HC Deb 07 April 1873 vol 215 cc637-9

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether Thomas Newton and John Kirkpatrick, the two Revenue officers who were on board the "Sea Queen" during the whole time that vessel was in the port of Newcastle before her last voyage, were called as witnesses on the inquiry into the loss of that vessel; and, if they were not called, whether he will state the reasons why they were not called; whether George Jefferson and William Ferris, who were engaged to discharge the "Sea Queen's" cargo on her arrival at Newcastle, were called as witnesses on the inquiry; and, if they were not, if he will state the reason why they were not called; and, whether it did not appear that the evidence these witnesses were prepared to tender, was to the effect that the vessel was in such a leaky state that she had to be pumped before the men could commence to unload her; and that as to Jefferson and Ferris, they in unloading the vessel had to stand in water halfway up their legs sometimes, and sometimes only over their boot tops, and that she was pumped daily for three hours by the donkey engine for three days to keep down the water, and afterwards by hand during the whole time she was in port?


The House would doubtless remember the nature of the former Question of the hon. Member relative to the Sea Queen, and this supplementary Question was asked for the purpose of supporting a statement made by the hon. Member at a public meeting in London to this effect, that "the evidence of the officers of the Customs in this case had been suppressed by order of the Board of Trade," which was naturally followed by cries of "Shame." He then went on to say that "there was another class—the lumpers. These men were summoned, but their evidence was also suppressed," which was also followed by "loud cries of Shame.'" "Well, then," he asked, "with all the evidence adduced on the inquiry—with all the circumstances of the case showing that the Surveyor of the Board of Trade was trying to exculpate the owners, what confidence could they have in the Board of Trade?" It was to sustain this statement that the hon. Member asked his former Question, which he answered as fully and accurately as he could, and, he believed, to the entire satisfaction of the House. The hon. Member had followed that up by the present Question. He had made careful inquiry as to the statements contained in the Question of the hon. Member. He had submitted them to the Solicitor of the Customs, who acted on the inquiry and on all such inquiries on the part of the Board of Trade. It was absolutely impossible for the Board of Trade itself and the officials of the Board of Trade in London to decide as to what particular witnesses should or should not be called in the course of any particular inquiry. These inquiries were very numerous, and were placed in the hands of the Solicitor of the Customs, who acted under regulations, having all the information possessed by the Board of Trade, and did his best to ascertain the facts in each case. In this particular case, the only question, so far as the Board of Trade knew, was whether there had been any overloading. There was no statement of any other kind of unseaworthiness, such as being in a leaky state. Immediately upon receiving the statements, the Board of Trade ordered an inquiry, and Mr. O'Dowd proceeded to Newcastle for that purpose. He summoned the two Customs officers whose names appeared in this Question as not being called. They were called. The evidence of those two officers, Thomas Newton and John Kirkpatrick, would be found in the proceedings of the Court which had been laid before Parliament. The Solicitor to the Customs added that he called one other witness upon the question of leakage—a German sailor, who was in the ship on a former voyage; and he then made up his mind that the evidence on the point of leakage would not be sufficient for his purpose, and he decided to confine himself to the original issue—that of overloading. The Solicitor of the Customs added in the letter which he held in his hand, that he accepted exclusively the responsibility for the conduct of the inquiry, and he would not even stoop to deny the assertion that there was any suppression of evidence or any disposition to shelter the owners. Coming from a gentleman of high character and integrity, who was charged with something amounting almost to corruption, these words of indignation were not misplaced.