§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, he rose to call the attention of the Government to the recent shipwrecks and loss of property in Torbay, and to the Petition of the Inhabitants of Brixham, Torquay, Paignton, Newton, and Teignmouth, praying for the erection of a Harbour of Refuge. Torbay was situated about midway between Portland and Plymouth, and was surrounded on two sides by a high hill. It was almost entirely protected from every wind but one—namely, the east or south-east. Frequently there were sheltered there sixty or seventy vessels at a time, and the place, therefore, was one of considerable importance. It had a large fishing trade, and it was computed that within the year between 2,000 and 3,000 vessels, varying from 50 to 1,500 464 tons burden, took refuge there, independently of vessels employed in the fishing trade. The number of trawlers using the harbour at Brixham was 150, employing 2,400 men; and the fish trade represented £1,000 a week. The Brixham men were noted for their knowledge of the Channel, and for the hardihood and excellence they displayed as sailors. On the 10th of January in the present year there was within the bay a fleet of about sixty-two sail. The evening was perfectly calm; there was not a ripple on the sea, and not a cloud was to be seen. Of all things a great gale appeared most unlikely, and especially from a quarter destructive to the bay. At ten o'clock, p.m., however, the wind rose, and suddenly changed to the east-south-east, and about midnight it came on to blow a perfect hurricane. It was impossible to describe the confusion that arose. Vessels were torn from their anchors, and were driven home against the pier at Brixham, and ground against each other, till the sea seemed to be covered with splinters, small enough to light fires with. Some of the vessels tried to make the harbour, but there was a fleet of trawlers in the roadstead outside. The consequence was that the ships were driven all among the trawlers, and the whole entangled mass of shipping were swept into the harbour together, where the most fearful damage and loss of life arose. In a few minutes fourteen vessels were wrecked, and seventy-two seamen lost their lives. Mr. Elrington, the incumbent of North Brixham, wrote a letter on the subject to The Times, and he would read to the House a short extract from it—We find that there were certainly 62 sail in the bay when the gale came on, and of these there were riding in the bay after the storm, 10: in the harbour, 10; wrecked on the coast or foundered in the bay, 42; there were besides 8 trawl sloops sunk and wrecked; 73 seamen are supposed to have lost their lives, and 4 fishermen of Brixham. The estimated loss in ships and cargoes is from £150,000 to £200,000.Nothing could exceed the good conduct of the inhabitants all round the shore. The women of Brixham—and he was glad to have an opportunity of making this public acknowledgment of their kindness—hurried up with their clothes and even their bed-clothes to the succour of the poor men who had been rescued from the wrecks, and all was done that kindness, courage, and hospitality could do to relieve the wants of the sufferers. Now, the disaster was caused, first, by the vessels lying in 465 the roadstead being exposed to the whole fury of the wind from the east south-east, and secondly, by there not being within the bay any place to which vessels could run for shelter. There was a small harbour at Paignton and another at Torquay, but neither of these was capable of giving shelter to vessels of large tonnage. The town of Brixham, he might remark, had a very large trade. Last year 297 vessels, with a tonnage of 23,681, had entered the harbour; while 291 vessels, with a tonnage of 23,510, had departed from it. There were at present insured in the Brixham Shipping Association 116 vessels, of the value of £250,000. The crews of those vessels numbered 1,000, and the shipping interest was rapidly increasing. He should probably be met with the answer that the Board of Trade had no means at their disposal, and that some years ago when a Committee of the House inquired into the subject of harbours of refuge they did not name Torbay as a suitable spot for such a harbour. With regard to that point he begged to read an extract from a letter from Admiral Shering-ham, who was a good judge of the matter. He said—That the Committee on Harbours of Refuge did not recommend the construction of a breakwater in Torbay was based principally on the opinion of the Hydrographer Admiral Washington, having more immediately in view the construction of large harbours of defence and aggression than national harbours of refuge; but that to my mind has been fully proved to have been an error in judgment, by the sad result of the gale of the 10th of January. Except Plymouth Sound no harbour of refuge for the passing trade does, in fact, practically exist to the westward of Portland, and there is a report current that Plymouth Sound is silting up, and it is even rumoured the Royal Albert some time ago actually grounded on her own anchors.Now, the country was undoubtedly wise, and the House of Commons only fulfilled the wishes of the public when it first turned its attention to harbours of defence, and no one that had seen the splendid harbour of Portland could regret that the House of Commons had voted the expenditure on so magnificent a work. But it was also true that the commerce of this country was increasing to such an incredible degree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was indulging in golden dreams of future prosperity. As our commerce increased, so must our shipping trade, and if the golden dreams of the right hon. Gentleman were to become a reality, the value of the cargoes intrusted to the vessels 466 which sail the seas, though now to be estimated by millions, must become vastly greater. Here, then, was a simple matter of insurance against possible loss, and it seemed to him a question of the highest consideration whether an annual grant should not be made for the erection of harbours of refuge, not only upon one coast but upon all the coasts of the kingdom. We had already through the generous exertions of individuals, and especially of the Duke of Northumberland, lifeboats upon almost every portion of our shores. That was a feather in the cap of England. A shipwrecked foreigner who had been saved at Brixham having beer, asked how he knew it was the coast of England, said he knew it because a lifeboat had come out to save him. He should like to see this country take a step still further in advance, and that Parliament should vote the sums necessary to erect harbours of refuge wherever the natural facilities rendered it desirable. Perhaps there was no place which had a better title to consideration in that respect than Torbay. It was easy of access in all winds and tides, and to show that it was so, he would read a short statement made by Mr. Elrington of the value of the ships which took shelter there during the year—Torbay contains often throughout the year large fleets of wind-bound vessels, many of these having on board hundreds of emigrants and most valuable cargoes. Some of the finest ships in the navy have anchored in the bay, and the Channel Fleet has lain there for days together. Brixham is one of the most important fishing stations on the coast, and now that the railway is being completed to the harbour will no doubt have considerable trade. The fleet of trawlers alone is worth £100,000. The schooners and other traders in the Brixham Club are worth £250,000. The vessels anchoring in the bay may be computed at 900,000 tons; worth, without counting vessels of war or cargoes, upwards of £7,000,000.Now, when interests of such consequence were involved, was it asking too much of the Government to erect a harbour of refuge at Torbay? He was aware that it was often said that local wants should be supplied from local resources. But he wished to take that opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the great difficulties which stood in the way of a company or individual improving a harbour of refuge or dealing with a foreshore. First of all, it was necessary to obtain the assent of the Board of Trade, where the plans of projectors were all overhauled, private rights were carefully inquired into, every one who had, or imagined he had, a 467 right was listened to, and when all that was done new difficulties had to be dealt with. It was necessary to purchase the foreshore from the Crown or the Duchy, to one of whom it was pretty sure to belong. Was it not a hardship that an individual or company, who was endeavouring to provide shelter for our ships, should be asked to pay for that which could never yield much money either to the Crown or the Duchy? If the Government would afford assistance in cases of this kind, there would be no lack of persons to do this great work of public utility and humanity. But there was another class who might be expected to asist, and that was the great merchants of England, whose goods were conveyed by sea. An appeal might be also made to that noble spirit of charity which was always manifested when the lives of our sailors were in peril, and was always to be readily relied upon in cases of distress. Those who had seen the terrible gale this year in Torbay would have read a lesson they could never forget. Vessels, before in perfect safety, in a few moments were hurried to destruction. He would only ask the House to reflect what would have been the loss of life and of treasure if at that moment the Channel Fleet had been riding at Torbay. He should possibly be told that as they always had their steam up, they might get out of the bay and escape, and that one or two steamers actually did so. But if the House would recollect the difficulty and danger of getting vessels of great size into motion in a hurricane they would see that if some did escape, many might have gone ashore. It was supposed that in consequence of the quantity of wrecks which had taken place in Torbay, the wreck of one ship might be lying over the wreck of another, and that the anchorage was very much fouled by anchors and obstructions of every description. He had been, therefore, requested to ask the President of the Board of Trade, whether any means had been taken by the Government to remove those obstacles, in order to afford vessels riding there a sound anchorage, and the same security as they possessed before the disaster of which he had spoken. He trusted that what he had said would induce the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to give some assurance that the subject should receive the attention of the Government, and that no considerations of economy would prevent as much care being taken of the lives of our sailors, as was 468 taken of the lives of the community on shore.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, that if there were a wreck lying in the anchorage of Torbay, it would no doubt be injurious to it. In many places on the coast there were harbour authorities who had powers under local Acts to remove wrecks sunk in the harbour or their approaches at the expense of the owners of the ships sunk.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
was not aware that in such a case any authority had power to compel the owners of ships to remove wrecks. For some time the Government had entertained the opinion, shared by the Trinity Corporation, that some legislation might be necessary on this subject in order to give powers to compel shipowners to remove the wrecks of their ships from anchorage grounds, and if that were not possible, to insure their removal at the public expense. The subject had been under consideration, and it might well be dealt with in any future Amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act. With regard to the general proposition of the hon. Baronet, he scarcely knew how to reply to it. It was deplorable that there should have been such loss of lives and of shipping at Torbay during the tremendous gale of last winter, but it was obvious that the same loss might have occurred under any other headland on the same coast. When vessels availed themselves of a good anchorage to await a change of wind or favourable weather, if a sudden change of wind took place, and it blew violently towards land, the probability was that many sailing vessels would be driven ashore. That might happen under any headland where there was good anchorage; but would that justify in each case the erection of a breakwater at the public expense? Perhaps the case of Torbay was not that of an ordinary headland; but the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the best places for harbours of refuge and breakwaters, in case Parliament should decide upon making grants for their erection, did not recommend that anything should be done at Torbay; and if it were ever proposed to make grants, Parliament would probably be guided by the recommendations of the Commissioners, He could not hold out any hope that Government would propose to Parliament 469 to make a grant of public money for the erection of a breakwater at Torbay. He did not see why the local authorities in these parts should not do something for themselves. Some years ago the Harbour Commissioners of Brixham obtained an Act which gave them powers to levy tolls and to construct a breakwater, which would have included a deep water anchorage; and which might have been very useful during the recent gale which caused the loss of so many ships; but the Commissioners had taken no steps under the powers they still possessed. No doubt they could raise money if they were so minded, and if they proposed to give the accommodation said to be needed. Knowing something of that coast, he should like to see a space of water where ships might anchor either at Brixham or Torbay, and he should like to see Torquay accessible to ships at all times of the tide. While feeling that these things were very desirable, he was still of opinion that it was not the duty of the House to move in the matter by making large grants of public money out of the taxation of the country for the erection of structures which would not be national in the true sense of the word. No doubt the works would confer great local advantages, but it was for the local authorities to come forward, and in this particular case it was for them to exercise the powers they had obtained for the execution of the works which the hon. Baronet proposed should be paid for by Parliament. He wished to see the suggested works executed from funds that might be properly devoted to such a purpose, for the more sheltered anchorages there were the better; but he did not know that a better case could be made out for Brixham on national grounds than could be made out for many other sheltered bays. The vessels to be benefited would be chiefly coasting and fishing craft, for large sea-going and steam ships would hardly use such a limited estuary. It was very well known that ships anchoring in open roadsteads did so at a certain risk, and that they were liable to be caught by a sudden gale of wind and blown on shore; and if such dangers were incurred to save a little knocking about in the Channel, that was no reason why either at Torbay or' elsewhere the State should be called upon to incur a large expenditure for the erection of breakwaters. Under the circumstances, with every desire to see improvements made, he could not say that 470 a case had been made out for the expenditure of public money on a breakwater at Brixham.