HL Deb 03 June 1878 vol 240 cc1063-8

asked Her Majesty's Government, Whether any, and if so, what steps have been taken since a first attempt, that failed, to raise Her Majesty's ship "Eurydice," sunk off Dunnose on the 24th of March last;

Whether any consultations relating thereto, between the dockyard or other naval authorities, and whether any eminent engineers, civil or military, have been invited to give their opinions;

Also, whether any firms, such as "The Steamship Salvage Company," or other persons experienced in such matters, have been invited to afford assistance towards or to tender for raising the vessel;

And, whether there was any objection to produce any Papers relating thereto?

The noble Lord said, he believed it to be the fact that the Government had received offers to raise the Eurydice from private individuals of great eminence as engineers, and from several large firms, who had special appliances for raising sunken ships. One of these companies, he believed, was already under a contract for raising the Vanguard. The attempts made by the Admiralty and Dockyard authorities had been denounced as in no way likely to succeed, whereas the Salvage Company had raised a very large ship from the bottom of the sea within four miles of the very spot where the Eurydice was sunk, not on a sandy, but a hard bottom. Only four weeks before the accident to the Eurydice, the vessel they had raised was towed into Portsmouth harbour. He could quite understand the failure to raise the Vanguard, but he could not understand the failure of the authorities to raise the Eurydice. It was, he thought, scarcely creditable to the first Maritime Power in the world, that a ship should have been lying for 10 weeks in 10 fathoms of water, within a short distance of one of their greatest naval arsenals.


Before answering the Question of the noble Lord, I will avail myself of the opportunity to answer a Question put to me on Friday night by the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches (Lord Oranmore and Browne) with respect to a Naval Review. There is to be no Naval Review, but the Reserve Fleet will assemble at Portsmouth this week. With regard to the Question put to me by the noble Lord now, I am not surprised at it, because I know that many persons interested are imperfectly acquainted with what is doing and has been done—are unaware of the difficulties to be overcome, and express surprise at the apparently slow progress which has been made in raising the Eurydice. I am very glad that the noble Lord has given me the opportunity of explaining at somewhat greater length than on previous occasions the difficulties the Naval authorities have to contend against. The Question of the noble Lord embraces four distinct subjects—namely, what steps are being taken? whether any engineers, civil or military, have been invited to give their opinions? whether any private firms have been invited to afford assistance? and whether there is any objection to produce Papers? First, with regard to Papers, there really are none except the short daily journal kept by the officer in charge of working parties. This will show better than any words of mine the difficulties which have had to be encountered. It is made up to the 29th of May, and will show that out of the 67 days since the ship sank the working parties have only been able to work during portions of 27 days, and sometimes for not more than two hours out of the 24. For 40 days they were unable to work at all on account of the weather. The divers have only been able to work 80 hours in all; and the lighters have had to slip their moorings and run into harbour for shelter no fewer than 11 times; and they had to slip again last Saturday. No objection exists in respect to laying that journal on the Table. The next Question put by the noble Lord is, whether there have been any consultations between the Dockyard or other naval authorities? I think I mentioned on a former occasion that the Admiralty decided from the first that the business of raising the Eurydice should be intrusted to the Dockyard authorities at Portsmouth, where there is a most efficient staff of officers, both scientific and practical, who meet in consultation almost daily. They are presided over by the Admiral Superintendent, Admiral Foley, who is assisted by the Chief Constructor, Mr. Robinson; Captain Polkinghorne, Master Attendant; Captain Batt, Master Attendant of Chatham Dockyard, who was employed for a considerable time in connection with operations at the wreck of the Vanguard; and Captain Datham, Captain Moss, and Captain Palmer, Staff Commanders. In fact, it would be difficult to get together a stronger or a better Board. They are all agreed in thinking that under the circumstances of the case, and with the appliances at their disposal, no plan could be adopted more likely to insure success than the one they were at present endeavouring to carry but. They are animated but by one desire, and that was to succeed, and no exertions were being spared in order to attain that result. The next Question is whether we have invited the opinion of eminent engineers, civil or military? The Admiralty have not invited the opinion of any civil engineer. The matter was one with which the scientific and the practical skill the Department have at its disposal at Portsmouth Dockyard is quite able to deal; and I very much doubt whether there is any civil engineer who has had any experience whatever in raising weights, such as that the authorities have had to deal with, under similar circumstances. I need scarcely add that it has not been considered necessary to invite the opinion of any military men. As to the Question, whether any private firms have been invited to afford assistance, I may say that, for the same reason that I have already mentioned, we have not invited the assistance of the Steamship Salvage Company, or any person experienced in raising vessels; and I am not aware that either the Steamship Company, or, indeed, any other person, has any experience whatever in raising vessels under the circumstances of the present case. There are cases of ships having been saved, and, indeed, of having been raised in smooth water and out of a strong tide-way. But there is no instance on record of a ship having been raised under circumstances similar, or in any way approaching, that in which the Eurydice is placed. The only case at all resembling the present is that of H. M. S. Pincher, a schooner of 180 tons, sunk in 14 fathoms off the Owers in 1837, and it was four months before they succeeded in getting her into Portsmouth Harbour. Of course, we have been inundated with offers. As to what steps are being taken, I have to remark that we have to deal with a dead weight of between 400 and 500 tons, lying 12 fathoms below water, in a strong tide-way, with a current running between four and six knots an hour, and with slack water varying from 30 to 90 minutes only. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a spot on the whole coast of Great Britain where greater difficulties exist—difficulties not only below on account of tide, but difficulties above water on account of tide and weather combined—for a nasty sea gets up at that spot very quickly with the slightest provocation. The Eurydice sank on the 24th of March, and it was not until the 27th that we were able to make an attempt to move the wreck. We did so by means of two corvettes—the Rinaldo and Pearl—which had been temporarily converted into lighters, assisted by two smaller lighters. This attempt failed, owing to the breaking of one of the hawsers; and then, after consultation, it was determined by the Board to which I have referred, to adopt what may be called the overlift principle, which simply means that instead of placing the lighters round the sunken ship as before, they will be placed immediately over her. They will be attached, to the wreck by eight steel hawsers toggled through her main deck ports, and six jewel hawsers will also be passed round the ship. In addition to this, it is intended to make use of her two bower cables, and also of the Russian air bag, which has a lifting capacity of 40 tons. That will give your Lordships some idea of the difficulties to be overcome. No fewer than 16 different attachments have to be made, and an equal strain brought to bear upon them all. Should it come on to blow, or any sea gets up, they must all be slacked up, and probably let go, and the lighters would have to seek shelter in port, as they have had to do 11 times already, and the whole work have to be begun again when the weather is settled. But that is not all. It was supposed that the bottom where the Eurydice sank was hard ground; and so it is. There is a crust of hard ground, but below that is fine soft sand. It would appear that the ship struck the ground with great force, for her starboard cathead is knocked away, and a portion of her keel is sticking out under her stern. The result is the hard crust is broken, and the ship has been gradually settling in the soft sand. During the late gales she was settling at the rate of 2 inches a-day; but, fortunately, she is not settling any more at present, but she is 11½feet in the sand, and out of that hole she has to be lifted and placed upon a new bed. That once done, the difficulty would be practically overcome, and, if the weather will only hold up, I hope it may soon be successfully accomplished, although I am bound to say that I no longer look upon it as a matter of certainty. We have not asked assistance of any civil or any other engineers, because the Dockyard authorities are fully equal to the task; but this I will say, that not all the eminent engineers, civil or even military, aided by the Steamship Salvage or any other private firm, could have hastened the raising of that ship by one hour. In conclusion, I have a plan of the manner in which it is sought to raise the ship, which I shall be happy to show the noble Lord.


asked, whether the attempt to raise her would be made to-morrow?


said, that would depend entirely on the weather.

Then, on the Motion of Lord DORCHESTER, Papers respecting the raising of H. M. S. "Eurydice" ordered to be laid before the House; to be printed, (No. 105.)

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.