On 7 September 1870 this revolutionary low freeboard, but heavily masted, ironclad turret frigate capsized and sank off cape Finisterre with the loss of nearly 500 lives in a moderate storm which gave no problems to the other ships in the squadron. Captain was designed by the visionary Captain Cowper Phipps Coles, built by Laird's shipyard in Birkenhead, and commissioned in 1869, all in response to parliamentary and public pressure in support of this radical concept, despite strong objections from the Controller of the Royal Navy and the Chief Constructor, Edward James Reed.
|Extracts from the Times newspaper|
|Sa 10 September 1870|
LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.
ADMIRALTY, Sept. 9.The following distressing telegram has been received by way of Vigo, at the Admiralty, with the deepest regret.
"From Admiral Sir Alexander Milne, Her Majesty's ship Lord Warden, off Cape Finisterre, 7th of September, S p.m.:—
"I very much regret to have to send you painful intelligence. Her Majesty's ship Captain must have foundered in the night. She was close to this ship at 2 this morning. Sudden S.W. gale; very heavy squalls. At daybreak the Captain was missing. This afternoon her boat (or boats) and spars found.
"All have unfortunately perished.
"The Inconstant sails to you with report."
Further intelligence will be communicated when received. It is reported that Captain Cowper Coles was on board at the time of this terrible calamity. The second son of Lord Northbrook, the Hon. Arthtur Napier Thomas Baring, was one of the midshipmen.
|Sa 10 September 1870||The news of a dreadful calamity reached London yesterday evening. Her Majesty’s ship Captain has foundered off Cape Finisterre. Nothing has been found of her but her boats and some spars. Her crew of 500 hands must all have perished, and among them are lost several invaluable lives. The ship was, of course, commanded by some of the finest officers in the Navy, but her able inventor, Captain Cowper Coles, was also on board, and has perished in the vessel which realized the long-delayed triumph of his genius. The report that Lord Northbrook was on board is erroneous, but one of his sons and a son of Mr. Childers are among the lost. The first feelings of the country will be of grief at the loss of all those gallant seamen and men of genius, and of deep sympathy with their relatives. They have perished in the public service as much as if they had been killed in battle, and their memory will be similarly honoured. If public sorrow can bring an alleviation to the grief of their friends, this consolation will be abundantly afforded.|
Few such terrible disasters have ever happened at sea. A greater number of lives may occasionally have been lost in a single wreck; but this wreck is that of one of the finest ships in the world, manned by one of the finest crews. The disaster is so complete that no one appears to be left to tell how it happened. The Captain disappeared in the night, and no one either saw or heard her in distress. At 2 o'clock on Wednesday morning she was close to the Lord Warden, the ship of the Admiral, Sir Alexander Milne. At daybreak she was missing. In the afternoon her boats and spars were found, and we are driven to conclude that she foundered suddenly in the night, and that all on board have sunk with her. The Admiral says there was a sudden southwest gale and very heavy squalls, and one of these squalls must have caught her at a disadvantage. In a dark and stormy night, without a moments warning, the waves of the Atlantic must have engulfed one of the noblest prizes they have ever yet snatched from human skill and courage.
The loss of Captain Cowper Coles in the ship which was the final result of his genius is at once the most melancholy and the most disastrous element in this calamity. Captain Coles was, practically, the inventor of the greatest naval improvement of modern times. He discerned, many years ago, with all the foresight of genius, that the use of turrets offered the only means of enabling ships to keep pace with the constant development of guns. Like all men of genius, he was in advance of his time, and naval authorities persistently set themselves to discredit his design. He worked on, not only with industry, but with a patience and a temper rarely shown by inventors, and, step by step, his opponents were forced to recognize the correctness of his views. After vainly, but pertinaciously endeavouring to meet the requirements of the day with broadside ironclads, they at length resolved on an approximation to Captain Coles’s design in the Monarch. But, in her high freeboard, he protested that this ship failed to embody the very essence of his invention. The mere approximation, however, to his views proved a great success, and the Monarch, as our readers well know, crossed the Atlantic and was the admiration of American sailors. At length Captain Coles obtained permission to build a ship after his own model, and the Captain was the result. She was instantly acknowledged by the best judges to be the finest ship afloat. The Monarch, it is believed, could destroy all the rest of the fleet in detail, and all the practical sailors who witnessed the performances of the Captain pronounced her superior, both for sailing and for fighting purposes, to the Monarch. Captain Coles had won a success such as is permitted to few inventors in their lifetime. He had carried out the design of his life, and he saw its merits acknowledged. He has died, so to speak, in the moment of victory, and is so far happy, but we can ill afford to lose him in such an hour. There never was a time at which we had more reason to feel the necessity of a strong fleet, and the man who could have done more than anyone else to give us this protection — nay, the man who in giving us the Captain had actually done more than any one — is suddenly snatched from us, and his great work perishes for the moment with him.
It cannot be hoped that the antagonists whom Captain Coles had so completely defeated will abstain from drawing conclusions adverse to his system from the disaster which has thus befallen his first ship, and it may be worthwhile to observe in advance that all such inferences will not only be baseless, but in direct opposition to known facts.
This is not the first time the Captain had been exposed to a heavy sea in the roughest part of the Atlantic. She had twice before crossed the Bay of Biscay, and experienced very heavy weather. It was but the other day we published the Report of the Admiral who had been appointed to watch her performance. His Report was that she was "very easy in a seaway;" that in the heaviest weather of the cruise she was "very steady," and "behaved very well" In fact, when the Captain started on the cruise which has ended so fatally no one entertained the least anxiety with respect to her seagoing qualities. Her officers reported her as more comfortable than ordinary ironclads, and they believed any defects hitherto observed in her performances would be overcome when they were better acquainted with the method of handling her. This lack of experience, indeed, may possibly have contributed to the disaster. A ship of so new a construction must needs require some variation in management, and the Admiral stated in his last Report, "that he hardly had enough experience of the wearing of the Captain." All that was well known was that she was handier than the Monarch, and the Monarch, happily, has come to no harm. It is evident this is one of those disasters which from time to time befall the finest ships, and we do not believe that real sailors will for a moment be discouraged in the new course of experiment on which we had entered. The loss of the Captain is for the moment irreparable, and we cannot be indifferent to the vast pecuniary loss entailed by the complete destruction of a first-class ironclad. But Messrs. Laird who built the Captain, can build another ship like her, with any improvements experience may have already suggested, and sailors will readily be found who will place as much confidence in the second ship as Admiral Symonds placed in the first. Other vessels besides turret ships have foundered in sudden squalls. In fact, we ought to consider it a debt due to the memory of the dead to carry forward the experiment to which they have sacrificed their lives. A second Captain, destined to a more fortunate fate, will be the best memorial to Captain Cowper Coles and his fellow seamen.
|Ma 12 September 1870|
HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.
MADRID, Sept 9, 12 30 p.m.Her Majesty's ship Bristol arrived at Corunna last night, bringing the melancholy news of the foundering, with all hands, off Finisterre, of the turret-ship Captain on Tuesday.
Sept. 10.A later telegram from Corunna states that one boat of the Captain, with 18 seamen, reached Corcubion on the night of Wednesday. Another boat was seen bottom upwards, or staved in. The Monarch has been sent to Corcubion. No further details as yet.
The following message has been received from Her Majesty respecting this catastrophe:—
”Sir T.M. Biddulph, Balmoral to Admiral Sir Sydney Dacres, Admiralty.“The Queen has heard of the dreadful catastrophe with deep sorrow, and wishes for all particulars. Her Majesty writes to Mr. Childers."
The following telegram has been received at the Admiralty from Gibraltar:—
"The Captain, before parting company from the Prince Consort, discharged into her W. Wingatt, W. Bund, T. Fogarty, James Moore, Alexander Smith, Thomas Wise, Henry Williams, able seamen; and James Page, corporal of Marines."
Mr. S. Taylor, midshipman, was, we understand, not on board the Captain, having exchanged with Mr. Alfred Ripley, midshipman, of the Royal Oak, so that it is feared the latter officer must be among those lost.
Telegram from Captain of Her Majesty's ship Bristol, Corunna:—
“One warrant officer and 17 seamen of the Captain landed at Corcubion on the might of the 7th. inst.
Note.— The Inconstant arrived at Devonport this morning, 10th inst., with a report of the loss.
Admiralty, Sept. 10.
The following is the report of Admiral Milne, received at the Admiralty on Saturday:—
"Lord Warden, at Sea off Cape Finisterre, Sept 7, 1870.Sir,— It has been my painful duty to forward by Her Majesty's vessel Psyche to Vigo the following telegram, to be transmitted to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, reporting the sad loss of Her Majesty's ship Captain, with all hands.
"'Very much regret sending painful news. Captain must have foundered in the night. She was close to this ship at 2 this morning. Sudden S.W. gale. Very heavy squalls. Daybreak— Captain missing; this afternoon her boats and spars found; all have unfortunately perished. Inconstant sails to-morrow morning with report.'
"I beg leave to transmit to their Lordships full and early details of this most disastrous event, and I therefore sent the Inconstant to Devonport with the despatch. Yesterday morning, the 6th inst., I went on board to inspect the Captain, with Captain Brandreth and my flag lieutenant, and visited most minutely every part of her. At 1 p.m. a trial of sailing with the ships of the squadron (Lord Warden, Minotaur, Agincourt, Northumberland, Monarch, Hercules, Inconstant, Warrior, Bellerophon, Bristol) was commenced, and continued until 6 p.m., when the recall was made. The direction of the wind was S. by W., force about 6. Some of the ships carrying their royals during the whole time, Captain included. At 4 o'clock the breeze had freshened, and the trial [heel?] of the Captain, which at first was 9½, increased to an average from 11 to 13, the sea washing over the lee side of her deck as she met a swell on her lee bow, the lee gunwale on deck being level with the water. I returned to the Lord Warden at 5 30 p.m. Being close to the rendezvous, 20 miles west of Cape Finisterre, the squadron was again formed into three divisions; the Lord Warden, Minotaur, and Agincourt leading, the Captain being the last, astern of the Lord Warden. The signal was also made to take in two reefs and send down royal yards, and the ships stood to the west-north-west under double reefed topsails, fore topmast staysail, and foresail; top gallant sails furled; steam ready to be used as required. Force of the wind about 6 to 7.
"At 8 and 10 p.m. the ships were in station, and there was no indication of a heavy gale, although it looked cloudy to the westward. At 11 the breeze began to freshen, with rain. Towards midnight the barometer had fallen, and the wind increased, which rendered it necessary to reef; but before 1 a.m. the gale had set in at south-wrest, and square sails were furled.
"At this time the Captain was astern of this ship, apparently closing under steam. The signal "open order" was made, and at once answered; and at 1 15 a.m. she was on the Lord Warden's lee quarter, about six points abaft of the beam. From that time until about 1 30 a.m. I constantly watched the ship; her topsails were either close reefed or on the cap, her foresail was close up, the mainsail having been furled at 5 30 p.m., but I could not see any fore and aft set. She was heeling over a good deal to starboard, with the wind on her port side. Her red bow light was all this time clearly seen. Some minutes after I again looked for her light, but it was thick with rain, and the light vas no longer visible. The squalls of wind and rain were very heavy, and the Lord Warden was kept by the aid of the screw and after trysails with her bow to a heavy cross sea, and at times it was thought that the sea would have broken over her gangways. At 2 15 am. (the 7th inst.) the gale had somewhat subsided, and the wind went round to the north-west, but without any squall; in fact, the weather moderated, the heavy bank of clouds had passed off to the eastward, and the stars came out clear and bright, the moon, which had given considerable light, was setting, no large ship was seen near us when the Captain had been last observed, although the lights of some were visible at a distance. When day broke the squadron was somewhat scattered and only 10 ships, instead of 11, could be discerned, the Captain being the missing one. We bore up for the rendezvous, thinking she might have gone in that direction, but no large vessel being in sight from the masthead I became alarmed for her safety, because, if disabled, she ought to be within sight, and if not disabled in company with squadron, and I signalled the following ships to proceed in the directions indicated to look out :— The Agincourt, to the south-west; the Monarch, south; the Warrior, south-east-south; the Inconstant, southeast; the Hercules east-south-east; the Northumberland, east; the Bristol, north-east; the Bellerophon, to the north-by-east; the Minotaur, also north-east. These vessels proceeded about ten to fourteen miles, but nothing could be seen of the missing ship.
"The greater part of the ships were recalled and formed in line abreast, and steered at three or four cables apart to the south-east, looking for any wreck. The Monarch first picked up a top-gallant yard of the Captain, the Lord Warden another, with sails bent, then some studdingsail booms, and on the Psyche joining me from Vigo at sunset she reported having passed two cutters painted white, b:ottom up, with a large amount of wreck, apparently the hurricane deck, among which was found the body of a seaman with 'Rose' marked on his flannel.
" I have thus stated all that occurred under the eyes of the flag-Captain and myself, and I much regret to say that I can come to no other conclusion than that the Captain foundered with all hands on board, probably in one of the heavy squalls between 1 30 and 2 15 a. m. of this morning (7th instant), at which time a heavy cross sea was running, but hour the catastrophe occurred will probably never be known. I had the most perfect confidence in Captain Burgoyne, Commander Sheepshanks, and the executive officers with whom I had come in contact. Captain Burgoyne himself was a thoroughly practical seaman, and it is impossible that the Captain could have been better commanded. The service will mourn the loss of an officer of such ability and promise. I regret, also, Captain Coles should have shared the same fate. He had been several passages in his newly-constructed ship, and took a deep interest in all that concerned her.
"I greatly deplore the sad event, which has cast a deep gloom on the whole squadron.
" I have, &c.,
"A.W. Milne, Admiral."
Among those who have been lost in the turret-ship, Captain, were Captain Burgoyne, R.N., V.C., Captain Cowper Phipps Coles, R.N., and the Hon. A.N.T. Baring. Captain Hugh Talbot Burgoyne was the only son of Field-Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne, by Charlotte, second daughter and co-heiress of Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Rose, of Holme, in the county of Nairn, North Britain. He was born in 1833 in Dublin, where his father held for some years the chairmanship of the Board of Public Works. He entered the Royal Navy in 1847, and was made a Commander in 1856. He commanded the Wrangler gunboat at the taking of Kinburn; and in 1857 he was one of the first recipients of the Victoria Cross. He was also a Knight of the Legion of Honour. He married, in 1884, Evelyn Laura, daughter of Admiral Sir Baldwin Wake Walker.
Captain Cowper Phipps Coles, R.N., the inventor of the principle on which turret-ships are constructed, was the third son of the late Rev. John Coles, of Ditcham-park, Hampshire, and was born about the year 1819 or 1820. He entered the service in 1831, and having served with ability on various stations, took an active part on board Her Majesty's ship Agamemnon in the assault on Sebastopol, for which he was especially mentioned in the despatches of Lord Lyons. He subsequently distinguished himself by his zeal and ability at Kertch, and in the operations in the Sea of Azoff. In the following year his name was brought prominently before the nation by the appointment of a Board by the Commander-in-Chief to report upon a plan devised by Captain Coles for the construction of shotproof rafts, with guns and mortars; and so favourable was the report of the Board that, in the expectation of the continuance of the war, he was ordered to England and placed in communication with the Surveyor of the Navy and the authorities of the dockyard at Portsmouth. The cessation of the Russian war, however, for a time stayed further proceedings in the matter; but subsequently the matter was taken up by successive Governments, and eventually, as the naval authorities expressed their approval of the principle of the "shield-ship," orders were given that the Royal Sovereign should be adapted, under the superintendence of Captain Coles, to this method of construction. It was, we believe, in 1862 that this change to the "turret system" was effected in the Royal Sovereign, and it is stated that it was the late Sir I. Brunel who first suggested to Captain Coles. the idea of placing the shield and gun upon a turn-table in preference to having to move the raft in order to point the gun. The principle having been once adopted, other vessels of the Royal Navy, as our readers are aware, have since been constructed on a greater or less modification of Captain Coles's plan.
The Hon. Arthur Napier Thomas Baring, who was also lost in the same vessel, was the younger of the two sons of Lord Northbrook, Under-Secretary of State for War. He was born on the 3d of June, 1854, so that he had only just completed his 16th year. The Hon. William Reginald Herbert, who perished at the same time, was the third of the four sons of Lord and Lady Herbert of Lea, and, consequently, a brother of the present Earl of Pembroke. He was born in the year 1854, and became a naval cadet in 1867. He was raised by Royal Warrant to the rank of an earls son in 1862. Lord Lewis Gordon was the second son of the late and next brother of the present Marquis of Huntly. He was born in 1848, so that he was only 22 years of age. His commission as a Sub-Lieutenant bore date March, 1869.
It is no exaggeration to say that the loss of Her Majesty's ship Captain is regarded as a domestic calamity throughout the southern and western divisions of this country. She was, by commission, a west country ship, and the majority of her company, officers included, were closely connected, either by birth or marriage, with that part of England. Her Captain (Captain Hugh Talbot Burgoyne, V.C.) was a Portsmouth man, while one of her sub-lieutenants (Mr. Arthur Gilbert Tregaskiss) belonged to the ancient Cornish family of that name in the extreme west, Mr. Tregaskiss being one of the few who, as a navigating sub-lieutenant on board Her Majesty's ship Octavia, had an opportunity of serving in the Abyssinian expedition, and who, in connexion with that expedition, was frequently employed in the delicate service of piloting ships employed in the transport service up the intricate and unsurveyed portions of the Red Sea. Captain Cowper Coles, the designer of the ill-fated ship, also claimed Portsmouth, or its neighbourhood, as his birthplace. At least one third of the crew of the Captain were obtained from Plymouth, and therefore the reception of the startling intelligence fell like a thunderbolt upon the entire community. At first it was discredited; the possibility of a vessel of the proportions, strength, and magnitude of the Captain succumbing. to the violence of any sea being doubted on all hands outside of official circles. Inquiry at the office of the Port Admiral of the district supplemented by the publication of successive telegrams tended, however, to confirm the fatal intelligence, and to dissipate anything like hope of its being a mere idle or unfounded rumour. The excitement spread with marvellous rapidity throughout the towns around the eastern district, and along the coast to Falmouth, Penzance, and into the extreme west. The Plymouth and Devonport newspaper offices were surrounded by eager crowds of people, chiefly men and women, connected by their appearance and anxious inquiries, with the port and the navy. Nothing, however, was confirmed until Saturday morning, when other telegrams were received, together with despatches, from Her Majesty's ship Inconstant, which had arrived at Devonport during the night. The Admiral's office was thronged by anxious inquirers, all evidently agitated by feelings of personal interest, and during the day the jetties and usual rendezvous for the landing of the boats from the fleet were crowded.
|Tu 13 September 1870|
HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.We have received the following from the Secretary of the Admiralty
"ADMIRALTY, Sept. 12."The gunner of the unfortunate ship Captain has reached the Admiralty. From his report, and the depositions of other survivors it appears that she capsized in a heavy squall shortly after midnight. Captain Burgoyne, who was on deck, ordered topsails to be lowered and sheets let go, but in vain. The force of wind, acting on the sails and on the bottom of the hurricane deck proved too much for her stability.
"The following persons, who escaped from Her Majesty's ship Captain, and landed at Corcubion, north of Cape Finisterre, on the evening of the 7th inst., arrived this day at Portsmouth in Her Majesty's steamship Volage:—
"Mr. James May, gunner; James Ellis, gunners mate; Lewis Werry, Captain foretop; James Harvey, second Captain foretop; George Bride, coxswain of the pinnace; Charles Tregenan, leading seaman; John Heard, Robert Herd, William Laurence, David Dryburgh, and John Walker, able seamen; James Freeman, Henry Grange, Robert Tomlinson, and Thomas Kernan, ordinary seamen; Francis Merryman, James Saunders, and John Gribble, boys (first class).
"It appears from the depositions of the survivors that the Captain turned bottom up in a heavy squall, and went down in three minutes.
"8 p.m."A telegram just received at the Admiralty from Lisbon states that Mr. Robert Mayne, midshipman, and Charles Hankin, private, Royal Marines, of Her Majesty’s ship Captain, are in Lisbon Hospital."
Commander Richard Sheepshanks, who was highly spoken of in Admiral Milne's despatch, was mate of the Ganges, 84, in the Pacific, from August, 1857, until promoted to lieutenant, May 10, 1859. He was appointed additional of the Cambridge, gunnery-ship, February 21, 1861, and in April following joined the Immortalité, and sailed for the West Indies, where he remained until the commencement of 1868. On March 11,1863, he was appointed to the Excellent, and was attached to that ship until January, 1867. He was senior lieutenant in the Royal Alfred, in the West Indies, from January, 1867, to August, 1869, and was promoted to commander December 10 following. He was appointed to the Asia for service in the Captain March 9, 1870.
Lieutenant Charles Giffard was sub-lieutenant in the Brisk, 16, on the West Coast of Africa, from September, 1860, until promoted to lieutenant October 3; 1861. He was employed in the Forte, 39, flagship, on the south-east coast of America, from May, 1862, until paid off in September, 1864. He was appointed additional to the Excellent on the 20th of the month last named, and was attached to that ship until February 9, 1866, when he joined the Doris, 24, and shortly afterwards sailed for the North American and West Indian station. He returned to England, and was paid off June 16,1869, and on April 30, 1870, was appointed to the Captain.
Navigating Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Gilbert Tregaskiss was appointed, on the date of his rank, December, 17, 1867, to the Octavia, 35, screw frigate, and served in the Abyssinian expedition, and was frequently engaged in piloting ships in the transport service up the intricate and unsurveyed portions of the Red Son. He had served in the Captain since April 23, 1870.
The following has been received from our Portsmouth Correspondent:—
"The Volage, screw corvette, Captain Sullivan, arrived at Spithead shortly before noon yesterday from the Channel fleet, which she left on Friday morning, north of Cape Finisterre, with the gunner and 17 seamen saved from the wreck of the Captain, on board. Soon after the Volage had anchored at Spithead, the Captain’s men were disembarked from the ship and landed at Portsmouth, where they were taken possession of by a crowd of excited people, all anxious to inquire for husbands, sons, brothers, or other relatives and friends who had belonged to the ship. Admiral Milne's further report upon the loss of the Captain, drawn up after the depositions of Mr. May, the gunner, and the 17 seamen, who gained the Spanish coast, near Finisterre, in the Captain's second launch, had been taken on board the Lord Warden flagship, and was forwarded to the Admiralty in charge of Mr. May, by the first up-train after the Volage's arrival, a condensed report being in the meantime forwarded through the telegraphic wire between the Port Admiral's office here and Whitehall. Immediately following upon the arrival of the Volage at Spithead, a list of the survivors of the Captain was posted at the dockyard gates. There will most probably be little difficulty in the way of arriving at correct conclusions as to the cause of the ship's loss after a careful consideration of the evidence given by Mr. May and the seamen in their examinations on board the Lord Warden. Sir Alexander Milne's signal to the fleet after this examination, we understand, was, 'The Captain turned bottom upwards and sunk in five minutes.'
"Independently of what evidence relative to the loss of the ship the depositions taken on board the Lord Warden may contain, the men saved can now add nothing of importance. All the men saved belonged to the starboard watch. The watch was called, the men say, a few minutes past midnight, and as the men were going on deck to muster, the ship gave a heavy lurch to starboard, but righted herself again immediately.
"John Gribble, first class boy, says that he was just passing round the capstan in mustering for his watch, after the ship had made the first lurch to leeward, when he heard Captain Burgoyne sing out, 'How many degrees does she heel now?' The answer came, 'Eighteen.' The ship kept on heeling over, and never came up again. Went out on the weather foretopsail brace on the hurricane-deck, to haul on and round in on the topsail, sheets being let go. Saw the sea roll over the hurricane-deck hammock-netting, and was jammed by it under the hammock-cloth. Could remember nothing more until he was picked up, with another of the men saved, by the second launch.
"Robert Hirst, able seaman, was stationed on the forecastle, and mustered with the starboard watch. There was a strong wind, and the ship was then under her three topsails, double reefs in each, and the foretopmast staysail. The yards were braced sharp up, and the ship did not seem to have much way upon her. As the watch were mustered, heard Captain Burgoyne give the order, 'Let go the foretopsail halliards;' followed by 'Let go fore and main topsail sheets.' By the time the men got to the topsail sheets the ship was heeling over to starboard so much that the men were washed away off the deck, the ship lying down on her side as she was gradually turning over, and trembling with every blow which the short jumping seas (the sea now was white all round with the squall) struck her, and the roar of the steam from the funnel roaring horribly above everything, and continuing to do so even when under water. Hirst, with two other men, rushed to the weather forecastle netting, and jumped overboard, and immediately afterwards they found themselves washed on to the bilge of the ship's bottom, but had no sooner got there than the ship went down, Hirst and his companions went down with the ship, but the next feeling of consciousness by the former, was coming in contact with a floating spar, to which he tied himself with his black silk neckerchief. He was soon afterwards, however, washed away from the spar, but got hold of the stern of the second launch, which was floating as it was stowed on board the ship — the second being stowed inside the first launch, the galley inside the second launch, and a canvas cover laced over and lashed round all. Other men were there on the top of the canvas covering. Then fell in with the steam lifeboat pinnace (built by J.S. White, East Cowes, Isle of Wight), bottom up, with Captain Burgoyne and a number of men on her bottom, but could not distinguish how many. Four men, of whom Mr. May, the gunner, proved to be one, jumped from off the bottom of the steam pinnace to the canvas covering of the galley and launches. The canvas was immediately cut away, the galley thrown out, the first launch floating away from underneath the second, and the oars got out in the second launch to pull up to the steam pinnace to take off Captain Burgoyne and the men remaining there. Hirst says it was soon found impossible to do this. As soon as they endeavoured to get the boat's head up to the sea to row her up to windward to where the capsized boat, with their Captain and few shipmates with him, was floating, the boat was swamped level to her thwarts, and two of the men were washed out of her. The pump was set going, and caps used for baling the water out, and a second attempt was made to row the boat up against the sea. This proved as unsuccessful as the first. There were only nine oars in the boat, the remainder having been washed away, and one being in use for steering, only eight remained for pulling the boat. It would be useless to prolong the tale. Nothing could be done under such conditions, with a heavy boat such as the second pinnace, and her head was put for the shore before the wind and sea, but Captain Burgoyne was away to windward, clinging to the bottom of a boat, in all that storm of broken waters.
"The men say, also, that about a quarter of an hour after their boat bore up for Finisterre after finding they could not reach the steam pinnace, they sighted on the starboard hand the green bow light of one of the ships of the fleet, and very soon afterwards both the red and the green bow lights of the ship were seen. About 5 a.m. Finisterre light was seen from the boat, and Mr. May. the gunner, and the seamen soon afterwards landed a little to the southward of the lighthouse. They stayed there for some time, and afterwards made a ten miles' rough walk to Corcubion, whence they were eventually taken by a boat sent ashore from the Monarch. After being examined, as already stated, on board the Lord Warden, they were transferred to the Volage, which immediately sailed with them and Sir Alexander Milne's despatches for England.
"It is important to notice that the general opinion of the men appeared to be that with the ship having a slight heel over, the pressure of a strong wind upon the under part of the hurricane-deck had a greater effect, or leverage, to put the matter more plainly, upon the hull of the ship than the pressure of the wind in her three topsails had. They also appeared to be nearly unanimous in their opinions that when the Captain got her starboard side well down in the water, with the consequent weight of water on the starboard side of the turret-deck, and the pressure of the wind blowing from the port hand on the under surface of the hurricane-deck and thus 'pushing' the ship right over, she had no chance of righting herself again. One man says that, in answer to Captain Burgoyne's inquiry as to how much the ship was heeling over, he heard the answers given '18,' '23,' '25' degrees. This movement was never checked for a moment, for immediately the heel of the ship had been given as 25 degrees she was keel uppermost, and about to make that tremendous downward plunge with the roar of the steam from her boilers still forcing upwards and out-screaming the noise of the storm.
"If the foundering of the Captain occurred at a few minutes past midnight the Admiral's first telegram must have been incorrect, that the Captain was close to the Lord Warden at 2 o'clock that morning, the exact words telegraphed, as part of the whole message, being, 'She was close to this ship at 2 this morning.'"
The following brief account of the catastrophe has been furnished us by an officer of another ship in the fleet:-
"About midnight of Tuesday, the 6th, came on a gale off Cape Finisterre, which increased till the wind was technically said to have 'a force of 9;' a very heavy sea was running at the time. Next morning the weather was fine. All the ships of the combined squadrons were in sight and in company except the Captain. That day was spent in 'spreading' in search of her. Next morning a sufficient quantity of wreck was picked up belonging to her to justify the conclusion that she must have foundered and gone down with all her 500 souls. Some bodies were also found and part of her hurricane deck. At 11 a.m. on Thursday the Inconstant, the swiftest of frigates, was despatched full speed to Plymouth, to convey the mournful news to 500 men’s relations. Captain Aplin had orders to proceed at once to the Admiralty."
We have received a copy of the following letter from a midshipman on board Her Majesty’s ship Lord Warden off Vigo, Sept. 8:—
"I am writing by quite an unexpected chance, one of our ships (the Inconstant) being sent home full speed. We have been cruising on and off here since the 2d, and we have been having trials between the two turret-ships, the Monarch and the Captain. The day before yesterday (Tuesday) a rather fresh breeze was blowing, and our Admiral went on board the Captain to see how she answered; he returned to us at about 6 o'clock on Tuesday evening. After that it began to blow very strongly from the south-west, and kept blowing from that quarter until about 2 or 3 on Wednesday morning, when it suddenly shifted, to the north-west, from which quarter it blew quite a hurricane, our captain and all the men saying they had never seen it blow so hard in all their lifetime. Well, at daylight on Wednesday morning the fleet was rather scattered, but still they were all visible except the Captain. As it was the first heavy gale of wind she had been in, and being such a peculiarly constructed ship, great fears were entertained for her safety; so the signal was made for the fleet to steer in different directions to look for her. We continued to look for her until about 4 in the evening, when we picked up one of her yards, and one of the other ships picked up two more spars. The Psyche, our despatch vessel, came out from Vigo and reported that on her way out she had passed two boats bottom up, and nearly the whole of the hurricane deck that belonged to the Captain. So I am afraid the Captain went down on the morning of the 7th, with all hands on board — nearly 600 men and officers; just fancy what a fearful and sudden death for them all. It is the general opinion on board here that a squall must have struck her, and that she must have completely turned over. She was last seen astern of us at half past 1 on Wednesday morning, rather close to us; signal was made for the fleet to get in open order, and the last we saw of her was running before the wind. Poor Captain Cowper Coles was on board of her at the time, and young Childers was in her. Captain Burgoyne, the captain of her, was liked much by every one who had sailed with him. it will be a great shock to the confidence of the public in turret vessels. Our vessel could not have behaved better than she did. Was it not lucky that our admiral came on board of us at 6 on Tuesday evening from the Captain, for if he had stopped another hour on board it would have been too late, it was blowing so hard? As it was, he was very nearly swamped on his way on board here."
|We 14 September 1870||The escape of eighteen survivors from the wreck of the Captain enables us to comprehend what would otherwise have been one of the most mysterious as well as most terrible disasters of our own times. It is now clear that the ill-fated ship did capsize in the gale of last Wednesday morning. She was caught in a heavy squall shortly after midnight, and in three minutes went to the bottom. So swift a catastrophe left little room for incidents, but we learn from the evidence of the seamen saved that as the ship was heeling over under the violence of the gale Captain Burgoyne directed the fore and main topsail sheets to be let, go — an order which would, perhaps, have saved the vessel, if only it could have been executed. But no time was allowed for the work. The ship could not recover herself. In the words of one of the survivors, she "kept on heeling over and never came up again." A few men jumped into the waves, and saved themselves by the ship's boats, which they found floating near the wreck; the rest of all that gallant crew went down with the vessel, and so perished. We are thus brought to a question of infinite magnitude and concern. Was the loss of the Captain owing to her peculiar build and equipment? She was the only genuine type of a turret-ship in the squadron, and she alone foundered in the gale which all the other vessels in the squadron rode out in safety. Does, then, this singularity of her construction explain the catastrophe? We fear it does, though we must speak with reserve and from information which is still but imperfect.|
The readers of these columns will be at no loss to understand the essential distinctions between turret-ships and broadside vessels, which, indeed, a controversy of nearly ten years' duration has rendered familiar to the public. A turret-ship in its origin and principle was not so much a ship carrying a turret as a ship submerged in the water. The first American Monitor was so constructed as to be level with the surface of the sea, and her turret was only added in order that there might be something to mount a gun upon. Now, the Captain was certainly not on a level with the sea, for her freeboard — that is to say, the height of her sides above water — was nine feet; but this, we need hardly add, is for a large man-of-war a very low freeboard indeed. The Monarch is so far a turret-ship that she carries her guns in turrets, but she has a freeboard of fourteen feet, and she made her voyage across the Atlantic in perfect safety. The Captain, then, having her upper deck only nine feet out of the water, carried on this deck two ponderous turrets, heavily plated with iron, and each mounted with two 22-ton guns. She was fitted, besides, with heavy tripod masts, and with what is called a "hurricane deck," both designed in aid of her peculiar armament and build. The explanation of the catastrophe follows naturally on this description. The gale caught her topsails, and, acting on these and the rigging, threw the ship on her beam ends. In this position she exposed her hurricane deck to the force of the wind, which caught it like an additional sail, and then the low freeboard completed the disaster. Sunk in the sea as the Captain was, she found no protection from her sides, and consequently went down like a stone.
In this account of the catastrophe we discover four distinct elements of danger — the low freeboard, the heavy top weights, the masts, and the hurricane deck; but then it must be added that three of these features are more or less inseparable from the type of a genuine turret-ship. The low freeboard is of the very essence of the model, the top weights do but represent the turrets themselves, the hurricane deck is a necessary convenience, but the masts were a fatal addition forced upon the inventor in order to make his ship independent of steam power, and they seem to have been adopted without proper consideration of the qualities necessary to counterbalance them. The Captain may have been perfectly safe when propelled only by steam, although she had not stability enough to sail. Indeed, if Captain Burgoyne's last order could have been executed, the ship might have been saved.
We must, however, not merely in justice to Captain Coles's memory, but in the interests of the British Navy, call attention to the other side of the question. If, unhappily, it has been proved true that the Captain was the least seaworthy ship of the squadron, it is equally true, and was acknowledged by every man in the fleet, that she could have destroyed the whole squadron, with one exception, in detail. Here, in fact, we have the secret of that invincible prepossession in favour of turret-ships acknowledged by so many of our ablest and most adventurous seamen. Given a vessel which, if she can float at all, will be a match for any six of her size, and you get a model which every sailor will cling to while hope remains. The low freeboard of the turret-ship withdraws it practically from the fire of an enemy, so that what was the ruin of the Captain in the tempest would have been her salvation in battle. Then, the steadiness of platform enables the guns to be worked in weather when the batteries of a broadside ship might be powerless while her sides were exposed helplessly to shot. Is it any wonder that such a type of a man-of-war should find resolute partisans? Doubtless it was known and felt all along that the model had its drawbacks, but it is not to much to say that if the Captain had really proved what she was designed to be, an "ocean-cruising turret-ship," she would have been the first of her class. No such vessel has ever yet been borne on the strength of a Navy. Turret-ships have, indeed, been to sea with impunity, but up to this time no genuine turret-ship had ever shown herself to be as habitable and as seaworthy as a cruiser ought to be. Captain Coles undertook to make his model satisfactory in both these respects, and in one he succeeded. The Captain was not an incommodious ship, nor was she, indeed, till the night of her loss believed to be unseaworthy. That she was an experiment is true, and that her behaviour was watched with a certain degree of solicitude is also clear, but it deserves to be stated that never during her trials was any doubt thrown upon her ordinary sea-going capacities. Exceptions were taken to certain points of her construction and performance, but nobody, to the best of our recollection, considered her unfit to go to sea. Yet, that she was unseaworthy, and essentially so, must, we think be at last acknowledged.
It will now be asked whether we must entirely surrender that potent element of maritime strength which the turret principle comprises. Of course, if it is to be retained only at a cost like this, we must do so, and content ourselves with applying the system to guardships and harbour vessels. But, suppose the masts of a turret vessel were dispensed with? The masts of the Captain were, no doubt, the first cause of her loss, and it is certain that a turret-ship can be managed without masts, for we are actually building them on that model already. But could a mastless ship be employed as an "ocean-cruising" man-of-war? That and other analogous questions will now be earnestly discussed. The principles, we may be very sure, for which Captain Coles contended so long and so patriotically will not be given up. A seaworthy turret-ship, if it could be constructed, would be the most powerful type of a man-of-war, and that is an object which British sailors will be very reluctant to forego.
|We 14 September 1870|
LOSS OF HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.
The Captain turret-ship, with a low freeboard, has capsized owing to being caught under canvas in one of those sudden and violent equinoctial gales common at this season of the year. It must be remembered that she was the first ship with a low freeboard that has ever been fully masted and attempted to be worked as a sailing ship; in that respect, and that only, was she an experiment.
Turrets have been worked at sea in all weathers; low freeboard ships of the Monitor class have been tested in all seas — in the storms of Cape Horn, the Gulf Stream, and the Baltic; but in every case under steam only. The desire of our Admiralty to make all their fighting ships cruise under canvas as well as steam induced poor Captain Coles to go a step further, and to make a ship with a low freeboard a sailing ship. He was fully aware of the serious nature of the experiment he was about to enter upon, and, prior to the first cruise of the Captain, we had a long and anxious conversation upon this very subject, and by diagrams and models which were before us, he agreed with me that if the leverage of the sails canted the low-sided ship over beyond a certain point, the danger of her not recovering herself would be very great, and I urged him to be most careful in his experiments on this head, and at all costs not to hesitate if caught in bad weather to furl all sails, and bring the ship under steam, with her bow to the sea — an opinion in which he cordially agreed, and on the last occasion I saw him and Captain Burgoyne together we were unanimous upon this point. His first cruise with the Monarch, and subsequently with Admiral Symond's fleet, gave Captain Coles greater confidence in the stability of the Captain under canvas, and he spoke with confidence of her beating any ship in the fleet under sail, as that appeared to be the point, and not her fighting qualities, to which our naval authorities appeared to attach most importance.
When sent on her second and last cruise with Admiral Milne's fleet, he again volunteered to go out in her for the purpose of watching over her sailing qualities in the hope of seeing his way to greater improvements in that respect, and his last letter from Gibraltar dwells with all the enthusiasm of a yachtsman on the race between the Captain and one of the fleetest of the broadside ironclads under canvas.
I wrote to him deploring the importance he attached to the value of a lot of masts, sails, and top hamper, useless to her as a fighting ship, lessening her speed under steam, and which, in the event of her being dismasted in action or a gale, might endanger the ship, and told him that I quite agreed with Admiral Symonds that a turret-ship ought to be a fighting ship pure and simple, without any masts or sails. However, the mania for sailing all our fleet, and endangering valuable ironclads, and still more precious lives, by manoeuvring under canvas, as in the days of Benbow, has wrought its evil. The topsails of the Captain threw her on her beam ends, and the fate of that gallant ship and crew ends in a melancholy way indeed the tardy and sad experiment of taking a ship of its entirely novel form and distribution of weights and masting, and attempting to sail heron the pattern of the useless wooden fighting ships of bygone days.
Had the Constructor's Department of the Admiralty accepted Captain Coles's first design of Monitors and turret-ships to which they will now have to return, instead of building an oddity like the Monarch, the fighting qualities of which are hardly superior to that of a broadside ship, and then challenging Captain Coles to produce a real turret ship which should sail as well as she, the sad tale of the Captain would not to-day have to be added to the records of the British navy.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Sherard Osborn, Captain, Royal Navy.
London, Sept 13.
|We 14 September 1870|
CAPTAIN COLES AND HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.
Sir,— The letter which I subjoin, from the late Captain Cowper Coles, is probably one of the last which he wrote, and will be read with a melancholy interest, from the graphic account which he gives of his ships performance, the touches of the writers character which appear in it, and the statement it contains of his views and anticipations for the future.
"Captain at Sea, 121 miles from Gibraltar, Aug. 14, 1870."As we may expect to be in to-morrow and an opportunity for letters, I write to you a line. We have had, so far, a most satisfactory and successful cruise. The greater part of the cruise has been under sail and steam, and when there was sufficient wind to have the ships under command, the fires have been banked.
"Admiral Sir Hastings Yelverton, I am glad to see, is a great man for keeping the ships under sail, when practically it can be done with economy to fuel.
"Keeping the ships in their prescribed order of sailing under sail, with orders only to use steam if necessary to keep station, results in a great saving of fuel, and practice to the officers (so much wanted) in keeping station and handling their ships under sail. The Inconstant, Captain, and Hercules have shown themselves the best ships in this point, the Inconstant and Captain having kept station and performed the evolution of 'Port division to become starboard division by passing through the line without steam,' while all the other ships had to use steam.
"The Hercules, so far as speed under sail goes, is equal to the Captain, but is uncertain in her steering, and on one or two occasions has been very erratic in her movements. On one occasion, being asked by signal the reason she (the Hercules) could not get into station, she said the ship would not answer her helm. This is, no doubt in consequence of the balanced rudder, and the large hole before it in the stern of the ship, which with twin screws there is not, and gives this ship (the Captain) obviously a great advantage in steering and handiness under sail. One day, with a rattling breeze two points abaft the beam, Captain and Hercules were ordered to disconnect screws and try rate of sailing; the ships were quickly under royals, all sail and port studsails; they appeared to fly from the rest of the squadron, and would soon have been out of sight although the squadron was pressing on all sail, had not the recall been made. The disconnecting of our screws made the difference of about a knot and a half speed when they revolved. It was a neck and neck race, and I was delighted at the performances of Captain, proving that a ship with twin screws can sail. In a 25 mile run, the Hercules claims to have gained 400 yards, but in consequence of the Captain's foretopmast stud-sail boom having been sprung before, she could not set her foretopmast stud-sail for nearly an hour, thus losing one of the most important and drawing sails for this point of sailing, the area of this sail being 2,032 square feet of canvas. In returning to the squadron, when both ships were under the same sail, the Captain headed the Hercules, and was back in her station some considerable time before her; and so ended another glorious day for Her Majesty's ship Captain.
"I have not heard yet the opinion of others in the fleet as to our sailing, but I think it will be found that Sir Hastings Yelverton and all will give her great credit for the character she has sustained of a cruiser under sail alone, performing evolutions and keeping station without steam, and showing that Sir T. Symonds was rather premature in his conclusions that ships Like the Captain could not cruise in company with a fleet under sail alone.
"Good as the Captain is in her sailing, I see my way clearly to making her equal in sailing to any sailing frigate in the world, or in building another similar ship. The great economy in masting ships is obvious even from this cruise alone. The ships have been about 134 hours under sail alone, and 59 hours under sail and steam. Allowing 1l. per ton for coals would, in round numbers, make a saving of at least I,000l., supposing that the ships would have been steaming during that time at the most economical speed, so that I see no reason to deviate from the conclusion I came to and recorded in 1860, that we must have two distinct classes of ironclads, the sea-going turret cruiser, with full sail power and full steam, and the turret-ship with full steam and auxiliary sail power. A fleet of Captains could keep the sea, manoeuvre, or go round the world without using a pound of coal; so that, besides the saving of fuel, a great saving can also be claimed for the fewer number of men. For instance, take this present fleet of six ships (leaving the Captain out) — their crews vary from 750 men to 605 (against the Captain's 500 men), making a total of 3,915 men; whereas, to man the same fleet, were they all Captains, would not only give us a much more powerful fleet, but we should save 915 men. Allowing this to be at the rate of 74l. per head per annum (sea Lord C. Paget's statement in the House of Commons), it would be a clear saving of 67,660l. per annum, or seven ships and three-fifths could be manned with the same number of men instead of six ships.
"Looking at these facts without prejudice, and that one of our best and most practical Admirals, Sir T. Symonds, reports that 'The Captain could destroy all the broadside ships of the squadron in detail,' to build any more broadside ironclads would be suicidal, and might be justly considered a wasteful expenditure of the public money — while the fact of this Administration having given the Captain a fair trial, and proved to the country the great economy of the turret system, can be written by the hand of economy to eternity.
"I think Sir Hastings Yelverton deserves great credit for his unfearingly putting the ships under canvas, when keeping in station, and saving fuel; and, it appears to me, so far as I can see, that he is the right man in the right place. But I see my way to establishing greater economies. We have a good deal of drill, and the Admiral inspected us, or rather came on board for one day to see us fire, and he expressed himself much pleased, and said he should pay us another visit. There is an excellent spirit in the ship, and the fleet. I could not help joining in the excitement when shifting topsails the other night, and in unhooking the sail burton of the maintopsail got my leg jammed between it and the bridge. The doctor tells me I had a narrow escape of losing my leg, and so it would appear from the colour of it now, as it is black, raw, and yellow from the knee down to the heel, and when I do move I hop about like a crow on one leg. Remember me kindly to Osborn, and excuse this hurried scrawl, but believe me to be, with kindest regards to Mrs. B.
"Yours very sincerely,
"Cowper P. Coles.
"P.S.— Aug. 16, 1870, Gibraltar. — At 10 20 am. yesterday we arrived, and all came in very prettily under sail and steam, and anchored simultaneously, and found here Sir A. Milne with his squadron. . . The fleet are to go to sea on Friday morning, but we do not know where for."
|We 14 September 1870|
THE LOSS OF HER MAJESTY’S SHIP CAPTAIN.Full details have now been received of this great misfortune. It occurred about 12 15 a.m. on the 7th. inst., the ship at the time being under double reefed fore and main topsails, on the port tack, close hauled, with the wind about N.W. and very squally, with rain and heavy sea. About midnight the ship was felt making a very heavy roll to starboard, and before she had time to recover a heavy sea struck her and threw her on her beam ends. She then turned bottom upwards, and eventually sank, going down stern first. From the time she fell on her beam ends to the time of sinking was about ten minutes. Captain Burgoyne and a few of the crew swam to the steam pinnace. which was floating bottom up; shortly afterwards the second launch passed close to the pinnace and Mr. May, the gunner, and two men succeeded in getting on board but Captain Burgoyne failed in the attempt. After various unsuccessful efforts to save him and others, they were so nearly swamped that they found themselves forced to bear up, or the launch must have gone from under them. At this time there were 19 persons in the launch, but one man was washed out of the boat by her shipping a heavy sea, which nearly filled her. There was no sail in the boat. and only nine oars. Mr. May knew that land was dead to leeward of the ship, and at daybreak they sighted Cape Finisterre. At last the weather moderated and they were able to land at Finisterre about noon of the 7th. The survivors believe it possible that others may have escaped in some of the other boats.
List of survivors.James May, gunner; James Ellis, gunners mate; Louis Wherry, captain fore top; James Harvey, second captain fore top; George Bride, coxswain, pinnace; Charles Tregenna, leading seaman; John Heard, A.B.; Robert Herd, A.B.; William Lawrence, A.B.; David Dryburgh, A.B.; John Walker, A.B.; James Freeman, ordinary seaman; Harry Grange, ordinary seaman; Robert Tomlinson, ordinary seaman; Thomas Kernan, ordinary seaman; Francis Merryman, boy, first class; James Saunders, boy, first class; John Gribble, boy, first class.
The following accounts are from others of the survivors. One says:—
“While the middle watch were being mustered by Mr. B.F. Goodfellow, midshipman, at midnight on the 6th of September, the captain called the gunner's mate, and told him to take a careful hand with him and cover up the turrets. While endeavouring to lift a grating so as to perform this order, the ship was thrown on her beam ends by a squall. The gunner's mate, who was to leeward at the time, held on to the grating; while holding on, the first launch and second launch and galley (which were both stowed inside the first launch) were washed over him, the bottom of the first launch bruising his back. He says that he went over with the ship; as soon as he came to the surface he saw the launches about 15 yards off, and in about a dozen strokes he got on board, where he found two men who had jumped into the boats while the ship was going down (one of these men could not swim). With the assistance of one of these men he succeeded in hauling in 12 other men, each man as he got in assisting to save others. They then separated the launches (that is to say, the first launch got full of water and sank from under the second launch, in which latter the men were). During this time they were being swept away to leeward. On getting out a steer oar they succeeded in passing close to the steam pinnace, which was floating bottom up, with Captain Burgoyne, James May (gunner), and five men on it. While passing, the gunner jumped into the launch, at the same time asking the captain to jump, as it was his only chance. He does not remember the answer the captain gave him, but he believes that the captain jumped but missed the boat. Three other men also jumped and succeeded in getting on board, making a total of 19 souls in the second launch. When alongside the pinnace one of the men offered the captain an oar, but he declined, saying, ‘For God's sake, men, keep your oars; you will want them.' They were then swept away and lost sight of the pinnace. They endeavoured to return to the pinnace, and threw overboard the galley (which was inside the second launch, as before stated), so as to save the captain and two other men who were left on it, but could not, in consequence of a very heavy sea, which prevented them from making any headway. While attempting this, George Myers, who was in the launch, said, 'I think we are all right now.' The words were scarcely uttered when a heavy sea struck the boat and washed him overboard; so after a short consultation they bore away for the land which they knew was under their lee, at the same time commencing to lighten the boat by throwing overboard the stay tackles, masts, &c., retaining only the oars. The boat was all this time up to her thwarts in water. Luckily, one of the boat's crew (David Dryburgh) happened to be in the boat, and accordingly knew where to find everything, so that they were able to rig the pump, and with the assistance of men that could not man oars (who were bailing with their caps) succeeded in bailing her out, At 3 30 a.m. they saw Cape Finisterre light, and arrived in Corcubion Bay, inside Cape Finisterre, at noon of the 7th, having been 12 hours in the boat, and were taken on board the Monarch at 2 p.m. of the 9th, sailing for England the same evening in Her Majesty's ship Volage. Shortly before the ship went over the captain was on the bridge endeavouring, with the watch, to round in the topsail yards, but could not; he then gave the order to let go the lee topsail sheets (the halliards having been previously let go). Before this order could be obeyed the ship was over on her beam ends, with the water pouring down the funnel, which was not sufficient to drown the shrieks of the stokers, which were heard by some of the survivors; she then turned bottom up and sank stern first in less than five minutes. The report when she sank they describe as resembling a tremendous explosion. Not a soul could get up from below as the whole thing occurred in an instant; all the men saved belonged to the watch on deck. Shortly after she sank, a ship, supposed to have been the Inconstant or Bellerophon, passed close over the place, but they did not see the boat or even miss the ship until Admiral Milne, about two hours after the accident, caused a signal to be made to the fleet to count the ships; they accordingly did so, and all signalled back ten, and there ought to have been eleven; the next day they (the fleet) found two boats, yards, spars, and gratings; secured to a boat's bowsprit they found a silk handkerchief which had been used by one of the men who were saved to fasten himself to the spar, but, seeing the launch, freed himself from it and swam to the boat. The gunner's escape was most miraculous; he was awoke by some marines making a noise outside his cabin, and noticing that the ship was knocking about he dressed and went on deck to examine the guns and see if they were properly secured; on going up into the after turret the ship went over and he jumped out of the turret into the water, swam to the pinnace, and was rescued by the launch. A mizen topman, as the ship capsized, got on the weather netting, and ran up the mizen tripod, but, finding the ship still sinking, he took to the water, and was saved. Another man (David Dryburgh) crawled over the weather netting, and actually walked along the ship's side as she went over, and finally along her bottom as she turned bottom up. He distinctly remembers placing his foot on a Kingston valve. At the time the ship was capsized she was under double-reefed fore and main topsails, and fore topmast staysail, close hauled, the yards being braced very sharp up. The general opinion is that the ship was too heavily sparred."
Another describes it as follows:—
"As soon as I got inside the turret I felt the ship heel over deeper and deeper, and a heavy sea strike her on the weather side, the water flowing into the turret as l got through the pointing hole. On emerging from the turret I found myself overboard; the last I saw of the ship was her prow; the time from capsizing until she sank was from five to ten minutes; after swimming a short distance I succeeded in reaching the pinnace, found some men on it, and assisted the captain to get on it. Launch passed; jumped and caught launch; believes captain to have jumped, not certain; large ship passed, supposed to be Inconstant, shouted to her; suppose that wind and sea prevented them hearing; endeavoured to return to save captain; in attempting, sea broke ever boat, washing one man overboard; bore away for land under lee. After 12 hours' hard work arrived in Corcubion Bay, inside Caps Finisterre; the men behaved admirably the whole time. Charles Tregenna worked the steer oar for 12 consecutive hours. Think steam was up. Night very dark with drizzling rain."
"In obedience to captain's order, called James Frost to cover up the turrets. Never saw him afterwards. Waked forward weather side: crossed to the side of boats on hurricane deck. Felt ship give lurch to leeward, water coming through grating on hurricane deck, and over hammock netting. Heard captain ask how much ship heeled. Did not hear answer. Captain sung out, 'Let go foretopsail halliards, plenty of hands, man downhaul.' Afterwards heard him order the maintopsail to be lowered and the sheet to be let go. He went down with the ship; does not think the boats were lashed; swam to launch, in launch saw ship's bottom uppermost, galley in launch acting like a sail to drive boats to leeward. Was catting cover off boat when a man (Freeman) said 'Don't you do that, but go aft and take command, as none of us know what to do.' Did so, and ordered cover to be cut away; got out steer oar and steered close to steam pinnace to leeward of us; passed close under stern of her; touched her, but could not hold on. Says ship was not knocking about much; all fore and aft had confidence when she recovered from the first heavy lurch, but she failed to recover from the second, healing gradually ever until she capsized. Steam up, but screw not revolving. Heard an order given to the engine room or to the helm, but there was no time for anything, as all was the work of a minute."
"As watch were being mustered heard the officer of the watch (Lieutenant Purdon) give the order, 'Lower the fore topsail'. Went to see weather brace and downhaul manned; halliards were let go, but yard would not come down, and they could get nothing of the weather brace. Making his way forward, saw boom boats floating out of the crutches, and all the watch on weather hammock netting; jumped for the launch, but missed her; but finally reached her. Had oilskin on, which dragged me down. I felt very much exhausted when hauled in. Held out an oar to pinnace. One of the men caught bold of it, but the captain sung out, 'Hold on to that oar, boy,' and I held on until I dragged it out of the man's hand. Captain sung out, 'Jump, men, jump,' but did not jump himself. While swimming heard a tremendous roar. Looked back and saw ship's bottom quite plain. Out of the men saved are seven foretopmen."
"I heard the captain ask how many degrees she heeled. Heard answer '18 degrees.' Thought the ship heeling very much. Tried to right, but would not. Went to weather netting, hauled myself along hurricane-deck to the main deck by the main tack, the ship being on her beam ends. Stood there a few seconds to see if the ship would right, and then as she turned gradually over walked over ship's bottom. My foot struck in one of the valves in ship's bottom, and finally I stood upon the bilge piece, the seas closing over me. I came up to the surface, and first thing I got hold of was a ropeyard. I looked and saw the ship settling down by the stern; then saw launches, and struck out. Tregenna caught hold of me. I said, 'For God's sake let go; you will drown both of us; hold on until I get in first.' When inside I felt the ship heel steadily over deeper and deeper, and a heavy sea strike her on the weather side; the water flowed in as I got through the pointing hole, only to find myself overboard. The last I saw of the ship was her prow; the whole time was but five to ten minutes, if so much. I was under the impression the captain jumped. When on the pinnace a large ship passed, 50 yards (Inconstant): wind howling prevented hearing. All manned and double banked the oars, one being used as a steer oar, the rudder being of no avail in such a heavy sea. Charles Tregenna, leading seaman, worked the steer oar ten consecutive hours. I and others essayed to relieve him, but none of us could manage it as well as he did. so we resigned it to him entirely. After 12 hours' hard work, without food or water, we reached Cape Finisterre. The men behaved admirably. Steam was up, but I do not know if screws were revolving. The night was dark, with drizzling rain. The mainsail furled and foresail hauled up."
James Ellis, gunner's mate:—
"Called James Frost to come and cover the fore turret, hut never saw him afterwards. Walked forward on the weather gangway, and crossed to lea side of boats on hurricane deck, when he felt the ship give a lurch to leeward; the water came up through grating of the hurricane deck and over the hammock netting. Heard the captain ask how much the ship heeled. Did not hear the answer. The captain sang out 'Let go foretop halliards; plenty or hands go forward and man the downhaul.' Afterwards heard him order to let go maintop halliards and lee topsail sheet. He went down with ship. Does not think the boats were lashed. When in launch saw the ship bottom op. Cover over all three, first, second, and galley, acting as a sail. Was cutting off the cover when a man named Freeman said, 'Don't you do that, but go aft and take command, as none of us know what to do.' Did so, and ordered cover to be cut away. Steered for steam pinnace to leeward. There was a small hole in the cover of the launch which he stuck his foot in, got in, and pulled Tregenna. Belonged to the second launch. She had no plug hole; the first had, but he could not find the plug to put in it. Saw the captain on the steam pinnace; did not see him jump; heard him say, 'Hold on to that oar, boy; you will want that.' Was but a moderate gale when he went on deck, but blowing very hard when the ship went over, and dark."
"Officer of watch gave order to lower topsails, and man weather braces. Ship then made a heavy larch to leeward. Heard captain sing out 'Let go lee topsail sheets.' Next he knew of it was finding himself in the water. Put his hands out to prevent anything knocking him, and felt the ship's side. Struck out from ship. Got hold of ropeyard, then got hold of launch, and was dragged into her. Heard captain sing out, 'Hold on to that oar."'
Another describes it as follows:—
"Felt ship heel over. Sails would not come down. Held on to weather rigging, Saw her topsails in water. She took me down with her. I let go, and on coming to surface got hold of a plank. More came to it, so I let go, and swam to launch. Just as I was hauled in passed pinnace. Heard captain sing out, 'Hold on to your oars.' Tried to get back to pinnace. Everybody great confidence in ship."
Another seaman says:—
"I let go the weather foretop halliards yard. Would not come down. Felt ship heel over, and felt she would not right. Made for weather hammock netting. She was then on her beam ends. Got along her bottom by degrees as she kept turning over until I was where her keel would have been if she had one. The seas then washed me off. I saw a piece of wood about 20 yards off, and swam to it. Two men caught hold of me, and tore the legs off my trousers. I could not save them. Seeing launch to leeward, left the bit of wood and swam to it. When on board commenced cutting away cover. My knife I found open, as I had opened it to cut away weather foretopsail sheet. Do not know whether captain was on pinnace. Took steer oar until getting on shore. Had perfect confidence in ship. Had been accustomed to steering in heavy seas. If we had brought boat round we should have swamped."
All the survivors agree that they felt full confidence as to the ship's sea-going qualities, and no apprehensions of danger were entertained. The Captain was built with a very large forecastle and a similar compartment aft; this Mr. Reed has always condemned as depriving turret ships of their primary and supreme advantage, that of providing an all round fire, and more especially a head fire. These two compartments are joined by a hurricane deck running over the turrets, leaving a perfectly open space only occupied by the turrets and funnel casing. The ship at the time was under double-reefed fore and main topsails, and braced sharp up (she was noted for the small angle at which she could brace her yards up) on the port tack, heeling 18 degrees; and it was also the general opinion that she was too heavily masted. With these facts, the following conclusions are arrived at:—" The absence of any side between the forecastle and poop, presenting no surface to the water, and the pressure of water on the lea side of the main deck, together with the hurricane deck, acting as a sail, and taking into consideration that the yards were very sharply up, rendered it almost impossible for the ship to right herself when once over. When the lee side of the main deck is submerged, the water, of course, exercises a great leverage on the side of the ship, tending to press her downwards.
The following is a list of the boats:—1st launch, 2d ditto, pinnace, three cutters, galley, gig, dingy.
The first launch with the second launch inside, the second launch again containing the galley, were stowed on top of the foremost turret, The first launch sank from under the second launch, and was afterwards picked up, and is now on board Her Majesty's Ship Bellerophon. The second launch was the boat they were saved in. The dingy was lashed to the pilot tower. All the boats, according to accounts, are accounted for except the pinnace (steam), on which Captain Burgoyne was last seen; there are still hopes (but very faint) of Captain Burgoyne turning up, for the pinnace was a lifeboat, and was drifting very fast to leeward. The three cutters were hoisted up one on each quarter and one astern. The gig was stowed inside the pinnace, the pinnace on top of after turret.
The Monarch is left behind in Corcubion Bay, and with her boats will examine the coast round Cape Finisterre, in the hope of finding something. The fleet have gone repeatedly over the ground where there was any possibility of finding any traces of the unfortunate ship, so everything possible has been done. The surviving officer, Mr. James May, has often previously distinguished himself, being in receipt of two medals from the Humane Society for saving life, and on two other occasions he has saved life without reward. The man Tregenna, who for 12 consecutive hours managed the steer oar, is well deserving of praise.
LIST OF OFFICERS LOST IN HER MAJECTY’S SHIP CAPTAIN.
"Captains.—Hugh T. Burgoyne, V.C., Captain P. Coles, C.B.
“Commander.— Richard Sheepshanks.
"Lieutenants.— Charles Giffard, Francis B. Renshaw, Richard P. Burdon, Robert F. Castle, Edward W.F. Boxer.
“Second Captain, Royal Marine Artillery.— Richard A. Gorges.
"Lieutenant, Marines.— John A.A. Eckford.
"Chaplain.— Rev. Edmund S. Powles.
“Staff Commander.— Robert J.C. Grant.
“Paymaster.— Julian A. Messum.
“Staff Surgeon.— Matthew Burton, M.D.
"Surgeon.— Robert Purves.
“Chief Engineer.— George Rock.
“Sub-Lieutenants.— Edward P. Hume, Lord Lewis Gordee, Herbert F. Murray, Douglas E.D. Curry, Arthur 0.R.B. Ternan, Charles E. Goldsmith, James D. Kirkness.
“Navigating Sub-Lieutenant.— Arthur G. Tregaskiss.
"Midshipmen.— Gerald W. Trevor, Leonard G.E. Childers, Allan C.T. Mann, Hon. Arthur T.N. Baring, Henry W. Gordon, Alfred A. Ashington, Hon. William R. Herbert, Edward F. Goodfellow, Edmund D. Ryder, Alfred Ripley.
“Assistant-Surgeon.— John Ryan.
“Assistant Paymasters.— Richard Cornish, Arnold West.
“Engineers.— William C. Moreton, Peter Baldwin, Frederick Pursell, George E. Barnes, John H. Willis.
"Assistant-Engineers, First-Class.— George P. Gardiner, Frederick J. Baron, Thomas W. Curtis.
“Assistant-Engineers, Second-Class.— Alfred Parkis, George Harding.
“Boatswain.— Robert Davie.
“Carpenters.— Charles Dyer, William V.R. Heugh.
“Mr. Charles Walker, a son of Admiral Sir Baldwin Walker, and a brother-in-law of Captain Burgoyne; he was an officer in the army.
"Lientenant Nordenfelt, a Swedish officer, in our service.
“Two Greek midshipmen, one named Sactoris, the other's name not known."
A meeting of naval officers, on full and half pay, or retired, was held yesterday at the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, for the purpose of taking the necessary steps for the formation of a fund for the relief of the widows, orphans, and relatives of the officers, seamen, marines, stokers, &c., lost with Her Majesty’s late turret-ship Captain. The meeting was numerously attended, and the chair was taken by Flag Captain George Hancock, in the unavoidable absence of Port Admiral Sir James Hope. Captain Hancock, after referring to the object of the meeting said the Captain was an experimental ship in which every naval officer was much interested, and relative to the peculiar construction of which every one, no doubt, had their opinions on one side or the other. But the navy of this country was the first line of defence of the British Empire, and every officer and man serving in it at times held their lives on precarious tenure. In a time of peace like the present the loss of such a ship as the Captain and her officers and crew, with the exception of the 17 saved was most extraordinary. During his past career he had no recollection of — indeed, no such instance had occurred — as a ship of the Captain's tonnage, and manned by so large a crew, having gone down in the very midst of a fleet. The event stood alone and unparalleled in its horror. The condition of the widows, orphans, and relatives left by the officers and crew of the unfortunate ship must, he felt convinced, not only have obtained the strongest hold upon the sympathies of the naval profession, but also upon that of all classes of the community throughout the kingdom. The necessary resolutions were then proposed, duly seconded, and carried nem. con., appointing a general committee to be formed of all present; a. managing committee composed of Admiral Sir James Hope, Admiral Sir R.L. Warren, Admiral Wodehouse, Captain Peile, R.N., Major Roberts, R.M.A., Mr. Thompson, R.N., Rev. Mr. Squire, Captain Henderson, R.N., Captain Brooker, R.N., Captain Somerset, R.N., Mr. Fitzgerald, R.N., Mr. Kirkham, Secretary; R.N. College, Hon. Secretary. As trustees of the fund the following gentlemen were elected by the meeting:— Admiral Sir James Hope, Rev. John Squire, Captain Somerset, R.N., Major Roberts, R.M.A. A resolution was also passed requesting the various banks to open subscription lists in aid of the fund, and to pay over sums thus collected at intervals to the National Provincial Bank in the town for transmission to the general fund. Other resolutions were passed relating to the advertising the sums subscribed in various newspapers, and other details, after which the meeting was dissolved.
A half block model of the Captain may be seen in the Naval Gallery at the South Kensington Museum.
|Fr 16 September 1870||The Admiralty have issued the following notice:—
"Admiralty, S.W., Sept 15."This is to give notice that widows of the petty officers and seamen of the Royal Navy, and of non-commissioned officers and privates of the Royal Marines, who were drowned in Her Majesty’s ship Captain should apply to the Accountant-General of the Navy and Controller of Navy Pay, Admiralty, New-street, London, S.W., for the gratuity out of Greenwich Hospital funds equal to one year's wages of their late husbands, payable under the Greenwich Hospital (Provision for Widows) Act, 1863."
|Sa 17 September 1870||Our columns exemplify day after day the painful interest taken by all classes of society in the loss of the Captain, and that terrible calamity does, indeed, involve questions of the gravest importance to the public welfare. Considering the length and bitterness of the professional controversy concerning the principles which the Captain represented, it is but natural to expect strong prejudices and obstinate prepossessions still surviving; but the subject is now too serious for any such quarrels. The public most not be mystified, either one way or the other, on points which may either cost our Navy half its strength or expose our seamen to gratuitous perils. If we discard the turret principle without sufficient cause, we lose the most powerful type of a fighting ship yet discovered; if we retain it in spite of evidence, we shall be answerable for the recurrence of such catastrophes as that now deplored. Let us place the question, then, in its true light for consideration and inquiry.|
The Captain was lost, beyond all doubt, because when the force of the gale caught her masts and forced her to heel over, the lowness of her side afforded no protection against the sea. Her hurricane deck and the top weight of her turrets contributed to the disaster; but we may leave those points out of the question for the present. The heavy masts and the low freeboard, practically speaking, caused the wreck, and neither would have been fatal without the other. If the Captain had carried no masts, she would not have been thrown on her beam-ends; if her freeboard had been higher, she might have been thrown on her beam-ends without harm. To have given her, however, a high freeboard would have altogether destroyed her character as a turret-ship, which, as we have more than once explained, means not so much a vessel with a turret — for that might be carried by any broadside ship — but a vessel with sides scarcely rising above the water. If, therefore, one of the elements of danger had to be removed from the Captain, it must have been her rigging, and that is precisely what Captain Sherard Osborn has suggested. He asserts roundly that a turret-ship should be propelled by steam alone, and carry no masts or sails at all. On this principle, he says, such a vessel would be perfectly seaworthy, and we can readily believe it; but that condition surrenders the whole matter in dispute. Nobody doubts that a turret-ship is the best form of a fighting ship, and that a ship for the mere purposes of fighting can dispense with masts and sails, and be, indeed, all the better without them. But men-of-war are wanted for cruising as well as fighting, and can we imagine an ocean-going cruiser without masts or sails? It is clear from Captain Coles’s own letter, which we published on Wednesday, that he, at any rate, imagined nothing of the kind. He knew that an ocean-cruising ship must necessarily carry masts and sails and treat her steam power as auxiliary. He thought, too, that the Captain, by his designs, had been rendered efficient not merely as a fighting ship, but as a cruiser. For this confidence, as we can now unhappily see, there was no justification. The low freeboard of the Captain did render her an almost impregnable man-of-war; but her masts did not make her a good sailing vessel. On the contrary, they proved incompatible with her low freeboard, and the attempted combination of the two produced her destruction.
Thus far, therefore, we find that the essential principle of a turret-ship, an exceedingly low freeboard, cannot be safely adopted in conjunction with masts and sails — in other words, that no turret-ship can in our present stage of knowledge be classed as a sea-going cruiser. Such vessels as Captain Osborn describes — pure fighting ships — may, indeed, be so designed as to fit them for voyages of a certain length — say, for a ten days' run or so — and we have specimens of these now building, but though they could run out, fight a battle, and run home again, they could not keep the seas for even a month at a time. To do this they must carry masts, and if they carried masts they might any day be sent to the bottom. Admiral Inglefield, however, has addressed us with a suggestion offering a compromise, or rather a combination of the two principles. He recommends that turret-ships should be built with high freeboards, but admit of being sunk in the water till the freeboard became as low as was desired. This he would accomplish by letting the water into one of the water-tight partitions or compartments of the ship, and so bringing her down to the required level. As he observes, the low freeboard is only valuable during action, and so he would provide for it on going into action. At all other times the freeboard would be kept high, and the sailing qualities of the vessel preserved accordingly. Of this proposal we will only say at present that it formed part of the original design of the American Monitors, which, for the purposes of fighting, were intended to be sunk to the water's edge, or even below it. The suggestion, however, does recognize the fact which it is extremely important to bear in mind that a vessel intended to sail cannot, as far as we can yet judge, have a low freeboard.
It is painful to cast any reflection on the judgment of an officer whose merits were so eminent as those of Captain Coles, but the truth in this matter is of far too much consequence to be disguised, and must be spoken plainly. The Captain was built to perform, and was expected to perform, the very service she was found incapable of performing. It was believed, not only by Captain Coles himself, but by many, indeed most, of our best officers, and by every man of her own illfated crew, that the Captain was qualified to carry her masts notwithstanding the lowness of her freeboard. Her designer, indeed, relied even more on her sails than on her steam power, and regarded her, not as a fighting ship movable by steam, but as a cruiser which could "go round the world." We give Captain Coles’s own words to show the conception he had formed of his ship and her capacities, and we have now been taught too clearly how complete was the mistake. The Captain, built as she was and rigged as she was, was unfit for sea, nor can we, in the interests of the public service, omit at this point to remark upon the insufficiency of the evidence occasionally brought in aid of an opposite conclusion. Turret-ships with low freeboards have, it is said, not only made voyages, but weathered storms in safety. No doubt; but the Captain herself had done exactly the same, and she herself might a fortnight ago have been quoted as an example instead of a warning. It is not enough to say that an experimental vessel has made a voyage without foundering. Nobody pretends to say that a ship, however low her freeboard or heavy her top weights, must go to the bottom as a matter of certainty in the first stress of weather. It is only said that a vessel of this description is far more likely to founder than a cruiser ought to be, and that mischief, though escaped once or twice, must be expected to overtake her at last. Nothing can he more natural than the prepossessions of our officers in favour of turret-ships. They cannot be expected to resign without an effort the most formidable model of a man-of-war. They would, we can well imagine, be prepared to return this model in spite of all its dangers; but that is the very policy against which it is necessary for impartial observers to protest.
|Sa 17 September 1870|
THE LOSS OF HER MAJESTYS SHIP CAPTAIN.The subjoined extracts from a private letter written by an officer serving on board one of the ships of the Channel Squadron will be read with interest:—
"The first watch had just been relieved and the middle watch dismissed after muster. The ship (Captain) was under double-reefed fore and main topsails, the foresail hauled up, and mizen topsail furled. Lieutenant Pardon was officer of the watch, and Captain Burgoyne was on deck. Captain Burgoyne, shortly after the watch was mustered, asked the number of degrees the Captain was heeling, and was answered 18. The wind was then rapidly increasing. Orders were given to lower the topsails and let go the topsail sheets, but (at about 12 15 or 12 30 a.m.) she gave a heavy lurch, followed by a still heavier one. She did not right herself from the second lurch, but went over and turned bottom up, the boats and light spars getting detached and breaking adrift from their lashings as the ship went over. Mr. May, the gunner, who had turned out at midnight to look after the guns in the turrets, and see that all was secure, got on the ship's bottom when she turned over, and remembers seeing other men there, and one man in particular, who put his foot in one of the Kingston valves. May had first been in the foremost turret, and then went into the after turret, where he felt the first and second lurch of the ship. The latter appeared so serious that he scrambled out of the top of the turret, and was just in time to be lifted off by the sea which was engulfing the ship as she turned over. He swam from the ship to the steam pinnace which was lying near, bottom up, and found himself in company with Captain Burgoyne, a boatswain’s mate, and one or two other seamen, who had been washed away from the sinking ship. The ship then passed astern and to leeward, and the men hailed for assistance from other ships of the fleet, but, of course, were not heard. The launch, which had floated off her crutches on the ship sinking, came within three or four yards of the steam pinnace, and Captain Burgoyne, who had been encouraging the men not to lose hold of the oars they had in their hands, was begged to jump with the others from the bottom of the steam pinnace to the launch, but did not reach the launch with the gunner and others. The gunner, gunner's mate, the captain of the foretop, six able seamen, six ordinary seamen, and four boys, found themselves in the launch, with nine oars. Captain Burgoyne and everything having disappeared, the boat was pulled in a direction to leeward for the shore. The sea running high, on nearing the land they mistook some rocks for houses, and the boat was nearly swamped in bearing away round the rocks to seek a landing place south of Cape Finisterre. One man had been washed overboard from the boat and lost. Finally they landed about noon at a small village, where they were kindly treated. A message was immediately sent over to Corunna to the English Consul there, to telegraph the fact of the landing of the gunner and men from the ship.
"Admiral Milne had been on board the Captain the day before she was lost, and was very near remaining there all night, as he intended going on board again the next day, and Burgoyne wanted him to sleep on hoard. When reefing topsails on Tuesday (6th), the Captain was within a cable's length of us, and then she looked splendid, with the sea just washing over her deck. The fleet had only two reefs all night, and there is no doubt whatever that close reefs should have been the order at 10 p.m. There was every appearance of a gale of wind, and the fleet was standing straight for the heart of it. At ten minutes to 11 p.m., I saw the Captain's lights, and again about 11 15 p.m. At 11 50 I was congratulating myself on getting below from the watch without any mishaps when a tremendous squall struck the ship, and carried away sheets, blocks, and braces, leaving the yards banging about. Halliards and sheets were let go, and steam clapped on to send the ship ahead, but the wind blew fearfully strong, and the ship heeled over something considerable. In the morning the Captain was missing."
The following letter has been received by the Marine Superintendent of the Meteorological-office from Staff-Commander Kiddle, R.N.:—
"Her Majesty’s Ship Minotaur, Off Cape Finisterre, Sept. 10."Dear Captain Toynbee,— As the gale in which the Captain foundered will become historical, I thought Mr. Scott and yourself would like to have the meteorological report of the weather. We were probably not a mile from her when the calamity occurred. I have already informed you that the barometer has for a long period been unusually low — viz., about 29·85 to 29·95 as a mean.
"At sunset, on the 6th of September, we were ten miles W.S.W. of Cape Finisterre. The sky in the south-west looked ugly, but not remarkably so. Bar., 29·78 ; ther., 67 deg.; sea, 64 deg.; wind, W.S.W., 5. We passed within a few yards of the Captain, and I saw the crew covering the turrets with tarpaulins; the squadron then hauled to the wind in the port tack and stood off to gain an offing. 8 p.m.— Wind, W.S.W., 5; bar., 29·76; ther., 66 deg., with an occasional drizzling mist, but throughout there was a remarkable absence of rain. At 9 p.m. I saw the light on Cape Finisterre bearing east distant 16 miles; wind, W.S.W., 5 to 7; bar., 29·66; ther., 66 deg.; weather cloudy and squally with rain. I now felt certain that a gale was at hand, and remarked to Captain Goodenough, 'What a pity it is that we are compelled to stand deliberately into the centre of a gale.' The trend of the land, however, prevented any other course being taken.
"10 p.m. Bar. 29·50; wind, W.S.W., 8, with squalls of light rain at intervals, otherwise it was one of the dry gales from this quarter which, during the winter months, are so lasting, and liable to veer between W.S.W. and N.W. and back again. At 11 p.m. I saw the Captain for the last time; she was then apparently rather close to the Lord Warden. The squalls were now becoming very heavy — so much so, indeed, that in passing the gangway the sudden impact of the wind turned one round if unprepared for it. Wind remarkably steady, in direction 9 or 10; bar., 29·46. Midnight, no change in the force or direction of the wind; bar., 29·42; ther., 62 deg.; water, 64 deg. Occasionally a heavy sea would comb and break to windward, but this noble ship was as easy as if she were carrying topgallant sails.
"September 7, 1 a.m. — Bar., 29·40; wind as before, and the squalls more frequent, with a blinding mist. At 1 30 a.m. the barometer had fallen to 29·35, and the mercury was much depressed in the centre of the tube; by 2 a.m. it had fallen to 29·27. There was now a lull in the wind, and a long, low glimpse of light lit up the horizon from S.W. to N.W. There was no arching of the clouds, as is generally the case, the edge remaining parallel to the horizon throughout its length. In a few minutes the wind shifted to N.W., without any rain, and with a force not exceeding 8. I immediately looked at the barometer, and found it had risen to 29·40. It continued to rise rapidly, the sky cleared, and the wind abated. At daylight the Captain was missing, and the squadron separated to examine the locality. I believe the Hercules picked up a lifebuoy shortly afterwards; but the Psyche, in steaming up from Vigo, which was dead to leeward, came on unmistakable traces of the catastrophe in the form of two cutters bottom up, and, more melancholy still, the body of a seaman named Hart; he was clinging to a grating without any lashing, and death had not released his muscular fingers. During the day several of her boats, the hurricane deck, a portion of her bowsprit, topgallant yards, standard binnacle, and other articles were picked up.
"On the 9th the gunner and 17 seamen were brought up from Finisterre to the Lord Warden, and shortly afterwards it was announced that the Captain had turned bottom up and sunk in five minutes, at 0 30 a.m., September 7. I calculate the position to be N.78°W., distant 17 miles from Cape Finisterre. Judging by the formation of the land, the bottom is irregular and rocky, and the bowsprit was probably broken off when she struck the ground. I am also of opinion that when bottom up the guns slipped through the turrets and carried away the hurricane deck.
"The barometer seldom misleads, and I have often wondered that maritime nations have not erected a monument in honour of the great discoverer; still it is not necessary for the preservation of his name among us, for in every well-regulated ship on the ocean, and in innumerable places on the land, we find an enduring record of his genius and sentinels watching ever it.
"As you are sure to see all the particulars in the newspapers, I shall conclude with kind regards.
"Yours very truly, "W.W. Kiddle."
|Sa 17 September 1870||A portion of the Channel Fleet arrived in the Portland Roads at noon on Thursday. The squadron consisted of the following armour-plated ships Agincourt (Admiral Shadd [should be Chads]), Minotaur (bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Yelverton), Northumberland, Warrior, and Hercules. These ships have just returned from their cruise on the coast of Spain. On rounding the Breakwater they were greeted with the usual salute from the training ship Boscawen, stationed at Portland. The fleet left Vigo on Saturday afternoon last, and had a very good voyage, though strong head winds prevailed up to Tuesday. On that day, when about 50 miles off Ushant, they met with the despatch boat Helicon, bringing letters and despatches. As might be expected, the most acute sorrow is felt throughout the fleet for the fate of comrades in the Captain. The men have neglected their wonted amusements and recreations, and it was not until Tuesday that the performances of the ships' bands were resumed. After the lamentable occurrence, Admiral Milne signalled to the different ships inquiring if the officers and men would devote a day's pay to the relief of the widows and orphans of the poor fellows who had perished on the disastrous morning of the 7th. The reply was hearty and unanimous, as might have been expected from British sailors. It is the general opinion of the fleet that the sails of the Captain should not have been set during the squally weather that prevailed when she met her sad end. It is stated that the sea was not exceedingly rough, and that several ships scarcely rolled at all. When the discovery was made that the Captain was missing, not the least apprehension was entertained that she had foundered, the supposition being that she had been able to run before the wind and would eventually rejoin the squadron. It could hardly be surmised that so gallant a craft could succumb to a gale of wind, and the fact was not realized until after the Warrior fell in with portions of wreck. Hope was not altogether abandoned until the Psyche signalled off Vigo that she had picked up two of the Captain's cutters, bottom upwards. The disaster is painfully recalled to us by the arrival at Weymouth of large piles of letters and papers for the officers and crew of the Captain. These have necessarily been forwarded to the Dead Letter-office.|
|Ma 19 September 1870||The Lord Warden, armoured wood-built frigate, Capt. Brandreth, carrying the flag of Admiral Sir Alexander Milne, K.C.B., which arrived at Spithead at 8 p.m. on Friday, in company with the armoured iron screw frigate Bellerophon, Capt. Strode, and the unarmoured wood-built screw frigate Bristol, Capt. Wilson (naval cadet training-frigate) on Saturday morning, at flag-hoist time, exchanged salutes with the flagship of the Port Admiral and Naval Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Wellington, Captain Hancock, lying in Portsmouth harbour. Sir Alexander Milne disembarked from the Lord Warden during the forenoon, accompanied by his secretary and flag lieut., and, after calling upon Admiral Sir James Hope at the Admiralty-house in the Dockyard, proceeded to London by mid-day up train. The Lord Warden steamed into Portsmouth harbour in the afternoon of Saturday to prepare for paying out of commission, and the flag of Sir Alexander Milne was struck at sunset. The second cutter, in which the gunner and the 17 seamen gained the shore at Finisterre from the ill-fated Captain, and a gig picked up from the floating remains of the wreck, have been brought home on board the Lord Warden. The Bellerophon is ordered to go into Portsmouth harbour to-morrow, to be dismantled and prepared for paying out of commission.|
|Tu 20 September 1870|
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.Sir,— The Captain, when fitted for sea, drew two feet more water than her calculated draught, owing to an error in estimating the weights of hull and equipment, to the extent of 800 tons.
A mistake of such magnitude must necessarily have vitiated all the calculations of her builders, and it was upon the correctness of those calculations that the most vital element of her safety — stability — depended.
I will not trench upon your valuable space by any merely technical explanation. It will be sufficient to state that the capability of a ship to recover her equilibrium when rolling depends quite as much upon the position of the centre of gravity of her mass as upon a high freeboard.
If, therefore, the unsuspected 800 tons were so located as to raise essentially that centre of gravity, we need not wonder at the result, aggravated, but not necessarily caused, by the low freeboard.
I venture to suggest that the Admiralty ought at once to ascertain clearly the position and effects of the overlooked and unexpected 800 tons before condemning a class of vessel for a mishap which may possibly be attributable to a blunder, and not to any inherent defect.
I am, &c., A SHIPBUILDER.
|Tu 20 September 1870||THE CAPTAIN. — The Naval Court-Martial to inquire into the loss of Her Majesty's ship Captain will be opened at Portsmouth to-day. Sir Spencer Robinson and Mr E.J. Reed will, it is believed, give evidence.|
|We 21 September 1870|
HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.
I have reason to know that the Admiralty have data upon which were determined all these vital problems before the Captain went to sea. The ship was weighted on one side of her turret deck, in the course of the experiments made by the Government officials at Portsmouth to obtain the data referred to, and her action then convinced all on board that the centre of gravity of the ship was not where it ought to have been.
Let this report from Portsmouth Dockyard to the Controller of the Navy be produced, together with the remarks of the latter officer upon the contents of the document on his presenting it to the Board, and in all cases let the exact dates be given, 1. The date on which the report was forwarded from Portsmouth; 2, date on which the report was received by the Controller; 3, date on which the report was laid before the Board of Admiralty by the Controller; 4, dates of the Captain's sailing on her cruises under Captain Burgoyne's command; 5, dates on which the experiments were made at Portsmouth with the Captain. The latter ought to stand No. 1 in lieu of No. 5, but that is of little consequence. If the course I have thus pointed out is followed, the cause of the ship's loss will be clearly established, and the responsibility of all parties, whether in connexion with the design and building of the ship, or in subsequently accepting her from the hands of her builders, and sending her to sea with her known dangerous defects, will also be as clearly defined.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Portsmouth, Sept. 20.
|We 21 September 1870||HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.—The day when the Naval Court-martial to inquire into the loss of Her Majesty’s ship Captain is to be opened is, we understand, not yet fixed. The probabilities, however, are that the Court may he formed about the end of the present week, and that the ships at present at Portland may proceed to Spithead to enable a Court of officers to assemble of rank commensurate with the importance of the inquiry. We are requested to state that among those who perished in this ill-fated vessel were two young Greeks, — viz., Mr. D. Sachtouris, son of an aide-de-camp to the King of the Hellenes, and Mr. P. Epites, of a well-known family of Athens.|
|Fr 23 September 1870|
THE LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.The following is a full report of the remarks already briefly noticed by us as made by Mr. E.J. Reed, C.B., late Chief Constructor of the Navy, at the British Association, on Tuesday last, on the loss of the Captain.
"Mr. Reed explained that he had been invited by the committee to make some remarks upon this question. No one could possibly undertake out of mere choice to discuss such a question as the loss of the Captain. His own inclination would lead him to defer any explanation he might have to make to a future time, and to leave even the discussion upon the scientific principles involved in the question also to a future occasion. The only inducement, therefore, for him to make any remark was that all through the Press of this country there existed a manifest tendency to account for the loss of that ship by the accidents of the moment rather than by any inherent weaknesses of its structure; and if any mistake was made upon that point there could be but one consequence — the sacrifice of other valuable lives in the future, and the greatest possible disasters to ourselves. It was only because he knew that men highly placed in authority had the greatest possible faith in the most dangerous vessels which could be designed that he felt bound to express his conviction that the loss of the Captain resulted from a preventable cause; and he for one hoped that no other such loss from a similar cause would ever happen in our navy. He would like to say what was fairly but not fully known — namely, that the very existence of the Captain arose out of the refusal of the advocates generally of the turret system to accept a high side in combination with turrets in a seagoing ship. Indeed, that was the old feud which had been before the country for ten years past. The pressure of the public Press, and to some extent of Parliament, had been urged in favour of the other view, and when the time came for the designing of a seagoing turret-ship the determination of the height of her sides became a most serious and much-disputed question. He believed he was right in saying that every sea Lord of the Admiralty perfectly concurred with himself in the belief that a side of 12ft. or 14ft. in height for a frigate of large size was absolutely essential to her seaworthiness. That was not a prejudice, but a conviction, and from that conviction they were prohibited by their official duty from departing. The consequence was that when the Monarch was designed they gave her a height of side of 14ft Unhappily that ship was not accepted by the proposers of the system of low freeboards. Captain Coles, to whose skill and zeal and unfaltering determination he wished to bear public testimony, differed from him in opinion upon this point, and considered that the sides were unnecessarily high, and that a ship with much lower sides would answer the purpose better. The result was that there being a difference of opinion, the ship was ordered under other responsibility and upon other plans than those which he had recommended as to the height of the sides; and he thought it was only fair it should be known that the ship which had been lost was the one ship in the ironclad navy of this country which had been built unfettered and uncontrolled by the advisers of the Admiralty. After the Captain was ordered other efforts were made to force upon the Government a system of converting the line-of-battle ships into rigged monitors with low sides; and he then saw that by unwisely yielding to irresponsible pressure the Government was sliding into a system of construction full of peril to our navy and to our men. Therefore he took upon himself the unenviable task of going down to the Institution of Naval Architects and reading a paper in which he set forth the extreme perils of such vessels. This paper he republished in a book on Our Ironclad Ships, which had been before the public for two years, and from which the following extracts were taken:—
"'In an appendix at the end of this volume I have considered theoretically the question of "the stability of monitors under canvas," and have pointed out some of the dangers to which such vessels are liable. I need only say here, therefore, that the chief of these dangers consists in the risk of overturning or upsetting, which results from the fact that in a monitor a moderate inclination puts a portion of the lee side of the deck under water, and that the stability Is thus diminished, especially in other than breastwork monitors. This is at its greatest when the ship is at sea, when the actual amount of heel is often virtually increased by the slope of the wave surface. That this is no phantom danger will, I think, be seen by all my readers from the preceding brief statement, but the reality of the danger will, perhaps, be best understood by naval officers and naval architects.' At pages 308 and 309 he said, 'The first condition to be fulfilled to enable a ship of this class to carry sail will evidently be that the moment of sails at any time shall not be greater than the maximum statical stability of the ship. Now, suppose this condition fulfilled, and the ship heeled over, under the influence of the wind, to some finite angle less than that of greatest stability, it will he seen that, if by any disturbing cause, such as the alteration of the wave slope, the ship were inclined beyond her position of maximum stability, the resistance to heeling would become less the farther she went, until she reached a position at which her moment of stability would be the same as before the disturbing force began to act. And in this position she would remain in unstable equilibrium if the disturbing forces were removed. But if she should pass this position before the disturbing forces, and the angular velocity caused by them cease, the ordinary moment of the sails will then be greater than the resistance offered by the stability in any position through which she will pass, and she will be turned over. General considerations led us of course, to foresee that the above critical state would be likely to occur in low-decked turret-ships, with great weights concentrated upon and above their decks.' At page 313 he said, 'It must be obvious from this that the danger to be apprehended to these monitors, when under canvas, is very great. And when we think that they are liable at any moment to be overtaken by sudden gusts of wind, and that, if they are heeled over beyond 8 deg. or 9 deg., the farther they go the less resistance they offer to being capsized, their unfitness to carry sail must be quite evident.'"
"He then proceeded to illustrate by extemporized diagrams those principles in naval architecture which could only be departed from with disastrous results. The chief danger in monitors, he said, consisted in their liability to overturning, because of the great weights concentrated upon and above their decks, and of the absence of sides to give buoyancy on the lee side of the hull; and the danger to this class of ships when under canvas must be obvious, because of their tendency to heel over in sudden gusts. 'Grief should be the instructor of the wise,' he said, 'and from this calamity we should not fail to learn the plain lesson which it indicated. As a ship was forced by the wind into an inclined position the centre of buoyancy was necessarily moved over towards the side of immersion, and the ability of the ship to right herself was due to that cause. But supposing that instead of a ship with ordinary sides the sides were cut away, the deck would enter the sea sooner than before, and after the sea had encroached a short distance upon the deck the stability of the ship had attained its maximum, and began to decrease as the inclination went on, say to an angle of 40 degrees, when, there being no power of restoration, the ship must go over. Up to a certain point the stability of the Captain and the Monarch might very well be about equal, and persons even of great experience, judging of their sailing capacities up to this given point, might very properly report of them as equally good; and it was in this manner that captains and admirals, judging of their respective sailing qualities up to the point only to which they had seen them tested, made their reports in favour of the low freeboard ship as being as good in point of sailing as that of the high freeboard. But it was when the low freeboard ship got beyond a certain point in heeling that the danger of the principle began to operate. The Monarch, with her lofty sides, had a very large measure of reserve stability; but what measure of reserve stability had the Captain in comparison with her when they both reached the same relative point of inclination under a strong wind? Take the case of a gust which would heel over the Monarch to 30 deg., she would necessarily heel over to say 35 deg. by the impetus, and the reserve stability would restore her to 30 deg. The Captain, lacking that measure of reserve stability, and having the sea encroached on her deck, would not have the same capacity to restore herself. What must be the consequence? In the case of a ship circumstanced as the Captain was it not obvious that a squall which would heel over the Monarch to 30 deg., even presuming their measure of stability to be the same in the early stages of the inclination, would affect the Captain to a still greater extent, and not having the buoyancy to withstand the squall, she could do nothing but capsize. Of course the two vessels were of different sizes and of different conditions of construction, but he maintained that these facts were a sufficient explanation for the Captain, or any other similar vessel, capsizing; and if by any adverse or fatal influence the Government of this country should yield to public pressure, and should have their eyes blinded by the present attempts to impute the loss of the Captain to minor causes, the only consequence would be further fatal losses. This capsizing tendency could not properly be said to arise from too low position of the centre of gravity. Many persons were persuading themselves that if the centre of gravity in the case of the Captain had been a little lower that ship would not have capsized. It was perfectly true that if the centre of gravity had been so low as to give that ship the same leverage at large inclinations as the Monarch she would not have capsized; but the very principle of that class of ships was that they should carry great weights aloft, and it was perfectly idle to dream of introducing into ships of that kind a position for the centre of gravity which should counteract the tendency to heel over consequent upon the great weights carried aloft. If there had been two ships exactly alike, with the centres of gravity exactly in the same position, and if the one had had high sides and the other low sides, the one with low sides would have been lost and the other not, under the same conditions of weather. Although he had ceased to be responsible in any degree for the vessels in Her Majesty's Navy, he had not ceased to feel that measure of interest in it which one having occupied a responsible position ought to feel. Mr. Childers was unhappily a great believer in ships constructed on the same principle as the Captain, and it was in the public interest that he now stated that he had been more than once in very severe collision with Mr. Childers, because of his anxiety to induce the speaker to build ships of that class, and to put into responsible positions persons who were ignorant of the essential principles of naval architecture. What he said was that the true lesson from this loss ought to be learnt; hut he was afraid it would not be learnt. One of Her Majesty's Ministers, Mr. Robert Lowe, speaking at Elgin, had referred to the loss of the Captain, and had drawn inferences from it which he must characterize as being of a fatal character for one in his position to draw from this calamity. Mr. Lowe seemed to look upon the catastrophe as the price to be paid for some great improvement which would hereafter take its place in science and confer great benefits on the country; and he had referred to Mr. Huskisson's death as a similar sacrifice in the case of railways. But these lives had not been sacrificed in the Captain to any improvement which should hereafter take its place in our navy; nor was it, as Mr. Lowe had implied by his quotation from Childe Harold, that the ship had been sacrificed to the uncontrollable powers of the elements. That would have been a proper inference to draw if the whole of the ironclad squadron had been driven on to the coast of Spain or Portugal by an irresistible gale. But this was the case of one ship, out of a fleet of a dozen, going down in a not very extreme gale, and one of the lessons to be learnt from it was, not that it was useless to contend with the powers of the ocean, but that it was most necessary to take every reasonable precaution which experience and science dictated. And to show that he was not drawing too large inferences from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, he would mention that Mr. Lowe had stated as a matter for congratulation that a Captain without the faults of that unhappy vessel could be reconstructed. Now, he would maintain that it was simply impossible to construct another Captain without the faults of that unhappy vessel, for the Captain was faulty because she had that feature of low freeboard in combination with a great spread of canvas, against which he and others had vainly protested during the past ten years. We can have another turret-ship constructed that shall be perfectly safe, as the Monarch shows; but the Captain was lost because she was the Captain, possessing the dangerous combination just mentioned. But if we valued the lives of the people, or the property of the country, or our national security, we should learn the lesson from the loss of the Captain, that it did not matter whether a man was a Minister, an admiral, or a captain, he must not indulge in idle dreams and delusions upon scientific questions, but must bring his proud head down to the altar of science and pay proper homage there."
|Fr 23 September 1870|
HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.
Out of respect for those who have to lament the lots of nearest and dearest of relatives and friends, I should have refrained from writing on this subject, knowing that it would lead to disputations and heartburnings over the ocean grave of these who have perished in such an appalling manner; but the subject has been so roughly handled in the Press, and such erroneous conclusions have been arrived at, that out of regard for those who are not here to defend themselves I can remain no longer silent.
I am quite aware that, in taking up the defence of Captain Coles's opinions, I labour under great disadvantages, owing to the impression which the sad fate of the Captain must naturally have produced on the public mind; but, nevertheless, I am nothing daunted, because I am convinced that this sad disaster was not a natural consequence or necessity resulting from the peculiar features of design represented by the Captain, but that it has proceeded entirely from errors of construction which are totally apart from the peculiar character of the ship, and which might easily have been avoided, and which errors would have proved squally fatal to any other vessel that has ever been built. Several causes have been assigned for the loss of the Captain, and I notice that they are all connected with the peculiar design of that ship. I quote extracts from a leading article in The Times of the 17th inst.:—
"The Captain was lost, without doubt, because when the force of the gale caught her masts and forced her to heel over, the lowness of her side afforded no protection against the sea. Her hurricane deck and the top weight of her turrets contributed to the disaster. The heavy masts and low freeboard, practically speaking, caused the wreck, and neither would have been fatal without the other. If the Captain had carried no masts she would not have been thrown on her beam ends; if her freeboard had been higher she might have been thrown on her beam ends without harm. In other words, that no turret ship can in our present stage of knowledge be classed as a sea-going cruiser. Such vessels as Captain Osborn describes, pure fighting ships, may indeed be so designed as so fit them for voyages of a certain length, say for a ten days' run or so, and we have specimens of these now building; but although they could run out, fight a battle, and run home again, they could not keep the seas for even a month at a time. To do this they must carry masts, and if they carried masts they might any day be sent to the bottom."
Through the medium of the above observations The Times professes "to place the matter in its true light for consideration and inquiry."
Now, I notice that the general tenor of other letters which have appeared in the Press is to the same effect as the article 1 have quoted extracts from, and in a condensed form they convey the following conclusions:—
1. That the Captain was upset on account of her low freeboard, hurricane deck, and top weight of turrets.
2. That turret-ships with moderately low freeboard are not qualified to carry any masts at all.
3. That masts are essential to sea-going cruisers.
4. That turret-ships should be built, but without masts, for voyages of a certain length - say, for ton days' run or so, as pure fighting ships, and that for sea-going cruisers we must keep to the high freeboard. I notice that the broadside mania if apparently "lost to sight, to memory (very) dear."
Now, looking to the fate of the Captain, and to the length and bitterness of this professional controversy, and to the strong prejudices and obstinate prepossessions still surviving, I can hardly expect that anything I can say will turn the tide of public opinion; but at the same time I vesture to dissent entirely from the above conclusions, as being opposed to sound judgment and dangerous in their results, both as regards the efficiency and safety of the navy of the future.
I boldly advance the opinion that want of stability was alone the cause of the Captain upsetting, and that this was an error of construction perfectly apart from the design of the ship, or the general principles which that ship represented, and I challenge denial that another Captain can be built with the same conditions of freeboard and turrets and hurricane deck, to carry the same amount of canvas with safety, and with little loss of speed as a steamer, though necessarily at a sacrifice, to some extent, of the remarkably steady platform which she proved to be. But I do not advocate this alteration. The more advisable correction would be to greatly reduce the amount of masting. Our merchant navy sets us a universal example, that ships intended for great speed, under steam should have limited or auxiliary sailing power, and that ships intended to be full-rigged should have limited or auxiliary steaming power, and these are sound principles. It is in striving to run counter to this scientific requirement that we have failed to excel in any one point in the Royal Navy.
With more beam, or less masts and yards, the Captain would have been perfectly safe, nor would it have required any great departure from what she was to have effected this purpose. No ship, no yacht or boat ever was built that would not turn over if wanting stability, however high or low the freeboard might be; and, on the contrary, no height of freeboard would save any ship which had not sufficient stability.
Look at a Bermudian boat, with only a few inches of freeboard. She will carry sail until the mast is horizontal with the water, but she will right herself by her stability; nothing will upset her. This may be an extreme view, but it exemplifies the case.
Few merchant ships when loaded have more freeboard comparatively than the Captain, and many cross the sea with far less, but they do not capsize, because of their stability. Look to the tumble-in sides of our old line-of- battle ships — the Victory, for instance — yet they did not upset.
I most not allow myself to be mistaken with regard to the effect of a low freeboard. In the Captain it was eight feet, and, of course, when she heeled over to this point she lost support of side as compared with a higher freeboard; bat, even if that ship had heeled over until the water reached the base of her turrets, she would not have capsized if her stability had been what it ought to have been, and might have been without detriment to her design; and before Captain Coles's opponents ever condemn the principles represented in the Captain they must prove that it was not possible to have given that ship sufficient stability to make her perfectly safe. As it was, that ship was unstable, and this was undoubtedly a sad mistake, but most of our armour-clad skips have too much stability, which produces such fearfully heavy rolling, and this is an error in construction equally great as a matter of calculation, although not as fatal in its consequences as when the mistake is on the other side.
The fault has been that we have been striving to do too much - in fact, impossibilities. Our requirements have been - first, great speed under steam; secondly, great sailing qualities; thirdly, great turning qualities; fourthly, a steady platform for the guns; fifthly, an all-round fire. Now, these conditions are theoretically antagonistic to each other, and no wonder that we have failed to excel on any one point. The remedy would be to classify our ships for the different services required, and make each class perfect of its kind.
The builders of the Captain knew what competitive trials they had to expect, and the temptation was, first, to limit beam to obtain a small midship section for speed at the measured mile; secondly, to exaggerate the amount of canvas for speed as a sailing ship; thirdly, to raise the centre of gravity for a steady platform. It appears that the Captain beat the other ships on these three points, but these were all elements of instability, and this, probably, may partly explain how the Captain was too crank.
As regards the topweight of the turrets, it is evident that the higher the freeboard the greater the leverage would be, and that the weight of armour plating and guns was lower in the Captain than in any ship in the fleet.
As regards the effect of the wind on the hurricane deck, the effect produced on the ship would be less than with a higher freeboard and no such deck, because, as the ship heeled over, that deck was sheltered by the hull of the ship.
Now, then, as to the remedy proposed — namely, turret ships, without masts, for short voyages, and broadside ships, with masts, as ocean cruizers. It is well known that this has always been the opinion of the Controller's Department, but should this decision be accepted it will in my opinion prove a fatal blunder.
Broadside ships or high freeboard turret-ships are bath inferior as fighting ships to the low freeboard turret-ships, and as I am convinced that improved Captains will be built by other nations, and found all over the world, we shall only be building ships to be captured. And as regards turret-ships without any masts, I foretell that even if only employed on short voyages the result will prove as fatal in its consequences as instability has proved in the Captain, because engines will break down (screw engines especially), and as the chance of this disaster increase with bad weather, this accident is most likely to occur at the time of greatest need; then the ship is helpless, and unable even to turn her head off the land.
No masts, no canvas, no means of wearing or weathering the lee shore, or of bowing the sea! Another Captain, but without masts, will roll a helpless log among the breakers, and perish, with all hands, if the coast is only bold enough.
I perceive that the advocates of no masts endeavour to claim greater immunity from danger, for services of coast defence, or for short voyages out and home. Now, the sooner this false security is abandoned the better, for when once a ship leaves port, if her engines fail in bad weather in the Channel, or on our coasts, her position without masts will be worse than in the open sea. Another reason assigned for dispensing with masts altogether is that in action the falling gear will foul the turrets, or guns, or the screw; this is certainly a serious consideration, but not to be compared to the more vital question of the probable total loss of ships for the want of masts, but it is a point fully deserving of attention as regards the masting of our Navy generally, for there is no doubt too much top hamper, and if our full-rigged ships were built for only auxiliary steam power — say, 10 or 11 knots — it is quite possible that they might be handier than they now are, even with a reduced amount of spars, and to prevent fouling the screw the sooner it is dispensed with the better, and the hydraulic propeller adopted, which cannot be fouled.
The loss of the Captain has indeed been an appalling event, but the cause of that sad disaster is a matter of too grave importance to be left to the arbitrament of newspaper correspondents. In justice to Captain Coles's memory, and the great national interests involved, this sad calamity must become the subject of a searching inquiry, and of a character which will satisfy the public mind, and I feel assured that the result of such inquiry will prove satisfactory to the reputation of that much-esteemed and talented officer, and I venture to foretell that his genius and labours will live after him in the form of many proud ships after the design of the Captain, but without those faults in her elements of construction to which alone her loss should be attributed, and for which I do not consider he should be held responsible. The fact of an error of 800 tons having been made in her displacement is quite sufficient to have vitiated all calculation upon which stability depended.
The lesson which this disaster should teach us as regards the Navy of the future is that we should classify our fleet, and not attempt too much in one vessel, but render each class as perfect as possible for the particular service required.
1. Monitors of light draught for harbour defence, purely fighting vessels, without masts.
2. For coast defence, or short voyages, or as traction * frigates with the fleet, we should build vessels of great speed, with only auxiliary sailing power.
3. As sea-going cruises to perform the duties of ships of the line we should build vessels with superior sailing qualities to those we now possess, and with auxiliary steaming power.
4. Corvettes, unarmoured, of the greatest possible speed, with auxiliary sailing power.
The three first classes should be built after the type of the Captain, and might all be equally powerful in fighting qualities.
But the screw propeller is a dangerous and inefficient motive power, for fighting purposes especially. It is liable to injury of every kind, by stress of weather, by shot, and by fouling; it is of little use for stopping a ship, or backing a ship, and, therefore, is a bad manoeuverer; and it is an impediment to sailing ships, and it creates an unsteady platform when bowing the sea.
The hydraulic propeller is free from all these objections, and doubles the efficiency of a ship as a ram, which is the first element of fighting. But prejudice stands at the door, and foresight and common-sense may knock in vain!
Poor Captain Coles, he is indeed a great national loss, but his example should not be lost to us. His genius, his zeal, his perseverance against red tape and prejudice are worthy of our remembrance! He was every inch a sailor, and he has died at his post, with his gallant friend and thorough seaman, Captain Burgoyne, and that splendid crew of 500. Let the nation be generous to these who are bereaved, for they should be the nation’s care.
Geo. Elliot, Admiral.
* I may be asked how the frigates are to keep up their supply of coals with the fleet. My answer is that a few frigates only accompany a fleet, and that there are many ways of nursing them.
|Sa 24 September 1870|
HER MAJESTY'S LATE SHIP CAPTAIN.A naval Court, composed of Admiral Sir James Hope, K.C.B., Port-Admiral and Naval Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, president; Vice-Admiral Sir Reginald Hastings Yelverton, K.C.B., and seven post Captains, with Captain G.F. Blake, Royal Marines, barrister-at-law, as Deputy Judge-Advocate, will assemble at Portsmouth on Tuesday morning next for the trial of Mr. May, gunner, and the 17 seamen saved from Her Majesty's late ship Captain, and to make an inquiry into the cause of the ship’s loss. The trial of the gunner and seamen, as the only survivors from the wreck, will be merely a pro formâ matter, but the inquiry into the cause of the ship’s loss must possess features of the most vital interest. All will necessarily depend upon the range permitted to the inquiry by the Admiralty. Upon the supposition, admitted as a fact, that the ship foundered from a want of power to right herself from a certain angle of inclination of deck, were the drawings of the Captain submitted to the Admiralty signed and accepted as correct by the Constructive Department of the Controller of the Navy? What was the cause of the excess of weights placed in the ship beyond the builder's estimate? Did the Controller's Department, as the Admiralty representatives, take any means at Portsmouth for testing the stability of the Captain previous to her commission; and if so, what was the nature of the report made, and consequent subsequent communications between Whitehall and the Portsmouth Dockyard authorities? That the Admiralty are really in earnest in the matter is quite evident by the composition of the Court, which assembles on board the Duke of Wellington on Tuesday next, and which includes the Port Admiral and Naval Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth as president, with the Admiral Commanding the Channel Squadron and seven post Captains. The Court assembling on board the Duke of Wellington on Tuesday next will, as already observed, have a double duty. The trial of the survivors from the Captain will be simply a collection and legal arrangement of such evidence as they can give to the Court relative to the ship's loss, and the verdict of "honourable acquittal" in that respect will, as a matter of course, be recorded. But the main business before the Court will be the cause of the loss of the ship; which will have to be tried in accordance, apparently, with the 91st clause of the Naval Discipline Act of 1861 [should be '…Act of 1866'], which says,— "When any one of Her Majesty’s ships' shall be wrecked, or lost, or destroyed, or taken by the enemy, such ship shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to remain in commission until her crew shall be regularly removed into some other of Her Majesty's ships of war, or until a court-martial shall have been held, pursuant to the customs of the navy, to inquire into the cause of the wreck, loss, capture, or destruction of the said ship." Captain G.F. Blake, Royal Marines, barrister-at-law, is preparing the case for the Court on its assembling on Tuesday next, and will officiate as Deputy Judge Advocate. Among the naval witnesses who can be examined the evidence of Sir Alexander Milne should be the most important of all. The scientific evidence relative to the ship’s construction, her stability, and the cause which occasioned her foundering in so awful a manner, will be of a very voluminous and very possibly a contradictory nature; but, from amid this heap of contradictory opinions which may be tendered to the Court, there ought to be eliminated information which may guard the country from any such future disaster.
The Monarch, turret frigate, Capt. Commerell, V.C., C.B., was yesterday evening expected hourly to arrive at Spithead from the north-west coast of Spain; and the Agincourt and the Minotaur are ordered to proceed to the same anchorage from Portland, officers from each of the ships being wanted to attend the court-martial as members of the Court and as witnesses.
|Ma 26 September 1870||The loss of the Captain and the causes of the disaster have now been discussed by Mr. E.J. Reed, in a speech delivered at the British Association, and by Admiral Elliot, in a letter addressed to ourselves. It is fortunate, perhaps, under the circumstances, that these two authorities have adopted diametrically opposite views of the case, since the great object, the discovery of the truth, may be best served by a conflict of argument. We must be allowed, however, in the interests of our own profession, to notice, in the first place, a singular feature of the controversy as now presented to us. Mr. Reed and Admiral Elliot both complain of the precipitation or prejudices of the Press; but, whereas Mr. Reed regards us as bent upon retaining the model of the lost vessel in defiance of warning, we are represented by Admiral Elliot as ready to abandon it without adequate cause. It is obvious that both these assertions cannot be true, and also that one of them is sufficiently refuted by the other; but the truth is that some fluctuation of opinion upon this question is not only natural, but irresistibly imposed, in the interests of the country, upon the debater of public affairs. It did appear a few short weeks ago that a problem of vital importance to the British Navy had been happily solved by the success of the Captain; but, after circumstantial reports of her loss had reached home, it became impossible to resist the conclusion that she never was a seaworthy ship. For each of these impressions there was ample justification at the time, and each produced its natural result in the formation of opinion. We will say no more, however, on the subject, but proceed to consider what should be the opinion now.|
We may observe that both Admiral Elliot and Mr. Reed admit that the Captain was not lost by mere accident, or in any such stress of weather as could account for the wreck. Here, however, their agreement ends. Mr. Reed contends that the Captain was essentially and from the beginning unseaworthy; that her loss was due, not to any particular miscalculation or fortuitous arrangement, but to the very principles on which she was constructed; and that it would be impossible to build another Captain without risk of another disaster. Admiral Elliot, on the contrary, distinctly maintains that the wreck was owing, not to any natural or necessary consequence of the ship's design, but solely to accidental errors of construction "totally apart from the peculiar character of the ship." Here, then, is the issue plainly stated; but, whereas the arguments, or, at any rate, the views, of Mr. Reed are clear and intelligible, as much is not to be said for those of Admiral Elliot. Mr. Reed repeats what, as Chief Constructor of the Navy, he has both said and written long ago. He affirms that no sailing vessel with a heavy turret and a low freeboard could possibly be safe. This doctrine he worked out elaborately in his published treatise on Our ironclad Ships; he insisted on it when the design of the Captain was proposed, and he is fairly entitled to appeal now, though he does so with regret, to the event of the experiment in confirmation of his views. On the other hand, Admiral Elliot denies explicitly that the loss of the Captain was due either to her low freeboard or top-heavy turret, or to both in conjunction; but when he comes to give his own explanation of the disaster he says only that "want of stability was alone the cause of the Captain's upsetting." No doubt, but what was the cause of her want of stability? All authorities, we presume, will agree in representing instability as the immediate cause of the catastrophe, but how is the instability to be accounted for? Not, it seems, according to Mr. Reed's views, for Admiral Elliot maintains that "another Captain can be built, with the same conditions of freeboard and turrets and hurricane deck, to carry the same amount of canvas with safety." How, then, is the stability of the vessel to be improved? Is it by increased beam? Apparently not, for the Admiral "does not advocate that alteration," but says the "more advisable correction would be greatly to reduce the amount of masting." But that is only a modified form of the view taken by Captain Osborn of the case, which view, nevertheless, Admiral Elliot condemns as strongly as to declare that a vessel of the character suggested would be exposed to a greater danger than the Captain herself. "No height of freeboard," adds our correspondent, "would save any ship which had not sufficient stability." Probably not; but is not a high freeboard an element of stability, or, as Mr. Reed expresses it, a reserve of stability, in itself'? We are, of course, aware of the inquiry which, as Admiral Elliot reminds us, is now approaching and the public, we are sure, will be prepared, not only to accept, but to welcome any correction of its present conclusions which the results may convey. The fact, indeed, is that we are all anxious for such a chance of re-assuring ourselves, and it is precisely at this point that Mr. Reed's case is, and always has been, weakest.
Mr. Reed could never quite persuade himself that there was a most powerful reason for building ships like the Captain, if such ships could be safely built. The real state of the case! was this - that a genuine turret-vessel was incontestably the best form of fighting ship, but a very doubtful, if not hazardous, form of floating ship. In insisting, as he steadily did, on the latter half of the proposition Mr. Reed, we now fear, was right, and this avowal is due to him; but he was wrong in ignoring the former, and in shutting his eyes to the extreme importance of the object. We dare say we should not misrepresent him if we said that at this moment he considers a broadside vessel to be as formidable a type of a man-of-war as a turret-ship. He has always declared that any gun which could be carried in a turret could be carried in a broadside, and the "all round fire,” which he persisted in regarding as the only object of the turret armament, he certainly succeeded in securing to an equal extent for his own vessels. But he never sufficiently discerned or admitted that a ship possessing for herself extreme steadiness of platform, and yet offering no target to the guns of an enemy, must have infinite advantages in action. The Captain was unfit for sea, exactly as Mr. Reed said she would be. She could not swim, which was just what he prophesied; but while she did swim she was a match for the whole squadron, and that is just what he overlooks. He does not sufficiently consider that if Captain Coles failed, and failed disastrously, it was nevertheless in pursuit, not of a mere projector's conceit, but of an object which it is of the highest importance to attain. At this point Admiral Elliot is wiser than Mr. Reed. Mr. Reed would have us give up the genuine turret model as hopelessly impracticable; but Admiral Elliot sagaciously observes that if we do so "improved Captains will be built by other nations," and our own ships will be sent out only to be captured. True, it is Mr. Reed's belief that no improved Captains ever can be built, but in these days it is neither easy nor prudent to limit the powers of science or the progress of invention. This, it appears to us, is the point at which Mr. Reed always misapprehended the subject, and misapprehends it still. He regarded a genuine turret-ship - that is to say, a sailing vessel with little or no freeboard and a turret on her deck - as a pure caprice of design, and he now looks upon it as a dangerous novelty which has been fatally exploded. But this design, however novel or capricious, is a design which will carry all before it if the element of danger can only be removed, and it is both natural therefore and desirable that our naval authorities, instead of dismissing the problem altogether, should still keep it before them, if no longer with confidence, at any rate with anxiety and hope.
|Ma 26 September 1870|
LOSS OF HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.The following letter from the Captain of Her Majesty's ship Monarch, dated the 23d of September, 1870, to Vice-Admiral Sir Hastings Yelverton, K.C.B., commanding the Channel Squadron, has been received at the Admiralty:—
"Sir, — I have the honour to inform you that, in obedience to orders from Sir A. Milne, I remained at the anchorage of Corcubion Bay for a week, and during that time diligently searched, by land and sea, every practicable spot for over 50 miles where it was possible for any of the crew of the Captain to have effected a landing, or where their remains might have been washed on shore. The nature of the coast was such as to render it very difficult of search either by sea or land; high projecting cliffs extend almost from Muros to Cape Torriano; the surf continually breaks there even in the finest weather, and as those cliffs are full of deep crevices it is almost impossible to search them properly without great danger to those employed.
"But little of the wreck has come on shore, a couple of studding-sail booms, two studding-sail yards, a flying boom, and a royal yard, all more or less injured by contact with the rocks. Some of the spars were so damaged that I did not think it worth the expense to bring them by land, and the ensign staff was in such a place that it could not be brought away. A spare masthead pendant, a piece of the standard compass, a broken endboard, and a few pieces of plank complete the list.
“I have made every arrangement for the interment of any bodies that may be washed ashore, and intimation will be at once given to the Vice-Consul. Every sort of facility has been extended to me by the authorities, who have had the coast examined by their own people. The Vice-Consul at Corcubion, Mr. Del Rio, has been very kind and zealous.
"Having completed the service on which I had been ordered, we put to sea on the 18th of September at 9 a.m., and, having met with easterly and north-easterly winds, the passage has been made under steam and sail.
"I have, &c.,
"J.E. Commerell, Captain."
|We 28 September 1870|
HER MAJESTY'S SHIP CAPTAIN.A Naval Court, composed of Admiral Sir James Hope, K.C.B. (President), Vice-Admiral Sir R.H. Yelverton, Captains Boys, Excellent; Hancock, Duke of Wellington; Rice, Asia; Commerell, Monarch; May, Northumberland; Goodenough, Minotaur; and Brandreth, Lord Warden; with Captain G.F. Blake, R.M., Deputy Judge-Advocate, assembled yesterday morning on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, in Portsmouth harbour, to "inquire into the cause of the loss of Her Majesty’s ship Captain on the 7th day of September, 1870, and to try Mr. James May, Second-class gunner, and the surviving petty officers and crew of the said ship, under the 91st and 92d sections of the Naval Discipline Act of 1866."
The Court was opened at 9 a.m., and the formal documents from the Admiralty directing the formation of the Court were read by the Deputy Judge-Advocate, with letters from Admiral Sir Alexander Milne to the Admiralty reporting the loss of the Captain, which have been published in detail in The Times and other newspapers; and a letter and written statement sent to the Admiralty by Mr. May, the gunner, subjoined:—
"Corcubion, France, Sept. 8, 1870."Sir, — It is with great regret that I have to report to their Lordships the total loss of Her Majesty's ship Captain, which occurred about 12 15 a.m. on the 7th, the ship at the time being under double-reefed fore and main topsails, on the port tack, close hauled, with the wind about northwest, very squally, with rain and a heavy sea. About midnight I went into the after turret, and while there I felt the ship make a heavy roll to starboard, and before she had time to recover that roll a heavy sea struck her and threw her on her beam ends. She then turned bottom upwards, and eventually sank, going down stern first. From the time of her going on her beam ends to her sinking was not more than ten minutes.
"Myself, Captain Burgoyne, and a few seamen swam to the steam pinnace, which was floating bottom upwards. Shortly afterwards the second launch passed close to the pinnace, when myself and the seamen succeeded in getting on board that boat, but Captain Burgoyne failed in the attempt, although everything was done to try and save him and the other men.
"After getting into the launch we did our utmost to save any others that we could see, but the wind and sea were so great that we could make no headway against them in the launch, and we were almost swamped, so that we were forced to bear up and run before the wind, or the launch would have gone from under us.
"When we bore up there were 19 people in the boat, but I regret to say that one man was washed out of the boat by her shipping a heavy sea, which nearly filled her. We had no sail and only nine oars.
"I knew the land was dead to leeward of the ship, and at daylight we sighted Cape Finisterre. The weather moderated, and we landed at Finisterre about noon of the 7th. I think it possible that there may be more survivors in some of the other boats. We are all under the care of the Vice-Consul, and in good health, but some are very much bruised. The boats of Her Majesty's ship Monarch have just arrived under the command of Lieutenant Arundell, to take us on board that ship. I hope soon to be in England to give a more detailed account of this melancholy catastrophe. I enclose a list of the survivors by the launch.
"I have, &c., “James May, Gunner.
"The Secretary of the Admiralty, London."
"Statement of Mr. May, gunner, second class, late of Her Majesty's ship Captain.
"Shortly after 0 15 a.m. on the 7th inst., being in my cabin, which was on the starboard or lee side of the ship, I was disturbed in my sleep by the noise of some marines. Feeling the ship uneasy, I dressed myself, and took the lantern to look at the guns in the turrets. The engineers' bathroom adjoined my cabin. I noticed the engineer officer just come off watch washing himself, and I addressed some remark to him. This circumstance makes me nearly certain it was but a very short time, from 15 to 20 minutes, past midnight. I then went to the after turret. The guns were all right. Immediately I got inside the turret I felt the ship heel steadily over, deeper and deeper, and a heavy sea struck her on the weather side. The water flowed into the turret as I got through the pointing hole on the top. and I found myself overboard. I struck out and succeeded in reaching the steam pinnace, which was bottom up, on which were Captain Burgoyne and five or six others. I saw the ship turn bottom up, and sink stern first; the last I saw of her being her bows. The whole time of her turning over to sinking was but from five to ten minutes, if so much. Shortly after I saw the launch drifting close to us who were on the pinnace; she was but a few yards from us; I called out, 'Jump, men, it is your last chance.' I jumped and succeeded, with three others, in reaching her. I do not know for certain whether Captain Burgoyne jumped or not, I was under the impression he did; but the others in the launch do not think so. At any rate, he never reached her. When on the pinnace a large ship, which I believe to have been the Inconstant, passed us 50 yards to leeward. We all hailed her; but I suppose the howling of the wind and sea prevented their hearing us. We then set to work to clear the launch of her surplus gear. At this time there were 18 souls besides myself in her. We threw the galley out, also the stay tackles, masts, and other gear which was stowed in her, retaining only the oars, nine in number, and bailing the water out with our caps. We tried to close the pinnace with the intention of saving Captain Burgoyne, but the sea would not admit of it, and reluctantly we were forced to bear up. At this time the sea was so heavy that a man named Myer was washed out of the boat and lost, having only that moment said, 'Now lads. I think we are all right.' I remembered the land was dead to leeward, and tried to make it. We all manned the oars and double banked them, one being used as a 'steer' oar, the rudder being of no avail in the sea was unshipped. Charles Tregenna, leading seaman, worked the steer oar admirably for ten consecutive hours. I and the others essayed to relieve him, but none of us managed it so well as he did. We resigned it, therefore, entirely to him. After 12 hours' hard work, without food or water, we reached Cape Finnisterre, whence we rowed to Corcubion, and were taken on board the Monarch on the afternoon of the 9th inst. I cannot speak too highly of the behaviour of the men, both while in the boat and afterwards on shore. Steam was up on board the Captain at time of her foundering, but I do not know whether the screws were revolving. It was very dark, and with drizzling rain. The ship was under double-reefed fore and main topsails, the mizen furled, and, I think, fore topmast staysail. The mainsail was furled, and the foresail hauled up.
"J. May, Gunner.
"The Secretary, Admiralty, London."
Mr. James May, gunner, was then sworn, and examined by the Deputy Judge Advocate. — There is one slight error in the statement just read. I reached the boat before Captain Burgoyne, and with John Heard assisted him on to the boat. I have no charge whatever to make against any of the men on that occasion. I have been 23 years in the navy; about five of which I was a petty officer. I have been a gunner 11 years of the second and third class. In addition to my statement handed into the Court, as a practical seaman, I think that the over-pressure of canvas and the ship making a very heavy roll to starboard brought a quantity of water on the leeside of the maindeck. The wind might have had great force on the under part of the hurricane deck, and the sea most likely struck her when she made the heavy roll, and she might then have been in a peculiar position with regard to the crest of the waves. All these circumstances together may have caused the loss of the ship.
By the President. — To the best of my belief the Captain never stopped heeling over until she was bottom up. During my time of service in the Captain the heaviest press of sail I know her to have carried was all plain sail and stay-sails abaft the foremast. On that occasion there was not a very heavy sea, not more than on the 6th of September. The direction of the sea was on the bow. On that occasion the ship put her lee gunwale under water. When the breeze freshened the crest of the waves reached up the deck to within a foot or two of the turret — the base of the turret. I took particular notice of that. To leeward I have seen a body of water rise higher on the ship's deck than the ship lurched, but it immediately shot off again, sometimes passing right over the deck. The greatest roll I ever knew the ship to make was about 15 degrees to leeward, and probably not more than one or two degrees to windward. During the course of my service in the ship nothing occurred to give me reason to believe there was a want of stability in her. Until she foundered, I considered that I was in the finest ship in the world. In May of this year the ship was in a moderate gale which lasted 24 hours. She was under sail then, a close-reefed main topsail, a reefed foresail, and a fore staysail. She was on a wind. Steam was up, and used occasionally to keep station. There was a long heavy sea then. On that occasion the ship did not lurch heavily for a gale of wind. She put her lee gunwale under occasionally.
By Admiral Yelverton. — I think there was steam in four of the boilers when the ship was lost, but I do not know whether the engines were in motion. The cover was not on the turret when I got out. It was probably between four and five minutes after I struck out from the ship when I saw her bottom up. The last I saw of her was the prow. I do not recollect it to have been requisite on any former occasions to let go the topsail sheet to ease the ship. I do not think there was room on the hurricane deck for working the ship under sail. When the hands were on deck it was very much crowded. The topsail sheets were not well placed for letting go quickly on an emergency. I should have thought the ship's topmasts would have carried away sooner than any pressure of sail could endanger the ship. The arrangements of the ropes on the hurricane deck were rather cramped for room if sail were wanted to be taken in from a sudden squall.
By Captain Hancock. — When I got in the launch after the ship foundered I took command, brought her to the wind with the few oars in her, and tried to go in the direction of the steam pinnace, but we found the boat fast filling with us, and we bore away reluctantly after a short consultation. I do not recollect seeing the steam pinnace after I left her. When I got in the launch, as near as I can remember, she was going before the wind with a steer oar only and endeavouring to close with the steam pinnace. (A diagram of the position of the two boats was here handed to the Court by the witness.) The boats were scarcely a minute in such proximity as to give any hope of rescuing more men, as the launch appeared to be passing the pinnace at the rate of four or five knots. I and the other men from the pinnace sprang from her to the launch. One or two may have had to swim a stroke or two. The greatest steady heel I ever knew the Captain to make was between 8 and 10 degree. I never heard that there was a degree of heel beyond which the ship would be unsafe.
By Captain Rice. — I felt the ship hove over by a sea. She made a heavy roll and did not recover, and my impression is that a sea struck her bilge and helped her over. I should think there were between three and four hundred tons of coals in the bunkers when the ship was lost. There were no separate bitts fitted on the hurricane deck topsail sheets, other ropes leading through the same bitts. After I got into the launch from the pinnace I did not hear Captain Burgoyne say anything, but before I left the pinnace he called out to the men in the launch to throw the boat's painter. One of the men in the launch offered an oar, but Captain Burgoyne said, "Stick to your our, for you will want it." When Captain Burgoyne was in the sea after the ship had foundered, and before he got on the boat, he begged of me and John Heard to assist him in getting on to the bottom of the pinnace, which we did. He said something about our awful condition, but I cannot call to mind his words.
By Captain Boys. — The men saved told me what sail the ship was under when she foundered. The guns in the turrets were secured with chain pennants round the chase and the neck ring. The pairs of guns were secured together, and the ends of the chains secured to the sides of the turrets. The guns were quite safe. They were secured fore and aft. I have known the turrets revolve of themselves from the roll of the ship when not secured. On one occasion when the dockyard authorities were trying to find the ship's centre of gravity it occurred, a difference being made in the sit of the ship by her heeling. The turrets were both secured, on the evening previous to the ship’s loss, with hooks and screws to prevent them revolving. The ship's complement of projectiles was short by 104 Palliser 12-inch shot and 19 Palliser 12 inch shell. As a practical seaman, I consider the Captain to have been overmasted.
By Captain May. — I have served as gunner in the Kingston schooner, the Wivern, and the Captain, and have kept officer's watch on board the Wivern. I consider the gale in which the ship was lost to have been heavier than the gale in May. The sea in the May gale was a long sea. The sea in the September gale, so far as I could judge from the boat, was a short sea.
By Captain Commerell. — I never heard of any water being in the Captain's stoke-hold during the May gale. On one occasion when preparing to try rate of sailing, Captain Coles discovered that the ship was not in proper trim. He consulted Mr. Rock, the chief engineer, the carpenter, and myself as to the stowage of weights, and asked whether any of our heavy stores had been shifted. None had, and it was then thought there might be some water in the double bottom, but I cannot say whether water was there. I do not remember the exact date when this occurred. I never heard from Captain Coles or any one of the results of the trials made in Portsmouth Dockyard to ascertain the ship's stability. I never heard Captains Coles or Burgoyne say anything that could lead me to suppose they knew these results.
By Captain Brandreth. — The Captain's yards braced up much sharper, I think, than is usually the case with Her Majesty's ships.
By the Judge Advocate. — I joined the Captain at Birkenhead in November, 1868, and served in her to the time of her loss.
By the President. — In my written statement I have said that we were on the bottom of the pinnace when the ship supposed to be the Inconstant, passed us. That is correct. Afterwards myself and the others got to the launch from the pinnace. We were on the pinnace's bottom perhaps from five to ten minutes, and it was while there that I saw the ship go down. Captain Burgoyne was next to me on the pinnace. The launch drifted past the pinnace, at an angle, I believe, of about 45 degrees. When I got into the launch from the pinnace I could touch her. The conduct of the men saved in the launch was such as it should have been under the circumstances, rendering me the implicit and ready obedience it was their duty to do, and I do not think it would have been possible for any men to have behaved better. The gunner's mate, who was next me in command of the boat, gave me every support, and I wish specially to mention the admirable manner in which Charles Tregenna managed the steer oar.
|We 28 September 1870|
|James Ellis, gunner's mate, sworn and examined by the President, after his deposition, already published, had been read by the Judge Advocate. — I have been nearly 14 years at sea, and out of that four years a petty officer. I have nothing to add to my deposition bearing upon the loss of the Captain.|
By Admiral Yelverton. — The watch was not really relieved on board the Captain when she turned over. I heard the order given to let go the foretopsail halliards, the topsail did not come down. Hands were on the weather braces. The arrangements on the hurricane deck for shortening sail were sufficient to enable sail to be taken off the ship in a hurry. They were the same I had been used to in other ships.
By Captain Hancock. — I have always thought her very heavy rigged. The ship usually rolled very little. I heard Captain Burgoyne order the lee topsail sheets to be let go, but I believe they were not.
By Captain Rice. — Little one bell was struck about seven minutes past midnight, and the ship capsized not ten minutes afterwards. The orders were all rapidly given, but I believe the ship capsized before the topsail sheets could have been let go. I came on deck as little one bell was struck, and the ship then seemed to be heeling more than usual. The wind increased, but I think not steadily. The ship appeared to me to be thrown over by the force of the sea and wind together. She appeared to be thrown over, and unable to recover herself, and it was at that moment that the order was given to let go the topsail sheets. I was in the lee gangway, where there was no rigging or anything that could entangle me. I went down with the ship, and when I rose to the surface of the water again she was bottom up and to windward of me.
By Captain Boys. — The launch that we escaped in was stowed between the funnel and the pilot tower on the hurricane deck, and not secured by gripes or lashings. The guns and turrets were secured. We, the gunners' mates, had to go round and report to the officer of the watch. None of the projectiles ever fetched way out of the racks in any roll the ship made.
By Captain Commerell. — I heard Captain Burgoyne ask if we were closing the Admiral, and the answer was "Yes." I cannot say what way the ship had on her at the time and when struck by the squall.
Louis Worry, captain of foretop, sworn, and deposition made read. Examined by the President. — I have been 14½ years at sea, and out of that two and a half years a petty officer.
By Captain Hancock. — When I came on deck it was blowing nothing more than an ordinary gale, and I consider the double-reefed topsails were not too much for the ship, according to her heel. I consider the ship to have been overmasted. Captain Burgoyne, I believe, would not leave the bottom of the steam pinnace while the other two men were on her. He was dressed in a short reefing jacket, a pair of blue trousers, and a peaked cap, but had no waterproof or over-coat on.
By Captain Boys. — There was no time to let go the topsail sheets after the order was given before the ship capsized.
By the President. — All the men were taken off the bottom of the pinnace except Captain Burgoyne and two others. I heard Captain Burgoyne tell the two men to jump from the pinnace to the launch, and I concluded, therefore, that he would not jump himself until all the others with him were saved.
James Harvey, second captain of the foretop of the Captain, sworn, and depositions read. In examination the witness gave evidence corroborative of previous witnesses, and stated as his belief that the topsail sheets were clear when ordered to be let go, and also that there was room on the hurricane deck for working the ship under sail.
George Bride, coxswain of the Captain's pinnace, sworn and deposition read. In examination by Captain Hancock the witness said that it was blowing very hard at the time the ship capsized. He considered the ship to have been overmasted.
By Captain Rice. — When he came on deck the ship appeared to be unusually pressed by the sail upon her. When the men below turned in at 12, midnight, the ship gave a heavy roll, and then righted again. The wind increased very much and suddenly. Did not think the ship was going over until her topsails were in the water.
By the President. — Could you say that in the Monarch line of battle ship (the witness had served in the old Monarch line of battle ship) you could have carried double and treble reefed topsails through the squall which upset the Captain, and without danger to the ship, supposing everything to have held on? — Yes, I believe we could. Could you have carried the foresail in addition? — No, Sir, I don't think we could.
Charles Tregenna, leading seaman, sworn, and deposition read. In examination by the President, the witness said he had been 11 years at sea, and eight months a leading seaman. Had served in the Caesar and other ships in the navy. Under the same circumstances of weather in which the Captain was lost he thought the Caesar would have carried close-reefed topsails, and had seen her carry a reefed foresail in addition in a similar breeze. When the Captain was heeling over or capsizing she made a stop of a few seconds and then another sea struck her and she turned right over.
By Admiral Yelverton. — Did not think the ship would have righted had the topsail sheets been let go when ordered. Thought the pressure of the wind on the under part of the hurricane deck assisted the sail pressure in turning the ship over.
By Captain Hancock. — Did not know at the time that Captain Burgoyne was on the bottom of the steam pinnace. Before the loss of the ship considered her to be overmasted.
By Captain Rice. — When I got on deck the ship appeared to be more pressed by the sails than ever I had seen her before.
By Captain Commerell. — In the gale experienced by the Captain in the month of May there was more wind than at the time she was lost.
John Hird, able seaman, of the Captain, sworn and examined. By the President. — Had been at sea 10 years, and able seaman three years. Had served in the Orlando, Prince Consort, and the Captain. Thought the Orlando could not have carried treble-reefed topsails through a squall of the same strength as that in which the Captain was lost, without injury to the ship, supposing that everything hold on. She might have carried close reefs, and, perhaps, a reefed foresail.
By Captain Hancock. — Helped with others to get Captain Burgoyne on to the steam pinnace. Saw him in the water, and moving one arm as if swimming. He, Captain Burgoyne, was afterwards a great deal exhausted by hanging on to the keel of the steam pinnace.
By the President. — I was next to Captain Burgoyne on the bottom of the pinnace. Captain Burgoyne did not like to leave the boat's bottom for the launch. I offered him to jump with me. He told me to jump and save myself. When I jumped the launch was just past the pinnace about a boat's length.
William Lawrence, able seaman, sworn and examined. By Admiral Yelverton. — When the ship went over, had just let go the lee main topsail halliards. Found himself in the water, and struck out to save himself. Did not see the ship bottom up.
Robert Heard, David Dryburg, John Walker, able seamen; James Freeman, Robert Tomlinson, Thomas Kernan, ordinary seamen, on being examined, stated they could add nothing to the written statement laid before the Court by Mr. May, the gunner.
Francis Merriman. first-class boy, sworn and examined. — I had just passed my muster and heard Captain Burgoyne give the order to let go the topsail sheets. The ship gave a heavy lurch, which knocked me down in the lee water ways. On getting on my feet again I saw the man on the weather foretopsail brace jumping on the weather rigging. I then made a jump for the rigging, the officer of the watch, Mr. Pardon, being alongside of me. I gained the rigging, and the water came on the top of me and washed me off. I swam to a loose spar I saw floating, and then saw the boom boats drifting towards me. I held on with one hand and swam with the other, and reached the boats. A man there helped me in.
James Sanders, first-class boy, sworn and examined. — When the ship capsized I swam to the pinnace, which was bottom up, and found there Captain Burgoyne and five others. We passed close to a ship and hailed her, but we could not hear our own voices. The second launch came drifting by, and five of us jumped from off the boat's bottom and swam to her.
John Gribble, first-class boy, sworn and examined. — I was on the weather foretopsail brace at the time the ship turned over, when the sea took me away from the brace and jammed me under the hammock-cloth. The next I remember I was got into the boat.
This examination of Gribble completed the examination of all the survivors.
Edward O. Bolitho, lieutenant Royal Navy, sworn and examined. — I have been at sea 12 years and have held my present rank four years and a half. On the night the Captain was lost I was officer of the first watch on board the Agincourt. I produce a certified extract of the Agincourt's log for the 12 hours preceding and 12 hours subsequent to that in which the ship is supposed to have been lost. Certified readings of the barometer are also inserted in the extract from the log. Between 8 and 10 of the first watch the weather was squally. In the squalls the Agincourt might have carried double reefed topsails and courses without endangering spars. From 10 to 11 there was rain, a threatening look in the south-west. During that hour the Agincourt could have carried safely the same sail as before, double-reefed topsails and courses. About 11 30 p.m. the squalls became more violent; about a quarter to 12 the wind shifted two points in a very heavy squall, and I deemed it necessary to lower the topsails and have hands by the lee sheets, and have the yards rounded in, I also increased the speed of the engines, to have good steerage way on the ship. The topsails then had two reefs in them. When the second reefs were taken in, that was done by signal. Besides the double-reefed topsails, when shortening sail, the Agincourt had her fore staysail on her. The foretopmast staysail was taken in at 10 p.m. I was relieved in charge as officer of the watch at five minutes past 12, but did not leave the bridge for some minutes afterwards. I went below at half-past 12. Between a quarter to and a quarter past 12 the weather continued about the same as I described before — a strong, heavy gale. The topsails remained lowered until I left the deck. I do not think there was any sudden gust of wind between 12 o'clock and the time I left the deck. About 11 p.m. there was very little sea, but it got up very quickly. The Agincourt did not roll until about half-past 12. It was a short, chopping sea, but not at all dangerous for a ship.
By Captain Hancock. — About 12 o’clock the Agincourt was heeling about three or four degrees. Before the topsails were lowered she was not heeling more than 6 degrees. There was no difficulty in getting our topsail yards down. One hung for a short time, but came down when the braces were well rounded in. The Agincourt's position in the fleet was two miles on the beam of the Lord Warden. The Captain's position in reference to the Agincourt was about half to a point abaft our weather beam, distant about two miles. At midnight I could not distinguish the Captain. I think I mistook her for the Lord Warden, and if so I saw her about a quarter to 12. I could not see the bow lights of the weather line.
By Captain Rice. — We did not shorten sail to keep station, but merely as a measure of precaution to save our sails, which had been some time in use.
By Captain Boys. — About 12 o'clock I should say that, from the state of the weather, there was certainly no appearance of risk to any ship in the fleet.
Charles Arthur Nicholson, Lieutenant Royal Navy, relieved Lieutenant Bolitho of the watch at 5 minutes past 12. sworn and examined. — I produce a certified extract of the Agincourt’s log of the 12 hours preceding and succeeding that on which the Captain was lost, with readings of the barometer attached. On the morning of the 7th of September I took charge of the deck between 5 and 10 minutes past 12. She had then her three topsails, double-reefed, lowered on the cap, and fore and foretopmast staysails. About 21 minutes past 12 we had a heavy squall, and split the mizen topsail, and about five or ten minutes after that the main topsail split. The buntlines were close out, and we were just going to man the reef tackles when the sails split. If our sail and ropes had been new and in good condition I think we could have carried double-reefed topsails without endangering the ship, and I think also the foresail reefed in addition. Carrying a press of sail, I think we might have carried a reef out of the topsails, but I should not have carried double reefs. There was a nasty cross sea, but not a long one — a short chopping sea. No ship of the fleet was in sight when I took charge of the deck from Lieutenant Bolitho at five-minutes after 12.
By Captain Commerell. — I apprehend that if the Agincourt had carried double-reefed topsails through squalls, and spars and sails had held on, it would have had no more effect beyond causing her to heel some few degrees. When I reached the deck the engines were making 22 revolutions.
Staff Commander Libby, sworn and examined. — I have been 23½ years at sea, and have held the rank of Navigating Lieutenant 10 years and 10 months, and Staff Commander 14 months. I am now serving on board the Bellerophon. When I went on deck at 12 25 am. on the 7th of September it was blowing a heavy gale, with thick rain. The sea was not particularly heavy, but it was a nasty cross sea. If the Bellerophon had been lying in the trough of the sea, I think it would not have occasioned her any inconvenience.
By Captain Hancock. — The Bellerophon had double reefed main topsail set, with fore and main gaff sails and fore topmast staysails; the screw was not marking at that time. The ship was going, I think, about two knots. Her heel was then I should fancy from eight to nine degrees. I did not consider her pressed by sail at that time. The sail then on the ship was not too much for the safety of the ship, but perhaps too much for the safety of the spars and sails. When I went on deck I did not consider there was risk for any ship in the fleet more than common in a gale.
By Captain Commerell. — Had I been in command of the Bellerophon and all spars and gear had been good, I would have lowered the topsails.
By the President. — If the object had been to carry as heavy a press of sail as the ship would with safety bear, I think double-reefed topsails would have been as much as she could carry with safety. I would rather not have had courses upon her.
The Court rose a few minutes past sunset, and adjourned until 9 o’clock this morning.
|We 28 September 1870|
MR. E.J. REED, C.B., ON THE LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.
I stand forward to defend the reputation of Captain Coles, and I am quite contented to base that defence upon the inferences which may be drawn from the admissions contained in Mr. Reed’s address at Liverpool.
In order to bring the matter to as small an issue as possible, I will confine my observations to two points — first, the question of high centre of gravity, or want of stability, as an unavoidable danger in the construction of the Captain; and, secondly, the question of Broadsides versus Turrets, as sought to be disposed of by Mr. Reed.
The Captain was designed for a side of 9ft. in height. Mr. Reed expresses his belief that a side of 12ft. or 14ft. in height in absolutely essential for the seaworthiness of a ship of that size; therefore we may limit the disagreement on this point to a question of 3ft. of freeboard, as constituting the whole difference (using Mr. Reed's scattered words) between what is essential and what is not, what is impossible and what is easy, what is an unhappy fault and what is a sound decision, what is blindness and what is clearly intellectual, what is an idle dream or a delusion and what is proper homage at the altar of science. And, lastly, we are to believe from Mr. Reed's remarks that this question of height of freeboard has constituted the sole feud which has been before the country for ten years past.
I claim to have interpreted correctly the sum and substance of Mr. Reed's remarks at Liverpool as they are reported in The Times. Now for the logic of facts. The 30 or 40 broadside armour-clad ships which figure in our Navy List at once contradict the statement that the old feud which has been before the public for ten years past has been simply one of height of freeboard.
Captain Coles's models, which still exist, and which were exhibited at the Admiralty and elsewhere, are living evidences that a high freeboard was his first intention for seagoing ships, and that until the increasing thickness of armour plating and weight of guns necessitated a lowering of the freeboard, the feud which existed was simply one of Broadside versus Turrets; and when Mr. Reed says that "If we value the property of the country and our national security we should bow down to the altar of science," he casts a severe reflection on those (himself included) who are responsible for the expenditure of some 15 millions of money in the building of a fleet of broadside ships, now acknowledged to be greatly inferior to turret ships as fighting ships, and superior in no point to vessels of the Monarch type.
Now let us examine the grounds upon which Mr. Reed decides that it is impossible to build another Captain with a centre of gravity sufficiently low to render such a ship seaworthy.
He says that the leverage of the great weights aloft, concentrated on the deck, and the absence of side, render it perfectly idle to dream of fulfilling this requirement — that it is a delusion. Now, in reply to this, I have to show that the same weights must be carried on the deck of a ship with higher freeboard, and with this disadvantage, that they would greatly increase the leverage, and therefore add to the difficulty (if any) of sufficiently lowering the centre of gravity; besides, there is the additional weight of hull and side armour to provide against in leverage, and to provide for in displacement; and I venture to state my opinion that all this extra leverage will counteract the gain of side resistance of 3 feet.
I believe that Captain Coles proposed even a lower freeboard than 9 feet for his ship, and that when she capsized her freeboard was only 8 feet; but that is not the question. I am dealing simply with Mr. Reed’s opinions upon the design of the Captain as she was intended to float, because that is what he dealt with at Liverpool; and just as want of displacement was a fault of construction, so was want of stability, in my opinion.
But Mr. Reed distinctly pronounces this latter fault unavoidable, except by increasing the height of freeboard, while I maintain that his remedy presents more difficulty and would produce greater disadvantages in its solution than by adopting such an alteration of form of vessel and distribution of weights as science readily facilitates to effect the desired object of obtaining safety from capsizing.
Mr. Reed is very playful in expression his estimation of the value of the opinions of admirals and captains on these subjects, but I can tell him that those who have to handle the tools are the best judges of their merits, and that seamanship is a science which enters largely into shipbuilding, and results in a correct practical application of the science of naval architecture, without which that branch of science is fruitless.
For instance, our fleet may represent wonderfully correct scientific theories, but there has been a lamentable amount of practical inefficiency displayed. We have full-rigged ships which are called sea-going cruisers, but they cannot cruise under sail as a fleet. I asked the captain of one of the finest of these ships whether he could depend upon his ship to keep station in the fleet, or to avoid collision, or to manoeuvre under sail under ordinary circumstances. His answer was that be had seen his ship take a quarter of an hour before answering her helm; and it is well known that one night's gale has dispersed the fleet even with the use of steam, and that, instead of attempting to keep in anything like order, it is a case of "sauve qui peut." I suppose all this is unavoidable on scientific principles!
Mr. Reed is a naval architect, but when he sets up to be a mechanical engineer or steam engineer, and also a sailor, he gets out of his element, and the sooner be learns that the better for his reputation.
In our steam-engine department of the navy we have lost the valuable services of such eminent men as Mr. Murray and other chief engineers, and the master shipwrights are now at the head of those departments; and now admirals and captains are called upon "to bring their proud heads down to the altar of science and pay proper homage there," which apparently means that they must not presume to differ in opinion from Mr. Reed on questions which involve the application of science to practical purposes of seamanship.
But in looking back to the result of his labours at the Admiralty the lesson Mr. Reed ought to learn is that there are faults of design in every ship he has yet built which emanate from a want of that practical seamanship which he derides, and which would have supplied that information which would have guided him to better results; and that the greatest mistake he made during his tenure of office was in running counter to Captain Coles's opinions in the now apparently abandoned question of Broadsides versus Turrets.
It is not the money that has been ill spent that is the greatest national loss, but the time that has been wasted in arriving at a true acceptance of the value of the turret principle.
The important question now is whether Mr. Reed's retirement from office has improved our prospects as regards the efficiency of the navy of the future. I fear not, unless Mr. Childers will consent to submit the whole question for the consideration and report of a competent committee of inquiry or to a Royal Commission.
If this were done, and the requirements of our war fleet were clearly defined for the guidance of naval architects, then I have every reason to believe that there remains quite sufficient talent in the Construction Department at the Admiralty to develop those requirements to the best advantage.
The questions of classification of our fleet and of the proportionate combination of sail and steam, and of the adoption of the hydraulic propeller should be carefully considered and reported upon, because the efficiency of the fleet for service depends entirely upon a judicious fundamental understanding upon these points; and the motley character of our fleet, and the very serious imperfections which that fleet represents, make it evident that such an inquiry is a matter of urgent necessity in order to restore the confidence of our navy in the appliances of war which they are responsible before the country to turn to good account when called upon to defend our shores and maintain the honour of our flag.
If such an inquiry should be made, I can safely foretell that Mr, Reed will yet have to perform the same act of homage to practical experience which he has proposed that admirals and captains should do to what he calls "science."
In your leading article of Monday referring to the conflict of opinion between Mr. E.J. Reed and myself, I find that on one very important point the opinions I expressed in my letter which appeared in your columns on the 23d inst. have been mistaken, and, as this affects the main point of disagreement between myself and Mr. Reed, I trust you will allow me to correct it.
Your leading article says — "How, then, is the stability of the vessel to be improved? Is it by increased beam? Apparently not, for the Admiral does not advocate that alternative, but says the more advisable correction would be greatly to reduce the amount of masting."
Now, it is true that I said this, but, by omitting what followed immediately in my letter, my opinions are liable to be mistaken.
I said that "ships intended for great speed under steam should have limited, or auxiliary, sailing power," and that "ships intended to be full-rigged should have limited, or auxiliary, steaming power." I said also, "with more beam or less masts and yards, the Captain would have been perfectly safe."
And again, I said that "as sea-going cruisers, to perform the duties of ships of the line, we should build vessels with superior sailing qualities to those we now possess, and with auxiliary steaming power and that this class, as well as monitors and frigates," should be built after the type of the Captain."
The Captain was required to be built for great speed under steam, and also to be full-rigged, and, to effect these objects and to preserve safety, she undoubtedly should have had more beam and a proper distribution of weights; and I maintain that this could easily have been done without any alteration of her design or character. Mr. Reed says it could not, and here rests the point of disagreement between us.
I remain yours faithfully,
Geo. Elliot, Admiral,
|Th 29 September 1870|
THE LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.The Court formed to inquire into the cause of the loss of the Captain and for the trial of Mr. James May, the gunner, and the 17 other survivors from the wreck, held its second sitting yesterday on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, at Portsmouth, under the presidency of Admiral Sir James Hope, K.C.B. Vice-Admiral Sir H. R. Yelverton, K.C.B., and Captains Hancock, Rice, Boys, May, Commerell, Brandreth, and Goodenough again comprising the remaining members of the Court, with Captain G.F. Blake, R.M., barrister-at-law, officiating as Judge-Advocate, The Court opened at 9 a.m., and at once commenced receiving evidence.
Staff-Commander Wise, of Her Majesty's ship Lord Warden, said, — I have been 23 years at sea. I served 14 years as navigating lieutenant and master, and have held my present rank one year. I was on deck on board the Lord Warden on the morning of the 7th of September last. At 12 20 a.m. there was a hard squall from S.W., with thick rain. It blew hardest about half-past 12. The Revenge, in which I served as navigating lieutenant, would have carried close-reefed fore and main topsails and storm trysails in a squall of equal strength without endangering the ship, supposing all to have held on. At 12 20 a.m. on the 7th the sea was very confused, but not high. If the Revenge had been lying in the trough of the same sea I should say she would have sustained no injury.
By Admiral Yelverton. — To the best of my recollection I saw the Captain about half-past 12. She was then near the flag-ship, close under our stern.
By Captain Hancock. — The Lord Warden when I went on deck had double-reefed topsails lowered on the cap, fore and main trysails, and the foresail hauling up. I supposed it to be the Captain I saw at half-past 12 from what I saw of her hull as she kept away to the northward. Judging by the size of the topsails I should say they had the third or fourth reefs in. She was then heeling much, but not rolling. I did not see her again after she kept away to the northward. I saw no other ship at that time.
By Captain Rice. — I came on deck at 11 30 p.m., and remained on deck until 3 a.m., when the wind changed to the N.W. The Lord Warden was not in danger, but her spars and sails were. At 11 30 p.m. the weather was such as to render it necessary to lower the topsails, especially for the safety of the yards.
Captain Elphinstone D'O. D'A. Aplin, R.N., lately commanding the Inconstant. — I have been at sea since April, 1838, and have held the rank of post captain in Her Majesty's navy since January, 1861. I produce to the Court abstracts from the log of the Inconstant for 12 hours previous and subsequent to the loss of the Captain. I was not on deck at the time at which the Captain foundered, believing it to have occurred at about a quarter or 20 minutes past 12, the time when she was last seen from the Inconstant by the signalman of the middle watch. The actual time of the loss of the Captain, in the opinion I have formed from the state of the weather, was from the reports made to me about the time by the officers of the first and middle watches and my own opinions. I considered the weather to be what is termed a "dirty night," but I looked upon the wind more as a succession of squalls than as a steady gale of wind. I did not consider that it blew at the utmost at a greater force than 8 to 9. The sea was a confused cross one, but not heavy. Between 2 and 3 several seas formed into a sort of pyramid, which broke on the starboard side of the ship, wetting the first lieutenant and myself on the bridge. I remarked at the time to the first lieutenant that the circumstance was the more curious, as there was not a heavy sea on. Between 12 and 1 that night if it had been necessary to carry the heaviest practicable press of sail on the Inconstant to get off a lee shore, she would hare received double reefed topsails, reefed courses, and topmast staysails without endangering her safety.
By Captain Hancock. — To keep the Inconstant in her station I had given direction to take a reef in the fore and mizen topsails, and to lower them on the cap and hoist them as necessary to keep position. The ship carrying weather helm, the mizen topsail was afterwards taken in and furled; the fore staysail set in lieu of main staysail split. This alteration of sail, and that made by signalled order, was made to keep the ship in her station, but not in consequence of the weather. The sail the Inconstant was under at 8 p.m. on the 6th was double reefed topsails and foretopmast staysail. A general signal had been made from the Commander-in-Chief to have steam up and use it when necessary. The Inconstant did not need the aid of her screw until wearing on the wind shifting. A few minutes after 1 a.m. a general signal was made from the Lord Warden, by flash lights, to keep open order. We were then five to six cables, perhaps closer, astern of and a little on the starboard quarter of the Lord Warden. The officer of the middle watch first reported to me that the maintopsail, which was on the cap, was split; and immediately afterwards he reported that the wind had shifted, and the ships of the fleet were apparently going round on the other tack. I went on deck, and steam was used to wear the ship. I remained on deck.
By Captain Rice. — With safety I have stated the sail the Inconstant could have carried if necessary. The Inconstant is very crank, but not so much as she was, and in carrying the press of sail I have stated I should of course have been prepared to shorten sail in heavy squalls when necessary. The log of the Inconstant gives the extreme heel of the ship at midnight, with the topsails lowered on cap, in the squalls, at 13 degrees. Looking at the attested copy of the log, I find the roll of the ship at midnight to be from 5 degrees to port to 13 degrees to starboard. Previously the roll had been from 5 to port and 10 to starboard. I consider the extract from the log to be a record of the extreme roll made by the ship during the two hours previous to midnight. Ï was perfectly easy in my mind as to the safety of the Inconstant during the night the Captain was lost, and carried the port in my sleeping cabin open through the night.
By Captain Boys. — On the last trial of sailing by the fleet the force of the wind was from 5 to 6, the trial on a wind. The Captain, I believe, carried royals, while the Inconstant was under topgallant sails. Our maximum heel was 15½ degrees, and the Captain was heeling nearly as much, if not quite. It is my opinion that the Captain could carry as much sail as the Inconstant, up to a certain point of heel.
By Captain May. — When I went on deck, between 1 and 2, the Inconstant then had her helm up in the act of wearing, and whatever inclination she had then was a mere roll made in the act of wearing. I have carried sail on the Inconstant with perfect safety with the ship heeling 17 degrees, and lurching as many as 25 or 26 degrees. She had not approached anything near that on the night the Captain was lost.
By Captain Commerell. — I am of opinion that the capsizing of the Captain was owing to a combination of effects from wind and sea, and that the ship had inclined over to the force of the wind, and, while so inclined, a sea had probably lifted her and thrown her over to what proved a dangerous inclination.
By Captain Brandreth. — To the best of my recollection I was not told of the signal made to "open" until after I went on deck.
The President. — You have expressed an opinion that up to a certain point the Captain could carry as much sail as the Inconstant: at what point, in your opinion, would she have been unable to do so? — Twenty degrees of heel I should have considered dangerous.
Can you say what sail, if any, would have capsized the Inconstant that night? — I do not consider that any sail a seaman would have put upon her would have done so. Certainly not double reefed topsails.
Would you be disposed to say the Inconstant's masts would carry away before she would founder by capsizing, supposing she was battened down, if practicable? — I consider the masts and yards would carry away before she would capsize under those circumstances, with properly proportioned masts and yards. My reason for saying that 20 degrees of heel by the Captain would be dangerous was that a great part of her deck would be under water, and the difficulty of recovering herself would be extreme, and if struck in that position, or lifted over by a sea, I do not think she could recover herself. I have heard that there was a limit of heel beyond which the Captain could not recover herself. I have read it in lectures given on the stability of ships at the Society of Naval Architects, and, in my opinion, the views there advanced were correct. I have no reason to think otherwise than that the Inconstant would recover herself from an angle of 45 degrees, and I would attribute that quality to the resistance given by the ship’s side and bulwark, or high freeboard.
Lieutenant H.O. Wilding, R.N., Her Majesty's ship Inconstant. — I was officer of the first watch on the night of the 6th of September, was relieved at seven minutes past midnight, went below about a quarter past. I last saw the Captain about ten minutes past 12. The force of the wind was from 6 to 8, with a little cross sea.
By Captain Hancock. — The Lord Warden and the Captain only were in sight from the Inconstant when I was relieved, the first being about a point and a half on our weather bow, distant about six cables. I could distinctly make her out. She appeared to have double-reefed fore and main topsails, and foretopmast staysail. She was then not heeling more than might he ordinarily expected. At that particular time a squall had nearly passed over.
By Captain Rice. — The topsails of the Inconstant were lowered to keep station, but it was not necessary to do so otherwise.
By Captain Boys. — If necessary, the Inconstant could have carried double-reefed topsails through the squalls, and a reefed foresail, but not reefed courses.
Lieutenant Hon. Henry A’Court, R.N., Her Majesty's ship Inconstant. — I was officer of the middle watch, but did not see the Captain after I relieved the deck. There was a squall, more of rain than wind, shortly after midnight. The Inconstant, in such weather, if given sail to press her off shore, might have carried double-reefed topsails, reefed courses, and foretopmast staysail, without endangering the ship. Had she lain in the trough of what sea there was then she would have sustained no damage.
By Captain Rice. — When I found the Lord Warden next to and ahead of the Inconstant instead of the Captain I thought the latter was out of the line and broad on our weather bow.
By Captain Boys. — Just after the signal was made to "open order," the maintopsail split and was clewed up, and I then had the fore staysail hauled down to drop the ship into her station.
By Captain May. — The force of the wind in the gale met with by the squadron on the 29th of May last is logged at a force of 10 in the first watch. The sea then was heavier than on the night the Captain was lost. The Inconstant in the May gale had close-reefed fore and main topsails set.
Captain Commerell. — If you had known the Captain was carrying double-reefed topsails through the squalls on the night she was lost, and during your watch, should you | have been anxious for her safety? — Not for the safety of the ship.
Navigating Lieutenant Scudamore, R.N., Her Majesty's ship Inconstant. — I was on deck between midnight and 1 o'clock of the morning of the 7th of September. I saw a vessel apparently the Captain, about three points before our beam. The weather was squally and thick, with rain. I think the Inconstant would have sustained no damage then from lying in the trough of the sea, and that she could have carried treble-reefed topsails and reefed courses if she had been wanted to work off a lee shore in such weather. I saw the lights of one ship ahead of us, which I took to be the Lord Warden, and I made out a second ship through my glasses, on our beam, and to windward of station, which I took to be the Captain.
By Captain Hancock. — The Captain had then, I believe, been our second ahead in the line two or three days. I felt no anxiety whatever for the Captain when I was endeavouring to make her out with my glasses.
By Captain Rice. — That was about a quarter past midnight. As compared with the ironclads, the Inconstant is very crank. In that squall the probable amount of heel under treble-reefed topsails would have been 25 degrees. Heeling to that extent, and then struck by a sea and thrown over 15 degrees more, I think she would have recovered herself, but some of her spars and sails would have been sure to go.
By Captain Boys. — The ship I saw with my glasses, and that I believed to be the Captain, was about three points on our weather beam. It was too thick to notice how far she was heeling.
By Captain May. — When the Inconstant was struck by the squall after midnight I consider its force took her over ten decrees more than she previously had.
By Captain Commerell. — From what I had seen of the Inconstant and Captain I should consider the Captain could carry the most canvas in such weather as on the night she was lost. Had I known she was carrying double-reefed topsails through the squalls I should have had no fears whatever for her safety, as I should expect her masts to go, and I considered the ship to be particularly steady.
Charles Beale, second signalman on board the Inconstant. — I was signalman of the middle watch on the morning of the 7th of September last. I last saw the Captain at a quarter of an hour past midnight, a little off the Inconstant's port bow and about four cables' distance. The Bristol was at the same time off the Inconstant's port quarter, about a mile and a half. I saw no other ship there.
By Captain Hancock. — I saw the Lord Warden at 12 30, knowing it to be her by her lights astern.
Lieutenant Crawford, R.N., Her Majesty's ship Bellerophon. — I was officer of the middle watch on the morning of the 7th of September. It was blowing hard, with frequent squalls from S.W. with a force of wind of about 10. There was one particularly heavy squall at about half-past 12. There was a short cross sea, but not a heavy one. If the Bellerophon had been lying in the trough of the sea I think she would have sustained no damage. If it had at that time been necessary to carry the heaviest press of sail practicable, I think the Bellerophon might have carried double-reefed fore and main topsails, close-reefed courses and gaff sails, and foretopmast staysail; but unless absolutely necessary I should prefer her having three reefs down in her topsails. The Bellerophon has a peculiarly large drop to her courses, and this will account for my saying close-reefed courses.
By Captain Hancock. — I did not see the signal "Open order."
By Captain May. — The Bellerophon lost her maintopgallant mast about 2 o'clock, and split fore and main topsails in shortening sail. At about 12 30 a.m. the weather foretopsail sheet carried away, and the sail split.
Lieutenant Ernest Rice, R.N., on special duty at the Admiralty. — I accompanied the Controller of the Navy, Vice-Admiral Sir Spencer Robinson, on the occasion when he went to sea in the Monarch, with the Captain in company. I furnished the Controller with a report, a part of which is now before the Court. I would first state that the opinion given to Sir Spencer Robinson by me was founded upon what I considered my practical experiences as a seaman, and not upon theoretical knowledge. I considered three things 1. The low freeboard of the Captain; 2, the size of her masts and spars; and 3, combined with the two, what I knew of the distribution of her weights. During the trial the 12th of May was the only day that, in my opinion, can throw much light upon the opinions I expressed. Up to the point of the gunwale of the ship being brought to the water line, the pressure on the ship's side would act in opposition to the force heeling over the ship. From that point, the opposition being removed, her stability, though up to a certain point it might increase, still would rapidly decrease from the previous point.
The President. — Have you formed any opinion of the angle of inclination which afforded the maximum stability of which you have spoken? — Not from calculation, only from hearsay. That opinion is that a heel of about 14 degrees would bring her gunwale to the water line.
And you consider the gunwale at the water line the point of maximum stability? — No. I think the point of greatest resistance would be a heel of about 9 degrees.
You say your opinion was formed on hearsay. Who were your informants? — At the time of the trial I conversed with many officers on the subject. Captain Burgoyne was one of those officers. Commander Sheepshanks was another.
Are you of opinion that Captain Burgoyne and Commander Sheepshanks had arrived at the conclusion that when the Captain had heeled to nine degrees she had arrived at her maximum point of stability? — No. From my own observations of the Captain under sail I know that the ship was with difficulty got to a heel of seven degrees, and that on the 12th of May, when under double-reefed topsails, she heeled eight to ten degrees, and recorded a lurch of 21 degrees. From these facts I drew the inference that her maximum stability was somewhere between seven and 12 degrees. The size of the masts and spars, combined with the ship's low freeboard and distribution of weights, and in my opinion the three points referred to by me are not compatible in an ocean cruising turret-ship.
How are you disposed to look upon the fact of her being fitted with tripods in lieu of the usual rig as bearing on her stability? — I do not think it would have made any difference to the Captain. I believe that the Captain's weights were so placed as to give her a very high centre of gravity, and thus place the metre-centre to that point. I was on board the Captain for several hours at sea on three different days, I think, the weather on each occasion being fine.
The Court was at this stage of the proceedings closed for a short time, and on its re-opening the examination of Lieutenant Rice was resumed by Admiral Yelverton.
I had seen the Captain under canvas with the wind at from 5 to 7, and I think she stood up well under canvas with the exception of several heavy lurches. I recorded my apprehensions for her safety if ever she should be pressed with canvas. I cannot say at what point of heel she would reach instability. Heeling 15 deg. the hurricane-deck would not much impede her righting. From my observation of the hurricane-deck there would be considerable difficulty in working the ropes in blowing weather, but not in letting go ropes to save the ship.
By Captain Hancock. — The Captain would, in my opinion, go over more easily from 9 to 14 degrees than from 7 to 9, After the maindeck got under water my opinion is that she would rapidly bring the water up to the base of the turrets. During the times I have been on board, on one occasion, the crest of the waves washed up to the fore turret lee side. The greatest heel was about six degrees, and the greatest lurch on the same occasion that I ever saw the Captain give when I was on board was about nine degrees. From the Monarch I several times saw the Captain's deck immersed, but not to a permanent heel. In righting from those positions she seemed to come up fairly with quickness, with her deck from below the water. Ï do not know what degree of heel would immerse the Captain's deck to the base of the turrets.
By Captain Boys. — When in company with the Captain under treble-reefed topsails, the wind was at a force of from 5 to 7, but I cannot give any opinion whether she could have carried more sail.
By Captain May. — I believe I stated to Captain Burgoyne that I considered the ship unsafe beyond a certain point. He was a very old friend of mine, and, to the best of my recollection, made a joke of it.
As an Admiralty official can you say whether the Captain's stability was over questioned? — I cannot.
The President. — State to the Court how long you have been employed at the Admiralty. — Twenty days, in the Department of the Director of Naval Ordnance.
Captain George Augustus Brooker, R.N. — I commanded the Scorpion turret sloop about a year. I made one passage in her from Spithead to Queenstown, and the other from Queenstown to Bermuda, touching at Madrid. Altogether I was at sea in her eight or not more than eight or nine weeks. She was under sail a very little time. She was under sail on a wind in July of last year when out for a week's cruise off Queenstown.
(Captain Brooker continued to give evidence to the Court only relating to the Scorpion during the brief period of his command, but having no bearing upon the loss of the Captain.)
In answer to questions from the President, the witness said he thought when at Queenstown the Scorpion was as safe in any weather, under steam, as any ordinary ship. I think that if the Captain's topsails had been taken off her, and she had been placed under steam so as to bow the sea she would have been safe at the time she was lost. Had been in a hurricane or typhoon off Hongkong in a brig, and thought a low freeboard turret-ship in such weather, however skilfully handled, would be in much greater danger than any ordinary ship, from a want of buoyancy. I think a ship of a freeboard like the Captain's. 8ft., I believe, would be safe in such weather. The Scorpion had a freeboard of 4ft. 4in. or 4ft. 6in. She never heeled sufficiently to bring her deck under water. She constantly rolled it under water. The greatest roll I have known her give has been from 25 to 30 degrees from the perpendicular, and righted easily. There was a large quantity of water on her deck at times, but she rolled so quickly that the water soon found its way off the deck again. She had no tripod masts, and was not heavily sparred for her size. Did not think she was fit for ocean cruising service, or that she was fully capable of facing an Atlantic gale with heady sea out in mid-Atlantic. I never had any fear of the Scorpion capsizing if caught in a heavy gale of wind, whatever else might occur, as I considered the Scorpion a very stiff ship. If the Scorpion had hatchways and funnel casing fitted as I wished and a proper quantity of coal on board, or such coal as I might consider a proper quantity to exhibit her most seaworthy qualities, I should not fear her foundering in a close reefed topsail gale.
Lieutenant R.T.B. Bruce, R.N., Her Majesty's ship Hercules. — I was officer of the first watch on the night of the 6th. I was relieved at 12 midnight.
The witness then gave evidence corroborative of that given by other officers who had kept watches on board ships of the fleet on the night of the 6th or morning of the 7th of September, relative to the state of the weather, &c., and the amount of canvas the ship could have carried during the squalls, the ship's probable behaviour if caught lying in the trough of a sea.
Lieutenant Wingfield, R.N., who succeeded the last witness as officer of the watch on board the Hercules, gave similar corroborative evidence to that of Lieutenant Bruce.
Lieutenant Gassiot, Her Majesty's Ship Lord Warden, who was officer of the middle watch on the morning of the 7th of September, was next examined and gave similar evidence, but said that the Lord Warden if caught in the trough of a sea would have rolled to such an extent as to cause considerable internal mischief. If it had been requisite to press her off a lee shore at the time of the squalls, she might have carried "all plain sail" with safety to herself, providing masts, sails, and all gear held on. The wind was at a force of from 8 to 9.
Lieutenant J.B. Bayley, R.N., officer of the first watch on the night of the 6th of September on board Her Majesty's ship Lord Warden, who had been relieved by Lieutenant Gassiot, was examined by the Court, but his evidence was merely corroborative.
Staff-Commander Kiddle, Her Majesty’s ship Minotaur, deposed to the conditions of the weather during the night of the 6th and morning of the 7th of September, having been on deck at night. Had served in the Royal Alfred, and she would have carried through such weather as about 12 20 a.m. on the 7th of September as much sail as would stand.
After taking some other evidence of a like corroborative character, the Court adjourned until 9 o'clock this morning.
|Th 29 September 1870|
MR. REED ON THE LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.
In view of the letter of Admiral Elliot in The Times of Monday last, which is in many respects suggestive, and in view also of your own article of Monday, I wish to lay down, as clearly as I can, what I consider to be the true state of the question at present. But first permit me to say that I cannot accept, even now — in fact less now than ever — the position of an antagonist to the turret system, or to rigged turret ships; on the contrary, I deprecate any improper reaction from the Captain's loss driving the Government either to the abandonment of rigged seagoing turret ships, or to the building of such ships with unnecessarily lofty sides. Nay, I must in fairness express my conviction that the Captain herself has shown that we need not necessarily make another rigged turret frigate so high-sided as the Monarch. My position is this: The Captain has been lost in consequence of her side being much too low (only 6½ft. at low draught) for a 4,000-ton rigged ship of the ordinary form, carrying a large spread of canvas, and with her weights disposed in the usual way. With a deck so low the stability, which in a highsided ship goes on increasing as the inclination increases, in her began to diminish at a moderate angle of inclination, and the ship passed easily and readily beyond a position of stable equilibrium and capsized. And the great object of my remarks at Liverpool was to deprecate the repetition in any future turret-ship of this fatal quality — viz., a stability which first diminishes, and then vanishes, within the limit of inclination to which the ship is liable when under her canvas. It was the possession of that quality which I take to be the characteristic feature of the Captain, viewed as a sailing ship, and I did not hesitate to take exception to some remarks even of a gentleman so highly placed as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in my desire to make my objection to it as strong as possible, not doubting that Her Majesty's Ministers are foremost in their desire to interpret a national calamity aright.
But having strongly insisted upon the dangerous nature of this quality in a ship, I am free now to state that, beyond the precaution of giving to a rigged turret ship enough upright side to secure to her a continuous increase of stability under the greatest stress of her canvas there may be no necessity to go. What that sufficient height of side is must be a matter of calculation for every new design, but the calculation can be made. The necessary height will vary largely with other conditions — such as the distribution of the weights, the position of the metacentre, the proportionate spread of canvas, and so forth. This we know, however, — viz., that the height of the Monarch's side is more than is necessary for this purpose only; and what I am prepared to state and to maintain is that the Captain herself seemed to indicate that, in other respects, a lower side would be sufficient for the necessary dryness, &c. When the Monarch was designed her height of side seemed desirable for many reasons, and especially to make the ship seaworthy under all circumstances, and we adopted it advisedly. I should have been prepared to give her a 12-feet side instead of a 14-feet, but the able and experienced Admirals who were members of the Board decided that 14 feet would not be too much for the first ship of the kind, and of such large tonnage, and I consider their decision was judicious. We have since had experience with the Captain's very much lower side, and that experience has indicated, I believe, that if the side is made high enough to insure the proper degree of stability it will usually be high enough for other purposes, provided the ropes can be sufficiently worked on the hurricane deck, of which I am not by any means certain. If they cannot be, that is a reason for giving an increased height to the working deck. We have also to remember that the Captain never encountered that extreme weather for which we are bound to provide against in Her Majesty's ships. I believe that if poor Captain Coles were still among us he would fully assent to the above propositions, and thus the old feud would be brought to an end. We erred, perhaps, on the right side in the Monarch; he erred on the wrong side in the Captain; with our present experience there need be no further error on either side.
I am not disposed to take so much exception, therefore, to Admiral Elliot’s letter in The Times of Monday last as might at first sight appear essential to my position. It would be quite proper in designing a new sea-going turret-ship to replace the Captain — which I earnestly hope will be done — to go some distance in the direction of increasing the beam and of lowering the centre of gravity; and the masting might also be reduced, although that is not necessary. But an increased beam and a lowered centre of gravity will be associated with less steadiness of gun platform, and that must not be largely sacrificed. The right course to be taken is obvious, — viz., to give the ship such a beam and such a height of centre of gravity as will insure as much natural stability when she is near the upright position as can be had in combination with a fairly steady gun platform; and also to give her at least such a height of side and deck that the stability will go on increasing as the ship is inclined to any extent to which her sails properly used will incline her. The science of naval architecture provides for the accomplishment of these objects, and no wise or humane person will wish to see a less safe course taken. There may be individuals here and there, both in the navy and out of it, who will cavil at these views, and seek still to agitate dangerous systems of design, but they must not be seriously regarded, —
"Their breath is agitation, and their life
"A storm, whereon they ride, to sink at last." [from “Childe Harold,” Canto III.]
It is only fair to admit that the Captain as designed was a very different ship from the Captain as completed. There were many very excellent points in her design, and I remember writing very much in its favour at the time, apart from the question of freeboard and of stability. The side was to be two feet higher than it actually floated, and, without close calculation, I was not sure that this intended height would be insufficient to give the requisite, stability, although I expressed doubts upon the point, recommended caution, and gave a higher side to my own ship. Whatever original deficiency there may have been in this respect in the Captain, it was fearfully aggravated by that excess of weight which probably crept gradually into her construction, and which no doubt arose from the desire of her authors to make everything as strong and efficient as possible. When that excess of weight became known, and experience showed that her centre of gravity was high, I began to have serious apprehension for her safety, and, being no longer in office, I stated in your columns, first, that the increased weight was alarming, and, then, that "the stability was compromised;" and so it proved. When I condemn the Captain therefore it is on account of her possessing that fatal combination of a low freeboard (resulting in a vanishing stability) with a great spread of canvas. Only detailed calculations, which I have now no materials for making, can show how much or how little of her danger was due to her overweight. But whether little or much, the ship was lost because her stability diminished and vanished when she was under the pressure of her canvas, and not because of any accident of the moment. It is all important that this fact should be unreservedly recognized.
In your article of yesterday you state that I probably consider at this moment a broadside vessel to be as formidable a type of a man-of-war as a turret-ship, and that I never sufficiently discerned or admitted that a vessel possessing for herself extreme steadiness of platform and yet offering no target for the guns of an enemy must have infinite advantages in action; and you further state that while the Captain swam she was a match for the whole squadron. I certainly cannot for a moment assent to the latter proposition. I have the best reason to believe that the Hercules alone could at any moment have sunk the Captain, from the circumstance that while her own water-line was invulnerable to the Captain's guns her own guns would have penetrated the Captain's sides and turrets, and have driven shot and shell down through her weak deck in the most destructive manner. But what I admit and have never denied, but steadily maintain is, that the use of turrets gives a ship's armament some great advantages which the armament of a broadside ship cannot possess; that in proportion as the ship's side can be kept low and her size as a target small, a ship derives great advantages from these features likewise, and that for these reasons it is very desirable to go on developing the production of sea-going turret-ships within the limits which science, prudence, and a proper regard for life and property allow. I should be glad to add, if you will permit me, the following brief extracts from the chapter on turret-ships in my work on Our Ironclads:—
"The first and most obvious advantage of the turret system consists in the facility which it affords for training large guns smoothly and easily through large arcs, and for making the same guns available on both sides of the ship. This is an advantage which has never been questioned. . . . With Captain Scott's gear guns even of the largest class are now trained with all necessary ease on the broadside; the same is true of the turret, the real advantage of the latter consisting in the fact that while the arc of training of the turret gun may be made very great without any increase in the size of the port, it is impossible to obtain a large arc of training with a broadside gun, or with a gun mounted broadside fashion, without enlarging the ports and weakening the ship's side considerably in its immediate neighbourhood. For this reason and for some others that will follow, I have always looked forward to a large adoption of the turret system in those classes of ships in which masts and sails are not requisite, or in which they can be so subordinated to turret armament as to leave it in possession of this, its prime advantage — viz., a large range of horizontal command. ... I have already intimated that the enlarged adoption of the turret system has usually been associated in my mind with those classes of vessels in which masts and sails are not required. It is well known that others have taken a wider view of its applicability, and have contended that it is, and has all along been, perfectly well adapted for rigged vessels. I have never considered it wholly inapplicable to such vessels; on the contrary, I have myself projected designs of seagoing and rigged turret ships which I believe to be safe, commodious, and susceptible of perfect handling under canvas. But most assuredly the building of such vessels was urged by many persons long before satisfactory methods of designing them had been devised. . . This kind of ship would unquestionably possess good seagoing and cruising qualities; her turrets would possess that unbroken command of the horizon which is the only justification for their use, and she might be well rigged, and as commodious a ship as a broadside vessel. The only thing to be considered is whether even this ship would be better, or so good as a well-designed broadside vessel, which may be fairly open to question. At present, with our limited experience, I express no conclusion on this point."
I desire that these may still be accepted as my views upon this important question.
I am glad to find that the Wivern is to be withdrawn from among the rigged ships of Her Majesty's navy. She is a small Captain, and possesses the same fatal property. All on board of her have their lives jeopardized whenever she puts to sea under canvas. The same is true of the sister ship Scorpion. Further, I trust all reasonable care will be taken by the Admiralty to complete the many turret ships now building from my designs in accordance with my intentions in designing them. No one of them possesses the particular elements of danger which the Captain possessed, but all such ships require very special care in construction, and any oversight on the part of the able officers who have taken up my work, and who have to act without reference to me, may have serious consequences.
I wish to add one word with reference to the present First Lord of the Admiralty. I have seen it stated in a very influential provincial paper, as an inference from my remarks at Liverpool, that Mr. Childers was responsible for the building of the Captain. Those who have watched this question closely will be well aware that this was in no degree the case. The Captain was in an advanced state of building when Mr. Childers took office as First Lord, and it is a misconstruction of my remarks to infer the contrary. It would be an additional misfortune for the loss of the Captain to occasion new misapprehensions; her ocean tomb should rather be the grave of former dissensions.
I also observe that an attempt is being made to construe certain words of mine at Liverpool as a general depreciation of naval officers, and especially of admirals. Nothing can be more mistaken, as those many admirals with whom I have had the privilege of working well know. But there are admirals and admirals, and my admiration of the class admits of some exceptions. Least of all do I admire those who profess, without possessing, abstruse scientific knowledge; but they are very few.
I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
London, Sept. 27.
P.S. — Since writing the above letter I have seen Admiral Elliot's long and unprovoked attack upon me in The Times of to-day. In so far as such a letter deserves an answer I have replied to it, by anticipation, in the foregoing observations. Admiral Elliot, Sir, is a man of high family — I have heard that he once frankly informed a Parliamentary committee that he owed his early promotions to that circumstance — and he must be presumed to know the rules of courtesy and right. Otherwise I should have considered it questionable taste for him to utilize the calamitous death of his friend by making it an occasion of abusing Her Majesty's ships, reflecting on his own brother officers, who have shared the responsibility of building them, accusing me unfairly of "setting myself up to be a sailor,"’ stating (most mistakenly) that I "deride practical seamanship,"’ and airing his own special crotchet of hydraulic propulsion. I must, however, presume that this high-born gentleman knows better than I do what is, and what is not, consistent with good taste, and I will not complain of his action in the matter. I will, however, ask to be excused from imitating his example, and decline to make the loss of the Captain the occasion of anything narrow or personal. I have no interest in the matter beyond a strong desire to see Her Majesty's ships as safe in peace as they are strong in war. Admiral Elliot is no doubt right in stating that the Captain "should have had more beam and a proper distribution of weights;" only the discovery, if it be one, comes rather late. If he knew this before the ship was lost, it was scarcely kind of him to withhold the fact from his now lamented friend, and he should have joined me in giving warning of the danger. If he did not know it beforehand, I do not quite understand on what grounds he now proclaims it so loudly, and with so oracular an air. I am prepared, however, to make great allowances for all those unfortunate persons who, by throwing their naval reputation into the advocacy of the ill-fated ship, contributed unintentionally but lamentably to a catastrophe which has disgraced and grieved us as a maritime nation more than pen can express.
|Fr 30 September 1870|
THS LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.The Naval Court, under the presidency of Admiral Sir James Hope, G.C.B., to inquire into the cause of the loss of the Captain, and try, pro forma, the survivors, held its third sitting yesterday, on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, at Portsmouth, the Court opening at 9 o'clock.
The first witness examined was Admiral Sir A. Milne, lately commanding Her Majesty's ships in the Mediterranean.
Admiral Sir Alexander Milne, K.G.B. — I have been recently in command, off the coast of Spain, of the fleet of which the Captain was one of the ships. I took command of the Channel Squadron at Gibraltar on the 17th of August, in addition to the Mediterranean Squadron.
The Admiralty warrant for holding the court was here read by direction of the President.
The President. — Were you entirely satisfied with the conduct of Mr. James May and the other survivors of the crew of the Captain?
Sir A. Milne. — Most perfectly so.
The President. — I have before me your letters of the 7th and 10th of September, addressed to the Secretary of the Admiralty, detailing the circumstances under which, so far as you then knew, the Captain was lost. Will you be good enough to state to the Court anything further you may know upon the subject?
Sir A. Milne. — I know no further facts than detailed in those letters as to the loss of that ship. If the President will allow me I will state what occurred on the previous day.
The President. — The Court will be glad to receive your evidence.
Sir A. Milne. — When I took command of the combined squadrons I received special instructions from the Admiralty to report on the capabilities of the Monarch, the Captain, and the Hercules. I acquainted the captains of these ships and Captain Coles that from time to time I should go aboard those ships at sea. After leaving Gibraltar on the 19th of August until the morning of the 6th of September we had nothing but light air and calms, and I had no opportunity for trying the ships under sail. I was twice on board the Captain and once on board the Monarch, when they were under steam and in smooth water for gun practice. Early on the morning of the 6th I telegraphed to Captain Burgoyne that 1 should visit the Captain at half-past 9, and did so, visiting the ship thoroughly in every part, on deck and below. As the breeze was freshening, I made a signal a little before 1 p.m. for a trial of sail, and at 1 all the ships made sail with all topsails, royals, and courses, the Captain’s funnel being got down to set her mainsail, and the trial was continued till 5 p.m. The ships tacked three times between 1 and 5. Some of the ships took in their royals, but the Captain carried hers till 4 p.m. The angle of heel made by signal from all the ships daring the trial was: — At 1 0 p.m., Lord Warden, 4 deg; Captain, 9½; Bellerophon, 9; Inconstant, 11; Warrior, 5; Bristol, 10; Minotaur, 4; Northumberland, 5; Monarch, 7; Agincourt, 3; Hercules, 3. At 3. p.m. — Lord Warden, 6½; Monarch, 6 deg; Agincourt, 3½; Hercules, 7 ; Captain, 11; Bellerophon, 6½; Inconstant, 14; Warrior, 6; Bristol, 10; Minotaur, 4; Northumberland, 4. At 4 p.m. — Lord Warden, 4 deg.; Captain, 11; Bellerophon, not given; Inconstant, 15½; Warrior, 5; Bristol, 7; Minotaur, 6; Northumberland, 5; Monarch, 9; Agincourt, 3½; Hercules, not given. During the period of the trial I personally observed, by the bridge battens, that the heel of the Captain averaged 12½ degrees, and on several occasions reached 14 degrees. Without any special lurch, but heeling down slowly and quietly, she made 12 degrees. I observed to Captain Burgoyne that it struck me her yards were braced up unnecessarily sharp. I said, "Don't you think the ship would be better with the yards a little braced in?" He replied that it was Captain Coles's idea and plan, and he therefore carried out his wishes. Captain Coles, on my speaking to him, said that it was the best plan to creep to windward, to brace the yards sharp up; to which I made no farther remark. About 3 p.m. I desired Captain Burgoyne to man one of the turrets. The fore turret wan manned, and I went down with Captain Burgoyne, Captain Coles, my flag captain and flag lieutenant. I desired that the guns might be trained at the water line of the Lord Warden, then about seven cables on the starboard or lee beam. The report was "that the guns could not be brought to bear, nothing being visible but the hurricane deck." I then directed the guns to be trained upon the Monarch's water line, then about the same distance on the weather beam, but the reply was the same. Captain Coles made the observation, a very proper one, that the guns were not intended to be fought under sail at the then permanent angle of inclination, ten degrees, and that the sights were only fitted for five degrees. I said that I looked upon it as an extreme case, but, as I was on board the ship, I wished to see what could be done. When the turret was turned to leeward and the guns run out the ship heeled over very perceptibly, and my flag captain and myself observed the ship's bow to be depressed. After going on deck again I took Captain Coles to the lee side of the ship where the gunwale was level with the water. The sea was on the bow and it was washing over the deck and striking the base of the after turret to the depth of about 18in. or 2ft. I said to Captain Coles that I could not reconcile myself to such a state of things, so contrary to all my experience. He replied, "There is not the slightest danger." I said, "The thought of danger never entered my head; but do you think this is right, to have a powerful ship like this with her gunwale in the water and royals set?" He replied, "Well, I think I should be prepared to compromise it; but of this I am certain, the guns ought to be 2ft. or 2ft. 6in. higher out of the water." On former days I had asked Captain Burgoyne, the commander, staff commander, and a sub-lieutenant on watch whether they were satisfied with the ship, and I received from them all the same answer, "that they had the most perfect confidence in her." Indirectly I learnt the opinion of the other officers of the ship, and theirs was the same. On September 2, before leaving Vigo, the Captain had 412 tons of coal on board. Up to the morning of the 6th, the expenditure being reported by the squadron at 8 a.m. daily, the Captain had expended, after leaving Vigo, 54 tons, and a probable farther consumption of 10 tons more would leave on board at the time of her loss 348 tons. At 5 p.m. the trial of sailing was closed by the recall of the ships, and I directed Captain Burgoyne to get his funnel up, connect screws, and have steam ready, as we should stand off the land for the night under easy sail, and that in the morning I would let him know what I should do. I left the Captain at 5 30, and signalled the fleet to take in two reefs and have steam ready for use when required. I wish now to add that, at the time Captain Coles made the remark that there was "no danger," he also said that she would go over four or five strakes of the deck, and even up to the foot of the ladder from the deck to the bridge — from 8ft. to 10ft. over the deck, with perfect safety.
The Court was here closed for a short time, and on its reopening Sir Alexander Milne was recalled and examined by the Court.
Sir A. Milne, replying to questions put by the President, said: — I was told that I would receive full information relative to the Captain from the officer commanding the Channel squadron. The only papers I did receive were Sir Robert Symonds' report on the ship, bat I never received any plans either from the Admiralty or from the builders of the Captain. I do not know whether any such information was supplied to Captain Burgoyne, nor am I aware whether any such information was in Captain Coles's possession. I can give the Court no information relative to the degree of knowledge possessed by Captains Coles and Burgoyne of the received theory of naval architecture as applied to the Captain's stability. We had a short trial on the afternoon of the 4th and 5th in sailing, with very light winds, and of no importance whatever. I cannot say whether Captain Burgoyne followed Captain Coles's wishes in other professional matters as well as in bracing the ship's yards sharp up. The five degrees to which the sights of the guns were fitted applied to depression. When the turret was turned round to leeward the guns were then run out.
Did the lurch or sudden inclination of the ship on that occasion give you an idea that she was very sensitive as regards her stability? — No, it did not. I only felt the ship depressed, and I knew with all the guns run out on one side, she heeled over four degrees.
You have stated that in conversation with Captain Coles he said he would like to have the guns 2ft. 6in. higher. Now, the Captain drew that much more than she was originally designed to draw. Do you understand that he would like to have had the guns 2ft. 6in. higher than they actually were, or 2ft. 6in. higher than the original design? — I consider Captain Coles's remark to apply entirely to the ship as she then stood.
Are you able to state about what number of degrees the ship would be heeling when you observed the water to rise to the foot of the ladder leading from the deck to the bridge, as described by Captain Coles? I am not aware that the water ever rose to the foot of the ladder, nor can I tell what would be the angle of heel if it did so. The Court must recollect that my visit to the Captain was only one of several that would follow, end that I was unable when on board to obtain matters of detail which I should have obtained at a future period.
Does your statement to the Court contain all the material conversation that passed between you and Captain Burgoyne when you visited the Captain on the 6th of September? —
From having been the last person on board the Captain I have volunteered my evidence to this Court, fully and without reserve to state everything that passed between myself, Captain Burgoyne, and Captain Coles.
You have stated that indirectly you became aware of the opinions of other officers of the Captain with regard to their views of the ship. Will you say who they were? —
I cannot recollect the names of the officers, but some of the Lord Warden's ward-room officers had been dining on board the Captain, and I asked them how the ward-room officers of the Captain liked her. The general answer was "Very much," and appeared to have confidence in her.
By Captain Rice. — I saw the water wash against the turret. The ship was heeling and rising through an arc from 12 to 14 degrees. Probably the water on deck washing from the bow to right aft was from four to six inches deep, and it nearly swamped the cutter in which I was when leaving.
By Captain May. — The state of the barometer on the morning of the 6th of September was rising, and it began to fall towards 6 o'clock. At noon I think it was just below 30 inches —an average barometer. I first noticed the barometer fall near 11 p.m.
By Captain Commerell. — My impression in looking on the Captain from outside when end on was that her lower yards were very square, and her masts, especially her topgallant masts, were heavy. When I went aboard her sails did not appear to me so large as I expected, and when I looked at a report made to me of the area of the sails of the ships I was surprised to find that the area of the Captain's was 28,602ft., while the Monarch’s was 35,325ft.
By Captain Brandreth. — I was looking for a gale to try the Captain and Monarch in from the day I left Gibraltar, with the object of carrying out the Admiral's instructions.
I did not expect on the evening of the 6th that the gale would have been so sudden, but I did expect that on the following morning we should meet with the strong breeze for which I was so anxious. With regard to the question of freeboard. Captain Coles and myself had no farther conversation than I have already stated.
By the President. — On the night of the 6th of September the weather was not such as to cause me any anxiety whatever as to the safety of any ship of the fleet. When I left the Captain on the 6th to return to my flagship the former was hove to under full topsails, jib, and driver. I am not sure about topgallant sails. She was at that time lurching, having partially fallen off, with the sea on her broadside, her gunwale at times being close down to the water. My cutter alongside was then higher than her deck, and I had to take the opportunity of jumping into the boat. As the ship rose the water fell off her decks into the boat alongside. I was in the stern walk of the flagship the greater part of the night the Captain foundered, and was probably there at that time, as I was watching the ships that were astern of us as well as those that were to leeward. There was a heavy squall and thick rain at a few minutes past midnight, which continued for about a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes. The sea was confused and cross at the time. I should have thought that Captain Burgoyne or the officer of the watch would have lowered the Captain's topsails in the squall, but I think the topsails would have gone before any such ship as the Captain would have gone over. I mean that had the Captain possessed the stability due to her size the topsails should have gone before she could have upset. The Captain would probably have been more safe under steam and without square sails, and I have reason to believe that her lee screw was going, because both Captain Burgoyne and Captain Coles told me they were constantly in the habit of using the lee screw. I have no doubt that a ship under steam alone would be capable of keeping the sea, with her bow to it, better than she could under sail. I have every inclination to give my opinions to the Court, but the Captain was in the hands of an able and experienced seaman. He had steam at his command to do whatever he considered best for the ship's safety. If I had been in command, it is very probable I should have furled sails and used steam. But, commanded as the Captain was, l cannot say what were Captain Burgoyne's views and feelings on the occasion.
Will you describe to the Court to what you consider the actual foundering of the Captain was owing? — I think she must have heeled over beyond the angle that I saw when on board, and most probably some portion of her lee deck was under water, and at the same time she had been struck by a heavy sea to windward and thrown over.
If a ship on a squally night is compelled to haul out of the line for safety under steam, and so leave the fleet or compel other ships to do the same, can she be considered fit to go to sea with a fleet? — No.
|Fr 30 September 1870|
|The Court at this stage was cleared for half-an-hour, and on re-opening,|
Captain S. Brandreth, Her Majesty's ship Lord Warden, and Flag Captain to Sir A. Milne at the time of the Captain's loss, one of the members of the Court, was sworn and examined relative to any additional facts bearing upon the Captain's loss beyond the evidence already before the Court.
He said, — I do not think I can bring forward any new point of evidence for the consideration of the Court. I was on deck about a quarter after 12 the morning the Captain went down. We had a severe squall which split our foresail and foretopmast staysail. The sea was confused, but not heavy, as stated in the log, until about 1 35, when the squalls were heavier.
The President. — From your experience as a seamen and such means of observation as you had of the Captain, do you consider it either right or prudent to have been carrying under double reefed topsails when the squall struck her? —
No. I should have endeavoured to shorten sail, as it is stated in evidence Captain Burgoyne did.
What warning did the squall in question give? — Before 12 the squall came down suddenly, but after 12 not so suddenly. By the account from the different ships I think the squalls were partial, as they had been one or two days before, when the Warrior lost two topsails and the other ships did not feel much wind.
So that, in fact, the evidence given by the officers of the several ships of the force of the wind may not afford a just criterion of the force of the squall which upset the Captain? — Yes. The Inconstant, for instance, had a different force of wind from the other ships. I consider the squall after 12 to have been the most violent.
Do you think if the Captain had furled her sails and used steam she would have been afloat now or not? — Yes, she would have been afloat.
Have you sufficient knowledge of the Captain to be able to state to the Court whether her appliances for battening down in bad weather were sufficient? — No, I have not.
By Captain Hancock. — I should say it would be very doubtful whether the Captain would have been safe now if her topsails had been got down on the cap before 12 o'clock.
By Captain Rice. — There was no ship in sight from the Lord Warden at the time of the squall, and, therefore, no signal was made from her, as flagship, to the fleet to reef. At 10 30, when the fleet was in sight, I considered the ships were under easy sail for the night, and, possibly, might have to reef without being signalled.
Lieutenant Hoare, R.N., examined. — I was flag-lieutenant to Sir Alexander Milne, and accompanied the Admiral and captain on board on the day before she was lost. I had some conversation with Captain Burgoyne, Commander Sheepshanks, Lieutenant Pardon and Sub-Lieutenant Gordon relative to the ship. My conversation with Captain Burgoyne was limited to general questions as to the comforts and capabilities of the ship under sail. I inferred from the remarks he made that the ship, although having no great speed under sail, was remarkably steady, and in every way was perfectly comfortable. Our conversation did not touch on the ship's stability under canvas. My conversation with Commodore [should be: Commander] Sheepshanks I do not think I could accurately distinguish from that which I had with the other officers on board whom I conversed with, but my questions in all instances tended very much to the same point. The general impression left upon my mind by these conversations was that the Captain was heavily masted, the hurricane deck was rather limited for general work, the ship was very steady, the yards braced up sharper than those of an ordinary ship. One question I put to Commander Sheepshanks as to the ship's capability of beating to windward, after a trial that had just been made, was answered by him to the effect that he thought she could do nothing in beating to windward, but that they all on board had perfect confidence in the ship and the excellence of her seagoing qualities. I saw Captain Burgoyne's night order book while I was on board. The orders left in that for the guidance of the officer of the watch tended to impress upon the officer that it redoubted both to Captain Burgoyne's credit and to that of the officer of the watch that the ship should be kept in her station as much as possible under sail. If, however, during the night she should drop out of station every effort should be made at daylight to regain station. Reference was also made in the order book to the good name the ship had acquired for keeping station. I was present on board the Monarch when Sir A. Milne was talking to Captain Coles, and I believe I asked one or two questions during the time relative to the amount of water that might come over the deck with safety to the ship, and as to the yards bracing up so sharp.
The next witness was Mr. W.B. Robinson, master shipwright and chief engineer of Portsmouth Dockyard.
President. — What weight was on board the Captain when she sailed on the 10th of May. and what complement of crew was provided for her ? — 2,615 tons, and provision was made for a complement of 500 men.
President. — What was the draught of water then and height of freeboard at fore and after turrets?— Forward the draught of water was 24ft. 3in., and aft 25ft. 9½in.; height of freeboard at fore turret, 6ft. 4¼in.; ditto, at after turret, 6ft. 3½in.
President. —Was any report made which was joined by her captain as to the official completion of her fittings?
—Yes, a copy of which I hand in.
President. — Was the ship inclined at Portsmouth Dockyard for the purpose of ascertaining her common centre of gravity by experiment? — Yes.
(A lengthy written legal opinion was here read to the witness, the many words in which told the witness that he need say nothing which he might consider detrimental to public polity?)
President. — Are you aware who made the subsequent calculations from those experiments? — I am not.
In reply to questions put by the President, Mr. Robinson read to the Court an elaborately prepared essay on shipbuilding, especially with relation to "centres of buoyancy," "water centres", and "centres of gravity," as bearing upon the cause of the capsizing and foundering of the Captain. The paper, rapidly read by Mr. Robinson, occupied 55 minutes in delivery, and was illustrated by 16 large diagrams. The paper was then delivered in to the Court, and appended to the minutes of the proceedings.
President. — Have the theories of calculations for ascertaining displacements been well established for many years and proved by experience? — Yes.
President. — Has the performance of vessels of war as a rule agreed with the calculations made of them? — I believe so.
President. — Glance over the letter handed to you, and the diagram accompanying it, and say whether you suppose the diagram correctly represents the stability of the Captain, provided the calculations upon which it is based are correct: — On the supposition that the calculations are correct, yes.
President. — Assuming this diagram to be a correct representation of the stability of the Captain, I find the angle at which the edges of her deck would be immersed to be 14 deg., and the angle of maximum stability 6 deg. more. The ship loses stability altogether at 40 deg.
Do you consider such a ship fit to be sent to sea under sail? — Yes, if properly masted and handled.
President. — Are you sufficiently acquainted with the masting of the Captain to give an opinion as to whether she was overmasted or not? — I have no exact knowledge regarding her masts and sails, but from the little I know accurately of the elements of the ship, I am of opinion that she was overmasted, and made too much like a regular sailing ship. I say this without facts with which I should like to be acquainted before giving a full and definite opinion.
President. — What style of masting would you recommend for a ship of that description? — I should advise the exact kind of mast and quantity of sail which should be given to any particular ship of which the elements might be in my possession. I do not know enough of the Captain's elements to do so as regards her.
The President. — Can you state to the Court of the iron clad ships which is that in which the distance between the centre of gravity and metre-centre is least? — I cannot.
By Captain Rice. — Ships recently built and that have come to this yard under my observation, I cannot say whether they float at their designed line or not, as I am not officially informed of calculations made at the Admiralty. As a naval architect I should not be satisfied with building a ship that would lurch 40 degrees without sail on her. I am aware that a high ship might lurch 40 degrees without danger, but I had in my mind a low freeboard ship. With a low freeboard ship, without masts and under steam only, if her conditions of stability would place her in danger of turning bottom up if she lurched nearly 40 degrees, I should not be content as her builder.
By Captain Boys. — From the diagram before the Court of the Captain's calculated stabilities, what is your opinion the result would be if she attained a permanent angle of heel of 30 degrees? — She would go over.
By Captain May. — The Captain floated two feet deeper than her contemplated draught of water. The supposition that the Captain was made to float two feet deeper than designed appears to me to be unfounded, since it might have been intended by her designer as some fancy draught of water, but the ship was fairly constructed and equipped at the draught she only floated at. If a given ship were made to float at a deeper line than that she might at this moment be floating at, and if the weights put on board were known as to position and quantity, the exact consequence of so sinking her further in the water could be accurately arrived at. I did not calculate the Captain’s stability after the trial, made in Portsmouth dockyard. It has been usual for some years for the designers of new types of ships for the Navy to ascertain by actual experiment the position of the common centre of gravity of those ships. As the Captain was a vessel supplied by contract, I cannot say whether it would be the duty of any Government department to calculate her stability. The immersion of the Captain's upper deck up to the turrets, according to the diagram in court, would certainly diminish the stability of the ship.
By Captain Commerell. — I did not officially superintend the inclining of the ship at Portsmouth to obtain the necessary data for calculating her stability. Mr. Barnes, one of the constructors of the Navy, superintended the experiment, and recorded his own facts. Speaking roughly, the Captain appeared somewhat crank when the experiment was made. As far as I remember, I mentioned to Captain Burgoyne on the day the ship was inclined that she appeared rather crank, at six or seven degrees inclination, but he assured me that she was a very stiff ship to an angle of six or seven degrees, beyond which it seemed difficult to carry her. Taking the maximum of stability at 20 degrees, I should not have thought it prudent to heel her enough to have brought the water on deck. If the Captain actually draw 2ft. of water in excess of her design from an increase of scantling distributed throughout the ship, the stability of the ship would probably be but little affected, but could only be known from trial. The freeboard would, of course, be so much lower.
The President. — ls the experiment of inclining the ship to obtain the data for calculating the centre of gravity made because the calculations are not relied upon, or for testing them? — The calculated position of the centre of gravity in a new design is occasionally approximate, and therefore the Admiralty designers verify their calculations by experiments. The Captain's stability would increase less in proportion as the deck became immersed in the water, and would decrease after the maximum point of her stability had been passed until she had none. The turning over of the Captain without check, as described in the evidence, would appear to indicate that she passed her maximum point of stability at a comparatively small angle. A well-conditioned ship, with hatches battened down, thrown on her beam ends by sail or wave pressure, when relieved of the weight of her sails and masts by their being carried away, might then be expected to right herself, if a ship of a high freeboard.
At the conclusion of Mr. Robinson’s evidence the Court expressed through the President their sense of the evident care with which he had prepared the information he had laid before the Court.
Captain May, Her Majesty's ship Northumberland, one of the members of the Court, then gave evidence to the Court of his experience of the wind and sea, and general state of the weather on the night the Captain was lost. He said with regard to the Captain, "She was the crankiest ironclad I have up to the present seen." She was heeling 12 degrees when the Northumberland was heeling 5. Her topgallant mast was the largest I ever saw.
Captain Commerell, V.C., C.B., Her Majesty's ship Monarch, also one of the members of the Court, being examined said, — I had frequent conversations with Captain Burgoyne respecting the seaworthiness of the Captain. Two days after arriving at Vigo, Captain Coles, in presence of Captain Burgoyne, expressed to me his greatest possible confidence in the Captain, and that beyond a certain point she could not go over. Captain Coles altogether laughed at the suspicion of her going over. I have reason to know that Captain Burgoyne had thought the ship overweighted, but the recent trial had quite set his mind at rest on that point. I saw the Captain at 11 p.m. on the 6th. She looked just as usual, and was not heeling over in any degree, and when she was running in the morning I had not the slightest fears for her safety. I had such fears on the morning of the 30th of May.
By the President. — I know now, and have no doubt in my own mind, that double-reefed topsails was too much sail for the Captain to carry. I presume Captain Burgoyne was holding on to reef with both watches the moment the middle watch had been mustered. The weather had been changeable and the squalls heavy. If the Captain's sails had been furled and she had been placed under steam, I do not think she would have foundered, but the weather did not warrant her in falling out of the line. She had weathered worse in safety, and therefore I consider Captain Burgoyne would not have been justified in hauling out of the line. I do not consider that he could have furled his topsails with the wind abeam. If they had been aback, the ship would have gathered sternway, which happened to me that night, and that only succeeded by my fore topsail being able to save the sail.
The Court adjourned soon after 6 p.m. till this morning.
|Sa 1 October 1870|
THE LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.The Court assembled yesterday morning at 9 o'clock, on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, at Portsmouth, under the presidency of Vice-Admiral Sir James Hope, G.C.B., on the fourth day of its sittings.
Mr. Robinson, master shipwright and chief engineer of Portsmouth Dockyard, was called before the Court and informed by Sir James Hope that it was the wish of the members of the Court that the papers read by him in court on the previous day should be printed, and a copy furnished to each member of the Court as soon as might he possible, the Court bearing the expense. A diagram which had been sent to one of the members of the Court, professing to show the inclination of the Captain at different degrees, was handed to Mr. Robinson to ascertain its correctness. Mr. Robinson was also requested by the President to have two diagrams prepared for the Court, one representing the Captain at her draught of water, and the other as originally designed.
Mr. James May, gunner (the prisoner pro formâ), late of the Captain, recalled and examined by the President — I am not aware whether hands were stationed at the topsail sheets and halliards in the first watch on the night of the 6th of September. I do not know whether it was customary to do so on board her in stormy weather.
By Captain May. — I think it was, as a rule, a customary thing to have hands by the upper halliards on all occasions.
James Ellis, gunner's mate, late of the Captain, recalled, and examined by the President. — The topsail yards were not well braced in. It was not customary to station hands by the topsail sheets and halliards in blowing weather. It was a customary thing to have hands by the upper halliards on all occasions.
By Admiral Yelverton. — There was always great difficulty, when blowing hard, in rounding in the topsail yards.
By Captain May. — I think Mr. Nordenfeldt was officer of the first watch on board the Captain.
Lewis Warry, captain of foretop, late of the Captain. — I cannot say for the first watch.
By the President. — But no hands were stationed by the topsail sheets and halliards on board the Captain in the first watch on the 6th of September, but they were not in the middle watch. It was customary to have hands stationed by the upper halliards on all occasions.
By Captain Commerell. — The topmast rigging of the Captain had the ordinary spread, but I believe went farther aft.
By direction of the President a letter addressed to him as the Port Admiral and officer presiding over the Court, dated Admiralty, September 27, 1870, accompanied by a summary of all correspondence upon the construction of the Captain, prepared in the office of the Controller of the Navy, was read by the Judge Advocate to the Court. A printed appendix accompanied, the summary, comprising tabulated returns, &c. All the facts contained in the greater part of this summary have long since been made public by the late Captain Coles, and this portion of the papers merely represented the Controller's Office arrangement of a summary of correspondence between the Admiralty officials, Captain Coles, and the Messrs. Laird, with "office" comments, for attachment as a legal document to the minutes of the Court. A second portion of the summary dealt with reports from officers of the Controller's Department to the Admiralty upon the weights being placed in the Captain, and her expected consequent increase in her draught of water with a corresponding decrease in the freeboard. A long commentary succeeded upon the correspondence between the Admiralty and Messrs. Laird relative to the claim made by the latter for payment of the final instalment for the building of the Captain, without the reservation claimed by the Admiralty of power to recover from Messrs. Laird any sum for such alterations as the ship might be found to require on return from her first cruise. Another portion dealt with the reports of the Controller of the Navy and Sir Thomas Symonds upon the Captain and her behaviour on the May cruise, and the most important of all the papers included was the report by Mr. Barnes of the trial made in the steam basin at Portsmouth Dockyard with the Captain, by inclination of her deck to ascertain the position of her centre of gravity. The report upon the calculations made from the data obtained from these trials was not made in a complete form until the 22d of August last.
After the Judge Advocate had concluded reading the summary of correspondence, which occupied him a considerable time, Captain James G. Goodenough, Her Majesty's ship Minotaur, one of the members of the Court, was sworn and examined. He said, — I have nothing to add to the evidence before the Court, and particularly to that of the officers of the Northumberland and Monarch, and whose experiences of the night accord with mine. My opinion as to the cause of her foundering has necessarily been influenced by her fate and the evidence I have heard. Before the loss of the ship and before hearing the evidence now before the Court, and when I was in possession of the information concerning the ship which the officers of the squadron in general possess, my opinion was that the Captain could have carried double-reefed topsails and foresail with entire safety through the night on which she was lost.
By Captain Rice. — Had I been in command of the fleet, I should have deemed it necessary to deal differently with the Monarch and Captain with regard to sail than with broadside ships.
By Captain May. — For the safety of yards and masts, and economy in their use, the barometer and appearance of the night on the 6th of September induced me to furl the mainsail and second course, and had I commanded in chief the fleets I should farther have reduced sail. As a matter of fact, the lights of the weather line were seen from the Minotaur from time to time until about 20 minutes past 11 p.m. A signal could not have been made to insure a simultaneous execution at that time, but the signal could have been passed from ship to ship from 10 to 11 p.m.
By Captain Commerell. — I do not believe that the weather at any time that night was such that a captain, believing in the seaworthiness of his ship, would have been justified in hauling out of the line.
By the President. — Taking into consideration the state of the weather and the fact of the Captain having been under double-reefed topsails and courses, I consider it was the duty of the Captain's officer of the watch, on the gale rapidly freshening, as it did at 11 30 p.m., to have hands stationed at the topsail halliards and mainsheets.
The Court adjourned at the conclusion of Captain Goodenough's examination for three-quarters of an hour for luncheon, and on re-opening at 2 p.m. Mr. A. Barnaby, President of the Council of Construction to the Admiralty, was sworn and examined.
By the President. — I have been Assistant-Constructor of the Navy six years. My present office of President of the Council of Construction to the Admiralty I have held only a few weeks. The "summary" of correspondence now placed in my hands was prepared by me, I can, if required to do so, produce the originals of the report, documents, and other papers referred to in it.
The President. — Can you produce curves of the stability of the ships named in the appendix, page 19?
Mr. Barnaby. — None of them have ever been calculated except the Captain by the curve for stability. The calculations by the curves referred to would involve long and tedious calculations.
In answer to further questions, the witness said, — Messrs. Laird requested that the Captain might be inclined in order that the position of the centre of gravity might be found by experiment. Its approximate must have been found by them when they designed the ship. Messrs. Laird had informed the Admiralty on Aug. 15, 1866, having been warned that the centre might be high. — "We have carefully considered the position of the centre of gravity and the position of weights, and have no reason to fear that the vessel will be deficient in the stability necessary. We may observe that in the event of the vessel being light it is provided that the space under the double bottom may be filled with water or ballast." The application from the Messrs. Laird was dated the 24th of February, 1870. The Captain was actually inclined at Portsmouth on the 29th of July, 1870. The reason of the delay is explained partly in their Lordships' reply of the 26th of February to Messrs, Laird's letter, in which they (their Lordships) said: — "Steps shall be taken to ascertain the vertical height of the Captain's centre of gravity, when an opportunity offers, by settled weather, but it is not considered desirable to carry out the experiment before the ship's steam trials are completed, or while the weather remains so unsettled." It would have been necessary that the Captain should have been taken into the steam basin, that she should have remained there until a calm day could be found, and this delay in making the steam trials in order to ascertain whether the speed of the ship was in accordance with contract was considered by the late Chief Constructor and their Lordships to be unadvisable. The centre of the gravity of the ship was by the trial ascertained to be situate at a depth below water of 2ft. 9-10ths, and the distance between that centre and the meta-centre was ascertained to be 2ft. and 6-10ths, the ship being assumed to be floating at a mean draught of 25ft. and half an inch.
The President. — Was the Captain of the ship informed of these facts? — Calculations were not complete, and we did not ourselves know the position of the centre until the 23rd of August, the ship having left on her third and last cruise on the 4th of August. When that calculation was completed we saw nothing in it to cause us to apprehend, in the face of the reports of the officers who had tried the ship at sea, that she was in danger of capsizing.
Do I understand that these calculations included one of her stability as explained to us by the diagram of stability which has been forwarded to the Court by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty?
The diagram referred to forms part of the report made by Mr. Barnes, and should have been an enclosure in the "summary" laid before the Court, but was accidentally omitted. That diagram shows the variation of the stability of the Captain for all angles of inclinations from the upright to about 40 degrees when in a position of instability. The diagram and calculations on which it is based form part of an unusual and novel mode of investigating the stabilities of sea-going ships.
On the evidence which has been adduced before the Court, and from the various reports of the Captain's sailing trials which have been published, it would appear that not only Captain Coles and the officers of the Captain, but also the flag officers making those reports, were entirely unconscious of the dangerous want of stability in the Captain as shown in the diagram, where I observe the maximum angle of stability is only 20 degrees, and at 40 degrees it vanishes altogether. Under these circumstances would it not have been desirable to have placed the officers I have named in the possession of the information given by this diagram with the very least possible delay? — It is the desire of their Lordships that every possible information should be given to this Court, and that nothing should be withheld. I beg leave therefore to go on to explain that the diagram referred to relates to the case in which the side plating of the poop and forecastle of the Captain might have become so damaged as to give no assistance to the stability in the actual case that the ship had. The Captain's stability, and the amount of righting force at the various angles of inclination, measured in foot tons, is as follows:— At 14 degrees the edge of the deck would be immersed. In that position the righting force would be 5,700 foot tons. Her maximum stability would be reached at 21 degrees, where she would have 7,100 foot tons. At 31½ degrees she would again reach a position in which the righting force was 5,700, and the righting forces does not vanish until an inclination of 54⅓ degrees is reached. The opinion expressed in this report by Mr. Barnes is "that he did not think the Captain would be unsafe."
Can you procure from documents in office any data which would enable the Court to form a comparison between the stability and righting force of the Captain and that of other well-known ships? — I can; but from my own knowledge I may state at once. For angles of heel up to immersion to the edge of the gunwale the stability of the Captain would not differ very materially from that of the Monarch. The difference is that the high side of the Monarch causes her stability to be twice as great at 23 degrees as it is at 14, whereas in the Captain the stability at 28 degrees was very little in excess of what it was at 14. We have no ships with which to compare the Captain. She was an experimental ship, designed with a low freeboard, and it was known that one of the advantages of a low freeboard is steadiness of platform. Captain Coles always urged this, and instanced the case of the American monitors, whose angle of roll did not exceed 6 or 7 degrees. It was impossible to foretell to what extent the Captain would have the same advantage. The Controller of the Navy considered the experiment a dangerous one, although it was not possible to say to what extent it might be so. No one supposed it would be perilous or involve the loss of the ship, i myself pointed out the element of danger introduced by putting sail on such ships. I conducted the first investigation made to ascertain its amount, and on September 7, 1867, these investigations were completed. They were not made with any reference to the Captain, but in preparing an answer to a proposal to cut down the two-decked ships, put turrets in them, and mast them. Their estimated freeboard was 3ft. 6in. In the report, having the Captain in view, Î said. "No one has ever yet proposed to have less than twice this height of freeboard." My view of the case was adopted by the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, and embodied by him in a paper he read at the Institute of Naval Architects. In full view of the danger I thus foresaw I should not have presumed to have placed those calculations in the face of the officers who tried the Captain, because it was impossible to calculate the height of the waves, the force of the wind, and other circumstances. After the ship was lost those calculations have been held to show why she was lost and they do partly explain it, but so far as I am aware no one predicted from those calculations that the Captain would turn over. Had I thought so I should have felt it my duty to say so notwithstanding the awkwardness of the position as between ourselves, Captain Coles, and the designers of the Captain. I should have been prepared to have been told the calculations were fallacious. Precisely similar calculations made by me for the two-decked ships proposed to be cut down were sent to a distinguished naval architect, Mr. J. Watts, by their Lordship's desire, he having endorsed the proposals to cut those ships down, and he discredited it, stating it was a question of strength of masts, and stiffness of ships.
So that in point of fact the idea entertained was that the Captain was to be so steady a ship that there was comparatively little danger of her ever lurching or rolling to the angle of 54 deg. at which I understand her stability would vanish ? — That is exactly so.
It has been stated that the ship was about 2ft. deeper in the water than she should have been. Is that so? — The ship was 2ft. deeper in the water than on the design prepared by Messrs. Laird and Captain Coles, and contracted for.
Did the Messrs. Laird furnish with their design, and before the ship was built, any detailed statement of all the weights going to make up the sum of the weights of hull and equipment? Messrs. Laird furnished particulars shown in the printed summary, pages 24, 25, and 26. The weight of hull is stated there to be 3,000 tons. No details were given as to how these 3,000 tons were to be made up. There was a specification, but it was necessarily too incomplete to accurately check this. It would have taken some three or four weeks to do this, and then we should have had no control over the manner in which Messrs. Laird built their ship from the specification, so that they might have departed widely from it even had it been verified. When I first saw the ship, in her very early stages, I saw that there was no evidence of the care and vigilance which are found necessary in our own ships, in order to secure precise draught of water. Messrs. Laird weighed the materials they put into the ship, but I saw in the distribution of the materials many instances of too large an amount expended in order to produce the desired results in strength of structure.
Can you procure for the Court any instances showing the degree of agreement which has existed between the light draught of ships built in Her Majesty's Yards when launched or first floated out of dock, and the light draught previously calculated? — I can. The Monarch floated precisely to her designed line, but I must say, further in justice to Messrs. Laird, that I have known cases of wide departure from the designed draught of water. It must be borne in mind that an error of 5 per cent, only in thickness of plates and angle irons with which a ship is built, of which iron manufacturers would think nothing, would, if it were all in the same direction as it usually would be, cause a difference in a ship of war, as ordinarily constructed, of five inches.
Can you give the Court any other instances of ships recently constructed? — The ships that have been designed by the late Chief Constructor of the Navy have come in all cases within an inch or two of the estimated draughts. There were, however, some cases of ships designed at the Admiralty some years ago, in which a great error in draught of water was made. As an example, the two troopships — the Tamar and Orontes, both built from the same designs, one built by Mr. Samuda and the other by Messrs. Laird. They had a poop and forecastle added to them after they were designed, which will account for some of the discrepancy, but there still remains a large surplus to account for by error. Their designed mean draught was 20ft. That built by Mr. Samuda actually drew 22ft. 3¾in.; that built by Messrs. Laird actually drew 22ft. 10½in. The Warrior and Black Prince furnish another illustration, one ship drawing, from an unexplained cause, nearly one foot more than the other.
Then the question resolves itself into one of a scrupulous and conscientious care, both in calculations and in the construction of a ship? — To a large extent, but not entirely. We know that were some weights carried by the Captain omitted from the calculations, Messrs. Lairds, in offering their own explanations with regard to this excess of weights, will doubtless be able to show the Court that many things were added that they did not foresee when they designed the ship. If this is not so their experience does not accord with our own.
Did the Messrs. Laird furnish any statement of the calculated stability of the ship? — They did not. They gave to us the position of the centre of the gravity of displacement, but not of the centre of gravity of the ship. They also gave us the height of the meter centre above that of the gravity of displacement. These points were checked by our chief draughtsman, but without the position of the centre of gravity of the ship herself afforded no means of arriving at the precise amount of the ship's stiffness under canvas.
Did you examine the designs of the Captain? — Personally, no. But her designs were examined by the late Chief Constructor.
When were you first aware that the ship would float below her intended line? — On the 30th of March, 1869, after the ship was first floated. No inquiry was then made of the Messrs. Laird as to the position of the ship's centre of gravity, or as to her power of carrying sail.
Do you consider the ship was property masted and given a proper area of sail? — We considered, when the design was submitted, that a very large area of sail had been proposed. The arrangements of sail for the Monarch and the Hercules had then been made, but Mr. Reed at once gave directions that the amount of sail on those two ships should be increased in order to enable them to compete with Captain Coles's ship. We were not able to say whether or not the Captain was actually overmasted, for the reasons given in a former part of my evidence. The late Chief Constructor in writing to Messrs. Laird on the 2d of August, in recommending that their attention should be called to the proper position of the centre of gravity, refers to the very large amount of canvas proposed to be spread. The area of plain sail for the Captain was about 26.300 square feet, for the Monarch 27,700, and the Bellerophon, a vessel of the same tonnage as the Captain, 23,800.
By Captain Rice. — In ordinary ships the stability or righting power is least when the ship is upright; but it goes on increasing in amount so long as there is any height of side to immerse, the increase being nearly in proportion to the increase of the angle.
By Captain Boys. — I believe there is but little difference in the weights between tripod and ordinary masts carrying the same sail area.
By Captain Rice. — No intimation was made at the time. upon the occasion of my first visit to Birkenhead and observing the weight of material being used in her construction, to the Messrs. Laird of the circumstance, but Mr. Reed on the 14th of March, 1870, drew Messrs. Laird's attention to the subject.
By Captain May. — The masts and yards of the Captain were only part of an experimental design, for which the Controller of the Navy would never become responsible. Masts upon low-sided ships are always hazardous.
Could you state briefly the reasons which, in your opinion, led to the loss of the Captain? — Any opinion which I may state must be of the briefest character and given with great diffidence. I would rather say no more than that in building the Captain it was known that a great experiment was being made; that the experiment was made with reasonable prospects of success, and that, like many other experiments, unforeseen accidents caused it to fail.
Captain Commerell. — Holding the views Mr. Reed did relative to the stability of the Captain, would it not have been as well to have advised the flag officers of the squadron and Captain Burgoyne, that she might be exceptionally treated?
To this question an answer was returned from the witness which elicited from Captain Commerell,
Am l to understand under the peculiar circumstances under which the Captain was built, the Chief Constructor considered the whole responsibility for the safety of the ship and the 500 men she contained was removed from his officers? — I can best answer that by quoting from page 8 of the summary, in which the Controller of the Navy told their Lordships, they were aware neither the design nor specification met with his approval, and they accepted both with that knowledge.
I am then to understand that the moment that letter was written saying that the Captain's designs not having met with his entire approval, any responsibility, not for the success of the experiment, but for the actual safety of the ship, was removed? — The Constructor of the Navy never supposed, I understand, that the Captain would be in danger of capsizing. His objections to her on the ground of want of seaworthiness were never, as I understand it, pushed to this point. It was inconceivable that having any such fears he should have declined the responsibility.
By the President. — Did the Controlling Department consider they would not take the precautions they would with other ships? — Certainly not, no precautions were neglected. As regards the experiment for ascertaining the centre of gravity with the Captain it has been made with other ships.
The concluding portion of Mr. Barnaby's evidence tended to prove that the entire responsibility attached to the Captain was shared by Captain Coles and Messrs. Lairds.
Admiral Hope. — The Controller at the time the Captain was ordered, I understood you to say, was a servant and not a member of the Board of Admiralty, and, therefore, the Admiralty at that time were responsible for the building of the Captain, and not the Controller?
Mr. Barnaby. — That is so.
Admiral Hope. — I gather from the usual sources of information and partly from the summary of correspondence that the construction of the Captain was forced upon the Admiralty by what is called public opinion, the periodical papers of the day, and what was said in the Houses of Parliament. Now what is your opinion, who must have been cognizant of everything connected with this affair?
Mr. Barnaby. — That is the view which was always entertained in the Department of the Controller of the Navy.
The Court then adjourned until 9 this morning.
|Ma 3 October 1870|
THE LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.After our parcel was despatched from Portsmouth on Friday evening the subjoined, additional evidence was taken, the two concluding questions and answers of which only, forwarded by telegram, appeared in our report of the proceedings on board the Duke of Wellington, given in The Times of Saturday.
Mr. Barnaby, the President of the Council of Construction, who was under examination by the President of the Court at the time our report left the ship, said, in reply to questions put to by Sir James Hope, we have sufficient confidence in our calculations for ascertaining the position of a ship's centre of gravity without making the experiment by inclining the ship with ballast to prove the fact. We are now, at this dockyard, just about to ascertain the centre of gravity of the Monarch by inclination, not because we want it for that ship, but as a guide in the construction of another turret-ship something like the Monarch. Referring to my application of "foot tons" when speaking of the Captain's angles, I may say that the righting force of a ship may be considered to be the weight at the end of arm of a lever. If that length were 2ft., and the weight of the ship 1,000 tons, then 1,000 multiplied by two would give 2,000 foot tons as the righting force of the ship.
The President. — The removal of the masts and yards from the Captain, or, indeed, from any other ship, would largely affect the theoretical conditions of her rolling and stability? — That is quite correct.
I gather from the usual sources of information, and partly from the summary of correspondence, that the construction of the Captain was forced upon the Admiralty by what is called public opinion, the periodical papers of the day. and what was said in the Houses of Parliament. Now, what is your opinion, who must have been cognizant of everything connected with this affair? — That is the view which was always entertained in the department of the Controller of the Navy.
The Court adjourned, about 7 p.m. until 9 o'clock on Saturday morning. In condensing the evidence given on Friday by Captain James G. Goodenough, Her Majesty’s steamship Minotaur, a portion of that officer’s evidence was given a colouring it was not intended to bear, and which, owing to Captain Goodenough’s position as a flag officer, needs correction. The subjoined is, therefore, given in full in the usual form of question and reply, as taken down on the minutes of evidence by the Judge-Advocate.
By the Court. — Had you been flag-captain to the admiral in command, should you have considered it necessary or even proper to suggest to the admiral that the Captain and Monarch should be differently dealt with in respect of carrying sail at night to the broadside ships of the fleet? — The position of a flag officer is not one which is recognized in the Queen's Regulations and Admiralty instructions in the way in which the question is put. Any suggestions that I might offer to the flag officer would be governed by my personal acquaintance with his wishes and the amount of confidential intercourse between us. The flag captain has no responsibility officially of the safety guidance of other ships.
Had you been in command of the Channel Squadron would you have thought it proper to make a difference between these ships? — Certainly; and also in the case of any new ship of whose qualities I had any doubt.
Had you such doubt of the qualities of the Captain or Monarch? — I have already stated that I had no doubt that the Captain could carry double-reefed topsails and foresail through that night with safety to the ship.
The Court opened at 9 o'clock on Saturday morning, and Mr. Barnaby, the President of the Council of Construction at the Controller's Department of the Admiralty, was recalled before the Court. He said. — The statement I was asked to prepare was, I believe, what was the righting moment of the Captain at some angle between 31½ deg., 7,500 foot tons, and 54½ deg., when stability vanished. I find the righting moment at the intermediate position — viz., 40 deg.— was 3,600 foot tons. I have not placed that on the diagram put in my hands, because that diagram shows only what the Captain would have been had she not had the assistance of her poop and forecastle, and did not represent her at the time of her loss. It is from a diagram including poop and forecastle that I have supplied the information I have given to the Court. The diagram I now produce shows two curves, one identical with that already before the Court, and the other that from which my information to the Court was derived.
Mr. Barnaby then withdrew for a time.
Mr. J.K. Barnes, Assistant-Constructor of the Navy, was the next witness. He said, in reply to Captain Hancock, — I conducted the experiment for inclining the Captain for ascertaining the position of her centre of gravity. I am not aware in what position her designers intended to place the centre of gravity. The calculations made on the diagram were made under my superintendence, and I am responsible for their accuracy. The formula upon which they were obtained is correct. The data were obtained at the time of making the experiment; they are subject to errors of a small character, but the formula is undoubted. On the ship being inclined with ballast Captain Burgoyne asked me what was the inclination. I informed him 6 deg. He then said, "This ship is not difficult to get over to 6 deg., but beyond that she will not go." I then told him that on the upper deck there were 80 tons of ballast, and that if we had 80 tons more she would go over to about double that inclination. I may mention that when nearly the whole of the ballast had been moved to the starboard side of the ship the turrets, which were turned about midway between abeam and the fore and aft line, fetched way, and, after making some oscillations, turned themselves on the starboard or immersed side of the ship. This produced an inclination of about 7 deg., — the amount of inclination due to the turrets and the ballast.
From what you know of the ship and have heard of her loss, do you consider the catastrophe in any way attributable to the sea breaking through her hatchway bunk or poop and forecastle, or was it merely from a want of stability to bear the angle of heel she was thrown over to? — I am of opinion that the latter supposition is the correct one.
Is there any difference between naval architects as to the truth in all respects of the theory with regard to the branch of mechanical philosophy on which the calculations for the stability of ships are made? — Not any that I am aware of.
At page 19 of the summary it is stated that the height of the metacentre above the centre of gravity in the Inconstant is about 2-10ths of a foot less than that of the Captain. I therefore presume she is less stable in smooth water? — Up to an inclination when the gunwale of the Captain is immersed, that is true. Beyond this, while the Inconstant at an inclination of 28 deg. has twice as much stability as she has at 14 deg., the Captain has not.
Is it your opinion that the loss of the Captain was due entirely, putting the question of management on one side, to her low freeboard? — I think it is probable, but there are many circumstances which may have contributed to that unhappy result.
Captain May. — I should have hesitated to have proposed so much sail as was on the Captain on my own responsibility. The Captain was entirely an experimental ship. The plan adopted in inclining the Captain was the usual one, and which would be applied supposing the ship had only a two-foot freeboard, or even less, but the method adopted for finding the stability, in say foot tons, is a novel one, and would only be used where the ship had a low freeboard.
Are you of opinion that the necessity for using the water ballast should not have been impressed upon the officer commanding? — I am not of that opinion, as I considered that Captain Burgoyne would best have known when to have resorted to that feature.
Captain Commerell. — Looking at the Captain's curve of stability, what in your opinion should have been the extreme angle she should have been heeled over to in smooth water? — In smooth water, and having no reference to sudden gusts of wind, she could, no doubt, have been inclined to 15 or 16 deg. without risk. The Captain as built was undoubtedly, other things remaining the same, less stable than as designed.
I am then to understand that in your opinion the Captain as planned was safe, and the Captain as received was unsafe? The ship as actually built has gone over. I think I said that I thought it possible she had gone over from a want of stability. The ship as designed would, as stated, with limitations, have been more safe.
The President. — The weight of water in the Captain's boilers would be 144 7-10ths tons. The stability of the ship would be reduced by the shifting to leeward of this water by the heel of the ship, but not to a considerable extent, as the breadth of the boilers is small.
A large number of written queries on the higher principles of naval architecture was here read by Sir James Hope, to which affirmative answers were given by Mr. Barnes. The object appeared to be to establish the indisputable correctness of calculations made in the department of the Controller of the Navy in the construction of Her Majesty's ships. The discussion lasted a considerable time, the subject matter being no doubt highly interesting from a purely mathematical point of view, but the whole was somewhat monotonous.
At the close of this discussion Mr. Barnes retired, and Mr. Barnaby was recalled and examined by Sir James Hope upon the statements made by Mr. Reed in a lecture delivered by him on the stability of seagoing monitors.
Mr. William Laird next presented himself before the Court for examination.
The President. — What draught of water did you intend the Captain to float at with all her weights on board?
Specified in the general particulars of the ship furnished to Captain Coles for submission to the Lords of the Admiralty it was 22ft. 6in. forward and 23ft. 6in. aft.
Have you built any nearly similar ships at any time previously? — No ship of so large a tonnage, or with special accompaniments of cannon deck.
In what way do you account for the ship being deeper in the water than you intended? — The access in weight over the total weight given in the statement of weights forwarded to Captain Coles on the 12th of July, 1866.
The President. — Did you calculate the position of the centre of gravity of the ship, either as to the height or horizontal position at any time? — Yes. In the first instance, an approximate estimate was made in 1866, and a more complete calculation was made after the ship was complete in January or February of this year. In the case of the calculations made in 1866 we felt that in a ship of a novel type with a distribution of weights differing in many respects from other ships it was difficult in the then state of the design — which necessarily left some of those parts, peculiar and spacial to the design, in a state subject to further consideration as the work progressed — to arrive at a result as we could have done if the ship had been of a more ordinary type, or if the construction of the ship was further advanced; but from such an estimate as we could make we thought that we could place the centre 2ft. 6in. below the water-line although, having regard to experiments made with other armour-clad ships, and to communications we received from the Admiralty, stating they thought the weights would prove to be high, we were prepared to find it considerably higher than we really did when more detailed calculations were made. With regard to the calculation made in the early part of this year, they were made from the weight and material actually used in the ship. We felt great confidence in the result. That result was — the common centre was from 2·76 to 3 feet below the 25ft. water-line.
The President. — Did you calculate the stability of the Captain at various angles? — Calculations were made by the mere centre of the position of actual gravity of the ship.
Were the calculations made on the second design in 1870 more elaborate than those of 1866? — They were made to the same angle as the others. The reason for limiting the calculations at this angle was that we considered it to be about the greatest angle of permanent inclination.
So that it was not within your contemplation that the ship when under a press of canvas would heel steadily more than 10 degrees? — That was our idea, and we felt that, although not actually calculated, the reserve of stability beyond that was very great, and would have admitted of that angle being exceeded without cause for alarm.
Did you ever make any calculations to determine how the stability of the ship would be affected by the gunwale of the ship being under water? — We made no calculations, but had discussed the matter looking at the sections, and were of opinion that stability would go on increasing for some time after the gunwale was immersed. Although not calculated, the result agreed nearly with the calculations made from inclining the ship at Portsmouth, and, in our consideration of this matter in the early part of the year, we had felt confident on this point.
Did you consider the ship safe as a full-power sailing ship? — I did consider her perfectly safe, and did not expect the fact of the sail she carried would at any time have taken her over to more than the usual angle of keel. I should have expected that angle to have been from seven to nine or ten degrees. I might add that on the voyage to Portsmouth from Holyhead, when I was on board her, we had bad weather with a heavy sea, and the way in which the ship behaved led me to feel every confidence in her stability and buoyancy. It is true that on the voyage we used steam only and no sail, and therefore I had no opportunity of personally judging to what angle she would heel under a pressure of sail. But the report which I afterwards received confirmed me in my opinion that under a pressure of sail she would be as stiff as other ironclad vessels of recent construction, and my opinion was further strengthened by the reports of Admiral Sir S. Robinson and Sir Thomas Symonds, and letters from Admiral Symonds and Captains Commerell and Burgoyne.
What did you consider to be the limiting angle in point of heel of safe sailing with the Captain, and did you express your opinion on this point to any person in authority on hoard the ship? — In conversation as to pressing the Captain under sail I have alluded to the gunwale as being a limit, but without mentioning any particular angle, as it would vary slightly with the draught of water of the ship. The impression on my mind, and I think generally, was that it would be seldom necessary to prove the ship so far, although we all felt sure there was a considerable reserve beyond this. More than once Captain Burgoyne and myself had spoken on the subject, but only in conversation. I remember on the occasion of one of the trial trips under steam I had a somewhat similar conversation with Captain Coles.
Mr. Laird read letters between Captain Coles and the Messrs. Laird and the Admiralty relative to the design for a turret ship which should represent Captain Coles' opinion of the requirements of a vessel of that class as a seagoing ship, the preparation of the design, and their submission of the designs to the Admiralty for official approval. He also gave further evidence relative to the manner in which the work of building the ship was superintended.
In answer to the President, Mr. Laird said, — We consider that our responsibility was, in the first instance to prepare a design in conjunction with Captain Coles, to submit that design through Captain Coles to the Lords of the Admiralty for their approval, on the understanding that should their Lordships be able to approve the design, and should they receive from the firms selected such a tender as they would feel justified in accepting, they would then propose that a sum should be proposed to Parliament in the next year's Estimates for building such a vessel by contract.
So that, in point of fact, you consider the acceptance of your tender by the Admiralty, and the consequent conclusion of a contract with you, freed both you and Captain Coles from all responsibility for the design? — We considered from the words of their Lordships' letter to Captain Coles that unless they approved the design they would not have asked us to give a tender for the vessel, and that the fact of their asking for the tender gave their sanction to the plans and specifications we had proposed.
Then, I understand you consider the responsibility of yourselves and Captain Coles on the one hand and the Admiralty on the other a joint responsibility? — Inasmuch as the plans and specifications had been submitted to the Admiralty to be answered they had their approval or they would not have invited us to submit a tender for the ship.
By Captain Hancock, — So far as our experience led us to form an opinion, the tripod system was one that answered well for the support of the masts, and when applied to turret ships has the advantage of offering less obstruction to the angles of fire than ordinary rigging. It is only in turret ships that we have seen it applied. We never made an exact estimate of what the difference would have been between the tripod and ordinary mast and rig in the case of the Captain. This is the first time I have seen the diagram or the Captain's curves of stability, but I have no doubt the calculations have been made with the care and skill usual in the department of the Controller of the Navy. We did not consider that the low freeboard of the Captain would make it necessary to have spars smaller than were fitted, but in the preparation of the plans for the spars Captain Coles, from his knowledge of the subject, necessarily took a prominent part, but we did not see it necessary to remonstrate with him in any way, nor did we feel any apprehension in our own minds.
Captain Boys. — Having heard the fate of the Captain and been so intimately connected with her, have you formed an opinion as to the loss of the ship, and, if so, would you object to favour the Court with it? — From all the reports I have heard it would appear that on the day of the disaster the inclination of the ship seemed to be greater than had been observed under similar circumstances as to sail and wind, but from what cause this arose I am at a loss to say, although it would seem to indicate some conditions that had not been at work during the previous cruises of the ship.
At a little past 7 p.m. the Court adjourned until this morning at 9 o'clock. Mr. Henry Laird and Mr. E.J. Reed, C.B., the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, are expected to be examined.
|Tu 4 October 1870|
THE LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.The Court assembled for the sixth time to inquire into the cause of the loss of the Captain, and the trial pro formâ of the survivors, yesterday morning, on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington, at Portsmouth, Mr. Henry Laird and Mr. E.J. Reed, C.B., late Chief Constructor of the Navy, being the witnesses examined.
Mr. Henry Laird, sworn and examined by the President. — The height of the centre of effort of the sails for the Captain as shown on the original design submitted in July, 1856, was calculated, and a ratio of stability of the ship with that area and the movement given by the height of centre of effort as calculated was estimated, and it is shown on a paper which will be handed in as well as the papers respecting the estimate made in 1866 as to the probable height of the centre of gravity as to the weight of the ship. The righting force of the ship at the angles of 7 and 10 degrees was estimated by the meta-centre which is the means we usually employ to obtain this result, considering it to be practically correct. I made the voyage in the Captain from Liverpool to Portsmouth, and was present at two of the steam trials, and when the ship proceeded on her first cruise on the 10th of May, 1870, I went in her on Captain Burgoyne's invitation, having, through the kindness of the Admiral, been promised a return passage home in the Helicon, not being able, from business matters at home, to remain the whole cruise. On the voyage round to Portsmouth from Liverpool, when in a beam sea, resulting from a strong S.W. gale, which had detained us for three or more days at Holyhead, I noticed that the ship rolled about 7 to 8 degrees each way, that she rolled easily, and I believe about eight rolls in a minute. When on the course, after the 10th of May, I watched the movements of the ship attentively, and made notes occasionally of the amount of heel under different sail and in different states of the wind. I had good opportunities of doing this, because the weather while I was on board varied from a strong breeze, force six to seven, with a heavy sea, to light airs and calms, but on some days with considerable swell. The ship was under sail and steam, and under sail alone on several days. The first day after leaving we had only fore and aft sails set. I believe the heel of the ship was 4 degrees, and that the heel of the Monarch at the same time was, if anything, rather more — I believe signalled to us as 5 degrees. On the following day, May 12, from my notes, we were ordered to put the ships under sail, there being a strong breeze, and, what, from my experience, I should call a confused sea. The Monarch, I believe, set double reefed topsails; the Captain set treble-reefed fore and maintopsails, and, I believe, close-reefed mizen topsail and foretopmast staysail. The Captain ran under this sail for two or three hours, and then, although I do not think the breeze was less, a reef was shaken out of each topsail, and the jib set, and, I think, the spanker; and we continued under this sail till the evening. The heel of the ship during the day, and more particularly the latter part, I watched carefully, and found it about 8 degrees. The extreme heel I noticed was when wearing the ship lurched to between 13 and 14 degrees. On the 13th we were still under sail, the wind recorded at a force of 5. In giving the strength of the wind I give it as I noted it down from inquiries at the time. On this day the ship had fore and main topsails single reefed with topgallant sails set; the mizen topsail double reefed, jib, foretopmast staysail, and fore course. The heel of the ship was about 7 degrees. On subsequent days all plain sail was set with light breezes. I believe the actual heel of the ship was about 4 degrees, and generally from my observation I considered the amount of heel was very near the same as the Monarch under similar sail. As far as my judgment went, I considered that the heel of the ship was what we had expected from the calculations we had made as to her sail-carrying power. I would say that the calculations I referred to are those that we had made when the final estimate of the centre of gravity was made when the ship was completed. If the Court would allow me I would add that I obtained further information on the performance of the ship during the latter part of the cruise that I commenced in her, with a view to seeing how far my observations were borne out after I was obliged to leave her, and this information I obtained on board the ship after her arrival at Plymouth. The most important was that with reference to the gale of wind encountered by the ship in company with the Fleet, and I found the force of wind recorded at 9 and 10. The sail the ship was under was close-reefed maintopsail and reefed foresail. The heel recorded was 9 degrees mean; maximum 13 degrees. I believe that all the papers containing calculations on this subject were handed into the Court by Mr. William Laird on Saturday, and we are to furnish copies to the Court.
Had the ship possessed two foot more freeboard, the centre of gravity remaining in the same position, do you consider she would have been safer as a ship — that is, would her angles of maximum and vanishing stability have been greater than they actually proved to be? — Had the ship had two feet more freeboard, the angles of maximum and vanishing stability would have been greater, but, if I understand the Question as referring to the Captain having floated two feet lighter, and thereby having two feet more freeboard, the centre of gravity remaining in the same position, I am not sure whether the actual righting force at any given angle would have been much, if any, greater, because the meta-centres would have been slightly approached to the centre of gravity, and the displacement of the ship would have been some 800 tons less, and the consequent diminution of weight and meta-centric distance might to some extent hare counterbalanced the advantage given by additional side.
By Captain Hancock. — The ship was built in accordance with the approved design so far as the hull was concerned, and in other respects excepting where, as arranged by the contract, an alteration was submitted and sanctioned. I think it cannot be said that the Captain had too large a power of canvas. The area of sail proposed for the Captain was based on consideration of the area of sail usually adopted in fully rigged armour-plated ships.
By Captain Rice. — We did not think it in any way necessary to reduce that scale because the Captain had a low freeboard. I think the proportionate difference with large and small angles would be nearly the same.
By Captain Boys. — I have no information to guide me in forming an opinion as to the precise draught of water by the Captain when she was lost. When I was on board during the first cruise, the space between the plating of the double bottom was not filled with water.
Do you consider that tripod masts tend more to the upsetting of a ship than the usual mast with the same sail on would have done? — No.
Have you formed an opinion as to the cause of the loss of the ship? — I cannot say I have formed a definite opinion, but as necessarily my opinion on such a matter is formed very materially in discussion with my brother, I may say that the same idea which he communicated to the Court has great weight with me. It was that the condition reported of the ship when on her sailing trial on the 6th appeared different to any that we had a previous report of.
By Captain May. — The heels of the Captain as I have given were taken invariably by the marked battens on the bridge.
By Captain Commerell. — We furnished to the Admiralty with the designs in 1866 all those data which we understood were required for a thorough examination of the design for the ship to be approved or not by their Lordships. I have not heard anything as to the comparative amount of heel on the last cruise by the Captain except from the report of Admiral Milne on the Monday before her loss, and I know of nothing that should have caused such an increase as you refer to. The only way in which I can form an opinion now is either an alteration in the position of some of the weights or water being in the ship unknown, and, therefore, not regulated so as to prevent an injurious action on her stability. I believe on the 6th of September the ship had nearly 100 tons more coal in her bunkers than on the occasion of the gale on the 29th of May, and therefore should have been stiffer, other weights being the same.
By Captain Goodenough. — The action of the wind on the under side of the Captain's hurricane deck would certainly have a certain, but in my opinion a very limited, effect. I am borne out in this opinion by calculations we have made on the subject.
The President. — The turret-ships constructed by us before building the Captain were of a very different size and arrangement. The portions in which weight in the Captain has been exceeded are indicated in the papers handed in, and arise from weights introduced that were originally provided for, and also in the excess of weights forming part of the construction as originally intended, but which exceeded what was allowed before. There was a great difficulty in estimating the weights of some portions of so novel a design, and in fact several of them had to be increased beyond that allowed, in consequence of experiments made and information obtained after the design had been decided upon. Such great precautions and measures for keeping down weight of material in building iron ships as now exist with Admiralty officials did not exist at the time the Captain was laid down, and my brother and myself take complete charts of the designing and constructing the vessels we build, except where designs are furnished, as is generally the case with Government contracts. Captain Coles possessed, I should say, very good general knowledge of all the essentials required in the design of a ship, but I do not think he had any very great theoretical knowledge as to ascertaining by actual calculation the results he wished for. The extracts made were made from the originals.
Mr. Edward James Reed, C.B., late Chief Constructor of the Navy, was the next witness examined.
The President. — Will you state to the Court between what dates you held the office of Chief Constructor of the Navy? — From the 9th of July, 1863, to the 9th of July, 1870.
The summary of the correspondence forwarded to the Court by the Admiralty was here handed to Mr. Reed. Extracts from it having been read,
Mr. Reed said, — The only remark on those extracts with which I deem it are necessary to trouble the Court is that my report of the 20th of July was made to their Lordships with the full knowledge on their part and on the part of the Controller of the Navy. But I objected to the freeboard of the ship, and confined myself to the consideration of the design as a piece of naval architecture possessing a low freeboard in conjunction with that which their Lordships, the Controller, and myself considered absolutely essential to the seaworthiness of the ship under all circumstances. My report, therefore, carefully avoided all reference to this feature of the vessel, beyond the assumption that I was to take for granted that the deck was high enough, which was precisely the point of difference of opinion between myself and the Contract Department and Captain Coles. In reporting upon the design I felt it my duty to leave the freeboard out of consideration, and discuss the design upon the assumption that in that respect Captain Coles was right and we all were wrong. To the design so considered I had no other objection than those pointed out in my second report, August 2, 1866. Touching the weight of the ship and the stability, I have no remark to make except to say that the influence of the deck entering the water upon the stability was not considered in the report quoted:— 1, Because the freeboard was to be eight feet; and 2, because that consideration had not then been brought under notice by proposals to mast ships with low freeboards. The question of freeboard had up to that time been regarded as a seaman's question rather than a naval architect's. But my report, nevertheless, stated that further investigation would be necessary before I could assume the responsibility of such a ship. My former report was a preliminary one, and made, if l remember rightly, at a few days after receiving the design. Before making this further report, further calculations had been made, and I had arrived at the conclusion, which I have pointed out, that the stability of a ship of this kind required thorough investigation, in view of the large surface of canvas to be spread, and of the probable position of her centre of gravity. I am of opinion the responsibility for the Captains design must rest entirely upon Captain Coles and Messrs. Laird, because the Court will observe that in the last reports made upon the design prior to her commencement by the Controller and myself we both cast doubts upon the character of the design. I, in particular, questioning it upon the two points with reference to which it has failed — viz., its flotation and stability. It is out of the question to suppose that their Lordships would order 350,000l. of the public money to be expended upon, and 500 lives to be committed to, a ship the responsibility for which was to rest upon persons who had believed the characteristic features of the ship to be wrong, and out of whose hands the design of the ship and the responsibility for it had been advisedly taken, in order to put to the test the question whether our belief that a high freeboard was necessary in a full-rigged sailing ship was a mere prejudice of ours or a scientific conviction. The very cause of the Captain being designed and constructed was that the opinions of Sir S. Robinson and myself were not to be trusted, and that we were showing prejudiced opposition to Captain Coles. So strongly did I feel that we were clear of all responsibility, and that the time would come when we must prove our exemption from responsibility, that I forbade my assistants to ever use the phrase "approved," even for the most minor details, and directed them never to use a stronger phrase, even with regard to the smallest details, than "that no objection would be offered." If the word "approved," in the slightest matter, ever left my office, it was in disregard of that formal instruction. If, therefore, Captain Coles and Messrs. Laird were not responsible for the success of the Captain and her seaworthiness, no naval officer and no naval architect was.
The President. — Now, taking into view the evident unwillingness of the Controller to adopt the position made in the suggestion of their Lordships, do you consider that he did actually assume any responsibility other than that you have already indicated? — The responsibility of seeing that the work and materials were sound was undoubtedly laid upon the Controller, but beyond that I consider no further responsibility was laid upon him than that which arose out of the inability of Captain Coles to live at Birkenhead at certain seasons, and as the Controller also did not live there the transfer of responsibility to him on that account must of necessity have been very small. The Controller, in consequence of modifications in the contract, refused to take the responsibility of having the ship surveyed when complete, and of regulating, subject to their Lordships' approval, the payments for her in instalments; but in so far as the character of the ship herself was concerned nothing whatever was done except with the full concurrence of Captain Coles, in the exercise of that responsibility which belonged to him.
Did it occur to you that the calculations as to her displacement were wanting in accuracy? — As regards the weight to be carried, the inaccuracy of the calculations became evident after the ship was afloat, but before she was commenced I twice referred in my reports to the risk of an excess of weight from what the design alone showed, and I specified some of those weights.
Did you personally visit her during her construction? — Yes.
You say you had some misgiving as to her seaworthiness? — The misgiving which I had as to her seaworthiness is obvious from the fact that I advocated a much higher freeboard in order to secure seaworthiness. The grounds upon which I believed her unseaworthy since her completion were, that I believe her funnel casings, which would be subjected to such forces that I know of, were likely to be started, and even carried away in extremely heavy weather. The consequences, then, would be that the large engine and boiler hatches would be at once open to the inroads of the sea, and the ship would be liable to founder. In the next place I believe that, with little or no sail set, the Captain was liable, on encountering waves of her own period, to be made to roll heavily; and I am not at all sure that when so rolling, should she ship a heavy sea on the windward side, her top weights would be at once so greatly augmented as to carry her past her position of maximum stability and capsize her; and, thirdly, I do not doubt that the Captain was deficient of that growing stability which a ship with a high side possesses in such a degree as to bring about the accident which has happened. All these grounds of apprehension apply to her service in time of peace. As regards her capability in action, I do not like to express to this Court the sense I feel of the unfitness of a ship of 4,000 tons, with a deck 6½ feet high, with engine and boiler hatches only protected by thin iron casing, to fight in action with a risk of meeting with a breeze of wind afterwards. These remarks apply, not to exceptional vessels, where compromises are sometimes unavoidable, but to a first-class ironclad frigate fit to perform all services.
Were you kept acquainted with any alterations suggested by Captain Coles, and carried out by Messrs. Laird during her construction? — Yes, where the alterations were directed to specified parts of the design.
Now, with reference to many unspecified portions of the design, on visiting the Captain did it strike you that she was heavily masted, and that the spread of canvas exceeded what is usual in a ship of her size? — I should have considered the ordinary masting excessive for a ship like the Captain, and I have never yet been able to ascertain on what grounds any one pretends, or could pretend, that the Captain with that spread of canvas and actual height of deck, was fit to carry the same canvas as other ships of her size, and encounter those gusts and squalls to which every ship is liable. After the Captain was ordered, with her extent of canvas, I, knowing well that the Hercules and Monarch were perfectly capable of carrying more canvas than had been given to them, gave to these two ships squarer yards and somewhat more canvas in other ways, in order to prevent fictitious representations being made relative to the sailing qualities of the respective vessels.
From your scientific and practical knowledge and talent as a great shipbuilder, can you account in any way for the Captain foundering? — As soon as the news of the Captain's disappearance came to this country I concluded that she had capsized under the pressure of her canvas, and while I believe, from such information as may be gathered, that it might be quite right to spare the canvas, so as to save her, my conviction is that the evil day would only have been deferred, and that there was nothing in the management of the Captain on the night of her loss which would have occasioned the loss of any other ship in the squadron. I think there is some force in the suggestion that the ship may not have been in the same condition at the time of her loss as she was previously; but I do not think that any change of position that would escape the notice of the captain and officers of the ship should have occasioned the loss of the ship.
By Captain Hancock. — I have had no opportunity of referring to any documents, but I think it exceedingly likely that some of the arrangements not objected to in our office did contribute to the extra weight and reduction of her stability. Such, for instance, as the poop and forecastle, the increased breadth, as well as height of the hurricane deck, but it would have been entirely inadmissible in a case of this kind for the Admiralty officers to have refused to have given Captain Coles and Messrs. Laird the height they deemed necessary, or to fit a hurricane deck so narrow that the ropes could not be worked upon it. To have done this would have been inconsistent with their responsibility, and as inconsistent with our irresponsibility.
The suggestions for these alterations emanated, without exception, in every case from Captain Coles or the Messrs. Laird. The effect of the double bottom is altogether included in the considerations which determine the centre of buoyancy, the actual position of vacant space in the ship having no effect which is not comprised in the calculations made on the centres of gravity or buoyancy. I have seen no evidence tending to show that the funnel casings were broken through, but I think it much more likely that she shipped a considerable weight of sea to windward than that the pressure of the wind upon the under side of her hurricane deck seriously contributed to her loss.
By Captain Rice. — No reduction of masts would have made the Captain a seaworthy ship. I spoke to Captain Burgoyne in that sense, as far as opportunity afforded, and when I left the Captain at Birkenhead and the last time I saw Captain Burgoyne, he having then been all through the ship with me, I said to him, "I don't want to say any more against her, but I'm glad it's your fate and not mine to go to sea in her." I also know that an admiral in the service took great pains to impress upon Captain Burgoyne that particular danger of capsizing under canvas and in mentioning his conversations, in writing to me on the day the loss was reported, he referred to my remarks on ships with low freeboard, and said he had drawn the serious attention of Captain Burgoyne to the position of the ship's deck, but that the confidence of Captain Burgoyne was such that it almost defied criticism. In this letter the admiral in question said he had no doubt that the ship had capsized from what he had read. The Sea Lords of the Admiralty, without any exception that I can remember, have been unfavourable to the rigging of ships with low freeboards, although it is out of my power to say whether their unfavourableness arose from any apprehension of danger. I believe that from the time when Captain Coles condemned the Monarch as in no degree representing his views, their Lordships were strongly disposed, if not actually determined, to yield to the strongly expressed opinions of some members of Parliament, and build a ship from Captain Coles' designs, unless they were convinced that such a ship as he proposed must of necessity fail. I have no doubt the Captain was built in compliance with a strong outward pressure upon the Admiralty. I had no objection whatever to the inclined trials being made with the Captain at Portsmouth, but I was somewhat surprised that Messrs. Laird should have deferred their request for the trial to be made until the ship arrived at Portsmouth, and not have made the trial at Birkenhead. I am at a loss to see to what use the result of the inclining trial could have been put if it had been obtained, became the centre of gravity is not a thing which can be moved about, except by introducing additional weights into the ship, which was impracticable from the low freeboard, or by taking out weights essential to her efficiency. Moreover, nothing serious rested upon the precise position of the centre of gravity, for as regards the safety of the ship the position should have been assured in the design.
Mr. Reed continued under examination by the Court when our report left.
|We 5 October 1870|
THE LOSS OF THE CAPTAIN.The evidence given before the Court on Monday evening after our parcel was despatched from the Duke of Wellington, the flagship of Admiral Sir James Hope, G.C.B., Naval Commander-in-chief and President of the Court, was most interesting and important, as, indeed, Mr. Reed's evidence had been throughout the previous portion of his examination in Court. The principal points in Mr. Reed's closing evidence on Monday evening were comprised in his answers to questions put by Captain J. Commerell, V.C., C.B., commanding Her Majesty's turret-ship Monarch, in connexion with the official diagram laid before the Court of the curves of the Captain's stabilities. This gave the ship's maximum stability as at 21 degrees inclination, and the point at which stability was gone altogether, or, as it was termed, the "vanishing point" of stability, as 54 degrees. Referring to this, Captain Commerell said to Mr. Reed —
Do you think that a diagram like the one in question, together with an official intimation, not that it may be said to be, but that 21 degrees was the point which would assuredly capsize the Captain would have had a great influence upon the officer intrusted with this experimental ship, and have pointed out to them that, in dealing with the Captain the same as with other ships would have entailed a grave responsibility, — I say this as an officer who has had the Captain under his orders, and who, with that diagram before him, would not have dared to keep the Captain under sail a single night?
Mr. Reed. — The Captain was built expressly to be under the same conditions as other ships, and I believe, although I regret to say it, that if any such intimation had emanated from the Admiralty it would have resulted in the strongest possible efforts to prove the Admiralty wrong, and to carry on all sail possible. But, however this may be, it was decidedly a part of that responsibility which Messrs. Laird and Captain Coles undertook to give to the captain of the ship, who was present with the ship by Admiralty appointment, for many months before she left the dock at Birkenhead, whatever information they considered necessary in order to preserve the lives of those on board from those dangers, which I had great personal trouble to ascertain and point out, only to have them repudiated by those who did most to encourage a belief in the safety of rigged ships with low freeboards; but so far were the responsible designers of the ship from giving any such information that they were to some extent parties to those trials and to those reports which filled others with confidence, and myself and a limited few with consternation.
Captain Commerell. — Were you not aware that Messrs. Lairds fully believed in the stability and seaworthiness of the ship. You, on the other hand, were as certainly aware of her utter unseaworthiness. Do you not think that it would have been better if you had requested that official intimation should be given to Captain Burgoyne of the danger you saw him plunging into, and not leave it to Captain Coles, who, you know, was perfectly blind to anything but the merits of his own invention, to give information which you knew would be fatal?
Mr. Reed. — I do not think it would have been better for me to have done anything which I did not do. My belief was, and is, that the unseaworthiness of the Captain was a cause of anxiety to many who professed to believe in her; and what I thought would happen to the Captain was this, — She would have the highest possible reports to begin with, and that before she had got through her commission she would be condemned as utterly unfit for the naval service. I should state to the Court, in order to prevent several years of protestation against the ship resulting at last in some possible compromise of myself, that nearly a year ago I did what I thought was right in the matter in resisting to the utmost degree in my power a desire on the part of the First Lord of the Admiralty to increase the number of Captains, and to place persons of knowledge of scientific principles in a position to influence the designs of Her Majesty's ships. That resistance I repeated again and again, and in each of my repetitions based my opposition upon the danger which was involved in the Captain herself, and when I found that my resistance was useless I retired from duty and undertook to submit the resignation of my office. The proposals in question were withdrawn, but the Court will draw its own inferences from the two facts — viz., that I am out of office, and that the son of the First Lord is among the unhappy victims of this loss. I wish the Court to understand that my actual departure from office afterwards did not arise from this course, but this coarse had its weight in all that has happened, and the Court will perhaps see that I had the strongest reasons for not keeping up a systematic assertion of the dangers insured in the Captain.
Yesterday morning the Court assembled for the last time to receive evidence and to put Mr. May, gunner, and the 17 seamen saved from the wreck, pro formâ, upon their defence.
The first witness called was Mr. Henry H. Mothersole, who, being sworn and examined, said, — The extracts read by the President are correct as parts of letters written by me when serving as engineer on board the Captain during the May gale. In these letters assertions were made that water lodged in the leeward wing passages when the Captain was under sail, and that the water in the bilges by contact with the cylinders condensed the steam, and partially disabled the lee engines. Twelve inches of water in the stokehole during the May gale was more than I had seen there before, or saw afterwards. I believe this partly arose from the continuous blowing through and trying to get the leeward engines to work; also from the water running from the screw passages through the engine-room bilges into the stokehole bilges, the sluice valve at the bulkhead to the stokehole being open. The lee engines only failed to do their work on one occasion, I do not know of any instance in which the propellers did not revolve when the ship was under sail. It was not the custom to fill the compartments of the double bottom with water as the coals were used. My order was not to admit water into the compartments, but to keep them quite dry, without a special order. There was no means of getting the water out of the wing passages until the ship went on the other tack, the water lying in the lee wing beyond the bilge suction well. A drain pipe ran through and between the double bottom. I think there were five drain valves nearly in the centre of the ship to take the water from the bilges. While I was in the ship no water was let into the double bottom to act as ballast at sea. The bilge suction would not take out water lodged in the wing passages with the ship inclining, because it was too near the centre line or keel. With the starboard side of the ship as the lee side, he would rather not answer the question put to him by the Court as to which tack the ship was on. Thought the water lodged in the bilge of the ship could have no effect upon her stability. Could not recollect what sail the ship was under at the time.
By the President. — I considered the Captain to be one of the finest ships under sail that I ever was on board of. I had every faith in her in steaming and sailing, and by her steadiness and firmness in the May gale. I believe from conversations with many of the officers upon the ship's qualities under sail that one and all had the highest opinion of her capabilities in that respect.
Mr. Robinson, master shipwright and chief engineer of Portsmouth Dockyard, recalled. — I cannot conceive his remarks regarding the height of water in the engine-room, and in confirmation of this I will read an extract from the chief engineer of the ship, Mr. Rock, dated 30th May last.
Extract of letter read, and a tracing handed in to the Court, the tracing showing the position of water lodged at the time the ship was inclined at an angle of 9 degrees.
Witness in answer to the President, said that the water in the bilge could not affect the steam in the cylinders. The chief engineer by his letter appears to have desired that arrangements should be made for getting rid entirely of water lying in the bilges at an angle of 7 or 9 degrees, and he makes no mention in his report of the water having reached the cylinders, as has been stated by the last witness.
This was the conclusion of the evidence, and Mr. James May, late gunner of the Captain, being called upon by the President for his defence, and the 17 other survivors from the wreck having been called into court, Mr. May read his defence to the Court as follows: —
To the President and Members of this Most Honourable Court. — After all that has been adduced in evidence it is unnecessary for me to take up your time by further details respecting the loss of Her Majesty's ship Captain. I therefore beg to state that I have been 23 years in the Navy, 11 years of which as a warrant officer, but I am unable to produce testimonials for that period of service, as I have, unfortunately, lost them in the ship. I therefore place myself in the hands of this Most Honourable Court, trusting that the Court will exonerate me as well as the other survivors from all blame. I would beg leave to state that, with the assistance of John Heard, A.B., I succeeded in placing Captain Burgoyne on the bottom of the steam pinnace, and afterwards, I, with others, when in the launch, made another attempt to save him, but unfortunately failed; and I regret to add that George Myers, A.B., was unfortunately lost by being washed out of the boat at this time. I also wish to bring to your favourable notice the excellent conduct of the survivors when under my charge, both in the launch and on shore, more especially that of Charles Treganna, leading seaman, who for about ten hours ably managed the steer oar, and upon whose courage, to a certain extent, our safety depended. Also that of James Ellis, gunner's mate, who, as senior petty officer, assisted me in every way. The survivors and myself offer our most heartfelt gratitude for the noble message of sympathy from Her Most Gracious Majesty, our beloved Queen, to the widows, orphans, and relatives of our late shipmates. We also tender the same to our nation for its noble act in coming to the aid and relief of the fatherless and the widow, and also to the captain, officers, and crew of Her Majesty's ship Lord Warden, for their generosity in subscribing a sum of money for our immediate wants on our arrival in England. In conclusion, on behalf of the survivors and myself, I beg to tender our most sincere thanks for the great kindness shown towards us during this present trial by the President and members of this Most Honourable Court.
After Mr. May had read his defence, the court was cleared for a short time, and on its being re-opened the President, Admiral Sir James Hope, G.C.B., announced that the Court would stand adjourned from day to day to allow of due consideration being given to the evidence taken, but that, on the time being fixed upon by the Court for its final meeting to deliver its verdict, due public notice should be given.
Captain Commerell, in giving evidence to the Court during its sittings, completely cleared his late friend, Captain Burgoyne, from any possible suspicion of rashness in carrying sail upon the Captain at the time of her foundering, although such was being carried by the Captain in common with other ships of the fleet. As this evidence is of great importance to the professional reputation of both officers, we reproduce it here in extenso.
Question by Captain Rice, Aide-de-Camp to the Queen, the third senior member of the Court: — Considering the reputation the Captain then had for stability and seaworthiness, do you think double-reefed topsails and a foretopmast staysail was an imprudent amount of sail for the ship to carry, with respect to the safety of the ship, up to the time we are informed Captain Burgoyne attempted to take them in?
Captain Commerell. — I do not think so. I should have done it myself if I had wanted the assistance of. both watches to reef. I regretted when I split the Monarch's maintopsail that I had lowered it, because I thought that if I had held on, as Captain Burgoyne did, the sail would not have been split.
|We 5 October 1870|
THE COURT-MARTIAL ON THE CAPTAIN
My first answer was to the effect that my report of the 20th of July, 1866, was made to their Lordships with the full knowledge on their part and on that of the Controller of the Navy that I objected to the low freeboard, and confined myself to the consideration of the design as a piece of naval architecture, taking the low freeboard for granted, that being the recognized ground of difference between Captain Coles and us.
In replying to a later question I stated that the cause of the Captain being designed and constructed was the assumption that the opinions of Sir S. Robinson and myself were not to be trusted, and that we were showing prejudiced opposition to Captain Coles.
Instead of saying that the Controller "refused to take the responsibility of having the ship surveyed when completed," &c., I stated that the Controller undoubtedly undertook that responsibility in consequence of the modification of the contract to which the President referred — viz., the substitution of the Controller's name for that of Captain Coles.
In replying to Admiral Yelverton's question respecting my views of the Captain's unseaworthiness, I stated that her funnel casings would be subjected to such forces as no other ship’s that I know of is liable to.
Part of my reply to the inquiry whether I was acquainted with any of the alterations carried out in the ship is transferred to the following question. My answer was, "Yes, where the alterations were directed to specified parts of the design; no, with reference to the many unspecified portions of the design."
In my answer respecting the ship's spread of canvas I spoke of "factitious," not "fictitious," representations.
In speaking of the foundering of the Captain, I did not say "it might be quits right to spare the canvas so as to save her," but "though it might have been quite practicable so to spare the canvas on the night of her loss as to have saved her, my conviction is that the evil day would only have been deferred." In the same answer I spoke of change of condition, not change of position.
I will not trouble you with minor corrections, although the printer puts curious English into my mouth in one or two places.
|Th 6 October 1870||The inquiry into the loss of the turret-ship Captain has been now concluded, and it remains only for the Court to form and deliver its judgment upon the evidence received. That judgment it is not for us in any sense to anticipate; nor should we, indeed, at this stage of the proceedings offer any remarks upon the subject, were it not for a most unexpected light in which the question has been placed. We may almost say, indeed, that the whole question itself has been changed since the report of the disaster was first received, and it becomes, therefore, necessary to inform the public afresh of the points in debate, and of the nature of the facts on which the verdict of the Court is now expected.|
A month ago, when the Captain foundered, the question to be solved was apparently this — "Why did she founder?" At present, it appears rather to be, "Why was she allowed to go to sea?" We can hardly be prejudging the result when we say that the former of these questions has been virtually disposed of. The Captain was lost because, to use the words of the first Admiralty Report, the weather on the morning of the 7th of September "proved too much for her stability." But it has also been established, by an almost absolute concurrence of testimony, that the weather on that occasion ought not to have been too much for the stability of any seaworthy ship. One witness did certainly state that the squalls were felt very unequally by the several vessels of the squadron, and that the wind might possibly have caught the Captain with a force unknown to the other ships, but, with that reservation, which is not very important, the evidence was irresistible in its weight. There was no such gale blowing nor any such sea on as would have put any good ship in peril. On another point, also, we may venture to speak without misgiving. The Captain was not so handled as to account for the catastrophe. She was carrying sail at the moment, but only such sail as her commander was justified in carrying, considering his opinion and information as to her seagoing qualities. This reservation, however, must be carefully noted, for it will bring us to the point the recent proceedings have suggested.
In a few words, the Captain herself, as a specimen of naval architecture, is given up by friends and foes together. Possibly, had the pressure of her canvas been less, she might have escaped that particular gale, but that she was essentially unseaworthy and unfit for the purposes she was intended to perform is no longer denied. How came she, then, to be sent to sea? Who is responsible for that fatal error, oversight, or experiment? We should here remind the reader briefly of the history of this ill-starred vessel. She was built, according to official evidence, in deference to public opinion — that is, to opinion outside the walls of the Admiralty. The Admiralty authorities refused to believe in the theories of Captain Coles, who firmly maintained that ocean-cruising frigates could be successfully constructed with low freeboards on the genuine principles of turret-ships. Out of doors, and among naval officers especially, there was a strong persuasion that these theories were sound, and so at last, in order to bring the question to the test of actual trial, Captain Coles was allowed to design a vessel on his own principles, and to select his own shipbuilders for the work of construction. He chose Messrs. Laird, and in their yard at Birkenhead the vessel was built accordingly. No sooner, however, had she been completed than a remarkable discovery was made. By some strange fatality we had never been able up to that moment to get any turret-ship recognized or acknowledged as a fair and satisfactory specimen of the class. One vessel after another was turned out, and one after another proved more or less of a failure; but our conclusions were invariably barred by the assertion that the example in question was no fair example at all. At last there came the Captain, designed and constructed for the especial purpose of settling the question decisively, when, to the amazement and disappointment of all, she proved the greatest mistake, it was said, ever known. Her burden had actually been miscalculated to the extent of 800 tons, and she floated no less than two feet deeper than was intended. The old story, therefore, night have been repeated, and we might have been warned once more against taking the Captain for a specimen of what a turret-ship might be. But it happens that, notwithstanding this extraordinary error, the result was perfectly satisfactory both to the designer and constructors of' the vessel. Messrs. Laird, in reply to some severe reflections published by Mr. E.J. Reed, addressed us in a letter making light of the miscalculation, and claiming the Captain as a success; while as to poor Captain Coles, he was enraptured with the ship as fulfilling his utmost expectation. She was competent, he declared, even as a sailing vessel, to fight, manoeuvre, and go round the world. As a matter of fact, she was hardly fit to go round the isle of Wight under sail.
So far, then, it is obvious to conclude that Messrs. Laird and Captain Coles must divide between them the responsibility for the failure of the experiment, and if the Captain had been commissioned as well as launched at Birkenhead and sent to sea apart from any communication with the Admiralty authorities, that conclusion would be final. But such was not the case. Although the Admiralty intrusted both the design and the construction of the Captain to private hands, the authorities did not altogether surrender their rights of inspection, approval, and supervision. The plans and drawings of the new vessel were sent to the Constructive Department for examination; the ship itself was built under inspection, and, last of all, she was sent to Portsmouth to be regularly tested for that particular quality – stability — in which she proved so unhappily deficient. Here, therefore, is the opening of a serious controversy. It appears to be maintained not only that the Admiralty authorities, who had thus the last word in the matter, should have discovered the fatal defect in the vessel, but that they actually did discover enough to call for official warning. The fault of design, it is thought, must have been visible in the original plans, and a diagram of the ship's capacities actually produced to the Court would, it is said, if it had been laid before Captain Burgoyne, have impressed him with salutary misgivings as to the stability of his ship. On the other hand, it is to be observed that these results were not arrived at until the 23d of August, whereas the Captain had sailed to join the Fleet on the 4th, and, besides, it does not appear that anybody apprehended such consequences as actually occurred. Mr. Reed, who certainly both thought and spoke as ill of the Captain as anybody, says that what he anticipated was that she would first be described as a great success, and then, before she got through her commission, be condemned as utterly unfit for the service. He urges, moreover, with considerable reason, that he could not accept responsibility for a design which he disapproved from the beginning. The very essence of the Admiralty case was this, that no such vessel as Captain Coles and Messrs. Laird were proposing to build could be built successfully or safely. It was because the authorities so thought and so declared that the work was put out of their hands. The points to which the Constructive Department must have objected were, says Mr. Reed, the very points in dispute between the Department and Captain Coles, and he goes even so far as to assert that if anything like an official protest had been made it would only have provoked more obstinate and dangerous attempts in the way of practical refutation. Of poor Captain Coles himself, indeed, it was remarked by a member of the Court that he was "perfectly blind to everything but the merits of his own invention;" but it does not follow that a seaman like Captain Burgoyne, though he, too, had his share of infatuation, would have disregarded an official communication as to the defects of his ship. Such, however, is the general position of the case as it has now been left after seven days of patient inquiry, and the judgment of the Court, we can but trust, will convey some assurance to the public mind on questions which have so painfully disturbed it.
|Th 6 October 1870|
THE COURT-MARTIAL ON THE CAPTAIN.
In stating what I expected would happen to the Captain I said "I thought she would have the highest possible reports to begin with; that she would be very carefully nursed through her early career, admissions of her deficiencies being slowly made; and that before she got through her commission she would be condemned as utterly unfit for the naval service." The whole of this observation is essential to my view, and was, in fact, made to the Court.
Further, I spoke of my resistance to the placing of persons who possess no knowledge of scientific principles in a position to influence the designs of Her Majesty’s ships. The "no" does not appear in the report.
In the last sentence of my evidence the word "cause," and not "course,"’ was used in both cases, and I there spoke of dangers "incurred."
Apologizing for the trouble of this further communication, and pleading the extreme importance of the case before the Court as my excuse.
I am, Sir, yours obediently,
London, Oct. 5
|Ma 10 October 1870|
THE LOSS OF HER MAJESTY’S SHIP CAPTAINThe Naval Court formed to inquire into the cause of the loss of Her Majesty's ship Captain and to try Mr. James May, gunner, and the 17 surviving seamen, pro forma, under the 91st and 92d sections of the Naval Discipline Act of 1861, composed of Admiral Sir James Hope, G.C.B., Port Admiral and Naval Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, President; Vice-Admiral Sir Hastings Reginald Yelverton, K.C.B., Commanding-in-Chief the Channel Squadron; Captain George Hancock, Her Majesty’s ship Duke of Wellington; Captain Edward B. Rice, A.D.C. to the Queen, Her Majesty's ship Asia; Captain Henry Boys, Her Majesty's ship Excellent, and Superintendent of the Royal Naval College; Captain Charles H. May, Her Majesty's ship Northumberland; Captain John Commerell, V.C, C.B., Her Majesty's ship Monarch; Captain Thomas Brandreth, Her Majesty`s ship Lord Warden; Captain James G. Goodenough, Her Majesty's ship Minotaur; Captain G.F. Blake, Royal Marines, Barrister-at-Law, officiating Judge-Advocate, assembled on the last day of its sittings, at 9 a.m. on Saturday, on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington in Portsmouth Harbour, to conclude the deliberations and weighing of evidence adduced before the Court by the various witnesses, and to deliver judgment. After the formal opening and the mustering in the court of Mr. James May, the gunner of the Captain, and the 17 petty officers and seamen, the court was closed, and remained so until about a quarter to 7 in the evening, when the doors were opened, and the President and members seen seated round the large table of the court, wearing their cocked hats, a sign that the Court had framed and was about to deliver its judgment. The uncertainty when the judgment would be delivered, and the lateness of the hour - considering the locale of the Court on board ship in the middle of Portsmouth Harbour, at which this actually occurred - caused the number of spectators present from the shore to be rather scanty. Among the few persons present in the body of the court were Captain Rogers, commanding the United States' screw frigate Franklin, Rear-Admiral Sir John Hay, M.P., and a party of ladies, and several naval officers on full and half pay, besides officers and men belonging to the ship.
The judgment of the Court, opening with the usual preliminaries in naval legal technical formalities of wording, was read by Captain Blake, the officiating Judge-Advocate, and divested of this technical preparatory wording was as follows:-
"The Court having heard the evidence of Mr. James May relating thereto (the loss of the ship), and that of the remaining survivors, and such other evidence as they deemed necessary, and having deliberately weighed and considered the whole of the evidence before them, do find that Her Majesty's ship Captain was capsized on the morning of the 7th of September by the pressure of sail, assisted by the heave of the sea, and that the amount of sail carried at the time of her loss (regard being had to the force of the wind and the state of the sea) was insufficient to have endangered a ship endowed with a proper amount of stability. The Court further find that no blame is attributable to Mr. James May, gunner of the second class, and the survivors of the Captain for her loss, and the Court do fully acquit them of all blame, and the said Mr. James May and the other survivors are fully acquitted accordingly. The Court before separating find it their duty to record the conviction they entertain that the Captain was built in deference to public opinion as expressed in Parliament and through other channels and in opposition to the views and opinions of the Controller of the Navy and his department, and that the evidence all tends that the Controller of the Navy and his department generally disapproved of her construction. It further appearing on evidence that before the Captain was received from the contractors a grave departure from her original design had been committed, whereby her draught of water was increased by about two feet, and her freeboard was diminished to a corresponding extent, and that her stability proved to be dangerously small, combined with an area of sail, under these circumstances, excessive; the Court deeply regret that, if these facts were duly known and appreciated, they were not communicated to the officer in command of the ship; or, that, if otherwise, the ship was allowed to be employed in the ordinary service of the Fleet before these facts had been sufficiently ascertained by calculations and experiment."
After the reading of the Court's judgment had been concluded by the officiating Judge-Advocate, the President, directing Mr. James May, the gunner, to stand forward at the head of the Court table, returned his sword to him and said:-
"Mr. May, I am desired by this Court to avail myself of this present occasion, the returning to you of your sword, to acquaint you that the Court is satisfied that you did everything in your power at the time of the loss of the Captain to save the lives of more of your shipmates, consistent with your duty, and that your conduct and that of the other survivors of the crew of the Captain during the period they were under your command reflects credit on yourselves and on the service to which you belong."
The Court was then declared dissolved.
|Tu 11 October 1870||The judgment of the Court-Martial on the loss of the Captain confirms the conclusions drawn in these columns from the evidence received as to the cause of the disaster, and throws the responsibility, in some shape or other, on the Administration of the Navy. The ship was capsized by a "pressure of sail, assisted by a heave of the sea;” but the sea was not so rough nor the wind so strong as to account for the catastrophe. Had the Captain been "endowed with a proper amount of stability," she could have carried the sail she was actually carrying and weathered the storm, such as it was, without any danger; so that the fault lay with the ship herself, and not in any way with her commander, her officers, or crew. Accordingly, the survivors were fully acquitted, and complimented by the Court for their behaviour under the trial. But now comes the next inquiry. How came so unseaworthy a ship to be sent to sea? On this point the opinion of the Court is to the effect that the unseaworthiness of the Captain, if known to the proper authorities, ought to have been communicated, to her commander, and, if unknown, ought not to have been unknown. The ship when delivered by the contractors was, it is declared, unfit for service. The fact could have been ascertained by "calculations and experiments," and it was the duty of some Department or other to ascertain it, and to bring it, when ascertained, before the notice of the officer intrusted with the command of the vessel. This Department, therefore, is placed in a dilemma, and left to bear the responsibility of either neglecting to obtain certain necessary information or withholding it from those entitled to receive it when obtained.|
It would have been more satisfactory to the public if the Court could have dispensed with the use of an alternative, and delivered an absolute decision. The defence of the authorities, as we gather from the evidence, would appear to be this - that they did obtain the information referred to, but that when they obtained it they did not consider it to be so alarming as the event has suggested and the Court assumed. Nor should it, in justice to these officers, be forgotten that the whole history of this ill-fated vessel from beginning to end was exceptional and embarrassing. Captain Coles had insisted, with extreme pertinacity, on the paramount excellence of his model of a man-of-war. He maintained that a turret-ship with a low freeboard was the best type of a fighting ship, and he found so many friends that his honest importunity at last prevailed. The Controller of the Navy and his Department were strongly opposed to these theories, and disapproved the project altogether; but in the end, and "in deference," as the Court remarks, “to public opinion,” Captain Coles was allowed to employ Messrs. Laird to construct the Captain in their private yard according to his designs. This proceeding placed the officers of the Department in a strange and difficult position, for though the work was thus removed from their hands and undertaken in defiance of their opinion, they were still compelled, by the practice of the Administration, to receive, examine, and allow the reports of the contractors from time to time. The perplexity which ensued may be measured by Mr. Reed’s own description of his proceedings. He says that he never used, or allowed to be used, the word "approved" at any stage of the transaction, but instead of that customary certificate returned the designs or specifications with the endorsement "not objected to." He refused to "approve" anything in the affair, and considered the whole work, and with it, of course, the whole responsibility, to have been taken off his hands. If he and his superiors had asserted themselves, the Captain never would have been built at all, and according, indeed, to his published opinion the building of such a ship to be safe and seaworthy was impossible from the beginning. However, the Captain was built and duly delivered, but under circumstances creating still further difficulty.
The judgment before us records that "before the Captain was received from the contractors a grave departure from her original design had been committed, whereby her draught of water was increased by about two feet, and, her freeboard was diminished to a corresponding extent." To this change, or error, the defective stability of the vessel appears, in the opinion of the Court, to have been due; so that, as was observed at the trial, the Captain might have been safe when planned and unsafe when delivered.
Mr. Reed, we believe, does not share these views, but if they were correct it would become important to ascertain how, when, and by what means this "departure from the original design" must be held to have occurred. However, as both the designer and constructors of the Captain were perfectly satisfied with her, notwithstanding this difference between the plan and the ship as built, we may dismiss the point, and proceed to the immediate charge against the authorities. As we have already observed, the Court did not take upon itself to state that these authorities actually discovered the unseaworthiness of the vessel, and we are left, therefore, in doubt as to the nature of the imputation. When ought the fatal defects of the Captain to have been discerned? Did they become evident from the designs originally prepared for her? or from the miscalculations shown when she was launched? or from the formal trial of her stability in Portsmouth Dockyard? As we understand the evidence, a certain diagram produced to the Court during the trial as the result of the experiment would, if submitted to the commander of the vessel, have warned him of the dangerous instability of his ship. On a question so purely technical professional judges alone can speak; but, we must add, the very officers who conducted the experiments and made the calculations did not come to the conclusion that the Captain was unsafe. The final results were not obtained until the 23d of August, when the Captain had been a fortnight with the Fleet, and, as an official witness observes, "when that calculation was completed we saw nothing in it to cause us to apprehend, in the face of the reports of the officers who had tried the ship at sea, that she was in danger of capsizing."
This, as it appeared at more than one stage of the proceedings, was a point in dispute between the official witnesses and certain members of the Court. Mr. Reed himself and some of his former colleagues were sharply questioned as to the force and bearing of the facts ascertained. The interrogators seemed to think the unseaworthiness of the Captain had been so completely revealed that the evidence would be irresistible if placed before any experienced sailor. The witnesses answered that it was not so, and that they never conceived the danger of the vessel to be so great as it proved. Mr. Reed thought as ill of the Captain as anybody, but he did not imagine she would founder in a summer squall, and he alleged that any remonstrance or objection on his part would have been ascribed to hostility or prejudice, and treated with defiance. It is a most unhappy and perplexing story. The case against the Captain herself, as an experiment in naval architecture, comes out worse than was ever anticipated; in fact, the question seems to be, not whether the ship was a mistake, but whether she was not a mistake so gross as to carry her condemnation on her very face. When we remember, however, that this vessel, now given over to universal reprobation, was, so long as she was afloat, the pride of the squadron and the admiration of all the sailors in the Fleet; that every officer and man aboard of her entertained unbounded confidence in her qualities, and that even the bitterest adversaries of the principles on which she was constructed never ventured to anticipate her destiny, we may well take the lesson to our hearts, and learn caution and circumspection for the future.
|Tu 11 October 1870|
HER MAJESTY’S LATE SHIP CAPTAIN.
The Court was composed, whether admirals or captains, of officers in whom the whole Navy would have the utmost reliance, so far as their independent integrity and their intelligence was concerned, and the verdict on the point they had to consider is all that could be desired. Their duty being done, it is now for those who hold, like myself, the professional repute of my lost friends, Cowper Coles and Hugh Burgoyne, very dear, to ask the following questions, and to insist, sooner or later, on straightforward replies:—
First, — By whose order was it that the Captain was inclined in Portsmouth Harbour early last August, for the purpose of ascertaining the position of her centre of gravity and consequent stability; and what was the date of that order?
By the evidence before us, it appears that Mr. Barnes, of the Constructor's Department, Whitehall, did not complete the necessary calculations, based on the experiments of the 6th of August, until the 22d of August. Mr. Robinson, the Master Shipwright and Chief Engineer, speaks of a report on the stability being completed on the 23d of August — a fortnight, mark, before the ship was capsized. I therefore inquire,—
Secondly, — Whether these calculations ought to have occupied 16 days for an expert to work out?
An eminent shipbuilder whom Captain Coles was in the habit of occasionally consulting tells me that the necessary formula should not have required more than eight hours' hard work.
Thirdly, — To whom was the report on the results of the experiments of the 6th of August communicated? Did the Board of Admiralty ever receive them; if so, on what date?
I have reason to believe that the experiments were ordered, very wisely, by the Board of Admiralty. With whom, then, lies the blame of the report and necessary diagrams. of the defective stability of Her Majesty's ship Captain not having been brought to the knowledge of the admirals in the fleet of which she formed a part, or to that of the gallant officer commanding her?
On these points, I maintain, the whole question turns of whether the blame of her loss lies with those on board the Captain or with the Controllers Department of the Admiralty, who now, like other prophets, are so wise after the event.
I desire to make no charge as yet, but I maintain we have a right to replies to these queries.
Admiral Sir Alexander Milne tells us that when he expressed alarm to Captain Coles of the extent to which they were pressing the Captain on the 6th of September Captain Coles pointed to a certain angle as her safe point of inclination, while we now know that the Controller's Department as early as the 23d of August possessed mathematical proof that it was utterly erroneous. Between that 23d of August and the fatal night on which she and her gallant crew perished, there was ample time to have put every one concerned in testing so novel a form of warship on their guard, and, as Captain Commerell, of the Monarch, justly pointed out, had the information proffered to the Court-Martial been put earlier into his or any other senior officer's hands, such a catastrophe would have been in all probability averted.
Mr. Reed, the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, in his evidence leads it to be inferred, if he does not actually say so, that official caution of the stability of a ship, though given under Admiralty seal, would have been treated with indifference or incredulity. In this I totally disagree, and had he been brought up as a naval officer he would know that, as a profession, the tendency is quite in a contrary direction. If he meant that Coles or Burgoyne would have attached very little weight to his own opinion, unsupported by data or mathematical demonstration of the seaworthiness of a low freeboard turret-ship, I think he is right, and he would find hundreds, and I among others, of their way of thinking. Mr. Reed and Sir Spencer Robinson have produced too many melancholy failures in the shape of men-of-war for the service to consider them oracles.
But of Captain Burgoyne I can say this, — I and he have been constant friends for 15 years, since, as a young lieutenant, he commanded a gunboat under my orders in the Sea of Azof, to the time I selected him as my second in command of the flotilla I took to China in 1863. It was at my suggestion Captain Coles requested he might be appointed to the Captain. I always knew Captain Burgoyne to be as watchful as he was an expert seaman and most able officer. Blessed with great nerve and calmness, he was never foolhardy, and with such a high sense of responsibility towards those under his command and care, that, much as he would have striven to satisfy Captain Coles of his ship's qualities having been fairly developed, he would have been the last man in the Navy to treat with indifference any official and unbiased intimation, had it been given him, of the sad lack of stability of the Captain after she had passed a certain point of inclination under sail.
It was the withholding of that information now that we find it was in the possession of certain parties which I maintain requires the strictest inquiry.
Before I close this letter let me again ask you to say a word on behalf of the fund for the relief of the destitute relatives of those who went down in the Captain. Captain Peile tells us they number, so far as is already known, some 539 persons, and I estimate from certain facts that the ship's company contributed nigh 5,000l. per annum out of their pay towards the support of those who, but for public charity, will shortly have no refuge but pauperdom. The 15,000l. already subscribed, the greater portion of it from the officers and men of the Navy, is only a third of what is needed. Surely our great commercial and manufacturing cities, whose interests the sailor watches over in every part of the world, will not, in such an hour of need, let the orphan and widow perish?
Sherard Osborn, Captain.
London, Oct. 10.
|Fr 14 October 1870|
HER MAJESTY’S LATE SHIP CAPTAIN.
The only parallel that I can draw to Captain Burgoyne's position in testing his ship without knowing what her real stability was is that of an engineer being given charge of an engine without being informed of what pressure his boilers were equal to. That my lamented friend had some erroneous idea of what, her stability was is proved in a remarkable manner by the evidence of James Ellis, the gunner's mate; he heard Captain Burgoyne ask particularly what the inclination of the ship was as indicated by the pendulum before he gave the word of command to lower his topsails. This proves to me, and I am sure to every sailor, that he was being guided by some idea of his own as to the safety of the ship up to a certain point of inclination, and, as the result shows, for want of correct information, he allowed her to go beyond a safe point. I would ask any intelligent person to look at the diagram published in the Engineer of last week, and to tell me whether he believes, had such a diagram been in the hands of clever and sensible officers, like Captains Cowper Coles and Burgoyne, they would ever have permitted any officer of a watch to carry canvas so as to incline the ship beyond 14 degrees, which just brought her gunwale to the water's edge, and only left a margin of 7 degrees to the point at which the Captain upset. It is a melancholy satisfaction to Burgoyne's brother officers to know that, instead of carrying sail on his ship under the ordinary rule of thumb of the service, he was doing his best, in the absence of correct information, to thus watch in a proper and scientific manner over the safety of the ship with which he had been intrusted, and we must all feel grateful that such evidence has been forthcoming to contradict the cruel and unjustifiable opinion expressed at the Court by the late Constructor of the Navy — that he believed naval officers, if even warned of the point of maximum stability of their ships, would make a point of carrying canvas beyond that point.
I remain. Sir. yours faithfully,
Sherard Osborn, Captain Royal Navy.
London, Oct. 13.
|Fr 21 October 1870||We have received from Mr. E.J. Reed, the late Chief Constructor of the Navy, a letter upon the loss of the Turret-Ship Captain which, if it had but been written with a little more consideration for the exigencies of our space, we would willingly have published. We really, however, cannot afford five columns for the discussion even of so important a question; but, as we think Mr. Reed’s views should be made known to the public, we compress their substance and purport into the subjoined remarks. Little preface, fortunately, is here required. The Captain was designed and built, in direct defiance of official opinion, by an enthusiastic projector and a private firm, in order to show that the Admiralty authorities were in the wrong, and the advocates of the new system in the right. That system consisted in the combination of a low freeboard with good sailing power, so that a vessel might have her sides only a few feet above the water, carry her guns in turrets, and yet be a seaworthy cruiser. The Controller's Department denied the possibility of combining these qualities in a successful specimen of naval architecture. Captain Coles, the inventor, declared the thing could be done if he were but allowed fair play in doing it, and so, in deference to outside opinion, the Captain was at length constructed, not in a Government yard, but in a private yard; not under official superintendence, but under that of the designer and builders alone. When built, she was sent to sea, and on the night of the 6th of September a summer squall sent her to the bottom. Since then it has been alleged that the official authorities must be held responsible for the loss, inasmuch as it was their duty, on receiving the ship from the contractors' hands, to ascertain her stability by experiments of their own, and instruct her commander accordingly. It is further alleged that these experiments were actually made, though after much delay, but that the result was not communicated, as it might have been, to the captain of the unfortunate vessel. These are the points to which Mr. Reed addresses himself. It will not escape the reader's notice that the case as thus stated is somewhat hard for one side and humiliating for the other. The authorities are called to account for the failure of an experiment which, by reason of their insuperable objections to it, was taken bodily out of their hands, while their rivals do not hesitate to contend that the faults they undoubtedly committed and the blunder they certainly produced ought to have been detected and exposed by those whose professional capacities they had treated with contempt. But the question is too important to be obscured by such recriminations at its present stage. What it concerns the public to know is whether 500 lives were lost by neglect of duty.|
Mr. Reed, as might be anticipated, answers this question practically in the negative. Narrowed to a point, the contention is that, whereas on the 23d of last August certain information was obtained in Portsmouth Dockyard respecting the stability of the Captain which would have proved her, as a sailing vessel, to be unseaworthy, that information was not communicated to her commander, Captain Burgoyne, or her inventor, Captain Coles. Here, it will be seen, two questions are involved — what was the exact nature of the discovery thus made, and was it of such a character that the intelligence should at once have been transmitted to the squadron? It is rather remarkable that up to the present moment no precise or undisputed account has been given of the results obtained by the experiment in question. The officers who conducted it say that its character was not alarming. Mr. Reed is of a somewhat different opinion, for he considers it strange that the danger indicated was not recognized; but still he does not attribute any such importance to the point as is generally ascribed, and seems to deride the notion that an immediate alarm should have been given, and a telegram despatched "to order home, as the greatest failure of the age, a ship built expressly to prove the scientific advisers of the Admiralty a mistaken and prejudiced body." His argument is that the information acquired by the experiment, whatever it might have been, did not differ from that which Captain Coles either possessed or might have possessed in any such degree as to carry with it a serious or effective warning. This is a point on which, as we cannot but conclude, the surprise of the public must have been already excited. To ordinary persons it will have appeared very strange that this information as to the Captain's stability — in other words, her competence to swim — should have been left to be discovered by officials at Portsmouth instead of being obtained in Messrs. Laird’s own yard. Surely such a point was of the very first importance, and surely such eminent shipbuilders were capable of ascertaining it for themselves? Mr. Reed now tells us that, practically speaking, it was so ascertained; that the calculations had been approximately, if not exactly, made long before; and that the designer and builders of the vessel might have constructed for themselves, if they had so pleased, a diagram substantially equivalent to that which was produced before the Court-Martial. How far this is correct it is not for us to decide, but the statement unquestionably coincides with the necessary probabilities of the case. Messrs. Laird, we must needs presume, did not deliver the vessel they had built without making the requisite calculations on the point, and communicating the results to their employers or coadjutors. In fact, it is certain that Captain Coles had a distinct impression, whether erroneous or not, respecting the stability of the ship. If anybody could tell us in words or figures precisely what this was, and precisely what, according to the Portsmouth experiment, it ought to have been, we could arrive at a conclusion. Mr. Reed's opinion apparently is that Captain Coles not only might have known, but actually did know, at least as much as he could have been told by the officials at Portsmouth.
We have dwelt at such length on this — the critical point of the present controversy — that we must be brief in noticing the other questions which Mr. Reed discusses. He is still of opinion that no modifications of build or rigging could have made the Captain substantially safer than she was, if she were to remain the Captain still. She would have been more stable, no doubt, with a lower centre of gravity, but then she would have lost her steadiness of platform in proportion. She might have been safe with a high freeboard, but then she would have been the inventor's ship no longer; and she might have escaped danger by dispensing more or less with masts and sails, but how then could she have been classed as what she professed to be — a sea-going cruiser? It seems to us pretty certain that a point was made on board the Captain of proving her a good sailer, and that her officers would have been extremely reluctant to admit any deficiency in that respect; but Mr. Reed truly observes that she was sent to sea to establish these very pretensions, and that she could only fail in so doing by turning out a failure altogether.
On the whole matter our correspondent asserts, with a not unnatural decision, that the Captain, to be built as she was built, never ought to have been built at all, nor can we deny that up to a certain point his argument is substantially sound. The authorities responsible to the nation were placed in a position virtually depriving them of responsibility and authority together. They had refused distinctly to undertake any such experiment as was advocated by Captain Coles. They declared, more and more distinctly as the principle was considered and the plan advanced, that success was impossible, and, indeed, it was on account of their invincible "prejudices" on this point that the entire work was removed from their control. They were answerable for nothing but the mere conformity of the work and materials with the stipulations of the contract. "The very object and intent of the arrangement was to produce a ship in avoidance of, not to say in opposition to, the control which the professional advisers of the Admiralty were accustomed to exercise." All this is quite true, and it does result in substance that the authorities could scarcely have interfered at any point of the experiment without exposing themselves to misconstruction and probable distrust. But, on the other hand, how was the value of the turret principle to be otherwise ascertained? Rightly or wrongly, this principle is still considered by some of our best seamen as giving the true type of a fighting ship, and if the Admiralty would not take it up what were its advocates to do? These, however, are the views put forth by Mr Reed. We omit — as we must omit something — his retorts on his personal opponents, but we have not, we think, excluded from this abstract of his statements any allegation or opinion bearing upon the subject itself.
|Sa 22 October 1870||We are authorized to state that Mr. Childers is personally engaged in a searching investigation into all the circumstances connected with the Captain, from the time of her being proposed to be built down to her loss; and also into all the measures proposed or adopted relative to the building of turret-ships. The results of this investigation, which must occupy some days, will be embodied in a Minute by Mr. Childers, which will be made public.|
|Fr 16 December 1870||A long, elaborate, and, in our judgment, impartial Minute has been written by the First Lord of the Admiralty on the loss of the turret-ship Captain. That disaster, regarded by the whole nation as a public calamity, called, of course, for the strictest inquiry, — the more so, indeed, as an important principle of naval architecture was involved in the question. The loss of a man-of-war is necessarily the subject of a Court-Martial, but the loss of the Captain impeached also the system on which she was built, and placed either the builders, the designers, or the approvers of such a model on their defence before the country. Unfortunately, the responsibility in the case was so singularly divided and the novelty of the proceeding at all points was so complete that it became a matter of extreme difficulty to arrive at a decision, nor can we say, indeed, that even the Minute before us, exhaustive though it be, contains all the information desirable.|
Up to the launch of the Captain no genuine turret vessel was included in the list of the Navy, for, though ships with turrets had been both built and purchased, they did not satisfy the conditions for which the leading advocates of the system had consistently stipulated. Without enumerating earlier instances, we may simply state that even the Monarch — regarded by the Admiralty authorities as a model of her class — was not accepted by Captain Coles as a sufficient or satisfactory specimen of what a turret vessel should be. The controversy ended in a measure almost without precedent. Captain Coles was informed that he might design, and that a private firm, selected by himself, might build, a turret-ship for Her Majesty’s Navy on the joint responsibility of the builders and himself. He closed with these terms, selecting Messrs. Laird, of Birkenhead, as his coadjutors, and between them they produced the Captain, which, though unquestionably believed by them to be completely successful, presently foundered with all hands in a gale causing neither damage nor danger to any other vessel of the squadron. When the news of the disaster reached England it was asked who was accountable for sending to sea a ship manifestly unseaworthy. In the first instance the responsibility would attach, no doubt, to the builders and designers: but when they delivered the vessel according to contract into the hands of the Admiralty authorities, these authorities as undoubtedly accepted the fresh responsibility of inspecting, testing, and approving the vessel for the use of the Navy. Indeed, to a certain but somewhat doubtful extent, this responsibility had been accepted before, for the Admiralty necessarily reserveed its approval of the general design, workmanship, and material of the ship, and if, therefore, the Captain was an unseaworthy vessel it was their duty to condemn it. Here, however, we arrive at the first perplexity of the question. The workmanship and material of the ship were satisfactory enough, but as to the design it was notoriously either disapproved or suspected by the officials of the Controller's Department from the very beginning. It was on this account that the vessel was put out to be built, and it was intended to prove that her designers were right and the Admiralty wrong. Mr. Childers himself, as First Lord, supported the experiment, but his officials did not, nor was it with their voluntary assent that the Captain was built. How, then, could they be held accountable for the failure of the design? The answer brings us to the next difficulty of the case.
The Court-Martial pronounced, and all the world now understands, that the Captain was lost in consequence of defective stability — in other words, because she could not resist a pressure of wind which other vessels resisted easily, but was capsized at once. Now, it is fairly argued that a defect of this kind should not have escaped detection or exposure. Setting aside all peculiarities of the Captain's build and equipment, if she were such a vessel that a summer squall would send her to the bottom, that fact ought to have been discovered and the fatal incapacity denounced. This, indeed, was the position in which the question was left by the judgment of the Court-Martial. If the Admiralty authorities did not know of the ship's unseaworthiness they ought to have known it; if they did know it they ought either not to have sent her to sea at all or not to have left her Commander unacquainted with the fact. What, then, in reality did these officials know, surmise, or anticipate, and — which is really the cardinal question of the whole case — to what extent or in what respects did their information differ from that already possessed by the officers intrusted with the vessel? We are compelled to answer that on none of these points can we arrive at any absolute or decisive conclusion from the First Lords Minute. The proceedings which he quotes and the returns which he prints might be cited, passage against passage, to condemn or acquit almost all parties in turn. We could fill this column with extracts telling first one way and then another and, as far as our readers are concerned, we shall probably do them most service by stating our own opinions or impressions, as resulting from the survey of the case in its complete aspect.
To begin with, it appears to us, strange as it may seem to the public, that the essential quality in which the Captain failed was never until recently made the subject of much investigation in Her Majesty’s Navy. It was probably taken for granted, and perhaps with good reason, until the system of armour-plating introduced new principles of naval architecture. Mr. Childers tells us that up to the year 1854 the centres of gravity for the several ships of the Navy were calculated simply from the drawings in each case, without any experiment at all. In that year, however, a ship happened to "upset in dock," and this example of what she might possibly do at sea induced the officials to ascertain by actual experiment what had previously been inferred from reckoning, though even then, as we collect, the practice was but partially adopted. So stood the custom, however, up to the present time, although in the interval, — that is to say, in 1867, — it had been suggested that a calculation, not only of the centre of gravity, but of a new result, called "the curve of stability," might also be desirable. Nevertheless, and we must here quote the First Lords own words, "until, in the case of the Captain, this calculation is not known to have been actually made as to any actual ship, built or building, whether of low or high freeboard." Thus, first, there was no experiment whatever, then only partial experiments for centres of gravity, and ultimately a theory, but not yet a practice, for experiments and calculations concerning a "curve of stability." If the reader will bear in mind this description he may perhaps be able to see his way through the steps of the case investigated by Mr. Childers, and understand how the Captain was set to sea and kept there.
Messrs. Laird had in due course made their own calculations of the ship's centre of gravity, and it appeared to them satisfactory. A more complete experiment, however, had still to be made in Portsmouth Dockyard, but so little was the question believed to be critical, that the ship was sent to sea three times before it was tried. Apparently, the result not only coincided with Messrs. Laird’s approximation, but revealed nothing alarming in the character of the ship. But then came the new "curve of stability" to be calculated, and this was only done, and then not completely, on the 2nd of August, when the Captain was already with the fleet in the Bay of Biscay. Still there was time to telegraph the results to the Commander of the vessel if such a proceeding had been thought necessary, and this is the step which some think ought to have been taken. We can only point out that as such an experiment had never been applied before, the result could not have been judged by any comparisons or precedents, so that practically the information transmitted to Captain Burgoyne must have been simply that his ship was unseaworthy. But was this, according to the evidence, actually the fact? We can but say that the officials who conducted the experiment saw nothing alarming in the results, and the Controller's Minute, in allusion to the report, "gives no indication that it was otherwise than satisfactory to him, or that there would be any advantage in sending it to the Fleet." Very naturally does Mr. Childers consider that "it would have been better” if more attention had been paid to it; but it really appears to us that the whole question of a ship's stability was in such a stage that all the omissions as well as proceedings in the case become easily intelligible. Even now we do not know what should be the standard expression for this mysterious "curve," nor how great was the deviation from it in the case of the Captain. Actually we do not believe anybody expected the vessel to founder, and that she did founder may possibly be due to conditions still unknown, and therefore overlooked even in the exhaustive Minute we have been considering.