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The loss of HMS Bombay in 1864
|► The Royal Navy|
On 14 December 1864 the steam ship of the line HMS Bombay was accidentally burnt off Montevideo, with the loss of 93 lives.
|Extracts from the Times newspaper|
|Ma 16 January 1865|
LOSS OF HER MAJESTY'S SHIP BOMBAY.
The following despatch, addressed to Lord Clarence Paget, was received at the Admiralty last night:-
"LISBON, JAN. 15, 2 30 P.M."Admiral Elliot reports the total loss of Her Majesty's ship Bombay by fire, at Montevideo, on the 14th of December. Mr. Smallhorn, assistant-surgeon, of the officers, alone is missing; but 93 of the crew are supposed to be lost. Lieutenant Starling, bearer of the despatches, proceeds by French packet to Bordeaux to-day."
|Ma 16 January 1865|
LISBON, JAN. 15The Messageries Impériales steamer Estremadure, with the Brazil mails, arrived here this morning. She did not see the Magdalena at sea.
RIO JANEIRO, DEC 25The Brazilian forces and those under Flores have attacked Paysandu, in Uruguay, but were repulsed. The siege continues.
The English vessel Bombay was burnt to the water's edge in sight of Montevideo.
|Tu 17 January 1865|
THE LOSS OF THE BOMBAY.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - On behalf of an old friend and brother officer allow me, through your columns, to beg the press to stay judgment upon the unfortunate burning of Her Majesty's ship Bombay until a court-martial investigates the affair and awards praise or blame to the captain, officers, or crew. I am moved to do this in consequence of the very unusual coarse pursued in the case of tie wreck of Her Majesty's ship Racehorse, near Chefoo, in which, it appears to me that upon a most lame report, coming not from the commander, for he was, I believe, too shattered from a night of frightful exposure to be able to hold a pen, a sort of loose sentence of condemnation has been passed upon that officer's judgment, seamanship, and qualities as navigator. Indeed, some of our professional papers have been good enough to bewail the decadence of naval seamanship, founding their alarm upon the wreck in question.
If it was more generally understood by the public how terrible the loss of his ship, whether by battle, fire, or wreck, is counted by the captain of a man-of-war, I am sure there would be more forbearance shown. It is the first thing instilled into us to remember that we are intrusted with an emblem of England's sovereignty, that it is to be used for her honour and glory, not to be surrendered to her enemies, and, under peril of all an officer can hold dear, not to be wantonly risked or injured.
Fancy, then, what it must be to be condemned unheard by one's countrymen when such a sorrow as the loss of his ship falls upon a wretched commander.
For my part I only wonder we have had so few wrecks on that dangerous coast of China, where as yet there is not a single lighthouse, and hardly a beacon; and the burning of the Bombay can be no matter of astonishment to officers who are aware that in the present day every ship is using in cabins, messrooms, &c., those dangerous oils extracted from petroleum. The burning of the Spanish flagship in Peru ought to have been a caution to us.Believe me, Sir, yours very truly,
SHERARD OSBORN, Captain.
Junior United Service Club, Jan. 16.
|Sa 21 January 1865||It is a strange and unhappy illustration of a well-known proverb that so soon after having announced the loss of one of HER MAJESTY'S ships by sinking, we should now have to report the total loss of another by fire. Years may pass without the occurrence of one such calamity, and now we have two within little more than a month of each other. It was on the 4th of last November that the Racehorse struck off Chefoo Cape, and on the 14th of December the Bombay took fire near Montevideo. The two disasters are almost equally complete, and, for the present, equally unaccountable. As far, indeed, as the crew is concerned, the calamity of the Bombay is not quite so lamentable as that of the Racehorse. In the latter case only nine men were saved out of a crew of 107. In the present instance 93 of the crew are, indeed, missing; but from the letter of the Admiral, which we publish this morning, we may, perhaps, hope that some of these will prove to be safe. "The boats having been picked up," he says, "by vessels proceeding to different places, we cannot as yet get a correct return." As far, however, as the ship is concerned the disaster is complete. She burnt with extraordinary rapidity, and in five hours after taking fire she sank in eight fathoms of water.|
The Bombay was a screw steamship of 67 guns and 2,782 tons, and was the flagship of the Admiral commanding on the south-east coast of America. Until the morning of the 14th of December she was at Montevideo, but on that morning the Admiral transferred his flag to another ship, and she left the anchorage under sail. At 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day the Admiral received news that she was on fire about 13 miles from his station. Although, however, at such a comparatively short distance, the aid which he despatched was utterly useless. Long before he could reach the scene of the disaster the vessel was deserted, and the sinking of the ship was the only thing yet remaining to complete the calamity. As in the case of the Racehorse, we are here also obliged to put up with a hurried and imperfect account of the disaster, and that not from the officer in command of the ship. The barest facts are all that have reached us. These, however, are sufficient to convey to the mind a picture of unusual horror, and to indicate that even among the terrible examples of the destruction of ships by fire the present instance must occupy a conspicuous place. The struggle with the flames appears to have been completely over in half an hour, and when the contest was then abandoned as hopeless, there remained barely time enough to snatch the ship's crew from the terrible fate which threatened them. "At 3 35 in the afternoon," says the Admiral, "the fire was reported. At 3 52, finding the fire was quickly gaining, the boats were hoisted out." Ten minutes more were sufficient to render it impossible to continue even this operation, and the boats which had been successfully lowered had even then but a quarter of an hour in which to get clear of the ship before the mainmast fell. After that, it must be presumed, all would be over. Those for whom the boats had no room would have to be left to their fate, and nothing would remain to them but the terrible choice of being devoured by one element or swallowed up by another.
In such a terrible disaster there can be but one consolation alike for the relatives of those who are lost as for those who are saved and for their friends - that is, to know that the officers and crew did their duty; and this consolation we have no doubt will be afforded when we receive more complete details. From the report before us there is every reason to anticipate this melancholy satisfaction. In the face of a conflagration of such frightful rapidity it cannot but have required the utmost coolness and discipline to save so considerable a proportion of the crew; and, when we read of the sick having been passed into the boats in the first instance, we are reminded of the spirit which was displayed in the case of the Birkenhead, and cannot but believe that both officers and men must have displayed an equal courage and self-sacrifice. It is, perhaps, impossible for there to be a higher test of courage than is afforded in the destruction by fire of a ship at sea. The extreme probability that a certain number of the crew will have to be sacrificed to the safety of the rest must make every man feel that he stands in the very jaws of death, and the horrible nature of the destruction which threatens him is sufficient to unnerve any but a very high or a very habitual sense of duty. A great fire is by common assent one of the most terrible of catastrophes even on land, but it is hard to imagine anything more dreadful than a fire at sea. All the terrors of two elements are combined in one scene of destruction, and the desolation of the one and the fury of the other are beyond all the horrors which men have elsewhere to meet.As to the cause which produced the disaster, and the reasons which rendered it so uncontrollable, the present report fails to give us any sufficient information. The fire broke out in the after-hold, and from the uncontrollable rapidity with which the flames spread the Admiral inclines to think that it must have broken out close to the spirit-room, "and that the spirit casks must almost immediately have burst and ignited." He assures us that the discipline which had so soon to be exerted in deserting the ship was first displayed in endeavouring to save her. "The fire-bell was immediately rung, and with the greatest order and promptness an abundant supply of water was obtained." We trust, therefore, that the calamity will prove to have been as much beyond control in its origin as it was in its progress, and that it may be a very long time before we have again to record so terrible a disaster to our Navy.
|Sa 21 January 1865|
DESTRUCTION OF HER MAJESTYS SHIP BOMBAY.[The following appeared in our Second Edition of yesterday:-]
We have received the following from the Admiralty, with request to publish it:-
"H.M.S. STROMBOLI, MONTEVIDEO.
"Sir, - I much regret that I have to report the total loss by fire of Her Majesty's ship Bombay.
"She left this anchorage under sail at 7 a.m. yesterday, when I transferred my flag to the Triton. About 5 p.m. of the same day I received intelligence that the Bombay was on fire near the English Bank, or Mores Island, about 13 miles from this place. I immediately despatched the Stromboli to her assistance, and proceeded myself in the Triton, but so rapidly had the fire extended that the ship had been deserted long before assistance could reach them.
"The ship's company had been at general quarters in the afternoon till a little after 3 p.m., the foremost lower deck guns were then told off for divisional exercise, but firing had not commenced from them, when about 10 minutes after the retreat had been beat, fire was reported to have broken out in the after part of the ship about the after hold; the fire bell was immediately rung, and with the greatest order and promptness an abundant supply of water was obtained, but the fire appears at once to have spread with uncontrollable rapidity, which gives me the impression that it originated very close to the spirit room, and that the spirit casks must almost immediately have burst and ignited.
"At 3 35 p.m. the fire was reported. At 3 52, finding the fire was quickly gaining, the boats were hoisted out. At 4 p.m. the boats were out with the exception of the second launch, when the flames coming up the hatch ways, the awnings and sails having been burnt, rendered it impossible for men to work. The sick had already been passed into the boats, and the rest of the ship's company now followed. At a quarter-past 4 the mainmast went over the side, the boats then being scarcely clear of the ship, and many officers and men were still holding on to ropes alongside and to the fore part of the ship, and others floating on the spars, &c. Soon after the mainmast fell, the stoppers of the anchors being burnt through, the anchors fell, and it seems many men who were upon or near them must have lost their lives.
"The ship was under sail, hove to, when the fire occurred, steam not having been up.
"At 8 25 the after magazine blew up, and the ship sank in about 8 fathoms.
"Among the officers Mr. John K. Smallhorn, assistant-surgeon, is the only one missing, and who was drowned alongside.
"The French mail packet being at this moment on the point of departure I am not able to give a more detailed report; but I am endeavouring to ascertain the number and names of men missing, which, I am sorry to say, amounts to about 93; but, the boats having been picked up by vessels proceeding to different places, we cannot as yet get a correct return."I have the honour to be, &c.,
" CHAS. G.J. B. ELLIOT, "Rear-Admiral and Commander-in-Chief.
"To the Secretary of the Admiralty."
|Ma 23 January 1865||A telegraphic notice from the Admiralty to the Naval Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth (Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, G.C.B.), relative to the loss of Her Majesty's ship Bombay at Montevideo, was posted outside Portsmouth dockyard gates on Friday evening. Shortly afterwards Lieut. Stirling, late of the Bombay, arrived at the official residence of Admiral Seymour with despatches from the Admiralty, which were forwarded to Her Majesty at Osborne by the Fire Queen, Staff-Commander Paul.|
|Th 26 January 1865|
HOW SHIPS ARE BURNT.
Sir, - The loss of the Bombay by fire recalls to my recollection an occurrence which nearly led to a similar catastrophe in. the loss of one of Her Majesty's finest ships about 20 years ago.
In this case a cask of rum was so stowed - I think in the spirit room - that it could be reached through a grated aperture between it and an adjoining compartment to which some men had access. Two reckless fellows, stimulated by their usual raging thirst for spirituous liquors thought to gratify it by a surreptitious tap, and accordingly one of them bored a hole with an auger into the cask while the other held a vessel to catch the coveted fluid, and a lighted candle to watch its flow; but the spirit declined to spout out as they anticipated, and ran down among the casks below. The candle was held closer to try to remedy this and the whole caught fire, fed by the slowly gurgling fluid They could not reach it from their compartment, and the rapidly rising flames prevented their plugging the hole they had made.
Nothing could have saved the ship had much time elapsed before its discovery, but it was discovered, and by great exertions the ship was saved. I do not remember whether the guilty but unintentional incendiaries gave the alarm. I think they did; but when it is considered that these men incurred the certainty of punishment for their misdeeds through giving the alarm, and by saying nothing and letting the ship burn their share in causing it might never have been discovered, it must be admitted that the temptation to be silent on the subject was great. This fact is very suggestive of what might have happened in the Bombay, and all the circumstances of the case point strongly to such, a cause. Admiralty orders are stringent enough against naked lights and the use of various combustibles on board ship, but it is simply impossible to enforce them. Petroleum has been suggested as a probable cause of the fire, but in this case there was none in the ship, and this substance even in its impure form is less dangerous than turpentine or rum, as the latter will inflame on a light being applied at 90 deg., a heat often experienced, while the refined petroleum or paraffin - and only the refined kinds are ever used by sensible people - will not similarly inflame at a lower temperature than 130 deg., a heat never naturally generated. I think the use of candles under any circumstances most dangerous on board ship. Though ordered to be carried invariably in lanterns, when used below by sailors, if unobserved, for the sake of a better light, the candle is too often taken out of the lantern and stuck against a cask or some wooden bulkhead, and, something distracting the man's attention, it is forgotten, and a fire perhaps occurs, but no one knows, or professes to know, how it happened.Your obedient servant,
|Fr 27 January 1865|
FIRE AT SEA.
Sir, - "Argus," in his letter to The Times of yesterday, so well describes what took place on board His Majesty's ship Dartmouth in 1827, then commanded by the late Sir Thomas Fellowes, that I must suppose he had that occurrence in mind when he informed you "how ships are burnt."
On that occasion the cask was a cask of gin, not rum, and I am sorry to say I had a share in it. It was stowed not where it ought to have been - in the spirit-room, - but in the after-hold adjoining. Had such a fire occurred in the spirit-room, there would have been small chance for the ship; as it was, there was all and more than the difficulty stated by "Argus" in saving her.
The unhappy gin-cask, hastily got on board at Gibraltar - the ship under way - was temporarily, and probably not without design, stowed in the after-hold. The "captain of the hold," a powerful man, and his "yeoman" took care to gradually work this gin-cask to the fore bulkhead, the bilge of the cask resting against the lattice-work, and one evening before quarters they there tapped it, and there the liquor flamed as exactly stated by "Argus."
The liquid flames flowed to the bottom of the hold, and it was necessary to clear a great part of it to get at the body of the fire. How Commander - since Admiral Christopher Wyvil and others with him - worked in that after-hold in the midst of an almost overpowering smoke those who were in that ship may well remember. The getting under of the fire was mainly attributable to his and their self-devotion and gallant exertions.
He had a double share in the gin! Like him I was a passenger, but doing duty in the Dartmouth, proceeding to the Mediterranean to take command of a sloop of war.
It is not unlikely that there were "surreptitious" proceedings in the spirit-room of the Bombay on that fatal afternoon, unless, indeed, there were passengers and a cask of gin in the after-hold.
Let captains and masters of ships beware of lattice or open-work bulkheads.Your obedient servant,
|Ma 30 January 1865|
THE LOSS OF THE BOMBAY.
Sir, - Although the time has not yet arrived for a full discussion on the causes of the severe loss of life on board Her Majesty's ship Bombay, yet nevertheless there are two points of great importance to which it may not be amiss to direct the public attention.
The one is the position arid construction of the spirit-room; the other the size, number, and condition of the boats belonging to the ship at the time of the conflagration. It is not easy to conceive, if the spirit-room was, as it should have been, a close watertight, iron compartment, accessible only for ordinary purposes by a small scuttle from above, and lighted from without by means of glass bull's-eyes, how fire could be communicated from it to the rest of the ship, and it is almost incomprehensible that in a properly designed ship means should not have been provided to enable such a compartment to be flooded, situate, as it is certain to have been, below the water-line, in the almost seemingly impossible event of such a disastrous circumstance occurring.
With respect to the boats, it is of the utmost importance to the public to know whether they were sufficient in number and capacity to save the lives of those on board. Ninety-three lives lost, nearly one-seventh of the total number of the crew, in fine weather, in sight of shore, with only one boat swamped, seems an enormous proportion in a ship properly found in boats, and points to some grievous error, which it behoves the public to look to.
I have voyaged much in ocean-going steamers, and although the law prescribes a certain sufficiency of boat accommodation in merchant steamers, yet it is notorious the provisions of the law are too often neglected and evaded; and I have been often struck with the apparently utter want of accommodation when a steamer happens to be crowded. I can speak from bitter experience, having once passed ten days on a sandbank, 500 miles away from any inhabited spot, with boat accommodation insufficient for half the crew and passengers, from which predicament nothing but an extraordinary high tide, which floated our vessel off, saved us. Some slight extenuation for such neglect might possibly be suggested, owing to the varying amount of accommodation required by merchant steamers; but in a man-of-war, the complement of which is exactly known, any such deficiency were almost criminal It may be, and I trust it will be, shown that the Bombay was properly provided and found in both respects; but, forewarned is forearmed. Government investigations are not always the most thorough, and unpleasant facts are apt to be avoided when the vigilant eye of the press is not fully directed towards them.VOYAGEUR.
|We 1 February 1865||The remainder of the officers and crew of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay are expected to arrive at Portsmouth today by special train from Liverpool, the Herschel steamship, in which they are returning to England from Montevideo, being understood by the authorities to be ordered to Liverpool from Lisbon, her last port of call. On arrival at Portsmouth the officers and men will be temporarily berthed on board the Duke of Wellington training ship, Capt. John Seccombe, pending the result o! the court-martial for the loss of the Bombay, which is expected to assemble on board Her Majesty's ship Victory about the 6th inst.|
|Th 2 February 1865|
THE LOSS OF THE BOMBAY.
[A portion of the following appeared in our Second Edition of yesterday:-]
We have received the following despatches from the Admiralty, with a request to publish them:-
"Sir, - It is my painful duty to report to you the total loss by fire of your flagship, Her Majesty's ship Bombay, under my command. The circumstances are as follows:-
"2. In compliance with your orders we left Montevideo Roads yesterday morning, the 14th, inst., at 6 15 a.m., under sail.
"3. In the forenoon, being then between Flores Light and the English Bank, we exercised at general quarters, firing at a target. In the afternoon, at about 1 45, we again went to quarters, and beat the retreat shortly after 3 p.m., keeping the foremost lower deck guns exercising.
"At about 3 35 p.m. the fire-bell was rung, and a fire was reported to me to be in the after-magazine; every one immediately went to their fire stations, and a good supply of water was obtained directly. I ordered the magazine to be flooded as fast as possible. The commander went below to the fire by my directions, and shortly returned, reporting to me that it was a very bad one. I went below myself, and found both main and lower decks full of smoke, the pumps working well, a good supply of water, and numerous wet blankets being passed down. At this time men could hardly remain on the orlop-deck from the dense smoke and flames coming from the after-hold, where the fire proved to be; some were carried up insensible. Finding things so bad, and it being reported that the fire was gaining, I directed the quarterboats to be lowered, the sick to be passed into them, and preparations to be made for hoisting out the boom boats. At 3 52 I ordered the boom boats to he got out, and the men still to remain at the pumps. The cutter, pinnace and first launch were hoisted out the starboard side, and the barge the port, by this time the men were being forced up from below by the heat and smoke. I ordered the hatchways and skids to be covered, and every endeavour was made to get the second launch out, but the flames and smoke now bursting up from below from every direction, rendered this impossible, in spite of the gallant efforts of the men who were now forced over the side and forward by the fearful heat, smoke, and flame spreading in every direction, the topsails and rigging being at this time in a blaze. The boats as they were filled shoved off, and laid on their oars to pick up stragglers, and I directed the hammocks, gratings, and other articles that would float to be thrown overboard to assist those in the water, the boats picking up the men as fast as possible, for the fire spread so rapidly that all, excepting those who gained the anchors, cables, bowsprit, and ropes hanging overboard, were in the water.
"At 4 15 the mainmast went over the sides, being only 40 minutes from the time the fire-bell rang, the first launch being only just clear of it as it fell into the water.
"A few people still remaining holding on to the ropes under the bows were rescued by Mr. Mandeville, Sub-Lieutenant, and a volunteer boat's crew, in a most gallant manner, being a service of great danger, from the numerous things falling about, and the imminent risk of the magazine exploding.
"Having been picked up by one of the boats, I detached Lieutenant Vidal in the second gig as soon as possible to Montevideo to make known, our situation; at this time several vessels were coming to our assistance, the first that arrived being a pilot boat, which relieved the pinnace of a number of her men; other vessels arrived shortly, and all the boats were picked up, the men being kindly and hospitably cared for, most of them being nearly naked were supplied with clothes from the stocks of the crews.
"From the inquiries I have made, it appears that George Noble, sailmaker, and George Marsh, ropemaker, who are stationed on the platform of the hold to pass up shell, were the first that perceived the fire, the former is one of those saved, he states that he saw flames and smoke issuing from under the starboard foremast handing room of after magazine and platform adjacent, and immediately rushed up, rang the fire-bell, and reported the fire. I have not been able to ascertain how it originated. The lights in the after-light room were put out, the magazine was secured, and they were in the act of putting the lights out in the fore-light rooms when the alarm was given. There was, however, time to see that there was neither flame nor smoke in the light room, and that all the lights were burning excepting one. From the extraordinary quickness with which the fire spread and the intense volume of smoke and flame, I am led to suppose that the spirits were ignited.
"I have much pleasure in informing you that the officers and ship's company behaved exceedingly well throughout, under the trying circumstances in which they were placed. Every one went to their stations with alacrity, and worked with the greatest zeal and cheerfulness; there was no confusion even; when the order was given to get the boats out not one of those ordered to remain at the fire and pumps left their station till they were absolutely driven away by the flames.
"Every officer did his duty entirely to my satisfaction. Among those whom I had an opportunity of observing, and who have been brought prominently to my notice, I beg, in the first place, to mention the name of Commander John C. Wilson, to whose coolness, activity, energy, and promptness in carrying out every necessary measure, and infusing a cheerful spirit among the men, I attribute to a great extent the fact of our being able to save so many lives. Also Lieutenants Kelly and Fullerton, who remained at the fire till nearly stifled, the former directing generally, the latter pointing a branch pipe himself. He was carried up from below almost insensible. He, with Mr. Brook, acting second master; George Carr, blacksmith; James Warner, captain mizen-top; were the last men to leave. Mr. Watts, the master, did not leave the poop till the last, when he got into the first launch over the quarter, and persisted gallantly in remaining at the ship in spite of things falling around, and the probability of the after magazine exploding every moment. Lieutenant Carr was picked up by him, and these two worked together with great advantage; they had only got a very little out of the way when the mainmast fell. Lieutenant Stirling showed great zeal and coolness in preparing for and hoisting our boats. The warrant-officers worked nobly and courageously at their stations, as did Mr. Franklin, supernumerary boatswain, who was very active and of great service. He is, I am sorry to say, one of the two officers lost. The conduct of Mr. Mandeville, the sub-lieutenant, I have before noticed, I also saw him save another life from drowning near the ship. Robert Giddy, chief boatswain's-mate, distinguished himself greatly by his courage and energy. George Carr, blacksmith, James Warner, captain of the mizentop, remained last at the fire, and were hardly able to get away.
"In the boats Commander Wilson, and Mr. Mandeville speak highly of the conduct of Thomas Shilson, captain of the forecastle, and Alfred Bartan, A.B., of the volunteer boat's crew (a list of which I enclose), the latter of whom went overboard and rescued a man at great risk, from a position between some spars, while the spars were burning overhead. Lieutenant Carr and Mr. Watts recommend Henry Priest and Samuel Grant, seamen, for swimming to the ship when the boat could not get near, and bringing men from ropes alongside. They also speak highly of the support they received from Mr. Boss, carpenter, and Robert Giddy, chief boatswain's mate.
"The master succeeded in saving the ship's log, but the remainder of the books were lost, in spite of the paymaster and Mr. Trollope, assistant clerk, having tried repeatedly to get into the maindeck-office.
"The following are the times that Mr. Watts, the master, took while on the poop: - Fire-bell rang, and after magazine reported on fire at 3 35 p.m. Quarter-boats ordered to be lowered, and sick passed into them, as the fire was gaining, 3 50 p.m. Commenced getting boom boats out, 3 52. Men forced from below by flames and smoke; hatch-way and skid covers put on, 3 55. All boats out, except second launch; fire coming up hatchways and skids, forcing every one overboard by heat and flames, 4. Mainmast went over the side, 4 15. Mizenmast, 4 40. Foremast, 5 5. After magazine exploded, 8 25.
"When the fire broke oat the ship was under three topsails and jib, foretopsail was aback, the jib was hauled down, and the mainyard squared, but the ship was not kept before the wind, because she would have left the boats; the anchor was not let go, as it would have, by bringing her head to wind, blinded the people on deck with the smoke.
"I enclose a list of officers and men missing:, and I deeply regret to say that I believe they have all perished.
"LIST OF VOLUNTEER BOAT'S CREWS. - JOLLY BOAT Officer of the boat, Sub-Lieutenant Henry A. Mandeville. Crew, Thomas Shilson, captain forecastle; Alfred Barton, A.B., James P. Webb, A.B.; John Lee, sailmaker's crew; William Brunner, gunner's mate; James M'Mahon, captain of hold; Arthur M'Cardell, orderly; Thomas Acland, orderly."
"H.M. LATE SHIP BOMBAY, JAN. 10, 1865.
|Th 2 February 1865||The despatch which we publish to-day, describing the loss of the Bombay, adds little to our means of conjecturing its immediate cause, but it portrays with terrible simplicity the tragical suddenness of the catastrophe. Landsmen are apt to be impatient of the precautions against fire so rigidly enforced on board all well-regulated passenger ships. The story of the ill-fated Bombay, as told by her captain, warns us that the seaman's horror of fire is but too well-founded, and that the ravages of this destructive element for a single hour are far more irresistible than the utmost fury of a prolonged hurricane. It was at 3 35 one afternoon, after the men had been exercising at quarters, that the fire-bell was first rung and first reported in the after-magazine. A quarter of an hour later the flames had gained such a hold that the quarter-boats had to be lowered, and the sick passed into them. Yet every seaman was at his station in a moment, a good supply of water was procured forthwith, the magazine was flooded, the pumps worked well, and quantities of wet blankets were applied to stifle the burning materials. Two minutes later the boom-boats had to be hoisted out, and by this time the men were "being forced up from below by the heat and smoke." All the boats were got out except one, and at 3 55, only twenty minutes after the first alarm, fire and smoke were issuing in volumes from all the hatchways, "forcing every one overboard by heat and flames." The topsails and rigging were already in a blaze; at 4 15 the mainmast went over the side, and was followed by the mizenmast at 4 40, and by the foremast at 5 5. Long before this all the crew whose retreat had not been cut off were either in the boats or in the water, or clinging to anchors, cables, spars, and ropes hanging overboard. One by one many of these last were picked up, but it is to be feared that the first conjecture as to the proportion of lost and saved was too favourable. At all events, Captain CAMPBELL'S report does not confirm the Admiral's expression of hope that some of the missing may still be forthcoming. On the contrary, he concludes his letter with these words: -"I enclose a list of officers and men missing, and I deeply regret to say that I believe they have all perished." |
The question now recurs as to the probable origin of the conflagration, and the best method of preventing similar disasters. Unhappily, Captain CAMPBELL declares himself quite unable to throw any light on the matter. The fire was first perceived by two men employed in handing up shell, one of whom survives, but can state no more than that "he saw flames and smoke issuing from under the starboard foremost handing-room of the after-magazine," upon which he rushed upon deck and rang the fire-bell. All was right in the "light-rooms" adjacent, "the magazine was secured," and, except that he thinks the spirits must have been ignited, the Captain has no suggestion to make. The bursting of spirit casks may account for the rapid progress of the fire, but obviously cannot explain its breaking out. When those on the spot and most competent to judge cannot hazard an opinion, it would be idle for us to speculate at secondhand, and it will be for the Admiralty to elicit any further particulars which, may tend to clear up the mystery.In the meantime we must be content to dwell on the heroism displayed by all ranks in presence of a most appalling emergency. It is a thrice-told story of disciplined courage and obedience to orders, but it is one which it is good for us to ponder over each time that some fresh occasion calls for its rehearsal. Soldiers and sailors may not be naturally braver than other men, but there can be no doubt - and it is a striking evidence of what a sense of duty can do - that they are far more trustworthy and collected in the hour of danger. To convince ourselves of this we cannot do better than compare the scene at the Surrey Theatre, as depicted in our own columns, with that on board the Bombay as recorded by Captain CAMPBELL. In both cases the accident was wholly unforeseen, and in both cases the process of combustion was so rapid as to leave no chance of safety but in flight. But here comes the difference. Although the Manager and actors behaved with admirable self-possession, and did all in their power to mitigate both the danger and the panic, the audience were seized with a regular "stampede," and rushed madly towards the doorways. Every one looked out for himself, the gallery stairs were blocked, and it was a mercy that hundreds were not trampled under foot. In the Bombay all this was reversed. "Every one went to his station with alacrity, and worked with the greatest zeal and cheerfulness; there was no confusion, even. When the order was given to clear out the boats not one of those ordered to remain at the fire and pumps left their station until they were absolutely driven away by the flames." Every officer acquitted himself honourably. To the "coolness, activity, energy, and promptness" of Commander WILSON Captain CAMPBELL mainly attributes the preservation of so many lives. Lieutenant FULLERTON continued pointing a branch pipe with his own hands till he was carried up insensible. Mr. WATTS, the Master, contrived to save the log, and stood by the ship while the risk of the magazine exploding under him was imminent. Sub-Lieutenant MANDEVILLE rescued several people with the aid of a volunteer boat's crew when it was almost a desperate venture to go near the vessel. Several seamen threw themselves into the water among the burning masses of timber to save their comrades. These things fail to surprise us only because they are so common in the annals of our navy, but they do not the less claim our admiration. It has often been doubted whether courage in these days is capable of reaching so high a pitch as the courage of antiquity, and we may well concede that the glorious Quixotism of LEONIDAS and his band is never likely to be rivalled in modern history. But patriotism is not the only motive which can inspire human nature with a sublime unselfishness, and the midshipman in the Bay of Tunis who would not abandon his boat against orders when he might have swum ashore in safety was no unworthy follower of those who sacrificed their lives for the commonwealth.
|Ma 6 February 1865||The officers and men comprising the remainder of the crew of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay arrived at Portsmouth dockyard by special train from Liverpool at 1 a.m. on Saturday. The train, on arrival, passed through the terminal station of the London and South-Western and South Coast Railway Companies at Landport, and finally drew up on the railway jetty in the dockyard, where the Bombay's crew alighted, and embarked immediately in boats for the three-decked training-ship Duke of Wellington, Capt. John Seccombe, to which ship they will be temporarily attached until the conclusion of the court-martial, which will assemble on board Her Majesty's ship Victory in a few days to inquire into the recent destruction of the Bombay by fire off Montevideo. Rear-Admiral Sidney Colpoys Dacres, C.B., the present Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet, will most probably fill the office of President of the Court.|
|Tu 7 February 1865||The court-martial on such of the officers and crew of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay as the Lords of the Admiralty may direct will assemble on board Her Majesty's ship Victory, at Portsmouth, to-morrow (Wednesday), at 9 30 a.m., under the presidency of Rear-Admiral Sydney Colpoys Dacres, C.B., the Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet.|
|Th 9 February 1865|
HER MAJESTYS LATE SHIP BOMBAY.
The court-martial ordered to assemble by the lords Commissioners of the Admiralty for the trial of' Captain Colin A. Campbell, lately commanding Her Majesty's screw line-of-battle ship Bombay, for the loss of that ship by fire off Montevideo on the 14th. of December last, commenced its sittings at Portsmouth yesterday, on board Her Majesty's ship Victory, the flagship of the Port-Admiral, Sir Michael Seymour. G.C.B. The court opened at 9 30 a.m., and was composed of the following officers: - President, Rear-Admiral Sydney Colpoys Dacres, C.B. Captains:- A.C. Key, C.B., Excellent; G.P. Hornby, Edgar; H. Caldwell, C.B., Asia; G.W. Preedy, C.B., Hector; J. Seccombe, Duke of Wellington; E. Lacy, Himalaya.
Mr. E. Hoskins officiated as Deputy-Judge-Advocate.
Rear-Admiral George Elliot, by permission of the Court, appeared as the prisoner's friend.
Some considerable time was occupied in mustering the crew, reading the despatch relating to the loss of the ship written officially by Admiral the Hon. C.B. Elliott, C.B., and Captain Campbell, which has already been published, and also the letter from Admiral Elliot to Captain Campbell directing him to take the Bombay on a cruise for target practice, and to make the cruise as much as possible under sail. The total number of officers and men lost in the destruction of the ship was 89.
In answer to questions put by the PRESIDENT of the Court, Captain Campbell said that on the alarm of fire being given on board the Bombay on the 14th of December last, the date of her destruction, he attempted to go below, but could not get beyond the cockpit ladder, being driven back by the smoke. The flames were then just appearing at the after-hatchway. The large bilge-pumps were not set to work, but the Downton and other pumps were. The large bilge-pumps were only fitted to work on the lower deck, as far as he, prisoner, could recollect. They would have delivered inboard, and hoses could have been screwed on. A plate was on the ship's orlop-deck communicating with the sea-cocks, by which the orlop-deck could be flooded. Admiral Elliot asked for the condenser to be fitted for that purpose, but the officials of Chatham-dockyard thought it better to fit the sea-cocks for the purpose. It was turned on, when the fire broke out, and the orlop-deck was several inches deep in water. The handing-room tank was turned on, and water let in there to flood the magazine. The crew had been at general quarters during the forenoon. I examined some of the magazine men after the fire, and appointed a committee of officers to examine others to ascertain the cause of the fire if possible. One man, the lamp-trimmer, could not be traced out. The lamps were kept during the day in the wing passage, between the cabins and the ship's side on the starboard side. They were trimmed in the bread-room or after-cockpit. All the magazine lamps burnt candles. The police lamps were kept in the same place, and I believe they also burnt candles. I think the ship's steward was the last man that saw the missing lamp-trimmer. At quarters he was stationed below to trim lights. The hatchways at quarters, not in use, were covered with tarpaulings, which were kept triced up in readiness over them. The after-hold hatchway on the orlop-deck, where the spirits are hoisted up, was open. The after-Armstrong guns were slightly before the after quarter-deck hatchway. The spirits were always measured off on the main deck in the presence of an officer, but could not speak, from personal knowledge how the spirits were measured off on the day of the fire.
The spirit-room on board the Bombay was what is termed a "hanging spirit-room." Looking at the plan produced, I cannot say positively whether the after-bulkhead of the spirit-room was grated or not, but no alteration was made in it after leaving England. The crew were half an hour late to dinner on the day of the fire. With regard to measuring off the spirits on board the Bombay, it was done every other day, the next day's rum being put in a breaker, which was then sent into the spirit-room. The tanks in the screw ship's screw alley that held the oil and tallow never showed any signs of leakage to his (Captain Campbell's) knowledge when examined in going the rounds. When the ship was on fire the men went into the boats over the ship's sides, from the chains and the quarters, as they could get in. The stay tackles failed in hoisting out the last boat, from being burnt, The flames were then bursting up all the hatchways and out of the ports; the rigging and sails were on fire, the remaining boat's bottom was on fire, the smoke and flames being very thick to leeward on the port side. The boats that had been hoisted out were in command of the officers belonging to them. The jolly boat, with volunteers, was sent in to the burning ship to rescue the men who were still hanging about her. When I was picked up out of the water myself by the gig my first object was to have the loads in the boats distributed, in order to save as many lives as possible. Mr. Mandeville went into the ship in the jolly boat in the most gallant manner possible, a service of the greatest possible danger, owing to the falling burning spars from the ship, the liquid lead pouring from her sides, and the imminent danger of the magazine exploding. Mr. Watts, the master, and Lieutenant Carr were in the launch, and Lieutenants Fullerton and Buchanan were in the pinnace, but I cannot state exactly what time they were picked up by the boats. The first lieutenant, Lieutenant Kelly, was picked up by the launch very late, having remained almost the last on board, and was very much exhausted. Some of the boats were dangerously overloaded, the pinnace in particular. The launch lay under the ship's quarter, and boats could not communicate with her at first. The barge was a little farther off. The quarter of the ship was not a safer approach than the bow, but the boats were divided in their approach to her, the ship's company still on board being divided between forward and aft, the majority being forward. Heads were counted in the boats to ascertain how many were saved or missing.
By Captain SCOTT. - No junk or tarpaulings were stowed in the after-bold, nor other inflammable or combustible materials, that I am aware of. Previous to the fire breaking out I am not aware of any smoke being seen on the orlop-deck. Very shortly after the fire was reported smoke came up the ventilator leading on the upper deck. Looking at the ship's plan before the Court there appears to be an opening between the shell scuttles and the spirit room. A man was stationed at the shell-room scuttles. I believe Noble was stationed at one, and Marsh, the ropemaker, at the other. At the time the fire broke out there was a man in the screw-alley. He was unfortunately afterwards drowned, but he made a report to the engineer in the room, who was going on deck to report it to the officer of the watch when the fire-bell rung.
By Captain A. C. KEY. - Almost immediately over the fore-handing-room of the after-magazine in the screw-alley were stored tanks containing tallow, paint, and spare gear. No steam had been up during the day, the fires in the stokehole not having been lighted. When the fire broke out two pumps were worked in the engine-room by hand. In the Bombay there was a regular fire brigade. The man at work in the screw-alley reported seeing the fire in the hold. The paymaster's oil and candles were stowed in the after-hold and bread-room. At quarters the Surgeon and Assistant-Surgeon were stationed in the after-cockpit. The starboard, or steam launch, was first hoisted out from the ship. She held eventually about 200 men. The water was at first smooth, but afterwards there was a nasty chop of a sea. Had there been as much sea on at first, when the fire broke out, as there was in about two hours afterwards, our losses would have been increased to a frightful extent. When the boat with the volunteer crew went in to the ship for the last time she brought back with her the last man then alive. The magazine was always closed on board the Bombay before the retreat was beat from quarters.
By Captain CALDWELL. - Before the retreat is beat the gunner reports to the commander that the magazine is closed. The after-magazine at general quarters was in charge of the chief gunner's mate. Generally there was a supernumerary lieutenant in charge of the magazines and the passing up of powder when the ship's crew were at quarters. Several officers were stationed in the after-cockpit at quarters. On the day the ship was burnt the men were at their stations at the shell-room at quarters, and all were preparing to fire shell
By the PRESIDENT. - One of these men was the first to see the fire below, and could point out exactly where it was first seen, and reported it, but could throw no light upon its cause.
By Captain PREEDY - During general quarters the men on the sick list were assembled forward on the lower deck, being a large airy space. I am not sure whether all the men on the sick list were saved.
By Captain SECCOMBE. - No quarter bill was saved from the ship, but the lamp-trimmer had charge of some of the lights in the after-magazine and shell-room. When the mainmast and the upper spars and yard went over the ship's side the part of it that did not go under water was burning, and I think there were only two men taken off it. I don't think we could have got any men who were in the water to go to the mainmast for support, as it lay close alongside the ship.
By the PRESIDENT. - The time that elapsed between hoisting the boats out and everybody on board the ship being driven over the ship's side by the fire was but a very few minutes, and no doubt some men were drowned at first. When the boats were hoisted out they were occupied in rescuing men overboard, swimming about and nearly exhausted. The boats were fully occupied in picking them up and, considering the limited boat accommodation, I am satisfied the best was done that could be done by the people in them to save their shipmates. After the boat I was in was loaded to nearly sinking I got hold of the whaleboat and sent her off with the master, Mr. Mandeville, and some of the men out of her to other boats.
The Court now adjourned for a short time, and on its reassembling.
Mr. Samuel Vine, foreman in the shipwright department of Chatham dockyard, proved the correctness of the plans and tracings before the Court of the internal fittings of the Bombay. He further said, - The magazine bulkheads were built of vertical 4in. teak plank, tongued and tie-bolted, caulked on the inside and outside, on each side being plastered with mortar from ⅜in. to ½in. thick. The outside was then covered with a "web" and "dry" lining. The crown and floor of the magazine were similarly constructed. The linings or coverings were 2¾in. The spirit-room doors were built of vertical 4in. teak plank, caulked on the inside and outside, and also lined with teak. There were iron bar gratings on the lower part, and iron bar gratings on the upper part, about 2in. apart. The ventilators led under the shell-room, and gave a very free ventilation, very low down, through the after hold.
By Captain Campbell (the prisoner). - No means were provided in the Bombay for flooding the after magazine. On the upper part of the magazine there was a circular grating, and on the lower part an iron bar grating. If there were an escape of spirits from the bursting of a cask in the spirit-room the spirit would run down through the opening below into the screw alley.
Lieutenant F. Stirling was next examined, and deposed to working the fore magazine of the Bombay on the day she was burnt. Shell was being passed up for practice when the crew were at general quarters. About 20 men formed the fire brigade on board the Bombay, and the mate of the orlop deck had charge of them. There, was also a party of eight or ten men under the chief engineer, sufficient to work the engine-room pumps. I was on the forepart of the lower deck at quarters when I heard the fire-bell ring, and, giving up charge to Lieutenant Carr, I went to my fire station on the upper deck. Smoke was then coming up the ventilators on the poop and quarterdeck, and the hatchways, which we. immediately covered. The hammocks were passed out of the nettings, opened out, and dipped overboard, and passed down to the fire. The boats were uncovered and stay-whips bent on. Firemen drew water from alongside and threw it on the deck, so as to wet the hammocks and blankets as fast as possible. The smoke was now coming up very thick. The mainyard was then squared and yards secured to hoist the boats out, which I was ordered to do. I had the cutter hoisted out on the starboard side. The captain and commander then came on deck and ordered the quarter-boats to be hoisted out, hands piped to out boats, and the pumps to be kept manned below. The boats were hoisted out, and the flames now burst up, and the men could no longer remain on the port gangway, and I was obliged to leave the bridge. The second launch was now in flames. The Captain and Commander and a good many men now came forward. In attempting to hoist the dingy out the halliards were either burnt or carried away, and the boat was stove. We next tried to get the copper boat out, but were unsuccessful. The nettings were both now in flames as far forward as the fore rigging, the foresail and the fore topsail were also in flames. Everything that could be laid hold of and would float was now ordered to be thrown overboard, and nearly all the men followed. The boats soon became full and had to be pulled clear of the ship. I went over board by a rope's-end hitched in the bowsprit shroud. Many men were now left under the ship's bows holding on to spars, ropes, gratings, and hammocks. Soon afterwards the mainmast fell on the starboard side, followed by the mizenmast, and then the port sheet anchor, the latter knocking the lower boom away, which had afforded support to a good many men. Two or three minutes afterwards the remaining anchors fell and carried with them a good many men. The lead melted by the fire from the gammoning of the bowsprit compelled many men on the spars in the water under the vessel's bows to loose their hold and they were drowned. Shortly afterwards the jollyboat came in, and picked me up, and I don't know what took place during the next half hour.
The PRESIDENT. - You were insensible, I suppose? That's anything but a disgrace to you.
Examination resumed. - The ship's foresail was not set, but the fire ran up the rigging directly the flames reached the upper deck. When the fire first took possession of the ship and the boats had been hoisted out they seemed about 100 yards from her, but latterly they seemed half a mile off. Many men who were floating on gratings and hatches were picked up. The ship went clear, in drifting, of the things thrown overboard and of her spars. The launch was the last boat to leave the ship when the mainmast fell. All the other boats were some distance off, nearly ahead of the ship. I believe the jollyboat made three trips. I was in her the first trip. I don't recollect anything about the fore, mast falling, 1 have no idea where the fire originated in the ship.
By Captain Ray. - The sailmaker and ropermaker of the ship were standing at the shell-room door when the fire broke out in the ship, and if it had broken out in the spirit-room, I should think they must have seen it. I was hanging on to the ship's bows when overboard from an hour to an hour and a half, and while there I heard many of the shells explode that were 'tween decks. The guns were loaded with shot on the starboard side forward when the fire broke out in the ship, but they had not been previously fired. I heard some one say that they went off during the fire.
By Captain Campbell (the prisoner). - I feel satisfied that everything was done by those in the boats to save the lives of their shipmates in the ship and the water. I only noticed the launch and pinnace particularly, and they were quite unmanageable from the number of men in them. It was not perfectly calm at the time, but the water was very much smoother than it generally is there. It was necessary to keep the launch and pinnace, owing to their crowded state, bow on to the sea to keep them from swamping.
By the PRESIDENT. - I recollect nothing more myself after being laid hold of by some one in the jollyboat.
Mr. Vine, of Chatham dockyard, re-called, deposed to the fittings of the after magazine and spirit-room.The Court then adjourned until this morning.
|Fr 10 February 1865|
HER MAJESTY'S LATE SHIP BOMBAY.
The second sitting of the Court-martial ordered by the Admiralty to inquire into the circumstances connected with, the recent loss of this ship took place on board Her Majesty's ship Victory, at Portsmouth, yesterday. The court opened at 9 30a.m., Mr. Laurance Oliphant appearing as the "friend" of Captain Campbell, the first witness called being Mr. James Samuel Watts, the master, who deposed as follows: - I have nothing to suggest as to the cause of the fire. I have an idea that it was from spontaneous combustion, and that it came from under the after magazine, I am not aware that anything was stowed under the magazine. Beef and flour were stowed under the handing-room. There was some beer stowed in the after-hold, but no wines or spirits. Oil and candles were also stowed there. At the time the firebell rang I was on the poop along with the captain, and heard the report given to the captain that there was a fire on board. The first I saw of the fire was smoke coming up all the hatchways and from the hammock-nettings, succeeded shortly after by flames from the same places. This was at 4 o'clock. I think it was about five minutes after the fire was reported to the captain that I saw the flames. I left the ship by the launch with Mr. Carr, going over the ship's stern. When the flames came up the hatchways of the ship all hands were either driven over the sides or to the bow. The pinnace took in a great many at the gangway. The barge was under the fore-chains, and also took in a great many; the other boats at the same time were fully engaged in picking up the men who had jumped overboard. I remained in the launch picking up the men until the ship's mainmast came over the side, and only just shoved the boat clear of the ship's side to clear her. As the mizenmast was tottering we picked up the first-lieutenant and several of the junior officers. I then saw two cutters pulling towards the ship's bows, which took off all the men left in the ship forward. The foremast fell immediately after the mizenmast.
By Captain SCOTT. - I am not aware that any materials were stowed in the after-hold likely to produce spontaneous combustion. There were a great many candles stowed in the wings of the after-hold, and also brooms. I suppose there were from 60 to 70 boxes of candles there, but there was no oil. All paints, oils, and turpentine were stowed in the fore part of the ship, in the carpenter's storeroom. The immediate cause of the ship's masts falling was the burning of the rigging. The wire-rigging burnt like rope, I saw it fusing away. I think the masts went by the deck. The last man I took from the ship in my boat was just previous to the mainmast falling - just in time to clear it by shoving the boat off.
By Captain KEY - If the fire broke out, as I imagine, from spontaneous combustion in the wings where the candles were stowed; it could have communicated with the after-hold through an iron grating from wings of about a foot square. The holds of the Bombay were fully ventilated, and in consequence were almost always sweet. I consider that circumstance unfavourable to spontaneous combustion. For some time previous to the fire the weather had been hot and dry. The temperature of the ship's holds ranged about 70 deg. The Bombay's trim at her water-line was about three feet by the stern. The bilges of the ship were generally quite dry, excepting the drainage right aft, which, was constantly baled out. If a spirit-cask had burst in the spirit-room the spirit would have drained aft at the spot I have indicated, which was about under the after magazine. A cask of spirits was got up from the hold every other day and started on the main deck under proper supervision. One day's spirit was issued, and the other stowed in the spiritroom. No one could get at the spiritroom through the grating from the after-hold. The ship was in eight fathoms, water when the fire broke out. The ship was quite steady when the mainmast fell, and had a slight list to windward. The mainmast fell on the weather side of the ship, a little on the quarter.
By Captain CALDWELL. - The keys of the spiritroom were always kept in my cabin. I had not noticed their being returned on the last day the spirits were got up, but they must have been, because they were brought to me from my cabin when the fire broke out. There was a great quantity of private stores in the after-hold that had been taken in the day previous to the fire, but there was no wine or spirits among them. Colza oil was burned in the wardroom lamps.
By Captain PREEDY. - It was not possible for any one to tamper with the spiritroom from any position outside. The grating bars were about an inch or an inch and a-half apart, but the casks of spirits were not stowed near it or the door.
By Captain LACY. - The after-hold was always open.
By Admiral DACRES. - The grating under the magazine and looking into the after-hold was a hole cut in the bulkhead, with upright iron bars fixed in it. The opening altogether was about a foot square. In stowing the hold no care was taken to keep the grating clear. On the orlop deck there were occasionally hanging-stoves, with fires for drying; but never anything of the kind in the holds. At general quarters in the Bombay there was a fire-brigade told off, and in charge of the second-master.
By Captain SECCOMBE. - The boats of the Bombay consisted of one launch, 40ft. long; one pinnace, 32ft.; the barge, 34ft.; two cutters, 28ft; one cutter, 23ft.; one whaleboat, 30ft.; one gig, 30ft.: and one other gig, 24ft.
Robert Jasper Hay was the next witness called, and deposed, - I was chief engineer of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay. When the firebell rang I was in the wardroom. I went down to the orlop deck to my cabin to get the keys of the sea-cocks. At that time I saw nothing of the fire on the orlop deck, but in coming up the after hatchway I felt a slight heat, and judged from that that the fire was in the after part of the ship. I then went to the engine-room hatchway and called to Mr. Knight, the senior assistant-engineer, to get the hand-pumps and auxiliary engine to work immediately. I also called Mr. Thompson, assistant-engineer, and went with him and saw the goose-necks connected on the orlop deck and the hose laid aft. There was a seven-inch pump on the starboard side and a double six-inch on the portside. I then went to the lower deck and received orders from the captain to open the sea-cocks. I returned to the orlop deck and gave Mr. Thompson the keys of the port sea cock with directions to open it, going to the starboard one myself. I reached the cabin in which the hatchway was placed, but was forced back by the smoke after two attempts. I then went on deck and reported that I could not get the sea-cocks open, but that I would flood the bilge, and the pumps could then be connected with the bilge. I then had the water run into the bilge through the blowout cocks to four feet deep. I then went on the orlop deck, and finding the pumps could not be shifted to the bilge on account of the dense suffocating smoke, I again tried to get to the cabin, to open the seacocks, but was again unsuccessful. Mr. Knight, my assistant, now reported to me that the men were unable to remain in the engine-room owing to the smoke. I reported this to the commander, and received orders to clear the engine-room. I failed to get back there, but called out down through the funnel casing. I then, after the men had been cleared out of the engine-room, went on the upper deck, and as nearly all had left the ship I left her in the launch.
By Admiral DACRES. - I was present when the mud-hole doors were slacked off from the foremost boilers. At that time there was smoke in the higher part of the engine-room, but in the stoke-hole it was not so thick. The pumps were throwing well when set to work with the engine-room party of nine stokers. This number of men was not sufficient to keep the pumps going for any considerable time. When I was on the orlop-deck, I think on my second attempt to enter the cabin, I saw flames coming up the hatchway, to the best of my belief. The difficulty experienced in turning the pumps on to the bilge was owing to the connexions with the suction requiring to be unscrewed and shifted round, and the smoke rendering the men unable to remain long enough on the orlop-deck to do this. The shifting of these pumps is done under the direction of the carpenter of the ship. No engineer was borne in the ship for the purpose of attending to the pumps and sea-cocks. I arrived at the conclusion that there was 4ft. of water in the bilges from the fact of its rising over the stoke-hole plates. There was at the same time several inches of water over the orlop-deck. I believe the carpenter of the ship turned that on. That water was delivered from cocks fitted in the fore part of the ship with openings on the orlop-deck, and connecting, I believe, with the Downton pumps forward and the sea-cock. The tanks in the same alley contained, speaking from the tanks aft, moulding sand, Riley's patent boiler composition, and old metal. Riley's composition is not inflammable, that I am aware of. The engine oil and tallow were stored in the store-rooms before the shell-room. I have no idea or theory of my own, how the fire took place. There were 98 or 100 men in the launch when I left the ship. The ship's bilges were always very dry. The water drainage in them was baled out a little abaft the mainmast. On one occasion, at sea the discharge-valve being defective, there was from 12 to 14 inches in the bilge for a short time. This was near where the water was baled out from the bilge, The ship's bilge was dried out every morning.
By Captain SCOTT. - The temperature of the coal bunkers varied from 67 deg. to 75 deg. The temperature in them had been taken on the day of the fire by the engineer on duty, but it was not delivered in, the evening being the usual time for doing so. The temperature was not taken in the screw alley on that day, it not being usual to do so. When I was in the screw alley in the morning of the day when the ship was burnt I noticed no increased heat there, nor afterwards in the engine-room. The ship, I think, had been coaled about two months previous to the fire. The coals were very dry when taken in. There were no grease or tarpaulings stowed away anywhere in the engine-room. The coalbags were stowed away on the orlop-deck, but I should say it was quite impossible for the fire to have broken out there.
By Captain KEY. - It was from five to six minutes after the fire-bell rang that I was in the cabin trying to open the sea-cock. The cabin was then full of smoke. When the fire-bell rang and the pumps were rigged I waited for orders to open the sea-cocks, as the fire-station orders of the ship stated that the cocks were not to be opened without orders. The sea-cocks of the 12-inch pumps were in charge of the Chief Engineer. The smoke I have spoken of as being in the upper part of the engine-room came through the gratings from off the lower deck. When the ship's company were at quarters all the engineers, including myself with the engine-room party of nine stokers, were stationed in the engine-room. The stoker who was probably on duty in the screw alley when the fire broke out fn the ship was Nicholas Moore, one of the men lost. Three others - Alfred Baker, Frederick Goodenough, and Thomas Burr - were also lost. I believe they were all drowned, and none of them suffocated in the stoke-hole. I am quite certain that no tallow, oakum, or oil was stowed in the tanks in the screw alley.
By Captain SECCOMBE. - The large 12-inch pump seacock was not open, nor was it turned on to the bilge. No other pumps besides those I hare previously mentioned could have been made use of in the engine department. Of the Downton pumps on. the orlop and lower deck three, I believe, could have been made use of.
By Captain LACY. - Mr. Thompson did not succeed in opening the sea-cook on the port side. That cock would have fed the port pump. The starboard cock would have fed the starboard pump.
By Admiral DACRES. - No fires or hanging stoves were in the screw alley. It was grated, and the majority of thegratings were up. I saw the starboard pump before the hose was screwed on throwing water delivered, from the gooseneck.
By Captain Campbell (prisoner). - When Mr. Thompson failed in opening the port sea-cook, I believe it was owing to his becoming insensible from the smoke.
The Court now adjourned-for half an hour, and on its reopening the next witness called was
By Admiral DACRES. - I found there was a good supply of water from the pumps working by feeling the hoses. The 9in. pump worked on the after part of the lower deck, the 7in. pump worked amidships Before the mainmast; the fire-engine worked aft, on the port side, at a spare port, and the starting hose on the upper deck. These were the pumps I saw myself. When I tried to get on the orlop deck the last time I saw no flame whatever, the space over the hold and hatchway being enveloped in smoke and steam. The first time I went down I saw flame coming up the square of the hatchway. On the orlop deck at the bottom of the after ladder the water at the time the ship was on fire was over a man's shoes in depth. When I went in the whaler to the boats lying ahead of the ship. I should think they were a quarter of a mile off. All were comparatively heavily laden, the barge more so than the others. The magazine men were not in the after magazine of the ship when the fire was reported. I have not the slightest idea how the fire originated. I believe half the men missing from the Bombay's crew were drowned from being unable to swim and jumping overboard to order after sticking to their posts until released by order. No men could have behaved better; particularly the petty officers who were attending stoppers, yards, and stays.
By Captain Scott. - The chief engineer had charge of the wing sea-cocks. If the sea-cocks had been opened at first I do not suppose it could have stopped the fire. A considerable quantity of dry stores had been stowed below the day before the fire, but there were no spirits or wine among them. I think there was straw in the packages, but there was no ale or beer. It is quite possible that any one with a light could have got at those stores, supposing them to contain spirits or beer, but at the same time it is most unlikely, from the fact of a sentry being on duty immediately above the hatchway, and the man stationed in the shell-room, during the divisional exercise in the afternoon when the fire broke out, being enabled to see all that might have taken place under such circumstances in the after hold. At general quarters the sick generally remained in the sick bay.
By Captain Key. - From inquiries I have made since the fire I think it first broke out outside the starboard foremast handing room of the after magazine in the afterhold. I am not aware of any of the private stores spoken of being stowed there. The afterhold was not very full, rather the reverse, I think it impossible the fire could have broken out in the spirit room or coal bunkers, and I don't think it originated in the shaft alley. On beating the retreat from general quarters the pumps on the lower deck were not unrigged, and I believe those on the orlop deck were also kept rigged, as the magazines were still open, the foremost guns firing at target. The after magazine, I believe, was actually closed, but it had not been reported to me as such. We were thus enabled to get water very quickly. The cause of the flames spreading so quickly I attribute to the age of the ship and the dry state of her bulk heading, and the continuance of hot dry weather recently prevalent. When the ship's mainmast fell I had just got in the gig, and at that time the launch was about 100 or 150 yards off the ship on her starboard quarter, the pinnace about the same distance off on the ship's starboard beam; the first gig about the same distance on the starboard bow, with the whaler about 200 yards outside of her. The remainder were about two points on the ship's starboard bow, about two cables off. The dingy was swamped under the ship's bows in getting her out. The ship's poop was cut off from the quarter deck by the fire rushing up the after hatchway. The bulk of the men at the time were at work on the quarterdeck. About ten minutes before leaving the ship the shells began to explode, several of the 100-pounders going off before I and others left the forecastle.
By Captain Seccombe. - The ship was hove to under sail when the fire broke out, and after the sails were burnt she came slightly up to the wind. The mainmast when it fell hung with its heel on the ship's hammock netting and its head in the water.
By Admiral DACRES. - With a view to future arrangements under like melancholy circumstance; as the loss of the Bombay, or wreck, I consider that the most responsible officer next to the commanding officer should leave the ship in the first boat to take charge of all outside the ship. After leaving the Bombay and going on board the French ships we were received in a manner of which I cannot speak too highly, the Admiral down to the boys on board doing everything in their power possible to make us comfortable, giving us clothes from their own private stocks and showing us every sympathy.
By Captain Campbell (prisoner). - On leaving the Bombay in the whaler there were no crutches found in her for the oars to work in, and the latter were secured by the lanyards of the men's knives, nor had she any yoke to steer with. This was owing to the boat only having arrived the day before by the English packet, and her equipment was not therefore completed.
Mr. Brock, acting second master of the Bombay. - On the day the ship was burnt I was below about a quarter past 12 o'clock to get up the spirits, which were hoisted on to the main deck. I took no particular notice of the after hold, but I saw no smoke or anything of the kind in it. The private stores that came on board the day previous were stowed in the hold. I had charge of the holds. I was in the bread-room when the five-bell rang. The sentry in the after part of the orlopdeck reported to me that the fire was between the after hold and the magazine. I went to the hold on the starboard side and saw smoke proceeding from the after magazine. The smoke was so dense that I was unable to get on the orlop deck again, and I was carried up and on to the main deck. The further evidence of this witness was merely corroborative of that given by previous witnesses.
Mr. Benjamin Trice, from Chatham Dockyard, proved the correctness of the plans of the internal fittings of the Bombay before the Court.
Mr. Knight, first-class assistant engineer, late of the Bombay, deposed to being in tie engine-room when the alarm of fire was given. The engine-room pumps were manned and worked for about 30 or 40 minutes, when the men were overcome by the heat and smoke and were in consequence ordered on deck. First saw the fire on the starboard side of the after hold. A man came out of the screw alley and said that the ship was on fire, at the same time the fire-bell rang. He was lost with the ship. I asked him how he knew the ship was on fire, and be said he heard the men at the top of the screw alley say there was fire.At the close of this witness's examination the Court was adjourned until this morning.
|Ma 13 February 1865|
THE WRECK OF THE BOMBAY.
Sir, - Will you allow_me to inform the public through your columns that subscriptions for the relief of those dependent on the unfortunate gallant men lost in Her Majesty's late ship Bombay will be received by Messrs. Coutts and Co., Strand, and by Messrs. Hallett and Ommanney, Great George-street, Westminster; and that a committee for the purpose of distributing the funds is being formed?
Admiral Elliot informs me that the subscriptions from Buenos Ayres, amounting to 609l. 3s. 8d., have been forwarded by the same mail as his letter, and that the Montevidean subscription, amounting to about 700l., will follow by the next.Duke of Wellington,
Portsmouth, Feb. 10.
|Tu 14 February 1865|
HER MAJESTYS LATE SHIP BOMBAY.
The Court-Martial appointed to inquire into the cause of the fire that recently destroyed this ship held its third sitting on Friday last on board Her Majesty's ship Victory, at Portsmouth.
P.W. Spriddle, ship's steward's boy on board the Bombay, deposed to attending to the lights of the after magazine handing-room on the 14th of December, when the crew were at quarters, and to seeing the fire coming out from under the handing-room on the starboard side before the alarm of fire had been given. The starboard side of the hold appeared to be illuminated by the glare of the fire. In going to the after hold witness was called by one of the men who was lost with the ship and told to ask the lamp-trimmer to come and trim the lights in the light-room. He walked towards the light-room door, and was in the act of opening the door, when one of the men sang out, "My God, there's fire!" and the fire-bell was rung. The light-room door was sufficiently open to see the four lights. One was out, the other three were burning. Saw a small piece of something lying on the light-room floor, about two inches from the lamp socket, like a piece of candlewick just extinguished.
By the PRESIDENT. - The lamp-trimmer would go down below at general quarters to light the candles in the lightroom of the magazine, and also to put them out afterwards. On the 14th of December witness lit them himself, not seeing the lamp-trimmer in the bread-room when the crew had been beat to Quarters.
By Captain SCOTT. - The lamplighter was in the habit of getting a light in the bread-room and going down below at quarters to light the lamps. Witness had lighted them occasionally, the lamplighter having asked him at times to help him. On such occasions, when the lamp-trimmer was absent from the after magazine light-room, witness thought he was engaged in lighting the shell-room lights. Witness never lit the shell-room lights. The appearance of illumination in the hold might have been about two minutes before the alarm was given. Noticed no smoke or smell at that time.
By the PRESIDENT. - I was on the platform in the hold three times during that afternoon. The first time was before the men had arrived at their stations to hand up powder. The second time I only noticed Cooper on the orlop deck. The third time the men were gone from the after magazine, but were working in the shell-room. On the last occasion the men stationed at the bread-room were gone, and by that I took the magazine to be closed. At the retreat after quarters in the afternoon I do not know whether the lights in the after magazine or shell-room were put out.
By Captain Campbell (prisoner). - By a quarter to 2 bells, I meant a quarter to 2 o'clock. The floor of the lightroom was lined with lead, and that covered with copper, and in this there was a place scooped out, also lined like the floor for the reception of burnt but candle wicks.
Commander Wilson, recalled, gave evidence of the stations of the men at the after magazine and shell-room, and on the platform in the after hold. During the afternoon quarters powder was handed up from the after magazine. The men on the platform handing the powder were chiefly bandsmen and stewards.
George Noble examined. - I was sailmaker on board the Bombay. When I gave the alarm of fire on hoard on the 14th of December I was standing close to the shell-room door, on the platform over the screw alley, amidships, waiting to pass up shell. The ropemaker called my attention to a fire underneath a platform close to the floor of the handing-room. I immediately ran up on the main deck and rang the fire-bell and reported it to Captain Campbell. It was a sheet of fire the whole breadth of the platform. I did not go down on the platform again during the fire. Previous to seeing this sheet of flame there had not been the least smell of smoke. During that afternoon the nearest man I saw was a man stationed on this platform. After the retreat from quarters was beat the only person I saw near the after hold who was not stationed there was the ship's steward's boy. I don't know what he was doing there, nor do I remember ever having seen him there before. On that day he was not there the whole time I was there, and I only saw him once. It was the duty of the lamp-trimmer to keep the lights in the shell-room clean. That afternoon I had not seen him. I don't believe there was time to put out the shell-room light before the alarm of fire. I have no idea how the fire originated.
By Captain SCOTT. - When I first saw the fire it came out with one great flash. It did not subside. There was no noise like an explosion of spirits taking fire when the fire first broke out. When the fire broke out first in the hold I heard no cry or shout of any kind. I did not see the lamp-trimmer on that day. It was his duty to light the shellroom lamps, but I had never seen him perform that duty. On the afternoon of the fire I was below from the time of going to quarters after dinner to the time of the alarm being given - about two hours. During all that time I saw no one in the after hold with the exception of the ship steward's boy, and those men who were stationed there binding up powder.
By Captain KEY. - The flame I saw burst out was at the same time the ropemaker called my attention to it. There was very little smoke with it. The casks stowed in the after-hold I should say were level with the magazine platform. There was no room for a man to get under the platform.
By Captain CALDWELL. - No spirits were hoisted up or struck down while I was at quarters either in the forenoon or afternoon, nor was the spirit-room open. I firmly believe all the men stationed that day below were perfectly sober. The nature of the flame when first I saw it did not appear like burning spirits. I have often seen spirits burning.
By Captain LACY. - From my station at the shell-room door I could see the door of the light-room of the after magazine. I saw no one take a light from that room during the afternoon. I believe the ship's steward's boy was on the platform when I first saw the fire.
James M'Mahon, examined. - I was captain of the hold of the Bombay. On the 14th of December I was in the afterhold at 9 o'clock in the forenoon to sweep it up. In about 10 minutes I stowed hook ropes away, but I did not go into the hold afterwards on that day. The starboard side of the hold had not been cleared while I belonged to the ship. In the after part of the hold there were two tiers of beef casks that had never been disturbed. They were before the handing-room. What was stowed under the handing-room had never been moved by me. There were stowed there two tiers of beef and two tiers of flour. There were two ground tiers of beef right fore and aft the hold that had never been disturbed. On the top of these two tiers beginning from aft there were a tier of flour, several casks of oatmeal, two tiers of sugar before and three forward. This gave a pretty square platform. The candles were stowed in the after-starboard wing. There was no oil stowed in the after-hold. The square stowage I have described of beef, &c., and dry provisions, came not quite up to the powder-handing platform aft because there were only two tiers of beef there. Flour had been stored on the beef, but it had been used. Two days before the fire a quantity of private packages came on board. They were put on the port side of the hold. I never had any cause of complaint of anyone throwing oil rags or tow about the hold. The hold was never very hot. No tarpaulings or deck cloths were ever stowed there. The dunnage of the hold was formed of the casks we used to "shake" ourselves, and the full casks were stowed with this. No firewood or casks of shavings were stowed in the hold. We had a quantity of brooms stowed in the starboard wing, the remainder were stowed in the port spirit-room. I know of nothing that would burn readily being stowed under the platform of the handing-room. No rillages of spirits or empty spirit casks were stowed in the after-hold abaft the spiritroom.
By Captain SCOTT. - I never saw any grains of loose powder in the after-hold, or on the platform. I have seen the lamp-trimmer in the after-hold lighting up the light-room, but not on the day of the fire. I never saw him there except when lighting up the light-room.
By Captain KEY. - The second master superintended the breaking out of the casks from the bulk in the spirit-room. There was plenty of room for a man to pass underneath the platform where the men stood at quarters to hand up the powder. When that platform was not in use it was usually turned up against the handing-room bulkhead. I attended in the spirit-room the day before the fire, when the cask of spirits was got up. I am quite sure no spirits were stowed on the starboard side of the after-hold.
By Captain CALDWELL. - I saw the spirits in the cask, and the breaker stowed away in the hold on the 13th. No junk was stowed in that hold. The casks in the hold covered the grating in the spirit-room. There were no means of getting at the spirits in the spirit-room through that grating. I have been captain of the hold in the Bombay since she sailed from Plymouth. Between the ship's side and the magazine was a wing about 12ft. or 15ft. in length, ending aft in a point at a small bulkhead.
By Captain PREEDY. - The empty spirit casks were kept in the spirit-room. It was the custom to put salt water in them before putting them below.
By Captain SECCOMBE. - I have no idea as to the cause of the fire.
The PRESIDENT. - You are one of the jolly-boat volunteers. Had you any difficulty in getting backward to and fro between the cutter and the ship? - It was very dangerous getting alongside the ship; we had to go under the bows. The danger was from the fire, and not the sea, We took three trips. To the best of my belief we brought off all the survivors that were left on her.
The PRESIDENT. - How did you get away from the ship? - The jolly-boat came under the ship's bows and picked me and the gunnery lieutenant up.
The PRESIDENT. - How long had you been in the water? - From an hour to an hour and a half.
The PRESIDENT. - And after that you volunteered to go back? - Yes.
The PRESIDENT. - And you may be very proud of it.
George Saw examined. - I was ship's steward on board the Bombay. I heard the alarm of "Fire" when I was in the bread-room. The candles were stowed in the bread-room, where the lamps were usually cleaned. The lamps were cleaned there on the day of the fire by the lamp-trimmer, who was perfectly sober at the time. Bags of biscuit only were stowed in the bread-room, against the magazine bulkhead. The candles, about 15 boxes, were stowed in the upper part of the bread-room. The ship's oil was stowed in the oil tank, at the after part of the bread-room. At the time of the fire there was very little oil in the tank. I have no idea as to the origin of the fire. At the commencement of the fire I saw smoke and flames of fire directly underneath the light-room of the after magazine, from the hatchway in the orlop-deck. This was about the same time the firebell rang. I then went to my station in the bread-room where I remained, I think about half-an-hour, until I was nearly suffocated. When I left I could see nothing for smoke.
By Captain KEY. - The sentry in the after cockpit first gave me the alarm of fire by saying the after magazine was on fire. When I went back to the bread-room after the fire bell had rung there was no smoke in it. Smoke first came into the bread-room from the orlop-deck.
By Captain CALDWELL. - I attended the measuring off of the spirits on the day of the fire on board the Bombay on the main deck. It was from the breaker on that day, and I believe it was not quite emptied after the men's allowance had been measured out. The breaker, after the spirits were measured off, was returned to the spirit-room.
By Captain SECCOMBE. - My impression when I first saw the fire was that I thought it would soon be put out. I did not think it serious.
By Captain LACY. - From the time of going to quarters on the day of the fire my boy was generally in the bread-room. I am not aware of his absence at any particular time.
Owen M'Caffery, examined. - I am a private marine, lately serving on board Her Majesty's ship Bombay, and on the afternoon of the fire was on sentry in the after cockpit, my orders being to allow no naked lights in the cockpit, and see that no one entered the spirit-room during quarters, and to look after officers' cabins in the cockpit. During general quarters I was to allow passage down the ladder to the hold to the men stationed there. The first I knew of the fire I smelt something burning, and went and reported the same to Mr. Brock, who went down in the hold to examine into it. While in the cockpit I saw smoke coming up first from the two hatchways. I was ordered by the sergeant-major to the lower deck pumps, and then saw flames for the first time.
By Captain SCOTT. - Before I gave the alarm I smelt no smoke nor saw any fire.
By Captain KEY. - When I reported the fire to the second master, Mr. Brock, I reported it as being in the after cockpit, where I had been walking on my post. The fire-bell rang immediately.
By Captain CALDWELL. - When the retreat from afternoon quarters was beaten and the men came up from their stations in the afterhold all of them seemed quite sober to me.
Thomas Atkinson examined. - I was leading seaman on board the Bombay on the day of the fire. I was stationed on the platform for handing up shell from the after shell-room. I remained there until the fire-bell had rung on the midship platform. The ship's butcher came up the shellroom to ask at the handing-room door if they could see any fire or smoke; but none could be seen. The fire was discovered under the platform. I ran up after the sailmaker had gone to ring the fire-bell.
By Captain CALDWELL. - I went on deck from my station as a riggerman. My station there was at the mainyard, clearing away boat tickles. I went up there.
William James Presto examined. - I was master-at-arms of the Bombay, and at the head of the ship's police. I have no idea how the fire originated on board on the 14th of December. When the alarm was given I went to see that the corporal was at his station over the spirit-room. I don't remember having seen the missing lamp-trimmer during that day. Myself with the corporals were in the habit of going the rounds through the lower part of the ship day and night. The hold where the fire broke out was not visited at night. The two corporals who lost their lives were drowned under the ship's bows.
By Captain KEY. - I don't remember any spirits being brought on board the ship previous to leaving Montevideo. All stores of the kind for the ward-room were accompanied with a pass to me from the commanding officer on admission to the ship. On the day of the fire one of the corporals drowned attended to see the spirit-room locked and unlocked. It was his duty on all occasions when the spirit-room was opened.
By Captain CALDWELL. - I noticed no men or man drunk or the worse for liquor on the day of the fire.
James Warren examined. - I was cooper on board the Bombay at the time of the fire, and on that day was stationed in the afternoon at quarters in the inner fore handing room of the after magazine, and remained there until just after six bells. The retreat was beaten then. The candles were lighted when I left. I secured the handing-room by locking the door, and gave the key to the gunner. I saw no fire then. I have been stationed in the handing-room ever since the ship has been in commission, and no cartridge could have burst in passing through the pockets without my knowing it. I never saw an escape of powder there.
By Captain KEY. - I was supplying powder the whole time during general quarters in the starboard handing-room. The starboard side magazine only was being worked. The handing-room door was closed during quarters.
By Captain CALDWELL. - I was the only man stationed in the handing-room.
John Booth examined. - I was shoemaker on board the Bombay. My station at general quarters was on the foremost platform of the after handing-room on the day of the fire I never at any time saw any loose powder in the cartridge boxes, and no burst cartridge could have passed through my hands without my knowing it. [The witness stated that when he left his station on the foremost platform there was no sign of fire there. The fire broke out under the platform or hanging flat on which the witness had stood handing up the cartridge cases from the handing-room of the magazine, but it was nearly half an hour after the witness had left his station there that the broad sheet of flame spoken of by a previous witness, was seen coming from underneath the platform. The remainder of his evidence was merely corroborative, of that previously given.]
|Tu 14 February 1865|
|Lieutenant John J. Fullerton examined. - I was an additional lieutenant on board the Bombay, and at general quarters attended the magazine. I had to assist the senior lieutenant at the fire. On the day of the fire I was in the cockpit and on the deck, both forward and aft, superintending the powder being handed up. When the alarm of fire was given on that day I was in the ward-room, and hearing the bell ring and the drum beat as signal that the fire was aft I went down in the after cockpit and saw flames on the starboard side of the after hold from under the handing-room, I then ran half way up the after ladder, told the first lieutenant where the fire was, and then returned to the cockpit. The carpenter handed me the hose from the after Downton pump, and the hose from Earl's engine. I pointed them on the fire to extinguish the flames, but such a dense smoke immediately arose that it was impossible to remain there even at the commencement longer than two or three minutes at a time. Three or four other hoses were brought, and all were throwing a good supply of water on the fire. Wet blankets were passed down, also water by the mess kettles. There may have been more hoses there which I did not see, for the smoke was so thick that every lantern that was brought to the hatchway flickered and went out. Mr. Franklin, the additional boatswain, Carr, the blacksmith, and Warner, the captain of the mizentop, attended the hoses at the hatchways. We remained there until the smoke drove us away, and I then went on deck, and met Captain Wilson on the after ladder. I went back with him, and attempted to reach the after cockpit, but we were driven back. An attempt was then made to cover the hatchway, but the flames burst up and drove them back, catching the main stay, and Captain Wilson then ordered the crew to the boats. I undressed in the main chains and jumped overboard, and after swimming about for a little I made for the pinnace, which had just shoved off from the ship. The men could not pull the port oars, owing to so many hands holding on to her, and she drifted alongside the ship again. She then took about 40 more men in, and we backed her off from the ship. The boat was so full that we had to fill the rowlocks up with the men's flannels to keep the water out of the boat, and make a breakwater of their backs in the bow, keeping her head on to the sea. The pilot cutter then came alongside us, and took about 70 men out of the boat. We then got the mast up and went alongside the launch, and then steered for Montevideo. We were picked up by the Plata.|
By the PRESIDENT. - The fire reached nearly to the beams of the hold when first seen. It looked like a clear wood flame. There was very little smoke until the water reached the fire. The flames were checked by the water and smoke until I only saw, when pointing the hose on the fire, occasional flickers of flame. No amount of water would have put the fire out, nor could it have been done by cutting the deck above. The flames were soon working too far forward to be approached from the screw alley. I estimate the maximum number of men that were in the pinnace from 150 to 190. I gave the order for stopping up the rowlocks with the men's flannels to keep the water out. The men behaved remarkably well in the boat, especially when reaching the pilot cutter. The pinnace then was taking in water fast, but not a man stirred until I gave the order, and then one by one as I called their names.
By Captain KEY. - The smoke on the ship's orlop deck when so dense as I have stated it, had a peculiar smell, but I can hardly state what. It was very thick and black, more so than wood would have created. There must have been something else besides wood, The dryness of the ship and the excellent ventilation in her, I think, caused the fire to spread so quickly.
By Captain SCOTT. - When I looked down from the orlop into the hold the fire appeared to come in a line from under the platform, and not from the burning of the casks (provisions). About two minutes elapsed from the time the fire-bell rang until the hose was delivering the water on it. It certainly was not five minutes from the time the alarm was raised to the time water was passing from the hose I held on to the fire. We were driven off from suffocation by the density of the smoke. I became insensible, and believe I was assisted up the after cockpit ladder by Carr, the blacksmith, and I afterwards managed to get on deck myself. Carr returned to the cockpit, I think.
The Court now adjourned until half-past 9 on Saturday morning.
On the Court re-assembling on Saturday the majority of the evidence given was merely corroborative of that already before the Court, and threw no new light upon the subject, and was therefore void of interest to the general public, excepting part of the evidence given by Sub-Lieutenant Mandeville (the officer who commanded the jollyboat on her gallant duty of rescuing part of the crew from the burning ship), relating to the appearance and condition of the ship and the conduct of a Brazilian steamship, and some subsequent evidence given by other witnesses relative to alleged misbehaviour on the part of some seamen in the first cutter, which is contained in the following analysis of the evidence given:-
Sub-Lieutenant Mandeville deposed that after having been picked up from the water, on leaving the ship by the gig and whaleboat he obtained permission from Commander Wilson to go back to the ship in the jollyboat to save the men left there, and he accordingly went. The whole time the jollyboat was alongside the ship, taking off the men, on either of the three trips made, the shells inboard the ship were distinctly heard exploding. All the men seen alive but one were rescued by the jollyboat on her first and second trips. The one man left behind was rescued on the third trip. He had been in the water between the ship's side and some wreck of floating spars, and one of the boat's crew went overboard with a rope's-end to get at him, and both were then hauled into the boat over the spars. The ship's foremast, which had the topmast and top-gallant-mast aloft, but with the lower yard hanging up and down by the chain slings, went over the ship's side immediately after we left on our first trip with men. On approaching the ship on the second trip one of the loaded and shotted guns on the lower deck went off, and the ship's hull then was a perfect blaze of fire, with the flames coming out of all the ports, with the bowsprit on fire as far out as the gammoning, the sheet lead of the gammoning running down in a perfect shower on the water under the ship's bows, on the wreck, and on the men there. The smoke and flames were then trending over the ship's port-side and stern, in a bow and quarter-line, the ship swinging to her anchors with the current. Just in shoving off the boat, after having got the man on the third trip, I saw the starboard 100-pounder Armstrong gun on the forecastle go down through all the decks to the bottom of the ship. The heat from the ship was very great at the time. After having communicated with the other boats I got up my boat's mast and made sail for Montevideo. About an hour's sail from the burning hull of the Bombay a Brazilian steamer, with officers in uniform on her deck - I think a mail packet - passed close to my boat, but took no notice, nor did they offer me any assistance. I was eventually picked up by Her Majesty's ship Stromboli.
Commander Wilson, recalled by the COURT, said, in answer to the Court, that Mr. Franklin, the supernumerary boatswain on board the Bombay, and the sergeant-major of Marines, both of whom were lost, stood by their duties to the last, and behaved as nobly as men could.
Henry Charles Biggs, midshipman, in giving his evidence, said that he was in command of the first cutter, and at one period, being then close to the ship with a number of men picked up from the water and the ship's chains, in addition to her regular crew, he wished to have the boat's stern backed in closer to the ship's side in order to take in some more men he saw there, "but the men would not do anything - they were afraid of the shotted guns." "I tried to convince the men, and order the boat back to pick up the men left, but the people in the boat were making a noise, and I could not keep order." The men I wanted to pick up were in the meantime picked up by the whaleboat. I then saw a handkerchief waving from one of the boats at a distance from the ship, and took it as a signal to close, and had the boat pulled clear of the ship and joined the others where I received orders to pull to windward and wait the explosion. I was satisfied with the conduct of my coxswain Some of the men behaved well in the boat, but others did not.
By Captain SCOTT. - The boat was so crowded that, sitting as I was in the stern sheets, I could not see the men who refused to back their oars. It was about half one way and half the other of the boat's crew. When they pulled the boat clear of the ship the men I saw in the water had been picked up, and I ordered the boat to be pulled away. There were men still hanging on to the ship. When the men disobeyed my orders I am not aware that any other petty officer was in the boat, except Wilson, the coxswain.
By Captain HORNBY. - The coxswain of the boat endeavoured to support me in reducing the men to obedience.
Captain PREEDY. - I ordered the boat to be backed to pick up the men then in the water. I recollect no other order I give not being attended to.
Captain LACY. - Every one of the men were singing out, "Guns! Guns are shotted, and we must get away." I ordered them to be silent. They would be quiet for a time and then some man would sing out again. The boat's crew were quiet before other men came in her from the ship.
By Captain Campbell. - Had you backed the boat in to the ship at the time you wished, would you not have backed in immediately under the muzzles of the shotted guns? - No: I think they were not shotted as far aft as that. These guns were on the after lower-deck, and the fore lower-deck were only shotted. Men in the water might have been hanging on to the oars of the boat alongside at the time, and the number of men crowded in the boat might have interfered with the proper working of the oars, which were double-banked.
At this stage of the proceedings the cutter's crew were called into the court-room, with their coxswain, to hear Mr. Bigg's evidence read to them, and also the examination of their coxswain.
Henry Wilson. - I was coxswain of the first cutter under the command of Mr. Biggs, the previous witness. Deposed to the circumstances of taking the men into the boat from the ship, &c., up to the time of the alleged disobedience of part of the boat's crew to back in to the ship. Witness further said he did not hear Mr. Biggs order to back in to the ship to pick up men. Some of the men picked up by the boat that had been stationed on the ship's lower deck quarters said some of the guns were loaded there. I saw nothing of men left by us in the water, end afterwards picked up by the whaleboat. We picked up all we could see by an oar. I don't think any order could have been given by Mr. Biggs without my hearing it. On my oath, the only order I heard given by Mr. Biggs was "Silence!" I heard nothing of any order given by Mr. Biggs to go one wav or the men wishing to go the other. Myself and Mr. Biggs were both in the boat's stern. The first order Mr. Biggs gave was to pull under the chip's forechains. 2. To go alongside the gangway outside the pinnace. 3. When we were loaded to shove off and go astern of the ship. All these orders were obeyed. There was great confusion in the boat, and the only order I heard that was not obeyed was the order "Silence." The whole of the men taken into the boat, excepting the boat's crew, disobeyed that order. Sutton, chief captain of the forecastle, Birch, second captain of the foretop, and Mitchell, also second captain of the foretop, were petty officers who disobeyed that order, but I think they tried to keep order among the other men who had been taken on board.
Mr. Biggs's evidence was here read to the witness, and he was asked whether he understood the nature of an oath, and was aware of the discrepancies of his evidence and that of Mr. Biggs. He replied that he knew the nature of an oath, and that he had given evidence according to his recollection.
Mr. Biggs, midshipman, recalled and examined by Admiral Dacres, said, - I had only been a fortnight in the Bombay, and I don't know either of the second captains of the foretop by sight, and I don't know where the chief captain of the forecastle got in the boat from the ship, I got no assistance from these men that I know of. A man named Shaw assisted me.
Mr. Harvey, midshipman, commanded the second cutter of the Bombay on the day of the ship's loss. He was quite satisfied with, the conduct of all the men in the boat, whether of her regular crew or otherwise.
Edward Sutton, chief captain of the forecastle (one of the petty officers referred to by Midshipman Biggs), deposed that he knew nothing of any dispute between Mr. Biggs and the men in the matter, nor heard Mr. Biggs desire the men to keep silence. Was aft in the cutter with Mr. Biggs. There was not much confusion or noise in the boat while witness was in her. Heard the officer (Mr. Biggs) give the order to pull clear of the ship, and the expected explosion. Heard the officer give no other orders whatever. A good many men were in the ship's forechains when the boat pulled clear of the ship.
Seborne. A.B - Saw the lamptrimmer on board the Bombay last on the forecastle after the ship's boats were out on the day the ship was lost. Heard he afterwards went over the ship's bows and was drowned. He was quite sober when witness saw him.
The fifth and final sitting of the Court took place on board the Victory yesterday (Monday), and shortly after noon the case for the prosecution was announced by the President to be closed, and Captain Campbell then read the following statement in defence of himself, officers, and ship's company:-
"Mr. President and gentlemen of this most honourable Court, - If anything could alleviate the great pain which I feel at finding myself for the first time in my life, during a period of 20 years of service in the navy, in the position I now occupy before this Court, it lies in the consoling reflection that the investigation which has just closed has not I would most respectfully submit, elicited any fact which should oblige me to call the statement I am about to make a defence, either of my own conduct or of that of the officers and crew under my command. Even this, however, fails to compensate for that distress of mind which, the loss of the fine ship lately under my command, and of so many valuable lives, has caused me. I need scarcely assure the Court that did we not all feel that, humanly speaking, every possible exertion was made to save both the ship and those on board of her, and that the disaster is not traceable to any neglect of duty or carelessness on the part either of the officers or crew, that distress would have been most deeply aggravated. Prior to this inquiry no pains have been spared to arrive at the cause of the catastrophe, and the result of the present searching investigation will account for the failure of our efforts, and will prove to the Court how unavailing all attempts to unravel this mystery must be. Our most earnest desire throughout has been to discover the origin of the fire, and with this view we have courted the fullest inquiry. I trust that the Court will bear testimony to the willingness and openness with which all information has been afforded both by officers and crew, and that it will consider that the evidence so elicited as to the state of order the ship was in fully justifies the eulogium passed upon the Bombay by the Admiral whose flag she carried in the report of inspection made only 12 days before she was destroyed. I have not hesitated to place at the disposal of the Court the whole of the written evidence obtained from the officers and crew of their individual conduct at the time of the disaster given at an inquiry instituted by myself immediately afterwards, which, though not made with the view of being laid before any Court, I am proud to think only serves to prove that no blame attaches to those under my command before the fire broke out, and that afterwards every officer and man was found at his station, doing his duty, where he continued unflinchingly to perform it to the end. I may be permitted to allude with gratification to the fact that during the whole course of this inquiry there has never been a question raised as to the propriety of the measures taken to save both the ship and the crew during the fire. The responsibility of having to decide in a few moments at such a crisis between the possibility of saving the ship, and the moral obligation not to sacrifice so many lives in the attempt, was the most serious which can possibly devolve upon an officer. The fact that the launch was actually burnt upon the skids while we were endeavouring to hoist her out, doubtless proved satisfactory to the Court, and that the other boats, though got out in less than half an hour after the fire was reported, were not ordered out before it was necessary. The heroic conduct and steady discipline of both the officers and men who remained on board the ship nobly doing their duty under the momentary expectation of an explosion of the magazine, while large shells were bursting between decks, was only equalled by the devotion displayed by many of those in the boats, who, notwithstanding the fact that some of the guns were shotted, that some of the masts were falling over the side, that the whole ship was wrapped in flames, and that an explosion was imminent, pulled in and picked off those who, unable to swim, were still clinging to the ship, thus saving by means of the ship's boats alone 525 lives out of 619. When it is remembered that in the year 1800 the Queen Charlotte, of 100 guns, carrying the flag of Lord Keith, was burnt off Leghorn, three or four leagues from the shore, and only 167 men were saved out of the whole crew, although many hours elapsed before they were compelled to desert the ship, and assistance was rendered from the shore; and that in 1807 the Ajax, 74, Captain the Hon. H. Blackwood, was burnt in the Dardanelles, close to the shore, where 250 men were lost, it will be apparent that though, unfortunately, the disaster is not without parallel in the records of the navy, the ability and promptitude with which the necessary measures were carried out by the officers, and the order and discipline displayed by the crew of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay have never been surpassed. I have already alluded to those acts of gallantry which were more conspicuously displayed at a time when all were vieing with each other in doing their duty, and I will therefore now confidently leave it to the Court to appreciate their conduct without recurring to details which have been already before it, but I cannot refrain from saying here that to Commander Wilson I am chiefly indebted for the admirable arrangements and excellent discipline which had prevailed in the ship previously, which I hope has been apparent to the Court, and it is to his pertinent suggestions and noble self-devoted conduct that I mainly attribute, under Providence the fact of our being enabled to save so many lives. With reference to the remaining officers of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay, and the ship's company generally, I feel that in making this statement if I have failed to create the favourable impression on their behalf which they deserve, it is due to no lack of desire upon my part to represent their merit, but rather to the want of ability to express it. We have all been placed upon our trial, but it has devolved upon me alone to assure this Court - which I now do, in the name of myself and of those whom I have the honour to command - that we are unconscious of any act of negligence to which the fire could be attributed, andthat when this appalling disaster overtook us we endeavoured, in so far as in us lay, to do our duty as British officers and seamen."
Captain Campbell also read to the Court letters written by himself to the Hon. Admiral Elliott, desiring that the thanks of him, his officers, and the ship's company of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay, might be conveyed to Admiral Chaigneau, the captain, officers, and crew, of the French ship-of-war Astrea, and to Commodore Martini and the officers and crews of the Italian ships-of-war Fulminante and Ercole, for the timely assistance rendered at the time of the burning of the Bombay, and the kindness and sympathy shown by them to her officers and ship's company on being taken on board the French and Italian ships after the fire.
The Court then adjourned for an hour. On its reopening the Deputy Judge-Advocate read the "finding," to the effect "That after a five days' investigation the Court was of opinion that no evidence had been given by which the origin of the fire could be traced, and that Captain Campbell, the other officers, and the crew of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay were not to blame. The Court were also of opinion that after the fire was discovered all possible efforts were made to subdue it, but they proved unavailing in consequence of the extremely complete state of the ventilation of the ship causing the fire to gain ground with extraordinary rapidity; that the ship was not abandoned until all hopes of saving her were at an end, and the officers and crew were forced overboard by the flames; that the steadiness and discipline displayed and maintained under the very trying circumstances were extremely creditable to the captain, officers, and ship's company, and that the saving of such a large number of the ship's company was mainly due to the foresight with which the preparations were made and the promptitude with which the boats were hoisted out, and the Court therefore acquitted Captain Campbell, his officers, and ship's company of all blame accordingly. - The Court also desire to call the attention of the Admiralty to the mode of ventilating the spirit room in the Bombay, whereby easy access was afforded by fire to the spirit-room, and was of opinion that every precaution should be taken to secure the spirit-rooms in Her Majesty's ships against such accidents. The Court considered it a duty to call the attention of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to the many instances of heroism and devotion exhibited by the officers and men of the Bombay in the numerous cases that had been mentioned in the evidence, and that the examples set by all the officers must have contributed largely to the saving of to many lives."
The PRESIDENT then delivered to Captain Campbell and his officers their swords, and declared the Court dissolved.
Captain Campbell wears the orders of the Legion of Honour and the Medjidie of the third class, and medals for China and the Crimea (Turkish and English).
Commander Wilson wears the order of the Medjidie of the third class, the Baltic medal, and the English and Turkish Crimean medals.In our first day's report of the trial there was an error in the list of members of the Court, which was composed of the following officers: - Rear-Admiral S.C. Dacres, C.B., president; Captains F. Scott, C.B., aide-de-camp to the Queen; Astley C. Key, C.B., G.P. Hornby, H. Caldwell, C.B., G.W. Preedy, C.B., J. Seccombe, and E. Lacy.
|Sa 18 February 1865||The following appointments were made yesterday at the Admiralty: - Capt. C.A. Campbell, to the Royal Adelaide, for service in the Narcissus, when the books of the Bombay are closed; ...|
|Ma 20 February 1865||The crew of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay were paid wages on Saturday on board the Duke of Wellington, three-decked seamen's training-ship, in Portsmouth harbour, Capt. J. Seccombe, and were afterwards granted leave, passes being provided for them at the expense of the Admiralty by rail or steamboat to and from their respective homes. On Saturday morning, previous to the payment commencing on board the Duke of Wellington, the following Admiralty letter was read to the Bombay's officers and crew by Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, G.C.B., the Port Admiral and Naval Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth:-|
"Admiralty, Feb. 17,1865.
"Sir, - My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, not having yet received the minutes of the court-martial on the officers and men of Her Majesty's late ship Bombay, are not in possession of those details to which their attention has been directed by the sentence of the Court, but their Lordships cannot allow the ship's company to be broken up without expressing their admiration of the noble conduct of both officers and men under the trying circumstances in which they were placed.
"The judgment and foresight of Captain Campbell and Commander Wilson were admirably seconded by the officers under them, and the manner in which their orders were carried out affords the most conclusive proof of the high state of discipline to which the ship had been brought, and of the confidence which the conduct of their officers had inspired in the men under their command.
"My Lords are satisfied that if human efforts could have saved the Bombay from destruction they would not now have had to lament the loss of a ship, which, under any circumstances in which she might have been placed, would have reflected the highest credit on the British navy.
"My Lords desire that you will read this letter to the ship's company, and announce that Commander Wilson has been promoted to the rank of captain."I am, &c.,
"To Admiral Sir M. Seymour, G.C.B., &c., Portsmouth."