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The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871
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113. Whilst concurring generally in the above Report, it is with much regret that I find myself compelled to differ from my Colleagues on one point, perhaps the most important of all, namely, the degree of responsibility which attaches to the several persons principally concerned. It appears to me that the Report errs in throwing the chief responsibility for the loss of this vessel upon the Controller and his Department, and thus unduly sheltering the Dockyard Officials, and especially the Sheerness Officers, with whom in my opinion the blame of this misfortune principally rests. Accepting, as I do, with some modifications, which I will presently point out, the general statement of the case, I venture to think that it does not warrant the Conclusions, at which the Commissioners have arrived, and that I shall be able to show that it does not by a reference to the Report itself.
SIR SPENCER ROBINSON.
114. The grounds, on which it. is sought to fix the principal responsibility for the loss of this vessel on Sir Spencer Robinson, are, (1) that "practically he had the power of controlling the operations carried on in Her Majesty's Dockyards, the Superintendents and Dockyard Officers being subject to his orders;" and (2) "that the Constructor's Department was also under his direction."
115. So far, indeed, as his own and the Chief Constructor's Departments are concerned, Sir Spencer Robinson has accepted the responsibility in its fullest and most complete sense. He has said: "The Controller, being the head of the Constructor's Department, is responsible for everything that passes in that Department." . ..."I was the head of that Department, and responsible for everything done in that Department, I mean responsible in this sense, that if the instructions which I give are not sufficient, or if the instructions I give are attended to, I consider that I am entirely responsible for the work."
116. But as regards the Dockyards, the case is somewhat different, and I do not at all understand that Sir Spencer Robinson accepts the responsibility in the same unlimited sense. He has told us that before 1860 the Dockyards were not immediately under his direction, because the Controller, "being a servant to the Board of Admiralty, had to refer to the Board for all orders and instructions;" he "was the servant, the confidential servant, of the Board," and was responsible for any advice which he might give, and which the Board was at liberty to accept or to refuse, as it thought proper. From the beginning of 1869, as Third Lord as well as Controller, his authority was no doubt much greater than before, and he was empowered to issue his Orders direct to the Dockyards. But, unless I have strangely misread the evidence, Sir Spencer Robinson's responsibilities, as well before as after 1869, extended only to the issue of general Instructions for the guidance of the Dockyard Authorities, not to a minute supervision of their work. If the Instructions he advised or issued were sufficient, and if his Instructions were not attended to, Sir Spencer Robinson would not be held to blame. It was no part of his duty, either by himself or through the Constructor's Department, personally to inspect any vessel; it was for the Dockyard Officers to do that, and to report to him fully its state and condition. If the information which they sent him was correct, he was responsible to the Board or to the First Lord for the advice which he gave, or the orders he issued. But if the information was not correct; if, for instance, the Dockyard Officers reported that they had done certain repairs, when they had not done them; or that they had carefully inspected a vessel and found her seaworthy, when in fact they had not examined her at all, or had done it only in the most superficial manner; it appears to me that Sir Spencer Robinson's responsibility ceased. It was not for him to doubt the word of the Dockyard Officers, or to assume that they had not done that, which they stated that they had done.
117. Speaking of his responsibility as regards the Dockyards, Sir Spencer Robinson said, "I am not responsible, if the eye that is put there does not tell me everything that passes; if I were, my responsibility would have been very great. Take this particular case, where, instead of examining the plates and finding the bottom in good condition, as they told me, it turned out that they had not examined the plates at all. Though the Head of the Department is responsible for everything, the local Officer is responsible also; he is there, the Head of the Department cannot be there; he is bound to make to the Head of the Department correct Reports, and when he fails in that, he fails in his duty." It appears to me that it would be attended with the most serious consequences, if the Dockyard Officers were permitted to shift, the responsibility for their own acts of negligence upon an absent Officer; and I agree with Sir Spencer Robinson where he says, "When you put a man at the top of his profession as Master Shipwright, you put the greatest possible confidence in him, you take such steps as you can to remind him of the importance of the work he has to perform, and any further interference would be disastrous, in my opinion, to the best interests of the public service."
118. That this is the proper limit of the Controller's responsibility, so far as the Dockyards are concerned, appears clearly from the evidence of Mr. Childers, a witness who could hardly be suspected of an undue bias in favour of Sir Spencer Robinson; and who, speaking with the knowledge of a First Lord of Admiralty, stated that it was clearly not incumbent on the Controller personally to inspect any vessel, or even to see that the Dockyard Officers did their duty.
119. Having thus, as I trust, clearly defined what was the responsibility of the Controller as regards both his own Department and the Dockyards, I will now proceed to inquire what are the charges, which are brought against Sir Spencer Robinson. They are as follow:-
(1.) That he ordered Spence's Cement to be applied to the interior of the "Megaera," and that he failed to have it removed from her, when it was found to he a failure.
(2.) That he omitted to have a thorough examination of the "Megaera's" plating made in July 1866, when it had been ascertained to be very thin in the neighbourhood of the water line.
(3.) That he lost sight of the Report, which was then made of the thinness of the Vessel's plating in the neighbourhood of the water line, and subsequently omitted to call the attention of the Dockyard Officers thereto.
(4.) That, after the Carpenter of the "Megaera," had called the attention of the Dockyard Officers in April 1870 to the supposed thinness of the plating in the Vessel's bottom, he accepted those Officers' Report without challenge.
(5.) That he omitted to take "the opportunity of fully ascertaining her condition during the five months she lay unemployed at Sheerness;" nor when informed by Sir Sidney Dacres of his intention to send the "Megaera" to Australia, did he recall to his mind that doubts had existed for years as to the general character of the Ship. "Hence," the Report adds, "it follows that the Controller is mainly responsible for the misfortune, which befel the Vessel."
These are, so far as I understand, all the charges that are brought against Sir Spencer Robinson; and I will proceed to consider them in order.
120. First then as to the Cement. I do not think that Sir Spencer Robinson is to blame for having ordered Spence's Cement to be applied to the interior of the "Megaera" in February 1864. It will have been seen that it was by the direct Orders of the Admiralty that it had been applied to the "Sharpshooter" and the "Buffalo" in August and September preceding; and although in the following November the Lords of the Admiralty had at that time declined to accede to the application of the Patentee to apply it to some other vessel, it was quite competent to Sir Spencer Robinson, indeed it was his duty, if he thought it for the public interest, to order at some subsequent period "a further extension of the experiment." He has told us "they were very anxious at that time to ascertain the best mode of coating Ships," and that it was as an experiment that he ordered it to be applied to the "Megaera. The error, however, seems to have been not in ordering it to be applied, but in not causing it to be watched, when it had been applied as an experiment, as in the cases of the "Sharpshooter" and the "Buffalo." The circumstances, under which it failed to be so watched, arc thus stated by Sir Spencer Robinson.
121. It seems that the letter of Commander Madden, suggesting its application to the interior of the "Megaera," was referred to Mr. Lloyd, the Chief Engineer of the Navy, whose office was in New Street, Spring Gardens; that Mr. Lloyd made the necessary inquiries on the subject from the Patentees; and that an Order was thereupon issued for its application as an experiment to the "Megaera." Mr. Lloyd ought then, he says, to have sent the Papers to the Ship Branch, where the fact that the Cement had been applied to the "Megaera" would have been recorded as an experiment, and in that case it would have been carefully watched. Unfortunately however this was not done, and in that way it entirely escaped observation, and accordingly was not removed from the "Megaera," when it was found to be a failure in the "Sharpshooter" and "Northumberland." Sir Spencer Robinson, however, does not seek to evade his share of the responsibility, but states that, when the Order for its application to the "Megaera" was brought to him, together with perhaps 60 other letters, he would, had he carefully examined the Papers, have seen that it had not gone to the Ship Branch. The mistake, he says, arose, partly from the fact that Mr. Lloyd's office was in New Street, whilst his (the Controller's) was at Whitehall; partly also from the want of a Chief Clerk to co-ordinate the two branches, and of a sufficient Staff of Clerks; for both of which he had asked, but been refused. He stated that it was a slip in the Steam Branch in not sending on the Papers to the Ship Branch to be recorded; but that it was a slip, which could hardly have had any evil consequences, had the Dockyard Officers done their duty, and from time to time inspected the interior of the vessel; as in that case they could hardly have failed to have detected the defective character of the Cement, and the consequent injury to the vessel's plating.
122. I think, therefore, that Sir Spencer Robinson cannot be altogether acquitted of this charge. It is true that the mistake arose mainly from the neglect of a Clerk in the Steam Branch of the Controller's Office to mark the Papers for the Ship Branch; but Sir Spencer Robinson has accepted unreservedly the whole responsibility of any errors, that may have occurred in his Department, and he must therefore in my opinion be held responsible, not for having applied it to the interior of the "Megaera," but for not having caused it to be watched as an experiment, and for not having directed it to be removed when it was found to be a failure.
123. The second charge against Sir Spencer Robinson is, that when "the plates in the neighbourhood of the water line were ascertained in 1866 to be very thin, this circumstance ought to have led to a thorough and complete examination of the whole of the plating." I should have hesitated to have expressed any opinion upon a point so purely technical, were it not for a passage in the earlier part of the Report, which has received the approval of those who are far better able to judge of such a matter than myself, and which appears to me to lead to a directly opposite conclusion. The Report states that the thinness of the plating in the neighbourhood of the water line is usually caused by the abrasion of the outer surface from coming in contact with piers, &c.; whereas the thinness of the plating in the flat of the bottom generally arises from corrosion caused by the action of bilge water on the inner surface of the iron where exposed. The former, it says, is external, the latter internal; and the one is quite independent of the other. I fail therefore to see why the thinness in the neighbourhood of the water line ought necessarily to have led to a thorough and complete examination of the plating in the bottom; the more so, as the Dockyard Officers, at the same time that they stated that the plates in the neighbourhood of the water line were very thin, reported that they had examined the hull, and "found the bottom to be in good condition." And I confess that I do not understand why Sir Spencer Robinson is to be blamed for not ordering that to be done, which the Dockyard Officers reported they had just done.
124. And here it may be important to state that, whenever the Dockyard Officers reported on the plates in the bottom, that is, in the flat of the bottom, as distinguished from the plates about the water line, they never stated them to be otherwise than in good condition. Thus in September 1859 the Dockyard Officers at Portsmouth reported that they had examined the Hull of the "Megaera," and found the plates forming the bottom to be in good condition. In 1861 the vessel was completely stripped, and thoroughly repaired at Devonport, and of course the plates in her bottom were then found by the Dockyard Officers to be in good condition, otherwise they would hardly have recommended so heavy an expenditure upon her, as was then made. In July 1866, on the occasion of her bottom being bored, the Dockyard Officers at Woolwich reported that they had examined the hull, and found "the bottom to be in good condition." Again, in December 1867, when Sir Spencer Robinson called the Woolwich Dockyard Officers' attention specially to the subject, they stated that they had examined the skin of the ship, and recommended only some trifling repairs to the plating in the neighbourhood of the water line. Lastly, when in April 1870 the Carpenter of the "Megaera" had called the attention of the Dockyard Officers at Sheerness to the supposed thinness of the bottom, they reported, that on being docked the bottom was "found to be in better condition, than was expected." We thus find the Dockyard Officers at all the Ports, Portsmouth, Devonport, Woolwich, and Sheerness in. succession, reporting down even to April 1870, that they had examined the bottom of the ship, and found it in good condition. This fact seems to me to speak very strongly in favour of the Controller; he could himself know nothing of the condition of the "Megaera," except from the Reports of the Dockyard Officers, and the blame, if any, which attaches to him in this case, is that he believed what they told him.
125. The third charge against Sir Spencer Robinson is, that he lost sight of the Report of July 1866, relative to the thinness of the "Megaera's" plating, and subsequently omitted to call the attention of the Dockyard Officers to the subject. The question has been so fully considered in the body of the Report, that it is only necessary here to say that the non-production of these papers, when they were required in December 1867, has clearly been proved to be due not to Sir Spencer Robinson, but to the Clerk in charge of the Steam Branch. It appears to me most unfortunate that, when this gentleman was on the 3rd of December 1867 asked for a Report as to the thinness of the "Megaera's" plates; and when two days afterwards his attention was specially called to the date of the 31st of July 1866; he should not have produced the Woolwich Dockyard Officers' Report of the 30th of July, giving the detailed statement of the thickness of the "Megaera's" plating, which, was at the time in his custody. On this point, however, I am agreed, with my Colleagues, but I fail to see how such a circumstance could be made the ground of a charge against Sir Spencer Robinson; it was an unfortunate circumstance, but for which, as it appears to me, Sir Spencer Robinson was in no degree responsible. He it was, who first appears to have remembered the circumstance that the vessel had been bored, and her plating ascertained to be thin; and when the Papers were not forthcoming, he took the best means of remedying the deficiency by calling the particular attention of the Woolwich Dockyard Officers to the plating in the neighbourhood of the water line, and directing them to make a report of its state, as there was reason to believe that it was "extremely thin." He refused too, to pass the estimates for the repairs, until that Report should have been received; and it was only on receiving a Report from the Dockyard Officers, saying that they had examined the skin of the Ship, and on Sir Alexander Milne ordering her to be recommissioned, that he allowed the Estimates to pass. The documents too not being forthcoming in December 1867, when asked for, it can hardly be wondered at that they were subsequently lost sight of.
126. But, as a fact, is there any reason to believe that the failure to produce these Documents in December 1867, was attended with any practical inconvenience? - I think not. In the first place the Vessel was then at Woolwich, the Port at which the borings had taken place; the Reports, therefore, of the thickness of the plates must have been in the Master Shipwright's Office there. The same Officers, who were there in July 1866, Mr. Ladd the Master Shipwright, and Mr. Trickett the Chief Engineer, were there also in December 1867. And lastly, Sir Spencer Robinson called the particular attention of the Dockyard Officers to the plating in the neighbourhood of the water line, as there was, he said, reason to believe that it was extremely thin. On the other hand had the reports of July 1866 been produced, all that they would have shown was that the bottom was in good condition, and the plates between wind and water very thin. So far, therefore, as the Woolwich Officers are concerned, everything seems to have been done to draw their attention to the condition of the plating; and the omission to send them copies of the Report of July 1866, could in their case have been attended with no practical inconvenience, for they would necessarily have had copies thereof in their office.
127. As regards the Sheerness Officers, the case perhaps is somewhat different: but even as regards them, I can hardly think that it can be advanced as any excuse for their not having examined the bottom, seeing that in April 1870 their attention was specially called to the supposed thinness of the "Megaera's" bottom, and they then reported that they had examined it, and found it to be in a better condition than they had expected.
128. The fourth charge is that, when the Carpenter of the "Megaera" called the attention of the Dockyard Officers at Sheerness in April1870 to the supposed thinness of the "Megaera's" bottom, Sir Spencer Robinson should have accepted their Report without challenge. But it should be observed that these same Officers reported that, on the vessel being docked, the bottom was "found to be in a better condition than was expected." On receiving such a Report Sir Spencer Robinson might very naturally assume, the Officers' attention having been called to the thinness of the bottom, that they would not have reported it to be in good condition, without having first carefully examined it. The responsibility for not having done so must, in my opinion, rest not on ,Sir Spencer Robinson, but on the Dockyard Officers. I cannot see that Sir Spencer Robinson was to blame for having accepted the Dockyard Officers' Report, without challenge, or in other words given them credit for having done that, which they stated that they had done.
129. The fifth and last charge against Sir Spencer Robinson is, that he omitted to take "the opportunity of fully ascertaining her condition during the five months she lay unemployed at Sheerness," and that, "when informed by Sir Sydney Dacres of his intention to send her to Australia, he did not recall to his mind that doubts had existed for years as to the general character of the Ship, Hence," the Report says, "it follows that the Controller is mainly responsible for the misfortune which befel this vessel."
130. I confess that I am at a loss to understand how these circumstances can he advanced as grounds for charging Sir Spencer Robinson with being "mainly responsible" for the loss of this Ship. The assumption, on which this and some of the preceding charges seem to be founded, is, that it was the duty of the Controller to inform the Dockyard Officers, rather than of the Dockyard Officers to inform the Controller, of the state and condition in which the "Megaera" was; an assumption, I venture to think, which is not in accordance with fact, nor, if it were so, would it be conducive to the public interest. The Dockyard Officers are on the spot, the Controller is not; they have an opportunity of examining the vessel and ascertaining what repairs she requires, which he has not. And when month after month she was reported by the Sheerness Officers as in the First Division, or in other words as being fit for service at 48 hours' notice, it is difficult to see what ground Sir Spencer Robinson could have had for thinking that she was not.
131. The charge that Sir Spencer Robinson, when informed by Sir Sydney Dacres of his intentions to send her to Australia, should have recalled "to his mind the doubts that had existed for years as to the general character of this Ship," docs not appear to me to be well founded, seeing that I am not aware that any such doubts ever existed. It is true that the "Megaera's" plating in the neighbourhood of the water line was reported to be thin, but Mr. Reed has informed us that, owing to the peculiar construction of the Vessel, he did not consider that to he a source of danger, and it was not in that part that the Vessel ultimately gave way. Sir Spencer Robinson also being, as he has informed us, "not a Naval Constructor, nor a Naval Architect," would in a matter of that kind naturally be guided by the opinion of the Chief Constructor. Moreover, it has been shown that the Dockyard Officers always reported her bottom down to the last to be in good condition. Seeing too that the defects, which ultimately caused her loss were purely local, confined within very narrow limits, and that they were never suspected up to the day of her departure from this country on her last voyage; I cannot blame Sir Spencer Robinson for not entertaining doubts, which seem to have had no existence.
132. I have now gone through all the charges, on which it is sought to make Sir Spencer Robinson "mainly responsible" for the loss of this Ship; and I have come to the conclusion that in one point, and in one only, namely, in regard to the Cement, is he in any respect to blame. In that case, also, the blame, which attaches to him personally, is but small, seeing that the mistake arose chiefly from the omission of a Clerk in the Steam Branch to forward the documents to the Ship Branch, in which case the Cement would have been watched as an experiment. Nor must I omit to notice that even this neglect would have been of trifling importance, had the Dockyard Officers on any of the occasions, on which she subsequently came into their hands, done that which it was their duty to do, namely, examined from time to time the interior of the vessel.
133. I am sorry to find myself differing so widely from my Colleagues on this, perhaps the most important question in the case, but I feel that the reputation and character of an upright and honourable man are concerned; and I cannot consent to brand as "mainly responsible" for the loss of this vessel one, to whom this country owes so much for his unwearied efforts in her service during periods of great trial and difficulty, when his mind was often more profitably occupied with the large and intricate problems of the construction of Our Ships, including the theories of armour plating and heavy guns, than with the petty details of Office work. To hold him "mainly responsible" for the loss of this Vessel, simply because some Clerk in the Steam Branch had not marked a Paper for the Ship branch, when he should have done so; or because a Clerk in the same Branch had not, when asked for them, produced certain Papers relating to the thickness of the vessel's plating; or perhaps, because Sir Spencer Robinson gave credit to the Dockyard Officers for doing their duty, as he would himself have done it, had he been in their place; appears to me to he neither right nor proper, nor is it such a measure of justice as we would wish to have meted to ourselves.
A few words will dispose of the charges against those Officers of the Constructors Department, who are censured in the Report.
134. I do not think that blame attaches to Mr. Reed "in not, when undertaking in 1866 to make an examination, making it a complete one." I am not aware that Mr. Reed ever undertook to "make an examination" of the "Megaera," and it was not his business to do so; all that he did was to go down to Woolwich, "with reference to the 'Megaera' and other matters." As regards the "Megaera," he went to inspect for himself the thickness of the plates, which had been previously bored; and to satisfy himself whether it would or would not be necessary to replace or to double them. And there it appears to me his responsibility ceases. No doubt he had many "other matters" to attend to at Woolwich, and he would hardly devote move time than was required to the examination of the "Megaera," or perform duties more particularly within the province of the Dockyard Officers; the rather, as we have it in evidence, that these Officers were jealous of the visits of the Constructors to the Dockyards, - jealous, no doubt, as seeming to imply that they were not fully equal to their duties.
135. Nor do I concur in thinking that Mr. Barnaby was open to censure for "not calling the attention of Lord John Hay to the weakness of the Ship's plating, when asked as to her condition in 1871." Lord John Hay has informed us that, when he asked the question of Mr. Barnaby, he had no reason to suspect that the vessel was unseaworthy, and Mr. Barnaby has confirmed him in that view, and I see no reason to doubt the words of these gentlemen. Lord John Hay told us that, when he heard that it was intended to send the "Megaera" to Australia, he asked Mr. Barnaby about her character, as being the person most likely to give him the best information on the subject. The reply of Mr. Barnaby appears to me to be strictly accurate; he stated, that "having undergone repairs at Sheerness, she is reported to be complete." This was strictly correct, for Captain Luard had, on the 13th of January, three days before, telegraphed that she was "ready, with the exception of completing stores and coal." Mr. Barnaby next stated that "she is a good sea boat, and although more than 20 years old, is sound and strong." This also was quite true, so far as he had any means of judging. No report had ever been sent up by the Dockyard Officers, that she was otherwise than sound and strong; and the fact that she remained for 76 days after being run ashore, before she finally broke up, was, in the opinion of Admiral Mends, a sufficient proof that she was a sound and strong vessel. Apart, indeed, from the local defect referred to, there seems to be no reason to think that she was otherwise than sound and strong, and perfectly fit to undertake the service for which she was ordered. Mr. Barnaby's last statement is, that her boilers were only good for one year's service, which is also strictly true.
136. Nor do I think that Mr. Morgan was to blame, "because when he received the Report of the Sheerness Officers in April 1870, containing the observation that the bottom was stated to be very thin in many places, he neglected to inform them of the previous Reports, and the known thinness of the plates." For, first, there was no "known thinness of the plates except in the neighbourhood of the water line, and that, as I have just said, was not considered by his Superiors to be a source of danger, nor was it, in fact, the cause of her loss. And as regards the plates in the bottom, they were, as I have shown, always reported by the Dockyard Officers to be in good condition. Moreover, on the occasion referred to, the Dockyard Officers had themselves reported that, although it had been stated that the bottom was very thin, it was found, on the vessel being docked, that it was "in a better condition than was expected."
137. I now come to the question of the general responsibility of the Dockyard Officers. And first, I do not at all agree that "it is doubtful what are the precise rules in force for their guidance." No doubt the Dockyard Officers, whose conduct is inculpated, "unite in declaring that their duties are limited to the examination and remedy of reported defects, and of such other defects as may become apparent in carrying this duty into execution." But it appears to me that the Circular Orders, and especially that of the 17th of January 1867, addressed to the Superintendents of Dockyards and Captains of Reserve, conclusively show that the Dockyard Officers are "responsible for the condition" of the interiors of any Ships that may come into their hands, and that they are required by that Order "to keep the Ship clean, and the iron free from corrosion." Nor do I at all concur in thinking that, whatever may have been the intention of these Circular Orders, "it is certain that they have always been understood and obeyed by the Dockyard Officials in the limited sense above referred to." We have one striking instance to the contrary in the present case, before even the Order of January 1867 was issued, when the Dockyard Officers at Woolwich did not so understand their duty; namely, when without any instructions from the Admiralty, and merely on the suspicion that the plating of the "Megaera" was thin, they bored hundreds of holes all over her, not only between wind and water, but also in the flat of the bottom.
138. I concur in opinion that Captain Luard incurred grave responsibility in sending to the Admiralty, without apparently making a careful examination of the Vessel, the telegram of the 13th of August 1870, which resulted in her being transferred from the Fourth to the First Division of Reserve. I also think that he was to blame for having allowed the vessel to leave Sheerness with her Ports in the defective state in which they were. But I think that these mistakes are comparatively trifling to the far graver errors, which he committed, in not having taken the opportunity to examine the interior of the vessel during the five mouths that she remained in the Reserve at Sheerness, and before she was commissioned for her voyage to Australia. Under the Order of January 1867, it is clear that the Captain of the Reserve is "responsible for the condition of the inside of the Ship," and that he is bound to keep her "clean and free from corrosion." Even according to the somewhat lax views of their duties entertained by the Dockyard Officers themselves, the vessel ought, before being put forward for a new Commission, to have had her interior carefully examined. Captain Luard, however, neither whilst she was in the Reserve, nor when about to be put into commission, thought it necessary to examine the interior, nor even to order it to be done. "The arguments which he has adduced in explanation of this neglect are not in my opinion satisfactory." Captain Luard stated that the Ship, when she came into the hands of the Dockyard, had only run out about half her time, and that therefore without any special reasons for making another search, not only were they not called upon, hut they would not have been justified in proposing such a search. What Captain Luard meant when he said that she had only run out half her time, when she came into the hands of the Dockyard Authorities at Sheerness, I am at a loss to understand, seeing that she had been commissioned in December 1867, and that when she came for the first time into his hands in August 1870, it was that she should be paid off. Had Captain Luard, before jumping to the conclusion that she had only run out half her time, taken the trouble to inquire, he would have learnt that she had been originally commissioned at the beginning of 1865, paid off in December 1867, and immediately recommissioned. So that in August 1870, when she was paid off, and then at his suggestion put into the First Division of Reserve, she had been running almost continuously for more than five years and a half.
139. Equally, if not more culpable were Mr. Sturdee, the Master Shipwright, and Mr. Mitchell, the Assistant Master Shipwright, neither of whom ever pretended that they had examined the interior of the "Megaera" during the whole time she remained at Sheerness. Mr. Sturdee stated that, when she was despatched on her last voyage to Australia, nothing was done by him to see that she was fitted for the voyage, that it did not rest with him, and that he considered Captain Luard, the Captain of the Reserve, was alone responsible for her condition; Mr. Mitchell said that he had never once looked into the interior of the vessel, with the view of ascertaining the state of the cement, during the whole time she remained at Sheerness. Had these Officers done their duty, there can be little doubt that they would have discovered the inaccessible place, where the leak occurred; and had they then removed the small vertical plate, which closed it in toward the centre of the vessel, an operation which could hardly have been attended with much difficulty, they would have discovered the condition of the plates within, and this misfortune would probably have been avoided.
140. 1 concur with the Report in thinking that the Woolwich Officers are not free from blame; they would, however, probably excuse themselves on the ground that on all the occasions of her having gone into Woolwich for repair, it was to make good commission defects, except in December 1867, when she was paid off, but was then immediately recommissioned. No such excuse, however, can be offered for the Sheerness Officials. During the five mouths, that she remained in the Reserve at that port, they had the fullest opportunity of examining her interior, and they should have done so. According to their own showing, they ought to have carefully examined her, before bringing her forward for the voyage to Australia, but they do not even pretend to have done so.
141. The excuses, which the Dockyard Officers have advanced for their neglect, and the way in which they have sought to shift the responsibility from themselves to others, are in my opinion by far the most painful features in the case. And I am inclined to say, with Sir Spencer Robinson, "Here is an unfortunate case, in which these gentlemen have overlooked their duty; and the proper course for them, when this was observed, was to admit that they had committed an oversight; and if they had done so, I think little more could have been said. But when they pass by written instructions, and interpret those instructions to shield the faults they have committed, I think it is the bounden duty of everybody concerned in this Inquiry to say, that is not the way the public service ought to be carried on, and is carried on in general."
142. It is most painful to find myself differing so widely, upon this the most important point of our Inquiry, from Colleagues, with whom I have served for so many weeks, and of whose ability and judicial impartiality I have the highest opinion; but a strong sense of duty, and the obligations imposed upon me preclude me from concurring in what appears to me to be an act of great injustice to a most deserving officer. The mistake, if I may be permitted to say so, into which my Colleagues have in my opinion fallen, is in not clearly distinguishing between the duties of the Controller and of the Dockyard Officers, and in making him responsible for acts, of which he had not, and could not have any knowledge. In all other respects, save as I have stated, I cordially concur in the Conclusions of the Report.
H.C. ROTHERY. (l.s.)
6th March 1872.
In addition to this report (no C507 of 1872), the Commission also issued a volume (no. C507.1 of 1872) of more than 750 pages containing documents obtained from the Admiralty, and a verbatim record of the 16,928 questions put to the 84 witnesses during the 24 days of hearings.
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