HL Deb 21 June 1883 vol 280 cc1112-6



said, he rose to inquire of Her Majesty's Government, in reference to the loss of Her Majesty's Ship "Lively," Whether any representations have been made to the Board of Admiralty or other department with the view of having the rock known as the "Hen and Chickens" buoyed; and, if so, for what reason a precaution apparently so necessary for the safety of Her Majesty's Ships has not been taken? The subject was one of considerable public interest, because the vessel in question was a very valuable one. It was certainly a most extraordinary thing that the vessel should have struck upon this shoal in broad daylight, and when she had an experienced officer on board; and, doubtless, if this shoal had been buoyed the accident would not have happened. It would not be proper, at the present moment, for him to say anything that might prejudice the case, which would certainly have to be inquired into, or to aggravate the position of a gallant officer who would, doubtless, have to justify the course he pursued before a court martial. In one respect he thought that the commanders in the Royal Navy were more sinned against than sinning, and that was in the matter of the charge of their ships being handed over to pilots. In the present instance, be understood that the Lively at the time she struck was in charge of a pilot. Nothing could conduce more to accidents of this character than to place British ships of war, when in British waters, in the hands of pilots, because such a course must inevitably weaken the sense of responsibility of the commanding officers. The Board of Admiralty had published a most admirable work, showing the dangers surrounding the British Coasts, and also most excellent charts; and officers in the Navy should be required to make themselves acquainted with those means for making them competent pilots. If all naval officers were obliged to be their own pilots in British waters, and to keep a careful record of the mode in which they took their vessels in and out of harbour, a very good school of navigation would be established, which would fit our officers to pilot their vessels with safety in all parts of the globe. His belief was that if a buoy had been placed on the Hen and Chickens Rock, a valuable ship might have been saved for the British Service. He also wished to inquire, Whether any similar representations have been at any time made with reference to a well-known danger called the "North Shoal," off the west coast of the Orkneys; and whether, in view of the recent catastrophe, the marking of that danger by means of a buoy will be seriously considered? and to move for any correspondence on the subjects. The shoal in question was thus described by the Admiralty— The North Shoal is a bank of 20 and 25 fathoms, having on it a small and nearly per- pendicular rock which rises to within nearly 7 feet of the surface of low water springs; the summit of the rock is not more than half the size of a boat, the lead falling off it into deeper water. This rock was nine miles distant from the nearest land, and was in the track of vessels coming from North America. There was a large number of men and vessels engaged in the cod fishing in the Northern Seas. Shoals of this character were a great danger to vessels engaged in the fishings on that part of the Coast; and if this matter were seriously considered by the Admiralty or the Board of Trade, and the dangerous spot marked either by a lightship or a buoy, it would be the means of saving many lives.

Moved for— Correspondence respecting the buoying of the rock known as the 'Hen and Chickens.' and of the 'North Shoal,' off the west coast of the Orkneys."— (The Duke of Marlborough.)


said, he wished to call attention to the fact that the captain of a steam fishing beat or tug named the Mary Anne had done everything he could to render assistance, and deserved the greatest possible thanks for his conduct. But shortly after the Lively struck, a steam herring boat, on its way to Stornoway, passed close by, being only two or three minutes off; and, though every possible signal of distress was held out, the captain of this ship did not stir one yard from his course to render assistance, or even come near to see if he could be of any use. No doubt, the captain in question had written to the Scotch papers to explain that he saw that a steam tug was already on the spot, and also that some hours afterwards he did return; but neither of those excuses ought, in his (the Marquess of Lothian's) opinion to be entertained. It was not unlikely, however, that if this captain did return he might claim compensation for the time passed; but he trusted no compensation would be allowed to him. He thought it desirable to bring under public notice the conduct of captains of ships not rendering assistance in case of distress.


said, that he joined with the noble Duke (the Duke of Marlborough) in deploring the loss of ono of Her Majesty's ships; and he agreed that no pains should be spared to ascertain the circumstances connected with the occurrence. Ho was, however, in a position of considerable difficulty; because, when one of Her Majesty's ships was lost, a court martial to inquire into the circumstances of the loss was held, and one would be held in this case. The Report would come before the Board of Admiralty; and accordingly it was quite impossible for him to refer in any way in that House to the circumstances of the loss of the Lively, or to the responsibility of the officer in command of it. Their Lordships would, therefore, excuse him if he did not enter into any of these questions. He was obliged to the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lothian) for the information he had communicated. If ho were to answer the first Question of the noble Duke strictly, he would say that no representation of any kind had been made to the Admiralty with regard to the Hen and Chickens Rock. In 1869, however, the officer surveying those parts of the Coast suggested that a beacon or buoy should be placed over the sunken rock, and the Commissioners of Northern Lights recommended that this should be done; but the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, who had a consultative voice in these matters, were of opinion that a very good clearing mark was given in the Admiralty directions, and they did not see that the proposal was necessary. No further representations had been made since 1869. With respect to the Question whether similar representations had been at any time made with reference to the North Shoal, off the West Coast of the Orkneys, he had to say that no representation whatever had been made to the Admiralty with regard to it. The Hydrographer to the Navy who was the authority whom the Board of Admiralty consulted in these matters, reported to the Board that the shoal was 7 feet under water; and, in his opinion, no buoy would stand in such an exposed position; and the danger, moreover, was out of the general track of navigation. In 1876 the Commissioners of Supply for Orkney made a representation to the Board of Trade that there were 44 rocks and shoals around the Islands which were not marked by either buoys or beacons. The Memorial was referred to the Commissioners of Northern Lights, who advised that a few lights were required; but the North Shoal was not among those so recommended. There was no objection to the Correspondence being produced. Their Lordships were probably aware that the Board of Admiralty were not responsible for the lighting of the Coasts. The Board of Trade was the authority dealing with such matters, acting under the advice of the Commissioners of Northern Lights and the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House.


suggested that the danger from the rock on which the Lively stranded might be obviated by blowing up the rock with dynamite, and that its destruction would be a merciful purpose, to which a little dynamite could be applied.

Motion agreed to.

Correspondence ordered to be laid before the House.