Description: Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Verulam', 1881
The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876.
IN the matter of the formal Investigation held at Westminster on the 1st of December 1881, before H. C. ROTHERY, Esquire, Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captain PARISH and Captain RONALDSON as Assessors, into the circumstances attending the abandonment of the British sailing ship "VERULAM," of London, on the 23rd of October last, whilst on a voyage from the Mauritius to London.
Report of Court.
The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons annexed, that the loss of the said vessel was due to the violence of the gale which she encountered; that she was navigated with proper and seamanlike care and skill; and that the master and crew were fully justified in abandoning her when they did.
The Court is not asked to deal with the certificates either of the master or the first officer, nor to make any order as to costs.
Dated the 1st of December 1881.
H. C. ROTHERY, Wreck Commissioner.
We concur in the above report.
Annex to the Report.
This case was heard at Westminster on the 1st of December instant, when Mr. Ravenhill appeared for the Board of Trade, and Mr. Farnfield for the owners and for the master of the "Verulam." Five witnesses having been produced by the Board of Trade and examined, Mr. Ravenhill handed in a statement of the questions upon which the Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court. Mr. Farnfield having then addressed the Court on behalf of his parties, and Mr. Ravenhill having been heard in reply, the Court proceeded to give judgment on the questions on which its opinion had been asked.
The circumstances of the case are as follow:
The "Verulam" was an iron barque, belonging to the Port of London, of 346 tons gross and 333 tons net register. She was built at Greenock in the year 1876, and at the time of her loss was the property of Mr. Daniel King, of 75, Mark Lane, in the City of London, and of other gentlemen, Mr. Daniel King being the managing owner. She left the Mauritius on the 14th July last, bound to St. Helena and London, with a crew of 12 hands, and a general cargo of about 500 tons, consisting chiefly of sugar and rum; she had also one distressed seaman on board, and she drew on leaving the Mauritius about 12 ft. forward and about 12 ft. 2 aft. On the 4th of September following she reached St. Helena, and having discharged about 600 bags of sugar, equal, we are told, to about 40 tons dead weight, she took in some 21 tons of Government stores and other miscellaneous articles, and left therewith on the 7th of the same month. From the 16th of October she began to meet with bad weather, and at about 10 p.m. of the 20th it was deemed expedient to heave her to on the starboard tack under lower main topsail and mizen staysail, the wind blowing a hard gale from the westward. At about 1 a.m., it being at the time the mate's watch, a very heavy sea broke over her forward, carrying away the fore mast, the fore chains, the jibboom, and the main topgallant mast, and stove in the weather side of the deck house. All hands were at once called up, and on trying the pumps it was found that she was making no water. In about two hours they had succeeded in clearing away the wreck, and having got a tackle on the main stay to secure the mast, they went below to change their clothes and to get a little rest, leaving one man on deck to watch the helm. At 5 a.m. another sea broke over the vessel, making a clean sweep, to use the mate's words, of everything as far aft as the break of the poop. This time the main mast, with the mizen topmast and the mizen stay, were carried away, the deck house, and all the three boats with their skids, the mizen mast was sprung, the pumps disabled, and the vessel having been thrown on her beam ends the cargo shifted to port. Having cut away the rigging on the lee side, the mast, with the wreck attached, passed under the vessel's bottom, striking her heavily before it was clear. After clearing away the wreck 60 fathoms of chain cable were paid out to bring the ship's head to wind and sea, and although attempts were made to sound the pumps, it was found impossible to do so, there being too much water on deck. At 1 p.m. the mizen boom gave way at the goose neck, and coming down carried away the wheel, the binnacle, and the lee poop rail, bringing down at the same time the mizen gaff. Relieving tackles were at once put on the tiller, and a spare fore topmast staysail was lashed to the mizen mast and set, to prevent the vessel's head falling off before the wind. At daylight of the 22nd they tried to get the pumps to work, and after some trouble succeeded in partially mending the starboard one, but could do nothing with the port pump. The chief mate and Ward, one of the able seamen, were then sent below to get some fresh water, the fresh water tank on deck having been swept away during the night, and the pipe which led to the lower tank having been broken. Having mended the pipe they brought up some water, but we are told that it was so foul owing to the fumes of the sugar that it was necessary to mix some of Condy's fluid with it before they could drink it. Observing also, whilst they were below, that the water was coming in through some rents in the deck, they proceeded to stop the leaks and to cover up the stumps of the masts; they also put some sails over the hatches, and battened them down to the deck. After this the second mate and three of the hands went below to see if they could re-trim the cargo, but we are told that it was found to be impossible to do so, owing to the rolling of the vessel, and the light having gone out the captain ordered them all to come up on deck again. At about 3 p.m. the same day a sail was observed, which afterwards proved to be the Prussian barque "Mozart," and on a signal of distress being hoisted, she bore down towards them, but the sea was then too high to permit her to lower a boat; she signalled, however, to them that she would stay by them during the night. At daylight the next morning it was found that there were, as nearly as they could make out, 18 inches of water in the hold, which was an increase of 9 inches from the previous evening. In the meantime the crew had expressed to the master their determination to leave the vessel, and accordingly at about 9 a.m., on the "Mozart" coming up and lowering her boat, one of the men jumped overboard with a life buoy round him and succeeded in carrying a line to the boat, and a communication having thus been established, five more of the crew jumped into the sea and were hauled into the boat, by which they were conveyed to the "Mozart," and were in the same way hauled on board the vessel, the sea being too heavy to allow the boat to go alongside. The boat then returned to the "Verulam," took off the remaining seven, the master being the last to leave the ship, and conveyed them in the same way to the "Mozart." The "Mozart" then proceeded on her voyage, and the crew of the "Verulam" were subsequently transferred to a Deal lugger, and were safely landed at Dover. The place where the vessel was abandoned was, we are told, in about 41° north latitude, and about 25° west longitude.
These being the circumstances of the case, the first question upon which our opinion has been asked by the Board of Trade is, "Whether when the vessel left St. Helena she was in good and seaworthy condition?" It seems that the vessel, which, as I have stated, was built in the year 1876, was classed 100 A1 at Lloyd's, and having been docked in November of last year, her bottom was then cleaned and repainted. And there is nothing to show that she was not, when she left the Mauritius, as well as when she left St. Helena, in a good and seaworthy condition.
The second question which we are asked is, "Whether her cargo was properly stowed?" It seems, that at the Mauritius, the cargo had been stowed by a competent stevedore under the supervision of the master and chief mate. The way in which it was done has been very fully described to us by the master, and in the opinion of the assessors, it was carefully and properly stowed. At St. Helena some 600 bags of sugar were taken out in the way of the main hatch, weighing, we are told, about 40 tons, and about 20 or 21 tons of Government stores and miscellaneous goods were put in their place. We are told that amongst the articles there were 3 or 4 carronades and some shot, but the evidence seems to shew that they were properly stowed; the carronades and shot having been placed on the sugar, and other articles over them to keep them in their places. Upon the whole, the assessors have no reason to think that the cargo was not properly stowed, both at the Mauritus, and afterwards on leaving St. Helena.
The third question which we are asked is, "Whether she was overladen." It seems that she had on board about 500 tons weight of goods; her registered tonnage being 334 tons. We are also told that on leaving the Mauritius the water was nearly on a level with the centre of the disc, which it seems was 2 feet 7 below the deck. At St. Helena we are told that she was lightened 3 inches, which would give her, when she left that Island, a freeboard of about 34 inches, and this, upon a depth of hold of 13 feet 3, gives her about 2 1/2 inches to every foot, which, in the opinion of the assessors, for a vessel of her class and size, was sufficient.
The fourth question upon which our opinion has been asked is, "Whether her pumps were sufficient and in good order?" What were the dimensions of her pumps we are not told, but it may fairly be assumed that being classed 100 Al at Lloyd's, the surveyors would not have passed the pumps unless they had been of sufficient dimensions. As regards their condition, the mate has told us that it was his practice to examine them every week, and that he had had them at work within a week before the accident. We have therefore every reason to believe that her pumps were sufficient and in good working order.
The fifth question upon which our opinion has been asked is, "What was the cause of the cargo shifting?" I am told by the assessors that the bags of sugar and the bales of hides and fibre which she had on board, would, in the course of the voyage from the Mauritius, have settled down, leaving a space between the top of the cargo and the beams. When, therefore, she was thrown on her beam ends there would be room for it to shift, and that no doubt was the cause of its shifting.
The sixth question is, "Whether there were spars on board sufficient to have enabled the crew to have rigged jury-masts, and sufficient spare sails and ropes for the same purpose?" The evidence shows that when her masts went she could have had only a small amount of spare rope on board. It must, however, be remembered that she was nearing home after an eleven months' voyage, and I am told by the assessors that in a vessel of this class it would not be usual at that time to have any large amount of spare ropes or sails on board. That she must have had some however is clear, for the master had it in contemplation to rig a jury-mast, and a discussion took place between him and the mate as to where the heel of the jury-mast should be placed, the masts having broken off close to the deck, and it was arranged that it should be put in the chain locker. It is clear, therefore, that she must have had sufficient on board to rig a jury-mast, otherwise it could hardly have been a matter for deliberation between them, although no doubt they had not a great deal to spare.
The seventh question which we are asked is, "Whether every possible effort was made to repair the damage sustained and to re-trim the cargo?" Mr. Ravenhill has told us that he is at a loss to know what more the master and crew could have done than they did do, and in that opinion we quite concur. It was stated indeed by the second mate that in his opinion the cargo could have been re-trimmed if the master had allowed them to do it, but on this point he is contradicted by Ward, one of the able seamen, who gave his evidence very properly, and who was one of the men who went down into the hold with him for the purpose of trimming the cargo. Ward told us that in his opinion it would have been impossible to trim the cargo, owing to the rotting of the vessel. The second mate also stated that they had been called out of the hold by the master after they had been down there for about a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes, but that he did not know why this had been done. The explanation however is quite clear. The master had sent down the second mate and three hands into the hold to re-trim the cargo, and had given them an oil lamp enclosed in a lantern. When however they got down they took the lamp out of the lantern for the purpose of brightening up the light, and whilst they were so engaged the lamp was blown out, upon which Ward was sent with the lamp to have it re-lighted, as they had no lucifer matches with them. He accordingly went to the after hatch, which it seems had been closed after they had gone down, to prevent the water getting into the hold; and he told us that he was ten minutes or so knocking before he could make them hear, owing to the noise which the wind and sea were making. On the hatch being at length opened, and on his asking for another light, the master, who happened to be there, said, "What, have you been down there with a naked light?" and he at once ordered them all to come up, fearing, as he said, lest the fumes from the rum should be ignited and the vessel set on fire; and he preferred, as he stated, to leave the cargo untrimmed rather than have the ship blow up under their feet. The assessors are of opinion that in so doing he exercised a wise discretion, and that this, together with the state of the weather, is a sufficient explanation why the cargo was not re-trimmed.
The eighth question upon which our opinion is asked is, "Whether the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care and skill?" In the opinion of the assessors she was, so far as they are able to say, navigated with great care and skill.
The ninth question is, "Whether the vessel was prematurely abandoned." In the opinion of the assessors she was not prematurely abandoned. She had lost all her masts except the mizenmast, which, however, was sprung; she had no boats; her pumps were disabled, only one, the starboard pump, working, and that indifferently; and the water was rising in the hold. These circumstances, coupled with the fact that she had been very severely struck by the masts and wreck as they passed under her bottom, rendered it, in the opinion of the assessors, if not absolutely necessary, at all events perfectly justifiable to abandon her. It should further be observed that the suggestion to abandon her did not originate with the master, but with the crew, and that, when they came aft and told him that it was their intention to go on board the "Mozart," he did not s?? once accede to the proposal, but told them to go forward and consider it. They did so, and after a time returned and said that they were still of the same mind. Und?? these circumstances it would have been useless for the master and the officers to have remained any longer by her.
The last question which we are asked is, "Whether the master or chief officer or either, and which of them is in default?" In our opinion neither the master nor the chief officer is in default; for they did all that it was humanly possible for them to do to save her.
The Court was not asked to make any order as to costs.
H. C. ROTHERY, Wreck Commissioner.
An example of a Barque