HC Deb 15 August 1878 vol 242 cc2041-51

rose to call attention to the circumstances attending the raising of H.M.S. "Eurydice."


asked, if the noble Lord was in Order in referring to this subject, seeing that a court martial was about to sit upon it.


ruled that the noble Lord was quite in Order.


said, he was extremely sorry to detain the House, even for one minute, at that late period of the Session; but the subject he wished to speak about was really so important a matter to the Navy generally that he must ask the House kindly to listen to him for a moment. He had been purposely keeping the matter back till the vessel should be floated; but it was obvious there could be no further delay. The universal feeling, both at home and abroad, was, first of all, that the naval people had been much longer than they ought to have been about the raising of the ship; and, secondly, that a private firm could have done the work much better and quicker. It was to defend the naval authorities against those accusations that he brought the subject forward; for they naturally felt very sore upon the point, as, in fact, did the whole Service. The point the court martial had to inquire into was the loss of the vessel, and did not not touch the one he was bringing before the House— namely, the raising of it—therefore, the slur would remain all the same. The Eurydice went down on March 24. Almost immediately it was decided to raise her, and the Press started the theory it was a very easy matter. Any amount of suggestions were offered by many people, nearly all theories. The Admiralty left the whole matter in the hands of the Dockyard Admiral at Portsmouth (Admiral Foley), and gave him an order to raise the vessel. He called together all the heads of Departments at his disposal at the Yard— namely, the Chief Constructor, the Master Attendants, the Chief Engineer, and others. The matter was talked over, most carefully considered, and thought out. The Admiral decided on a plan of lifting her with jewels and toggles; and from that day to this, with the exception of the first temporary lighter trial, the plan had remained exactly the same in every particular. Since the first attempt was made, there had been 17 failures, and what did a failure mean? A failure meant detaching the wreck from the lifting vessels altogether, all the pendents and purchases to be brought to afresh for putting down again—in fact, the whole of the laborious and delicate plan to be re-commenced. It was enough to break all their hearts, everything to be got ready so often. Everything was calculated most accurately; but it wanted one thing to make certain success — fine weather. On no single occasion did they get fine weather till she came out of the hole. The whole of the delay was simply an accident of weather. The wreck lay about three-and-a-half miles from the shore, in mid-ocean, in 75 feet of water, in a tideway that only ceased running one way or the other for 27 minutes each turn. The tide ran at the rate of 5 knots an hour. The divers who had to place the toggles and jewels could, consequently, only work 54 minutes out of the 24 hours, and that only with the weather permitting. The tide rise was only 12 feet, and the hole the ship had made was 12 feet, so she had to be actually lifted from the ground over 12 feet to clear her from the bank she had made. This was done by sinking the lifting vessels. The draught of the lifting vessels had to be increased 4 feet, and after pinning down and pumping them dry, the difficulties were enormous. They had 400 tons to lift over 12 feet to raise her out of her bed, and they were entirely dependent upon the weather, as she was in the open sea. The slightest breeze, not even a fresh one, would cause a swell, and as there were four vessels employed as lifters, it would raise one before the other, so that the immense strain would not come equally among them, and something must part, either pendent, purchase, or toggle. Therefore it was imperative to have quite calm weather and a perfectly smooth sea, He had now, he hoped, shown that the Eurydice could not have been raised out of her bed one minute before she was. After once getting her out of her bed, it was easy enough to float her along by shifts and shortening the pendents; but even after she was in 22 feet of water in Sandown Bay bad luck nearly overtook them again, as a gale sprung up from the southward and eastward, which, if it had continued, must have broken her up. The Admiral lifted her again and brought her round to St. Helen's, which made a total distance of six miles. The last part of the distance she was carried; she must have weighed nearly 600 tons, as she was more than half out of the water. Naval officers considered that the raising of this ship was one of the most remarkable things ever accomplished. A wreck had never before been raised in 12 fathoms of water with a five-knot tide. Now, as to the point as to whether a private firm could have raised the wreck, which was generally preached as a better and a quicker expedient. The wreck was within 11 miles of the largest and best found Dockyard in the world, the Admiralty had at their command not only the Admiral and all his most experienced officials and heads of Departments, but everything that could possibly be wanted, both in skill and appliances. The total value of the plant that was used, and without which the Eurydice would be now where she foundered, he made out to be over £150,000. There were six tugs, a steam lighter, four lighters, two corvettes, four coal hulks, and 230 men, all under discipline, consisting of fitters, shipwrights, riggers, seamen, engineers, and divers, all working under their different heads of Departments under the Admiral. What private firm or six private firms could have placed such a plant on the spot? There was no narrow-mindedness in the matter either; as in the most important matter of all—that was, the divers—out of the seven employed—and they were the men who really brought the wreck to the surface—three were from the private firm of Siebe and Gorman, so that, in the only matter there might have been a doubt about, men were used foreign to the Service. He was there himself nearly all the time from the day the wreck was first lifted till yesterday, and he could testify to the immense difficulties, the laborious, and even revolting, work the officers and men engaged had to go through. There was no doubt that a popular sentiment prevailed in favour of endeavouring to raise the ship which rendered it absolutely necessary that everything should be done by the authorities to get her up; when once it was undertaken, it became a national anxiety that it should be raised. One word about the loss of the unfortunate ship. It was generally believed that it was caused by want of seamanship. He ventured to say it would have occurred to any man under the same circumstances. Captain Hare, poor fellow, was one of the best seamen England had. He was specially picked for his duties on that account; while, with regard to what had been said as to the rest of the officers not being so good as they might have been, they were also all picked men. Then, again, it was said that the ship was crowding on too much sail; but as the ship was under the lee of the land the squall was never seen, else the usual precautions would have been taken, such as letting go sheets and halliards. She was hove at once upon her beam ends, and the men could not get up from the too scuppers to let go the necessary ropes. A good deal had been said about the lee ports being open and too much sail on the ship. The lee ports were always left open in a smooth sea. It was the weather ports that were closed, as the wash and spray all came from the windward side. Any officer would have cracked on also under the circumstances with a smooth sea and a falling glass, and his port close by. Captain Hare wanted to drop his anchor before the gale came on, and before night set in, instead of beating about all night in such a dangerous locality. He (Lord Charles Beresford) had his own idea as to why the sail was not shortened before. To speak plainly, the very painful affair was a pure accident, just as much as would have been the running off the line of an express train. The deck clock was stopped at one minute to 4. The ship's company were piped to supper at seven bells. They never in the Navy turned the men up in their meal hours. He himself, as officer of the watch, had lost spars and sails by holding on a few minutes because the men had not finished their time. The men were at supper, as would be seen by their mess traps and the tea leaves in the basins, and all the bodies were in their right rig. Captain Hare meant, he believed, to turn the hands up, and shorten sail at 4 o'clock. The few minutes lost the ship, in his opinion. The squall, an awfully heavy one, struck her, and she took a tremendous quantity of water over her lee gunwale. It hove her under water. She was going at a great pace, and he believed she sailed to the bottom; she certainly was moving at a great pace when she struck the bottom, as her false keel was astern of herself on the bottom. He himself saw the bits and the belaying pins, and not one single rope was let go. He was sorry to hear, a few nights ago, a slur cast upon Captain Hare by the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. D. Jenkins). He could assure the hon. Member, although there was no doubt that what he had said he felt to be in the performance of his duty, that his observations would cause far more pain to the old messmates and shipmates of Captain Hare that he would ever know. From his own personal experience, he (Lord Charles Beresford) could state that Captain Hare was a splendid seaman; there could be no better; nor was there one who had more consideration for his men or for the lives the Admiralty intrusted to his keeping—in fact, it was, in a roundabout way, his kindness to them that really prevented him turning the hands up before their time, and so the ship foundered before he could do anything.


said, he was very far from intending to give any just offence to anyone in the observations he had made on this subject. He had brought forward the matter simply from a sense of public duty. He must, therefore, express his regret that anything he said had wounded the feelings of any officer in Her Majesty's Navy. Nothing was further from his intention than to express any direct opinion on the immediate cause of the catastrophe. He agreed in most that had been said by the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford); but having carefully listened to his remarks, he could not understand how the accident could have occurred under the circumstances he had related to the House; and he adhered to the opinion that Captain Hare was not on deck at the time the squall struck the Eurydice, nor was any experienced officer there at the time. He had been shipwrecked himself on two occasions, and each time he had found his recollection of what had happened to be so confused, that it was in no way to be relied on. He, therefore, thought that the two sailors who were saved, and who had said Captain Hare was on deck, were mistaken. The primary cause of the loss of the ship was, he believed, that she was not sufficiently ballasted when she left Portsmouth Dockyard on her last voyage. They depended exclusively on water ballast, and the ship was notoriously a very crank one. Unless she was sailed with the greatest skill and caution, in carrying canvas disaster was sure to follow. He only hoped, upon investigation, it would be found by the court martial that he (Mr. D. Jenkins) was in error, and that the ship was an inevitable loss through perils of the sea; but he was certainly of a contrary opinion.


believed that the cost of raising the Eurydice would very far exceed the value of her carcase, and he thought it would have been much better, and certainly much less painful to the feelings of friends, if she had been blown up and the bodies collected before they were in the state in which they were discovered. With regard to any blame which might be thrown on Captain Hare and the other officers, he trusted that the public would reserve their judgment till after the court martial. He believed no blame attached to anyone, least of all to Captain Hare.


said, that the Admiralty ought to feel deeply indebted to the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford), who had come forward to whitewash its numerous officials. The Admiralty itself, like the unfortunate ship, had got into "a hole," and the noble and gallant Lord, with all the courage and chivalry of his country, was working hard to drag them out of it. He thought, however, that the whole of the proceedings connected with the Eurydice had been disgraceful to the Admiralty, and were not calculated to raise their Navy in the eyes of foreign nations. What were the facts? At 3 or 4 o'clock, on a bright afternoon in the month of March, the Eurydice, sailing within sight of land, all of a sudden went to the bottom with 500 men on board. She was not alone on the waters; there were many other vessels around her; but no accident happened to any one of them. Sailors in those ships, landsmen in the Island, saw her, and wondered what she was about. She was loaded with sails; all her ports were open. The weather had been squally, and almost everyone anticipated danger for the ship. Only those who were on board seemed fool-hardy, and defied the elements. Well, she sank. And what then happened? The noble and gallant Lord had told them, and he was willing to accept his version, though there was a different impression abroad. The Portsmouth officials met, and all agreed upon the proper and best mode of raising the sunken ship. But a whole month passed before they actually did, or even attempted to do, anything. During this time, the ship made for herself that 12-foot hole, of which the noble and gallant Lord had so plaintively told them in his elaborate speech. Was not that a proof of the greatest negligence? Could anything, in fact, be worse? An attempt had been made to account for, or defend it, on the plea that the winds and waves and hurricanes were so prevalent that nothing could be done. He himself had no personal knowledge of the locality; but he had spoken with several naval men, and all ridiculed the idea of the continual bad weather which it was pretended prevailed in Sandown Bay. He himself did not believe in the existence of typhoons all the summer round, in that particular bay, though if he were to credit the Admiralty reports that appeared in the papers, there was hardly ever anything else. But did the misconduct of the Admiralty end there? By no means. After a considerable lapse of time, the officials set to work, and all their hawsers snapped like threads. Now, the Admiralty had all the means and appliances of England at their back. They received unlimited sums of money; yet it would seem that they had no hawsers of any value when they thus failed on trial. What would foreign nations think of them, or of their Navy, when they learned these things? Five months and more had passed, and they had accomplished hardly anything, but to pull the ship to pieces; and hence the tales of storms and tornadoes, which in his judgment were merely fables, invented to cover our shame at failure. Allusion had been made to Captain Hare, and he did not wish to say anything against him. He had been praised highly as an almost perfect officer; and this must, of course, be accepted, for it was a well-known historical fact that jobbery, corruption, nepotism, and ignorance had never prevailed at the Admiralty. It was an Establishment with which all who were connected were absolutely without fault. This thing, however, he could not avoid saying—that all the mercantile captains who were making for land at the time when the Eurydice went down, saw danger before them, and made ready to meet it. Forewarned, they were also forearmed; but Captain Hare alone failed to see danger, or to take precaution. He sailed along in a stiff wind with all his ports open. In the tropics, it was usual to have all ports open, for the sake of air; but surely to do so last March, on the coast of England, was wholly rash and reckless! It was like the conduct of the Portsmouth officials in raising the wreck, who sought to drag her out of "the hole" by attaching toggles to the masts—which they pulled out in no time. This was as if they sought to remove a house, en bloc, by attaching hawsers to the chimnies. They had now raised the ship, at an expense, perhaps, of £15,000; and when she was broken up, as she must be, for fire-wood, she would not fetch £150. He considered that a public scandal, and a national disgrace.


I am sure, Sir, the House will acknowledge that honour and credit are due to the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) for the spirit in which he has spoken of this lamentable catastrophe. I feel, notwithstanding the remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the work which has been done by the authorities at Portsmouth is a work which reflects great credit upon them. It was a work of extreme difficulty, the like of which had not been attempted by any men, or any body of men, possessing resources at all approaching to those of the Admiralty. As to the time that has been occupied in raising the Eurydice, the House will probably remember there was a case in which a ship went down in smooth water in the harbour of Holyhead, the depth being nine fathoms, or 54 feet. The Edith was the property of the London and North-Western Railway Company, which possesses resources second only to those of the Government, and was not hampered by routine, or any other considerations, as to the use of the best means to raise the vessel; and yet it took the Company two years to raise it. I refer to this, because the hon. Member opposite (Dr. Kenealy) has stated that he had no personal knowledge, and I am sure he would not wish to make a misrepresentation of the facts; but he has spoken in a manner which he will probably regret when he becomes acquainted with them. No person who had a knowledge of what he was speaking about could have used the terms the hon. Member has. It is not a fact that hawsers have given way, nor that sailors who really have a knowledge of what they are speaking have used the term which the hon. Gentleman has made use of. I wish to say that we do thoroughly and cordially appreciate the work which has been done in the Dockyard; it is a work which has been accomplished under circumstances which have been unusual. Although there have been no typhoons, there have been very high winds at the Isle of Wight, and it is a fact that divers, who are used to work of this kind, and whose lives are of some value, and those who employ them, did think there was danger, and we did not think it necessary to insist on the divers going down when the state of the sea would have endangered their lives, and added to the catastrophe we all deplore. Persons who are competent to express an opinion, and who know the circumstances, admit that the work could not have been done more rapidly. It is not a work which is undertaken every day; it is not a usual thing to raise ships from the bottom of the sea; and I hope, so long as I am at the Admiralty, I may never have such a task to undertake again. As to the question whether the vessel should have been raised or not, I could not have undertaken the responsibility of blowing it up with the remains of gallant men in it. There was a universal feeling that we ought to make the attempt to raise it; it might be called a mere sentiment; but, whatever it was, I think, out of regard for the friends and relatives of the deceased in a grievous national misfortune, that it ought to have been complied with, and we cannot say that the labour and the money spent in raising the vessel have been thrown away. It is probably a fact that the vessel will be worth less than the money spent in raising it; but the feeling which has been satisfied deserves consideration on the part of this House; and I believe I have done no more than my duty in sanctioning the expense. I heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. D. Jenkins) with pain. I cannot believe that anyone would desire to cast a slur on Captain Hare; but there cannot be a doubt that the remarks which fell from him would have that effect upon the minds of some men. We have it on the best authority that Captain Hare was on deck when the ship was struck; it certainly was his duty to be; and there is no ground for saying he was not where he ought to have been at such a time and in such circumstances. [Mr. D. JENKINS: I said in charge of the deck.] I think the captain must have been in charge of the deck at the time. It would be his duty to be there, and to suppose that he was not there is to suppose something exceedingly injurious to his reputation. I endeavour to avoid expressing any opinion at all on the circumstances of the disaster. It is our duty to investigate them in the best way we can by a competent court of naval officers, and we have waited until we have the ship up to find out precisely the position she was in when she was struck. I, therefore, do not think it right to express any opinion either as to the officers or the circumstances themselves; but I repeat, with the most complete confidence, I am justified by his service as a whole, by all who knew Captain Hare, in asserting that, up to the time of this accident, he was an officer on whom the most complete reliance could be placed—a man of great ability, knowledge, judgment, and discretion in the handling of his ship and in dealing with men. Rightly or wrongly, he was selected by my Predecessor—rightly, as I believe—because he had peculiar qualities for dealing with boys. When I had the pleasure of seeing him, six months before the accident, I was struck with the great intelligence he displayed, with the happy condition of the ship, and with the most cordial relations which appeared to exist between him and the officers. So far as I know, no ship ever left these shores with a better crew, with a more experienced captain, or with better men qualified to work together in the training of seamen.