HC Deb 20 May 1870 vol 201 cc1094-123

, in rising to move— An humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will be pleased to issue a Commission to inquire into the causes of the great loss of life and property at sea during the last few years, and to consider whether any and what changes can be made in existing Laws and Regulations with respect to collisions, over-lading, stowage of cargo, and other matters, with the view of giving increased safety to Passengers and Merchant Ships, said, this subject was entirely free from party politics, and no one could imagine that he was influenced by any other motive than a desire to dimi- nish risks and dangers at sea. He was, however, under one disadvantage—namely, that while his subject affected two of the most important matters in connection with the welfare of this country—first, the interests of shipowners, and, secondly, the preservation of sailors' lives—the Board of Trade was not represented in this House by any responsible Minister. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members mistook him if they imagined him to be making a complaint, for he joined with them in lamenting the cause which led to the absence of the right hon. Gentleman who was at the head of that Department, while he did not blame the Government for the course they had pursued with respect to his Office. Nor had he any wish to disparage the Secretary to the Board of Trade, upon whom had fallen very arduous duties, which he had discharged with great ability; but he was sure the hon. Gentleman would be the last man to claim to be that which he was not, and he certainly was not one of the responsible Advisers of the Crown. As he (Sir John Pakington) expected to be able to show a strong case, and one which fully deserved the attention of the Government, he had a right to appeal to a responsible Minister upon the merits of the case that he ventured to submit. The causes that had led him to undertake this duty were these—At the early part of the Session he addressed a Question to the Government respecting the reported loss of the City of Boston, that Question being based upon an anonymous letter that had appeared in the newspapers. The result of his putting that Question was the receipt of letters from all parts of England, asking him, on public grounds, to persevere with the matter, and stating that the great evil of the merchant service of the present day was the system of overloading ships which extensively prevailed. Shortly after that the annual session of the Institute of Naval Architects was held, and he, having been President of that body for many years, thought it his duty to consult the members, as to whether it would be desirable to bring the subject before Parliament, because at the annual gathering of that Institute there was a numerous assemblage of shipbuilders, shipowners, underwriters, commercial men, and naval officers, all of whom were competent to understand and deal with a question of this kind. His hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) was connected with the Institute he had mentioned, and to him he appealed for confirmation of the statement that, at a very full meeting of the members of that body, he (Sir John Pakington) was requested to persevere with a Motion of this kind on account of its general importance. In bringing forward this Motion his first object would be to show the number of losses at sea that had occurred within a comparatively recent period. He found that, between the 1st of July and the beginning of November, 1869, 28 steamers were lost. As to December he had no information; but from the 1st of January to the beginning of March, 1870, to say nothing of those vessels which were stranded, nine steamers were lost, two of them by collision and seven by foundering at sea. It thus appeared that no less than 37 steam ships had been lost in the course of six months, or at the rate of six per month, or one and a-half per week. Mr. Stephenson, of Lloyd's, took part in a discussion at a meeting in the Society of Arts' Rooms, in February last, when he said that between the 2d of September and the 17th of November, 1868, in one branch of trade alone 16 Baltic steamers were lost. Lloyd's List showed that in 1869 21 steamers in the Baltic trade were lost, 18 of the losses occurring after the 1st of September. That 16 Baltic steamers should be lost in the autumn of 1868, and 18 in the autumn of 1869, was, he thought, a somewhat startling fact. In addition to that, he had a comparative statement of the years 1858 and 1868, which showed the number of registered ships and the casualties that happened in those years. In 1858 there were belonging to the United Kingdom 25,000 sailing ships and 1,900 steamers; in 1868 the sailing vessels had increased to 26,000, and the steam ships to 3,000, there being thus a total increase of somewhat less than 8 per cent. In 1858 1,107 losses and casualties happened; in 1868 the number had increased to 1,747—an increase of 50 per cent; though, had he taken the year 1867, the comparison would have been still more startling, for in that year the losses were more numerous than in the following one. Now, how could that increase of casualties be accounted for? He asked the House to look to the fact that the increase of casualties was in proportion to the increase of steam ships, as compared with sailing vessels. There must be a cause for that increase, and what was the cause? Out of the House there was but one opinion—that the great increase of casualties was owing to the too prevalent custom of overloading ships. He did not intend to enter into any personal questions; he wished to discuss the subject in the most calm and businesslike tone. Of course, these disasters occasioned a frightful loss of lives. The number of lives lost had increased from 349 in 1858 to 854 in 1868. But the comparative loss of lives was no very safe indication of the comparative loss of vessels. He believed the real number of lives lost on our own shores was, in 1868, 850. Was such an amount of loss of life attributable to ordinary sea risk? The loss of steam vessels was at the rate of one and a-half per week, or six ships a month. Surely that represented something more than the ordinary sea risk? He did not think any man could doubt the real cause of this loss. Not wishing to excite any personal feeling, he would, with one or two exceptions, be very general in the statements he had to make. But he was bound to mention the rule laid down by the India Council and the Admiralty, with reference to the amount of dead weight which the ships in their respective services were allowed to carry in proportion to their tonnage. Dead weight generally had reference to iron, coal, and, he believed, wheat; but it chiefly referred to iron. No ship prudently laden was allowed to carry beyond a certain proportion of dead weight to her tonnage. The India Council did not allow any ship engaged in their service to carry more than two-thirds of a ton of dead weight for every registered ton, and for every foot of depth of hold she must have three inches of free board; and the Admiralty did not allow any ship to carry stores with more than half-a-ton of dead weight to every ton of registered British tonnage. These were considered proportions essential to the safety of ships. He would not give names, but he would mention two remarkable cases which had occurred very lately—one from the West, and the other from the East Coast. The one from the West Coast was a steamer of 500 tons. She went to sea with a cargo of between 1,000 and 1,100 tons, more than double her registered tonnage. Of that cargo 800 tons were pig iron. This ship, therefore, went to sea with more than double the proportion of dead weight to her registered tonnage allowed for storeships by the India Council and Admiralty. What happened? The ship had 24 hands on board. She went to sea, and never was heard of again. The case from the East Coast was that of a somewhat larger ship. Instead of 500 tons it was 800 tons. She went to sea with 1,600 tons of iron, being two tons of dead weight per registered ton—a proportion greatly beyond what all prudence would allow. The ship could not oven get away from land; before she was out of sight of the coast down she went with her 1,600 tons of dead weight, and as she could not get away from the land, providentially the crew were saved. He could mention many other instances, including the case of one company, three of whose ships foundered at sea, causing the loss of 300 lives. But there was a recent remarkable case which must be well known to all reading the newspapers—he alluded to the case of the Sea Queen. When a man had the misfortune to fall into somewhat bad repute he was apt to change his name and appear under what was called an alias, and with a merchant ship the same course was often pursued. If a merchant ship had the misfortune to lower her character, the owners frequently changed her name, and this was the case with the Sea Queen. Ten years ago she started under the name of the Norman. In three or four years she changed her name to the Venezuela. At last she became the Sea Queen, under which name she perished. The Sea Queen was bought by her last owners for £7,500, and to this he earnestly directed the attention of the Government—she was insured for £10,000, so that in the event of any casualty befalling this ship the owners would be £2,500 to the good. God forbid that he should imply—he had no right to imply—that the owners of this ship had any improper intention in the proceeding they afterwards took in the loading of her. But it was the duty of Parliament and the Government to look after these things; and if the lives of our sailors were to be risked in vessels not fit to go to sea, they ought at least to have that indirect security, such as it was, which arose from finding that owners had not a direct pecuniary interest in the loss of the vessel. This was a very serious matter, because under the law as it existed at present there was absolutely no check whatever on these practices. The registered tonnage of the Sea Queen was 677 tons. She sailed from the Tyne on the 11th of February, with a cargo of 1,100 tons of coal, and on the night of the 13th down she went with all hands, 23, on board. An inquiry was instituted, with regard to the loss of that vessel; and widows, fathers, sisters, and other relations of the poor fellows who were lost gave evidence. It appeared that some of the men only joined the ship on the undertaking that she was to be overhauled before sailing, but that was not done. They were urged to go on board by taunts of cowardice. The men who had signed articles were called upon to sail or go to prison, and it was impossible for anyone to read the evidence which came out without their feelings being deeply touched. It was his belief that when the vessel left on the 11th February the men went to their deaths as certainly as any man who was ever led from the cell to execution. He had before him the most important evidence of the witnesses in the investigation that was made into the loss of the Sea Queen. Mr. Bullock, the master of the Tyne Dock, an impartial witness, had been applied to by the owners to give evidence in their favour at the investigation. And what was his answer? Why, that he considered the vessel no better than a coffin. He said afterwards—"During the whole of my observation I never saw a vessel pass through the gates so deeply laden. I said to the men standing by—'That vessel will never reach its destination.'" The next witness was the deputy dock-master. This witness stated that he never saw a vessel so deeply in the water, and feared that she would never reach her destination. The last witness he would refer to was William Burroughs, a shipwright overseer under the Board of Trade, and who for 11 years had been draftsman shipwright in one of the Royal Dockyards. That witness also deposed that the vessel, when his attention was drawn to it, was very deep in the water, the deepest he had ever seen; he said he was then about 30 yards from the vessel, and he made the remark that it would prove a coffin to some of the poor fellows on board, adding that, if he had the power, he would stop the ship from going out; but there was no legal power to stop a vessel, no matter what state she was in. He also said that his attention had been called several times to vessels leaving the port deeply laden. It was right to state that, on the part of the owners, counter evidence was brought forward, and two very respectable witnesses were examined, to show that the ship was in a fit state to go to sea; but their evidence was only to the effect that, though they had known the ship for a long time, neither of them saw it on its last departure from port. The House would at once see that no weight could be attached to such evidence as that. He would now refer to the speech delivered by Mr. O'Dowd, assistant solicitor to the Customs, on the occasion of the inquiry into the loss of the ship, who expressed a hope that the Court would arrive at a judgment calculated to influence the Legislature in putting down the abominable and homicidal system of overloading. After paying a just tribute to the shipowners as a class, Mr. O'Dowd went on to say it could not be denied that a practice prevailed of sending cargo vessels to sea excessively laden, with almost a certainty of sacrificing life and property. No higher authority could be referred to, in his opinion, than that of Mr. O'Dowd, who had been in the habit of conducting, in his legal capacity, cases of this kind for the last 15 years. It had been said that the ship did not founder, but ran on a bank; but, if so, it was because it was unmanageable, and within 48 hours after she left all the crew were drowned, and their families were thrown into mourning. No one, he thought, would deny that something ought to be done to put an end to such a state of things. It must be remarked that there was another and different view of the matter. Were there no steamboat companies and steamboat owners, he asked, who had been free from these casualties and losses? Let him do all honour to the name of Cunard. For 30 years the honourable house of Cunard had been navigating the Atlantic with steam ships; and he believed he did not exaggerate in the slightest degree when he said that during that time, with the exception of having one boat capsized with six hands in it, they had not experienced any casualty, and had not lost a ship, a life, or a letter. He believed he might say the same thing with respect to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, whose term of operations, however, was not spread over so many years; but, for the period during which they had been in existence, they stood in the same position, and had had no loss. ["No!"] He apologized if he had fallen into a mistake.


The accident to the Carnatic on the Red Sea.


Their loss has been very slight—about 2 per cent on insurance.


said, he would ask the House, in reference to this matter, to consider not his statements merely, but the real state of public opinion on the subject. He did not know that he could have a better test of the public feeling on the point than the expression of the opinion of the Chambers of Commerce in this country. In February last a meeting was held at the Westminster Palace Hotel of representatives of the Associated Chambers of Commerce. They took into consideration the state of the mercantile marine, and they adopted a Resolution stating, that in consequence of the frequent losses of sailing and steam ships from the practice of overloading, the Associated Chambers were of opinion that the attention of the Government should be drawn to the subject, and that they should be invited to take into consideration whether their Mercantile Marine Bill should, not contain provisions for determining the maximum load line for sailing and steam ships. Mr. Hall, of Newcastle, who introduced the Resolution, adverted to the great evil of sending large and valuable steam-ships overladen to sea, by which practice life and property to a large amount were sacrificed annually. He would now venture to bring before the House the memorial to the Board of Trade adopted at this same meeting, which represented 39 Chambers of Commerce, including those of Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee, Exeter, Falmouth, Gloucester, Poole, Hull, Middles-borough, Newcastle, Plymouth, Southampton, Stockton, and West Hartlepool. The memorial said that the periodical inspection of all sailing and steam ships not carrying passengers should be compulsory; and, secondly, that the memorialists respectfully invited the Government to take into consideration whether the Merchant Shipping Bill should not contain provisions for the prevention of overloading by having a fixed load line or otherwise. He hoped that the Government would not disregard these representations. In a letter he had received yesterday, the Committee of the Salvage Association of London said it was notorious that many vessels left the ports of this country dangerously over-laden, and that it appeared to them that only a Royal Commission would have the power requisite for such an investigation as was necessary. In a Petition to this House the Chamber of Commerce of Newcastle-upon-Tyne—abody perhaps more entitled to attention than any other, considering the circumstances attending the loss of the Sea Queen—regretted the omission from the Government Merchant Shipping Bill of any provision for determining the maximum load line, as recent experience had shown how many lives and how much property were sacrificed by overloading; and, without distinct provisions to meet this evil, they said the Bill would fail to deal with one of the most distinct and recognized deficiencies of the merchant shipping service. The Chamber added that the increasing number of losses from preventible causes led to an advance in the rates of premium for insurance, and thus inflicted upon the mercantile and manufacturing community a tax which, with care and supervision, might to a certain extent be removed. This was a statement which appealed to the interests as well as to the good feelings of shipowners He was convinced that no honest shipowner and no Minister of the Crown would contend that such a state of things did not require serious consideration. He was far from denying that it was an easy matter to prevent the overloading of ships, and that was a strong argument in favour of his proposal. But no one could deny that our law was deficient, when the Sea Queen could leave port while men were confident she was unseaworthy, and there was no power to stop her. In France there was no load line, and shipowners and merchants might combine to overload as they pleased, but there was in every port a Commission without whose certificate no ship could leave port. That system had worked very well, but he did not know whether the shipowners of England would be willing that such a system should be adopted. On our part nothing could be more fallacious than to trust to the insurance offices to stop these things, for there was too much competition to admit of prudent combination among the underwriters; and if A would not insure a bad vessel B would, so that the public could obtain no protection from insurers. As to Board of Trade inquiries under any Government, they did not command confidence or give satisfaction, and local influence prejudiced the decisions arrived at, while there was no regularity or system in deciding when an inquiry was to be held. After the loss of the Sea Queen two months elapsed before an inquiry was determined upon; and he believed it would not have been instituted, but for a Question put in that House by the worthy Alderman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Lawrence). Again, why had there been no inquiry into the loss of the City of Boston, with 200 precious lives? He had reason to believe that communications had been made to the Board of Trade to the effect that there were respectable persons in Halifax prepared to make serious statements in regard to the state in which the steamer left Halifax. He knew nothing but what he was told, and he should be sorry to say a word that was unfair towards the owners of the ship; but if a railway accident in this country had involved the sacrifice of one-fourth the number of lives that were lost in the City of Boston, would the company have been permitted to go into Court to prosecute for libel anyone who had dared to question the causes of the accident? He knew it would not have been permitted to do so, and public indignation would have insisted upon an inquiry. It seemed to him that the proprietors ought to have courted inquiry rather than to threaten with actions for damages anyone who spoke freely on the subject. Every case in which human life was sacrificed to a great extent ought to be made the subject of inquiry; and those who went to sea should have the satisfaction of knowing that, if life was lost, there would be inquiry on the part of the Government. If a captain refused to go to sea because a ship was overladen or not seaworthy, another would be found who would go; if a sailor refused, he would be charged with desertion and sent to prison, or called a coward. Our law used to require that no ship should go to sea without water-tight bulkheads, but the regulation was abrogated in 1862. [Mr. SHAWLEFEVRE: It was repealed by Act.] That was a melancholy fact. He could not imagine under what infatuation the provision was repealed; and to show how useful the provision was he referred to the case of the Damascus, one of the Canadian mail steamers, which came into Liverpool with one of her compartments full of water. Her bulkheads were watertight, or she would have sunk. Another case was that of the North American, another ship of the same line. She fell in with ice off the coast of Newfoundland. She stove in her bows, her fore parts were entirely filled with water, and if it had not been for her bulkheads that ship would have foundered at sea. Was not this, then, another question for the most grave and searching inquiry? Another point of importance was the stowage of the cargo. One of several causes which led to the melancholy loss of the London was the fact not only that the vessel was overloaded, but that the cargo was injudiciously stowed; and it deserved consideration whether there should not be some regulation respecting the mode of stowage in merchant vessels. He need not dwell upon the necessity of a change which should tend to diminish the danger and the frightful loss of life which arose from collisions at sea. Some most painful cases of this kind had occurred lately—such as those of the Oneida and Bombay, of which everyone knew the history, in the Eastern Seas. Then there were the melancholy cases off the Isle of Wight the Normandy and the Mary. There was another case a few days ago, off the Coast of Essex—he forgot the name of the vessels. In crowded waters, like those which surrounded these islands, there must be constant danger, and everthing which human skill and prudence could do should be done to diminish the inevitable and increasing dangers arising from this source. Perhaps no one understood this subject better than his hon. and gallant Friend near him (Sir John Hay), who, much to his honour, had often stated the views he entertained respecting it, and who concurred with him now in thinking that further inquiry was necessary. From various quarters he had been informed that persons of experience were prepared with suggestions. What was wanted was some competent authority to consider the subject, and if the Government assented to the appointment of a Royal Commission there was no subject into which they might more usefully inquire than, the possibility of framing some rule which would have the effect of diminishing the great danger and frequency of these collisions. These were the four subjects which he desired to refer to a Royal Commission. He feared he should be met with two answers—the first being the great difficulty of the subject; but he could not accept that as an argument. He had shown a great existing evil, which had excited the attention of the public from one end of the country to the other; and he appealed to the House whether the difficulty of the subject was not one reason the more for a careful and a searching inquiry. Then he might be told that he might have a Committee. To that he said—No; for he would be limited to the materials which he found within the walls of that House. It was now the latter end of May, and the inquiries of a Committee would terminate with the Session. A long interval would then elapse, and either the inquiry would abandoned, or the whole ground must be be gone over again next year. Now, the end of the Session did not stop inquiry by a Royal Commission; and, above all, the Government would appoint that Commission on their own responsibility, and would be able to choose the fittest men in the whole kingdom to serve upon it. Another answer—and he could guess the author of it—would probably be—"You have got a Bill on the Table." But that was one of the main reasons why there should be dispassionate consideration of this subject. Inquiry first and legislation afterwards. Surely that was the commonsense view of the matter. Parliament was in no condition to legislate, until after a careful inquiry by competent men whether there were not practical and legitimate means by which these dangers might be greatly diminished. In conclusion, he thanked the House for the attention with which they had heard him. He entreated the shipowners not to be led away by any esprit de corps, but to act on this question in a manner worthy of the high character borne by the mercantile classes of the country. He hoped also that the Government would meet the Motion in the spirit in which it had been made, not listening to interested parties, or those who represented such parties, nor attempting to contradict the magnitude of the evil, as to which he challenged contradiction, but determining to institute a fair and impartial inquiry with a view to rectify the evil.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be pleased to issue a Commission to inquire into the causes of the great loss of life and property at sea during the last few years, and to consider whether any and what changes can be made in existing Laws and Regulations with respect to collisions, overlading, stowage of cargo, and other matters, with the view of giving increased safety to Passengers and Merchant Ships,"—(Sir John Pakington,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he thought it was impossible that anyone could have listened otherwise than with the deepest sympathy to the speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington). Our merchant marine was of such vast dimensions, it was so intimately connected with the national greatness, that its well-being must excite the deepest interest, and it was natural to ask whether by legislation some of the evils which all must deplore could not be prevented. At the same time, before adopting the course suggested by the right hon. Baronet, it would probably be necessary to take a somewhat wider view of the subject than he had taken, not limiting our view to these evils alone, deplorable as they might be, but regarding the interest of our merchant shipping as a whole, in all its varied relations. The right hon. Baronet had quoted statistics of 1858 and 1868 to show that there was a great and growing loss of life from shipwreck; but the Board of Trade had of late given great attention to this subject, and he differed from the conclusion of the right hon. Baronet. No doubt the last 12 months had been singularly prolific in great disasters. There was the Carnatic, which ran on a rock in the Bed Sea; the Spindrift, with a cargo worth £200,000, ran aground at Dungeness, within a few yards of the finest light on the South Coast of England; and the City of Boston, of which, he feared, nothing more would be heard, though the President of the Board of Trade had not the slightest reason to suppose that it was sent to sea from Halifax in otherwise than good condition. No less than six of the finest China clippers had been lost during the last year, and numerous steamers had been lost on the East Coast of England. At the same time, these losses formed only a small proportion of the aggregate losses every year at sea. At the beginning of the Session, when he introduced the Merchant Shipping Bill, he pointed out how great the increase of our shipping had been of late years, during the last 14 years. That increase was principally amongst our steamers. The increase in our sailing vessels amounted to about 40 per cent, and in our steamers to about 100 per cent, and the increase amongst our seamen was between 2,000 and 3,000. He had then pointed out that an economy had been effected in the number of seamen required to the extent of nearly 50,000 men. One great cause of the loss of vessels was the undermanning of them, and it became very important to enquire whether losses have increased or no. He had pursued several methods of inquiry as to the losses of vessels and of life. He had consulted the Wreck Register of the Board of Trade, which had been, until recent years, very imperfectly kept. In former years, too, the record did not include fishing or pleasure boats; whereas now it included vessels of all kinds. In 1861 the number of vessels lost on the coast of this country, and the seas around it, was 200, attended with the loss of 883 lives. In 1868 196 vessels were lost with 825 lives, and in 1869, 209 vessels with 876 lives. Those figures showed a decrease in the loss of life, whilst our shipping had been increasing considerably. Another Return was taken from the casualties posted at Lloyd's during the last 10 years, in all of which British underwriters were interested, and which embraced the seas of the whole world, comprising, to a great extent, British vessels. The average of those casualties was 3,420 per annum. During the last three years—namely, 1866, 1867, and 1868—the numbers were 3,370, 3,363, and 2,721. He had also inquired as to the premiums on insurance, and he was assured by the Secretary at Lloyd's that in those 10 years there had been in almost all cases a reduction in the premiums on British vessels. [An hon. MEMBER: No, no!] He believed that only in one or two cases the premium had remained the same. He had also made inquiries of our Consuls at the different ports throughout the world, whether any preference had been given to British vessels;' and he was told generally that British vessels were preferred. From all the facts which had reached the Board of Trade he had reason to believe that the losses of vessels and of lives at sea had not increased. Of late years the Board had held inquiries into all the most important casualties. During the last year the inquiries had been 37 in number, and it would be seen from a resumé of those inquiries for the last four or five years, which he proposed to lay before the House, that the losses were not due so much to overloading as to the negligence of the officers in command. A great number of officers approached the land without due and sufficient care. During the last 12 months only two inquiries held by the Board of Trade had resulted in showing that the vessels had been overladen. At the same time there were losses which did not come before the Board of Trade, and the right hon. Gentleman had quoted the case of the Sea Queen. Now, the Board of Trade was perfectly ready to institute an inquiry in every case in which it received information to the effect that the loss of a vessel was due to the misconduct of her officers, to the fact that she was overladen, or to her unseaworthiness. In the case of the Sea Queen, however, no information reached the Board of Trade until his hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) had put a Question to him on the subject in that House. He wished that his right hon. Friend opposite (Sir John Pakington) had furnished to the Board of Trade the particulars as to the cases to which he had referred, for, as matters stood, he was unable to say whether inquiry had or had not been instituted into those cases. He did not even know the names of the cases; but if the facts were laid before the Board of Trade, and if they had occurred within a reasonable time, inquiry into them would be made. He should, in the next place, say a word or two in reference to the City of Boston. The right hon. Baronet asked why an inquiry was not held in that case. It was because no facts had as yet been laid before the Board of Trade to show that that vessel had left Halifax in an unseaworthy condition. The moment such facts were produced an inquiry would be held. A gentleman had written some time ago to the Board of Trade, and had enclosed an anonymous statement of some gentleman in Halifax, in which a great many facts were set forth. A letter was written in reply requesting that he would furnish the names of his anonymous correspondents; but that had not been done, and the Board of Trade at the present moment possessed no information which would justify them in holding an inquiry. He presumed the action for libel would go on, in which event evidence might be adduced. He had communicated with the Canadian Government on the subject, and if they were in possession of any information which would justify an inquiry, an inquiry would be held. In the meantime, he thought it was only just to the owners to say that all the information which had been received tended to show that the vessel left Halifax in her usual state. It appeared to him that the inquiries held by the Board of Trade had, in fact, already brought out all the facts which could be elicited by a Royal Commission. The only question, therefore, was as to the direction we ought to proceed in, assuming that legislation was necessary. The Merchant Shipping Bill, which he introduced this Session, was, in the main, a Consolidation Bill; but it would also contain many important amendments of the existing law. In bringing forward that measure he took occasion to state that the Government were not in favour of a system of minute regulation or inspection; but that, on the contrary, they deemed it advisable to increase, and not to diminish, the responsibility of the owners of vessels. The amendments in the Bill would, he believed, meet, to a very great extent, the circumstances of the case which had been referred to by the right hon. Baronet. In the first place, it was proposed to constitute the sending of a ship to sea in an unseaworthy state a misdemeanour. Secondly, greater securities would be given to prevent sailors being sent to sea against their will in unseaworthy vessels. At present, a seaman refusing to sail for I that reason was liable to be taken up as a deserter; and he was very frequently unable to adduce evidence respecting the state of the vessel; but under the proposed law any seaman would be entitled to leave a vessel if she were unseaworthy, and, moreover, he would be accepted as a witness, and might call in the assistance of the Board of Trade surveyor, in order to make out his case. He admitted that the working of the present Courts of Inquiry were not altogether satisfactory, chiefly because it had been the practice to mix up the inquiry into the loss of the ship with the inquiry into the conduct of the officer in command. The consequence was, that the investigation partook too much of the character of a criminal proceeding against the captain. The Government proposed, however, that in future these two inquiries should be made separately. It was likewise intended to take away from the Board of Trade the power of nominating the assessors of these Courts, and to vest the appointment in the Board of Admiralty. Another proposed change was, that the Customs should be authorized to note the draught of water of every vessel leaving our ports. If that had been done in the case of the Sea Queen it would have shown at once whether she was overladen or not, and as overlading would constitute unseaworthiness, the seamen would be entitled to leave the ship on that account without being amenable to the charge of desertion. It was true that the Merchant Shipping Bill was not referred to a Royal Commission; but in preparing it the Board of Trade took the advice of all those responsible persons whose opinions they valued, and he ventured to submit that it was a measure which deserved the careful attention of the House. When it was being discussed in Committee it would be open to further improvements, which he would gladly accept from any hon. Gentleman who felt competent to make suggestions. The recommendations of the right hon. Baronet all went in the direction of further inspection; but considering that there were no less than 28,000 vessels belonging to this country, and 58,000 clearances every year from the port of London, and probably 143,000 altogether, taking all the ports of the kingdom, the House would see that it would require an army of inspectors to inspect all those minute details which went to make up the seaworthiness of a ship. A calculation had been made as to the probable expense of such a system, and in the opinion of the officers of the Board of Trade it would require not less than £500,000 a year. Emigrant vessels, which did not make in all more than 450 voyages in the course of the year, cost £14,000 to inspect. This would show how expensive a general system applying to all vessels must be. An illustration of the difficulties likely to arise was afforded by what occurred last autumn in the North Sea. No less than seven trading smacks were overwhelmed in a storm, and the lives of 50 seamen were lost. Of course, this created a considerable sensation in the port to which the men belonged, and an appeal was made to the Board of Trade to interfere. It was stated that until a few years previously these very boats were the best found in the country, and that nobody had ever heard of a trawling smack being lost. But owing to increased competition, the necessity of going further out, and of coming back quickly to market with the fish, the sailing qualities of the boats had to be improved. The boats themselves were lengthened, they were more heavily ballasted, their sails were enlarged, and in every respect they were made better sailers; but, meanwhile, they became less secure sea boats; in a heavy sea they were overwhelmed; and a dreadful loss of life occurred. The Board of Trade were asked to regulate this class of vessels for the future; but how were they to do so unless they built the vessels themselves? Every portion of the boat had been altered and must be altered back again to restore them to their original condition. Again, he believed it was a fact that the Hull steamers—steamers plying between the East Coast of England and the North of Europe—had not much horse power, were not good sailing vessels, and when overtaken by severe storms were not equal to the trial. Inspection by itself, however, would never cure these evils; it must be left very much, to the experience of the shipowners and of the merchants who consigned the goods to determine the class of vessels best fitted for this traffic. The right hon. Baronet had alluded to the rule of the road at sea as one of the subjects to be inquired into. After much careful inquiry that rule, as laid down, had been accepted by every nautical nation in the world; and, with the exception of the right hon. Baronet and of three or four other Gentlemen, everybody in this country believed it to be the proper rule. According to the experience of the permanent officials of the Board of Trade, there was not a single case in which collision could be proved to have occurred through the failure of this rule; and where collisions had occurred it was through the neglect of this rule. He (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) was strongly of opinion that a Royal Commission would not bring out any further facts than had already been elicited by the inquiries of the Board of Trade. The true course for the House was to read the Bill a second time, and then, if possible, to amend it in Committee, rather than to hang up the matter for a year or two, as would be done by the appointment of a Royal Commission. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman opposite would adopt that course. As far as in his power lay, it would give him the greatest possible pleasure to co-operate with the right hon. Baronet in striving to improve the details of the Bill; and, under these cirumstances, he hoped the right hon. Baronet would not persist in his Motion.


said, that the figures produced by the Board of Trade with regard to the loss of life at sea comprised those which his right hon. Friend had laid before the House; it appeared, moreover, that loss of life had been gradually increasing. The hon. Gentleman opposite had argued that inquiry was unnecessary, conceiving that public opinion would be satisfied with the Bill on the Table of the House. The Associated Chambers of Commerce—Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee, Exeter, Falmouth, Gloucester, Poole, Hull, Middlesborough, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Plymouth, Stockton, Sunderland, and West Hartlepool—however, were not of that opinion, for they declared that the proposed inspection of steamers ought to be compulsory; and they went on to make various other suggestions which were not included in the Bill. The Chamber of Commerce of New- castle objected to Clause 644, which, made sending a ship to sea when unseaworthy a misdemeanour, on the ground that the clause would be practically inoperative. And although all agreed that some Bill was necessary, and likewise that there ought to be consolidation, they were plainly in favour of further inquiry before the Bill was passed into law. The Secretary to the Board of Trade, when making the statement which he had just done as to inquiries undertaken by that Board, into the circumstances connected with the loss of shipping, must have forgotten the answer which he gave on the 15th of June last, in relation to the loss of the Marquess of Abercorn, a steamer proceeding from the Clyde to a port in Ireland. In reply, the hon. Gentleman said that the Board of Trade had come to the conclusion that it was not necessary to institute inquiry in cases where no loss of life had occurred; but that it was usual in such cases to leave the matter to the ordinary investigation which was made in a Court of Law. That was what he regarded as faulty in the administration of justice. In the particular case to which he was alluding, as both ships belonged to the same owner, no investigation was made; and he believed that if this question were submitted to a Royal Commission, some more definite and satisfactory rule would be arrived at. Singularly enough, in Scotland, the power which was in this country not possessed by the Board of Trade was lodged in the Procurator Fiscal, who, as public prosecutor, could, where loss of life had happened, prosecute and bring the persons responsible to justice. In the case of the Orion, when 100 persons lost their lives, the matter was investigated at the instance of the Procurator Fiscal without any intervention on the part of the Board of Trade, and the captain and the mate were sentenced to imprisonment for 18 and 12 months respectively. In this case there was a sharp and sudden judgment; and if some measures were taken for bringing to justice those who were guilty of overloading or carelessly handling their ships, or over-insuring with a view to culpable loss, there would, he believed, be greater safety for the lives and property of those concerned. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Trade appeared to think that the opinion which he advocated with respect to the rule of the road at sea was a wrong one. All he could say was that that opinion was shared by Sir Alexander Milne, the commander of the Fleet in the Mediterranean, and many other good authorities; but, though he had devoted some time and trouble to the subject, he was willing to admit the possibility of his being wrong. He understood, however, that the French Government, as well as United States' officers of distinction, held that the rule to port helm was extremely dangerous, and the records of the Oneida proved that a persistence in this rule—the rule insisted upon by the Board of Trade—led to the collision in which so many lives were lost. Still, he had no desire to urge his opinion upon the House. All he desired was that this and other matters might be inquired into by a Royal Commission, so that greater security to life and property might be attained than that which now existed.


said, he thought that such an important subject ought to be dealt with thoroughly, either by a Committee or by a Royal Commission, though he should hesitate to support the Motion if he thought that by so doing he should in any way assist in diminishing the responsibility of the shipowners. From 1858 to 1868 the increase in the number of ships on the Register had been only 8 per cent; but the increase in the number of casualties had amounted to 50 per cent. Would the House, then, be content to hold its hand, and not try to arrest this growing evil? His hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade had quoted from the Board of Trade Returns in order to prove that the figures of the right hon. Baronet were not correct. But the destruction of ships was, unfortunately, increasing from year to year. Taking the four years ending with 1853, the losses averaged 969. In the succeeding five years ending in 1858, they averaged 1,118. In the succeeding five years the average was 1,488; and in the five years ending 1868 it was 1,748. His hon. Friend was under some great mistake when he stated that the wrecks and casualties reported in Lloyd's list during 1868 were so low as 3,000, the real truth being that in 1868 they amounted to 9,500; and in the two preceding years they were 11,000 each year. Again, his hon. Friend had referred to the fact that no fewer than 21 steamers had been lost in the Baltic in the present year, and 18 of the number in the three months of September, October, and November. It appeared that the vessels so lost had performed 2,100 voyages, and as 21 vessels had been lost, the losses, as compared with the voyages, were 1 per cent. As those vessels made two voyages to the Baltic each month, a small calculation would show that the life of a vessel would be of only four years' duration, if they were or could be continuously employed; or if these vessels were employed only two-thirds of the year, the Baltic being closed the remaining third, the lifetime of these vessels showed still not more than six years. If, therefore, vessels were always lost at this destructive rate, we must be prepared to look for the entire renewal of our commercial fleet every six years. His hon. Friend had said that the tendency was to reduce the rate of insurance. To that he ventured to say—"No." As he was anxious that there should be the fullest investigation of this matter, and as he believed the greatest possible good would result from it not by inaugurating restrictive or penal legislation, but by collecting information that might be most profitably used by shipowners and the mercantile public, he gave his cordial support to the Motion.


said, the chart which was every year issued. must have shown to the country that so far from our yearly losses decreasing they were increasing heavily, and he would now state what, in his opinion, as a seaman, was the cause of this loss, and what means should be taken to lessen it. When he went to sea the normal proportions of a ship were as one in breadth to five in length; they were now as one to seven or eight. The conformation of our ships was totally altered. Whereas, in former times, we had handy ships, we had now ships with their ends like wedges, and wall-sided, and when they were loaded they went down straight into the water and lost that buoyancy which would enable them to contend with the sea. He had lately made a voyage to India, and returning in a ship of the modern build, as they had had bad weather and encountered four gales, he observed with some interest the behaviour of the vessel, and it was perfectly different from what he had ever before seen in the course of his professional experience. To their peculiar conformation he attributed the loss of so many of those long ships; and their un-safety was greatly aggravated when they reduced the freeboard of the ship to a degree disproportionate to her buoyancy. Another source of danger was that the crews were composed of the most heterogeneous materials, including every description of foreign rubbish. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, that was the result of his own experience. The question of the relation of freeboard to buoyancy in the construction of a ship ought to be particularly considered. Our ships did not rise to the sea, and in the case of Baltic ships there existed this condition, that a ship loaded in salt water went into a fresh-water sea, and encountered storms in that fresh-water sea. The effect of that was a very considerable decrease in the supporting power of the water, which made a material difference to the draught of the ship. A large proportion of our wrecks was due to the age of the ships. A ship ostensibly seaworthy when she left harbour would show her defects very soon after she got to sea, if she was of great age; but her weak points were not easily found out by the surveyor who went on board before she sailed. The loss of a ship might arise from the default of the ship herself or that of her officers; and every case of wreck, whether attended with loss of life or not, ought to be strictly inquired into. He had no wish to say a word against the owners of the City of Boston, or against the ship herself; but one of Her Majesty's ships—the Orontes—sailed from Halifax on the same day as the City of Boston did, and from the captain of that ship, he thought, if an inquiry were instituted, they might learn some circumstances that would help to account for the loss of the ill-fated vessel. It had been justly stated that captains could not object to go to sea in their ships; and he believed that frequently they would not satisfy their owners unless they made their passages under circumstances in which most men would formerly have deemed it imprudent to do so. With regard to the case of the Oneida and the Bombay, they had not yet before them the information necessary to enable them to judge of the nature and circumstances of that collision, and the House ought, therefore, to suspend their judgment upon it. In conclusion, he sincerely supported the Motion of his right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington); and he hoped that a Commission, possessing the best nautical and constructive skill in the country, would be appointed to investigate that subject.


said, he understood that the House was anxious to pass to another subject, and he begged, therefore, to move that the debate be now adjourned.


said, that if the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Gourley) were carried, the effect would be to defeat the object he had in view, inasmuch as the Motion before them was that the Speaker leave the Chair.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he regarded that discussion as rather premature, as the natural and legitimate occasion for it would be on the second reading of the Merchant Shipping Code brought in by the Government. He shared, to the fullest extent, his right hon. Friend's (Sir John Pakington's) desire to promote the greater security of life and property at sea, although he differed from him as to the mode of effecting that object. It was said that casualties at sea were increasing; but, in testing that assertion, they ought to be guided by their later, rather than by their earlier experience. Taking the Returns, not so far back as 1858, but for the last three years, he found that, in 1866, the number of casualties at sea was 1,438, attended with the loss of 896 lives; that in 1867 the casualties were 1,676, with the loss of 1,333 lives; in 1868 the casualties were 1,368, and lives lost, 834; and he was told that the Return for 1869 showed a loss of about 800 lives. He believed a large proportion of this loss of life took place in small vessels, chiefly coasters, and it was a remarkable fact that, in 1868, only 120 casualties of any kind occurred to vessels of over 600 tons. If anyone considered the vast number of vessels over 600 tons trading from this country, he must be struck with the small number of the casualties to vessels over that tonnage. He had endeavoured to see what the class of vessels was in which these casualties occurred, and he found that out of 49 vessels which had foun- dered in 1868 no fewer than 31 were under 100 tons. He had no hesitation in saying that, in respect of these casualties, there were causes at work over which neither that House nor a Royal Commission would have the slightest control. The winter gales of late years were becoming more cyclonic in their character, and the tendency to build ships of iron, instead of wood, made the risk to life greater, because while a slight sudden blow, such as is received from collision with other vessels, or contact with rocks, to an iron vessel was often attended with fatal results a wooden ship only splintered with the shock, and possessed greater safety under such circumstances, though iron offered much greater protection than wood when stranded on sandbanks. The increased length of vessels, the small auxiliary power in proportion to tonnage of many of the coasting colliers unfitted them for contending with heavy gales under steam, and they were equally powerless as sailing vessels. The deterioration of seamen also tended to increase the loss of life, and in certain trades he dare say overloading did its share of the mischief. He wished to know into what inquiries they were to be launched if the proposition now before the House was adopted. Was the length, or material, or construction of the vessels to be subjects of the inquiry? The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) suggested that there should be a Commission to give a safety certificate to every vessel before she left a port; but that showed that the right hon. Baronet was not conversant with the way in which commercial affairs were carried on, for such a machinery and such an examination was simply impossible, looking at the magnitude of our commerce, the amounts conducted under foreign flags, and the expedition with which vessels were now received and despatched. Then look at the classification of vessels, and which was relied on as a security for safety. Eleven steamers had been lost this year, seven of which were classed at Lloyd's; it was, therefore, futile to say that classification was a protection and preservative against loss of life. The Board of Trade would do well not to wait so much for evidence, in order to take the initiative in ordering inquiries into accidents at sea; but wherever there was a casualty at sea whereby a single life was lost, it ought to be their duty to have an investigation, and to do that required no Royal Commission. He feared that these casualties were somewhat due to the action of the House, in taking upon itself such minute legislation which had only the effect of relieving the responsibility of owners. His idea was, that the House would be legislating in a safer direction if it placed greater responsibility on the shipowners and made them subject to fewer restrictions. The new Merchant Shipping Code proposed that it should be a misdemeanour if a ship went to sea in an unseaworthy condition, and that was the best of all restrictions. He was not opposed to inquiry; but he thought the inquiry ought to be one by that House, and not by a roving Commission, which, having heard a number of conflicting crotchets aired, would be sure to make a Report most puzzling to the House. If the Government, in dealing with the Merchant Shipping Bill, thought they had not sufficient material to legislate upon, he should then go heartily with them for a Committee of Inquiry. Some reference had been made to the City of Boston; but he thought it due to the owners of that vessel that he should state that there was no truth in the allegation that she was overladen. She was a vessel of 2,200 tons register, and had on board a weight of machinery, coals, water, stores, and cargo not equal to her registered tonnage. When she left New York she drew 21 feet 7½ inches. Her consumption of coals was 70 tons a day, and she had been lightened by two days' consumption of coal when she reached Halifax. Her displacement was 20 tons to the inch. She drew 21 feet 1½ inch when at Halifax. She then took in 57 tons of cargo, which would amount to 20 tons register, so that her draught was 21 feet 3½ inch when she left that place. Now, when she left Liverpool on the outward voyage, she was passed by the emigration surveyors with a draught of 21 feet 3½ inches; and as everyone who knew anything about shipping matters was aware of the strictness with which those surveyors discharged their duty, he thought he had satisfactorily proved that she was not overladen on the return voyage. She was built with seven bulkheads, and she had crossed the Atlantic 90 times, while her captain had crossed it 200 times, and her owners had carried 500,000 passengers during the last 15 years without the loss of a single life.


said, he thought the proposed inquiry was entirely unnecessary. A great deal had been said as to the number of ships lost in a particular year; but it should be remembered that the matter had always been treated on the theory of averages. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) had pointed out that the ships had recently been lost at the rate of 1½ per week, or 72 a year; but, at the same time, he had spoken with great approbation of the system of the Peninsular and Oriental service, and yet only half the proportion of vessels were lost in 1868 that were lost by the Peninsular and Oriental Company. That showed that the rate of loss in that year—2½—per cent—was not excessive. They were told that a great saving of life would be effected if Government would interfere to prevent the overloading of ships. That, however, he held would be impossible. An army of inspectors would be required to carry out the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman. The expense would be too great; and the only result would be to give a fallacious guarantee of safety to the public. The issue of a Royal Commission just now would stop all legislation until it had completed its labours. He held that if restrictions were put upon British ships foreign vessels would drive them out of the field. He trusted, under all the circumstances, that the Government would not accede to the Motion.


said, he hoped the House would permit him to make a few observations, as he differed reluctantly from the ground taken up by his right hon. Friend who had introduced the question (Sir John Pakington), and from others for whose opinion he had great respect, and with whom he generally had the pleasure to act, and in whose object he now entirely sympathized. He quite admitted that losses at sea had attained very formidable proportions, and that every possible means ought to be employed to diminish those losses; but he did not believe that the appointment of a Royal Commission would have that effect, and for that reason he should vote against the Motion. The causes of these disasters were well known, and the only question which had to be determined was what remedies should be applied, and that would be a matter for discussion when the Merchant Shipping Bill came to be considered. Unnecessary inquiry would only impede legislation. Many causes, including defective shipbuilding, the form of modern iron steamers, over-insurance, overloading, the employment of foreigners, the want of subordination, and the degeneracy of our seamen had been advanced to account for losses at sea, and attempts had been made to provide a remedy; but it had too often happened that the placing of restrictions upon shipowners had done more harm than good. Regulations for the building of ships, for instance, like the Building Acts in reference to houses, must have the effect of checking improvement. The lowest standard was, undoubtedly, raised by that means, but the standard of the whole was lowered. This had, he believed, been the case with the Anchors and Chain Cables Act, which he had himself assisted in passing, but which he now began to suspect was a mistake. Questions of this sort should be left to shipowners, shipbuilders, and underwriters. The present Merchant Shipping Bill contained one provision, which he had proposed himself when in Office—namely, greater facility to seamen to leave unseaworthy ships. It also made it a misdemeanour wilfully to send a ship to sea in an unseaworthy condition. He was strongly in favour of owners being punished for sending vessels to sea that were unseaworthy; which, in too many cases, amounted practically to murder. Among the many remedies brought under his notice, while in Office, there were two, not contained in the present Bill, which seemed to him well worthy of consideration. The first was the application of Lord Campbell's Act, with reference to passengers, to common sailors. The second was the prohibition of shipowners from insuring for more than a certain proportion of the value of a ship and cargo. This was the law in some of the Northern countries, and, if it could be enforced, would prevent the sending ships to sea for the purpose of being lost. He would further suggest that, as the Merchant Shipping Bill related to many different subjects, it might be broken up into several Bills, and passed in detail. It was scarcely possible to pass so large a measure, of more than 800 clauses, this Session; but each portion contained a distinct subject of great importance. Might not that portion which dealt with casualties and loss of life at sea, be referred, as a separate Bill, to a Select Committee, just as the Pilotage Bill, which last year formed part of the general Bill, had been? He thought that, in this way, time would be saved and legislation advanced. He also thought a Committee of that House would command greater confidence than a Commission, which was often supposed to consist of people of preconceived opinions. It was a mistake to imagine, as had been insinuated, that shipowners were opposed to stringent legislation. A deputation of shipowners from his own constituency, whom he had the honour of introducing to the Board of Trade, had asked for stricter legislation in regard to collisions. With regard to the rule of the road at sea, he did not like to express an opinion after the statement made by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay), who was so high an authority in such matters. He was aware that there existed considerable difference of opinion on this point, and he thought that perhaps this was a subject which might reasonably be inquired into by a Royal Commission.


said, the Government rested their case upon the statement made by the Secretary to the Board of Trade, and were entirely of opinion that this was a matter not for inquiry, but for legislation. As the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) had said, it was notorious that scandalous cases of loss had occurred. As there was now on the Table of the House a Bill which had been carefully considered during the Recess, he hoped that another winter would not pass before some step was taken to prevent the recurrence of the evils which all must deplore.


said, lie was unable to support the Motion of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich. He doubted whether the legislation, or, rather, tinkering which had taken place upon this subject, had not contributed to the loss of ships, rather than to their safety. By these proceedings they encouraged people to rush into the trade who knew nothing about it—they got an Act of Parliament, ship, captain, and crew, and the consequence was that they went to "Davy Jones."


said, after the opinions which had been expressed in the course of the debate, he thought the best course he could pursue would be to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.