HC Deb 25 July 1876 vol 230 cc1887-9

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether his attention has been drawn to a report in the "Times" of the 22nd inst. of a statement made on the previous day by the Coroner to the jury summoned to inquire into the cause of the death of several victims of the catastrophe on board H.M.S. "Thunderer," on the 14th inst., as follows:— A few days ago Captain Waddilove had informed the Admiral that the contractors were desirous of being permitted to clean the engines. The Admiral had communicated with him, and, as he knew that the jury were willing that the requisite permission should be granted, he had given it, but with the precaution that an officer should be present during the cleaning to see that the stokehole was not interfered with. It was very necessary that the machinery should be cleaned, because the engines in a ship like the 'Thunderer' cost as much as a ship of war did in the past; and, whether such admission to the engine-room really took place; and, if so, whether the officials of the Constructors' Department approve of such admission, and have made any report thereon?


, in reply, said, he had not seen the paragraph to which his hon. Friend referred; but in consequence of this Question and another by the hon. Member for Glasgow, he telegraphed to Portsmouth for full information on the subject, but no answer had been received when he left the office a few minutes ago. He had heard, however, that the contractors were desirous of being permitted to clean the engines, as it was apprehended that the great quantity of vapour which had escaped into the engine-room might cause considerable damage, but that that desire had not been carried out. It would be a mistake to suppose that admission to the engine-room implied admidsion to the stoke-hole. There were doors between them, which were closed, and a sentry was placed there, and no one was admitted without the Coroner's sanction being first obtained.


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether the inquest regarding the "Thunderer" explosion is being conducted by the same coroner who conducted the first "Mistletoe" inquiry; whether that person still holds both the office of Public Coroner and of Admiralty Solicitor; what steps, if any, have been taken to ensure an impartial inquiry; whether it be not the fact, as stated in the "Times" of Saturday, that that official has already permitted some parties who may be implicated in the result of the inquest to have access to the engine-rooms, previous to the inspection by the jury; and, whether he cannot take steps to put the inquiry in the hands of some coroner who is not in the employment of the Admiralty?


said, that the Question of the hon. Member was on the assumption that the Admiralty had something to do with the Coroner's inquisitions. The Admiralty had nothing whatever to do with Coroners; and as the hon. Member came from a country where there was no such institution as a Coroner, he might inform him that a Coroner was a public officer elected by the freeholders, of the jurisdiction within which he acted. In that case Mr. Harvey was the Coroner for Hampshire; he did not know for what division, but he sat as the county Coroner, and had been elected by the freeholders, and the Admiralty had no power to interfere with him or to say how he was to discharge his commission. He had no reason to doubt that Mr. Harvey was the same gentleman who presided over the inquiry in the case of the Mistletoe. Mr. Harvey was employed by the Solicitor to the Admiralty as law agent for local purposes. He was not a salaried officer, but was paid by fees for whatever work was done. With regard to the third part of the Question he understood from the Home Office that sanction had been given to the Coroner having as assessor a gentleman who was an expert in boilers to assist him in the inquiry at the public expense. With regard to the last part of the Question he had no power whatever to interfere; but he had intimated to the Coroner that the Admiralty would give every assistance for the inquiry, and would send down persons connected with the Admiralty, and also persons not so connected, to give him every aid that might be required.


Perhaps I may be allowed, after the statement of my right hon. Friend, to say that the Coroner applied to the Home Office that some one should be appointed to assist him in the inspection, but I declined to appoint any one, because I thought the inquiry ought to be entirely independent. The Coroner represented that he had no funds, and that the county declined to bear the burden. I told him I had the concurrence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in stating that funds would be placed at his disposal; but he must clearly understand that the sole responsibility of the choice of the person to assist in the inspection and the conduct of the inquiry must fall on himself.