitimate efforts to arrive at the real facts of the case. This morning a gentleman who understands the subject on which he speaks, and who happened to be at Dover when the London passed through the Straits, told me that the alarming depth of the vessel in the water was the subject of general conversation among the observers on the pier. I will also read to the House a letter to which I attach great importance. It comes from Captain Stewart, of the Royal Navy, who happened to be at Plymouth when the London passed that port. He says—A sailor's eye can always detect whether a ship looks too deep in the water or not; and, notwithstanding the evidence adduced, and the endeavour to prove that everything was done for the safety of the passengers that human foresight could suggest, I maintain that the attention of spectators on the Hoe was called to the ship from her deepness of immersion while she lay at anchor in the Sound, and comments were freely passed upon the circumstance; and yet, anticipating bad weather, she is permitted to depart with fifty tons of coal on her upper deck, with her topgallant and royal masts on end, and topgallant yards across; the imprudence of which was subsequently shown in evidence by the coals choking the scuppers and the spars being carried away.In another place he writes—The shortcomings of some and the cupidity of others had far more to do with the loss of the ship than the elements.And again—The truth is, that the interests of the owners are paramount to every other consideration, and to this, and making a swift passage, the efforts of the captain are directed. It must be now obvious to all that such ships as the London, whose length is more than seven times their breadth, and fine at both ends, are not adapted for carrying heavy cargoes and passengers at the same time.532 That is the letter of Captain Stewart, a perfectly impartial witness, who saw the London only by accident, and who tells us that her unfitness to go to sea in heavy weather became the subject of general observation on the public wharf at Plymouth, The next letter which I wish to read to the House is one which was written at the request of some of the survivors by Mr. Talfourd Salter. He says—Mr. Thomas called at chambers yesterday to ask me to send you in writing an exact account of what occurred at Greenwich when I proposed any question in cross-examination of the witnesses in the London inquiry. It was this—The question was written down by roe and handed to the magistrate; the substance of it—never, I believe, the words—was put either by Mr. Traill himself, or it was handed by him to Mr. O'Dowd, and put in that way by him. To a number of questions, however, the magistrate demurred altogether, suggesting to me either that they were irrelevant, or not such as the witness under examination could well be expected to answer. I could not agree with him, and gave him my reasons for still desiring that the questions should be put; still he demurred, and ultimately the matter dropped. The obvious disinclination of the magistrate prevented my persisting; had I done so, the questions might or might not have been put. The reason for not persisting was a thorough conviction of the utter futility of the method adopted to the end for which I was instructed to appear, and this is the reason which caused me subsequently to advise you that my further presence on the inquiry was worse than useless.That statement from a gentleman of Mr. Salter's position must, I think, convince everyone that the inquiry was not conducted as it ought to have been. Who were the principal witnesses? They consisted of persons who were either directly connected with the owners of the vessel, such as sailors and shipbuilders, or of officers connected with the Board of Trade as emigration officers and surveyors—gentlemen, in short, who were already to some extent committed in the matter, as having passed the vessel and allowed her to go to sea. They declared that she was in a state to make a safe voyage, and they, therefore, could not be expected to come forward afterwards to falsify the statements they had previously made. I may give an idea of the carelessness with which this evidence was taken when I say that Captain Lean, the emigration officer at the port of London, gave evidence that he had passed the ship as all right. In Mr. Traill's Report the words were put in inverted commas that "the ship was perfect in every way." During the inquiry Captain Lean handed in a report of her sails to show how perfectly equipped she was. 533 There was something in the manner of putting in the list that appeared to excite Mr. Salter's suspicion—he had not then retired from the inquiry—and he expressed a wish to ask Captain Lean how long he had had it in his possession. The question having been put, the answer was that the list had been given him two days before the inquiry by the proprietors of the ship. This fact will, I think, serve to show the House how little dependence ought to be placed on the evidence of persons who were themselves already in some degree committed in the matter. When a further question was suggested with the view of pressing Captain Lean upon this point, the magistrate, I understand, refused to put it, or hesitated to do so. Again Captain Stoll, the emigration officer at Plymouth, was examined, and I must say that the evidence given by him and others was such as to suggest very strongly the inquiry in what the real value of the inspection of vessels at our outports by emigration officers consists. That is a question, in my opinion, not only well worthy, but demanding the serious consideration of my right hon. Friend. The British public are led to place confidence in those inspections. They are led to believe that they may go to sea in safety in vessels which have been passed by the emigration officers, They never suspect—that which I believe to be the truth—that, whether from long habit or the want of adequate instructions, the visits of these officers have, in point of fact, become mere matters of form. This is a subject to which I would most earnestly invite my right hon. Friend's attention. There is one fact connected with the case of the London which strongly impresses on my mind the justice of the view which I entertain on this point. While that ship lay at Plymouth fifty tons of coal were added to her stock. Those fifty tons were stowed on her deck in bags round the sides of her bulwarks, and there left entirely unsecured. The natural result was, that as soon as she experienced the action of a heavy sea those bags of coal broke adrift and burst. The coal covered the deck and stopped the scuppers. Captain Stoll himself stated in evidence that when he inspected and passed the ship at Plymouth the coal was stowed away in the manner I have described. Since I gave notice of my intention to bring forward this question I have received letters from various persons, chiefly 534 seafaring men, all condemning in the strongest manner the way in which the coal was stowed on board the ship. This very morning I had a communication from a naval officer strongly impressing on me the impropriety of the emigration officer having allowed the ship to go to sea in that condition. The evidence on one side having been such as I have stated, what was the evidence on the other? It was most important, and I am sorry to say that it was very reluctantly received. It could not, however, be altogether excluded. A well-known gentleman, Speaker of the House of Assembly in Australia, Sir D. Cooper, who had sailed in the London in a former voyage, declared it to be his opinion that she was then so bad that she ought never to have gone to sea. Again, Mr. Wilson, the shipbuilder of Liverpool, spoke of the ship as being so badly constructed that he would not allow his son to go to sea in her. This evidence was so important that it could not be altogether suppressed, and Mr. Traill was obliged to admit that such was the opinion of Mr. Wilson, the shipbuilder. There was also the evidence of Mr. Monro, one of the passengers by the London; and last, but not least, that of the unfortunate Mr. Dennis, one of those who were lost, and who, within half an hour of his death, wrote a record which I have seen. His brother-in-law called upon me a few days ago and showed me an interesting memorandum, written in pencil, enclosed in a bottle which was washed on shore, and which his relative had written. Mr. Dennis was an experienced man, had been much at sea, and his words bearing on this subject contained in this painful memorandum are—Ship too heavily laden for its size and too crank; windows stove in, water coming in everywhere; storm not too violent for a ship in good condition.I have here also a memorandum from a gallant and distinguished friend of mine, an admiral in the navy, who at one time commanded Her Majesty's ship Rodney, and who draws the following comparison between that vessel and the London:—Dimensions of the Rodney—Tons, 2,626; length, 205 feet 6 inches; breadth, 54 feet 5½ inches. The London.—Tonnage, 1,428; length, 267 feet; breadth, 35 feet.That is to say, that the length of the London was seven times her breadth instead of only about four times, as in the case of the 535 Rodney. Here arises the question, and I am speaking in the presence of shipbuilders of experience, whether or not the time has come when, for the public protection, this style of shipbuilding, evidently calculated, owing to the rivalry of different companies, to attain a high rate of speed without a due regard to safety, should be allowed to continue, so that such vessels should be trusted to carry a large number of passengers and at the same time a heavy cargo of merchandise. I am sorry to detain the House, but there is other evidence which I think is most important connected with the composition of the crew. The evidence upon this point was, I am sorry to say, checked by the magistrate, and was not gone into. I believe, however, that it is most reasonable to suppose that the unsatisfactory nature of the crew was in no inconsiderable degree the cause of the calamity which befel the ship. There was, no doubt, a large number of able-bodied seamen on board; but I am told there were many quite unfit to be intrusted with the management of a large and important ship, and also a considerable proportion of Dutch sailors, who were entirely unable to understand any English word of command that might be given. I speak here without any knowledge on my own part, but I should like to know how far it is or is not the duty of the emigration officers and those surveyors who are called on to examine a ship of this class to see that she is not only properly fitted out and equipped, but also properly manned. I venture to submit to the House that the safety of our fellow subjects ought not to be intrusted to a vessel which is manned to a considerable degree by men who not only are not efficient sailors, but are not able from their ignorance of the language to understand the directions they receive with respect to the duties they have to perform, when, as in this case, a storm should arise. I will not detain the House by dwelling any longer upon this most painful case. I have stated the grounds of complaint which exist with regard to the manner in which the inquiry was conducted. I again state it broadly and distinctly as my opinion that, with the sort of Report to the Board of Trade which I have now lying before me, instead of the result of the inquiry filling my mind with the conviction that all was right, it has filled it with the suspicion that all was wrong. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman again, and I entreat him to accept 536 the responsibility which his office throws upon him in this grave matter. I am sure he will agree with me that it is time that we should take precautions that our fellow-countrymen shall not be exposed to these dangers to suit either the interests of shipowners or the crotchets of magistrates. Inquiries of this nature should be bonâ fide, if they are not so conducted as to elicit the truth there had better be no inquiries at all—they are mere delusions; you are deceiving the public, you are throwing dust in their eyes. If an inquiry of this sort is to be conducted by a great Government Department, and for an object so important, as admitted by Mr. Traill himself, as to ascertain the cause of the loss of a ship, let it be conducted in such a way that, although we cannot rescue the poor creatures from the doom which has overtaken them, we shall nevertheless lay the foundation of such alteration in our system as shall afford reasonable grounds of safety to the public. I therefore wish to ask my right hon. Friend a few questions. I have already expressed my doubts whether Mr. Traill was justified in refusing to allow a cross-examination of the witnesses, although my opinion may not be worth much on that point. I wish first, therefore, to ask whether the real power of those courts of inquiry are, as at present constituted, sufficient for eliciting the only object worth attaining—namely, the whole truth in these cases? Secondly, if the power is held, after full consideration, to be sufficient, will he now tell the House, as a Minister of the Crown at the head of the Board of Trade, that he wishes that the law shall be effectually carried out for the future? or if the law be unsatisfactory, will he undertake, now that he has a Bill before the House relating to the Merchant Shipping Act, to amend the law by introducing a clause for this purpose? Thirdly, will my right hon. Friend direct his attention to the manner in which the inspection of vessels is carried out by the Emigration Office? Will he take care that these inspections shall be bonâ fide, and that the inspectors shall have full authority to stop any ship going to sea that may not have complied with the necessary requirements? I have no hesitation, in spite of this Report, in expressing my opinion that the London was an ill-constructed and over-loaded ship, and neither Captain Lean, in London, nor Captain Stoll, at Plymouth, ought to have allowed that ship to go to sea. 537 Fourthly, will my right hon. Friend cause to be enacted that an effective control shall be established over emigrant ships and the cargoes they are to carry, and further will he adopt some system of licence with respect to cargo and passengers, so that no ship shall be allowed to go to sea with a larger amount or number than specified in her licence, these being limited upon the authority of officers who shall be responsible, and upon whose report the public may place implicit reliance? Lastly, I desire to ask whether he adheres to the answer which he gave the other night to a right hon. Friend of mine, who asked whether he would not consent to make it: necessary that the deep load-line should be marked on passenger ships? I do not know what objection there may be to that. I find none. There is one solitary passage in the Report to which I am able to give my concurrence; it is where Mr. Traill, at the conclusion, says that it would be most desirable that the deep load-line should be marked on our passenger ships, and I hope my right hon. Friend will give serious consideration to that suggestion, for if adopted it would have the 7nost important effect in giving security to our country men who are bound to cross the seas to a distant colony. I have nothing more to say. I thank the House for the attention with which it has listened to the remarks which I have thought it my duty to make. I end as I begun, by saying that I have brought the subject forward only from a sense of duty, and from a strong conviction that we ought to draw from the sad event which has taken place a ground for obtaining greater security for the public. I hope to obtain such an answer as may be satisfactory as coming from a Minister of the Crown.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
There can be no doubt, Sir, that the fate of the London. accompanied as it was by such a great loss of life, was a most awful and deplorable event. Considering the precautions which appear to have been taken before the departure of the vessel to insure her being seaworthy, and the experience and skill of her commander, the occurrence is one which is calculated to make us believe that there exist certain unforeseen perils of the ocean against which human prudence cannot provide. My right hon. Friend opposite has felt it his duty, and very properly I think has acted in discharge of it, to call the attention of the House to the circumstances of this melancholy event. 538 I cannot agree with him, however, in one portion of his statement—that those inspectors who passed the ship did their duty merely as a matter of form, and that they did not exercise their judgment as they were bound to do. It appears to me rather that the necessary inference is that you cannot place such great reliance upon a system of Government inspection being capable of providing you with all that you require. For what was the case of the London? In the first place, with respect to her construction, you have the Government surveyor—a Board of Trade surveyor—and he passed the ship. He passed her also with regard to her engines, and testified that they were in good order. Then, you had Lloyd's surveyors, in the interest of the underwriters, who obviously would suffer great loss if the ship foundered at sea. They passed the ship as seaworthy. Then, last of all, yen had the emigration surveyors, who had not only to look at the ship generally and see whether she was seaworthy, but also to take into consideration whether she was overloaded, and whether she was about to go to sea in a condition which might jeopardize the safety of her passengers. Well, they also passed her. They are in the habit of inspecting ships, and if they had seen anything wrong in the London it is not probable that it would have escaped their observation. I think these men did their duty. But, after all, what is the effect of this inspection? I am afraid that it is to relieve the shipowner to some extent from that responsibility which is the best security for the public. Supposing that an action had been brought against the owners of this ship for default in having sent to sea a bad vessel, what an answer it would have been to place before a jury to say that two sets of Government inspectors laid examined the ship and passed her as seaworthy, that Messrs. Wigram had complied with all the Government requirements, and how then could they be required to compensate those who had suffered loss? I am afraid, then, that remarks on previous inspection made by the right hon. Gentleman are not very favourable to its principle. I do not think that the inspectors failed in the discharge of their duty, but I doubt whether by Government supervision you can secure those provisions which may be necessary for the safety of the public or effectually prevent these awful calamities. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman 539 that the inquiry with respect to these accidents, to be worth anything, should be searching, impartial, and conducted without fear or favour. But was this inquiry other than an impartial inquiry? It was an inquiry nominally directed by the Board of Trade, but really instituted in fulfilment of the direct requirements of a statute; and all that rested with the Board of Trade was to see that the inquiry should be conducted in accordance with the Act of Parliament. We appointed a gentleman to superintend the inquiry, who had no leaning either to Messrs. Wigram, or to the persons connected with the navigation of the ship, or to the relatives of those passengers who were unfortunately lost. Our superintendent guided the case, and had only the object in view which the right hon. Gentleman justly said should be the sole object—to arrive at a conclusion as to what was really the cause of the loss of this ship. It is often supposed that these inquiries are in the nature of prosecutions; but that is not so. Their primary object is to ascertain the cause of the loss of the vessel. The late Mr. Hume first suggested these inquiries. The great number of wrecks and loss of life, therefore, excited attention, and there was a general belief that the cause of those wrecks was imperfectly understood. They had generally been accounted for by stress of weather, ignorance of masters, and in other ways. Mr. Hume suggested that there should be a sort of inquest when any wrecks of an important character took place, to ascertain the cause. The right hon. Gentleman has therefore correctly described what was the real primary cause of these inquiries, but it has been supposed that they are mainly instituted for the prosecution of the master or mate—for the cancelling or suspension of the certificates of those officers. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: That does not apply in this case.] No, the cancelling or suspension of those certificates might be an incident of an inquiry of the kind, for if a ship were lost by the culpable negligence of the master, it would be impossible for the Government, who had given him a certificate of competence and fitness, to allow him to retain it, but it would not be the main object of the inquiry. When Mr. Traill said that "there was nothing else to determine," he did not as I understand him mean what the right hon. Baronet supposes. What h; meant was that there was nothing to determine in a 540 legal sense. The Court of Inquiry was for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of the wreck, and as no question relating to the master's or mate's certificate was under consideration, there was not in any legal sense any question to determine respecting the rights or liabilities of any person. That was perfectly true, and therefore he did not think that the right hon. Gentleman had quite correctly represented the meaning of Mr. Traill's remark. If the question as to the propriety of the master retaining or forfeiting his certificate were under investigation, and if any person deputed by him to protect his interest were present, that person would be entitled to cross-examine witnesses, and to be heard; but in this case there was nothing but an inquiry into the cause of the wreck, no persons were strictly on their defence, and there were no rights or liabilities to be decided on. That I understand to be the meaning of Mr. Traill's remark. Now, the Act of Parliament is entirely silent as to whether counsel for any of the persons interested, directly or indirectly, have a right to be heard. My own opinion, and that of those I have consulted, is that that was a matter entirely within the discretion of the presiding magistrate of the court. All I can say is that if Mr. Traill, who was the presiding magistrate, had thought fit to allow the counsel on behalf of the relatives of passengers who perished to cross-examine witnesses, Mr. O'Dowd would have made no objection. Mr. O'Dowd himself called every witness that was mentioned to him, and put every question suggested by any interested party at all relevant to the case.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, that a great many questions which were suggested were never put, and others were greatly altered.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
It would have been our wish that Mr. O'Dowd should have taken the course I have mentioned, and, as I am informed, he did take it. Having the management of the case it was his duty to call every witness suggested to him as likely to give useful information, and put every question, from whatever side it proceeded, calculated to lead to a correct conclusion. Mr. O'Dowd informs me that he took that course.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, that he did not mean to make any complaint of Mr. O'Dowd. What he had said was that questions which were suggested were never put, and that others were completely 541 altered, but he made no imputation on that head against Mr. O'Dowd.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the character of the witnesses, and observed that persons were called who had previously committed themselves by opinions on the ship. That is true; but whom can you call, if you want to know anything of the character and equipment of a ship, but those who have had opportunities of becoming acquainted with the vessel? It was impossible to avoid calling the witnesses who were examined, but we felt so strongly that some other persons should be called who might give useful evidence that we had certain witnesses examined who might be called "experts," and who were without any interest in the matter. We did our utmost, as far as the case permitted, to call independent witnesses, and I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it was an unsatisfactory thing that we could not by any means get that amount of valuable independent testimony which we could have desired to obtain. We got some, I however, and Mr. Wilson was called by the direct suggestion of the Board of Trade. I do not demur to the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman as to the necessity of calling witnesses uninterested and independent, but in cases of this kind there is a difficulty in finding persons who can give useful information, and who, at the same time, I have not known beforehand anything of the ships respecting which an inquiry is instituted. The right hon. Gentleman has asked whether I am satisfied with the law I as it stands in respect to the mode in which these inquiries are conducted. I say that I am not quite satisfied. The system is will susceptible of improvements, but I will not pledge myself hastily to bring in a measure for effecting a change. The desirability of making a change in the mode in which these inquiries are conducted has been under the consideration of the Government, and I have no doubt that before long we shall be able to suggest to Parliament some improvement in the system. Generally speaking, we have been attacked for conducting those inquiries with too much stringency. It has been complained that we have inculpated persons improperly, and that we have not sufficiently allowed for what are called the unavoidable dangers of the sea. The right hon. Gentleman now takes up the matter in a totally different spirit, and he wishes the inquiries to be more searching than they have been. 542 My honest opinion is that the inquiry into the loss of the London was a very searching inquiry, and I believe there was no failure of justice, although I admit there were some unpleasant circumstances connected with the inquiry. I believe that Mr. Traill endeavoured, to the best of his ability, to arrive at a just conclusion. While admitting that these inquiries as at present conducted may be improved, I must observe that they have produced great benefits to the navigation of the country. There have been cases—as the right hon. Gentleman opposite Mr. (Henley) will recollect—inquiry into which has called attention to the absence of necessary lights, has shown the imperfection of past surveys, and the necessity for new surveys, which have been made. A remarkable case was that of the Alma, lost in the Red Sea. Inquiry was followed by communication with the Government of Egypt, which placed no fewer than three valuable lights on the coast of the Bed Sea, and thereby greatly facilitated navigation. Inquiry into the stranding of a ship on the coast of Newfoundland led the Admiralty to direct a survey, which is now being prosecuted. In the case of the Duncan Dunbar, lost in the Atlantic, it was endeavoured to be shown that she had been lost through some unknown currents and dangers that surveyors and navigators had nut formerly discovered; but all the notions about unknown currents and dangers were exploded, and it appeared that the vessel had been lost through an error on the part of her navigator. These are useful results, independently of the bringing of charges against shipowners for faulty construction, and the direction of public attention to matters connected with steam-engines, and to scientific matters connected with navigation. These inquiries have been useful, on the one hand, in dispelling rumours of dangers that did not exist; and, on the other, in calling attention to the absence of lights and the necessity for new surveys improvement in the construction, and in these ways navigation has been materially facilitated. Instead of confirming charges against shipowners of bad construction of ships, they pointed out the true causes of danger and of loss. I can assure the right hon. Baronet that no one is more impressed than I am with the dreadful character of the wreck of the London, but any one who has turned his mind to these subjects will 543 feel, after reading the evidence with regard to the loss of the London, that it is exceedingly difficult to decide what the cause of that loss really was. It may have been injury which no inquiry could disclose; it may have been water going down the hatchways; it may have been that her form did not adapt her to cope with the gale she encountered. I believe that no evidence that could be of use was refused. We were only anxious to have the most full and searching inquiry that was possible; our only desire was to arrive at the real cause of the wreck. I believe the Report is not satisfactory as to the real cause of the wreck; and I imagine that it could not be otherwise than unsatisfactory, because the evidence leaves the real cause doubtful.
said, he had heard with great satisfaction the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that he was not satisfied with the present state of the law on this subject. That was an important statement, coming from him in his situation. The right hon. Gentleman also stated that it was under his consideration and that of others, whether it was possible and how to amend the law. He believed others concerned, especially those who came under the operation of the law—masters and commanders in the merchant service—regarded it with universal dissatisfaction. It was not possible that it should be otherwise, and the very circumstance that had brought about that dissatisfaction was the original vice by which such inquiries were marked. They could not have a court of inquiry and trial at the same moment conducted on principles either satisfactory to those concerned or doing justice. The spirit of inquiry was one thing; trial was distinctly another; and if they attempted to mix the two together they rarely arrived at a satisfactory conclusion on either. How had the system acted in the case of the London? The loss of life was unfortunately so great, and the public mind was so shocked, that a degree of attention was roused which under ordinary circumstances would not have occurred. The right hon. Gentleman said with great truth that he felt many of the witnesses were not of a kind to give satisfaction. What happened? Surely if they had a witness who, from any circumstance, however honest he might be, was in a certain sense either prejudiced or committed, the only mode of testing the value of his statement and putting him 544 right with the public, for whom he was giving his testimony, was to subject him to the most searching cross-examination. In this way they would ascertain the real value of his testimony; if he was a sound witness, he would stand well before the public and his testimony was worth having. But, if he had been previously committed to the question, and they screened the witness from cross-examination, no one would value his testimony; it was not worth a farthing. Many of these inquiries which had happened within the last three years had attracted great public attention and had been the subject of much animadversion. He thought the right hon. Gentleman might have spared what he said about the finding in the case of the Duncan Dunbar. That was still a vexata quæstio. The court he (Mr. Milner Gibson) had himself constituted came to a distinct opinion on a fact resting upon testimony on oath. But the Department over which he presided chose to wholly ignore that testimony on oath. Witnesses had sworn in the most distinct manner that not only at the time they were on the rock, but afterwards on the island, they saw numerous objects floating by in a particular direction. The right hon. Gentleman had affirmed that this was all moonshine. With equal consistency it might be said that all testimony on oath was moonshine; but certainly this was a most remarkable fact; and when there were people whose future well-being depended on such courts, it was not right that they should be subject to such animadversion afterwards. He did not think that any one objected to inquiry. But that inquiry should be searching, and it should be inquiry solely. If the result of the inquiry indicated culpable conduct in any quarter, let the matter be tried by a competent tribunal. Let a charge be framed; let the man inculpated answer guilty or not guilty, and let a competent tribunal or jury decide on the fact. He saw a right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cardwell), who had a great deal to do in framing the existing law. It was tentative. When he (Mr. Henley) had the honour of holding the office of President of the Board of Trade, it was a new law, and there had been very little experience regarding it. His right hon. Friend would correct him if he was wrong; but he believed it was thought when that law was framed that these inquiries might be much more numerous than they had turned out to be, and there was some apprehension as 545 to arranging a proper tribunal. Experience had shown there were very few. Out of from 1,300 to 1,600 casualties in the course of a year, not above thirty required inquiries of this kind to be instituted, and of these, perhaps, in one third of them no I blame was attached to any one, If this proportion was anything like the number to be tried, it must be very limited, and, therefore, there was no reason why greater care should not be taken by those who conducted these inquiries. No inquiry was of any value unless it carried the confidence of that part of the public who were connected with it. The object was to correct mischief, to prevent casualties or wrecks if possible, by pointing cut errors which might and ought to be avoided; but to do this there must be a competent tribunal. They must not be dependent on the crotchets of this or that man. He did not pretend to say how the police magistrates had tried these cases; but, after reading many of the reports and much of the evidence, he confessed it often seemed to him that they had come to a conclusion on that evidence to which he was satisfied no jury would have come. He thought when men were frequently to be ruined by the decision of these courts, the charge which was brought against them should be fairly stated in the first instance; that they should have an opportunity of pleading to that charge, that evidence should be given, and that a competent tribunal should pronounce upon it. Much had been said upon the question of surveyors and the surveying of these ships. He very much doubted whether these things did not run in a sort of groove, the effect of which was to relieve the parties concerned from all responsibility. He was sorry the House had these discussions before the evidence was officially before them; but on reading the evidence in detached portions in the newspapers from time to time, he was bound honestly to state his impression that it struck him that, so far as the testimony of the surveyors and officers of that kind was concerned, this was what was called a whitewashing inquiry. He had not seen the official Report, but he accounts in the public press left that impression on his mind. He would just refer to one point. A question arose about the number of storm sails, and the emigration officer was asked whether he saw them, to which the reply was, "No, I did not see them; there were responsible owners, and, therefore, I took 546 them for granted." Now, that was surely a very loose system, for, as far as the sails were concerned, the officer might just as well have been smoking his pipe at home. What was the use of an inspector who did not see the things which he certified? Another great evil was that some of these officials inspected one thing and some another, nobody being responsible for the whole vessel, so that the inspection was apt to drop between two stools. These surveys relieved the owners of much responsibility, and yet did not conduce to safety. During the last sixteen or seventeen years the whole mercantile marine had gradually been taken into the tender keeping of the Government; but, in spite of all this paternal care, the disasters that happened in proportion to the number of voyages had been steadily increasing. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Milner Gibson) shook his head, but this was certainly the fact up to 1862, the date of the last Return that had yet been issued. He should be glad to see the Returns up to a more recent date, and could not, of course, tell what they might show, but he did not imagine that the wrecks during the last two or three years had been so few as to give a more favourable result. The proportion of wrecks and casualties had been increasing year by year; on the casualties he laid no stress, as no doubt vessels came oftener in collision owing to the crowded state of the sea, but any one who would take the trouble to consult the wreck table from 1852 to 1862 would see that, the average of disasters was increasing. If they were to take carpenters, masons, farmers, or any other industrial class in the country, and undertake to teach them how to carry on their trades, they would encounter the same inconveniences and perplexities which were becoming increasingly troublesome with regard to seamen. For the last forty years the Government had been meddling with seamen, and the result had been that that class were steadily deteriorating, and that complaints resounded on every hand. He believed that the touch of the Government hand in these matters acted like a blight, and that in nine cases out of ten, instead of effecting any good, it only did mischief, relieving those who were properly responsible of the blame to which they would otherwise be liable.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, he wished to deprecate the increased severity in legislation which some right hon. Gentlemen would found upon the disasters which befell the 547 London. Whereas the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) had endeavoured to draw from the loss of the London a reason for more stringent Government inspection, the conclusion to which it conducted him was precisely the reverse. It had been remarked to the disadvantage of that vessel that its proportion of length to breadth was excessive, that it had seven lengths for one breadth; but this was the proportion used in large steamers at the present day; and the large companies had adopted it very successfully. It was said that the principal witnesses in favour of the vessel were interested parties, because on previous occasions they had expressed opinions in favour of the vessel; but in such inquiries it would be difficult to find witnesses of any weight who had not previously been conversant with the matter. When the slight amount of interest which they had in the result, and the diversity of opinion they expressed upon some matters were taken into account, he thought they were entitled to general credit. Besides, the two leading witnesses upon the inquiry were surveyors of Lloyd's. Lloyd's surveyors could not be said to have any interest in the vessel. Their function was to survey the vessel when building, to ascertain the "strength" of her various parts, and to give a certificate accordingly. He did not think this committed them at all, as there was no difficulty in their saying, if the fact required it, that the vessel had not been fitted as they intended, Again, Lloyd's surveyors would be the first to say if they thought so, "You have overloaded the ship, and thus destroyed a ship that otherwise would have been good and sound." But in the case in question Lloyd's surveyor went out of his way to say that if the vessel had been a foot deeper in the water he should not have considered that she was too deep to go to sea. Instead of believing that a more rigid system would prevent disasters, he came to an entirely opposite conclusion. He believed that, in reference to the poorer class of passengers, who were unable to protect themselves, there should be a full supervision to secure to them sufficient room and a sufficient quantity of water and provisions; but first-class passengers exercised a large amount of careful scrutiny as to the character of the different lines of ships they travelled by, and guided themselves by the result of these observations. It was thus that they saw that the best found lines, like Cunard's 548 and the Peninsular and Oriental, invariably commanded a very large number of passengers, even although there were vessels running upon the same lines at very considerably lower rates. This being so, he thought that the less the Government interfered under such circumstances the better. He was not sure that the Government inspection already was not too minute. It would be pernicious if the Government went into detail, and said what should be done and what left undone; and he thought that the Government should confine their operations within the limits of inspection, instead of giving directions. He certainly was in favour of having an inquiry when an accident happened; and he would go further, and say that he thought it most unjust that the relatives of the deceased should be prevented from cross-examining the witnesses with the view of ascertaining whether they had any claim against the owners. The Act of Parliament contemplated that if there was fault on the part of the owners the parties who suffered from the death of relatives should have redress to the extent of £15 a ton of measurement of the vessel. On this calculation the owners of the London would have been answerable, assuming the accident to have occurred through their default, to the extent of £25,000. It was at the same time only just to the owners that they should be enabled to elicit facts by which they might be exculpated. The tendency of the inquiry which had taken place could not be other than to prejudice the owners of the vessel to some extent, and he wished to say a few words to prevent them from falling under censure without having been heard. He was informed that the firm to which this ship belonged never insured, and that this was the first loss which they had sustained since 1809. Such a state of things showed an amount of care which entitled them to a large amount of credit until something to the contrary was proved. These facts might, perhaps, explain why the emigration commissioner had not looked so carefully into some matters as he would have done had the owners been of a less high character.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, that if the firm had been damaged it was from the mode in which the inquiry had been carried on. He was of opinion that some material alteration should be made in the present mode of conducting inquiries of this description. The tribunal by which such 549 cases as the loss of the London was investigated was of the most unsatisfactory kind, while the inquiry appeared to be undertaken merely for "whitewashing" purposes. In the case referred to all attempts to fix blame upon any person were immediately frustrated by those presiding over the inquiry, and the result was that the inquiry was stifled and the investigation was unsatisfactory both to the general public and the shipping interest, as it was felt that the Court of Inquiry merely acted as a "buffer" to shield those through whose fault the calamity happened. If a Court of Inquiry were established on better principles, in which the conduct of the owners, the commander, and the sailors could be properly investigated, more care would be exercised by the emigration officers, by those who licensed ships, and by those who intrusted captains with valuable cargoes and with the care of human life, and thus a wholesome terror would be inspired in the minds of those whose duty it was to protect the lives of their fellow beings from the dangers of the seas. He could understand no possible reason why the friends and relations of those whose lives had been sacrificed, not to the uncontrollable fury of the elements, but through the imperfections of the ship and her management, should have been prevented from sifting the matter by cross-examination. It was clear that the crew was not a good one. The opinion of many persons who were well able to judge was that the crew was not a fit crew to navigate such a ship, since in the hour of danger the sailors deserted their captain and rushed to the forecastle for safety, instead of remaining at their work. Why did the Court interpose to prevent the inquiry from attaining its legitimate result in ascertaining who were to blame in the matter? He was glad this discussion had taken place. He trusted that the President of the Board of Trade would give the matter his most serious attention, and that some beneficial change would be made in the constitution of these tribunals.
§ MR. WEGUELIN
said, he believed that the tribunal was an unsatisfactory one, but he did not concur in the reasons which had been given for this conclusion. The only parties who were not represented upon inquiries of this kind were the owners. The public were represented by the counsel for the Board of Trade, the relatives of the sufferers might have counsel, but the owners had no locus standi be- 550 fore the Court. It was upon this ground that he thought that the constitution of the Court was not satisfactory, and that every party to inquiries of this nature should be fully and fairly represented.
§ MR. O'BEIRNE
said, the Gentleman who had just spoken had evidently misunderstood the purpose for which these inquiries were instituted, which was to enable the Board of Trade to arrive at a decision with regard to the merit or demerit of the conduct of the commanders of the ships which had been lost. He believed that the tribunal before which these inquiries were instituted was one rather for the protection of the public than for any other purpose. The Board of Trade instituted an inquiry to free the commander from any responsibility, or in the alternative to enable them to exercise the power vested in their hands by withdrawing from him the right to command a sea-going ship. This being so, he agreed with hon. Members who had expressed dissatisfaction with the present scope of the inquiry. As to the objection which had been suggested, that the representatives of the relatives of those who were lost had not been allowed to cross-examine the witnesses, he believed that the President of the Board of Trade had on another occasion answered it by stating that there was no power to admit any such cross-examination. If any new legislation should take place he (Mr. O'Beirne) believed that it would be found that it must be upon an enlarged basis, and that it must enable all those who were intrusted with the loading of ships, the owners and officers of ships, and the relatives of those who were lost, to be represented before any efficient tribunal that should be instituted. Unless this were done, the country would not be satisfied that the inquiry was complete and satisfactory. There were many issues which did not at present fall within inquiries as now held under the Act. No officer was bound to examine and report the condition of a ship when she finally left port. The inquiry, as now conducted, was confined to the character of the vessel, her build, her capabilities, and her water-line when laden. There was nothing to prevent a vessel starting on her voyage with many tons of coal on her deck. Many losses had arisen from that cause, particularly in the North of England. He agreed, therefore, with the opinion which had been so generally expressed, that the present system of inspection was entirely inadequate to the 551 necessities of the case, and would willingly support any well-considered measure to remedy the defects which were admitted to exist.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether he had informed the Messrs. Wigram of the nature of the attack which he had intended making on them, so as to give those gentlemen an opportunity of defending themselves?
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
said, that, as he (Sir John Pakington) had already addressed the House, his doing so was out of order.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that, as this was a matter of great importance, he must claim the indulgence of the House.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
said, that the rule was that no Member could address the House twice in the course of the same debate, and unless the House consented that the right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to speak he must conform to the rules.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, that he was entirely in the hands of the House. With reference to the question of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets, he was not aware that a statement of the facts connected with the loss of this vessel constituted such an attack as was suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He had given the usual notice required, and having in that notice stated his intention of calling the attention of the House to the manner in which the inquiry into the loss of the London was conducted he believed he had done all that was usual or necessary.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he did not believe that any one would suppose from the terms of the Motion given by the right hon. Gentleman that he had intended to read letters and impugn the conduct of the owners in the way he had done. As regarded the mode of inquiry itself, he need hardly remind the House that he had urged the necessity of legislative interference; but he believed that the Messrs. Wigram had not been treated with fairness by the right hon. Gentleman. The object of his Motion merely appeared to be to call the attention of the House to the manner in which the inquiry was conducted, and to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he proposed to amend the Merchant Shipping Act. That notice did not 552 suggest that he was about to impugn the conduct of Messrs. Wigram, but merely related to the mode of conducting the inquiry. It should be remembered that the inquiry of which the right hon. Gentleman complained was not intended to enable relatives of the sufferers to claim damages against shipowners, but was instituted solely for such purposes as ascertaining the course pursued with regard to the navigation of the ship. Whether it might be right or wrong to establish a tribunal for the purpose of investigation, by relatives, by shipowners, or by the freighters of goods, was a question open to discussion; but that was not the sort of inquiry contemplated by the Act. He could not therefore see that the magistrate was to blame because he declined to allow an inquiry of one kind to be converted into an inquiry of another description, and because he had preferred conforming to the law as it was to acting upon a law which must necessarily have been of his own framing. He quite concurred with the right hon. Gentleman in believing that an amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act was required, but he could not help deprecating the course which had been pursued that evening by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. GRANT
said, he must protest against the interpretation which had been put on the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and thought the House was highly indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for having brought the subject before the House. If a calamity involving a large number of lives was not a sufficient matter for inquiry it was difficult to say what would justify an investigation. When a large loss of life occurred there ought to be a full inquiry whether the master of the vessel was competent to navigate it or not. He did not concur in some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Tavistock, who seemed to think that no supervision on the part of the Government was necessary. His own personal experience brought him to a totally different conclusion. The interests of no class demanded the exercise of more Government vigilance and protection than did those of the emigrant or third-class passengers.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, that the hon. Member had misunderstood him. He had expressed on this subject the same opinion 553 as that which the hon. Member himself entertained.
§ MR. GRANT
said, he had understood the hon. Gentleman to say that wherever there was Government inspection there was a deterioration of accommodation. If any one required protection it was passengers who went on long voyages. Those who observed the condition of vessels sent abroad must be aware that not only was the present supervision needed, but that a more stringent one was requisite. There ought to be a larger number of officers, an inquiry into the kind of provisions, and a close inspection as to whether the vessel was overladen or not. The cupidity of the owner of a vessel frequently knew no limit but the actual safety of his vessel. So far from the owners of the vessel in question having sustained no losses for so many years being an argument that the vessel was not overladen, he thought it was rather an argument the other way. The owners of the vessel appeared not to have suffered from losses of this description since 1809, and to have been their own insurers; but a lengthened immunity from loss should not, in his opinion, have engendered increased boldness, but should have had just the contrary tendency. In his opinion, the Courts of Inquiry as at present constituted were perfectly incompetent; and as for Government supervision of vessels, he would recommend that it be increased rather than relaxed.