HC Deb 21 May 1880 vol 252 cc233-6

asked the Secretary to the Admiralty, to be good enough to inform the House the nature of the instructions issued to the commanders of the vessels ordered to cruize in search of Her Majesty's missing Training Ship "Atalanta;" and, if the Commander of the North American Squadron has been requested to cruize in the course of the Gulf Stream, between the islands of Bermuda and Newfoundland, and, as far as practicable, all navigable approaches in the neighbourhood of the St. Lawrence; also, how Her Majesty's Ship "Atalanta" was ballasted, and if any and what proportion of the ballast consisted of moveable fresh water tanks?


As soon as the late Board of Admiralty became alarmed about the safety of the Atalanta, they despatched the Salamis on the 13th of April from Gibraltar, with instructions to proceed to the Azores, and to inquire among the Islands of that group for any trace of the missing ship. On the same day the Channel Fleet started for the same destination, with orders to cruise from the Azores homeward to Bantry Bay on the track of vessels coming from Bermuda. The Squadron left Fayal, after receiving a report of the fruitless search of the Salamis on the 25th of February. Whenever the state of the weather permitted, the ships were placed in line abreast in extended order, and a good look-out was kept; but not the slightest trace of anything belonging to the Atalanta was found. The Fleet arrived at Berehaven on the 9th of May. On the 5th of May the Blanche was instructed to sail from Bermuda, and to cruise to the northward and eastward of the banks of Newfoundland. The French and Danish Governments were also requested to obtain any information from their cruises off Iceland and the Farce Islands. In the meantime, however, information of a very full character had gradually been accumulating at the Admiralty, obtained from the logs of vessels arriving in England and ports in the North of Europe, as to the state of the weather on the track of the Atalanta in February last. No less than 42 such logs have been examined, and they all show that between the 11th and 16th of February terrific gales occurred over a great extent of that part of the Atlantic. The various positions of these vessels on the 11th and 12th of February have been marked on a chart, giving also the state of the weather reported; and they show very distinctly the range of these gales. The vessel most nearly on the track of the Atalanta was the Norwegian barque Caspaei, on a voyage from New Orleans to Falmouth. This vessel was in the longitude of Bermuda, and at no great distance, on the 3rd of February, three days after the Atalanta sailed from that Island. On the 12th she met with a most terrific gale, the worst her master had ever encountered. She was thrown on her beam ends, and remained in this position for 19 hours, and was only saved from sinking by the bouyancy of her cargo. Her master significantly reported that many ships wore in sight at the commencement of the gale, and were unable to lay to on account of its suddenness. We may fairly assume that the Atalanta had the same wind and weather as the Norwegian barque, and on the 12th of February she must have been about 300 miles to the eastward of the barque, and exposed to the same terrific gale. Had the Atalanta, been simply dismasted by the gale she could have rigged jury masts; and as we now know with certainty from the logs of the various vessels I have referred to, it is certain she must have been driven, even under the smallest amount of canvas, to the entrance of the channel by the end of February. Had she drifted about as a helpless wreck, she must still have been driven to the eastward, and must have passed over a part of the ocean which we know from various ships' logs was covered with shipping in the months of February and March, and could not have escaped observation. From the known state of the winds we are also justified in saying that she could not have drifted to the northward beyond the usual track of vessels on the Atlantic. The Blanche, however, is still searching for traces of her to the northward and eastward of the banks of Newfoundland. I may add here that the Admiralty have received from Lloyd's a list of 18 vessels which sailed from various ports in North America in January and February, and which are now missing and supposed to have foundered in the gales I have referred to. After a most careful consideration of all the facts thus brought under their notice, the Admiralty have come to the conclusion, which I state to the House with the deepest regret and the greatest sympathy for the relatives of those on board the Atalanta, that there is no longer any ground whatever for hope of the safety of the Atalanta or of her gallant officers and men. It is quite possible some small trace of the vessel may yet be picked up by the numerous vessels that pass over her track; and, with a view of encouraging search, the Admiralty have offered a reward of £200 to anybody who may find and report to the Admiralty any such trace. On Monday, in answer to the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox), I will state to the House the nature of the inquiry which it is proposed to hold on the Atalanta, and I hope to be able to give the names of those who will serve on the inquiry. I will also to-morrow place in the Library a copy of the chart to which I have referred. I think a careful examination of it must justify the conclusions to which the Admiralty have so unwillingly come. At the date of the last report from the Atalanta, December 31, 1878, she had on board 40½ tons of iron ballast and about 2½ tons of cement. She would carry 109 tons of water in iron tanks, which weighed from 24 to 25 tons. These tanks were firmly fixed in the hold, and each tank could be filled up with salt water when the fresh water had been expended.


further inquired whether the Papers included any survey which was made of the ship?


No doubt the Committee of Inquiry will investigate that among other matters.