HL Deb 21 April 1890 vol 343 cc921-3

My Lords, in putting the question which stands on the Notice Paper of the House with regard to the passenger ship City of Paris, I wish to call your Lordships' attention for a few moments to one or two circumstances connected with it. First, as to the formidable nature of the accident, it is described in a well-known publication, the Engineer, as being without parallel in the history of navigation of steamships. I will give your Lordships a few particulars showing the character of the vessel. She is, I believe, the fastest ship afloat, and of great size and power. She is stated to be 560 feet long, 63 feet beam, and 42 feet in depth. Her tonnage is about 10,500, horse-power about 18,000, and she has accommodation for 1,000 passengers. She is propelled by twin-screws, and driven by triple-expansion engines of the latest and most approved construction for obtaining the greatest speed at the least proportionate consumption of fuel. The engines make about 85 revolutions per minute. With your Lordships' permission I will now quote a few lines from the EngineerAt half-past 5 on the evening of the 25th March the City of paris was about 2 6 miles from the coast of Ireland running full speed. There were in each engine-room at the time three men, one on each platform. The man on the top platform felt the tailrod of the low pressure engine vibrate and went forward. He had not gone five steps when the low pressure engine flew to pieces. In a few seconds this great engine, standing about 45 feet high, was a heap of scrap. The explosion of a great shell might work such havoc in an ironclad. It is difficult, in the face of such total destruction, to form any theory as to what gave way first. We are puzzled to imagine how it is possible that materials so excellent could have been so completely destroyed. There is not a broken bar or bolt which does not show that it has only given way as the result of the utmost violence. From this account it appears that the cause of the accident, according to the statements which have been given by those who have seen the vessel since she arrived at Liverpool, as to where the mischief originated, in what part of the ship or in what portion of the machinery is not yet clear. It appears, however, that the screw shaft, upwards of 100 feet in length and about 21 inches in diameter, had broken, and that the consequence of that was it became, of course, separated from the engines, which then went at a very rapid rate, shook the vessel, and caused very great vibration throughout her entire structure. I do not, my Lords, feel that I am in a position now to go further into the details. That was not my object to-night in putting this question to Her Majesty's Government, as I hope there may be an official investigation and a Report made upon the matter. I think I have stated enough to show the great importance of having an official inquiry. I will only mention one or two more facts which your Lordships ought to know. I do not think it is necessary to go farther into the details. I have thought it desirable to refer to them as showing the great importance of an inquiry into an occurrence which I believe it will turn out has arisen, according to all the information I possess, from the fact that sufficient precautions were not taken. I do not desire in any way to prejudice the question, neither do I wish to cast blame upon any of the persons connected with the vessel. On the contrary, I feel that I ought to speak of the exemplary conduct of the crew, and, indeed, of all persons on board. There cannot be a doubt that the ship was built upon the best known principles for ensuring safety as well as for speed; but I think there is reason for asking whether all the appliances for preventing danger to passenger ships were used. It may be found upon inquiry that they were not. But on two points specially do I wish now to speak, I mean of the appliances which were used in this vessel. I would venture to ask Her Majesty's Government, in the event of no further inquiry being made, if the House can be informed whether the City of Paris was provided with a well-known safety appliance for the engines of steamships, I mean a marine engine governor, one of the chief objects of which is, in case the shaft is broken and becomes detached from the engines, to very much lessen, if this appliance is properly constructed, if not altogether to prevent great mischief. Only a few minutes ago I received a communication from a person who is well qualified by his knowledge of these matters to give an opinion (I do not know that I am at liberty to mention his name) that the City of Paris had what is called a governor, but that it was only useful under certain circumstances, and would not have been efficient for the purpose of preventing this accident. As your Lordships are doubtless aware, I am not speaking from my own personal knowledge of these matters; but I have reason to believe that what I have stated is correct. The other question to which I wish to direct your attention for a few moments is, had the vessel sufficient sailing-power to keep her on her course when under sail alone. We have had, I think, already a practical answer to that question—that she had not sufficient sailing power. I believe that all the reports which have reached us show that the vessel drifted many miles out of her course, and that if she had fallen in with bad weather the consequences would have been most serious. I am not in a position to speak with authority on the subject; but I think it is a point deserving of the greatest attention, that no passenger steamship should be allowed to go to sea without having sufficient sailing power to keep her on her course. Those, my Lords, are two questions which, if the matter comes under inquiry by Her Majesty's Government, will, I hope, be duly considered. I would now ask Her Majesty's Government whether any inquiry will be made into this accident, which must be recognised as extremely serious, involving as it did the lives of more than 600 passengers besides the crew on board.


My Lords, I have been requested by my noble Friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who is detained on the Railway Rates Inquiry in Ireland, to answer the noble Earl's question. An official investigation has been ordered by the Board of Trade into the case of the City of Paris, and the Report will be published in due course. If the noble Earl then desires to move that the Report should be laid on the Table of the House there will be no objection.