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The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871
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|Extracts from the Times newspaper|
|Fr 10 November 1871|
THE MEGAERA COURT-MARTIAL.
The naval court-martial ordered for the trial of Captain Thrupp and the officers and crew of the Megaera at present in England, for the loss of Her Majesty's screw troop and store ship Megaera on the island of St. Paul, assembled yesterday morning on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, in Portsmouth Harbour. The Court was composed of the following officers: - Vice-Admiral W. Loring, C.B., President; Captains E.B. Rice, aide-de-camp to the Queen, Asia, and the Portsmouth Steam Reserve; Hancock, Duke of Wellington, and flag captain to Admiral Sir James Hope; Hynsley, Monarch; Waddilove, Inconstant; Graham, Immortalité; Culme-Seymour, Volage; Richards, Jumna; Boys, Excellent, and Superintendent of the Royal Naval College.
Mr. Martin, banister-at-law, and paymaster of Her Majesty's yacht, officiated as Judge-Advocate; Commodore Dowell, C.B., appeared, by permission of the Court, as the friend of Captain Thrupp.
The Court having been sworn, and the witnesses having answered to their names, Captain Thrupp, at the request of the Court, read a statement relative to the breaking out of the leak and the subsequent beaching of the ship on the island of St. Paul, the substance of which has already been published in the letter addressed to the Admiralty by Captain Thrupp. After Captain Thrupp had concluded the reading of this document, the Court was cleared, and on being reopened in about an hour's time the Court proceeded to receive evidence.
Navigating Sub-Lieutenant Lloyd, sworn. Deposed that he was serving on board the Megaera at the time of her loss, and produced the ship's log from the 8th to the 19th of June. The navigating chart was sent on to Australia. (Produced the chart of St. Paul's island, with the places marked where the anchors were lost.)
Mr. Brown, chief engineer of the Megaera. produced the engine-room register of the Megaera from the 1st of May to the 1st of September, also an extract from the engine-room register from the 6th to the 19th of June, 1871.
Captain Thrupp, sworn. - The statement read by me is a true account of the circumstances connected with the stranding and loss of Her Majesty's ship Megaera. I have no complaint to make against any officer or man present.
PRESIDENT. - Has any officer or man present any objection to make to any part of the statement made by Captain Thrupp? - Answer: None.
In answer to the President. Captain Thrupp said, - I had no reason to suspect anything wrong with the ship's bottom prior to the leak being discovered. To my knowledge she had never touched the ground or her own anchor. (The sketch produced marked " D.") The leak was discovered 7ft. 4in. from the keel on the port side, abreast the mainmast, under the coal bunker. I hand in a sketch of the girders showing the leak. The step of the mainmast was in the after part of the stokehold and before the engine-room, a small piece of the coal bunker coming in between the boilers and the engine-room. When the leak was first discovered I had to kneel down and put my hand through a hole under the mainmast. Turning my head round I looked seven feet to my left and saw the water coming into the ship in the same manner as would be seen from a fire-plug in a road, making a small fountain. After the coal bunker was cut away to get at the leak I got a nearer view of the leak. It was immediately under the bunker. I believe the floor of the bunker was lined with iron. The leak was got at through the girder, as shown in sketch G. By girder I mean a frame of the ship. The girder is the after one entering the coal bunker and the engine room. I afterwards lay down in the engine room and looked through the space cut in the girder, and put my hand through. In the aperture through which the water was coming in there was room for about three or four fingers - about 2in. long by 1½in. wide. That is as near as I can say. The edges of the iron were quite sharp. The strength of the jet of water was such as to force my hand away from it. I did not put my fingers through the aperture. The jet of water spurted up against the floor of the coal bunker violently, in jerks. I did not take notice whether the jerks were as the ship rolled. I examined and felt the hole where the leak was, I think both before and after reaching St. Paul's. I do not recollect whether there was any difference in the leak when I first and when I last examined it. Referring to the engine-room register, 733 tons 6 cwt. of coal was on board when the ship was beached. At full speed the average consumption of coal on board the Megaera would be about 40 tons. Using the bilge injection pump, if sufficient sail was available to drive the ship 8 or 9 knots, about 24 tons of coal would have to be burnt a day to prevent an overrunning of the screw. I think the water in the stokehold of the ship on the day the leak was discovered, the 8th of June, was then the deepest, being then about four or five inches over the stokehold plates. The ship was under sail at the time, between 12 and 1 in the morning, when the leak was reported to me, and no steam was then up. The ship was going nine knots, the direction of the wind being W. by S. The ship was then in lat 39 10, long. 49 11 E. Looking at the chart upon which the track of the Megaera (produced) is laid down, the ship appears to have been about midway the Cape and St. Paul's, the wind being dead foul for the Cape and fair for St. Paul's. Continual search was made from the time the leak was first reported for any other probable leak, but I don't think any other leak was supposed. No one was suggested until the discovery on the 13th. The water was heard to be rushing into the ship for some time before the leak was found. As far as we could see round the leak the plates were honeycombed and very thin, but not quite leaks. By honeycombed I mean the plates were "pitted," like puddles in a road. I think the space between the girder marked "G" and the one next to it was about 12 or 13, or it might have been 15 inches. The distance between the skin of the ship to the under part of the coal bunker was, I think, about one foot. As far as I can remember, the edges of the girder were quite sharp and thin. I don't remember whether the skin of the ship was affected in any way by the girder being broken away, except in being weakened in thus having no support in one part for six feet. I have seen the girders near the step of the mainmast, but I do not know whether they were eaten away like the one near the leak, and shown in the sketch produced. The ship anchored at the Cape of Good Hope, from England, on the 8th of May, and remained there some time. During that time there were some small defects made good, but they were nothing to speak of. I had no reason then to suppose the ship would be likely to leak. I do not think I had any doubt about the ship's strength and seaworthiness. When I decided to run for the island of St. Paul, after discovering the leak, it was my intention to examine the ship and stop the leak. At that time I did not think it would be necessary to land the crew and passengers from the ship. The leak was reported at midnight on the 8th. It was on the 14th that I decided to run. to St. Paul's. After the diver had examined the ship's bottom at St. Paul's on the 18th of June, the day before she was run on shore, I decided, having so many lives in my charge, that the ship was unfit to continue the voyage. At that time I had received the reports and opinions of the ship's engineers relative to the condition of the ship's bottom. The first report I received on the 17th, and the other reports on the 18th. It was not until the 18th that I came to the conclusion that we could not proceed on our voyage. In examining the ship's girders, or frames, after the first was found defective, two others forward of the one first found and two others immediately abaft it were also found defective. I am not certain whether the Megaera had a box keelson. (None was shown in the sketch of the girders and skin before the Court, which had been prepared by one of the ship's engineers.) When the water was first reported, to me as having been 17 inches and over after midnight on the 8th, but it had been reduced by pumping to 15 inches - correcting himself, Captain Thrupp said, I meant in my former answer that the water was four or five inches over the ribs and not over the stokehole plates. I believe the ends of the pump hoses were examined frequently to see that the roses and other fittings for keeping such matters as the pieces of iron from getting access to the pumps were clear. I cannot say positively how often the pumps were choked, but it was about eight or nine times in two days. The matter choking the pumps was brought to me by the chief engineer. Sometimes three or four pieces of iron were taken out of the pumps. I produce a piece which came out of the pump. Mr. Richards was then officer of the watch. (The iron was apparently a piece of sheet iron, and nearly as large as an old crown piece.) A good many such pieces of iron were taken out.
If your pumps had been kept clear, and you had sufficient coal to have steamed to the nearest port in Australia, would you have gone on or would yon have beached the Megaera at St. Paul's? - The ship was not safe to have gone on for one day.
Why do you consider her not safe for one day, putting the pumps out of the question? - Because there were so many places round the leak, some of them so large and so thin that they were likely to give way any minute and sink the ship.
Do you say that of your own knowledge, or opinion, or on the reports of your engineers? - On both.
Bearing in mind that the frames of the Megaera were probably about 15 inches apart, and that you saw the leak through a hole cut in one of these frames, is the Court to understand that the thin places, not leaks, were between the two frames? - All the thin places I saw were between those two girders, but not all the weak places in the ship.
But those were all the weak places you saw? - Yes; the other places were outside the ship, and were seen by the diver. The engineers saw the same as I did. I am not certain whether the engineers saw other places besides those in question between the two frames. I think the pieces of iron produced were all thicker than the bottom plating of the ship, and were parts of the girders or frames near the ship's bottom. Up to the date of the 8th of June I had often asked the chief engineer whether the ship was all right when I was going the rounds, and his reply had been "Quite sound, as far as I know." When leaving the Cape I purposed burning coals to reach Australia in calms and light winds as wanted. We steamed from the Cape until we got the Westerly winds.
The Court here adjourned for a short time, and on its being re-opened Captain Thrupp was recalled and his examination resumed.
The Megaera had three watertight compartments, I produce the diver's report. ('Read by the Judge Advocate. It spoke of rusty spots that could easily have been picked through with a knife, of rough corner edges to the plates, and of a place punctured something in the form of a Maltese cross). Captain Thrupp, in further continuance of his examination, said, - At first the engine-room hand pump kept the leak under. Afterwards, with steam in one boiler and using the donkey pump, the leak could not be kept under. We then baled with the ash buckets. We afterwards found it a necessary to use the bilge pumps by working the engines, and had to turn out the middle watch as well as the watch on duty to keep the leak under while waiting for daylight to get the screw down, as the men could not be spared from the pumps for those few minutes. I think 17 inches was the greatest amount of water ever reported to me in the ship. We never used the bilge injection, as far as I remember. During the three days we were off St. Paul's the wind was at the first from off the land. It afterwards was from N. and N.W. along the land, or a little on the land, when we lost the fluke of one anchor. The stern of the ship was then close to the rocks.
To what do you attribute the loss of the anchors and cables?
To the thinness of the land covering the rocks and the frequent heavy squalls. The strain might have been lessened by a longer scope of cable, but the frequent changes of wind in squalls would have rendered a longer scope of cable dangerous to the ship's tailing on to the rocks. Had the anchors and cables held on, the leak certainly could not have been repaired sufficiently to have enabled the ship to proceed on her voyage. The nearest accessible port from St. Paul's was King George's Sound, in Australia, I estimate that in fine weather, and with two boilers, in a calm, the Megaera could steam from five and a half to six knots, burning about 10 cwt. per hour. With a strong wind and using steam to keep a leak under the consumption would be not less than 24 tons a day, for fear of overrunning the screw with less. I have said that on leaving the Cape I considered the ship safe and fit for the voyage. That was owing to the ship having been commissioned, and I presumed her to be seaworthy and not leaky. Her hull had shown no signs of weakness, she had had no collision, neither had she touched the shore. The after Downton pump on the main deck and in the cockpit were used in endeavouring to keep the leak under, but not the foremost Downton pumps because they "sucked" at 14 inches; and we did not wish to have so much Water in the ship as to prevent the engineers cutting a hole through the girder or frame to get at the leak. With 10 or 12 inches they had great difficulty in working owing to the rolling of the ship, the water covering the girder they were at work upon. The two after pumps were sufficient at first to keep the water from increasing in the ship, but not afterwards when the leak increased. When the engines were at work we were able to rest the other pumps occasionally. But when steam was up and the bilge pumps set to work, the latter were sometimes able to keep the water under, but they frequently became choked, and, the water then gaining, other pumps had to be used - the Downton's, the steam donkey-engine pumps, and baling. The donkey pumps were choked at times. The engine room pumps were choked. We bad to work every pump as hard as we could, and then we could only just hold our own against the leak. The engine room donkey-pump would work by steam without propelling the engines. The engineers asked me to work the bilge pumps, using the engines before the screw was got down, as the water had gained, but I thought the risk too great to work the engines without the screw, and I waited till daylight. To have worked the engine-room pumps before the screw was down would have entailed a consumption of fuel due to a working of the engines. The coal we had on board would have lasted four or five days if the ship had floated as long as that, but not long enough for us to have reached the nearest land. Owing to the weakness and extensive thinness of the plates surrounding the leak, I think the ship would probably have sunk in a day or two, using all the pumps. There were two divers in the ship, and the oldest and most experienced was sent down while the ship lay afloat. The other diver was not sent down when the ship was beached to verify the other's statement. The whole of the bottom of the ship inside was covered with bricks and cement, except where we cut through the girder to see. The same on the opposite side of the ship and a small place forward, and could be examined. I believe the whole of the interior bottom of the ship, except certain places which were covered over and out of sight, was covered up with brick and cement. Where we found rusty spots and places round the leak we found the iron so thin as to be just on the point of leaking, and as the rusty places extended 14ft.in length by five or six plates in breadth where the diver went down, we had every reason to suppose that there was very little in those parts but bricks and cement between us and the sea. I produce a rough sketch, by the diver, of the rusty places, which were considered nearly leaks. (Sketch handed in to the Court.) The extent of the ship's bottom plating that could be seen from the inside was about 7ft. 6in. from the keel up between the two frames, and about 15 inches in width on the space between the frames. There was a rise and fall of the tide of four feet where the ship laid. When the ship broke up we could see from the stem nearly to the keel. At 11 p.m. on the night before the ship arrived at St. Paul's the leak nearly took up, as stated in the engineroom register. Something thrown overboard got sucked in the leak and remained there some time, nearly stopping the leak. The whole time the ship, with the exception of the first few hours, was lying at anchor at St. Paul's it was necessary to use the engines to keep the water under. The ship broke up where she was beached on the 3d of September. The ship had made a bed for herself and entirely covered all bad parts, so that a diver could not possibly get under her bottom. The ship's bottom between the four frames, other than where the leak broke out, was bricked over. On the ship beaching the water bubbled through the fore part of the stoke-hole, filling the ship with water soon afterwards to a depth of 7ft., 12ft., and 14ft. in the three several compartments by midnight. I pressed the edge of the iron at the aperture where the leak was without attempting to use much force, but without putting my fingers through the hole, and bent the iron. I could, with my hand or an iron hook, have with the greatest ease torn the hole considerably larger. There was, with reference to a former question, very nearly 6ft. of the ship's frame rusted away from the bottom of the ship. Previous to the leak being discovered, I do not think the ship had been unduly strained in any way, because she was a very good sea boat, and never made very bad weather. After the ship was beached I had no means of verifying my previous opinion relative to the state of her bottom.
By the Deputy Judge Advocate. - The Megaera was commissioned on the 31st of January last. I cannot say when she was last docked for examination. The ship's log, from information supplied from the dockyard, states that she was docked on the 21st of January. The quarterly examination of the bottom of the ship inside was by the carpenter at Ascension on the 6th of April last, who then reported every part of the cement quite sound. The chief engineer's quarterly return upon the condition of the machinery of the ship and the boilers was made on the 6th of April.The Court adjourned at 4 30 p.m. until 9 30 a.m. to-day.
|Sa 11 November 1871|
THE MEGAERA COURT-MARTIAL.
The Naval Court, under the presidency of Vice-Admiral W. Loring, C.B;, held its second sitting yesterday on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, in Portsmouth harbour, for the trial of Captain Thrupp, with the officers and seamen of the ship now in England, and lately belonging to the Megaera, for the loss of that vessel at St. Paul's Island.
The first witness examined by the Court was:-
By Captain Thrupp. - The throw of water by the pumps would, of course, depend upon the amount of manual or steam power applied to work them.
The Court here was cleared, and remained closed for a considerable time. On re-opening,
Mr. W. Weston, Admiralty ckymist at Portsmouth Dockyard, sworn, - I produce a substance sent to me this morning (the supposed piece of scaled iron from the frames or plating of the inside of the ship, handed into the Court by Captain Thrupp). It is oxyde of iron. I consider that no part of it is solid iron. I have merely made a sufficient examination to determine its nature, but the substance is mainly the peroxyde of iron, and, roughly, the proportion of solid iron required to form this oxyde would be about three-fourths the weight of the substance produced. The difference between oxyde and peroxyde is caused by the proportions of oxyde combined with the iron. Peroxyde is simply rust. This substance has, no doubt, been part of an iron plate or beam, but whether it represents the whole thicknesses of the plate or beam from which it came I cannot say. I think it has most probably scaled off from some place and left another thickness of iron behind it. A mere coating of rust would not appreciably diminish the thickness of an iron plate, but if it amounted to a scale it would cause a diminution of the thickness of the plate in, proportion to the thickness of the scale thrown off.
Mr. George Mills, chief engineer of the Megaera, was the next witness. He produced a written statement of facts which witness said had come within his own knowledge. (Read by the Judge Advocate.) Described the depth of water found in the ship, and his examination of the pumps. &c., on the discovery of the unusual entrance of water in the ship. Tuesday, the 13th, at 1 30 p.m., the leak was discovered, and it was at first thought by witness and Mr. Brown that the leak appeared to be from a rivet hole, but this was afterwards found not to be correct. Eleven places were found near the leak where plate was very thin and "gave" to pressure from the hand. Witness passed his finger through the hole of the leak. On the 18th a patch was put on by the diver from the outside, consisting of a piece of bunker plate. The first piece came off again, but a second piece was got on and made fast. When the ship was beached one girder broke in the middle. The other parts of the document were simply corroborative of Captain Thrupp's statement and evidence.
Examined by the COURT. - As chief engineer of the Megaera, I had charge of all the pumps. The hand pumps comprised one Downton of 12-inch of the top deck, two 7-inch pumps on the main deck, one 7-inch pump on the after baggage deck or cockpit, and a 6-inch pump in the stokehold with two plungers, this latter being also the steam pump. There were two bilge pumps attached to the engines, of 3¾in. diameter and 2ft. 6in. stroke. The bilge injections, which is the air pump, two in number, were of 17in. diameter and 2ft. 6in. stroke. There was also a steam donkey for pumping the boilers, but in no way connected with the engines. When I first saw the leak I was kneeling on one of the girders and looking under the step of the mainmast in line with the fore part of the coal bunker and right in the centre of the ship. I was on the third frame abaft the heel of the mainmast. There was no keelson, in the ship as represented in the model. The frames ran quite smooth across. The first I saw of the leak was a jet of water coming up through the plates of the ship's bottom, and appearing as if a rivet had dropped out. The jet struck against a strengthening plate, not the bottom of a bunker, about 14 inches from the bottom. The bottom of the bunker was nearly two feet above this plate. (Captain Thrupp had stated in his evidence that the jet of water struck against the bottom of the bunker.) When the stokehold plates were taken up the ship's frames abaft the bunker there and between the bunker and engine-room were quite open. I lay down flat on the frames and passed one of my fingers through the hole and felt all round the plate as far as I could reach. The edges of the hole were quite sharp, and for at least an inch all round the hole the plate was quite eaten away, and so thin that I could have bent it easily. Then the hole was about two inches long by a little over one inch wide. It appeared like a larger hole in the centre with smaller ones on each side, all three eaten into one hole as shown in the sketch before the Court, I never examined the hole in the same way again. The indiarubber and iron plates were never taken off until the diver was ready with the outside patch, when the bolt was passed through as quickly as possible. The indiarubber was five-eighths of an inch thick; the iron plate was a piece of quarter-inch plate, the two, as a patch, were fixed down over the leak on the leak being discovered, by screwing a straight brace between the back of the patch and the strengthening plate above. The appearance of the state of the ship's bottom was of such a nature that I would not allow the brace to be screwed up by a lever, but merely by hand for fear of further injuring the- ship's bottom. The patch, I think, kept no water out. It merely prevented it striking the plate above. As much came round from under the indiarubber as before the patch was put on. I tried no other method for stopping the leak, as, feeling the state of the plate, I was afraid to try a shot plug. I have reason to believe the hole afterwards increased in size, from the quantity of water that found its way into the ship, and the greater difficulty met with in keeping it under with the pumps. Above the leak there were rust-holes, but not so many below the leak. I should think that for a distance of three feet each side the leak I examined the plates inside the ship both by sight and touch, using a hand lamp lashed on to a piece of wood and passed through the hole cut in the girder. There were 11 rust-holes over this space, and three of them very bad places, the plate "giving" to the pressure of the hand. At a part where the plating of the ship's bottom inside was cemented the cement was in good order, but the plating underneath the cement could not be seen, Five of the frames of the ship in the vicinity of the leaks were very much eaten away. I have saved none of the pieces of substance thrown up by the pump. I had ten or a dozen which I showed to Captain Thrupp, but they were left in my cabin on board the Megaera. I cannot say positively how often the pumps were choked, but on the average I should think the engine bilge pumps were choked four or five times a day. On the 31st of January and on the 30th of April I examined the suction of the pumps and they were then in good condition. Both the roses on the bilge pumps suction pipes were new ones, put on after the ship left England. The foremost one was put on on the 24th of April last The "rose" of the suction was a perforated box with the pipe through the top of it, but nothing on the end of the pipe. The box rested on the bottom of the ship, in fact, and the Suction pipe dipped into it. The ship rolling heavily the rush of water in the bilges may have slightly canted these rose boxes, and I suppose may have admitted the pieces of iron pumped up. The suction pipe passing through the top of these rose boxes would have their ends about three or four inches from the bottom of the ship. I had no opportunity after the ship was beached to examine the leaky plate. There wire 133 tons of coal in the ship when the ship was beached. It would have been possible to have worked the engine pumps without the screw previously to the ship being beached, but I should have been afraid of the engine running away, and I did not like to lose the chance of using the bilge pumps. Captain Thrupp also objected to such a course. On the 8th of June the ship had the greatest amount of water in her at any one time - 17 inches. I do not think that the water at any one time overpowered the pumping force. I think the pumps just managed to hold their own. To have raised the sluices of the water compartments and manned all the hand pumps continuously, I do not think would have kept the water down without steam. The whole of the ship's bottom on the inside was examined, where accessible, but no other weak places were found beyond those mentioned at and near the leak. The forward of the five decayed frames over the 6ft. of rust hole plating and leak, the witness proceeded to state, was corroded at the bottom near the plating, but he could not see how far through. The one immediately abaft was eaten away by corrosion at the bottom to about a depth of three-eighths of an inch and to a length of seven or eight feet. The thickness of the frame was about five-eighths of an inch in its original form. Another frame was eaten away in the same manner, but not to the same extent. The Megaera had been docked in April and in August in 1870, her bottom being then cleaned and coated with composition. In January, 1871, she was placed in dock at Sheerness, and had her bottom again cleaned and coated with composition, but I did not hear of any survey being held, I never heard of any leaks or weaknesses in the ship's hull, and until June 7th nothing of the kind had occurred. From conversations at Sheerness or other causes I never had any reasons to doubt the ship's seaworthiness for the duty she was employed upon. I have heard some reports, but could not trace them to any authority. After the leak broke in I think nothing could have been done from the outside of the ship to have stopped the leak. It is in evidence that something from the outside got into the leak and nearly stopped it for a time, but that did not suggest the possibility of stopping the leak from the outside. A piece of compressed felting supplied by the carpenter, and coated, was put on the outside of the leak by the diver. I have no positive knowledge that the leak became larger in size than shown in the sketch in the engine-room register. When the plate over the inside of the leak had been screwed up as far as it could be by hand, I felt it, and then decided not to use any more force from fear of further damaging the plate. Replying to a question respecting the lining of brickwork and cement, witness said the position of the bunkers prevented his seeing how far upwards from the keel the cement was laid over the ship's plating. Looking at the sectional model of the ship on the table of the Court, the fore and aft keelson there represented was to be seen in the stokehole, but not further than the after line of the coal bunker. I do not think it passed beyond the after part of the stokehole, and not under the step of the mainmast. The girder I cut through to get at the leak was certainly not less than half an inch in thickness, and was there in good condition. After the ship had been beached at St. Paul's it was impossible to get at the bottom plates, the ship being buried. After she broke up there was no possibility of getting at the bottom plates. "Bad places" and "rust holes" of which I have spoken in my evidence as on the six-feet space about the leak mean one and the same thing - holes eaten down into the plate and below the surface. These holes the greatest depth below the surface of the plate (the witness is speaking of the inside of the ship and under the corroded frames) were about three-quarters of an inch, or nearly an inch, but not in a straight line. The worst part in the plate where eaten into by these holes I could not cover with the palm of my hand, I examined the plating of the ship in the screw alley to about ten feet upwards on each side of the keel, and found it all in very good order. Close to the bad six-feet place where the leak broke in there was the suction pipe from the hand pump, made of copper, and its rose, and I have thought it possible that the water washing backwards and forwards as the ship rolled, and the iron plating of the ship being there unprotected by cement, that might be the cause of the corrosion of the ship's plating. With regard to the rose boxes referred to, the copper rose of the foremost bilge pump rested on some bricks that were on the bottom of the ship. To prevent choking of the bilge pumps men were stationed to lift the rose boxes and clear out any dirt that might accumulate there. (The rose boxes have no bottoms, and as the end of the suction pipes inside them are quite open, any substance getting out of the ship's bilge under the edge of the boxes became liable to be sucked up through the pipe and thus choke the pump.) It was thought better to station men to clear these boxes than to bolt the boxes down. There was always from 12 to 15 inches of water in the ship when the fires were drawn, and there never was more than 17 inches of water in the ship; but if the water could have been kept down to or under that height I would not have recommended the captain to have continued the voyage, for the reason that we had not coal to burn over the distance to go, and from a knowledge of the dangerous condition of the defective plates seen, and the probably defective state of other plates not seen. The defective plates over the six-feet space at the leak was a sufficient reason for beaching the ship, even supposing the other parts of the ship were all sound. I don't think I expressed an opinion either verbally or in writing, that the ship would break up. The iron or oxide pumped up by the bilge pumps I think came from the frames of the ship. Portions of the interior of the ship's bottom between the frames, where it could be got at, were coated with cement; other parts, as under the coat bunkers, where the bottom plates could not well be got at, there was no cement. The engine bilge pumps, speaking from memory, threw 17 tons of water out of the ship at 40 revolutions. The steam donkey pumps threw 11 tons, with the same number of revolutions. The bilge injection was never used. We were obliged to keep the water down to enable the artificers to work in cutting the girder through to get at the leak, and the water then in the ship would probably not have covered the suction rose of the injection. The danger to the engines in working pumps without the screw would be from their "racing," and the cylinder covers would probably have gone, as there was already one or two cracks in the flanges. There was, in fact, in this working of pumps without the screw danger to the engines, involving, in the event of actual damage, the loss of their pumps. With the coals on board the Megaera when at St. Paul's, she might have steamed eight days at five to five and half knots in smooth water.At nearly 5 p.m. the Court adjourned until 9 30 a.m. to-day.
|Ma 13 November 1871|
THE MEGAERA COURT-MARTIAL
The Naval Court appointed for the trial of Captain Thrupp and certain officers and men who have served in Her Majesty's ship Megaera, for the loss of that vessel on St. Paul's Island in June last, re-assembled on Saturday for the third time on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, in Portsmouth Harbour, under the presidency of Vice-Admiral W. Loring, C.B. The court opened about half-past 9 in the morning.
With one important exception, the evidence given before the Court up to this time represents simply the opinions of Captain Thrupp and the officers and crew of the Megaera relative to the loss of the ship. The exception appears to be the evidence given on Saturday by Mr. Banister, the Assistant-Engineer of Portsmouth Dockyard, in his statement as to the throwing power of the Megaera's pumps. It may not be of much moment of itself, but, looking at this estimate of the Megaera's hand-pumping power in comparison with that by the chief engineer of the ship, the evidence given by Mr. Banister appears indicative of the course the Admiralty intend to pursue in their defence.
Mr. George Mills, chief engineer of the Megaera, recalled and examined, in describing the position of the hand-pump and the lead of the suction pipe, with its copper rose box, between the ship's frames, said, - The pump was fixed about two feet from the central line of the keel on the port side, abreast the mainmast. The bent copper pipe led aft from the pump right down into the bilge, the upper bend over the frames and the up and down part of the pipe between the frames in a line with the position of the leak, the rose being about five feet from the leak itself and between the same frames. The pipe was copper. A length, of about 2ft. 6in. of this copper pipe was actually between, the two frames, but no part of the up and down part touched the iron framing of the ship. I am not sure whether the other part of the pipe was or was not resting upon the frames Between the two frames where the leak broke through the space, one part, about 2ft. from the centre line, was cemented. The other part was bare. The whole of the bottom in the stokehold was covered with brick and cement, the cement over the bricks giving a smooth, floor. Under the engine-room flat and in the screw-passage the bottom was cemented. There was a small platform of bricks, about 2ft. square, in the fore part of the engine-room upon which the suction, or rose box, from the foremost bilge pump rested. The after rose box was fitted in the same manner. The hand pomp rose box was a circular one of copper. The end of the copper pipe from the hand pump was in a well of about 2in. in depth in the cement on the bottom of the ship. On the day previous to, and on the day the ship was beached, I never stopped the pumps to sound the depth of water in the ship. I cannot state what was the depth of water in the ship on those days. When the pumps were stopped to clean them when choked, it took half-an-hour to do so, and the water in the ship then increased. When the pumps were set going again I saw the water rapidly diminish, but I cannot say how long it took the pumps to get the water down to its previous level.
Is the Court to understand that, speaking from your own knowledge, you are not aware of any other part of the ship being defective except that particular place between, the two frames in the vicinity of the leak? - I know of none.
Questioned relative to the possible means for repairing the leaky plates from the inside, the witness said that a plate large enough to cover the defective part at the leak would have been too large to pass through the hole cut in the girder. To get such a plate in a position to cover the bad place, caulk, and secure it there, the main coal bunker, then holding 60 tons of coal, would have to be cut through in its double bottom plates, and after that the strengthening plate (spoken of by Captain Thrupp as the plate against which the jet of water from the leak spurted) would have also to be cut through. All this done it would be doubtful whether the defective plating on the ship's side would bear the pressure of the caulking of the inner plate. Had there been no means of covering the leak with the ship at sea, the hole, from the appearance of the iron, might have extended eventually to about five inches in length, and three inches in breadth. With steam and hand pumps worked very smartly, they ought to have kept the water entering through such a leak under. With the ship rolling, the suction, and consequently the throw, would have been decreased. There was not sufficient coal on board to work the pumps over the 1,800 miles, the distance to the nearest land. I have no doubt other leaks would have opened over the other defective places in the plate I have spoken of in the vicinity of the existing leak. I know of no means that could have been taken to enable the ship to make the remainder of her voyage from St. Paul's in safety. During the time I have been in the ship none of the cement or bricks were removed from the bottom for any examination of the bottom. The end of copper pipe from the hand-pump would be constantly in the water flowing over the defective plate.
In the course of his further examination, many points of which elicited no facts of importance, the witness said that from the quantity of water coming into the ship on the increase of the leak, he thought other damage must have occurred to the ship's plating in its faulty part than the one known hole. Considered it possible that the pieces of iron thrown up by the pumps might have come from both the frames and plating of the ship. As a practical engineer I have found that the practical work by hand pumps at sea is one-third less than their calculated power. The rose-box of the hand-pump suction-pipe was abreast the mainmast, and made, I believe, of copper. The box was about 7in. in diameter, and the pipe about 3in. I think it was placed between the two frames where the leak was, but it was either placed between those frames or the next. The rose-box rested on the cement covering the ship's bottom plating, but I could not see how far the cement extended there. I am not now positively certain whether the copper pipe from the hand pump passed between the two frames where the leak was, or the next two. I should not think the Downton pumps at sea throw more than half the quantity of water they are calculated to throw. I cannot say positively, from my own knowledge, that any part of the iron of the ship's bottom or girders was in contact with the copper pipes, &c., from the pumps.
With reference to an answer given by him on the previous day relative to the pitting of the plates in the vicinity of the leak, the witness said that, judging from the depth of the deepest holes being nearly three-quarters of an inch, and nearly through the plating, the latter there must have been an inch in thickness, or very nearly so.
The witness's attention being directed by the Court to Art. 391 of the "Appendix to the Admiralty Instructions," which was read by the Deputy Judge-Advocate, the witness said that the part of the ship's bottom where the leak broke out was totally inaccessible for the examination directed by the article referred to to be made quarterly in the interior of the bottom of iron ships. In answer to further questions, the witness said that when the ship lay in dock in January last he went down under her bottom, picked up an eyebolt, and with it sounded the lower plates on that side of the ship as he went along. On the other side of the ship there was a staging at about the water line of the ship. He went along this staging and sounded the plates on that side. He found nothing the matter on either side. When the leak broke out he considered from what he then saw that there were three or four plates defective.
The substance defined, as peroxide of iron by Mr. Weston, the Admiralty chemist at Portsmouth dockyard, in his examination by the Court on the previous day, being handed to witness for his opinion, as a practical engineer well acquainted with the nature of metals, as to the nature of the substance, he said that he still thought it "iron" from a "plate" or "frame" of the ship. It was taken out of the valve box of the bilge pump.
By Captain THRUPP. - I think that the weak places on the inside of the ship's plating at and in the vicinity of the leak were probably caused by the copper pipe from the hand pump passing between the ship's frames.
Mr. James Thomas Banister, assistant engineer of Portsmouth dockyard, sworn and examined by the COURT. - The piece of iron taken from the valve box of the engine-room bilge pump being handed to the witness, he described its nature as oxide of iron. Its specific gravity was 3.86. That of plate iron was 7.8. The appearance of the substance was that of a thick oxide, such as is frequently met with on removing boilers from their seats, on which, there has been corrosive action. It might have scaled off from the boilers, but no limit could he placed as to the part in the ship from where it might be detached. Should think the formation of the substance must have been the work of a year, or nearly so. It represented in thickness or bulk half its thickness in pure iron.
The Court adjourned at about 1 30 p.m. for half an lour, and on re-opening,
By the PRESIDENT. - Taking the speed of the engines of the Megaera for working the pumps at the reduced number of 40 revolutions, the throwing power of the pumps would be: - Bilge suction pumps, 30 tons per hour; ditto, injection ditto, 300; donkey pumps, 21; band pump, 12 ; Downton 12in. pump, 40; three 7in. Downton's, 36; total throw, 439 tons per hour. Witness considered that, in practical working, there could be no difference in the throw of pumps from their calculated force. Forty revolutions by the Downton pumps was a practicable speed, three gangs of men, 12 at each pump being sufficient for the purpose, using half their force. Forty men could have worked the 12-inch Downton pump. In both instances the men would require relieving after half an hour's work, and would require one and a half hour's rest. The pumping, according to the calculations made, might be continuous and without limit of time. In making the calculations 24ft. had been taken as the greatest height to which the water would be lifted. I have made (continued the witness} calculations as to the area of a hole in the Megaera's bottom, the water coming through, which her pumps would clear in the following proportions: - Bilge injection, 17 square in.; suction, 15-10 square in.; donkey pump, 1 square in.; hand pump, 6-10 square in.; Downton 12in. pumps, 2 square in.; the three 7in. Downton's combined, 1.7 square in.; united area that would be cleared, 23 8-10 square in.At the conclusion of Mr. Banister's examination the Court adjourned until this morning.
|Tu 14 November 1871|
THE MEGAERA COURT-MARTIAL.
The fourth day's sitting of the Court for the trial of Captain Thrupp and officers and crew of the late Megaera, for her loss on St. Paul's Island, was held yesterday on board her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, in Portsmouth Harbour, Vice-Admiral W. Loring, C.B., again presiding; and the members of the Court comprising Captains Hancock, Duke of Wellington; Rice, Aide-de-Camp to the Queen, Asia, and Steam Reserves at Portsmouth; Boyse, Excellent Gunnery Establishment and Superintendent of the Naval College; Waddilove, Inconstant; Aynsley, Monarch; Graham, Immortalité; Richards, Jumna, and Colme-Seymour, Volage. Mr. Martin, paymaster of the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert, barrister-at-law, again officiated as Judge-Advocate, and Commodore Dowell, C.B. appeared, by permission of the Court, as the friend of Captain Thrupp.
The Court opened at half-past 9 in the morning, and the first witness called was -
The Court was here cleared, and after some time was reopened, the Judge-Advocate stating that the Court desired the witness to confine his evidence more directly to answering the questions put to him. The examination of Mr. Barnaby was then resumed.
The word "hull" of the ship, as used, must be understood to mean the bottom of the ship. The figures and words on the block model represent the state of the Megaera before she was repaired at Woolwich in 1866, but the thinnest plates at the water-line were then removed. There has also been a survey of those plates at the water-line in 1870, respecting which I can give evidence if desired. The survey of April, 1870, which I now produce, is in general terms, and does not give the actual thickness of the plating at the water-line at that date. I know the thin plates were removed from the ship's side after the survey in 1866, but I cannot give the thickness of the new plating. The report of 1866 before the Court does not give the positions of the borings in the ship's bottom, but is confined as to positions to the borings made at the water-line. The bottom was then bored throughout, but the report does not give the exact positions of the borings. The bottom of the ship on the inside was last cemented throughout in 1864, but the cement would be repaired after the borings in 1866 at Woolwich. Speaking of my own knowledge, I can only say that the complete cementing of the inside of the ship's bottom was ordered. The block model before the Court is an indication of the state of the ship in 1871, because we have a right to infer that those plates that were ⅜ of an inch thick in 1866 would have been of the same thickness if the cement and paint had been kept perfect. So far as I know, the facts represented by the figure on the block model were not communicated to Captain Thrupp and his officers, but they were told by the Admiralty instructions to take care none of the paint or cement was removed. (The Court objected to the latter part of the answer.) Of my own knowledge, I cannot say whether the facts I have given in my evidence were known by the officers of the Megaera or not. When giving the order to cement the Megaera we should understand that all parts, accessible for inspection by the ship's officers or not, should be cemented. On the supposition that all parts were cemented in 1864, such cement may get cracked, water may get in, and then the cement may become detached and washed into the bilges. It would have been the duty of the officers of the dockyard, when the Megaera was cemented, to make every part of the inside of the ship accessible, and cement all places, as well as those places easy of access. It was the duty of the dockyard officers to make a thorough and searching examination of the inner surface of the ship's plating, because they would have to report as to the complete efficiency of the ship when she left their hands. The boring alone of an iron ship's side would be insufficient to determine its efficiency. I cannot accept the test of the depth of the fitting of the Megaera's plates, because the plates there were only half an inch thick when the ship was built, but the fact would be explained if there was a copper rose-box in the vicinity of bored plates. With bilge water lying on or washing over the bored plates, a hole might have been worn through even in a few weeks. The survey at Sheerness was made in consequence of a report of defects by the officers of the ship in April 1870. In that report it is stated that the ship required docking to clean and paint. The second defect reported is, "Iron bulkhead in fore hold defective." "Wing bunkers require repairing next the ship's side." On these three defects the dockyard officers at Sheerness report as follows:- "The bottom is stated to be very thin in many places, which cannot be ascertained until the vessel has been placed in dock." I would observe that there has never been any report from the ship's officers as to the thinness of the ship's plating. With regard to one of the other defects, the dockyard officers say in their report that the repairs were required. An order was given on the 16th of April, 1870 ; the dockyard officers at Sheerness were ordered to proceed with their work, but to reconsider their estimate, and report whether it could not be reduced, the amount of the estimate having been sent in at 722l. The estimate was reduced to 563l. They report: - "On being docked the ship's bottom was found in a better condition than was expected," and this would enable the estimate to be reduced. Four new plates would be required in the bulkhead in the forehold. The iron lining in the wing bunker would be temporarily repaired, but would require to be more effectually repaired when the ship could be spared for a longer period. On the ship's return to England from Malta in June last she was ordered to be paid off into the fourth class reserve at Devonport. To this order Captain Luard telegraphed to the Admiralty, - "The defects of the Megaera have just been made good. She is ready for one year's service at any moment. Do you intend her to be put in the fourth class of the reserve? These are our present orders, but thinking there may be some mistake I venture to trouble you with this telegram." To that telegram Sir Spencer Robinson replied "Keep the Megaera ready for one year's service; disturb nothing, and return her perishable stores only." The date of these telegrams is Aug. 13, 1870. To complete his answers on the survey of the ship at Sheerness, the witness wished to hand in a document signed by the foreman of the shipwrights at Sheerness yard, but the Court declined to receive it.
Witness continued. - The Megaera was removed from the list of troopships and placed on the list of storeships because she was a most uncomfortable passenger ship and disliked by those who took passage in her, and because the Tamar and the Orontes had been built to perform the service she had been previously employed upon. Built as a fighting ship it was impossible to make the between decks as light, airy, and comfortable as the between decks of a passenger ship. The dislike of the ship was not entirely military. Naval officers had also been used to more luxurious accommodation. I most undoubtedly consider that a storeship should be as seaworthy as a troopship. I know that any such consideration as a deterioration of the Megaera's hull, or anything connected with her general seaworthiness had nothing whatever to do with the change in her duties from a troop to a storeship. The fact that she had just had 20,000l. spent upon her sufficiently proves that. I cannot say how much of that sum was expended upon the ship's plating. I cannot conceive it possible that there should be any spaces on the inside of the ship's bottom that would not be covered with cement. Had there been any such omission, as under the bunkers in the vicinity of the leak, it must have been afterwards brought to light by the subsequent inspection by the ship's carpenter and the dockyard officers. There undoubtedly should have been the same amount of cement between the two frames near the leak as in other frames. The ship with the bare iron there would be in constant peril of having a hole worn through her bottom from the wash of bilge water, to say nothing of copper in the neighbourhood. I am quite sure that there would be galvanic action in the case supposed of a rose-box placed on an iron ship's bottom, If the galvanic circuit between the copper and the bare iron was completed, as it was in the Megaera, and if the bare irons were constantly immersed in salt water or wet, such as would be left on the surface of the cement by the rolling of the ship. The Admiralty instructions to both dockyard officers and officers of a ship are based upon these assumptions. There are distinct orders at every dockyard that rose-boxes are not to be made of copper. The oxidation of iron nearly always shows itself in pits, whether caused or not by galvanic action. But when there is galvanic action, the pits are usually much cleaner and more decided. I can only account for the fact of there having been a copper rose-box to the hand pump of the Megaera, by attributing it to the neglect of the dockyard officers, and to both ignorance and neglect on the part of the officers of the Megaera. The report of 1866 does not state whether the bunker plates was taken out or not. The Sheerness officers surveyed the Megaera themselves subsequent to the date of their report, which stated the plates were thought to be thin. That report is dated the 22d of April, 1870. In August, 1870, she was reported as fit for one years' service at the least. She was commissioned six months afterwards. While she was in the Steam Reserve there was a continuous inspection of the ship by her carpenter and engineer. They reported to the Captain of the Steam Reserve monthly that the hull was in good order, and the bilges dry. The outside of the bilge and the bottom were carefully surveyed by the Sheerness Dockyard officers both in August 1870, and in January, 1871. The monthly reports of survey or examination in the Reserve referred to, were signed by the chief engineer of the Megaera, but not by the carpenter. These examinations apply only to such parts as could be seen on careful and minute inspection. It would not he supposed that any permanent fittings would be removed to facilitate the survey. So long as the cement or paint upon the ship's plating remained sound, neither bilge water alone nor bilge water, intensified in its action by galvanic current would injure the plating. I cannot account in any way for the absence of cement between the frames where the leak was, but undoubtedly the cause of the leak in one space might be expected to occur in any other space. When the ship was coated with cement in 1864 I can only say that the cement ought to have been laid on the plating athwartships to a greater height than where the leak broke out. The survey by boring at Woolwich in 1866 was undertaken without any order from the Admiralty to that effect. Rose-boxes and suction pipes in iron ships are made either of lead or galvanised iron. The examination of the Megaera in January, 1871, was made on a list of defects, which I produce, dated January 19, 1871. It says, with regard to the hull -
As the ammount estimated for the hull was only 170l., I conclude the Sheerness officers meant to refer to the outer bottom only. It is hardly possible that the deterioration can have been going on since 1864, for although I have no report to produce from the Sheerness yard officers as to the state of the cement, it must be remembered that the ship underwent repairs at their hands in 1870. The bunkers were not then removed, but they were thoroughly examined and repaired. I do not understand the evidence before the Court to mean that the ship's bottom could not be examined without the bunkers being taken out. The bottom there was accessible for inspection, but not for repairs. I cannot state that the plates where the leak occurred were cemented in 1864 or not. Of my own knowledge I cannot say when the place where the leak occurred was last seen by dockyard officers; I consider that the engineer of the Megaera ought to have known, and that the carpenter of the ship ought to have known, that the pressure of the copper rose-box between the frames was very dangerous. It is on this account I make the charge of ignorance. The charge of neglect is established by the "Queen's Regulations," page 328, art. 16, which directs that no copper articles shall be allowed to rest on the bottom of an iron ship in immediate contact with the iron. I am not aware that the Admiralty instructions are so peremptory as to forbid officers of Her Majesty's ships removing fittings placed on board by the dockyard, but I am aware that in this very ship, the Megaera, while making her last passage, the rose-boxes were changed from a harmless material to a dangerous one - i.e., from iron to copper, by the officers of the ship themselves.
Questioned by a member of the Court relative to the "charge" of ignorance and neglect imputed by him to the engineer and carpenter of the Megaera, Mr. Barnaby withdrew the word "charge" and substituted the word "assumption."
The Court here adjourned for half an hour, and on reopening Mr. Barnaby was questioned by the President in relation to the throw of the Downton pumps of the Megaera. The exact information on this point could only be obtained from the Master Shipwright of Sheerness dockyard. Copper rose-boxes to pump suction pipes in iron ships were abolished by Admiralty circular, dated June 3, 1867. Orders were then given that capper rose-boxes were to be taken out of all iron ships. It was quite possible that copper rose-boxes to the bilge injection and bilge suction pipes were left in the Megaera, the date of the order referred to being subsequent to the ship's examination.
Cross-examined by Captain Thrupp. - I cannot give the value of the engines and boilers placed on board the Megaera in 1864. The bottom of the Megaera was examined at Sheerness in April, 1870, with special reference to the assumed thinness of the plates, but I am unable to say what the results of the survey were. Of my own knowledge, I cannot say if any of the plates were bored. I have no knowledge of any report of survey but that before the Court. I cannot give the number of holes bored either in the Simoom or the Megaera, In the Euphrates there are two bottoms. The outer bottom was carefully cemented and the bilge pipes do not draw from between the two bottoms, but from pockets formed on the top of the inner bottom. Copper pipes may have been fitted by dockyard officers on board the Megaera leading between and over the frames, but I presume they would be carried sufficiently clear of the ship's bottom and bilge water. Such an assumption cannot be made with regard to the roses of pumps, which require to be carried down as low at possible to draw out the bilge water. If the rose-boxes in the Megaera had not been made of copper, no danger would have resulted from their position. If the hand-pump suction pipes of the Megaera had been in contact with the bare iron of the ship, galvanic action would have followed. When the Megaera was ordered to Australia certainly none of the surveying officers who pronounced her fit for one year's service expressed their surprise that she was going so far away. It was known at Sheerness that the ship was going to Australia. The ship was not put into the fourth class. She was ordered to be so, but that order was withdrawn in consequence of the report from Sheerness which is before the Court All the reports with regard to the seaworthiness of the ship down to 1870 are contained in what is called the "Ship's Book," which I can produce to the Court, if required. (Book produced and handed in to the Court.) This book contains the various official reports received at the Admiralty from the ship. The date of the last survey recommending the ship for one year's service was August, 1870. She performed no service between that date and January, 1871. In a ship in the first class of the steam reserve the instructions will not allow of any defects, or, if defects are found, they are made good by the artificers of the reserve. In my opinion no limit can be assigned to the life of a ship in the first class reserve. My inference is not that a ship not sent to sea would last for ever, but that the ship would be renewed and defects made good while the ship remained in the reserve, as was done with the Megaera in the autumn of 1870. There are many other papers relating to the ship's early history than those now before the Court, but the Court has all the information since 1865 of any importance relating to the ship. The paper before the Court contained every report relating to the survey of the ship of 1866, and I have good reasons for believing that no other written report was made upon that survey.
By the PRESIDENT. - A telegram to Devonport dockyard would find the proper official to inform the Court whether the space where the leak broke out was laid bare and properly cemented when the ship's engines and boilers were changed in 1864.
Cross-examination resumed. - I do not know whether the step of the mainmast was removed when the ship was cemented.
This concluded the cross-examination, and the witness then handed in to the Court a sketch of the position of the girders, frames, &c., of the ship, corrective of one prepared on board the ship, as showing the corroded frames.
Captain Thrupp explained to the Court that the sketch sent home by him represented a section of an athwartship frame or girder. To the best of his belief, the sketches being taken from rough drawings made at the time, the sketch was quite correct.
The PRESIDENT called Captain Thrupp's attention to the difference existing between his sketch and the one handed in by Mr. Barnaby.
In reply to the Court, Mr. Barnaby said, - Such a girder as that shown on the sketch produced by Captain Thrupp could not have been constructed by any machine in existence, nor could it be now.
George Bridges, carpenter second class, sworn and examined by the Court. - I have held a carpenter's warrant five years, and have served in the Bristol and Megaera. At the time of the springing of the leak in the Megaera I was ordered to man all pumps and report every half hour, and did so. I never saw anything of the leak until I was sent for by Captain Thrupp to build a dam to keep the water from washing the men away from the ratchet brace in cutting through the frames. The indiarubber by this time was on the leak. The iron was very much pitted at the place, and there was no sign of any cement there.At this stage of the witness's examination the Court rose and adjourned until this morning.
|We 15 November 1871|
THE MEGAERA COURT-MARTIAL.
The Court was opened yesterday morning on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, in Portsmouth, harbour, at about a quarter to 10, Vice-Admiral W. Loring, C.B., again presiding and the Court being composed of the same officers as on the previous sittings. Mr. Nathaniel Barnaby, President of the Council of Construction to the Admiralty, was first recalled before the Court, and his evidence given before the Court on Monday having been read over by the Judge-Advocate and corrected, a re-examination of Mr. Barnaby was made by the Court, the witness handing in to the Court a sketch from the Master Shipwright of Sheerness Dockyard, showing the position of the Megaera's pumps, with an explanatory paper attached. The examination, was then resumed:-
In, a submission made to the Lords of the Admiralty by the Controller of the Navy in July, 1866, the Chief Constructor of the Navy had made a careful examination of the ship, and was of opinion that an accompanying supplementary estimate should be allowed, so that the ship should remain fit for service for 18 months or two yean longer when repaired. In the report on defects it is also stated that "the plates between wind and water all round the vessel to about 30ft. from the stem, from the wall down to the first lap for about 8ft. in breadth amidships, and a breadth of 5ft. fore and aft, are very thin, and, although the vessel, if repaired, may be used for troop service, we are of opinion that she will shortly require to be doubled in the parts above-named." (The document is signed by the Chief Engineer of Sheerness Dockyard and by the Captain Superintendent, the latter remarking that the defects should be made good.) Witness.- The estimate referred to was a supplementary one, and provided for removing the plates referred to in my evidence of yesterday. The estimate was approved. The defects - the thinness of plates referred to by Sir S. Robinson on the authority of the Chief Constructor - were confined to the marked belt on the block model at the water-line. There is evidence that the then Chief Constructor of the Navy signed the amended estimate of April, 1870, from Sheerness. The thin plates referred to have never been doubled or wholly removed. I believe that not more than two or three of the plates in the belt or band at the water-line were replaced by new ones. The Megaera was employed on ocean service continually after the expiration of the two years named, and up to the date of the Sheerness survey. No official record exists of any survey having been held on the ship between the survey of 1886 and that of 1870. There was a list of defects of April, 1870, some of which, such as the coal-bunker linings, had not been completely made good, and the ship had been in commission for a long time. I know of no other reason for the decision to pay her off into the fourth division of the Reserves. The report of survey of April, 1870, does not fix any time in which the ship may be considered fit for service. It only certifies as to the completeness of the ship for sea, but not as to the period for which she was good. The statement that the Megaera was fit for one year's sea service was submitted to the Admiralty on the authority of Captain Luard, the Captain Superintendent of Sheerness Dockyard. The telegram before the Court from Captain Luard contains all the report on the subject, but the original message is posted in the office, and that contains the initials of the officers consulted by Captain Luard. Referring to a previous answer of mine as to the galvanic circuit being completed in the Megaera, the "circuit" was there completed by the metal fastenings which secured the pump to the ship. With regard to another answer given by me, respecting the artificers of the Steam Reserve at Sheerness making good the defects on board the Megaera in. the autumn of 1870, that would apply to minor defects only. The statements in the surrey of 1866 as to the thinness of plates and the limit of time fixed for two years related to the water-line belt. It will be seen by the revised estimate before the Court from the Sheerness Dockyard that the bottom of the ship, on her being docked, was found in not so bad a condition as had been expected. (Mr. Barnaby was proceeding to read from the supplementary estimate when the Court directed that the original estimate of the ship's defects should be read by the Judge-Advocate first. This having been done, Mr. Barnaby proceeded with his evidence.) The bottom was found in a better condition than was expected, and the estimates were thus enabled to be reduced, and the late Chief Constructor submitted to the Controller in these words: - "With reference to the paper enclosed, I am of opinion that this revised estimate may now be approved. The work is in hand, and the ship will be completed on the 30th inst." The submission was approved by the Lords of the Admiralty, signed by Sir S.C. Dacres, Lord John Hay, and Mr. Baxter, I have no reason to suppose that Mr. Reed's opinion as to the Megaera was founded on improper evidence, and I cannot doubt the wisdom of his opinion.
The COURT objected to the answer given, and desired to have the witness's opinion. This the witness declined to give, and continued his answers to other questions put by the Court, and said - I consider that the bottom of an iron ship 20 years of age is fit for sea service if the cement and paint on the inside and outside of the plates have been kept perfect: otherwise, I do not. When the ship was bored at Woolwich her plates were in a satisfactory state, except at the water-line, and there they were satisfactory for a service then approved. My answer refers to the condition of those plates when the ship left Woolwich on service. At the time of boring, on the survey, the plates were not in a satisfactory state. At the time the ship left Devonport, when so large a sum of money had been spent upon her, I have no means of forming an opinion as to then condition of the ship's plates. So far as I know, the surveying officers of 1870 had not a copy of the survey in 1866. The estimate of 1866 has two items for hull; one for the shipwright department, 1,050l.; and for the engineer department, which had at that time the conduct of the examination of the hull, for 497l., and a supplementary estimate for 250l., all of which were approved. There is no estimate of the cost of the proposed doubling at the water-line, but a memorandum attached to the report of 1866 appears to show that a sum of 2,070l. would be required to double the defective plates. I cannot fully explain this memorandum. This estimate of 1866 does not show the difference between engine and hull defects. The factory at that yard had change of hull defects as well as engines, but the total sum is 1,797l. 2s. 2d.
Questioned relative to a previous answer given by him on Monday relative to the perfect or imperfect cementing of the interior of the ship's bottom, the witness said - I assume from the evidence given that with a little trouble the place in the ship's bottom that might have been left without cement (at and near the leak) might hare been seen. I understand that the place was accessible for inspection from near the foot of the mainmast. Referring to the revised estimate, I find the surveying officers state that, on the Megaera being docked, the bottom of the ship was found in a better condition than was expected, which would allow the estimates to be reduced. With reference to the block model and the thicknesses of plating shown there, the plates which were less than one quarter of an inch thick at the water-line belt were removed at Woolwich in 1866. With those exceptions, I believe the plates over that belt were not removed, but I am not sure.
Cross-examined by Captain THRUPP, through the Judge-Advocate. - There was never any intention that the Megaera, so far as I know, should be never again employed (when the fourth class steam reserve was spoken of). I do not consider that it would hive been necessary to bore the bottom of the Megaera more frequently than once in six years, because the most important examination is that of the cement. So long as the latter remains perfect the plates are safe. If it is imperfect, boring may fail to find the imperfect place. I lay before the Court a list of defects of the 2d of August, 1870, sent from the Megaera, signed by the engineer and carpenter. The dockyard officers say the estimate for this is 231l., with the exception of an item named, which the captain of the steam reserve would make good with the dockyard artificers. I can see no such item in the paper, nor have I any knowledge of it.
Mr. Bridges, carpenter, late of the Megaera, re-called and examined by the Court. Describing the pumps on board and the manner in which they were manned, the witness said, - All I saw of the leak and felt with my hand was between the two frames when the leak broke out, where the iron plating was very much pitted and the frames very rusty. I felt the plating of the bottom between the frames to a depth of about 18in. below the leak towards the keel, but I did not feel it sufficiently to ascertain if the plates were thin. After the second plate was put on the leak I went below and felt the place again without a light, in the manner I had done before. This was after the diver had been over the side. He was under the directions, I think, of the chief engineer. As a practical shipwright who has served his time in Sheerness dockyard, and having worked in Chatham dockyard in 1865, and having a fair knowledge of iron shipbuilding, I could not suggest any means to stop the leak better than that adopted by the chief engineer - i.e., a plate on the outside, with a screw in the centre, and screwed up to a similar plate on the inside of the ship. I think it very probable that the aperture at the leak would have increased to a large hole. I periodically examined, as her carpenter, the hull of the Megaera, and did to about the 6th of April, as shown in the engine-room register, and I found everything in good order. I had not seen at any time that particular spot in the ship's bottom, under the port main bunker, where the leak broke out. I cannot say how much coal there was in the banker, but there was a good quantity. I had been carpenter of the ship since August, 1870. I had never applied to my commanding officer to take steps for examining the ship's bottom under the bunkers. The cement in other parts being good. I did not think such a course necessary. Not having applied for means to examine the ship's bottom at the leaky place where, according to the evidence before the Court, the plates were not properly cemented, I do not think the responsibility rests upon my shoulders. I found no faulty frames in the ship in my examination. I saw no frames in the ship defective as shown on the sketch before the Court. Had I known of any other plan than the one tried that might have stopped the leak I should have communicated it to Captain Thrupp. The hand pumping power in the ship was not sufficient to keep the ship clear of water before the outer patch was put on. The Megaera was a very tight ship previous to the breaking out of the leak. With the two after Downtons going, after the leak broke out, I could scarcely keep down the leak to ten inches water in the ship. With all pumps (hand) going I reduced the water below ten inches. When the diver went down outside the ship, under the lee of St. Paul's Island, to the leak, before the outer plate was put on, there was more water in the ship than when the leak first broke out, and the leak must have increased since it was first reported to about twice as much, I should think, but I cannot say exactly. The steam power and the two after Downtons just kept the leak under. (The witness by "steam power" was supposed to refer to the steam bilge suction pumps.) The two 7-inch Downtons on the main deck had their suction pipes in the stokehold compartment. The pumps were often taken to pieces between the breaking out of the leak and the arrival of the ship at' St. Paul's - between the 8th and 17th of June - to clear them of coal dust. The steam pumps were not used, by log, until the 15th. By the two pumps spoken of, with their occasional stoppages to clear them, assisted occasionally by the after 7-inch Downton on the baggage deck and the engine-room hand pump, we were just able to hold our own against the leak. When I first saw the leak through the hole in the iron girder I am quite certain that l saw no cement. I never saw any indications there that the space between the girders had been cemented. I do not know the position of the copper suction pipe of the hand pump and rose abreast of the mainmast on the port side. After the leak was sprung I sounded the well myself once every quarter of an hour. I kept a record of the depth of water in a small book, but I have lost it. The pumps spoken of were kept going by hand about eight hours out of the 24, from the time the leak broke out until the morning of the 15th. I don't think the pumps stopped for an hour together, with the two 7-inoh main-deck pumps, three or four times a day. The men worked these two pumps in half-hour spells, in three reliefs. The two pumps were worked more than the others. The 12-inch pump would cease to draw with less than ten inches of water in the ship. The frame of the ship I saw through the hole cut in the girder, looking rusty, appeared to be corroded. The plates appeared to be very much pitted: The largest I felt I should think to have been about three-quarters of an inch over, like a large marble. The greatest depth of water I ever reported in the ship was 17 inches, and if was reduced to 10 inches in five hours. There was 15 inches of water in the ship on the day the plate was put on by the diver, and before the plate was put on. When the steam pumps were working it was occasionally necessary to use the Downtons at the same time. The bad or pitted surface of the plating extended, as far as I felt, over seven or eight inches. Of my own knowledge alone, that was the extent of the damaged surface of the plate. I could suggest nothing better than was done for stopping the leak over that surface from the inside. In my quarterly examination in April of the inside of the ship's plating - the cement covering of the plating - I did not examine the place where the leak broke out. It was not accessible. I cannot say what the extent of the hole of the leak was, as when I examined it, it was covered with the indiarubber patch. At the examination of the ship by the Sheerness Dockyard officers in January, 1871, I was not present. It was not possible to examine the plating where the leak broke out. to ascertain the condition or actual presence of cement there, without cutting away the floor plates of the main coal bunker. The water in the ship was reduced to ten inches in five hours by the use of all the hand pumps.
Cross-examined by Captain Thrupp. - The commanding officer of the ship could not have given me access to the ship's bottom under the bunker without lifting the bunker. In the hull of the ship, after the ship was on shore, in tearing away the lining for firewood on the island, I found the plates in several places very bad, almost eaten through, so much so that Mr. Barrow, the boatswain, in the presence of Mr. Wrapson and myself with a hammer knocked away the rust until the pen of the hammer was driven through. That was in the wake of the scuttles, and near about the water-line. The rivet heads were so defective there that Mr. Barrow knocked them away to rust altogether. I saw nothing the matter with the ship's hull before the leak was sprung. From my experience as a shipwright and my knowledge of the ship's bottom, nothing more could be done than was done to make the ship seaworthy and enable her to continue the voyage. The part of the ship where Mr. Barrow knocked the hammer through was just abaft the mainmast on the port side (near the leak). It was a common clinch hammer, such as is used by shipwrights, a flat pen, of about two or two and a half pounds weight, and with a handle of about 15 or 16 inches in length.
By the COURT. - It took Mr. Barrow, the boatswain, about ten minutes, with hard striking, to get the pen of the hammer through the iron. He struck the side quite 30 times during the ten minutes. From my own knowledge and the reports of the engineers I do not believe the ship was seaworthy and fit to go on to Australia. (A hammer was here produced in court, of moderate size, and the witness was asked if the hammer he referred to was as large as that. The witness replied, "Three times as large.")
Mr. Joseph Peters, foreman of boilermakers at Sheerness yard, called and sworn. Examined by the COURT. - Old boilers are tested by drilling holes in parts before tested by the hammer, one of six or seven pounds weight. With such a hammer and room to use it, I could penetrate the iron at one smart blow to an 8th or 3-16ths of an inch in thickness, if it was deteriorated there, leaving the substance round it. I could penetrate an 8th thickness of sound iron.The Court adjourned until half-past 9 this morning.
|We 15 November 1871|
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - The evidence of Mr. Mills, the chief engineer, conclusively reveals the cause of this vessel's bottom breaking up - viz., the copper pipe which fed aft from the pump down into the bilge, over and between the frames, in a line with the position of the leak; the rose, which was also of copper, being between the same frames, about five feet from the leak itself. The loss of the vessel is thus fully accounted for.
The corrosive action of copper upon iron, especially when sea water is introduced as a most active agent in promoting the destruction of the latter metal, is so well known to all connected with shipping that one really marvels how in the world a vessel fitted out under, it is presumed, the skilful supervision that ought to dominate in our Government yards should be sent to sea in the state the engineer's evidence indicates.
Some few years ago there was exhibited in a cause in the Court of Queen's Bench a plate of some thickness from the bottom of a steamer that met with some disaster at the Cape of Good Hope: in the plate was a circular hole of about the size of a billiard ball, the inner rim of which was rounded off quite smoothly as if by turning in a lathe, but the edge of the hole was sharp, the same as described in the Megaera's plates; and it was stated in evidence that the cause was the dripping from the pump, which had brass bearings (and maybe, also, some copper fittings), the hole in question being just under the pump.
It is to be hoped that the fate of the Megaera may serve as a practical lesson for those who have the care of fitting out vessels, and that an agent so powerful for mischief to iron at is copper be not placed in contiguity with the former.JOHN D. PRICE.
Lloyd's, Nov. 14.
|Th 16 November 1871|
THE MEGAERA COURT-MARTIAL.
The Court assembled again yesterday morning on board the Duke of Wellington, in Portsmouth Harbour, the Court opening at the usual time, half-past 9.
Mr. Barnaby, President of the Council of Construction at the Admiralty, produced official documents from the Admiralty relating to a leak which occurred on board the iron store ship Supply, off the West Coast of Africa, in 1867. These documents were read to the Court by the Judge-Advocate, and appeared most important as giving a clue to the cause of the leak sprung in the Megaera:-
"3rd June, 1867.
"Her Majesty's ship Supply, off Sierra Leone, March 9, 1867".
"Her Majesty's ship Bristol, at Sierra Leone, 11th of March, 1867.
"H.M.S. Bristol, at Sierra Leone, March 14, 1867.
"I think some special order should be given to test the iron plates whenever copper or brass comes through the ship's bottom. Had this been done when last in dock the defect would probably have been discovered.
"Woolwich Dockyard, April 15,1867.
Mr. Joseph Peters, foreman of boilermakers at Sheerness Dockyard, recalled and examined by the Court, - I was at Devonport Dockyard in 1864 when the boilers and engines of the Megaera were renewed.
The witness was here told by the President that he need state nothing that would tend to criminate himself.
The JUDGE-ADVOCATE. - Or that, as an official of the Government, it would be impolitic as concerns the public service to state.
The PRESIDENT.- I do not recognize anything of the kind. The witness is sworn to speak the truth, the whole truth, so far as he knows it.
The JUDGE-ADVOCATE. - I am only telling the witness what is the law of the land.
The PRESIDENT. - I do not believe it is the law of the land, nor anything like it.
The matter then dropped and the examination proceeded.
The cementing of the ship's bottom was under the supervision of the shipwright officers, the representative of the patentee supplying the cement. I cannot give the names of the officers. The bunkers at that time were entirely new, and the flooring on the bed of the boilers was of wood, and extending as far as the level of that flat and was covered with sheet-iron. Everything between the two bulkheads forming the boiler and engine-room was removed, leaving the frames and skin of the ship entirely bare. To the best of my knowledge the whole of that space was thoroughly cemented. Only in connexion with the fittings I was overlooking being fitted by the factory at that time was it my duty to examine the ship's bottom. I wish the Court to understand than it was not my duty to attend to any scaling of the iron from the ship's inside. With regard to the information I am able to give, it came under my notice that the plates of the ship were thoroughly clean and free from rust by a double inspection by the shipwright officers and also of the representative of the firm supplying the cement at that time. The cement consisted, to the best of my recollection, of Portland cement and bricks, about four feet on each side of the middle line. The other part of the ship, extending to the under side of the lower deck, was coated with Spence's cement, and in parts of the ship likely to be exposed to wear, the cement was protected by sheet iron, about an eighth or three-sixteenths in thickness. I have no practical experience as to the durability of Spence's cement, but as regards boilers and steam pipes I have an ordinary knowledge. Spence's cement, I believe, at that time was only an experiment as far as ships were concerned. As far as boilers and steam pipes are concerned this cement, if properly put on, will last, to the best of my knowledge, four or five years. It is a non-conductor of heat, and not at all likely to ignite. Spence's cement has been on. the cylinders and steam pipes of one of the hydraulic engines in Portsmouth-yard for years. The boilers of the Megaera were replaced in 1864 at Devonport Dockyard. I believe they were bedded on mastic. That would prevent scale from the boilers getting in the ship's bilges providing there were no holes in the wooden flat supporting the boilers. The boilers flat stood on the top of two longitudinal iron girders. These arrangements would place the ash-pits of the furnaces about 4ft. 6in. or 5ft. above the ship's skin or bottom. It was no part of my duty to attend to the fixing of the bilge suction pipes and rose-boxes. The duration of the cement would decidedly depend upon the firmness and freedom from working of the plating upon which it was placed. The removal of the Portland cement from the bottom of a vessel could only arise, if properly put on, from the extreme vibration of the vessel, or from a hard blow on the spot from a hard substance. I believe it was ascertained that the cement was placed on the ship's bottom, under the main coal bunker (at the leak). I have two reasons for believing this. First, there was the shipwright officers' inspection, and secondly, it was necessary to displace many of the rivets in order to fix the appliances in the work I was then executing. There was no part of the iron ascertained in its thickness by the removal of the rivets less than ⅜ or 7-16 of an inch. The "laps" of a ship's bottom plates, where amalgamated by the line of rivets, would not, if the seam was tight, deteriorate as fast as the middle of a plate. I do not know whether the experiment in placing Spence's cement on he interior of iron ships has been approved or not. The kelson shown in the block model existed in the Megaera, and to the best of my recollection it was a box kelson, but I will not be positive on that point. With a hammer of 2½ pounds weight, a common shipwright's hammer with sharp end, and plenty of room to use it in, the sixteenth of an inch of iron would be penetrated without difficulty by not a single blow, but a succession of blows. As an approximation to the number, say a dozen blows. The Megaera being on sea service. I think there were practical means by which the officers of the ship could have made an inspection of the ship's bottom without removing the floor plates of the bunkers. With energy the part named might have been examined for a distance of about 10ft. to 15ft. on each side of the middle line. An ordinary sized man could have done this. By energy I mean that such a man could have gone for the examination without clothing, speaking from the sectional model as to the distance between the ship's frames. The facility afforded for such an examination, to the best of my recollection, was, that the height from the top of the bows was increased by the extended flat I have before spoken of. Pipes from an iron ship's boilers (the ship cemented) communicating with the bilge are generally made of copper to a certain distance from the ship's bottom to the Kingston valve. I mean to say that these copper pipes are in no way in contact with the bottom of the ship.
(The witness's explanation was not clearly understood by the Court, but it was intimated that an officer was in court to give evidence, whose duty it was in superintend such fittings.
Cross-examined by Captain Thrupp. - I am not aware that the plates forming the step or support to the mainmast, unless they had been fitted since the ship was fitted out under my inspection, were limited to the distance you name in the parts you speak of. (The question put by Captain Thrupp was a very lengthy one, and related to the space available for an ordinary sized man to get through to examine the plates where the leak broke through.) I am not aware that the plate supporting the mainmast was in any way connected with the bunkers, but only by connexion with the frames of the ship, I am not aware that Spence's cement is discontinued in its application to boilers and steam-pipes. I have no knowledge of its qualities in its application to the interior of ships' sides. I am not aware of the result of any fancy application of Spence's cement on board the Euphrates. It is necessary to keep Spence's cement dry when put on boilers if possible, so as to prolong its duration. I can state nothing positively as to the properties of Spence's composition.
Cross-examined by Navigating-Lieutenant Rapson. - Referring to an answer given, by you, you say that with a 7lb. hammer, you could knock a hole through a plate from an eighth to three-sixteenths in thickness. Do you mean with a swinging blow, and a. hammer long-handled and using both hands, or otherwise? - I mean to say that in a boiler plate reduced to that thickness by decay, I could, by a swinging blow with both hands, cause a hole in such a thickness of plate, the hammer having an optional length of handle.
Mr. William Owen, assistant master shipwright of Portsmouth Dockyard, examined by the COURT. - I was foreman of shipwrights at Devonport when the boilers and engines of the Megaera were renewed. I remember nothing being left in the ship's hold on her being then cleared out, in the space between the fore part of the stokehold, but the mast step. I don't believe there was any part in the space of the bottom plating that was not exposed to view, cleaned, and coated with cement. I do not remember anything of a fore and aft binding plate. There was a kelson from bulkhead to bulkhead, as well as I remember, a vertical plate with two angle irons on the upper and the lower edges. The main-mast rested on four or five longitudinal girders, plated over, and which formed the step. The length of those girders was about eight or nine feet. There were no holes cut in those girders. They were not, I think, necessary. The plates on the bottom were found in good condition on their surface on the old cement being taken off, and before the new cement, Spence's, was placed on. That was the only occasion on which that cement was applied, and I have had no opportunity of seeing it since. In my opinion the cement would last but a very short time. I have no knowledge of any repairs having being given to that cement since 1864. I can conscientiously state that the space in the bottom of the ship referred to was properly cemented. (The bottom proper of the ship was coated to a certain distance - 10 feet - on each side the central line, or keel line, by bricks and Portland cement. Above this central band on either side and upwards the Spence cement was laid on. Neither questions nor answers defined these limits.) The main coal bunker could have been easily lifted in the Megaera, if empty, and the ship's bottom there examined. The bottom of the ship was examined at Devonport by the removal of a large number of the rivets, by sounding the plates with a hammer, and by the new holes cut through the ship's bottom for the new engines then given to her. Boring a ship's plate alone is not a satisfactory method of examining a ship's bottom by itself. There were about 200 rivets then removed from the Megaera's bottom. No bottom plates were then renewed, but one or two patches were put on where the plates were indented. The whole of the rivets in the ship's bottom were examined, Some were found defective at the laps of the plates, and some in the angle irons. I don't remember any place in the plating of the ship's bottom less than three-eighths of an inch in thickness. There were no "pits" in the bottom plates where Day's cement had been, to ten feet on each side from the middle line. The iron there was well preserved. The three-eighth inch found were at the old holes that belonged to the pipe outlets from the old engines. These plates were doubled over afterwards by covering pieces. The only thoroughly satisfactory way of examining an iron ship's bottom is by exposing both surfaces completely and combining that with boring. With the Megaera the boring was omitted for the reason that so much of the bottom was seen through the large number of rivet boles distributed over the whole bottom. The plates would not waste probably so much at the laps as elsewhere, but the amount of any difference between the thickness of the plates at their laps and in their centre would be seen on the inside of the ship. I don't remember any difference in the thickness of the cement in the stokehole and engine-room. There was no difference made, I believe, in the thickness of the cement between the frames where the suction pipes were placed and the other frames: The thickness of the cement on the ship's bottom plating was, I think, about one inch. I cannot state what the rose-boxes in the Megaera were made of. If the drawings of the original engines are referred to they will show their pipe outlets through the ship's bottom. The Spence cement was ordered to be generally applied in the ship, and no exceptions were made. I do not think it would be a difficult thing, with the appliances on board the Megaera, and if the coal bunkers were clear, to have lifted the bunker platform, and have examined the ship's bottom (over the leak) at sea.
Cross-examined by Captain Thrupp. - My opinion that Spence's cement would not last long, is founded upon what I have seen of its appearance on boilers, its tendency to go to dust, and its liability to fall off and into the bilges. (A sketch was here handed to witness which showed a plate covering in the two frames under the bunker in which the leaks occurred, from the step of the mainmast upwards, and he was questioned as to the existence of the plate there, a fact asserted by Captain Thrupp and his officers.) I have no remembrance of such a plate.
James Alexander Bell, diver, late of Her Majesty's ship Megaera, sworn and examined. - The sketch of the leak and the statement handed to me I prepared. (The statement was then read, but has already been published in evidence.)
Examined by the COURT. - The ship was anchored when I went over the side to examine the leak. The water was clear. I saw everything before me as plain as I now see in this room. The appearance of the leak was as three holes in one, the largest in the centre, the second on its after and the smallest on its fore side, all seemingly at an angle across the plate. I felt it worn away in the inside, and so thin that in one minute I could have made it large enough to have put my shut hand into it by breaking the edges away with only my finger arid thumb. The appearance of the leak, after I examined it from the inside, had a circle of eight or nine inches of bright air bubbles round it. Underneath these, as large as the palm of my hand, and nearly of the shape of my hand, there was a rusty patch. I believe that rusting of the plate proceeded from the inside. The next worst place on the outside of the ship was about 4½f t. before the leak, and I think the next line of plates above it. The corners of two plates where their butts met and the lower edges the two corners were either rusted or knocked away to the extent of four inches along the plate, and 1½ inch up the ends. The under corners, where the leak was, were gone completely for half an inch, and the seam where the two plates should meet was open so that I could get the point of my knife into it with the greatest ease. I took my knife out of my belt and tried it, nothing resisting the knife. From the keel, commencing within a foot after of the leak, for five or six plates from the keel upwards, and 10ft. forward from where I went down first, it looked very rusty. On the plates in line with the leak, and the one some of the patches looked the largest. About 4½ft. before the leak, where I went down before the leak; I touched each rusty spot with my hand, and they seemed to be below the level of the plate. About 10ft. aft of the leak there was a patch which I have described as looking like a Maltese cross. It was out of my reach, but seemed to be about 5in. by 12in. The space I examined was about 6 feet fore and aft on the port side, and, from the water-line down to the keel I think that if a patch had been kept on, a larger hole would soon have been there, four times the size the first was, as where they were screwing the plate on from the inside I thought, from what I could see of the bend of the ship's plating from my place on the outside of the ship, that they would have screwed the plate at the leak out altogether.
After some further answers to questions of no material importance, the witness said, - I passed in the Cambridge as a diver in 1864, and received my certificate in 1865. I never examined iron-built ships before, but I have other ships - wooden ships ironplated, the Caledonia. When over the Megaera's side, I could see pretty well through my helmet to a distance of 10 or 12 feet. I went down on two different days, and I do believe it was larger on the second occasion than on the first.
Cross-examined by Captain THRUPP. - On the night the ship broke up I believe the mainmast first went over to port. One sea struck her stern and parted her right in two, the boilers falling out of her as if placed there. The second sea buried the ship's stem and brought her broadside on, leaving the engines and boilers in the water exposed to view nearly as they had been in the ship. This was done in less than 10 minutes.
The principal facts contained in the statement have already been made public by the documents sent to the Admiralty from the ship.
Examination. - The statement read is a correct one. In the Megaera on the passage I did no duty except instructing the young gentlemen in steam until Thursday, June 13, at 10 o'clock in the evening. The leak increased in the ship after its first breaking out to twice the extent, speaking relatively.
Cross-examined by Captain Thrupp. - With reference to the rose-box, said to have been made of copper, of which so much has been said, would you have considered it your duty to have removed it had you been chief engineer of the Megaera?
I should have considered it an absurdity to have asked Captain Thrupp to allow me to remove it, without also asking him to allow me to remove all other copper pipes and fittings washed with bilge water, and which were 100 or 200 times the surface of the copper rose-box, if it was of copper. I think I could also show to the Court that a very large number of those pipes in the bilges were within a few inches of bare iron surface, and these surfaces were not in the least effected by galvanic action. When the rose-box was washed with bilge water; all these pipes were washed with bilge water. Nothing was left undone to enable the ship to prosecute her voyage.
Thomas Edward Richards, engineer, sworn and examined by the Court. - I took passage in the Megaera to join the Rosario. I am of the same opinion now as that expressed in the opinion read to the Court. (The statement has already been published, with Captain Thrupp's letter to the Admiralty announcing the ship's loss.)
Cross-examined by Captain Thrupp, and questioned as to whether he should have considered it necessary to remove the rose-box placed on the cement in consequence of the instructions on that point referred to, he replied "No."
|Th 16 November 1871|
Lieutenant S. Evans, senior lieutenant of Her Majesty's late ship Megaera, on being sworn, read, by permission of the Court, a statement relative to the breaking out of the leak, and the manning and working of the pumps.
Examined by the COURT. - I have been in the service nearly 13 years, and four years and eight mouths a lieutenant.
PRESIDENT. - After the patch was put on the outside of the ship under the lee of St. Paul's Island what would in your opinion be the result if the captain had ordered the ship's helm to have been put up and the ship put on a course for Australia? - I think it would have been an improper risk to have run. I do not think anything more could have beep done than was done. I did not anticipate before reaching St. Paul's that the people would have to be landed there. I believe the propriety of making for the Mauritius or other port was not mooted. The pumps were kept going until after the outside plate was put on. After then, as far as I can recollect, the donkey pump kept the ship clear. I consider the state of the bottom of the anchorage at St. Paul's was the cause of the loss of the ship's anchors there. (A previous witness had attributed the loss also to the fact of the thinness of the sand covering the rocks.) The bottom was rocky. I consider, as her first lieutenant, that the Megaera's anchors and cables were sufficiently large, and were well adapted to the size of the ship. I looked at the broken parts, recovered very carefully for any symptoms of fracture from bad manufacture, but found none. The Malacca and Rinaldo lost two anchors each at St. Paul's anchorage while we were there.
Naval-Lieutenant Lloyd recalled and examined by the COURT. - From the time of the leak first breaking out no other place occurred to me for the ship to run for than St. Paul's, the island being dead to leeward. I have been 15 years and four months in the service, and four years and five months a naval lieutenant. Having once got hold of the island I do not certainly consider that under all the circumstances of the case that it would have been advisable to have proceeded on from thence to Australia. I know the difference between the Mauritius and St. Paul's in the way of a good or bad harbour. We could not have gained the Mauritius with the same facility, or in less than treble the time we did St. Paul's. We should most probably have not picked up the trade wind at that time of the year on the Mauritius route before reaching lat. 28. The reason for re-consideration of diverging so far from the ship's course as to steer for Mauritius was owing to a belief that the leak was not so serious as it afterwards proved to be. Captain Thrupp said that he hoped to repair the leak by the aid of the diver on getting under the lee of St. Paul's. I consider the loss of the anchors under the lee of St. Paul's owing to the force of the squalls there, and to the nature of the ground. The sounding lead showed the bottom to be coarse, dark sand. I imagined the sand to have been not more than two or three feet deep, and under that the ground was rocky. The greatest scope of cable the ship was riding at when the anchors parted was eight cables. When she parted from her first anchor, it was in a very heavy squall blowing from the centre of the crater (St. Paul's Island), from the westward. She lost her second anchor in heavy squalls from northward to west, with occasional southerly squalls. The rocks on the island were volcanic, but with no lava. The cliffs are formed of a kind of porous crumbling rock. There are a number of small craters on the island inactive. A foot or so below the surface of the earth the heat was so great that the hand could scarcely bear the heat. The ship's cables and anchors had been surveyed in April and were in very good condition, and were in proportion to the size of the ship. I examined the remains of the best bower, about half the shank; and as far as I can remember the metal was bright with the exception of about one-tenth of the surface, and the fibre was good. That one-tenth part was surrounded by bright iron, and it was impossible to say how it was caused. On the 8th of June when mid-way between the Mauritius and St. Paul's and the leak broke out it was supposed that only a rivet had dropped out. On the 13th Captain Thrupp directed me to steer for St. Paul's.
John Thomson, leading man of fitters at Sheerness Dockyard, sworn and examined by the COURT. - The rose suction boxes of the steam bilge pumps in the Megaera I fitted before the went away on her last voyage. The old one was put back again for the hand-pump. The new ones fitted for the steam bilge pumps were made of lead. The one fitted to the hand-pump abreast the mainmast was wrought iron, and, to the best or my knowledge, was placed between two frames. The copper suction pipe leading to the rose-box was about 2 or 2½ inches above the frames of the ship. The pipe was stayed by a wooden block on the cement to prevent its being bent down upon the frames. The suction rose-box was between 10 and 11 inches in depth. The copper suction pipe through the top of the rose-box went down to within an inch and a half or two inches of the cement. I am speaking from my recollection of the Megaera as well as the general manner in which these fittings are applied. The leaden bilge pump rose-boxes were placed in the Megaera when she went up the Mediterranean about March. The hand-pump rose-box was all made of wrought iron and bolted together by ⅜in. iron bolts. I am certain the top was not copper.
Cross-examined by Captain Thrupp. - The bilge pump had a single throw. The rose-box of the engine-room hand-pump rested on the cement between the ship's frames. It could easily be lifted by hand for a few inches.The Court adjourned at nearly 6 p.m. until this morning.
|Fr 17 November 1871|
THE MEGAERA COURT-MARTIAL.
The Court for the trial of Captain Thrupp and the officers and men who were serving in Her Majesty's late ship the Megaera, for the loss of that ship assembled yesterday morning on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, on the seventh day of its sittings.
The first witness called before the Court was Mr. John Trickett, chief engineer and inspector of machinery at Keyham Dockyard. He said. - I was chief engineer and Inspector of machinery at Woolwich when the Megaera was inspected and surveyed there in 1866. At that time the Engineer Department examined and repaired the hulls of iron ships, so far as related to the condition of the plates. So far as I remember now I have no knowledge of the port main coal bunker being then lifted so as to allow of an examination being made of the ship's bottom, and cement covering underneath. I don't remember any renewal of cement on the inside of the ship's bottom, particularly beyond where the borings had been made. The cementings of the ship would have been done by the shipwright department. The whole of the information that I can give the Court is contained in my report of 1866. (The report merely said: - "We have examined the hull and find the bottom in good condition, the thinnest plating being ⅜ths of an inch in thickness.") One part of Mr. Barnaby's evidence being referred to, relative to the boring of the Megaera's side-plating at Woolwich, the witness, in answer to questions put by the Court, said, - I have no recollection of any statement having been made by the officers of the ship relative to the condition of her bottom, and any list of defects sent in would be among the papers before the Court. I apprehend that the fact of my being responsible for the condition of the ship's hull when at Woolwich induced me to make some examination. Finding some thin places near the water line, I then had the ship thoroughly sounded all over the bottom, and the thinnest parts, ascertained by sounding, were then bored. The results are recorded in the report signed by me, and now before the Court. While the ship lay in dock at Woolwich her under-water fittings would be examined and repaired according to the standing orders, Admiralty directions being previously given to dock the ship. The Master Shipwright, the Master Attendant, and the Chief Engineer are the three dockyard officials concerned in the docking of a ship in one of Her Majesty's yards. Mr. Reed, the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, made a careful inspection of the Megaera when at Woolwich, as stated in the submission to the Admiralty. He went with the yard officers over the ship, and saw exactly what condition she was then in. One or two of the thin plates at the water line had been previously removed for the purpose of making the inspection as thorough as possible. So far as my experience goes I should say that it would be rather unusual for the Chief Constructor of the Navy to come down to a yard and inspect a ship on a supplementary estimate, but on this occasion I attributed the visit to the fact of the recent large expenditure of 27,000l. upon the ship at Devonport. The supplementary estimate had principal reference to the thin plates in the neighbourhood of the water line, the thinnest of which were removed and replaced by new. Sounding iron to detect thin plates, when the iron is supported by bricks and cement, is a satisfactory mode of test. The whole of the surface of the Megaera's bottom outside was sounded, and the thinnest plates, ascertained by sounding, were bored. I cannot say now whether the plating where the leak broke out was bored, but it was undoubtedly sounded, and was, no doubt, as thick there as at other parts. The ship underwent such a thorough examination at my hands with reference to her plating as enabled me to report of its efficiency.
Was the ship at that date thoroughly and in all respects seaworthy and fit for sea, as far as regarded her hull, and fit for any service for which she might be required? - Yes, she was in July, 1866. I am not aware whether the doubling of thin plates or other repairs was executed afterwards. As regards Spence's cement, in its application on steam pipes it is very durable, but I cannot say for how long. I have had no experience of its application on ships' bottoms, or where it would be liable to become wet.
Cross-examined by Captain Thrupp. - When I stated that the Megaera was fit for any service, that must be understood as relating to the time given - from 18 months to two years - and after that time of service the doubling and other repairs would become necessary. I spoke of the soundings and borings of the Megaera's plating at Woolwich from my own personal knowledge. The word "temporary," made use of in my report, I apprehend meant there that the ship should not be commissioned for four years, and should not be sent anywhere beyond the time given of 18 months or two years.
By the COURT. - We are generally directed to repair a ship for four years' commission. By the use of the word "temporary" in my report, I contemplated the sending of the ship anywhere within the limits of the time given.
Mr. Owen, assistant master shipwright of Portsmouth Dockyard, recalled and re-examined. - With reference to the cementing of the inside of the Megaera's bottom in 1864, the centre portion was covered with brick and Portland cement to bring the upper surface above the lower frames and angle-irons, probably to a distance of 2ft. to 3ft. on each side of the centre line, or keelson. Beyond that, as far as I remember, Spence's cement was used up to the shelf-piece. I said yesterday that I had no recollection of the two frames between which the leak broke out being covered in with a piece of plating. If the plate really was there it must have been placed there after the ship's, bottom was cemented, to take, probably, one of the bearings of the transverse flat. I do not know of any instance of a similar plate being placed in any other iron ship for that purpose.
Would not the existence of this plate in the Megaera effectually prevent any examination of the ship's bottom at that part? - Yes, if the plate extended down to the step of the mainmast, for which, however, there would be no necessity - and if no holes were cut in the plate.
(A sketch produced by the officers of the ship showed this plate as extending over the two frames and extending down, to the step of the mast; but none of the dockyard officers called could recognize it. If there, it boxed in the space between the frames and prevented any view of the ship's bottom plating underneath.
Alexander Brown, leading stoker, called and examined, stated that be was on duty in the first watch on the night the leak was discovered. Stepping down on the skin of the ship, and kneeling down in the water, he saw by the light of his lamp a stream like a waterspout rushing up on the port side, under the main coal bunker. Examining the sectional model of the ship, the witness pointed out to the Court the position on the bottom of the ship, beneath the. engine-room flooring on which he stood or knelt when he discovered the leak as between the engines and the coal bunkers.
The witness's examination being then resumed, he said, - I saw no rose-box from the engine-room hand-pump suction-pipe between the two frames where the leak was. If such a box had been there I must have seen it. It might have been between the next, or the next to them. I don't know what the rose-box was made of. The two frames where the leak was were covered in with an iron plate from the bottom as far as I could see up.
The witness's attention having been drawn to the model, he explained that the two frames were not covered over for two feet from the centre line, or keel of the ship. This two feet uncovered portion allowed witness to look up between the ship and see the leak by the light of his lamp. (No explanation has been tendered why the witness could look up between the frames and see the leak, the same place at other times could not be examined by the same means, to ascertain the condition of the cement there and position of the rose-box.)
Examination resumed. - I know the rose box was about two feet, or two girders, distant from the leak, because I had to take it out two or three times to clean it. I don't recollect what the box was made of. I don't recollect whether it was light or heavy. My attention was called to the leak by hearing the rush of the water, and between the engines and the bunkers. I could not see it. The rush of water I heard was the water coming through the hole and striking against the iron plate over it. I think the plate over the two frames was to support the coal bunker, because the end of another came up flush against the gridiron - I mean the girder.
By a reference again to the model the witness endeavoured to explain his ideas as to the position of the covering plate, and its use there. He believed the plate was to support the bunker, because the end of a beam of wood came out there, which could not be prized out with a crowbar.
The remainder of the evidence given by this witness was simply a waste of the Court's time.
William Bodfield, leading stoker, sworn and examined, - I assisted in putting on the inside plate on the bottom of the Megaera. It secured the outside plate on the leak by a seven-eighth, bolt, screwed down close to the head by a nut. By what I saw of it myself it seemed to stop the leak. At the time the piece was cut out of the girder I felt the leak hole with my hand. I put my three fingers in, and believe I could have bent it like the cover of a book.
Captain Thrupp was here called to the table, and in answer to a question put by a member of the COURT, said, - On the 8th of June, when the leak was first discovered, I had no idea of making for the nearest place of safety, nor even then of calling at St. Paul's.
Captain Thrupp then read the remainder of the "statement " begun by him on the opening of the Court. This part described the landing of the stores of the Megaera on St. Paul's Island, the abandonment of the wreck, the precautions taken on shore for berthing and provisioning and preserving the health of the officers and men. On the 16th of July a communication was made with the Aurora, a Dutch vessel that had run in to the island on observing the flagstaff. Other vessels afterwards communicated, and Lieutenant James [Jones] returned to the island in the steamship Oberon with provisions. On the 2d of August Her Majesty's ship Rinaldo arrived, and the Malacca, the next day. Both were blown off the land after losing their anchors, and prevented embarking the Megaera's officers and men by the extreme violence of the weather and the tremendous rollers on the shores of the island until Tuesday, the 5th of September, when all embarked on board the Malacca, the Rinaldo having no coals and only 15 days' provisions. The stores of the Megaera left on the island were left in charge of the two Frenchmen who live there, under an agreement to pay them 5s. each per week for doing so. The prevailing condition of the weather at St. Paul's would render the recovery of these stores very improbable.
The details of this part of Captain Thrupp's statement, as also of the previous one, have been made public by preciously published documents.
After Captain Thrupp had finished reading his paper, Vice-Admiral W. Loring, C.B., the President of the Court, addressing Captain Thrupp said,- The Court has now all the evidence before it that is required. Do you wish to make any further statement or require any time for preparing it?
Captain Thrupp. - In consequent of the great number of the witnesses examined for the prosecution, and the evidence given by them with regard to the state of the Megaera, I should like to have some time to prepare my defence, and also to decide whether it would be necessary to bring forward other evidence to refute that laid before the Court.
The PRESIDENT. - When do you propose to be ready to meet the Court?
Captain Thrupp. - By half-past 10 to-morrow morning.
The PRESIDENT. - Then the Court is adjourned until half-past 10 to-morrow.The Court adjourned accordingly.
|Sa 18 November 1871|
THE MEGAERA COURT-MARTIAL.
The Court opened yesterday morning on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, under the presidency of Vice-Admiral W. Loring, C.B., to receive Captain Thrupp's defence to the charge brought against himself, his officers, and men for the loss of Her Majesty's ship Megaera at St. Paul's Island, and to deliver their verdict.
Captain Thrupp. - Yes, Sir.
Captain Thrupp then read to the Court the following statement in defence:-
"To the President and members of this honourable Court,
"I think, Sir, it will be unnecessary to call any further witnesses, and I am willing to leave my case in the hands of this Court."
When Captain Thrupp had read his defence the Court was cleared at 20 minutes to 11, and remained closed until 35 minutes past 12, when it was again opened, and all officers and men, with the witnesses in the case, were called in. The President and Members of the Court sat round the table of the Court wearing their uniform cocked hats, and it could be at once seen that the case, so far as the Court's jurisdiction extended, was over. After a short time, during which the prisoners, witnesses, Press reporters, and the few spectators present settled in their places in court, the Judge-Advocate read the preamble of the "finding" of the Court which related to the charge of stranding the Megaera on St. Paul's island brought against Captain Arthur T. Thrupp, Lieutenant E.S. Evans, Navigating Lieutenants J.M. Lloyd and T.J.H. Rapson, Chief Engineers George Mills and Edward Brown, Engineer Richards, Assistant-Paymaster Charles Roxworthy, and officers and men lately belonging to Her Majesty's late ship Megaera, serving in her at the time, or taking a passage in her to join other of Her Majesty's ships on the Australian station, and afterwards read the actual finding of the Court in the following words:-
"The Court, having heard the statements of the said Captain Arthur Thomas Thrupp, and also his evidence, together with such other evidence as was deemed necessary, and, having deliberately weighed and considered the whole of the evidence before it, doth find that Her Majesty's ship Megaera was stranded on the island of St. Paul, on Monday, the 19th of June, 1871, by Captain Arthur Thomas Thrupp. The Court is of opinion that, although it does not appear that the leak which was the cause of the said ship touching at St. Paul's island, did at any time overpower the pumps, yet the state of the ship's bottom in the neighbourhood of the leak was such that, taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration, - the position of the ship, 1,800 miles from any available port, the fact that the ship had parted from three anchors at St. Paul's anchorage, and that it was evident that she could not then maintain her position at St. Paul's anchorage at that season of the year, taking also into consideration the small quantity of coal remaining in the Megaera, and the number of lives at stake, the said Captain Arthur Thomas Thrupp was fully justified in beaching the ship, and that he would not have been justified in continuing the ship's course from St. Paul's Island to Australia; and the Court doth, therefore, acquit him of all blame in respect to it. The Court is further of opinion that no blame whatever is attributable to the other officers and men under trial, hereinbefore named, for the stranding and loss of Her Majesty's ship Megaera, and does, therefore, acquit them of all blame. And the said Captain Arthur Thomas Thrupp and other officers and men are hereby acquitted."
Vice-Admiral LORING then, as the President of the Court, presented Captain Thrupp his sword hiltwards, and said, - "Captain Thrupp, I have much pleasure in returning to you your sword." The Court was then dissolved.
It will he seen that the finding of the Court only relates to the stranding of the ship on St. Paul's island and her consequent subsequent loss. The cause of the leak in the Megaera's side plates which led to the ship's loss has yet to be inquired into and reported upon by the Royal Commission about to assemble under the presidency of Lord Lawrence.The numerous reporters present on board the Duke of Wellington during the trial were afforded all requisite accommodation in the Court-room, and received every possible courtesy at the hands of Captain Hancock, and the officers of the ship.
|Sa 18 November 1871||The Court-Martial upon the loss of the Megaera has completely acquitted the captain and crew of the ship. They consider that Captain THRUPP was fully justified in beaching the ship, that he would not have been justified in continuing his voyage to Australia, and they are further of opinion that "no blame whatever is attributable to the officers and men under trial for the stranding and loss of Her MAJESTY'S ship Megaera." It will be seen, that this verdict relates solely to the question whether the circumstances of the ship, when the leak was discovered, justified the Captain, in running her on shore. In addition to the imputation more or less distinctly raised on this head on behalf of the Admiralty, it remains to be inquired to what cause those circumstances are due, and the latter inquiry must ultimately prove the more important. The first concerns in the main the reputation of an Officer, though, of course, any material failure on his part in energy and resource would throw some discredit on the service. It is satisfactory on both accounts that a verdict of complete acquittal should have been pronounced, and no other decision upon the evidence we have published could have satisfied the sense of justice in Captain THRUPP'S countrymen. The only hopeful element in the circumstances he had to deal with is that specified in the verdict, and made the most of in some ungenerous suggestions by official witnesses. The leak did not at any time actually overpower the pumps. But it was increasing; an attempt to patch it had failed; the whole plating in the neighbourhood bore dangerous indications of weakness; the pumps were continually choked by pieces of iron which must have by some means washed off the ship's frame; the quantity of coal on board was not sufficient to meet any exceptional risks; and when the ship was anchored off St. Paul's, in the hope that it might be possible to patch her, three of her anchors parted; she was 1,800 miles from any available port, and, last not least, Captain THRUPP was not merely answerable for the ship, but for the lives on board of her. This last consideration scarcely seems to enter into the calculations of members of the Constructive Department of the Admiralty; but the public and the experienced members of a Court-Martial will never be insensible to the heavy responsibility for the lives of his crew which must always weigh on a Commanding Officer. Few positions, in fact, are so difficult as that of a Captain called on to decide between deliberately sacrificing his ship and risking not only his own life, but those of others. Unless he can fully justify the former coarse he imperils his whole professional career, and the alternative risk is most distressing and momentous. In this instance Captain THRUPP did all that a skilful and energetic seaman could do to save his ship, and when the danger became too great to be any further encountered he acted with promptitude, resource, and foresight. Before the Court-Martial delivered their verdict he with honourable spirit accepted the whole responsibility of the course he adopted, and this unfortunate incident in his career ought to increase, and in no way to compromise, his reputation at the Admiralty.|
By this decision, then, we are advanced one most important stage in the case of the Megaera. It is now established that, as a matter of fact, the ship was at the date of June, 1871, in such a rotten condition that her officers had no option but to abandon her. She had, however, met with no accident, nor encountered any unusual stress of weather since she left port. It is indisputable, therefore, that she was sent to sea in an unsafe condition. After the verdict of the Court-Martial there is no escape from this conclusion; and, whatever distribution of blame may ultimately be made, it is at least certain that the Admiralty are responsible. Attempts were made, to which we shall presently refer, to show that the Ship's officers, as well as other subordinate officials, ought to have detected the sources of danger to which the disaster is now attributed. By all means let such points be fully investigated for the sake of out future guidance. But they cannot in the least degree affect the responsibility of the Admiralty itself for any defects of construction or repair under which the Ship received her commission. If the Admiralty were not aware of such defects they ought to have been, and it was their business to be sure that they possessed a full and satisfactory knowledge of the Ship's condition. It is difficult to treat with patience the complacency with which Mr. BARNABY throw his "charges," or "assumptions" of ignorance and neglect upon the Dockyard officers and the officers of the Megaera. It appears by the evidence that the CHIEF CONSTRUCTOR of the NAVY did, in 1866, make a careful examination of the Ship, thereby admitting his full responsibility for it; and, when Mr. BARNABY, as the chief witness on the part of the Admiralty, tells us that he "cannot state" and is "not sure" whether certain things were done which were directed to be done, he condemns the whole system of administration.
It is not, indeed, necessary to go beyond the evidence of Mr. BARNABY in, order to convict the Admiralty of gross recklessness. Let the reader simply consider the following facts, which are wholly independent of the technical question afterwards raised. On the 20th of January, 1865, the Megaera, being then 20 years old, was transferred from the list of troopships and made a store-ship, "commencing from that period a new life." Mr. BARNABY positively declares that this change of employment had nothing to do with the seaworthiness of the ship. However, before she commenced this new life she was taken in hand at Woolwich, and her plates were bored, as was lately done with the Simoom, through the bottom and at the water-line. The official Report of that survey is that "the hull has been examined, and found to be in good condition, the thinnest plates being three-eighths of an inch, thick." This Report is compared by Mr. BARNABY with that just made on the Simoom, and great stress is laid on it. We obtain, therefore, an instructive illustration of the value of these Reports when we take into account a further statement of Mr. BARNABY. In July, 1865, the Chief Constructor of the Navy "made a careful examination of the Ship, and was of opinion that an accompanying supplementary estimate should be allowed, so that the Ship should remain fit for service for eighteen months or two years longer when repaired." That was the length of the "new life" which the Chief Constructor designed for the Megaera in 1866. But in the Report on defects it is also stated that "the plates between wind and water all round the vessel to about 20 feet from the stem, from the wall down to the first lap, for about 8 feet in breadth amidships, and a breadth of 5 feet fore and aft, are very thin, and, although the vessel, if repaired, may be used for troop service, we are of opinion that she will shortly require to be doubled in the parts above named." This sufficiently accounts for the fact, already known, of the ship having been placed at the bottom of the list of vessels of her class, and not having been deemed fit for service in the Abyssinian Expedition. But what follows would be incredible, did we not learn it on the same official and self-satisfied authority. "The thin plates referred to," says Mr. BARNABY, "have never been doubled or wholly removed,'' so that a precaution thought to be "shortly" necessary in 1866 was never taken, and a vessel then pronounced to be fit for service "when repaired" for two years or less was five years afterwards sent one of the longest voyages possible without those repairs having been made. Not only were these repairs omitted, but no official record exists of any survey having been made until 1870. In April of that year, in consequence of representations that the bottom was very thin in many places, the vessel was examined at Sheerness. The Report was that repairs to the amount of 722l. were required. They were ordered accordingly, but "the officers were directed to reconsider their estimate and report whether it could not be reduced." After receiving these instructions, the officers reported that they found the ship's bottom better than they expected, and the estimate was accordingly reduced by the large sum of 160l. The last item in the history is not the least instructive. On the ship's return from Malta to England only last year "she was ordered to be paid off into the fourth class reserve at Devonport." In reply to this order Captain LUARD telegraphed to the Admiralty that the ship was "ready for one year's service at any moment," and, accordingly, Sir SPENCER ROBINSON telegraphed, "Keep the Megaera ready for one year's service." This was in August, 1870. It appears, in short, that the Admiralty sent on a six mouths' voyage, in the spring of 1871, a vessel they had themselves ordered into the fourth class reserve in 1870, and which had only been respited till August, 1871; that the plates of this vessel were "very thin" in 1866; that the repairs then directed were never executed, and that even a paltry estimate for repairs in 1870 was cut down by their own direction. It is worth while to add to this recital that this revised estimate is signed not only by two Lords of the Admiralty, but by Mr. BAXTER.These facts must be sufficient, in the judgment of the public, to convict the Admiralty of inexcusable carelessness, and to preclude any kind of surprise at the catastrophe which resulted. We are at a loss to conceive how any subsequent investigations can remove the condemnation involved in this official evidence. It is still, however, incomprehensible how a ship on which such Reports had already been made, and which proved, in fact, to be so dangerously decayed, could ever have been sent out for service by dockyard officials in the spring of 1871. Captain THRUPP very reasonably says that the ship "having been commissioned, he presumed her to be seaworthy, and not leaky." An attempt is made, however, which is at all events most ungenerous, to throw a large portion of the blame for the circumstance to which the actual leak is attributed upon Captain THRUPP and the subordinate officers of the ship. It seems highly probable that the leak was caused by corrosion, resulting from the action on the iron plates of a "copper rose-box" for bilge water which rested on the inner skin of the ship. This cause, it appears, has already placed one ship in imminent danger. Admiralty instructions forbid the use of copper for such purposes. It is alleged that the engineers of the ship ought to have detected this defect, and to have remedied it. Moreover, even this danger would have been powerless unless the cement on the inside of the ship had been broken up, and it is alleged that the carpenter or engineers, in their periodical inspections, ought to have seen the danger and averted it. Even if these charges be true, the primary blame for such defects of construction must rest on the dockyard officials, and Mr. BARNABY admits their responsibility on this point. Should this prove to have been the immediate cause of the leak, it will only be still more clear than before that the ship was sent to sea in an unfit condition. These, however, are the points which remain for the consideration of the Royal Commission, and we do not wish to prejudge them. For our future guidance it is of great importance they should be accurately determined. It is still more important that any blame which rests with our naval authorities should be fixed on them by the voice of a competent authority. But the broad results are already established before the Court-Martial. They do honour to the gallantry of our seamen, but they convict the Admiralty of parsimonious recklessness and of a cruel incompetence which deserve the most severe reprobation.
|Ma 20 November 1871|
PARLIAMENT OUT Of SESSION.
On Friday evening Mr Knatchbull-Hugessen [Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen, 1829-1893] and Mr R. Brassey [Henry Arthur Brassey, 1840-1891], the members for Sandwich, addressed their constituents in the Town-hall, Deal. There was a large attendance, and the Mayor, Mr. F.S. Bird, occupied the chair.
...Turning to the Navy, he had to meet a perfect torrent of abuse; but he did not want to meet opponents with such weapons. Take the case of the loss of the Captain, which was too serious to be regarded in the light of mere party. (Hear.) He would point out, that the Captain was ordered while the Duke of Somerset held office under Lord Palmerston, and built under the responsibility of Sir John Pakington, and he would leave them to determine whether the officials of preceding Governments were more or less responsible than the officials who sent the Captain to sea. Mr. Childers gave the best proof of his confidence by sending on board his own son, and no one had suffered more than Mr. Childers from the terrible loss. For such calamities as this the Government could no more be visited with censure than they could be blamed for a bad harvest or a bad catch of whiting in the Downs. (A laugh.) The opponents of the Government said that the Megaera was sent to sea in an inefficient condition from false motives of economy, and that precious lives were therefore endangered. But in the time of the previous Government Mr. Reed made a report upon the defective state of the bottom of the vessel; Mr. Corry had that report. He would ask them who were the more culpable in letting the Megaera go to sea. Not the present Government, for they had not been made acquainted with these facts, and all the complaints which had reached them of the neglect, of the over-loading and defective cabin accommodation, they had remedied. But he was not there to indulge in recrimination. What was wanted was a searching inquiry into the system which prevailed, and to make it impossible for British sailors to be sent afloat in such ships as the Megaera. (Cheers.) Inquiry had been promised by Mr. Goschen, and he could answer for him and for himself that what he undertook to do he would perform. He therefore hoped that good would come out of evil, and that benefit would result to the British Navy by these misfortunes. He was certain that Government would not long retain the confidence of the country which did not give unremitting attention to the service on which England must rely as her first line of defence (Cheers.) ...
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