PUBLIC INQUIRY RESPECTING THE LOSS OF THE BARQUE
The number of wrecks which annually occur on the coasts
and in the case of the United Kingdom have amounted in recent years to between
a thousand and twelve hundred, about half of that number have become total wrecks;
and after all the means which philanthropic ingenuity has devised and undaunted
courage employed for the saving of life, an average of about 500 souls are hurried
by this one of the fear fullest ways into eternity. In a maritime country, like
ours, and with a commerce so vast, that a searching magisterial inquiry somewhat
in the nature of an inquest should be made into the immediate cause of wrecks
when possible, had long appeared a matter of Pressing necessity to all who reflected
on the subject, the natural regret at seeing such an enormous amount of property
swallowed up by the unyielding ocean, and the grief for the loss of hundreds
of precious lives, was too often deepened to bitterness by the many proofs that
existed that not a few of these disaster were occasioned by the incompetency
and intemperance of the masters and the crews, or the unskilfulness or recklessness
of pilots, or the bad founding on the ships. By the Merchant Seaman's Act of
1854 provision was made for such an inquiry: it enacted under the head of "Wrecks,
Casualties, and Salvages," that whenever any ship is lost, abandoned, or
materially damaged on or near the coasts of the United Kingdom, if it appeared
to any officer or person concerned that a formal investigation was expedient,
of it the Board of Trade so directed, on application to any two justices or
stipendiary magistrate, such magistrates or magistrate shall proceed to hear
and try the same, and shall for that purpose have power to compel the attendances
of witnesses. After investigation made, they are required to send a report thereof
to the Board of Trade, with full statements of the case. it is, moreover, provided
by the Act, that in cases where nautical skill and knowledge to act as assessor
to such justices or magistrate, and that such assessor shall, upon the conclusion
of the case, either signify his concurrence in the report by signing it, or
if he dissent there from, he is to signify such dissent and his reasons for
The first investigation of this nature that has been made under the powers of
this Act in the North of Devon has been held here in the case of the wreck of
the Lochlibo, whose loss we reported a fortnight ago. The fact of a ship of
more than a thousand tons drifting ashore on the rocks in high day and in fine
weather with a fair wind, and within three miles of this harbour, was a circumstance
not only to attract general attention, but to awaken in some minds strong, if
not just, suspicion. The shades on the dark side of appearances, were deepened
by the "hobblers," who had gone out in their gigs to offer
assistance to the disabled ship: They reported that the captain had refused
to allow them even to come on board his vessel; had altogether rejected their
help; and cut holes in the deck for the purpose of sinking her; and added, with
the greatest confidence in their ability to do it, that had they been permitted
to try, they could have towed the ship safely into Ilfracombe harbour. There
were, of course, other opinions that those entertained. Many, who at first shared
in the popular prejudice, on a closer consideration of the case, saw cause to
revise their judgment concluding that it was impossible a water-logged sinking
ship of the size of the Lochlibo could have been moved a yard in the water by
any force these boats could have exerted.
However, with these facts before them, with the strong statements of the hobblers,
and the loud talk raised in consequence, the revenue officers concerned about
the wreck deemed it a duty they owed to the public service to promote the investigation,
for which the above cited Act had given the powers. The Board of Trade being
communicated with, a gentleman of "nautical skill and knowledge" in
the person of Captain Harris, was sent down to act as assessor with the magistrates,
and, on Saturday last, the Court for this inquiry was formed at the Board-room
of the Local Board of Health. The magistrates present were-N. Vye, Esq., (in
the chair) Rev. S.T. Slade-Gully, and A.D. Bassett, Esq., Captain Harris as
before stated, representing the Board of Trade. Messrs Peard and Langdon were
professionally engaged, the former gentleman being specially retained on behalf
of the captain. There was also present R. White, Esq., Collector of Customs,
Barnstaple, Commander W.B. Urmston, R.N. Inspecting Commander of the Barnstaple
Division of Coastguards; Lieut. Jones, R.N. commanding officer of the coastguard
of this port, Captain Clarke, agent for the Royal Mail Steamer, by whom the
vessel was chartered, Captain Eden, supervising agent of Lloyds, From Falmouth;
and during part of the inquiry, Mr. T.B. Chanter, Lloyds agent, From Bideford,
and Mr. William Huxtable, Lloyd's agent for Ilfracombe (here was also a gentlemen
representing the owners from Dublin, with the ships husband.
Great interest was excited among the sea-faring community, many of whom were
present throughout the inquiry.
The' Chairman commenced proceedings by calling on Mr. White to state the object
of the enquiry inquiry, which he did very briefly. The following witnesses were
then ordered out of court,:--John Woulfe, mate of the wrecked vessel, John Pickard,
carpenter, W. Davey, S. Williams, R, Pickett, W. Finch, T. Williams, G. Hopkins,
W Rees, G.Comer,T.Vound, N. Lovering, H. Blackford, S. Brown, G. Davey, R.German,
J.Colwi11, chiefly Ilfracombe hobblers. Mr. Peard said he was quite
in the dark as to the charge which was to be brought against his client the
captain of the ship.
Mr White informed that there was no charge whatever against the captain; the
inquiry was for the purpose of ascertaining the causes that led to the wreck.
He could not tell what the investigation might result in, but at present there
was no charge against any one.
The latter gentleman having laid the depositions before the Bench that had been
taken before himself, the captain was called upon for examination. It may as
well be mentioned that in the abstract of the evidence here given, the individuals
in answer to whom the replies are made, are seldom mentioned, as it would extend
the report beyond all reasonable bounds.
The captain said;--My name is Owen Thomas. I was master of the Lochlibo, a barque
of 1,006 tons burthen, owned by Messrs John Martin and Sons, of Dublin. We sailed
from Newport on the 10th of February last, bound to Rio Janeiro. The crew consisted
of 24 hands, boys and all. The cargo consisted of coals; the ship was chartered
by the Royal Mail Steam Company, but I don't know to whom consigned. I think
I have heard since it was to a person named Taylor. I did not know when she
sailed whether she was insured or not. Came to anchor at the Spit the same day
we sailed, the wind being foul and remained there until the 13th . [The Chairman
requested to have the log books, charts, and captain's certificate of service,
which were handed into Court.]-On examining the log-book, Mr. White said;--There
have been some entries made in this log-book since it was produced to me.
Captain,--Not at all, sir.
Mr. White:--I'll swear to it. Has this book been in your possession since you
produce it to me?
Captain:--The mate has had it, and I have had it also; it was taken to Barnstaple,
but nothing has been altered.
Mr. White:--I do not say any thing has been altered, but it should not have
been written in after it was produced to me.
Examination continued:--We put to sea at 8 am, of the [13th] and 6 a.m. on the
4th bore back by "distress" of weather (the Nash Point being at the
time N.E. 7 miles), and came to anchor at the Holms. Remained there until the
23rd, sailed again on that day, and on the 26th got as far as Lundy, where I
discharged the pilot at 3 a.m. a strong breeze blowing, the island bearing W.1/2
S., 10 miles. At 6 the same morning it came to blow hard, wind variable from
W.S. W., to W.N.W., ship upon the port tack, we fetched Caldy Island, and then
tacked with the wind N.W. Stood to the southward until we saw Padstow lights
at 10 p.m. (among the "remarks" entered in the log-book for that day,
the assessor read, "The people grumbling about the provisions.") Padstow
lights bore S.W. by S. 7 miles.
Captain Harris:--That is impossible:
don't you mean S.E. by E?
Captain:--No, Sir I'm certain it was S.W. by S., (several old sailors agreed
with the captain.)
Examination continued:--We then wore ship with the intention of running for
the Bristol Channel; wind still N. W., blowing hard, with dark, thick weather.
Sunday, 27th' at 5 a.m. saw Hartland Point to leeward, ship heading N.E., and
N.E. by E., under double reef topsails, courses and foretop-mast stay sails,
making 1 1/2 points leeway. Sounded, and found no bottom at 20 fathoms; did
not heave the ship to sound, but luffed her up in the wind, going about 3 knots
an hour. I did not leave the deck after seeing Padstow lights until making Hartland.
Kept on the same tack, ship heading N.E. in hopes of weathering Hartland Point,
but she struck on the Tings, at 6 o'clock, the wind N.W. She struck heavily
three times, and then floated off again. She strained the rudder, as the ship
would not steer. Immediately she struck called all hands to the pumps, and shortly
after sounding them, found 4 feet of water in the hold. In an hour's time sounded
again and found 7 feet, and shortly after that 9 feet---she would not steer.
Captain Harris:--Likely, because she was down by the head, and not because the
rudder was injured.
Captain:--I did not examine the rudder; it was impossible to do so.
Examination continued:--Directly after the ship got off, a signal was hoisted
for a pilot; no skiff was in sight. At 11 a.m. one came on board; we were then
nearly abreast of Morthoe Point, the ship drifting with the flood. She would
not steer at all; sometimes the sails were shaking and sometimes filled. When
the pilot came on board, I asked him if he were a branch pilot? He said he was
not. I asked him if he were a qualified pilot? To which he replied that he was.
As I could get no other I gave the vessel in charge with the understanding that
he should give up the charge when a branch pilot came on board. I then hauled
down the pilot flag.
Captain Harris:--What do you mean by a "branch pilot?"
Captain:--One [Hennsed] This man was not [Hennsed]; he was expecting a branch
soon. ( Mr. Charles Dennis explained the difference. The pilot taken on board
was not authorised by the Board in Bristol but he believed him fully capable
of taking a ship from Lundy to Kingroad).
Examination continued:--The pilot ordered the helm hard a-port. There was no
other pilot skiff in sight; I had no other means of getting one. The pilot's
name was Eden Cary, of the Active. Pilot boat No. . We hauled the
main-sail up, and shivered the [maintopstow?] but she would not ply off The
pilot ordered the carpenter to sound the pumps, found 14 feet of water in the
ship. The people, hearing that, got into confusion, left the pumps, and the
wheel, and [got] the long boat out. It was then nearly twelve o'clock. The ship
was then settling down by the head; it was nearly one o'clock by the time the
boat was got out, and the crew left the ship and went on board the pilot skiff.
I took my chronometer and sextant, &c., on board the pilot boat and then
returned to the ship. It was blowing hard at the time, N.W., but not so hard
as it had been. I saw no steamer, the mate told me the day after the ship was
ashore that he saw a steamer at the time. After I had been on board alone some
time noticed a shore boat approach on the port side; they asked me if I required
assistance? I told them they would do me no good, as it was too late. They were
very insolent, and told me to put the helm this way and that, and said if I
would let them come on hoard they would tow the ship to Ilfracombe. It was then
about two o' clock; the ship about half or three-quarters of a mile from the
shore. Some time after a second boat came alongside and made a similar offer.
All the boats in Ilfracombe would have made no impression
upon her both these boats could not have turned the ship's head to sea. I did
nothing on board. I was watching on the poop. The boatmen were inviting me to
come on shore saying I should go down in her. When the ship was about 200 yards
off I Called the carpenter on board and ordered him to cut a hole in the main
hatchway. I was afraid the gases generated in the hold might blow up the deck.
I had also two holes cut in the main deck in order to keep her steady, and save
all I could. The depth of the hold was about 22 feet. The carpenter then returned
to the boat until the ship went head on to the shore. It was near half past
two when she struck.
Captain Harris:--How did it happen that the ship went so comfortably into that
Captain:--She took her own way-no one was meddling with her.
Captain Harris:--It was your belief that the vessel could not have been towed
Captain:--They might as well have tried to tow one of the hills.
Captain Harris:--How do you know? Suppose a steamer had taken her in tow; it
was merely your impression; you were afraid the vessel would have gone down
in deep water.
Examination continued:--After the vessel was aground I took the advice of Lieutenant
Jones as to the best means of saving as much as we could.
John Woulfe, mate, being sworn, said:--I am first mate of the Lochlibo, I remember
the 23 rd of February.
Mr. Peard, suggested, that as the mate had kept the log, the book should be
handed to him to assist in giving his evidence. Witness explained that the last
day's work entered in the log was written in on shore, as it was impossible
to do it on board the day the ship went on shore. He said he held a certificate
as only mate, and that the duty of second mate on board was performed by the
Captain Harris, the assessor, desired that a special note might be made of this
statement of the witness, as it was intended to call the intention of the legislature
to the impropriety of allowing a ship, as in this case, of more than a thousand
tons, go to sea without a second mate.
The evidence of the mate went over the same ground as that of the captain, with
variations on some points, entering more at large into purely professional details,
a subject on which the assessor was perfectly at home.
This witness confirmed the captain's statement that the Padstow lights bore
S. W. by S. Coming to the time of making Hartland Point, the mate said;--when
we made land we had not room to wear ship; about six o'clock she struck on the
Tings rocks; all hands were on deck. We used our lead several times during the
night. I hove the lead; it was thrown over when the ship was in full sail; the
ship was not hove to, to my knowledge, for the purpose of getting soundings.
The lead was 14 lbs., with a 25 fathom line. I knew the land was Hartland Point.
She struck heavily three times; the last time two men were jerked from the wheel.
I went to the pumps at once; from half to three-quarters of an hour after floating
off the rocks we sounded the well, and found 4 feet of water in the hold. We
continued pumping for some time, when we sounded again, and found 6 or 7 feet
of water. A signal was hoisted for a pilot. One came on board about 11 o'clock.
He found the vessel unmanageable, and finding she would not pay off, he said
it was better to get out the long boat, and save our lives. We were about three
miles from the land when we made up our minds to quit the vessel; but I was
not thinking about the distance then. Saw the shore boats come alongside; heard
the men say, "Let us come aboard, and we'll save the ship." Another
said, "Your fore hatch is off, you want to sink the ship." There was
no fore hatch to our ship. Another shouted
out, "Captain, come out of her, she's going down, and you'll be drowned."
When the ship would drift near the boat, others would say, "Let us pull
off, or she'll go down and draw us down with her."
Captain Harris:--When the captain returned to the ship alone, how was it you
did not take your courage and your two hands and go with him?
Witness:--The captain put his papers, instruments. &c., in my charge, and
I remained behind to look after them.
Captain Harris:-In your opinion, as a seamen, was the ship quite unmanageable,
so that she could not be got into Ilfracombe?
Witness:--She was quite unmanageable, and never could have been got any where
but where she went. In my opinion the boats could not have moved our ship anymore
than they could have moved a mountain.
Captain Harris:--Did you see any steamer on the morning the ship struck on the
Witness:--I can't say that I did. I have heard such a thing since I came on
shore. I never said to the captain since I came on shore that I had seen a steamer.-Witness
repeated his conviction that nothing could have saved the vessel.
It being five o'clock in the afternoon, the inquiry was adjourned to Monday,
when the sitting was resumed at half-past ten in the morning. The first witness
examined on Monday was the carpenter, whose name is John Pickard, and who said
he belonged to Bideford, where he had served a seven years' apprentice to a
ship's carpenter. He supported the main points in the evidence of the captain
and mate. With regard to cutting holes in the deck, on which there has been
much sinister talk, this witness said;--the captain told me to get my adze,
as it was necessary to break open the main hatch for fear of the deck blowing
up. The captain also ordered me to cut a hole through the deck, giving as a
reason that he thought the vessel would soon be ashore, and that it was necessary
to keep the ship steady when she struck. There were about two feet of water
on the deck, and I had great difficulty in consequence in cutting the holes.
I cut three, I think it was done about an hour before the vessel went ashore.
I consider the captain's life was in danger in remaining on board. I remained
in the boat near the vessel. I was anxious to watch the proceedings of the master,
that if the vessel did go down I might assist to save his life. I cannot tell
at what time the vessel struck.
Lieutenant Jones, R.N., commanding officer of the Coast Guard for the Ilfracombe
station said:--My attention was first called to the Lochliho about one o'clock
on Sunday, February 27th as a vessel in distress. She bore N . W. from Capstone
Hill, distant about five miles, and about three from the shore. She appeared
to be in an unmanageable state. I hired a cart and proceeded at once with four
men to Lee, so as to be present wherever she might strike to save what might
be possible of the property of the ship. I arrived there about three o'clock;
the vessel came ashore a little after. The crew of one of the gigs hailed me
and said, the captain would not let them come on board, and asked me if I would
put them on board; the man who spoke to me was the young Geo. Davey. I took
one of my men with me, scrambled down the cliff, and got into Geo. Davey's gig.
He told me the pilot skiff had the provisions, and I considered it my duty to
put one of my men on board to secure her. I then pulled to the barque; the captain
was on the poop. I asked him what he was going to do? He said his pilot and
crew had left him, and he asked me what I would advise him to do? I replied,
get as many men as you can; strip the ship, and save what property you are able.
The captain was perfectly sober and collected at the time. I think it proper
to say this, as some of the men were not; those of the crew on board the skiff
wereintoxicated and very disorderly. (It appears that three
out of four dozen cases of wine put into the skiff by the captain got emptied
by them, but they had had nothing of intoxicating nature on board the ship).
At the the conclusion of Lieutenant Jones's evidence, Capt. Harris put the following
to him as a special question."As an officer in the navy and seaman of experience,
looking at the position and sinking state of the ship, and the state of the
tide, do you think these boats could have done anything toward bringing her
Lieut Jones: At ebb tide I don't believe they could. I am of opinion that, considering
the state of the weather and the waterlogged condition of the vessel, the crews
of the two shore boats could not have rendered any effectual assistance in towing
the ship to Ilfracombe.
The property saved is placed in the hands of Mr. Huxtable, Lloyd's agent.
Nicholas Lovering, on being sworn said:--I am owner of the boat Flirt,
and consider myself competent to pilot a vessel to any port of the Bristol Channel.
Saw the wrecked barque from Lantern Hill about 11 o'clock on Sunday morning,
the 27th Manned the boat and went to her. Saw the captain on the poop. I asked
the captain if he wanted assistance? He told me if I came on board he would
give me something. I asked him to let me take the ship to Ilfracombe. He said,
we were too late, he didn't want assistance. I offered for three hours to get
on board. I would have steered the ship to `Coombe with my men, but didn't attempt
to board her. Continued alongside until she struck, and were the first on board.
It was high water at `Coombe Pier at 20 minutes to 3. Wind was N.W., and the
water quite smooth; the ground swell made her roll.
William Rees, one of the crew, followed on the same side.
Richard German, master of a small smack, which took shelter in Lundy on the
night of the 26th, was also examined but this evidence added nothing material.
George Davey, owner and skipper of another `Combe gig, with seven hands, was
examined at length, and expressed an opinion strongly in favour of their ability
to have saved the vessel had they been permitted to try.
Mr. William Rodgman, harbour-master, was examined as to the state of the tide.
He said that in Ilfracombe they were governed by the Swansea tide-table, which,
on being examined by the assessor, showed the time of high-water at Ilfracombe
on the day of the wreck to be shortly after noon, instead of near three o'clock,
as stated by another witness.
Captain Thomas was again recalled, and replied to several questions from the
assessor as to his past career as a sailor. He held a master's certificate of
service, was master of a vessel called the Courtenay for two years,
some six years since, in the American trade. He served thirteen years as mate
in foreign-going vessels, in the same employ before taking command of the Lochlibo.
He narrated his disastrous commencement of the voyage to Rio Janeiro in this
same ship before Christmas, when she was dismasted west of Ireland, and he brought
her back again to Newport, where she had undergone extensive repairs at a great
expense. His own stores and property were uninsured.
Capt. Harris expressed his opinion that the great blunder was committed at Padstow
in not setting the main course when he (the captain) wore ship.
The captain said his reason for not doing it was his fear that it would have
carried away his mainyard.
Capt. Harris:--I am not finding fault with you; you were dead upon a lee shore,
and in that case, the ship would have been a bunch of chips in no time.
A young gentleman, representing the owners of the vessel, who had previously
expressed a wish to address the Court, obtained permission to say, that he wished
to rebut an injurious report that had been circulated, to the effect that, the
vessel being insured greatly above her value, there was an understanding between
them and the captain to destroy the vessel for the sake of the insurance. He
begged to say that her insured value at the time of sailing was £3,500,
of which £2,000 only were covered at Lloyd's, the owner's being in the
position of underwriters to the amount of £1,500. it was, therefore, not
very likely that the owners would conspire with the captain to inflict upon
themselves a loss of that amount for the sake of obtaining the £2,000.
The Lochlibo cost the firm, about five years ago, £8.000, but,
in consequence of the unfavourable change in the circumstance of the shipping
interest, and the consequent depreciation of that class of property, this vessel
had been written down to £3,500. It was the rule of the firm that he represented
not to inform their captains whether their vessels were insured, that they might
sail them as though they were not.
Capt. Harris was not aware of the insinuations alluded to, but the statement
made was very satisfactory, and, no doubt if any reporter for the press was
present, he would set him right with the public.
The examination being concluded, the Court was cleared, and, after a consultation
of a few minutes, the doors were again opened; but there was no statement of
any decision to which the magistrates had come, but witnesses were ordered to
attend on the following day (Tuesday) at three in the afternoon, to sign their
depositions. It was then announced by the Chairman that the captain stood clear
of any charge of wilful negligence or incompetency. His certificate was accordingly
honourably restored to film.
Thus ended the first inquiry of the kind that has taken place in this part of
the kingdom; an inquiry, it will be seen, of very great importance to the seafaring
community and to the commercial world at large. The promoters of the inquiry,
and the conductors of the examination, acted throughout in a manner very honourable
to themselves and worthy the high interests concerned. Captain Harris, the assessor,
from the Board of Trade, while he proved himself an able sailor and an acute
functionary, shewed that an humane heart beat within him; and Mr. White, the
chief representative of the Customs' department, was an example of how well
the fidelity of the officer may be combined with the suavity of the gentleman.
It is, however, right to observe, that, not withstanding the apparent results
of this inquiry, there exists a strong feeling with a number of people, that
the hobblers ought to have been allowed to try to bring the ship into
`Combe when they were alongside, as from the state of the tide when first reached
and the wind being fair, it is thought there remained a chance still and a good
one, of bringing her to harbour.