HC Deb 30 May 1881 vol 261 cc1658-60

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether the inquiries which he promised to make relative to a letter in the "Pall Mall Gazette," signed "Charlotte G. O'Brien," respecting the state of things on board an emigrant ship, have proved the substance of that letter to be correct; and, if so, what steps he intends to take in the matter?


I stated to the House on a previous occasion that on seeing the letter from Miss O'Brien which appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette, I had direted Captain Wilson, one of the officers of the Board of Trade, to proceed to Queenstown to inquire into the facts of the case, and that Mr. Gray, the Assistant Secretary of the Marine Department, who was in Liverpool at the time, would also make an independent inquiry into the subject. I communicated at the same time with Miss O'Brien, and learnt from her that the vessel to which her description was intended to apply was the Germanic, of the British White Star Line. I have now received full Reports from Mr. Gray and Captain Wilson, and these show, first, that all the requirements of the law have been fulfilled, and even exceeded, by the owners of the White Star Line, in their provision for emigrants; secondly, that the general arrangements on this line are at least as good as those on any other of the 10 lines which take emigrants from Liverpool and Queenstown to America; and, thirdly, that these officers are totally unable to recognize the state of things described by Miss O'Brien in anything which has ever existed on board the Germanic. Captain Wilson was accompanied in his inquiries by Miss O'Brien herself, and visited with her 10 ships belonging to different lines. On the 20th of May Miss O'Brien and Captain Wilson visited the Germanic on her last outward voyage, and on the completion of their inspection Miss O'Brien wrote a letter to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, which she has desired me to read to the House. This letter is as follows:— My dear Mr. Forster,—I have just seen the Germanic with Captain Wilson. As it is present, nothing can exceed the beauty and perfection of the arrangements. I can in no way reconcile my former impressions with what was to-day shown us. I have, however, written to some of the emigrants who travelled on the Germanic on the 10th of March. If their testimony is against mine I shall certainly withdraw my accusations against this particular ship. though not against the whole system, which I look on as certain to lead to abuse, and as requiring legal alteration, Meanwhile, I am much puzzled.—Yours very truly, C. G. O'BRIEN. I am informed by the owners of the Germanic that the arrangements on the 20th of May were precisely similar in character to those in use when Miss O'Brien first saw the vessel on the 10th of March, and this statement is confirmed by the emigration officer, who cleared the vessel on both occasions. I ought to add, with reference to a statement in Miss O'Brien's first letter, to the effect that the Germanic, which was supposed to carry 1,000 steerage passengers, carried on one voyage last year 1,775 emigrants, that, as a matter of fact, the largest number of steerage passengers carried by the Germanic in any one voyage during 1880 was 864, or less than one-half the number mentioned by Miss O'Brien. On the occasion of Miss O'Brien's visit the number carried was only 365. I should have been glad to leave the matter here, but I have since received a letter from Miss O'Brien which. I am totally unable to explain. In this letter, which is not dated, she says— My letter to Mr. Forster, which Captain Wilson and Mr. Graves saw, really means nothing. Mr. Forster has the letter, which states that the present arrangements, as shown on the 19th were excellent, that I was unable to reconcile them with what I had previously seen; but that I had written to some emigrants of the date in question to ascertain their testimony. I should wish my letter in its own words to be read in Parliament, as I distinctly do not withdraw my former letter; but I do not wish to press it against the Germanic, as I have now plenty of evidence against the system under Captain Wilson's testimony. I expect soon to be in possession of further evidence: but I must take no step that would weaken my present standpoint, as any appearance of going hack on my first letter would do. This letter leaves me as puzzled as Miss O'Brien. It is difficult to deal with statements of a lady who writes a sensational letter one day, who writes a month later what appears to be a qualified withdrawal of the serious charges contained in the first, and then a day or two later another letter to say that her withdrawal means nothing because she must not weaken her standpoint—that is, a standpoint to bring further charges. Miss O'Brien incloses in this letter a list of questions conveying imputations of a serious character, which I understand to be directed against the ships of other lines; but the questions themselves contain no precise indication as to the particular vessel to which they refer. I am leaving these questions examined, in the hope of obtaining positive information with respect to them, and I am carefully considering the whole subject, with a view of seeing whether any improvement can be made in the existing practice or law; but, meanwhile, I have to say, in answer to the noble Lord, that, in my opinion, the letter in The Pall Mall Gazette professing to describe the state of things on board the Germanic on the 10th of March was not correct in substance.


The Grand Jury at New York have found indictments against British and other steamships which were overcrowded. Has the right hon. Gentleman received any information with regard to this statement from the British Consulate in New York, and will he make inquiries into the matter?


I will make inquiries into the matter with pleasure; but I have received no special information on the matter.


Within the next two or three days I will put a Question on the Paper with reference to the same subject. I have received a letter from Boston, from an ex-constituent of mine, who was not and could not be in communication with Miss O'Brien, and who gives a picture of female emigrants almost corresponding with hers.