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The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871
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|Extracts from the Times newspaper|
|Tu 16 January 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
Yesterday this Commission resumed its sittings at Committee-room No. 11 of the House of Commons, Lord Lawrence presiding, when the relations of the Admiralty with the Royal Dockyards again came under review.
Mr. E.J. Reed, the late Chief Constructor of Her Majesty's Navy, was recalled, and his examination by Lord LAWRENCE was proceeded with. The witness's attention was directed to his correspondence with The Times in August last on the subject of the Megaera, and his examiner told him he should want some explanations on this correspondence. Lord LAWRENCE said he gathered from the witness's answers on Saturday that be did not consider the plates of the Megaera were so dangerously thin as to prevent her going on a voyage to Australia, and the witness replied that he said this of her respecting her condition when he saw her last, but that this was five years before she was sent on the last voyage. He wished to read an extract from one of his letters in The Times, showing that he had argued that the public should suspend judgment as to the loss of the ship until more was known of the circumstances; but his examiner told him that the Commissioners had his letters before them, and preferred to take his views in evidence. The witness then said he had no opinion upon the subject of the ship's condition when she was sent on her last voyage, and that the limit of his opinion was expressed in his saying that he thought, when they found she was leaky and badly reported on, she should then have had a searching examination. Taken over the letters in The Times written upon the loss of the vessel, he said he had not modified the views he had expressed in those letters, beyond wishing to retract the word "only" in the sentence "I reported her (in 1866) fit only for a very brief period of further service." As to the information which he had it in his power to give to the Admiralty, and which he had offered to give to his successors, it was the result of his services, and Mr. Goschen himself acknowledged that the department was without this information, though they would not allow him to give it. This was with respect to general matters, and of course it was to be seen that the Admiralty had the information with regard to the Megaera, and the only mischief was that the information was not used. Asked how long a vessel like the Megaera should have gone without a general survey, and whether she should have gone her last voyage without a survey, he said certainly the voyage to Australia should not have been undertaken without it. Certainly, too, if there were inaccessible places they should have been opened up periodically. The clearing out a vessel for a full search, taking out boilers and bunkers, would have cost 1,600l. or 1,800l.; but, in reply to the question whether the Megaera could have been searched without going to this expense, he said this was a difficult matter to answer, as what applied to one ship would not apply to another. In some ships man-holes were cut to get at sealed places, and to his mind the officers who signed the quarterly reports always made on ships that the ship's cement had been examined, and did not state that there were inaccessible places had kept the Admiralty in the dark. Dockyard officers would not be justified in going to the expense of a thorough examination, or the expense involved in taking out the boilers and bunkers, without first reporting that such an examination was necessary, and obtaining the sanction of the Admiralty to the expense.
Adopting the words of Lord Lawrence, he certainly thought there was laches on the part of officers of the ship and officers of the dockyards in not reporting that there were inaccessible places, and, more than that, he could not think how any master shipwright could have been contented with making a partial examination in face of Sir Spencer Robinson's request in 1870 that the ship should be reported on with regard to her plating. Attention was then drawn to the statement of Captain Luard and others connected with Sheerness dockyard that they had no suspicion of the vessel's cement bring otherwise than in good condition, and the witness replied that these officers were the only persons who could be aware that there were confined places in her, and they should, before reporting her to be "complete" and in a "fit condition for sea," have seen the condition of those confined places. It was pointed out that the ship went late to Sheerness, and without such a history of her as the witness had himself said should have been passed on with her, and he replied that the ship was paid off in 1870, and ordered into the fourth division of the Steam Reserve, as the Admiralty papers showed, and before she was brought into the first division for general survey she should have been thoroughly examined. But it seemed that the dockyard officers, with what he thought was an excess of economy, classed her in the first division for general service without any such examination as she would otherwise have had. Asked whether he did not think the Admiralty should have given the information regarding the ship to the Sheerness yard, he said he was not in a position to make any distinction of blame in the matter, and he did not want to fix the responsibility; but he thought that before the officers at Sheerness should have advised that she should go into the first reserve, instead of into the fourth, they should have obtained complete information regarding her condition. The witness was referred to the forms of reporting on a ship's condition, and he said he had over and over again urged the dockyard officers not to confine themselves to forms, and the Admiralty had issued an order bearing upon the bona fides of these reports. The dockyard officers were always told not to allow the safety of the ship to run out of their minds, and they were always urged that matters affecting this were, above all, to be first thought of. When he saw the ship in 1866 he saw nothing which would have led him to object to her going to Australia then, but he could not say whether or not, if it had been then suggested to have sent her to Australia, he should have required her first to be thoroughly overhauled, and he desired to be relieved from answering what he should have done in a matter of duty which had since been performed by others.
Upon this answer being given, Lord LAWRENCE remarked that seeing how strongly the witness had written in The Times, it was not to have been expected that he would shrink now from giving an opinion, especially when the subject was being considered, not so much with a view of attaching blame in the past as to provide for the future care of the Royal Navy.
The witness replied that the Commission was sitting to obtain the information regarding one ship which he had been desirous of imparting to the Admiralty when he left office respecting 600 or 700 ships, and the Commission would now see the importance of this information having been accepted.
Lord LAWRENCE said he still could not appreciate the witness's reticence on the point upon which he had been asked to speak, especially when it was seen how uncompromisingly he had come forward in The Times.
The witness again replied that he had so come forward to point out that the Government should avail itself of the information he had, and to say that when he offered the information no notice was taken of it. Still pressed upon the point of responsibility, he said he would say this, - that his impression at present was that the ship was actually lost through a local defect resulting from neglect of that local department. He was of opinion that no mere outside "tapping" of a vessel would be any indication of the whole condition of the vessel. By tapping by a skilled person a good idea might be obtained of the condition of the place struck, but this would be no clue to any bad place unless such bad place were actually struck. Nothing short of a thorough examination of the cement of a ship would allow of judgment being formed as to the condition of a ship. It would not be necessary, in his opinion, to remove good cement so as to look at the plates, for the cement being good would be the best proof that the iron was protected. Taken over the estimates which had been reduced, the witness said it was quite necessary that some check should be exercised over yard officials, but the estimates were never reduced in any matters of vital importance in a ship. The reduction of an estimate of cost of doing "the bottom of the Megaera" was owing, he said, to the scraping and painting of the bottom not being required, as had been estimated before she was docked. He again strongly declared that the Admiralty could not take the responsibility of knowing the condition of a ship, or of seeing that the master shipwrights did their duty. Certainly the constructor's department could not take the responsibility, which, in his mind, attached to the master shipwright, for the condition of ships, for if the Admiralty were supposed to be directly responsible for the condition of ships, and the local officers were to be eased of their responsibility, for one casualty which had occurred in the Navy there would be ten in the future. He acknowledged that at the present time there was much inconvenience, to say the least, from the mixture of naval officers in the responsibilities of dockyard officers, and the two should be kept separate, the practical officers of shipbuilding and ship repairing being more distinctly responsible for detailed matters. He could not see that there was any neglect of the Admiralty in the case of the Megaera. After 1866 he never took steps to have those plates seen to, said at that date to be thin in the water line and to require doubling, and he did not think they required this proposed doubling for the reasons he had given; and, moreover, he did not wish it to be thought, as it might be implied by his Lordship's question, that witness thought she was unserviceably thin on the water line in 1866, for he considered she was strengthened above the thickness of her plates by the manner in which her water line plates were put on. He considered she was serviceable for the duty she was intended for and what she was on - namely, home duty, as she was then repeatedly in the hands of dockyard officers and her plating was constantly under observation. His views as to her capabilities was borne out by the fact that the ship did this class of duty for five years after he saw her. In answer to another question he said that the action of bilge water on unprotected iron bottoms would be to eat it through, and that without any other action whatever, so that if the part of the ship where a leak was sprung was uncemented, that would account for the whole thing.
Mr. BREWSTER, who acknowledged that Lord Lawrence's examination had been very full, proceeded to question the witness upon some points of detail. The witness stated that there was a book kept of ships' performances, but that book was very imperfectly kept, being kept in a clerk's department, but no such book was kept in the Chief Constructor's department, where one should have been kept. This was the reason why he was anxious to give his successor information which was only carried in his knowledge. It was not his place there to enter upon a statement of the manner in which he had to do his work in 1869 and 1870, or his doing so would explain many things; but he would remark that the present Administration was the first which had attempted to give more responsibility to the Constructors department as to practical work, and if it had not been for other matters which, had arisen - in point of fact, it was because he had objected to the presence of the late Captain Coles in his office - the system would have been changed, and what was going on in the Admiralty in 1870 would have lead to the Admiralty being in possession, on paper, of all information regarding ships in the Navy. He would go further and say that the officers in command of vessels should have communicated to them particular points regarding those ships; as, for instance there were now five composite ships in the Royal Navy in which there were iron, copper and wood, and important matters respecting those ships should be known to the officers in command of them; but this particular information would drop out of notice for want of a proper record having been kept. When he saw the ship in 1866 he contemplated her being kept on the service she had been on - namely, short terms, so that her wearing condition, the state of the composition on her outside, and of the cement inside, upon the good condition of which the safety of an iron vessel depended, should be constantly under attention. If the cement in the inside of a vessel failed in any part, and attention was not given to it, the consequences would be fatal to the ship. The witness was then taken over the evidence of the assistant-engineer of Woolwich, who stated that he bored 600 holes in the bottom, to see the thickness, and the witness, questioned about the details of this, said that the putting in of screw rivets in these holes must have caused some amount of disturbance to the cement, and in his opinion the statement of the assistant-engineer that the screw rivets could be inserted without a disturbance of cement in the inside conveyed the idea of a refinement in the work carried out which would be impossible. Witness was not aware at the time that the ship was to bored at the bottom, and all the boring he examined was that of the water line, where there was no cement.
In reply to Sir M. SEYMOUR, the witness expressed himself as unable to give any opinion upon Admiralty accounts, and he spoke of the system under which they were kept as having been frequently altered.
The witness was then taken by Sir FREDERICK ARROW to the repairs of the Megaera at Devonport in 1864 - repairs which came to 27,000l. and so might be regarded, the witness said, as most thorough. He could not think, he said, but that every part of the ship was at this time seen, and his examiner then took him over the evidence given in the early part of the Commission, showing that the ship was at this time stripped by one set of artificers, cemented by another set, and finally refitted by a third set, Under these circumstances, the witness was asked if it was likely that this part, where the leak was, was overlooked, especially as there was a change of master shipwrights there at that time, and the witness said the foreman shipwright, he should think, would have seen the work fully carried out.
After some other questions as to the structure of the Megaera on the disputed points, as the existence of the plate under the bunker, of which the witness could give no information beyond surmise, he was questioned as to the system of accounts in the Admiralty, and the manner in which the expenditure was governed. His replies were to the effect that the expenditure now was governed, in a great measure, by reference to the political Secretary, and that the choice of a political Secretary was now chiefly dictated by a desire for economy rather than by a desire to maintain the efficiency of the Navy.
Upon this Lord LAWRENCE interposed some questions, and the witness said the public well knew that the Administration was above all desirous of what was termed economy, and the effect on the minds of the Government officials all over the country was apt to be injurious to the service, when it was known that the Parliamentary Secretary was greatly desirous of keeping down expense. Pressed upon the point he went on to say it must be obvious to the public that men were appointed to administer naval affairs not for the reason that they were able from special knowledge to make it efficient so much as to make its administration economical.
The examiner asked the witness if he held that the appointments referred to - those of Parliamentary officers - were now made in the interests of economy rather than in the interests of efficiency; and the witness replied the appointments were made primarily in the interests of economy.
Lord LAWRENCE remarked that if anything detrimental to the service arose from such economy the officer referred to would be blameable.
The witness said it was not to be expected that the politicians would acknowledge the truth of what he had said, but what he had said he considered to be a fact. He said he could speak from his own experience as to lowness of cost now being primarily considered. He would not go so far as to say that the Admiralty had refused any necessary price of service; but the effect of economy being the ruling thing at the Admiralty had, he thought, un unconscious effect on officers, such as was seen in the captain of the Steam Reserve at Sheerness (Captain Luard) reporting the Megaera on the first division of the Steam Reserve and fit for sea, instead of passing her to the fourth division, where she would have been dismantled and examined. Witness did not believe that four or five years ago any superintendent of a yard (Captain Luard being superintendent of the yard as well as Captain of the Steam Reserve) would have reported an old ship like the Megaera for service on which the was sent in 1871 without having her passed through the fourth division.
The examination by Sir FREDERICK ARROW was then resumed, and the witness said he did not attach any blame to the Admiralty for sending the Megaera to sea, and he had, he thought, endeavoured to show that the blame did not rest upon the Admiralty. The ship should have been placed in the fourth division, and there should have been a new transport ship built, but one had not been built because the money for it could not be got into the estimates. He proceeded to say that he heard nothing of the ship going to Australia, until she put into Queenstown, and he thought then the Admiralty should have had her looked after. With regard to stowage of ships, be said this was a most important labour, and affected the labouring of ships, and the Megaera had always been reported as easy at sea.
The subject of the responsibilities of dockyard officers was then returned to by Lord LAWRENCE, and the witness replied that he certainly considered the dockyard officers responsible for the condition of the Channel Fleet as the vessels left the yards, and this in regard to the action of the officers on commission defects as well as after repair when off commission. In point of fact, he placed the dockyard officers in the position of a representative of an owner's interests for, if he as a shipowner appointed an agent to watch the ship in a foreign port, he should feel greatly dissatisfied if his agent turned round, when some neglect was apparent, and said he had only given attention to those matters to which his attention was called or which he could see, and held himself as not responsible for such defects as he could not see or to which his attention was not called.
Lord LAWRENCE then pointed out that it had been given in evidence that the Megaera was not examined for seven years, and had during that time been knocking about the world, and he asked to be distinctly informed whether the witness was in opposition to the view expressed by Captain Luard, that the time for a full examination of the ship had not arrived in 1870 on the Admiralty order of August, of that year, and the witness replied in the affirmative.
The witness was taken at very great length (the examination lasting nearly seven hours) over other points, and he held that the Admiralty would have been justified by the reports of what had occurred between Sheerness and Queenstown in ordering the ship back to Sheerness to be thoroughly examined. The superintendent of a dockyard was a naval officer, and in no place was the superintendent a shipwright, although the work of the master shipwright was liable to be supervised by the superintendent. The witness thought it would be advantageous to the public service if the reports of the master shipwright went direct to the Constructor's department. Advantageous changes had of late been made in dockyard administration by making the master shipwright the chief engineer, by abolishing the office of storekeeper, and by having individual reports in place of conjoint reports by the officers responsible for the various departments.The Commissioners adjourned until Thursday.
|Fr 19 January 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
Yesterday the proceedings of the Royal Commission on the Megaera were resumed in the House of Commons' Committee-room No. 11, Lord Lawrence presiding. On this occasion some suggestive evidence on the conduct of business in the Admiralty was given, and the "Board of Admiralty" itself came under review.
Mr. John Jarvis, foreman of the Royal Dockyard at Sheerness, was the first witness called. He said he remembered the Megaera coming to Sheerness in 1869, and assisted to examine her on that occasion. The examination was only on the outside. He had no knowledge of the previous history of the ship. He prepared an estimate of the cost of repairs. The carpenter of the ship expressed to witness an idea that the plates of the bottom were thin, and witness went over the outside of the bottom with the carpenter, and they found the under parts all right, but the plates rusty about the water-line on the bows, He reported the carpenter's statement to Mr. Sturdy and Mr. Mitchell, witness's superiors, and told them that he saw nothing but the rust about the bows. He did not examine the inside, and he could not say whether he had suggested that the ship should be examined inside. He thought he did, but he should not like to say whether he had done so or not. He assisted in preparing the ship for commission in 1871, but he did not examine the inside. He could not say why on all these occasions the outside only was examined, but the reason why the officials did not survey the inside was, that they had no suspicion of the inside being out of condition, and they could not take a mere "carpenter's suspicion" that the plates were thin as a reason for making such a survey.
The witness was asked by Mr. BREWSTER if he still held his position in Sheerness Royal Dockyard, and, on the reply being given in the affirmative, this Commissioner said he would not ask him anything else.
In answer to Sir M. SEYMOUR the witness gave replies which showed that the estimate which he had made for the Megaera's repair in 1869 came to upwards of 900l., and this was afterwards reduced to 700l.
Sir F. ARROW then questioned the witness as to who was responsible for ordering the inspection of the inside, and he replied that he thought his superior officers were thus responsible. He further said it was generally understood that the cement of an iron ship would last as long as the boilers.
Questioned by Mr. CHAPMAN, the witness said the system of examining ships in the dockyard was now the same as when the Megaera was there.
Vice-Admiral Arthur Forbes, examined by lord LAWRENCE, stated he was Admiral Commander at Queenstown when the Megaera put in there on the 28th of February, 1871. When she put in there she was reported as having broken her bobstay, and also that there was general discomfort from the leaking of her ports. He ordered an officer to see to the ship while he went on other duty in inspecting the Audacious, but when he returned he found papers from the Admiralty ordering him to inspect her. He did so, and on going on board he found that her ports were defective and let in water, and that she was very ill-stowed. The Admiralty asked by telegram if he thought she was able to go on her voyage, and he reported her as fit. The Megaera's ports were much worn at the edges, were not properly lined, and the woodwork of them was generally decayed. He thought the ship should not have started from Sheerness in this condition of her ports for Australia. He could say of his own knowledge that the ship was very ill-stowed, for he saw the cargo jammed in any how; but this, he thought, had in no way affected her labouring at sea between Plymouth and Queenstown - the weight being in her it mattered little about the manner in which she was stowed. Taking the fact that she had 341 persons on board and upwards of 400 tons of cargo, he did not think she was overloaded for safety, but that she was for comfort. As far as safety went the ship was in a fit condition, in witness's opinion, to undertake the voyage to Australia; but she was not for the comfort of those in her. He answered the question as to whether she was too deep in the water in the same words - that she was not for safety, but she was for comfort. He took out of her, he thought, 127 tons, and that would reduce her about four inches. He thought, if it was necessary to send the officers and men out it would have been better if another ship had been selected, and he should not have considered her a proper ship for the voyage if he had known she had not been examined in the inside for seven years. Most certainly she should have been thoroughly overhauled before being sent out.
In reply to Mr. BREWSTER, the witness said it was perfectly impossible for him to examine her at Queenstown, and, moreover, no one on board of her doubted her perfect soundness, and she was spoken of as perfectly tight. She was equally uncomfortable for officers as for men.
The witness was further questioned by other Commissioners, and he said that the woodwork of the ship was much worn, and he found the ports in such a condition as led him to believe that they were not properly done when the ship left Sheerness. He held it that when a ship was commissioned the dockyard was responsible for the ship's condition. If he had known that the ship had not been overhauled for several years when he saw her at Queenstown, he should have thought it necessary that she should be overhauled before she went on her voyage. He did not think it was his place to have ordered the ship back to be overhauled. He had never commanded an iron vessel, and had never been in charge of a dockyard.
Captain Alan Gardner, commander of Her Majesty's ship Mersey at Queenstown, the officer who reported the ship to the last witness, was then called. He said he noticed the ship coming into the port, and then thought she was very low in the water, and that she was overloaded, having regard to the fact that she was a man-of-war with a large number of persons on board. She would not have been overloaded for a merchantman, but she was for her then service. He believed the ship was not affected in her sailing by the manner in which she was stowed, but there was a want of neatness in her stowing, as he saw it on examining the ship. He thought that ports of such ships as the Megaera would leak in a gale of wind, and as to the discomfort suffered by those on board the ship he never saw greater on any ship than on the Megaera, and this might have been greatly lessened if more care had been given to the ports before the ship left Sheerness. As to whether, from what he saw at Queenstown, he thought she was fit for the voyage to Australia, he said, after giving the question consideration, that if he had been placed in command of her he should have liked to have a thorough overhaul before going round the world, such as a voyage to Australia was. He advised the 127 tons to be taken out of her for the comfort of her people, and not on any consideration of her safety. He went round the ship and spoke to her officers, but there was not the slightest suspicion in the mind of any one on board that she was in any part unsound.
Questioned by Mr. BREWSTER, the witness said he had no experience of iron ships, and positively knew nothing of cement in ships. He had commanded an ironclad, but that had a wooden bottom. Two new ports were made for the Megaera while she was at Queenstown. The ports must have been warped, old, and generally defective when she left Sheerness.
Mr. Vernon Lushington, the permanent Secretary of the Admiralty, was then called and examined by Lord LAWRENCE. He said he was appointed to his office in 1869. The Controller's Department was in the same building as the office of the Secretary to the Admiralty, but the departments were quite separate. The Chief Constructor was, previous to 1869, an officer under the Controller, and was so still. Mr. Childers made important changes in the department, and these changes, to a certain extent, changed the relative positions of the Controller and the Chief Constructor. At the Admiralty a book was kept in which were recorded particulars respecting each vessel in Her Majesty's service.
Examined by Mr. BREWSTER, the witness said he had no instructions as to his duties beyond those in the Orders in Council as to being at the Admiralty to carry out the First Lord's orders. He had no administrative powers, but he had, of course, many office duties. The letters were opened in various departments, and the very name of the Secretariat of Admiralty was in question as to its extent. Letters from the dockyards would be opened in the Third Lord's department, and a "reader" assisted witness in opening departmental letters. There was no general register of letters, and no officer with the duty of registering letters, but some clerks performed that duty. As to registering letters received at the Admiralty there were, in point of fact, two systems - one part of the old system and one part of the new. Every letter was not registered, but the system pursued in the new part of the office was more complete than in the old. He did not say that every letter received having to do with what the examiner called "the going part of the concern" was registered, but he should say it was. There was a vast number of letters received in a year - one department alone received 11,000, and these were opened by different persons. He thought there were nine or ten of what were called departments in the Admiralty; he should call them branches. Perhaps, he added, after consideration, he had better say there were 12 departments of the Admiralty. Practically, each department was under the control of a Lord of the Admiralty, but this was not absolutely so. In the old times there were "Superintendent Lords," but the term was not liked, and that title was abolished, and it was now only in effect that a Lord had the ruling over a department. In answer to the examiner, who, on this, remarked that there must be considerable confusion under such a system in which there was no official recognition of the superintending powers of the Lords, the witness said that it was not so, and that this was part of the machinery. In point of fact, the First Naval Lord had the management of the fleets of England, and the witness said he was not there to deny that this was an important work, and it was true, too, that the First Naval Lord, although having the management of the fleets, had to leave the appointments and promotions entirely in the hands of the First Lord - in the hands of a civilian. This was true, in fact, for the First Lord was first man in the Admiralty, and he had power over everything, although, of course, he consulted the Naval Lords. If the First Lord differed in opinion from the First Naval Lord as to matters of management, then there would soon be a change at the Admiralty (a laugh); but it was part of the machinery of the Admiralty - extremely cumbrous machinery he allowed - that the First Lord had the sole power, but the First Lord always placed the most implicit trust in his Naval Lords. There was no obligation, witness believed, resting on the First Lord to call a Board meeting. There used to be Board meetings in the days of his predecessor, and regular Board days, but there were no Board days now, Notwithstanding there were no Boards, he was sure there was abundant consultation between the Lords. It would, of course, be the Permanent Secretary's duty to attend Board meetings, but of these duties he had no experience. There was a "Financial Secretary," but the term was a misnomer, for the Financial Secretary did not hold the purse-strings, and was more of a financial adviser. This official was often called the "Political Secretary." The witness, questioned as to the preparation of the Estimates, said these were prepared in departments, but he could not say they were examined by a Board as a whole, they were examined by certain Lords. Every important estimate would come before the First Lord or the financial Secretary, after being seen by the First Naval Lord. He could give no definite opinion of the steps which would be taken, or in what form the requisition for a new troop-ship would come, and he said this would come from the First Naval Lord. Witness was not aware that there had been any application for a new troop-ship, or that any statement was made that a ship ought to be supplied to take the place of the Megaera. He could not say there was no such application, but if there had been it did not concern him, and he should not have charged himself with learning anything about it. He could not say who could give information about the course adopted in such a case; but certainly Sir Sidney Dacres, Sir Spencer Robinson, and Captain Hall were the officers who would be charged, he thought, with such matters. The sending out of supernumerary crews and bringing back other crews was a new system, or rather a system not pursued until latterly.
Questioned by Sir M. SEYMOUR, the witness said the Board used to meet five days a week, and although there were no Board meetings now, there was other work outside the Board. He was, perhaps, wrong in saying there were no Board meetings; there was now and then a meeting on some formal business which had been determined beforehand, but what he meant was that there were now no meetings for the discussion of questions. There was, he might put it, a consultative, but not an administrative, Board of Admiralty. The Controller was a member of the Board as a Lord.
In reply to Sir F. ARROW, the witness said there were more than 100,000 letters received by the whole Admiralty every year, and the examiner then pressed for an answer as to how this mass of business was administered, but the witness could give no evidence as to the control exercised over the whole. There was no synopsis made of the business to be transacted so as to facilitate a controlling administration, and all the work, he said, was done in departments. In point of fact, although he was called "Secretary of the Admiralty," he did not administer to the Admiralty or any department of it, but the business was "done here and there." On being asked if he thought this was a satisfactory way to the people of England of conducting so important a national charge as the Navy, the witness said the question opened a very wide subject, which affected his relations with the Lords of the Admiralty. The question was pressed upon the witness, and it was put to him that he was from his office "generally informed as to what goes on," and he said the words "generally informed of what goes on" were capable of 20 different interpretations. He was told to place his own interpretation upon them, and he said that though he might say he had a general knowledge of what went on, he had no detailed knowledge. No one could deal with the whole business. Acknowledging this, Sir Frederick Arrow still pressed for some information as to how the orders of the Board of Admiralty were issued, and the witness stated that in departments where letters were opened the letters were minuted and passed on, and when the answers were written they would, some of them, come to him to be signed, and he signed them. He confessed that he had thus no knowledge of the papers on which the letters were written, but he signed them as Secretary of what he called a "phantom Board." He did not defend the system, and he was certain, he said, that a revolutionary change would be made in this system sooner or later, for he was sure things could not go on like this. Of course, when he looked at letters and found anything which struck him as wrong, he made inquiries before sending them out; but necessarily his knowledge was imperfect. There was not, he owned, any real control by the system pursued, for only patent defects could have a finger laid upon them, while the latent defects could not be touched, and the latent defects to the patent defects were as ten to one. With all this be thought that if any one had written about the Megaera the information would not have been lost. He acknowledged that the changes made in 1869 gave additional powers to the First Lord.
The witness was also examined by the other Commissioners on a few points.
Another witness was called, but gave no information.
Mr. Henry Morgan, the professional secretary to the Chief Constructor of the Admiralty, examined by Lord LAWRENCE, said he first took his title in January, 1869, but he had done the work of his office since 1862. He had been a dockyard officer. He received reports on the surveys of ships and reported on these surveys. His duties, as at present arranged, were to deal with the wooden ships of the Royal Navy, while a colleague, Mr. Grassland, was appointed to deal with the iron ships. Since Mr. Reed had left the Admiralty the Chief Constructorship had been "in commission," Mr. Barnaby being president and witness secretary, and, though they held no council meetings, yet the Constructors did consult together. Previous to 1869 witness used to deal with other matters than wooden ships, and he wrote letters on matters which he decided himself, as well as on matters for his colleagues. He said that the cementing the Megaera with Spence's cement was not regarded as an experiment at the time, or the record of it would not have gone out of sight. It was pointed out to the witness that the official papers described it as an experiment. He stated that there was no book kept at the Admiralty, nor in any department, which would give a complete history of a ship. The reason why no information was given from the Constructors' Department to the Sheerness Yard as to the history of the ship and her wants was, that the ship was ordered into the fourth reserve, which was equivalent to her being paid off to be thoroughly overhauled, and then no history of her would have been required; but Captain Luard, on his own judgment, reported her as fit to run on, and this was out of the ordinary course. This report did not come before the Constructors' Department, and the Constructors were not consulted about it, but the Lords of the Admiralty disposed of the matter at once. The witness held that the dockyard officers at Sheerness might be supposed to be placed in full possession of the history of the ship by the fact that her carpenter, who had been on commission with her since 1865, was in her when she arrived there, and upon hearing this, Lord LAWRENCE remarked that it seemed to him the officials wanted to put upon the carpenter the responsibility of doing what the Admiralty itself could not do.
On Mr. Brewster's examination the witness stated that he was authorized to sign all orders; and he stated that he sent back the estimate sent from Sheerness for the Megaera's repair in 1870 with the order that it "should be reconsidered with a view of being reduced, as it appeared rather high." He did this on his own judgment. It was reconsidered and reduced, and Mr. Brewster said the reduction was made by not doing the work estimated for in the original estimate.The witness's examination will be resumed this morning.
|Sa 20 January 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
Yesterday, the Royal Commissioners appointed to inquire into the history of the Megaera, an inquiry which embraces also the important subject of Admiralty administration and the management of Royal dockyards, was resumed in No. 11 Committee-room of the House of Commons - Lord Lawrence presiding - when the "system" of the Admiralty was again brought under consideration.
Mr. Henry Morgan, who was examined on the previous day, and gave in evidence that he had acted as secretary to the Constructor's Department, was recalled. The witness had stated in evidence that since Mr. Reed had left he had signed for the "Chief Constructor," although no one had held that position, and he had ordered estimates to be re-considered. Examined now by Sir M. SEYMOUR, he said he had considerable experience in dockyard matters before he went to the Admiralty, and he proceeded to describe the mode in which an estimate was made on a ship's defects. He stated that the estimates were made entirely by the dockyard officials, and not on any list of prices, but entirely on their own judgment as to the cost. It was called to the witness's attention that there were several instances in which the estimates, in the case of the Megaera, had been reduced on orders signed by himself, and he said that he only could call to mind having done so once on his own responsibility; but the others in the Constructor's department could do the same thing, and he would write the letters. He added that it was a "very common thing indeed" in sanctioning the doing of work for the Constructor's department to call upon the dockyard officers to "reconsider the estimate." He thought this was a very proper course to adopt, but, at all events, "it vas a very common thing to do." That would apply to any case - the letter would say the work was to be done, but the estimate was to be reconsidered. There was no accountant in the Constructor's department, and the questioning of estimates made by dockyard officers would therefore rest entirely upon the judgment of those in the Constructor's department. The office of inspector of work in the dockyards was now abolished, and the work formerly done by that officer was carried out by the foremen and "leading men." In place of the "measuring up" formerly carried out in the dockyard, the work was now noted with considerable minuteness by the foreman and the "leading men" and then brought up in account by a "writer." He knew nothing about the ship Megaera more than had come before him in papers, and it was never known in the Constructor's Department that Spence's cement was used in her. He held that responsibility attached to the captains who had been in charge of the Megaera for not knowing about the cement, as there was an Admiralty Order that the captains should make themselves acquainted with the ship's cement, and his department would suppose that the captains would make themselves acquainted with the cement. If there were inaccessible places which the captains could not get at, then the dockyard officers should have made the parts accessible; and he could never have supposed that there was a part of the ship which had not been examined for six or seven years. The dockyard officers were constantly surveying the ship during the seven years since 1864, and they should have made all her parts accessible, or should have reported to the Constructors that parts were inaccessible. The witness was here informed that competent witnesses had stated to the Commission that these inaccessible places were in the ship, and he replied that he believed the only really inaccessible place was the small part under the bunker. His examiner said this place was quite sufficient to have caused the loss of the ship, and the witness answered that he supposed the object of the questions was to search out the "system," and he would at once say that it was impossible for him to form an idea why the dockyard officers should have disobeyed the rules in not fully examining the ship when they were instructed to survey her. It was pointed out to the witness that his name was found attached to papers ordering the estimates to be cut down, and the reply made was that he had not done this in any "vital matter." He had not thought of limiting the work to be done upon the ship, but had "only invited" the dockyard officers to reconsider the estimates. "Any one would have concluded from the report from Woolwich Dockyard that there was a full survey of the ship in 1866, and no one would have supposed that any part of the ship was unsurveyed then, for it was no use making a survey of the ship and leaving any one part uninspected." Such, he said, was his opinion of the 1866 survey at Woolwich.
Examined by Sir FREDERICK ARROW, the witness said he was properly understood to say that the Chief Constructor's department was now "in commission," Mr. Barnaby being the chief, while he held the office of secretary. Mr. Barnaby was not Chief Constructor, and the office was otherwise the same in the manner of conduct as when Mr. Reed was there.
Sir FREDERICK ARROW then called upon the witness to look over the Admiralty papers for the purpose of seeing that on the 2d of August, 1870, the witness sanctioned an outlay of 231l. upon the ship while she was at Sheerness, and on the 24th of August an expenditure of 360l. was estimated. The papers showed that Captain Luard, the Captain of the Steam Reserve and also Superintendent of the Dockyard at Sheerness, did not consider that these repairs, thus estimated, should be taken in hand; but the papers did not show, as the Commission had within the last few days ascertained, as might have been the case, that the repairs in these estimates could have been carried out by the artificers of the Steam Reserve. These repairs, whether done or not, were not such as affected the safety of the ship. He only drew these facts to the witness's attention in order to elicit how the estimate of the 2d of August, 1870, had been sanctioned; for it appeared from the papers that the sanction given to that estimate prevented the ship from going into the fourth division of the Steam Reserve, when she would have been examined as a paid-off ship. Now, that estimate of the 2d of August was sent to the Controller of the Navy, and what the commission wanted to know was whether it depended upon that estimate being done whether the ship was or was not sent into the Fourth Steam Reserve, and so passed out of commission, by which she would have escaped the danger.
The witness replied that it did not at all depend upon the work in that estimate being carried out as to what reserve she should be passed, as that question was not then raised. The examiner said that if it was not intended to send the ship on service the money was thrown away; and the witness's attention was directed to other papers, about the same date, in which Sir John Hay wrote a letter to Sir Sidney Dacres telling him that the Megaera was being repaired at a cost of 231l., and that Sir Sidney Dacres wrote back to say that he was not aware of this, and that he had intended the ship should be paid off, as she was a "most expensive vessel," and "her cost was quite disproportionate to her services." The witness owned that from these papers it was shown that Sir Sidney Dacres, who had the control of all Her Majesty's ships in commission, did not actually know what was being done to the ship. Witness said he decided that the estimate should be done, and he did this without knowing that it was intended by the First Naval Lord to pay the Megaera off. It was evident, he said, from the correspondence that Sir Sidney Dacres had an idea of paying the ship off, and there was evidently, the witness acknowledged, "some little misunderstanding" between the department of which witness was secretary and that controlled by the Chief of the Navy. It was certain that this estimate should have gone to Sir Sidney Dacres' department - "there was a mistake in its not going to him before it was ordered to be done;" but though there was a break in the chain, although, as the examiner put it, "there was a want of continuity between subordinates and the chief," the witness did not hold that "it was fair to suppose there was any want of organization in the Admiralty;" but, being told to say what it showed, he said he would say there was "a lapse" in this case. He desired to add that with respect to the Admiralty organization, it was the "invariable rule" that all matters regarding commission ships should go to Sir Sidney Dacres' department, and that this was not the case in this instance was the fault of a clerk. It was not at all likely that the sanction given to the outlay of what the witness called the "mere bagatelle" of 231l. on the ship on the 2d of August would have influenced the minds of the officials at Sheerness into supposing that nothing else was to be done to her, although he could not deny that it was from this point that the ship was kept from going into the fourth division of the Steam Reserve, when she would have been "paid off." There was no record kept of what was done to ships, and of other particulars, and his idea was that private owners of ships would look to the persons in charge of ships for information of them.
Sir FREDERICK ARROW said he could tell the witness that no private owners would look to persons who simply run the vessels as those who should keep a record of the ship's condition from time to time; and, placing the Admiralty in the position of owners, he asked how the Admiralty would obtain this knowledge.
The witness replied that he would expect that the dockyard officers would give the information required, and would be in possession of all this knowledge of the ship's condition. The witness was then shown pieces of iron of the thickness of the Megaera's bottom plating, bored, as was stated by the Woolwich Dockyard officials to have been done from the Megaera's outside, and he allowed that a disturbance of the inside of the ship might have thus been caused in some of the 300 or 600 places, and, moreover, he could never take it that such a boring could have been taken as a survey without a concurrent examination of the ship's interior. He owned that he was greatly astonished to hear that the survey of 1866 only rested upon this boring from the outside.
The witness was then taken by Mr. ROTHEBY over the correspondence between the Admiralty and the dockyards of Woolwich and Sheerness, and the witness expressed the belief that though there were papers produced signed by him, one dated 1867, which referred to "our knowledge of the state of the ship's plates," and another with regard to her being made good for a twelvemonth's service, he thought he must have signed these formally. In another letter, on an estimate being forwarded to his department, he wrote to the dockyard officials, "the hull charges appeared rather high," and he formed the idea that they were high from his own judgment on reading the items down. This was in April, 1870, when the ship was at Sheerness, and reported for repairs, and he thought he was justified in so saying, although he admitted that he did not look at any previous papers to see what the ship's wants were likely to be. Though it was possible he had before him a paper in which the statement was made, "The bottom of the Megaera is said to be very thin in many places," he did not call upon the dockyard officers to survey her bottom to see if there was any foundation for the statement. The work for the sum of 231l., he had ordered to be done at the same time that the estimate was to be reconsidered received the authority of Sir Spencer Robinson. When the witness ordered this expenditure it was in his mind that Mr. Reed had examined the plates in 1866, and had found them thick enough for the work; that the Woolwich officials in 1869 had passed her again, and, again, that she had been passed at Sheerness. It was not in his mind that the ship had run two commissions without being properly inspected, and he had thought her surveys had been complete surreys in every part. It was after this estimate had been approved that Captain Luard reported that the ship was ready for a twelvemonth's work.
Questioned by Mr. CHAPMAN, the witness stated that Mr. Grassland had to deal with iron ships under repair, and Mr. Barnes did work in connexion with building ships. Witness had no experience when in the dockyard of iron ships. He thought all information concerning a ship should be recorded, and should use his best endeavours to have such a record-book provided for the future.
Admiral Sir Frederick Grey, who was First Naval Lord of the Admiralty from 1861 until 1866, was then called and examined by Lord LAWRENCE. The witness stated that when in command of the Cape station in 1857 the Megaera came under his attention, and he described the work which she did in carrying horses, artillery, and men from station to station. In 1859, he remembered being not altogether satisfied with her, and he then had her cleared and examined, It was reported to him that she leaked at the rivets, and on a survey some of her rivets were found to be bad. He ordered her to be sent to England for repair. He remembered that the surveying officer said there were parts of her which could not be examined owing to cement being in her. He did not find that any danger was shown by this survey, and so far from thinking she was dangerous then he sent her to Ascension to fetch as much water as she could carry to St. Helena. That was in fine weather. Of her further history he knew nothing.
The witness was then taken to the period when he was Senior Naval Lord, and he said he was in this position from July, 1861, until July, 1866. He was in office when the ship was ordered into dock at Woolwich; but his tenure of office did not go beyond her being ordered into dock, for there was a change of Government at that time; and if he was at the Admiralty when she was docked he was only "clearing up" before going out of office. Asked if he could explain in what way the duties of the Admiralty were distributed among the various Lords at that time, he said there was a paper which described those duties at that time, but of the present distribution of duties he knew nothing, there having been changes introduced in 1865 or 1866. He could only state some of the duties then, and he could say the First Naval Lord had the distribution of the fleets, and he had the charge of ships commissioned and to order ships to be paid off. The manning of the Navy was under the Second Naval Lord, but the First Naval Lord had to concern himself with this also. Then all commands in line-of-battle ships were vested in the First Naval Lord, but other commands were in the Second Naval Lord, who advised with the First Naval Lord on these and general matters. The First Naval Lord was so far responsible under the old regime for ships being properly repaired that it was through him the Controller submitted all plans, and witness was in daily communication with the Controller when in office, and looked to him to have a full knowledge of every ship. The whole Board of Admiralty was responsible to the public, for to the whole Board each matter came. When Mr. Childers came into office a change was made, and the Controller's statement of repairs was brought before the First Civil Lord, that he might check the expenditure. All the statements of repairs then came through the Controller, who made every year an estimate of the cost of repairs, and no repairs could be done to a ship without passing through the Controller. He certainly thought the Controller should be in a position to refer to the history of a ship, and if there were two practical officers in the Admiralty who knew of radical defects in a ship, the dockyard officers ought to have had their attention called to those defects. He held that dockyard officers were only to be held responsible for reporting on the list of defects of a ship in commission and whatever other defects might meet their eye, but he could not conceive of their making a full examination of a ship unless with the order of the Admiralty. If the dockyard officers had a suspicion that there were latent defects, they would report to the Admiralty, but not unless they did. He held that Captain Luard did his duty in reporting the ship ready for service when he did in 1870, although she was not in repair, and had boilers fit only for a year's service, but that report, witness thought, should have gone to the Controller's Department to be checked, and he believed, as a matter of fact, that it did so go to the Controller, who was now a Lord of the Admiralty, but it should have gone to the Constructor's Department. The witness then said he could hardly say what the instructions of the superintendents of dockyards and commanders of the Steam Reserve were, for the Revision of Instructions to those officers had been commenced in 1862, but had not yet been completed (a laugh), and, besides, there had been a change in the system of keeping accounts, and this had not been completed. Undoubtedly it was "some one's" duty to have known about the Spence's cement being put into the Megaera, and it should not have been left there when ordered out of other of Her Majesty's ships. When a ship was repaired by a dockyard to be given over to the commander of the Steam Reserve the latter should inspect the vessel while being repaired, for he was responsible for any defects which might be found afterwards. He looked upon it as "very unfortunate" that the office of Superintendent of Sheerness Dockyard and Captain of the Steam Reserve should have been vested in one officer. That officer should have inspected the ship, and if he found inaccessible places he should have referred to others to see if any one knew the condition of such places. The witness could not consider the defects which caused the leak to be latent defects, for the ceiling should have been removed, or the commander of the Steam Reserve should have reported that parts could not be seen, and, before he sent her on service, should have called for information concerning her.
Mr. BREWSTER then said he should only ask one question of the witness, and that question he prefaced by entering on the history of the ship since 1870, of her being employed on home service, being reported by the chief (Sir Sidney Dacres) to be paid off into the fourth division of the Reserve, of having repairs estimated for her and not done, of laying for five months in the waters at Sheerness after being reported for a year's service only; and he asked whether it was a proper thing that the ship should then have been ordered to take a large number of men and a large amount of stores such a voyage without being overhauled.
The witness answered. "Certainly not."
In reply to Sir M. SEYMOUR the witness said the Admiralty Board sat every day in his time, with the exception sometimes of not sitting on Saturday. The Lords had all the papers on important matters of their Departments docked before them, and the general business, not the routine business, was transacted before the Board in such a manner that all the Lords would know of the business, although it might not concern them. These Board meetings were valuable means of giving all the members of the Board a knowledge of what was being done. A monthly list was issued, too, giving information as to the position of the ships in the Navy.
Mr. Nathaniel Barnaby was then called. He said, in examination by Lord LAWRENCE, that he was now President of the Council of Constructors of the Admiralty, but that office was not exactly equivalent to the Chief Constructorship, for the other members of the Council were more independent than they were when Mr. Reed was there. In the former days the assistants used to minute reports, and the Chief Constructor had to pass them, but now the assistants acted on their own responsibility to a certain extent. The Chief Constructor used to be professionally responsible for the design of ships, their repair, and for their maintenance, but the Controller could take action upon these matters, being primarily responsible for them. In addition to the former duties of the Chief Constructor's Department, there was an extension of duty, as the Department could authorize the expenditure of money up to 100l., in repairs of ships out of commission without reference to the Controller, and could correspond directly with the dockyards. Witness would have these expenditure orders pass through his hands, and if he approved them they would go out signed as for the Chief Constructor. He held that it was not a duty charged upon his department to communicate facts regarding a ship to a dockyard, but the dockyard from which a ship came should pass on the facts to the dockyard where she went next. He produced an exceedingly bulky volume, which he said was an abstract of the orders sent from the Admiralty, and though the book had been in hand for ten years it was not yet complete. (A laugh.) The last book of the kind was issued in 1844, and the order he received was, he believed, issued in 1854, but he could not say it was, and then the Commissioners decided it had no bearing on the case, as it referred to a ship which had been partially repaired at one place and sent on to another to be completed. He owned that it was a misfortune and an oversight that the survey of 1866 was not communicated to Sheerness yard, and on being asked why it was not given, he was about to refer to Mr. Reed's name, but was told that would be invidious. He owned that when that reported survey was received at the Admiralty it should have been entered in the books, and there was an oversight in its not being entered. He would not say whose duty it was to have entered this; but it was part of the "system" that he could not say whose duty it was. He quite acknowledged that it was a "bad system" - which did not provide for this. He stated before the court-martial that a large number of holes had been bored in the bottom, and he believed those were bored in the bottom and side; but he could not say that these bored holes were confined to the sides. As to the responsibility of dockyard officers on the duty of examining a ship on commission for reported defects, the witness read an order No. 238 (or No. 237, as in other places), issued in 1854, showing that the dockyard officers were held responsible for properly carrying out all repairs reported to be necessary. In regard to the duty of dockyard officers to see to the bottom of iron ships, he said there was an order of 1854, and this he read, laying down that superintendents of dockyards should see to the inside as well as to the outside of ships, as a case had occurred of an iron ship's inside having been found oxidized through want of proper "cleaning and coating." He held that under this the dockyard officers should report as to this being necessary to be done, and that they should initiate the inquiry, and leave it to the Admiralty to sanction the cost of this investigation. He thought the dockyard officers should have been in possession of the fact of the Megaera's condition in the cement, and if that had been done the Admiralty would, he considered, "stand in a better position before the public" at the present day. With regard to Captain Luard's report that the ship was ready for a year's service, witness thought it would have been better if that report had been preceded by an examination of her inside, and he held it was Captain Luard's duty to have done this. He contended that as the Lords of the Admiralty had taken the report of Captain Luard without consulting the Constructor's Department as to the condition of the ship, that, therefore, the dockyard officers and his department were not responsible for any untoward event arising from her true condition being unknown.
The witness was further examined at great length on his evidence before the court-martial, and on some very material points he withdrew some of the evidence he gave there, that evidence not being founded on the facts of the case. He acknowledged that the "system" was imperfect" in not keeping a record of a ship.
In the course of the examination Lord LAWRENCE and Mr. BREWSTER made some very severe remarks as to the character of some of the witness's answers, and it was said that some of these were likely to mislead the Commissioners.The examination of the witness will be resumed this morning.
|Ma 22 January 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
The proceedings of this Commission were resumed on Saturday, Lord Lawrence presiding, in No. 11 Committee-room of the House of Commons. The evidence on this occasion, while still dealing primarily with the circumstances under which the Megaera was sent to sea, added to the information already gained through this Commission as to the management to which the Royal Navy is subject.
Mr. Nathaniel Barnaby, the President of the Council of Constructors of the Admiralty, who had given some remarkable evidence respecting Admiralty departments on the previous day, was recalled. The witness on this occasion proceeded to give what may be termed illustrated testimony on the action of copper on iron, he having before him a model of two frames of the ship, with a copper rosebox resting upon a wooden frame. He said this model would give the Commission an idea of an experiment made at Portsmouth lately to test the action of copper on unprotected iron, and this experiment made showed that if a ship had an uncovered piece of iron on her bottom, and a rose-box of copper, or copper in any shape, in connexion with it, however circuitous that connexion might be, and however far distant the copper might be from the unprotected iron, the galvanic action would commence, and would be rapid in the destruction of the iron. The connexion between the copper and iron might only be damp, but where the connexion was bilge-water the action would be very rapid. The experiment he referred to was carried out by a gentleman connected with the Admiralty, and the surface of iron exposed to the action of copper placed at five feet distance was only the size of the leak - three inches long by an inch and a half wide, - and yet in six days 58½ grains of the iron was dissolved, the connecting fluid being sea-water. When once this galvanic action commenced, he said, it would go on very rapidly. If, therefore, a copper rosebox was anywhere near the leak, that would account for the deterioration and the calamity. He held that the frames of the ship about the leak could not have been corroded as the ship's officers stated they were. He said this statement of the ship's officers concerning the frames "could not be accepted," and his examiner said it would be for the Commission to say whether the statement could be accepted or could not. The witness apologized and said he meant to say he could not accept it, and he described the plan drawn by the ship's officers of these alleged corroded frames (drawn from memory) as an accurate representation of the ship's framing. Asked how he accounted for the large use of copper on iron ships when it was known that it was so deleterious, the witness said copper was so used because the metal bent easily; but an order had been issued by the Admiralty against this use in particular cases, though he allowed there were many ships in which these copper pipes and rose-boxes were still used in opposition to the Admiralty order, and he could only account for this by the "division which existed between the Constructor's Department and the Engineer's Department of the Admiralty."
Lord LAWRENCE said that while there was in existence an order to the dockyard officers against the use of copper in iron ships, there did not appear to be any order to the same effect to officers of ships.
The witness said he knew of no such order being issued to ships' officers, and the engineer and officers of the Megaera were justified in making use of copper, seeing that they had no order. In January, 1871, Lord John Hay wrote him a letter with reference to the Australian voyage of the Megaera, asking him his opinion with regard to the ship, and witness replied that she was "sound and strong," and a "good sea boat." The grounds he had for this answer were to be seen in two documents from which he asked leave to quote. One of these was called "A List of Her Majesty's Ships for the month of January, 1871," prepared for the use of the Admiralty, and this gave the state of the ship. It stated that the Megaera was in the first division of the Steam Reserve, and reported as "complete in every respect," and he knew that no ship in the first division of the Steam Reserve would have any defects in her. He therefore assumed that she was without defects, and he turned to the ship's books, where he found she was by her officers spoken of as a "good sea boat." These were the grounds upon which he had reported to Lord John Hay. The witness was told that this explanation was all very well if he had had no other data upon which to inform his mind, but then he had had before him reports as to the thinness of the plates of the ship, and he could have turned to papers in the office which would have aroused his suspicions if he had taken the trouble to turn to them. He replied that he was not aware at the time (1871) of the result of the 1866 survey, and he assumed the ship was ready for the voyage to Australia, but it was pressed upon him that be could by some inquiry in his office have obtained other information of the ship's real condition, and his attention was directed to papers dated August, 1870, in his own office, reporting the ship for only 12 months' service, stating that at the expiration of that time she would require a complete examination, and stating that the "known condition of the ship" should be borne in mind. He was told to account for this not being borne in mind, and he answered in effect that the words "known condition of the ship" referred to the boilers, he thought. The question was pressed upon him, and, as he did not answer the questions directly,
The witness said that particular information of 1870 would show the ship was fitted to go to Malta, and he held that if she was fit to go to Malta she was fit to undertake the voyage to Australia. He repeated this answer on its being asked him if he really held that because she was able to do a short duty in 1870 she could do a long duty in 1871, and he asserted that he had a right to assume, even looking at these papers, that the ship was fit for the Australian voyage. As a matter of fact he had not, before he answered Lord John Hay's communication, consulted these papers. He did not think, with his examiner, that he should have gone deeper into the matter than he did before answering Lord John Hay's letter, for that letter he regarded as a private one, and he thought he only was giving information - accurate he considered it - for the information of Lord John's mind, and not for him to found upon it the selection of a ship. In point of fact, the communication was out of official order. Asked how he accounted for the list read not being posted up with the information which was at the Admiralty as to the condition of the ship, and whether there were not faults on the part of some one in not bringing that forward, the witness replied that, in fact, the ship should not have been placed in the first division of the Steam Reserve at Sheerness. It was then put to him that Lord John Hay had the list of ships before him, but still had doubts about the ship, and then referred to witness, as an official who had every information, for all particulars, and whether it should not have come into witness's mind that Lord John Hay wanted information other than was to be found in the printed list. The witness replied that he had no suspicion at all of the ship not being fit for the voyage to Australia. If the question had been an official one, and had come in official routine, he should have handed it over to one of his subordinates as an official communication. Lord John Hay's letter should have gone to Sir Spencer Robinson, who, as Controller, was supposed to know all about the ships. It was a question entirely, looking from an official point of view, between Sir Spencer Robinson and Lord John Hay. As to what occurred after the ship left for Australia and had to make for Queenstown, that did not raise any suspicion as to the ship's condition.
Lord LAWRENCE finished his examination of the witness with the remark, - Then, you were all sleeping in a Fool's Paradise? To which the witness, on having the question repeated, replied, - I think that is right.
Examined by Mr. BREWSTER, the witness said that the department of which he was the head was composed of five persons, who occupied three rooms near to each other. The five met together sometimes to consult on some points. He had been connected with the Admiralty since 1855; two of the others had been there longer than he, one came with him, and Mr. Morgan had come since. Thus they had all been there more than ten years. When Mr. Reed was there they all had been in the habit of consulting officially, with the exception of Mr. Wright, the engineer, whose department had been added to witness's of late. Witness acted as chief assistant to Mr. Reed, and was in daily communication with his chief, and it might be assumed, the witness said, that he had all the information which Mr. Reed had concerning the ships in Her Majesty's navy. Witness was aware of the examination by Mr. Reed of the ship in 1866, but he was only aware of the result of that examination in 1867. Witness did not know the result of the Woolwich officers' survey until of late. That report of the survey came to Mr. Reed's office, but witness was quite certain he did not see that report. He was quite certain of this, and the papers were searched for when it was desired to obtain all information of the Megaera, but for some time without success. The papers were ultimately found in the New-street (Spring-gardens) office. There was a current opinion in the Admiralty when the ship was lost that there was a report on the thinness of the plates. It was known in 1867 that Sir Spencer Robinson was of opinion that the plates were thin, and witness was aware that Mr. Morgan in 1867 made a report that Mr. Reed had examined the waterline plates of the Megaera and found them extremely thin, and witness had noted this, and suggested in 1867 that a survey should be made. Asked what a "survey" meant, the witness said the word had several meanings. The examiner said he could see the dictionary for himself, but he wanted to know what the witness meant by it. The answer was that he had several meanings to the word. He was sharply questioned upon this, and he said if he meant a full survey he should put the word "thorough" before "survey," but if he did not mean a full survey he should mean an "inspection." "Inspection" and "survey" would not mean the same thing; he said, after consideration, not always, but sometimes it would mean "inspection." The word ''examination " was in use in the office, and that would mean something different from "inspection," he thought, and something different from "survey." He thought "inspection" meant a person walking round, as suggested by the examiner, but if he told a person to make an examination he should expect a "thorough examination" to be made of all parts which could be got at. He should expect such persons to follow the order, whatever that order was; but they would have to send an estimate if they thought things should be removed in making the examination; but if the order were sent they should do the work and send the estimate, even though the estimate would come up afterwards. "Survey" was a somewhat stronger word in his mind than "examination," and it would not be used when a ship's defects were only to be reported on. The word "survey" would not apply to a ship as a whole on reported defects. The witness then had his attention called to his evidence at the court-martial, when he called the 1866 examination a survey, and he spoke in justification of the use of the word on that occasion when it appeared to have been used in a sense contrary to the definition he had given. He "assumed," when giving evidence at Portsmouth, that the survey had been made. He had given evidence on oath at that court-martial, and he gave evidence on facts. The facts upon which he had given evidence were in the reports he had received from the dockyard officers as to that survey of 1866. He considered that "knowledge" upon which he could give evidence on oath, and he did volunteer to give other evidence as to the ship's condition in regard to the thickness of the plates on the court-martial. He certainly considered he had a right to give such evidence, stating that the ship was examined in the inside, and he had a "right to assume" that the officers at Woolwich had examined the inside of the ship, and to assume this to the extent of stating on oath that they had done so. It was only since this Commission had taken evidence that he had arrived at the opinion that this inside examination had not been so complete as he had thought. He had not come to the conclusion now that there was no examination of the interior. He had read the evidence given, but he had not arrived at the conclusion that there was no interior examination at that time.
Questioned by Sir MICHAEL SEYMOUR on the action of witness's department in reducing the estimates sent up from the dockyards for remedying the ship's defects from time to time, the witness said it was common to send down to the dockyards requiring them to reconsider the estimates; but as a matter of fact the estimates were never reduced except with the concurrence of the dockyard officers themselves, unless the Department sent down an inspector, and then the Department would take the responsibility for the new estimates.
In answer to Sir FREDERICK ARROW, the witness allowed the fact that from 1866 the ship was not reported as "good" for longer periods than 18 mouths and a year showed that there was considerable caution to be exercised in her use. As a matter of fact, the ship was taken off the list of troop-ships, and any proposition for again putting her on that list, as was proposed and abandoned only when it was found the ship would not pay, would only be made after consultation with the Controller.
The examination by Mr. ROTHERY brought from the witness the admission that it rested upon the Constructor's department to know that the ship had been constantly at work since 1866, and this knowledge should have been in the mind of some one in the witness's department, but he disclaimed all responsibility for this omission on his own account.
The witness was taken by Mr. CHAPMAN over the system of promotion in the Royal dockyards and the service of the Admiralty, and he denied in very precise terms that any outside influence could be used to raise an officer in the service, and the only regard paid was to merit.
Captain Lord John Hay was then called and examined by Lord LAWRENCE. He stated that he held office from December, 1868, until June, 1871, as Junior Naval Lord of the Admiralty. For the selection of troop-ships he said the Junior Naval Lord was responsible, but for all other seagoing ships the First Naval Lord was responsible. The Third Lord (now the Controller) was responsible for the repair and maintenance of ships, but witness could not speak of the relative positions of the Controller and the Constructor's department, for he was not well informed enough to speak upon the point. He only knew the Megaera by reputation. He did not remember the transfer of the Megaera from the Woolwich Dockyard to Sheerness, and he thought the information about the ship should have gone to Sheerness with her, but he was not an authority to speak on the point. He spoke diffidently as to whether the information should have gone direct from dockyard to dockyard, or through the Admiralty, but he thought the matter should have been communicated. The witness's attention was then directed to the papers before him, and he was asked if he directed a letter to be sent to the Director of Transport Ships (Admiral Mends) in March, 1870, and it was pointed out to him that in this correspondence reference was made to the alleged thinness of the Megaera's plating. He said the papers had evidently been before him, but he had not borne them in mind; but, looking at them now, and seeing the report of the Woolwich "survey" of 1866, he thought it would have been as well if there had been a closer examination of the vessel before she was commissioned for Australia. He saw by the correspondence before him that it was proposed in August, 1870, to pay off the Megaera, and it was with Sir Sydney Dacres' concurrence that she was to be paid off, but Sir Spencer Robinson ordered that she should go into the fourth division of the Steam Reserve at Sheerness. The question was put as to which division she should go in, and Sir Spencer answered, in the fourth division of the Reserve; and he was the best judge. Witness could not say that he had anything to do with the matter, but if the papers had come before him he should almost certainly have decided with Sir Spencer Robinson, who of all men knew most about it. Referring to the minute of the 13th of August, 1870, by Admiral Mends, that there "appeared to be some special reason for keeping the ship in commission," considering what she did and her great cost, the witness said he did not know what "special reasons" there were, but there was the fact that she was a convenient vessel. She was not a condemned vessel, and although she was not liked by military men for the conveyance of troops, she was not a bad ship in his opinion. Complaints were general as to her leaking in her ports, but not of other leaking. She was put aside as a fighting ship, but she was taken out of the list of troopships only because she should not be exclusively a troopcarrying ship, but that she should carry stores and troops or supernumeraries (seamen). He found a report saying she was not a good troop-ship, and should be employed on home service. This was made by the Director of Transports (Admiral Mends) in 1864, but Admiral Sir Frederick Grey made a minute in 1865, in which there was no such limitation. It was true that between the report and the minute the ship was thoroughly repaired, and she was sent after 1865 to Rio Janeiro. Practically, Sir Frederick Grey's minute set aside the Director of Transport's report of 1864. Witness had not the slightest recollection of Captain Luard's telegram from Sheerness reporting the ship for a year's service after the order for the ship to go into the Fourth Reserve. If the Controller decided upon that to keep the vessel in commission it would not be going against the Board of Admiralty, for though the letter ordering the ship to be paid off was signed by Mr. Vernon Lushington, it would have been so signed on the minute of the Controller. The witness's attention was directed to a letter from Sir Sydney Dacres to Mr. Childers, saying with regard to the Megaera, "I propose to pay off this most extravagant vessel,'' he giving the opinion that she required a large crew and was unfit for a troop-ship; but the witness held that Sir Spencer Robinson still could decide what should be done with the ship. He held that the fact that the ship was put into the first division of the Reserve showed that the Controller thought that she was "complete in every respect," for that would be implied by her being put into that Reserve. It was possible - indeed, very probable - that Sir Spencer Robinson was influenced by the telegram of Captain Luard, who telegraphed that the Megaera's defects had been made good; that she was then complete in every respect, and that he sent the telegram thinking there might be some mistake in putting her in the fourth division. Witness did not think that the opinion expressed by Sir Sydney Dacres should have induced Sir Spencer to consult his chief, and the reason he did not think so was because the opinion of Sir Sydney had nothing to do with the ship's condition, as it was then supposed. Witness had no doubt now, speaking after the event, that it would have been better if the ship had gone into the fourth division at that time, but it was not at all necessary that Sir Spencer should have consulted Sir Sydney respecting the division she should go into. Sir Spencer did not employ the vessel, nor would he have employed her without reference to Sir Sydney. Witness said he did not select the Megaera for the Australian voyage, but Sir Sydney Dacres would have selected her after consultation with Sir Spencer Robinson. When Mr. Barnaby made the report to witness that the ship was in good condition, witness thought the head of the Constructor's department was in a position to know the condition of the ship, and that was why he consulted him. Witness did not remember that Admiral Mends had referred to the thinness of the Megaera's plates, but he thought that it was likely the Admiral spoke to him about the ship's condition, and he followed it out by referring to Mr. Barnaby.
In reply to Mr. BREWSTER, the witness said when he wrote to Mr. Barnaby he held he was writing in a manner semi-officially to a head of a department, and in a way which was done to gain information in the readiest manner. If, however, there had been any defect reported to witness he should not have thought it fair to write the letter to Mr. Barnaby without stating it. The letter to Mr. Barnaby he regarded as an extreme measure of caution, to ascertain the true condition of the vessel, and it was made semi-officially, as was usual in all Government departments.
Answering Sir M. SEYMOUR, the witness said that when he employed the Megaera he was not aware she cost 20,000l. a year and victualling, but he always considered the relative cost of employing her and of sending out by other ways. So far as the personnel of the Admiralty was concerned - meaning Sir Sydney Dacres and himself - it was fully believed at the time she was sent to Australia that she was in good repair, and then, too, she was known to be a first-rate sea boat.
The witness was questioned by Sir FREDERICK ARROW as to how the ship came to be selected for this service, after she had been kept very tenderly and watched most carefully over several years - a service in which she would have men to take her out and others to bring her home who were not attached to her, and who, in fact, were "scratch" crews. The witness denied that she had been tenderly watched, as she had been to Rio Janeiro and to the Falkland Islands, and he was strongly of opinion that a vessel which could thus be sent to the southern hemisphere was not a tender vessel. He thought that the ship had been selected after consultation by Sir Sydney Dacres with Sir Spencer Robinson; but witness was not consulted, and he held that Sir Sydney was quite competent to judge without consultation with him.Some other questions were asked on points spoken to before, and the Commissioners then adjourned until to-day.
|Tu 23 January 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
Yesterday the Royal Commissioners resumed their sittings in the Committee-room, No. 11, of the House of Commons - Lord Lawrence presiding, and during the whole of the sitting the late Controller of the Navy was under examination. The public part of the room was thronged during the day, among those present being many well-known public men, and the late Controller's evidence was listened to with keen interest throughout the six hours the Commissioners sat.
Admiral Sir Spencer Robinson, K.C.B., who was Controller of the Navy from 1861 until 1871, was the witness on this occasion examined by Lord LAWRENCE, and, in reply to the question as to his rank, said he was a full Admiral, but he had had the misfortune to have been retired from active service against his will. Questioned as to the duties of the Controller of the Navy, he handed in a paper with the Admiralty instructions. He said he had served under two different systems - one of them being the system commenced by the Duke of Somerset in 1859. There were instructions under that system defining the duties of the Controller, but not wholly, for it was held that the Controller was to act in accordance with the instructions or orders of the Senior Naval Lord. That went on until 1869, when an Order in Council of the 14th of January defined his duty in a different way. The order of 1869 so far modified the orders in existence previously that whereas he was a servant of the Board under the old orders he was a Lord of the Admiralty under the new. Under the first he gave his advice to the Admiralty, which could be taken, or rejected, and he had no independent action whatever, except that allowed to him by those under whom he had the honour to serve. Under the instructions of 1869 the Controller became responsible to the First Naval Lord for some matters relating to the building and repair of ships, the charge of guns and stores, and the Constructors' Department was also put under the Controller. It did not necessarily follow that the Controller and the Constructors would be consulted in the selection of a ship for service. If the First Naval Lord wanted a ship he would have the list before him, and sometimes the question would be put to him if a certain ship was in order, but he would not always know what service the ship would be going on. The dockyards were specially under the Controller's management, but the orders up to 1869 came more directly from the Admiralty than from the Controller. After the order of 1869 it was the theory that no orders would go to the officers of the dockyard without going through the Controller's department; but this was often departed from, and he thought rightly so in some cases, as that in which the Commander-in-Chief of any station was empowered to give orders direct to dockyards in cases of emergency. With regard to orders going to the dockyards from the Admiralty, in theory they would go from the Controller, but this was not always the practice, and when orders went otherwise it was by an oversight. If any orders were thus sent out of the authorized way, it would be right for information to be sent at once to the Controller of the case, and when the information was not sent it was by an oversight. The Controller was responsible for dockyard departments and for estimates; but he referred them to the Constructor, and, when he was in office, the Chief Constructor, Mr. Reed, delegated portions of this duty to his assistants; but witness, as Controller, was responsible, and this delegation of duly was done under witness's cognizance. Whatever advice was given by the Constructors' Department, and for whatever the Constructors did, witness was responsible. Everything which came from Mr. Reed, or through his secretary as coming from him, witness had perfect confidence in, and he desired it to be publicly known that a more able, zealous, intelligent officer no senior ever had than he always found in Mr. Reed while at the Admiralty. He was certain, as far as one man could be certain of another's actions, that Mr. Reed did his duty throughout in a most painstaking manner. Referred to the order in which the witness had given instructions for the application of Spence's cement to the inside of the Megaera in 1864, he proceeded to say that in this matter there was certainly a great lapse, the danger of which he had pointed out to the Lords of the Admiralty as likely to arise, before this occurred, by the manner in which the business was carried on. The paper referring to the cement was opened in the Chief Engineer's Department in Spring-gardens, and witness's offices were in the Admiralty, and the paper should have been noted in the "Ship Branch," when it would have been recorded; but the fact was there was no superior clerk of the two departments, consequently they were coordinate. The letter had not been properly registered by the fault of an unsupervised clerk, and so the matter slipped through. He wrote a letter to the Lords of the Admiralty in 1863 asking for a superior clerk to supervise the departments, and the answer written on it was that the Lords did not consider that course should be adopted. As to the cement being placed in the Megaera on the advice of a navy captain he was of opinion that it was a good course to adopt to encourage captains to make suggestions; and, looking at the position and the rank of a captain in Her Majesty's Navy, he could not suppose that any suggestions, without at all referring to the particular case of the Megaera, could have been made improperly or was likely to lead inventors to improperly press their inventions upon officers. As a matter of fact, the cement had been used in 1863, and the cement was referred to the chymist of the dockyard, who, on his part, suggested that this and another cement should be fairly tried on their merits. The experiment of this use of cement should have been recorded; and if the Controller had had nothing else to do, it might have been expected for his office to look after such things; but anyone who knew the state of the case and the amount of business would know that it was quite impossible to do more than was done. As to the use of the cement at all upon what might be regarded as scanty information, looking at the few references in the official papers before him, he might say that these were not the papers which were placed before him. He could not tell the Commissioners how much or how little was done, but he could tell them that he did take such pains, and so far satisfied himself, as justified him in ordering the use of the cement on the Megaera. With regard to the cement being taken out of the Northumberland and two other ships afterwards, the same course would have been adopted in the case of the Megaera but for the failure of the clerk to register the letter in the Ship Branch. It was the duty of one of the clerks to make the entry of that in the Ship Book, and there was a neglect in the Steam Branch in not sending that letter so that it might be registered. A circular letter went to Devonport to take the cement out of the other ships cemented with Spence's cement, but, although that circular did not go to the other dockyards, there were strict orders already in force as to the examination of the cement in the interior of iron ships which should have prevented any evil resulting from the letter not being registered. An order was read by witness which called attention to a case of oxidation in an iron ship's bottom through the neglect of examining the cement and requesting such attention to be given, and this order was sent to every dockyard station in the service. The witness read another order pressing upon all in the service of Her Majesty in the Admiralty and dockyards to carry out not only the letter but the spirit of the orders in regard to the examinations of the ships' bottoms and cement, and these orders, he again strongly urged, ought to have been sufficient to have prevented any evil arising from the "slipping through" of the letter. In further argument upon this point he read another order issued to the captains of iron vessels in Her Majesty's service, requesting them to satisfy themselves that the composition in the interior was preserving the iron. The examiner said it appeared from the evidence which had been given that the composition had to be cut out before it was found to be defective, and that therefore the examination by captains or others of the top of this particular cement would have been delusive, as it would have appeared to be good when beneath it water was absorbed. The witness said that if the dockyard officers examined the cement properly they would do so to prove to themselves that the cement was protecting the iron, and nothing less than this was demanded of them. It was impossible that Admiralty officers could supervise dockyard officers to see that they did these duties. The master shipwrights were responsible officers, who were placed in positions to rule these matters, and they should have satisfied themselves as to the condition of the vessel thoroughly when she came into their hands. When it was known that the Woolwich officers had in 1866 the vessel in dock, a letter was sent down, saving that Mr. Reed was coming, and this letter was sent only because there was some jealousy of the Chief Constructor going down without orders. Mr. Reed stated to witness the result of his visit, and witness adopted the Woolwich report, that the ship was fit for the eight months or two years' service, and at the end of the two years he should have had her re-examined. Those papers, no doubt, have been recorded, so as to insure this, but the registry of these papers was not in the Controller's power, and they did not stop in his department; witness knew there were grave defects in the registering of letters. These reports were exceedingly important. He had advised upon these points, but his advice had not been taken, and so there was very great difficulty in getting papers. All papers from every department of importance were, according to regulations, recorded and registered in one Record-office of the Admiralty, but other matters of lesser importance were kept in the Constructors' office. The Record-office of the Admiralty was under the Secretary of the Admiralty, but this was not under the jurisdiction of any particular Lord. He had earnestly urged that the papers of departments should be under the heads of departments, and this was the more necessary under the changes of 1869; but it had been decided to maintain the system of "general recording" of papers, in place of a departmental recording. There being no subdivision, it was necessary to send to the general Record-office when papers were wanted, and all the papers were called for on any matter. It would have been the Constructor's duty to recall, in two years from 1866, the condition of the Megaera at that date, but there was nothing to bring up that matter, the papers not being registered. There was in the Admiralty no system by which the previous reports of ships could be precisely brought up, but he had ordered and instituted a system of bookkeeping on ships, which, if properly done, would give a good idea of a ship's condition. There was no mention in the Megaera's book about the Spence's cement. There were 600 or 700 such books, and they should be posted up regularly. The book contained all the cost of the ship it referred to, and the numbers of the papers, so that they might be referred to. The advantage of the book was, it would show at a glance what cost had been incurred upon a ship from time to time, so that if the book showed that the ship had had much spent upon her within a limited time, attention would be roused, and the papers referred to. A perfect record of ships would be very valuable, but a very limited amount of clerical assistance was afforded in the Admiralty, and if more records were to be kept, a larger staff would be necessitated; but the book showed what papers would be required to be looked at, and gave more information than was had before. As to the necessity of an increased number of clerks in the Controller's department, the last year he had 70,000 letters, and 30 clerks and writers, but it was only at last that he had a chief clerk. The Constructors would not supervise the clerks, and the mere fact that there were 70,000 letters in a year to 30 clerks would give some idea of the work which his department had to do. It was true that many letters were matters of little or no importance; but at the same time, many were as large as pamphlets and had to be studied most carefully. The witness again referred to the letters he had written about the want of clerical assistance, and the special want of a chief clerk. This was in December, 1863. The answer was that "the Lords of the Admiralty were not prepared to make any alteration in the office of the Controller." He then went on to state that the Megaera was paid off in 1867, and when the list of defects came into his hands he wished to refer to her previous papers. The order to be paid off was that she was to be so "paid off all standing," for, if she did not want repair, she would be re-commissioned. He asked for information as to the thinness of the plates, having some idea that she was so reported, and the answer given from the "Ship Division" of the Admiralty was that there was no such report; but the information was accorded by Mr. Barnaby, who stated that Mr. Reed had examined the water-line plates in 1866 on their being considered to be thin. The Woolwich officers (the same who had made the report of the 1866 survey) reported that there was no such report.
Lord LAWRENCE remarked that it was most extraordinary that these Woolwich officers should have made such a report.
The witness said if this 1866 report had come to hand the action in regard to the ship might have been different from what it was. Then, although there was a letter from Commodore Edmonston at this date, there was what the witness called another "extraordinary lapse " about it, for although it came to the Admiralty, it never went to the Controller. The Commodore's communication went to the First Naval Lord, and it stated that the ship would require 1,500l. to be spent on her hull. This should have come to the Controller; but it never did through the fault of some clerk, and what came next was the amended (or reduced) estimate for making good defects for 12 months' service. If, the witness said, he had seen Commodore Edmonston's statement, he should certainly have hunted out the 1866 report.
Lord LAWRENCE said it was most remarkable that when he asked the Woolwich officers for the information they had acquired in 1866 they should have returned such answer; but it seemed as extraordinary that what the witness could recollect and Mr. Barnaby recollected did not make more impression.
The witness allowed that the remark was perfectly just, and he held that he was open to be questioned on the point; but as a matter of fact it never came into his mind. As to the general character of the ship, he had heard a very great deal of her since her loss, and he could hardly say what he had heard of her before, but he might, he thought, say he had heard she was not a comfortable troopship, and he should have been glad to have got rid of her years ago. The Megaera was again docked in December, 1869, when the two years had expired, but no reference was then made to the thickness of the waterline plates, held two years before to be necessary to be relaid. He could account for this only by the fact that the dockyard officers had the ship so often in their hands that they attached less importance to their own report, they seeing no defects in the plates referred to in the list of defects; but they should certainly have examined those plates under his order, and he could not but suppose it was done. With regard to the information not having gone to Sheerness as to the history of the ship, there were two faults - in that the Sheerness officers were in fault in not asking for it, and the Woolwich people as well, or the Controller's Department, were in fault in not supplying it, Taken to the Admiralty papers again, the witness stated that when the ship was at Sheerness, and the order came up from the dockyard in August, 1870, stating that the ship required to be docked and her bottom cleaned and coated, and also stating "her plates at the bottom are said to be very thin in many places," the order was at once sent to have the ship docked and examined. The dockyard officers were then fully empowered to examine the ship thoroughly, and they were there only to do their duty. They did not do this duty by examining the outside only on such a statement as this, for the statement of defect referred to the reported thinness of the plates, and the order sent the officers did not limit them in any way.
Lord LAWRENCE then read the evidence of Captain Luard, in which that officer stated that the examination of the ship was not a full one at the time referred to, as she had only served two years of her commission, and that the dockyard officers would not have been justified in making a full examination except under special instructions. His Lordship asked if the witness agreed with that statement of a dockyard officer's duties.
The witness said he did not agree with any part of Captain Luard's evidence, if applied to the list of defects of August, 1870. This list of defects stated that the bottom was to be examined, as some of the plates were "said to be very thin," and this was one of the defects reported; and when they reported the ship as "complete in every case, and fit for service at sea," they should certainly have fully satisfied themselves as to the condition of her bottom plates. In most emphatic terms the witness went on to say, on its being told him that Mr. Sturdy the master shipwright, had given a similar view of his duties, that it was quite impossible to accept any such idea of a dockyard official's duties and responsibilities, and that if he were in the Admiralty and any dockyard official had been proved to have acted thus he should not have accepted the excuse, but should have advised his dismissal from the service. Most distinctly it was not the duty of dockyard officials to go hunting for defects on a ship in commission; but they must be certain that when a ship was certified under their hands as "complete and ready for sea," they were responsible for the condition of the ship in every way. Then, too, Captain Luard, as the captain-superintendent of the yard, was supposed to be the Controllers eye at Sheerness, and he should have corrected any error the dockyard officials made, and he should have seen and reported that the dockyard officers had not examined the ship in the inside; but if the dockyard officers did not do their duty, and if the Controller's eye there did not see that those plates were examined, then the Controller himself could not know the true condition of the ship. If he had had that 1866 report, and if he had had his attention drawn to the fact of her running on like this, he should not have allowed her to have gone this long voyage without making a reference to Mr. Reed as to what had been done with her.
The witness was then taken to another interesting point in the history of the Megaera, the manner in which she came subsequently to be selected for the Australian voyage. The Admiralty, he said, resolved to pay off the Megaera in August, 1870, as an "extravagant vessel." There had been a correspondence between Captain Lord John Hay, the Junior Lord, and the Director of Transports, and between Lord John Hay and Sir Sidney Dacres, This was up to the 2d of August, when it had been resolved to pay the ship off; and on the 3d witness received a list of defects and the statement that the ship was in dock from Mr. Morgan. On finding the ship to be in dock, at which he was much astonished, he approved the small defects being repaired, for he was desirous of the work going on and also of keeping up the harmony of the departments, but he resolved to speak to Sir Sidney Dacres about the interference with the work of his department. It would be remembered that it was just before this time that the First Lord had made his speech about the condition of the Navy, and witness, on the day after the first Lord made that speech, told him that he had not given a correct representation of the facts and also told him the condition the Navy was really in. The Government then reversed the policy it had hitherto adopted up to that time, for up to then the dockyard artificers and labourers had been discharged, but on the 2d of August the Controller had a reversed programme put into his hands. The condition of affairs was most uncertain; there was a war raging on the Continent [the Franco-Prussian War], the awkward question of Belgium was in hand [Gladstone was negotiating a treaty with the two combatants that would allow Britain to intervene if either invaded that country], and altogether there was a disturbing state of things; and he had told Mr. Childers that the reductions he was making were practically peace reductions, and that the Navy was wholly unprepared for anything untoward which might arise. Then when the change came and pressure was put on, the Controller's time was fully taken up in getting the work done, and that caused him to neglect calling Sir Sydney Dacres' attention to what had been done with the Megaera without the Controller's orders. There were papers in the Admiralty which would confirm every word he said, for though the papers before the Commissioners gave some of the facts they did not give all, and they were so very badly arranged that he could only understand them, as laid before him and the Commissioners, by reading "between the lines." Between the 2d and the 10th of August he had a paper asking him what Reserve the ship should go into, and he said Fourth Division of the Steam Reserve, and he did so hoping she would not be required again. Shortly afterwards Lord John Hay asked if the Megaera could not do certain small services, and he got a telegram about her, and told Lord John that if he wanted the Megaera for any small service - meaning for a Cork or Channel Islands service - she could do it, and witness sent to Sheerness the order to keep her for a twelve month service. Lord John Hay had stated that he did not recollect speaking to witness, but witness had a positive recollection that Lord John did speak to him, and witness went to Sir Sydney Dacres, to whom, he spoke about it. Although witness had a right to order ships in commission to be repaired to the extent of 300l., he should not have sanctioned the expenditure of the 251l. without reference to Sir Sydney, only that he thought Sir Sydney had ordered the ship to be docked. Witness never knew of the suggestion of Admiral Mends that there was any "special reason" for keeping the Megaera in commission under the circumstances of her great cost; but there was a special want of such a vessel; he might say they were almost stuck fast;. at all events, there was inconvenience at not having a vessel in her place to carry bodies of men. It would have been a saving to the country if the ship had been got rid of a long time before, but there was the ship, and while she was there they had to fall back upon her. The service to Australia had been done the year before by the Donegal, and the Revenge had actually been prepared for the relief taken out by the Megaera, and he was much disappointed when the Megaera was selected against his advice. He did not think it advisable that relief crews should go out in merchant ships, for in going out in ships like the Revenge and the Donegal the crews could be disciplined and taught their duties on the way out, and men would not be under discipline as passengers on merchant ships, but freight was taken out cheaper by merchantmen than by warsmen. He then went on to explain about the classing of ship in the Reserve, and he declared that ships with defects were not classed in any division, but were under orders "to be prepared for Reserve." Dockyard officers, too, he said, were strictly enjoined not to make too favourable an impression as to ships' condition. Under all the orders the dockyard officers had, the Controller, he held, was quite justified in taking it that their duties were carried out. The witness was then examined on the report which came from Sheerness, when her than defects were made good, stating that the ship was ready for a twelvemonth's service, and that from "the known condition of the ship, after this short term of service, she shall undergo a thorough examination in dock." He had looked upon that report as one which gave the Admiralty an idea that the dockyard officers had examined her and knew her condition to be such as to be ready for sea service, for if they had thought her unfit in any way for service, they would not have reported her as for sea. A ship so reported as she was, he should take it, would be fit for any service during 12 months. This was his view, but others might not think with him. Coming to January, 1871, when the Megaera was selected, he took [no?] part in that selection other than in advising she should not be taken. He told Sir Sydney Dacres that he hoped the ship would not be taken. Some remark was made by Sydney about the cost, but none about her seaworthiness - there could be no doubt about that, seeing the papers Sir Sydney had in his hand at the time. Sir Sydney held that the Revenge would have been more expensive: it was not to be supposed that there was a regular disunion upon the matter. Sir Sydney came to his room, and said that he thought of sending the Megaera and witness, after saying what he had stated, sent a telegram to Sheerness regarding the ship being made ready for Australia. He was certainly of opinion that she was overloaded when she was sent from Sheerness, judging from the evidence given by the Queenstown officers, and he also strongly held that the Sheerness dockyard officers had been neglectful of their duty in sending out the ship as she was, for it had been given in evidence that her ports were rotten and had to be repaired at Queenstown. Under these circumstances, the ship should have been thoroughly examined, and he held that the action of sending the Megaera on her voyage to Australia was unjustifiable on the part of the Admiralty. He held, too, that the Sheerness officers having made the last examination of the ship should have reported on her having inaccessible places, and were to be held responsible for not doing so and for not examining those places. He also held them severally and collectively responsible for their signatures to the certificate regarding the completeness of the ship, and there could be, he said, no other interpretation of the Admiralty orders. He knew that this had been questioned; but he could bring paper after paper in proof of this having been pressed upon the dockyard officers; but, he added, until the dockyard management was got under one head there would always be some one omitting something because it did not exactly happen to be in his department.
The witness was questioned by Mr. BREWSTER upon the great want of a proper register in the Controller's Department, and the witness said that all papers which came to his department, if they were of any importance, were returned to the general secretary for registration; but he was not perfectly aware of the "system" carried on, but he believed this was the "system." Of course, the business of a department could not be carried on with an imperfect system of registration, and steps were taken with a view to remedy this; but although some improvements were made, the defects which he with others had endeavoured to remedy remained in a great part, Mr. Childers not accepting the propositions made. Every estimate of repairs of ships in commission of less than 100l. could be dealt with in the Constructors' Department, and witness dealt with all the estimates under 300l., but beyond that the estimates were referred to the Financial Secretary. It was not necessary that Mr. Baxter should have made any communication in regard to the estimate for the ship's repair for Mr. Morgan to have written to a dockyard, "the estimate appears to have been rather high," and was to be re-considered, Mr. Baxter made no communication which led to that. Witness did not exercise his power of spending 300l. without reference to his chief simply because he wished the work to go on harmoniously, and it might have seemed discourteous to Sir Sydney Dacres not to have consulted him.The witness was examined on many other points by Sir M. SEYMOUR and Sir FREDERICK ARROW, and his further examination was adjourned until Thursday.
|Fr 26 January 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
Yesterday the Royal Commission on the Megaera resumed its sittings in No. 11 Committee-room of the House of Commons, Lord Lawrence presiding. Evidence was taken on the occasion from competent witnesses relative to the past as well as the present system of Naval Administration. A very large audience, principally composed of eminent men in naval and governing circles, attended throughout the day.
Admiral Sir Spencer Robinson was re-called. Addressing Mr. Brewster, Sir Spenser referred to the questions asked on the previous occasion with regard to the clerical assistance in the Admiralty, and said that he was now ready to give the details concerning the staff at his command when he was in office.
Lord LAWRENCE said the questions should be asked the witness in due course, and if, at the end of the examination, there were matters which the witness should still like to state, he should have the opportunity of giving them in evidence.
Sir Spencer Robinson said he would avail himself of the offer, as there were two or three matters upon which he should desire to give explanations if they were not brought out in the course of his examination. In answer to Mr. ROTHERY the witness then gave some explanations with regard to the reduced estimates for the repair of the Megaera, and his explanations were to the effect that the estimates for the ship's repair were only reduced on two occasions by the action of his department, and in those reduced estimates, it was shown, nothing was taken off which related to the efficiency or seaworthiness of the vessel, but only what related to fittings and alterations suggested by the ship's officers and considered "trivial." Another estimate which was not carried out was not stopped by his department, but was stopped by Captain Luard. The witness was then taken by his examiner over the history of the vessel as shown in the official papers. The examination was not very clear, for the examiner and the witness dealt with the papers before them, and in many cases they only referred to the numbers of the letters, and not to the dates or to the plans referred to. The matters dealt with were generally abundantly gone into on the previous examination of the witness. In the course of answering questions the witness spoke of the great trust he placed in the opinion of Mr. Reed in regard to the matter related to him by Mr. Barnaby as to the thinness of the plates on the water-line not affecting the structural strength of the ship at the time he examined it - namely, 1866; and Mr. Reed's opinion was justified by what was shown at the wreck, for the water-line plates, even five years after, were no source or danger, No one in England, the witness said, that he knew, was so well qualified as Mr. Reed to speak upon iron ships, for that gentleman - a man of first-rate ability and genius - had devoted his mind to ascertain where the strain fell in iron vessels, and to all such questions. The witness was, in the course of his long examination, referred to the letter which Captain Sir John Hay wrote to Mr. Barnaby asking about the ship in the latter end of 1870, when Mr. Barnaby, who held the letter to be of a private character, only troubled himself to give the information at hand. The witness said that such communications as this were certainly of an official character, for two-thirds of the communications in the Government departments were carried on in that manner; and he said that if he had known of Sir John Hay's letter it would have struck him that Sir John had heard something which had raised his doubts about the ship. The witness was then taken to Captain Luard's evidence with regard to his conduct when the ship came into his hands in his double capacity of Superintendent of Sheerness Dockyard and Captain of the Steam Reserve. The witness said Captain Luard was mistaken by 18 months in stating that the Megaera had only run half her four years' commission, a reason he had given for not examining her thoroughly, and in justification of his reporting her fit for the first division of the Steam Reserve. The witness said Captain Luard was in error if he held that he should not have examined the vessel fully, for, undoubtedly, it was his duty to have seen that the ship was as he certified, and to have satisfied himself, both as Superintendent of the Dockyard and as Captain of the Steam Reserve. The evidence of Captain Luard was read in extenso, stating, in effect, that the duty of examining the ship did not rest at Sheerness, and the witness said that the whole of it was entirely incomprehensible to him; for there were instructions after instructions fixing the responsibility upon the dockyard officials of doing this duty. The laxity these officials at Sheerness had displayed, the witness said, was without example in the whole ten years' experience he had at the Admiralty. Their conduct was wholly culpable, and they must have seen they had committed a fault, and this being the case their evidence was wholly untrustworthy. What they had said as to their ideas of their duty should be received, he would not say cum grano salis [with a grain of salt], but he would use the stronger term of saying it could not be received at all. The witness was then taken over the evidence given of the Megaera's going into Queenstown after leaving Sheerness, and he read Admiralty orders to show that it would then have been the duty of the Admiral commanding at the station to have sent the ship to a yard, where she could have been thoroughly examined. The defects shown on this short portion of the ill-fated voyage were so grave, he said that the Admiralty should have ordered the ship to the nearest yard - to, say, Devonport, and there should have been an. officer from Sheerness yard and an officer from the Admiralty, and the whole ship should have been examined. He thought the defects shown at Queenstown to be existing were of a diameter to call out the gravest suspicions of the manner in which the Sheerness officers had discharged their duty in regard to the ship, and not only would the Admiralty have been justified in sending the ship to a port to be fully examined, but it was a duty to do this as a check upon the dockyard officers, and to prove to them that a failure in doing their duty in regard to a ship could be brought home to them. Moreover, he said, it was especially the duty of the Admiralty to have done this, seeing the large number of persons in the ship and the rotten condition or her ports as stated by the officers of the Queenstown station.
The witness was then examined on a matter which has cropped out in the course of the Commission - the "system" of the Admiralty. In answer to the examiner the witness said that in 1869 a committee was appointed to report upon the system of "registration" carried on in the Admiralty. The committee were himself, Mr. Vernon Lushington, and Mr. George Trevelyan. Mr. Vernon Lushington especially took great trouble in ascertaining what practice in regard to registering papers was carried on in other offices of the Government, the committee desiring to advise upon the adoption of a better system of registration than then existed. At the end of 1869 the committee reported that the existing system was such that documents of importance were lost sight of, and was most imperfect and defective, and he entirely disapproved it. He held that the documents relating to departments should be registered in those departments. The word "departments" brought up another class of questions, in which it was attempted to follow up the examination of Mr. Vernon Lushington, the Permanent Secretary, and to explain, what that gentleman's evidence did not make clear with reference to the "departments" in the Admiralty. The witness said his view was there were three great "divisions" in the Admiralty - namely, the "personal," the "material,'' and the "financial." He held that these were divisions, and not departments, and these "divisions," again, were subdivided. In explanation of Mr. Vernon Lushington's doubts as to the number of the branches or departments there were in the Admiralty, the witness adopted the words of his examiner, and said he did not think any one could say how many branches there were in the Admiralty offices, for in some cases a branch was subdivided. The report, he went on to say, made by the committee was only partly adopted in the Admiralty. It was adopted in witness's own department, but not without modification; but it was not carried out in other parts through the extreme opposition of the clerks in the several branches. Had it not been for this opposition he had no doubt it would have been approved altogether by Mr. Childers, who gave the committee to understand that he could not carry it out generally through the opposition of the staff. So far as the Megaera was concerned, he held that her loss was not connected with these changes not having been carried out. It would be hardly possible for a document concerning the ship to be lost sight of under this new system as was the case with the document of the ship's survey of 1866 under the old system (a matter of which much has been said during the inquiry), and there would be an extraordinary number of accidents occurring to render such a thing possible now, and he would certainly say that such a thing was less likely to occur now than before. The changes in the system which Mr. Childers found it possible to carry out in witness's department commenced in 1870, but they were not taken retrospectively, they only commenced with the registration of the communications from that time forth. The letters and papers which had been numbered and kept on the old plan - all departments in one department - were kept as they were, and these were not re-arranged.
Lord LAWRENCE here interposed a question, and suggested, if it had been determined at this time to re-arrange the papers, the Controller would have obtained the information in the Admiralty as to the past condition of the ship, and said he thought this should have been done, for that might have saved the ship, the witness having stated that a different course might have been adopted with the ship if these papers had been forthcoming.
The witness asked leave to read the report made by the committee, and this dealt at some length with the difficulties found to exist in the Admiralty in regard to the papers, and the advice given by the committee was, in short, that there should be a departmental assistant-secretary's registration of documents in each department, and the signing of papers left to the heads of those departments. It was not advised that the operation about the departmental registration of letters should be retrospective, for it was found that the needed reform would have stood less chance of being carried out if any retrospective registration had been advised. If that report was objected to, the proposal to have a retrospective registration would have stopped everything.
Mr. ROTHERY remarked that the question would then have arisen as to where the line should be drawn if they had proposed to go back.
Lord LAWRENCE said that, surely, common sense should have suggested that the line should not be drawn at the particular years when the reforms commenced, but to have been of practical value the registration should have gone back some 10 or 12 years. As a matter of fact, by the want of going back in this way, these valuable documents in reference to the past history of the Megaera had been lost sight of, and they might as well have been lost altogether, or have been at the bottom of the sea, for all the good they were in the Admiralty office, then in such a state of chaos that no one could make a reference to them.
The witness could hardly, he said, go with his Lordship in his remarks; for though it was only with great difficulty the documents could be referred to in the Admiralty, still they were there, and some very practical officials in the Admiralty still declared that the old system was an admirable and excellent system, Under these circumstances it would not have been advisable to propose that the new system should be retrospective.
Lord LAWRENCE replied that, taking the witness's own description of the matter, the documents, as they were registered under the old systems were of little use, and by not adopting a retrospective registration of these documents the witness had deprived himself of the use of papers recording matters of importance, and these might have been used to the advantage of the Megaera in 1870.
The witness, however, still held that the best course had been adopted to remedy defects in the system, so far as that course had been adopted. If the committee had advised that the registration should be retrospective, they would have deprived themselves altogether of this plan, even so far as it was taken.
In continuance of his examination by Mr. ROTHERY, the witness said that so far as Mr. Childers had carried out the changes he deserved very great credit. The fact that Mr. Vernon Lushington would at about 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon, have a number of letters brought him to him, with the papers relating to them, was a part of the system which was not changed. In witness's opinion, there would never be good administration at the Admiralty until the departmental system was brought about, in which the chiefs of departments signed their own letters and had an assistant secretary.
In reply to Lord LAWRENCE, the witness said the system now carried out at the Admiralty was that the chief of a department "minuted" a letter; the letter was taken away and an answer written; but the answer did not come back to the chief of a department to sign, and that chief might really not know what answer was sent out, or whether any was sent. He considered that system was a bad one.
Sir FREDERICK ARROW said, in fact, the witness recommended the system carried out in the Board of Trade, a system which had been organized about four or five years, and to his knowledge worked very well.
The witness, in answer to several questions put by the Commissioners generally, said that Captain Luard was an officer in whom he had great confidence, and should still have confidence, notwithstanding the error ho believed he had committed in regard to the Megaera. The dockyard officers, he maintained, should have examined the ship when they were instructed to do so, and if there were inaccessible places they should either have made those places accessible or have reported the fact of there being such parts. Then, too, the chief engineer and the master shipwright of a dockyard were responsible for a certificate under their hands of a ship's being "complete" and "fit for sea," and they were responsible for this certificate being a fact and not a sham.
The witness was then thanked for his evidence.
Mr. William Edward Baxter, M.P., the late Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, was then called. Examined by Lord LAWRENCE, he said he was appointed to his office in 1868, but he did not, in consequence of illness, come to London. until 1869, and he acted in the position until 1871. He had control at the Admiralty, subject to the supervision of the First Civil Lord, of all matters which affected the finances of the Admiralty, and he also took in charge all matters of sales and purchases, for which he was responsible in his place in the House of Commons. In point of fact, he said, he had the general supervision of all matters which involved expenditure, but he had nothing to do with the general working of the Admiralty secretariat. He had nothing to do with receiving or sending out letters. The superintendent of contracts, an officer in his department, wrote letters and signed them himself, without reference to the permanent secretary, as was done in the Controller's department, the Victualling department, and others; but "general" letters were opened by the "reader" in the general secretary's department. If a letter intended for one of the other departments happened to be opened in the secretary's department it should be sent to the department for which it was intended. The general secretary had very important duties in having to take a general supervision of the Admiralty offices, and see that the clerical work was carried out, also to see that all papers were sent to the general record office to be recorded. The witness held that the superintendent of contracts was not a sort of assistant secretary, though he did send out letters signed by him on behalf of the department. The witness had explained to him the proposed reforms in the registration of letters by departments, as suggested by Sir Spencer Robinson's Committee; but he, on his part, held that the "general recording" was far superior to the "departmental," for the old system was one which caused very few complaints, and such cases of failure "would arise in every well-regulated family," and were not the fault of the "system," The examiner then drew the witness's attention to the repeated cases of failure of registering matters of the most vital importance in the history of the Megaera, matters which, if seen at proper time, would have saved her from being sent on this voyage, but he could not see that a departmental officer would have been more likely to bring such a matter to light than the general recording officer, nor could he recommend any better system than the one now carried out. It was then pointed out to him that the Admiralty had been sub-divided, and he was asked if he did not think a departmental secretariat was required. In answer to this he expressed himself as not competent to give an opinion, and added that he was not aware of any difficulty arising in the present working. He owned that he believed there was an advantage in the sub-division of labour, such as that indicated by the Admiralty being divided into three; and the First Civil Lord, he said, took no division to himself, but held a general supervision. The witness said he never dreamt of interfering with the estimates for the repair of ships, except that he should go and see the Controller if it should be proposed to repair an old ship, say at the cost of 20,000l.; but in the case of ordinary repairs he never thought of disturbing the judgment of officers who had to perform the duty of making the estimates. He was never consulted with reference to the sending to the dockyard to "reconsider" estimates, nor with regard to recommissioning her. He then said he should like to read an extract from a letter from Mr. Childers defining his duty. This letter was sent to him before he took the post, and the extract he read said the Financial Secretary would have under him all matters relating to the finances of the department, and all matters of charge would be dealt with by him in conjunction with the First Lord, the Controller, and the Contract Office. On the first interview witness had with Mr. Childers he cautioned him against interfering with the movements of ships and the personnel of the Navy. All the time witness was in his position he acted, he said, most strictly on these instructions. When the ship was at Queenstown Mr. Childers was away, and the question about the ship was asked in the House of Commons. The question he answered, and that answer came from Sir Sidney Dacres. Witness was not consulted about the ship being detained or going on, and he should have considered it a most presumptuous act on his part if he had offered any suggestions on the matter. When asked if he could offer any suggestions on the reform of the Admiralty, he said he could not; that was a subject he would leave to others of greater experience.
In reply to Mr. BREWSTER the witness said all he did with regard to the Megaera was answering the questions in the House of Commons. Not only was that answer supplied to him, but Admiral Elliot called upon him and strongly represented that the ship was all right. In regard to his Admiralty duties he had nothing to do with the "fighting part of the concern," and he desired to add that besides being responsible for getting material for the Navy he had much of his time taken up by superintending the changes introduced by Mr. Childers, and this would have precluded him from doing anything with regard to commissioning ships.
In reply to Sir M. SEYMOUR the witness said he thought that no suggestion for the sale of the Megaera was ever brought before him, and in answer to Sir FREDERICK ARROW he said he had never "stopped the supplies" on any occasion, though he had the power to do so, and he had not interfered with the supplies for the Megaera's repair.
The examination by Mr. CHAPMAN touched another subject - the offices and officers in the Royal dockyards. The witness said he did not think the officers were overpaid, but rather under than over. He thought, however, there were too many officers in the yards. He thought it would be advantageous for Her Majesty's service if in the yards where iron ships were built and repaired there presided a gentleman conversant with iron shipbuilding, and with him witness would associate a naval assessor. In a matter of difference of opinion reference should be made to the Admiralty. It was all very well to have a master shipwright at the head of a yard where wooden ships were built, but now that naval architecture was changing day by day he held that it was a matter of the highest importance that a gentleman of ability conversant with iron shipbuilding should be at the head of every yard. Asked if he did not think one such superintendent might be spread over two or three yards, the witness replied that that would be according to the work to be done. As to this officer being a naval officer, he said he would not say it was impossible for a naval officer to become a superintending iron shipwright, seeing the amount of practical knowledge acquired, for instance, by Admiral Sir Spencer Robinson, but he thought the position he indicated should be a civil one for a gentleman of attainments on matters connected with iron shipbuilding.
Admiral Milne, who was senior Naval Lord from July, 1866, until December, 1868, was then called and examined by Lord LAWRENCE. He said be took office when the Megaera was docked at Woolwich, and received the alternative estimates for her repair. The smaller estimate for the repair of the Megaera was adopted on the advice of the Controller, who was the responsible officer. When a ship was put into the dockyard officer's hands they were bound to look out for all defects on the ship being paid off, but they should only look for reported defects when she was on commission, she being "warranted" for a certain time on being prepared for that commission. He held that Captain Luard was not justified in recommending that the Megaera should be posted in the first division of the Steam Reserve under the circumstances already known, when she had been ordered to be prepared for the fourth division, until the ship had been properly and fully examined. Witness ordered the Megaera to be laid off in 1867 to be re-commissioned because she had been carrying to Ascension and other places with a captain and three lieutenants, and he thought she should only have a post captain. She was an expensive vessel, but still it would not have been well to have had her work done by merchants, considering that the duty she had to do - to bring home from Rio and other places supernumeraries, invalids, and officers - could be best done under commission, and these should be carried only under pennant. The witness was then examined on the subject of Admiralty administration. Asked whether he thought the Admiralty system a good one - that under which he served formerly - he said he had no reason to find fault with the way in which the work was done. The Lords used to meet at the Board table with the officers every day except Saturday, and missing, too, sometimes, Thursday. The change made in 1859 by the Duke of Somerset was one principally giving increased powers to the Controller of the Navy, who previous to that time had held the title of Surveyor. The change witness thought was a good one, for previous to 1859 the Controller had to make "submissions" to the Lords with regard to the dockyards, but after that time he dealt with them directly. Then, too, the Board business was done so promptly that every letter received was answered the same day. The routine of the office was that letters were opened at half-past 8, and each department's letters were placed in a basket for the superintending Lord having charge of the department. The Lords came at 10 o'clock, minuted the unimportant letters, and handed these to their clerks. At 12 o'clock the Board met, when the more important letters were brought forward, so that not only did the Civil and Naval Lords hear all the business transacted, but the Secretary knew all that was done. When the important documents were minuted according to the Board's views they were taken to the General Record Office to be registered.
The witness held that the General Registry Office had its advantages under this system, and he thought the proposed new system was disadvantageous, as it would be hard to distinguish what was properly departmental and what not.
In answer to Mr. BREWSTER, the witness said there was no inconvenience arising from the Board meetings. The First Lord was held, as representing the Government, to have an excess of power; but witness, in the whole course of 14 years' experience, never knew of any difficulty arising from the First Lord desiring to carry out his own opinions. There were very great advantages from these Board meetings, for every one present - the Civil and Naval Lords and the two Secretaries - in having matters practically dealt with. He believed that the English people placed great trust in such a system, from knowing that the business was supervised by well-skilled naval officers, and he was of opinion that where the First Lord did not thus call Board meetings difficulties were likely to arise, and the public confidence would be shaken in the system. The witness owned he felt very strongly upon the point, and he concurred in the opinion of his examiner, that a First Lord could not gather so much experience of the business if there were no Board meetings as he could by attending them and hearing the opinions of practical men on practical measures. He recognized under the Admiralty system as he left it no practical difficulty in working, for then there were officers for every detailed work, there was the Storekeeper-General, the Accountant-General, the Surveyor of the Navy, the Controller of Victualling, the Director of the Medical Department, and the Director of the Transport Department. These services were well superintended, as he well knew, for he had been at the head of two, and he believed the matters of naval control could never be carried out except by a body of naval officers, and the system which attempted to grasp all matters of detail would be sure to bring confusion, and perhaps disaster.
In answer to Sir F. ARROW, the witness said that in the former days the First Lord sat as one of the Board, and if any matter had been put to the vote he could have been outvoted. He was not then regarded as having absolute power over the administration of the Admiralty, but as sharing that power with his colleagues under the patent. No vote was ever now taken on any question.The Commissioners then adjourned until this morning.
|Sa 27 January 1872|
THE MEGAERA COMMISSION.
Yesterday the past and present administrative system of the Admiralty was again brought under review before the Royal Commissioners sitting to enquire into the circumstances of Her Majesty's ship Megaera being sent on the voyage which ended in her wreck. Lord Lawrence presided, and the Committee-room of the House of Commons, where the inquiry was held, was filled throughout the day by an audience largely composed of well-known authorities on naval matters.
Admiral Sir John Hay, C.B., M.P., was the first witness called on this occasion and examined by Lord LAWRENCE. He stated he was in office as Fourth Sea Lord from the 16th of July, 1866, until the 21st of December, 1868, a time during which there were successively two First Civil Lords, Sir John Pakington and Mr. Corry, Asked as to his duties he handed in a paper, and said his duties were defined in a return made to the House of Commons, on the duties of Lords in the Admiralty on the 16th of March, 1869. One of his duties was that he was Superintending Lord of the Victualling Department, an office under a director; then he was also Superintending Lord of the Store Department, which was under a director. He took charge, too, of the Gunnery Department, over which it was found when the Administration of Lord Derby took office there was no principal officer, but it was under the general charge of the First Sea Lord. Admiral Key was given the charge of that department, and witness held the superintending of it from shortly after he came into office. Then the transport service and emigration ships and the convict service had also to be arranged by him. The appointment of paymasters and assistant paymasters, clerks and assistant clerks, rested upon him, for he had to make recommendations upon them to the First Lord. There were other matters which came under his cognizance as well as experiments, with the exception of those in the steam department, then the salvage of naval stores, and matters about ships' libraries. He had nothing to do with the selection and commissioning of ships, but he was cognizant of what was done in those matters after they had been arranged by the First Sea Lord, then Admiral Sir Alexander Milne, with the Controller. He had knowledge of these matters as being part of the Board, and hearing all matters brought daily to the Board, where his colleagues heard his business and he heard theirs. Witness was not, as Fourth Sea Lord, in direct communication, with the Controller, but only in communication with him as a member of the Board. The witness was asked with reference to his knowledge of the Megaera on coming into office, and he replied by saying that he could best state this by showing the circumstances under which he took office. He believed he did not discharge precisely the duties which were discharged by his predecessor, Captain Lord John Hay, who also had charge of the Hospitals and Medical Department; but when witness came into office that duty was taken over by his late friend, Admiral Seymour. Sir John Pakington took witness to Somerset House and introduced him to the heads of the Department, and they gave him information about the troop and store-ships. The work for these ships was arranged by Mr. Macgregor, who had been Lord John Hay's private secretary, and filled the same position to witness. Mr. Macgregor prepared a "skeleton service" at the end of the year for the next year, regarding the movements of ships and stores in ships kept in commission. By this "skeleton," unless some changes were made, those in the office would know throughout the year where each ship was, and. what her service was. This "skeleton" was given to the Director of Transports, and he then arranged with the Horse Guards what troop-ships should be hired for the year, and it would also then be arranged what would be done in regard to the moving of freight by general service after seeing what could be done by Her Majesty's ships. In the list furnished for 1867-8 the Megaera's name occurred, and Lord John Hay told him what Admiral Mends had reported, that the Megaera was an expensive and costly ship for transport service. That was all the knowledge he had of her on coming into office. He found she was in commission in 1865, but he had no knowledge of her sea-going qualities. He knew there was a report from Admiral Sir William Mends that the ship was not, so far as comfort was concerned, a good ship for transport service, and also that she was not, on account of her cost, a good ship for carrying stores. Asked by the examiner if, bearing in mind these facts regarding her, it would not have been well to have got rid of the Megaera and had the service performed otherwise, the witness said he was not sufficiently well informed to answer the question with authority on all points, but it was to be remembered that at the time the country was not very well off for ships for such work as the Megaera did. The dockyards were busy with the ironclads, and, moreover, the estimates were full, owing to the cost of carrying on the work of completing the ironclad navy. This, therefore, would not have been a good time to have proposed building another ship. As to there being any other ship which could have done the Megaera's work he knew of no other which was lying idle at that time to have replaced her. Then, too, there were special reasons why the Megaera should do the work to which she was put, instead of taking that work to be performed in some other way, for she went to Ascension to bring people who should be under pennant, and she had also to go to Rio Janeiro, when the charges for any other than a ship under pennant were at that time almost prohibitory. Whatever might be the question of cheapness to have replaced her by building another ship, there was first the difficulty of getting the money, and then the difficulty of finding room in the dockyards, which were then very busy. He thought the difficulty would have been very great in obtaining the money from the House of Commons to build a ship of a class of which they already possessed one.
Lord LAWRENCE asked if the fact of its being understood that the Megaera was not a useful ship, and that she was not, in the broad sense of the term, an "economical" ship, would not have been accepted as sufficient reasons for supplying another ship in her place.
The witness replied that these facts would not have altered the circumstances; for, as Sir John Pakington and Mr. Corry could affirm, there was the greatest difficulty in obtaining the money necessary, as they believed, for the defence of the country. The subject of the alternative estimates for the repair of the Megaera in 1866 was referred to, but the witness said these did not come before him. After that he ordered her to be paid off from her full complement, and reduced in staff, but that was after a personal visit to her by Admiral Milne, and, on his request, he thinking she should not have a captain and three lieutenants for the work she did. He had no thought or doubt as to her further employment; and words he had used in a despatch, "If she is employed on such service," having reference not to the expediency of her being employed but to whether Sir Alexander would employ on her a Staff Commander. No question came before witness as to the thinness of the Megaera's plates in 1867, nor before the Board of Admiralty - not, at all events, in the ordinary course, for the Controller would have communicated any such thing to the First Lord, and then it would have come before the Board.
Lord LAWRENCE said it seemed to him that if the subject of the Megaera being employed had been mentioned before the Lords, they must have searched back into the papers and estimates to see what account of the ship was there, and then they must have been informed of the thinness of the plates in 1866, and this would then have been borne in mind.
The witness replied that he had no special information regarding the ship, and he believed Sir Spencer Robinson to have been in possession of all such information.
Lord LAWRENCE pressed the witness to answer whether he did not think the information in the survey of 1866, as to the thinness of the Megaera's plates, ought to have been brought before the Board before they decided the service she should go on, or what should be done to her.
The witness replied that for his own part he believed that if it had not been for the fire which occurred on board the Megaera in 1870 she would have been afloat now.
The mention of this matter occasioned some surprise, for it has not been touched upon before, but Lord LAWRENCE said that might be spoken to presently; but he wanted to know whether, when ships were to be recommissioned, the Lords should be informed of the ships' condition. The witness replied that he did think so, and it was the Controller's duty to furnish that information. So far as his experience went, the Board would accept the Controller's opinion upon ships, but he said this without having had the experience gained by being a First Naval Lord. The First Lord had a list of ships before him and a statement of their condition, and he would, if he heard from the Controller that the ship was in the condition she was represented to be in, state to the Board that it was intended to commission such and such a ship for such and such a service; and if the members of the Board made no objection, the secretary would make the required minute, upon which the order would go commissioning the ship. But if the Controller knew of anything doubtful about the ship he would mention it; but unless something doubtful was known about it, the Lords present would accept the seaworthiness of the ship as being in the Controller's return.
The witness then entered upon the matter which he was anxious to state before - the affair of the alleged fire in the Megaera in 1870. This had reference to what was termed by his examiner "the heat of the coal in the bunker." The witness said he would relate facts. The present Administration made considerable changes in the supply of coal when it came into power. Sir John Pakington had resolved that smokeless coal only should be used in the ships in the Royal Navy, and bituminous should be used in the factories. This was reversed by Mr. Childers. Witness had consulted the late Sir Roderick Murchison and Dr. Percy, of the School of Mines, who were possessed of much information with regard to the geological character of the coalfields, and witness had acquired the information as to the fields which gave off coals with a large amount of sulphur, and one colliery was reported as supplying a coal of a very fiery nature to the Admiralty in 1870, and a great deal of that was sent to Sheerness, and some put on the Megaera. A portion of it was consumed, but about 120 or 130 tons was left at the bottom of her bunkers when she coaled at St. Vincent in that year. He was told that the fire was of a very fierce nature, that it scaled off the paint, and the question which he asked of Mr. Baxter, as the Commissioners could see by Hansard, had referred to the quality of coal, and not to the nature of the damage done to the ship. His idea was that that fire might have melted the cement, and might be accountable for the damage which all now regretted. The fact of the fire and the use of coal of this character were not denied.
Lord LAWRENCE said that from what was in the Admiralty papers before him it seemed that there was a great heat, but that no actual fire broke out.
The witness said it was so reported to him, but his view still was that the heat might have melted or have destroyed the cement. Reference was then made to the official papers regarding this fire, and it was questioned whether the occurrence was in the starboard or in the port bunker, but it was proved to have been in both, and so was immediately over the leak, which was on the port side. The heat was stated to have been 132 and then 145, and the witness suggested that the heat beneath, the bunker, being in a confined place and conducted by the iron plate, might have been greater.
Examined as to the system under which the Admiralty worked, the witness was asked if he thought the system under which instructions were given to the dockyards was capable of improvement, and he replied that, speaking for the system which he saw in working when in office though it might seem clumsy, it was admirably suited for its purpose. The Lords met five days a week and they and their chief officers knew at each sitting everything which went on with regard to Her Majesty's service in every part of the world; and all the business of the dockyards was brought forward and settled. It was then put to him to answer how it was there were so many slips in regard to the Megaera in regard to the 1866 report not being known as to the thinness of her plates; then as to the experiment with Spence's cement not being reported or noticed from the time it was put into her; then as to no steps being taken to give her history to the Sheerness officers when she was taken there for repair, and on Captain Luard's reporting her for the first division of the Steam Reserve, that report being taken without any reference being made as to her services and necessities. These, the examiner said, were serious mistakes, and these having been made in reference to the Megaera, it became a question how far similar mistakes had been made with regard to other ships. The witness, in answer, said there did appear to have been some mistake regarding Spence's cement, but Sir Spencer Robinson had given information how these mistakes had arisen, and they might have occurred under any system. As to the system being defective which would allow of so many consecutive mistakes, - well, he considered the account kept in the ship's book should have been well kept up. He acknowledged that it seemed that this had not been kept up, but the head officials, even Mr. Corry, had told him he believed this account of the ship's history was kept posted up, but he thought that if the Commissioners would take ten other books of ships it would be found that this was not a general occurrence.
Lord LAWRENCE said he took these instances to show that the system of the Admiralty, though it might seem to work well, had great latent defects, and it was evident that whoever had to make up this book of the Megaera had not written up the history at all, for if the book had recorded one of the facts left out the ship might not have been lost, for her defects would have been seen. Now, this being so, he asked the witness what system be thought the better for the country - the present one carried out, or the one carried out by the late Administration.
The witness replied that he held the system which formerly prevailed to be far superior to the one now adopted. In the one under which he served there was power of discussion among the Lords on any subject brought before them. Information was given one to another, and opinions were so freely exchanged among the Sea Lords that the First Lord could form a judgment of his own upon every matter which came before the Board. Such a system as that must be better than a system where the First Lord could only hear one opinion at a time, as was the case, he understood, in the system now adopted.
In reply to further questions from Lord LAWRENCE,
The witness was questioned at some length as to the possibility of the Board being able to discuss and discharge its business in two hours or an hour and a half a day in this way, and he declared that it was possible, for only important matters were discussed, the others having been arranged and taken as a matter of course.
Lord LAWRENCE differed in opinion from the witness as to the advantages of the system he had described.
The examiner then remarked that these questions did not bear on the inquiry, but they had cropped up, and it appeared to him they could not be passed by sub silentio [in silence; without formal notice being taken], but that they should be gone into to a certain extent. As the witness had spoken of the old system, perhaps, the examiner said, he would favour them with his views on the subdivision system now carried out. The witness said he had had no experience of it, but, pressed upon the point, he said, as a matter of opinion, he thought it far more advisable that the Lords should give their minds to the management of the fleets of England, and to the policy of the nation, than that they should encumber them with every minute detail. He was, of course, assuming that the present Lords did not meet as a Board, and he found warrant for that assumption on the evidence taken before the Duke of Somerset's Committee, where a member of the present Administration said there were, as a matter of fact, no meeting; and, he added, the matters which the Admiralty administered so overlapped that the details could not be properly carried out except by Board meetings. He still held that the system of giving opinions to the First Lord separately, and not in collision, would not work so well for the service as the Board's expression of opinions. In regard to the registration of documents, he held that the general registering carried out by Mr. Romaine was far superior to any departmental registration. The system which was in use when he was there was very complete. The staff in the Record-office should be increased, but still that was a far superior system to any departmental system which could be devised. One difficulty of making a departmental registration was that it would be very hard to apportion the letters to departments, for some of the letters referred to several matters, and while it was easy to register such letters in the general Record-office, it could not be said to which of the other departments they should go for registration if the departmental system should be adopted. It might be Sir Spencer Robinson's opinion that the departmental system would be better, but though he had a great respect for Sir Spencer as a most able man he could not adopt his view in this particular.
The witness was questioned by Mr. BREWSTER regarding the alleged fire on the Megaera, and the examiner pointed out that the cement was put on wet and not hot, and, therefore, that the heat would not melt it. The witness said it was a theory which had been raised by the information given to him, and if there were heat sufficient it appeared to him to be reasonable that the cement could have been thus flaked off. The examiner pointed out that the bottom of the bunker was not burnt, and then that there was a plate between the wood and the cement; but the witness held that so great a heat might hare been engendered as to have caused the flaking off of the cement.
In answer to Sir M. SEYMOUR, the witness said that in his time it was always before the minds of the Lords that they could have a cheaper ship, and it was most desirable to employ the Megaera for freight to Rio Janeiro, as freight carried under pennant did not have to meet the almost prohibitory dues then levied by the Brazilian Government on freight in merchant bottoms, and, besides, the Megaera used to bring home supernumeraries and soldiers, whom it was necessary to keep under discipline, and, therefore, to bring home on a man-of-war. These were the reasons why the Megaera was employed, and the subject of her cost as a freight-carrying ship was also taken into consideration. He was then questioned as to the sale of surplus stores carried on of late years, and the witness agreed that such a course was very unwise for a country placed like England; for she might, he said, need a large amount of stores at a very short notice. Referred to the use of smokeless coal, the witness agreed that the use of bituminous coal in steamships of war would be a most advisable course to favour an enemy, as it would be impossible for a fleet burning such coal to see the signals, and, moreover, the smoke would soon telegraph to the enemy as to the position and neighbourhood of our fleet. This was pressed upon his notice by the fact that a slaver was actually able to elude a cruiser which burnt bituminous coal. On this coming to the notice of the Administration it was resolved, at a great Parliamentary risk, for many of their Parliamentary friends represented bituminous coalfields, that smokeless coal should be used in the ships. That was done through all Lord Derby's Administration. This was one of the first things reversed by Mr. Childers when he came into office. The use of bituminous coal would damage the furnaces of the ships, too, from the want of experience of the coal.
In reply to Mr. ROTHERY, the witness said he should not have used the Megaera for the service on which she was last sent, for, though she was called a good boat, her history showed she could not scud before a gale, and yet she was sent round the Capes. He would not have employed her, however good her plates might have been, for her logs showed she steered wildly in running on a head sea.
Admiral Sir Sidney Dacres, the present First Naval Lord of the Admiralty, stated in examination by Lord LAWRENCE, that he had been in his position since December, 1868. He was responsible for the selection of ships for particular services, and though he might make this upon his own responsibility, he generally consulted the Controller. The Controller was responsible for the repair of ships, and if witness selected a ship he should rely for her condition in the matter of repair upon the Controller's Department, but as for the fitness he should trust to his own knowledge for that or to the knowledge of the officers with him. He was once on the Megaera, but he know nothing about her build or repairs. The question of her repairs came before him immediately on his taking office in regard to the question of finance. As to her transfer from Woolwich to Sheerness in 1870, he should have thought her papers should have gone with her from the Controller's Department, especially as at the time the officers of Woolwich were dispersed; but at the same time it was incumbent upon the Superintendent at Sheerness, before he reported the ship for the first division, to have obtained information about her. He never heard any thing to create suspicion about the ship's efficiency. He held that under the orders sent to Sheerness the dockyard officers ought to have examined her interior plates and to have satisfied themselves as to her condition. The witness read a letter from Captain Luard, saying that he was not at Sheerness in April, 1870, and was, therefore, not responsible for what was then done, and to this Lord Lawrence said he was there in August of that year and sent the telegram reporting the ship seaworthy and complete at that time, and the witness allowed that these points were beyond doubt. The witness said the grounds upon which he had formed the opinion that the Megaera was a most extravagant vessel were that he could get her freight - she could carry 470 tons - carried for 1,000l., and the Megaera cost double that money to carry it, besides the wear and tear. He could not employ her at double the cost, and he would not embark soldiers in her, for she was not fit for a troopship, and, but for sending her trips to Rio and such like service, he would not have kept her in commission. When the ship was reported to him from Sheerness as "complete and fit for sea" the officers of the dockyard should certainly have known her condition. Before he selected the Megaera for the voyage to Australia he went to Sir Spencer Robinson and asked him if the Megaera was fitted for the voyage. Sir Spencer made no technical objection to the employment of the Megaera, and the mere fact that he himself sent a telegram asking if the ship was ready showed that he raised no objection. The evidence of Sir S. Robinson on this matter was read, and the witness differed as to the statements with regard to this interview. Witness said Sir Spencer spoke about the Revenge being sent, but this was at a time when there was war on the Continent and the Belgian question was cropping up, and therefore it was not likely that he should send a ship out with 400 men to look after 300 without knowing, too, when to expect them back. The Revenge had taken out 1,100 man, and later 800 or 900, and he was not going to send her out with 300. With regard to the stores, they were sent on the report of Admiral Eliot; but there should have been no more stores than could have been carried in her bottom without encumbering her decks. Certainly the defects found at Queenstown should never have been left at Sheerness, and he thought, too, that all inaccessible places should have been opened by the officials at Sheerness.
Lord LAWRENCE then said that perhaps the witness would like to give his views as to the past and present system of Admiralty administration.
The witness said he did not like it much (a laugh); but, of course, he would answer any question put to him. In answer to further questions, in which he was asked to compare the system just adopted with that which it preceded, he said the part he felt the administration to be wanting in was the necessity of there being first-rate naval assistance in the Admiralty - an assistance which the last Order in Council destroyed. As to there being three "divisions," there was only another officer and himself, Admiral Tarlton. There was the Controller, certainly; but he might be a civilian, and although he was not, still he was not a responsible officer to be consulted, for he could turn round and say it was not his duty to be consulted, and that virtually threw all the responsibility upon the First Lord's shoulders. The Controller had quite enough to do of his own work. In the old system every Lord had a department to manage, and all relating to that department was brought before the Board as a whole; but now it was taken to the First Lord. Formerly when witness had something which he was not quite "up to" he took it to the Board, and then three or four able Naval Lords and two or three able civilians would give their opinions upon it, and the Board would come to an agreement upon it which was regarded as unanimous; hut this was gone now. The only questions which really came on for discussion, he believed, were such questions as Lords felt they could not grapple with by themselves, and all knew what was done. The great loss now to the service was that subjects were not known to the officers in the Admiralty as to how they were settled, and he was fully of opinion that the "consultative" principle was not so good as having a deliberative Board. With that deliberative Board there would not be the dissensions there were from the conversations which now arose. The Admiralty Board had a meeting now and then, but very rarely.
Lord LAWKENCE asked if the present system did not necessitate a more careful selection of individuals who composed the Admiralty.
The witness said that for one who occupied his position this was an awkward question to answer, but he might answer it by saying that the Navy did not like to be governed by Sir Sidney Dacres as they would be by four responsible officers.
The system of registration was spoken upon, and the witness gave his voice in favour of the general recording carried out before, and he said that since the Board had been centralized there were more papers in a day than there were before in three months. Now, he said, they were "always losing papers."
The witness answered a few questions on general points put by some of the other Commissioners, and then retired.
James Burnett, a ship's carpenter, borne on the books of the Mersey, gave evidence as to all the parts of the Megaera requiring to be seen to when the ship came to Queenstown. He said the ports must have been defective when the ship left Sheerness.
Captain Thrupp was re-called to give an opinion as to whether the ship grounded upon her anchors when off the Island of St. Vincent. He said this was impossible, and he demonstrated the truth of his statement by reference to facts stated in the ship's log. In answer to other questions he said he was certain as to the existence of the horizontal plate under the bunker, and the perpendicular plate could have existed, though he did not know of it.The Commissioners then rose until to-day.
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