HL Deb 24 May 1880 vol 252 cc309-12

, in asking the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether he intended to appoint a Naval Commission to inquire into the seaworthiness of the training ship Atalanta? and expressing sympathy with the relatives of those who might unhappily now he considered as having perished in the ill-fated ship, referred to the loss of the Eurydice, and said, he trusted that there would be no objection to the appointment of a Naval Commission upon the subject of the foundering of the Atalanta. He considered that the men on board had lost their lives in the service of their country just as much as if they had fallen in action. He thought it would be well if the Commission were not only to inquire into the seaworthiness of the ship, but were able to show that it was suitable for the purpose to which it was applied, that it was manned under the best and wisest superintendence, and in such a way that reliance was not necessarily placed on the support and assistance of the very large number of youthful students of the Navy who were on board, and who, in such a danger as the ship had had to encounter, would be rather an impediment and a difficulty than any source of help.


My Lords, before answering the Question that has been put to me by my noble Friend, I think it is right to inform your Lordships, with the deepest regret, that the Naval Members of the Board of Admiralty see no hope whatever of the safety of the Atalanta; and, my Lords, as so many of your Lordships take an interest in the ship, I have desired charts to be placed in the Library showing the evidence upon which that conclusion has been arrived at. The logs of some forty vessels have been consulted; and it has been proved that between the 12th and the 16th of February a terrific gale spread over a considerable portion of the Atlantic. Some 18 merchant vessels have been reported at Lloyd's as missing. They were homeward bound from the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, and the West Indies, and it is feared they have foundered in the gale. The Caspaei passed the latitude of Bermuda on the 3rd of February, and was dismasted on the 12th, thrown on her beam ends, and only saved in consequence of her cargo having consisted of new cotton on board. The Atalanta left Bermuda on the 31st of January, and we may assume that she had the same winds and weather as the Caspaei, and would, therefore, on the 12th have been about 300 miles to the eastward, and exposed to the same terrific gale. Had the Atalanta passed through the gale unhurt we can trace her course homewards, as we know that westerly winds prevailed for some days after the gale, which would have brought the Atalanta to the entrance of the Channel by the 20th of February. Had she been dismasted on the 12th or 13th of February she would have rigged jury masts, and have been driven homewards, even under a small amount of canvas, a few days later. Had she even drifted about as a helpless wreck she would still have been driven to the eastward; and under any circumstances she would have passed through a tract of the ocean which we know, from the logs of merchant vessels at that time, which have been examined, was crowded with sailing and steaming merchant ships. This is shown upon another chart which has been prepared by the Admiralty. My Lords, the late Board of Admiralty, as your Lordships can well understand, were even earlier than the public anxious as to the fate of the Atalanta, and they took every measure which could be taken to search for the vessel as soon as they became anxious for her safety. As I have said before, the Naval Members of the Admiralty have come to the conclusion that no further hope remains of the safety of the vessel; and I need hardly assure your Lordships that those who have been in any way connected with this inquiry feel, as deeply as the noble Lord who has just spoken, great sympathy with those who had relatives on board. The noble Lord has said, with perfect truth, that those who have lost their lives in the Atalanta have lost their lives in the service of their Queen and their country just as much as if they had lost their lives in an engagement with the enemy. My Lords, if there had been any survivors of the Atalanta, the ordinary and necessary course would have been to order a court mar- tial to assemble to try the survivors for the loss of the ship, in which ease the fullest inquiry 'would have taken place into such of the circumstances as could have been made the subject of investigation. But, my Lords, under the present circumstances, it is necessary for the Board of Admiralty to take a different course; and it has been determined, after full consideration, to appoint a Committee for the purpose of investigating the loss of the ship. That Committee will be presided over by Admiral Ryder, the Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, who was in no degree concerned in fitting out the ship, he having been appointed to his present command after the ship started on its voyage. The Members of the Committee will be Vice Admiral Randolph, C.B., Mr. H. C. Rothery, the Wreck Commissioner, who is experienced in inquiries into the causes of wrecks, Staff Captain Batt, of the Royal Navy, an officer eminently qualified for an inquiry of this kind; and a gentleman who was recommended to me by the Chairman of Lloyd's Registry, whom I consulted on the subject. His name is Mr. Bernard Waymouth, who was late chief surveyor to Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping, and is now their secretary. I am satisfied, my Lords, that this Committee is so constituted as to give the Board of Admiralty assurance that a full and complete inquiry will take place. The instructions to be given to the Committee will be that they should report their opinion as to the stability, seaworthiness, and efficiency of the ship; and whether she was not in all respects equipped and manned so as to fit her for the service in which she was employed. I believe, my Lords, those instructions will include all those points which were mentioned by my noble Friend. My Lords, the evidence will be taken by this Committee in public, in the same manner as before a court martial. I have only to add that I have been in communication with the late First Lord of the Admiralty upon this subject, and he has expressed to me his concurrence in the course which is proposed to be taken, and his desire—as it is quite natural it should be—that the inquiry should be as complete and as full as possible.


said, he had Been many letters upon the subject of the loss of the Atalanta, and he hoped the noble Earl would not be led away by any rumours as to the unseaworthiness of the ship. Vessels of the class of the Atalanta were, in his opinion, perfectly safe; but the Naval Service was a dangerous one, and the loss of this ship was one of its accidents. He thought it would be utterly impossible to have a body of ably trained seamen unless they received instruction on sailing vessels. The Atalanta belonged to a class of vessels which induced them to think she would not capsize. She was not considered unseaworthy or dangerous, and the only conclusion was that the unfortunate vessel had been lost in the terrific gale of February last.