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The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871
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|Extracts from the Times newspaper|
|We 9 August 1871|
THE ISLAND OF ST. PAUL.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir - The telegram from Java announcing the loss of the Megaera on the Island of St. Paul in consequence of the vessel's unseaworthy state calls to my mind an occurrence which happened 11 years ago in connexion with a merchant troopship in the vicinity of the same Island, an occurrence which I believe now finds public record for the first time.
In the summer of 1860 the ship Coldstream sailed from Queenstown. bound for Madras. She had on board draughts for two regiments, the 18th and the 69th, numbering together about 200 men. The cargo was supposed to be what is called a "general" one, but in reality the vessel carried 500 tons of railroad iron, a freight prohibited by regulation when troops are on board as calculated to endanger the safety of the ship. By what process the vessel was enabled to pass her Government inspection I will not attempt to state; it is only of the result that I would speak. For a time all went well. Trade winds and tropical seas are not trying tests of the seaworthiness of a ship, but other waves and winds were in store for us. Having rounded the Cape of Good Hope, the Coldstream entered that great Southern Ocean, the waters of which are almost incessantly lashed by tempests. Then the dead weight of our railroad iron began to tell. Somewhere between the Cape and the Island of St. Paul a dangerous leak appeared. It was useless to attempt a search for it because of the 500 tons of iron rails that lay between us and it; there was nothing for it but to pump, and pump we did. Day and night the men worked at the single, rough, old-fashioned pump, with the unpleasant consciousness that a cessation from their work of six-and-thirty hours' duration would send us to the bottom. After 20 days of tempestuous weather we sighted. the Island of St. Paul, which, with the Island of Amsterdam alone breaks the waste of the 5,000 miles of water between the Cape of Good Hope and West Australia. Here the weather became moderate and the ship leaked less, so we steered for the north, and passing through tranquil waters reached India in November. Of course the usual number of inspections had been held upon the ship, and the usual number of certificates and declarations made and sent in, and of course it was nobody's fault, just as every occurrence of the kind never is anybody's fault, and never will be anybody's fault. Now and then a ship goes down at sea, and names like the Megaera or the Captain become for a time household words, but the doctrine of "chancing it" still holds good, and will hold good until the "chancer" is held responsible just as far as his life or liberty and no farther.
Your obedient servant,
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - On my voyage out in the Sarah transport with a detachment of my regiment in the year 1829, as a guard over 200 convicts, we lay for a couple of days off the Island of St. Paul, which is about midway between the Cape of Good Hope and Bass's Strait. We discovered the island, on which were a large number of pigs and no want of means for subsistence. There were also numbers of eggs from the numerous birds that frequented the place, and when the tide ebbed we cooked the provisions we had taken with us from the ship in the hot spring well, and from the high temperature of the water it took but a short time to do so. When the tide flows the spring becomes covered. We discovered on the island two Americans who had been wrecked. Five others of the crew had gone on to Amsterdam Island, another island a short distance off, but neither of which is visible from the other. These people at first caused us alarm, so we approached the island with great caution, having our muskets loaded. By signs and conversation we discovered they were friendly towards us, and so took them on board, accompanied by a very fine black Newfoundland dog, and conveyed them to Sydney, Australia. These men had been so long on the island that they had worn out their clothing, and were dressed in hat, coat, and trousers made by them from the skins of the pigs they had eaten. As this information may afford pleasure to the friends of those on board the man-of-war now wrecked I give it with pleasure.
THE ISLAND OF ST. PAUL. - The January number, 1866, of the Mercantile Marine Magazine contains an interesting account of St. Paul's Island. We understand that the few residents who were once on the island left long ago.
|We 9 August 1871|
THE ADMIRALTY AND MR. REED.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,- I have obtained from the country the letters to which I referred in my communication published in The Times of to-day, and I earnestly request you - much as I regret the necessity of trespassing so frequently upon your kindness - to give them a place in your columns, and thus let the world judge between me and those members of the Government who last evening did not disdain to meet my statements with unmerited contradictions and ungenerous accusations. Mr. Goschen and his subordinate, Mr. Lushington, attempted to make it appear that there had been no official offers on my part to transfer my duty, and therefore no official refusals. Here is an official letter flatly rebutting the insinuation:-
"Admiralty, July 28, 1870.
I hope members of Parliament and others will appreciate this gracious and generous production, remembering that it was the last attention of the Admiralty of England to the reconstructor of the Navy of England on his retirement from office, and was in response to his ardent desire to serve his country by guarding its Navy against possible dangers from that retirement.
Three months elapsed, during which the Captain capsized, and then, and only then, it was that I made my last effort, by addressing a private letter to Mr. Childers. As Mr. Childers himself desired me to make it public, I feel at liberty to do so, and here it is: let Mr. Goschen say if it is hostile; let Mr. Gregory declare if it is unscrupulous:-
"Cringle-brook-house, Levenshulme, Manchester, Oct., 1870.
Now, Sir, for the reply of Mr. Childers to this approach of mine:-
"Admiralty, Whitehall, Oct. 13.
My reply to this was as follows:-
"Cringle-brook-house, Burnage, Manchester, Oct. 14.
I will not trespass upon your space, Sir, by seeking to add to this correspondence, which ended there. My hand is weak, I well know, against a Government, but if you consider this question of sufficient magnitude and public interest to induce you to insert these letters, I shall be content to let the world judge if I have been generously or wisely dealt with, and judge also whether I am to be blamed for the wreck of the Megaera, or if I ought to be blamed hereafter should the Glatton founder or the Minotaur break in two.I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
|We 23 August 1871|
THE LOSS OF THE MEGAERA.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - Having with very few exceptions attended the sittings of the House of Commons daily from the period of its meeting till the last day of July, I was compelled to absent myself for the remaining portion of the Session. I left London a few days before the news of the Megaera's disaster was known, and I now ask your kindness to permit me to make a few observations on that melancholy subject.
In the early part of the year she was selected to carry out 33 officers and 320 men, being the officers and crews of two sloops, which by the present practice were to be relieved on the Australian station, instead of being brought home for that purpose.
There were two routes by which this service could be performed - the direct and safe course (seeing the ship only drew 17ft.) being by the Suez Canal; when she would have availed herself of the south-east trade after crossing the Line, and would certainly have carried fine weather as far as the supposed position of the Tryal Rocks, if not the whole way to Cape Leewin.
The alternative route by the Cape of Good Hope would oblige the ship to run down 9,000 miles of easting in high Southern latitudes in the depth of winter, heavy gales of wind, accompanied by great seas, rain, and sleet, being the normal condition of the weather.
The distance by the former route is, in round numbers, say, 10,000 miles; by the latter not less than 15,000. Why was the longest and more stormy passage selected?
Sir John Hay said it was from motives of economy. This Mr. Goschen indignantly denied; but Mr. Gladstone, who came to the aid of his lieutenant, told the House that "a considerable portion of her stores were to be left at the Cape." Was it for the saving of freight on some 120 tons of stores to the Cape that this old ship was sent 5,000 miles out of her way at the risk of the comfort and convenience, if not the lives of 400 souls? If it was not economy, it was absurdity.
I have rounded the Cape of Good Hope nine times in the dead of winter, and I have no hesitation in saying that the authority which drove that ship to sea in the face of her condition as she arrived at Cork, in the face of Captain Thrupp's report, the reports of the medical officers, and the unwillingness of the officers and crew to proceed in her incurred a most fearful responsibility, knowing, as the authorities ought to have known, the weather she would certainly encounter in running down her easting.
Now let us see what was the condition of the Megaera. She was built in 1846, before the construction of iron ships was so well understood as it is at present. It is not denied that as long ago as 1866 she was placed at the bottom of the list of store, not troop ships, and was reported to be fit for only 18 months or two years' service if "repaired." Mr. Goschen, quoting from a report, said, "She may remain fit for service 18 months or two years longer when repaired." It does not appear that she was ever thoroughly repaired, nor does it appear that she was bored and the actual thickness of her plates ascertained before she was sent on this disastrous voyage. But Mr. Gladstone produced a report, dated the 30th of July, 1866, which stated that the thinnest plates in the Megaera's bottom were three-eighths of an inch. "But the plates between wind and water, all round the vessel, to about 20 feet from the stern, from the wall down to the first lap, about eight feet in breadth in midships, and about five feet in breadth forward and aft, are very thin." Let any of your readers take a foot rule and lay off three-eighths of an inch on his thumb nail, and he will see the thickness of some of the Megaera's bottom plates in 1866. Mr. Gladstone seemed to think he had made a point when he showed that her bottom, was not the worst of her.
Well, this old ship was selected for service, and early this year she left Chatham with her cargo ill stowed, and arrived at Plymouth in a miserable state. Instead of ordering her to be unstowed, her cargo re-stowed, and a critical examination instituted into her fitness to perform the duty which was to devolve upon her, she was sent to sea at a stormy season of the year, with her decks lumbered and her berths overcrowded.
She next makes her appearance at Cork with her outer bobstay gone, her ports leaking, her water-way seams open, her decks flooded, and her passengers' effects and bedding soaked with water.
The Admiral reports the condition of "both officers and men as being one of great discomfort." Mr. Goschen says that the first serious remonstrance which reached the Admiralty was from the captain of the Megaera, dated February 28; and he said, "this was after the journey (by the way, the Premier uses the same expression, which is novel) from Plymouth to Queenstown, when it had been found that the ports on the main deck leaked, and the officers and men suffered some discomfort." Let Captain Thrupp speak for himself. He says, "Since the wind has been contrary and the weather bad, during the whole of which time (three days) the main deck has had water-washing from side to side, wetting men's bags, clothes, &c., the officers' cabins have been literally afloat the whole time, although the watch have been constantly employed to bale the water up. The main deck ports were lined with fear-nought and well greased, but from being warped and old would not keep the water out, some of the bolts drawing out when screwing them up. On Monday the outer bobstay carried away, and having secured the foremast we bore up for this anchorage." This is the condition the First Lord describes as one of "some discomfort." I should term it one of considerable danger, and, seeing what the ship had before her, one for the gravest anxiety.
The fact is, the circumstances disclosed in Captain Thrupp's letter accurately described a worn-out ship.
I have always understood that when a ship's ports began to leak, it was a premonitory symptom of weakness. It does not appear that the leakage was confined to any special ports; the whole seem to have been in fault. Then the water-ways were open, for the flag captain recommends they should be caulked "if fine weather could be had for the operation." All the circumstances could lead to no conclusion but that the ship was working, and when an iron ship begins to work she does not last long. In my opinion the leakage of the ports was the effect and not the cause of the ship's condition.
Questions were asked in the House of Commons, and most flippant answers returned, though subsequent events show what good ground for inquiry there was, and how correct both Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Walpole were in their queries and statements.
Nevertheless, the ship was sent to sea, and we next hear of her stranded in a sinking state on a desolate island in the Southern Ocean.
St. Paul, the island upon which they were providentially cast, is not easy to find, and Captain Thrupp deserves great credit not only for finding it, but for saving his crew and passengers and 80 tons of provisions. The First Lord "does not anticipate that any suffering will arise." I am afraid after what he said of the "journey" to Cork he is not a very good judge of suffering. I believe the officers and crew of the Megaera will make the best of the resources at their command, but to tell the House of Commons "that no suffering is to be anticipated," under the circumstances, is somewhat remarkable. The Island of St. Paul lies in about 40 S., and it is well known that the winter climate of the Southern Ocean is very much colder than the North Atlantic; there seems to be no apprehension on the score of provisions; the difficulty will be fuel and shelter at that wet and stormy period of the year. Fortunately, the anchorage is on the eastern and lee side of the island, otherwise not a man. would have been saved to tell the tale. The foregoing sketch of the adventures of the Megaera forms but a sequel to the previous disasters of Mr. Gladstone's naval administration.
In about 13 months three ships have been lost by default of the Admiralty, - the Slaney, the Captain, and the Megaera. The first was driven ashore and wrecked on the Paracels in the China Sea, from sheer weakness of steam power; the second I will not here allude to - we have not done with her; the third is another perfect specimen of the result of Mr. Childers' reformed administration of naval affairs, and it is a remarkable feature in the discussion, that the late Secretary to the Admiralty did not appear to explain the reasons why the Megaera was selected for the service she was sent on; Mr. Goschen alone can tell why she was not recalled from Ireland when she showed so plainly her unfitness for the work.
We are promised an inquiry when the crew of the Megaera are rescued from their present situation; it is a matter of course that such an inquiry should be made, but who is to inquire into the shortcomings of the Government? That will be the duty of another tribunal, and will not form a pleasant introduction to the Session of 1872.
I believe the loss of the last two ships, at all events, is due to gross mismanagement and to the confusion which has reigned supreme ever since Mr. Corry left the office.
There is too much reason to believe that the attempts to force a reduction in the Naval Estimates against the opinion of all the most trusty servants of the Crown created a panic in the various departments. No one knew when his turn would come. The usual courtesies of official life and practice were thrown aside, and a reign of terror existed to which no parallel can be found to my knowledge.
This was not a state of things conducive to free interchange of opinion, and may be fairly noted as the prime cause of disaster. One thing, I think, may be pretty confidently stated, and that is, had there been a Board neither the Captain nor the Megaera would have been sent to sea.I remain, Sir, yours truly,
JAMES D.H. ELPHINSTONE [Sir James Dalrymple-Horn-Elphinstone, 2nd Baronet, 1805-1886]
|Sa 23 September 1871||The following letter has been addressed from the Admiralty to Mr. W.H. Ivey, a resident at Deptford, as to the crew of the Megaera:-|
"Admiralty, Whitehall, Sept. 31, 1871. - I am directed to acquaint yon that a Peninsular and Oriental steamer has been chartered to take the crew of Her Majesty's ship Megaera on to Sydney. She was expected to leave St. Paul's with them at the beginning of this month. - C.J. MAUDE."
|Ma 25 September 1871|
We have received the following despatches from the Admiralty for publication:-
"COMMANDER ROBINSON TO THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY.
"Her Majesty's Ship Rinaldo, Batavia, Aug. 10.
"FROM ACTING LIEUTENANT LEWIS T. JONES, OF HER MAJESTY'S SHIP MEGAERA, TO THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY.
"Batavia, Aug. 7.
HER BRITANIC MAJESTY'S ACTING CONSUL AT BATAVIA TO THE SECRETARY OF THE ADMIRALTY."British Consulate, Batavia, Aug. 14, 1871.
"Sir - On the 7th inst. I had the honour to send the Board of Admiralty the following telegram:- 'In terms of your telegram I have chartered the British steamer Oberon for St. Paul's, with provisions, and Lieutenant Jones sails Wednesday morning daylight. Speed 10, perhaps 14 knots. Capacity 1,022 tons. The Rinaldo expected Wednesday" and on the 9th inst. I received your reply as follows:-
'Approve Oberon being chartered. Inform Captain Thrupp, if this reaches you in time, that crews of the Blanche and Rosario are to be sent to Sydney in Malacca, which is to bring relieved crews to Aden, unless already chartered for England. Captain Thrupp to return to Singapore in Rinaldo with witnesses required for court-martial, and come thence with them to England in ordinary steamer. Acknowledge this;' from which I am pleased to notice that my arrangements have met with the approval of their Lordships.
"The Oberon is a fine steamer of 1,022 tons register, and will probably make the voyage to St. Paul's under favourable circumstances at an average speed of 10 knots an hour. She sailed for St. Paul's at daylight on Wednesday morning, and is expected to reach her destination in less than a fortnight.
"The peremptory nature of your telegram left no other course open to me than to charter at once, if any suitable vessel was obtainable, and the only choice I had was between the Oberon and a steamer of the Netherlands Indian Steam Navigation Company. I fixed on the former, as it was eminently qualified to perform satisfactorily the service required. At the same time I regret that the Board did not leave me any discretionary powers, especially as it was known that Lieutenant Jones was on the way up from Sourabaya, and could inform me precisely as to urgency in the matter. Had this been done I most certainly should not have considered myself justified in incurring the above great expenditure, as Lieutenant Jones was of opinion that the few days elapsing between the arrivals of the Oberon and Rinaldo at St. Paul's would not in any way have affected the condition of the officers and men of the Megaera.
"I supplied by the Oberon all the provisions that Lieutenant Jones thought necessary, consisting of biscuit, floor, sugar, yams, onions, and pumpkins; while the captain of the Oberon agreed to supply at the island, tea, beef, and pork should the paymaster of the Megaera require them.
"Lieutenant Jones writes you all particulars regarding the loss of the Megaera and the condition of the men on the island. Captain Thrupp's letter reporting the disaster was unfortunately not in the bag when Lieutenant Jones hurriedly left the island; but it will go forward in the Oberon, which is bound to London direct.
"The Rinaldo arrived on Tuesday, the 8th inst., and, in terms of your telegram of the 8th inst., proceeded on the 10th at midday to St. Paul's with further provisions, and to convey to Singapore Captain Thrupp and witnesses for the court-martial. I regret that your telegram reached me too late to inform Lieutenant Jones of this; and a telegram I despatched to Anjer also most unfortunately arrived there an hour after the Oberon had passed.
"I telegraphed you on the 10th inst.:- 'Oberon had already left before your telegram was received. Rinaldo starts for St. Paul's this forenoon,' which I hope reached you intelligibly.
"(Here follows enumeration of accounts and vouchers forwarded.)
"I am, &c.,
W.T. FRASER, Her Britannic Majesty's Acting Consul."
|Ma 25 September 1871||We learn at last from official sources how the unlucky Megaera was lost, and how her crew were rescued from their precarious and distressing position on the Island of St. Paul. The despatches which we publish this morning leave, unfortunately, more than one point of importance still in doubt; but they complete the story so far as the facts are concerned, though they do not quite clear up the causes of the disaster. Our readers have been already made acquainted with the early phases of the Megaera's ill-omened cruise, the remonstrances addressed to the Admiralty, the protests of the officers and men before the vessel sailed from Queenstown, the Report of the Admiral on the incriminated vessel, and the determination of Whitehall to disregard the warnings it had received, and to send the ship to sea. The Megaera set sail amidst the gloomiest forebodings from all who knew what her position at the foot of the list of storeships really signified. Nor was it long before these predictions were seemingly justified by the event. Coming on the top of other recent naval mishaps, the country was not unreasonably irritated to learn early last month that the Megaera, having sprung a leak off the Island of St. Paul, in the centre of the Indian Ocean, had been run ashore, and that the crew were left upon a petty volcanic rock with only a limited quantity of provisions and a scanty supply of water.|
The despatches from Commander ROBINSON, Lieutenant JONES, and Consul FRASER contain the narration of the shipwreck and of the measures taken, with what may be admitted to be most laudable promptitude and energy, for the relief of the suffering crew. On the 8th of June the Megaera had got well on her way towards Sydney, whither she was bound with officers and men destined to relieve the crews of the Rosario and Blanche on the Australian station. She had touched at the Cape, and up to that time had been fortunate enough to avoid any casualty. But on the 8th a leak was discovered, and for several days the advances of the water were kept off by pumping. Matters looked so serious, however, that it was determined to examine into the state of the vessel, and her course was accordingly shaped for St. Paul's Island. It was there ascertained, when the keel of the vessel had been inspected by a diver, that the leak consisted of "a hole worn through the centre of a plate, ... besides other serious injuries in the immediate vicinity." It is important to note the language in which the origin of the leak is described. The word "worn" certainly corresponds with Mr. REED'S statement that when he surveyed the ship at Woolwich, some years ago, he reported her "fit only for a very brief period of further service in consequence of the extreme thinness to which her plates had become worn by many years of almost continuous use at sea." On the other hand, it may be argued that the expression "other serious injuries " implies the effect not so much of age and wear as of some violence. It is certainly unfortunate that the letter of Lieutenant JONES does not more distinctly indicate the origin of the leak, because on this will depend to a great extent the responsibility of those who persisted, in spite of admonitions and protestations, in sending the Megaera to sea. To return, however, to the position of the vessel at St. Paul's, it was resolved on the 18th of June that it would not be safe to put to sea again, and the next day, boisterous weather having driven the leaky ship from her anchorage and having interrupted the landing of stores and cargo, the desperate expedient of beaching the vessel was adopted. She was run upon the bar - the reef, we presume, which runs across the mouth of the Crater Basin - and stuck fast there. She was not entirely abandoned for ten or twelve days, and the crew seem to have had abundant opportunity for getting ashore such parts of the provisions as were not destroyed by the sea-water. A good deal of the cargo, too, appears to have been recovered by divers.
Nearly 400 officers and men were thus left on an island very seldom visited by passing vessels, and without any regular communication with the rest of the world. Fortunately, a Dutch ship touched at the island on the 16th of July and carried away Lieutenant JONES, who was instructed by the Captain of the Megaera to convey intelligence of the catastrophe to the nearest English official, and to hasten relief. The position of the shipwrecked crew was such that delay in sending assistance would have endangered valuable lives. The Island of St. Paul is of volcanic origin; the stones, the sand, and the water in the Crater Basin are heated nearly to boiling-point by the hidden fires. A few residents at one time cultivated vegetables and fruits on terraces artificially constructed among the masses of rugged lava, and, although the island appears to be now uninhabited, some relics of this cultivation may still be in existence. Moreover, the climate is healthy. But there is no fresh water to be had on the island, except a precarious supply which is collected during rainy weather on the summit of the hill, and there is no fuel. The crew of the Megaera had tents to sleep under and provisions enough to last them on half allowance till November, but they had very little bread, flour, tea, or sugar, and they were much distressed by the want of water. Under these circumstances Lieutenant JONES communicated with our Consul at Batavia, who was at once instructed by a telegram from the Admiralty to charter the first suitable vessel to proceed to St. Paul's with provisions. A fine English steamer, the Oberon, which happened to be at Batavia, was chartered, and despatched at once. Consul FRASER laments that he was not allowed a discretion by the Admiralty, as in that case he would not have chartered the Oberon, knowing that HER MAJESTY'S ship Rinaldo was hastening to the relief of the shipwrecked crew, and that only a " few days" would be saved by employing the former ship at a heavy charge. This sentiment does credit to the Consul's sturdy economy, but the Admiralty and the country will probably be of opinion that enough was done for economy when the Megaera was sent to sea, and we do not doubt that a little judicious expenditure in saving the victims of that parsimonious policy from starvation or disease will be readily condoned by the taxpayers. The crew may have had enough food to last even for a month or two longer, but men who are deprived of bread and fresh water may easily fall into ill-health, though salt beef and fish be ever so plentiful.We cordially approve Mr. GOSCHEN'S promptitude in redeeming as far as possible the consequences of the original blunder, and still more his apparent determination to institute an immediate inquiry into the loss of the ill-fated ship which was sent to sea so peremptorily half a year ago. The commander of the Rinaldo, which was expected to reach St. Paul's early in the present mouth, has instructions to bring Captain THRUPP of the Megaera and the witnesses whose evidence may be required on a court-martial to Singapore, whence they will sail for England. We may, then, expect to hear shortly, at first hand, what the nature is of the damage which has at length removed the Megaera, a veteran iron-built vessel of seven-and-twenty years' rough service, from "the bottom of the list of storeships." It is a pity that Captain THRUPP'S letter, which, doubtless, would have told us more than we have yet learnt of the leak and its causes, was by some error left out of the bag which Lieutenant JONES brought away from St. Paul's, and Lieutenant JONES's own description is neither very copious nor very clear. It may, after all, be found that it was not of old age the Megaera went to pieces - for we hear, not without satisfaction, that " it is considered impossible to render the ship fit for further service" - but of some sudden stroke of fortune. At the same time, no explanations now will prove that the Admiralty was justified in sending the ship to sea after the complaints of the officers and the admitted inconveniences of leaky ports and deficient ventilation.
|Tu 26 September 1871|
We have been favoured with the following copy of a letter written by one of the officers of the Megaera to a relative in England. It supplements very usefully the despatches published by us yesterday:-
"St. Paul's Island, South Indian Ocean,
|Th 28 September 1871|
The following extract from a private letter of Acting-Lieutenant Jones contains some interesting particulars on the loss of the Megaera:-
"Shortly after the discovery of the leak, and when hand-pumps and bailing failed to keep the water down, a thrum-bed sail was prepared to be placed under the ships bottom; but nobody being able to fix the position of the leak, and it having become requisite on the 14th of June to get steam up to pump the water, the idea of using the sail was abandoned, and it was determined to make for St. Paul's with all possible speed, and there ascertain the extent of the damage. On our arrival divers were sent down. They reported a hole in the centre of a plate, on the port side, about 12ft. abaft the mainmast and 8ft. from the keel. The inside was now examined in that vicinity, and it was found that many of the girders near the leak were carried away, and further to increase our difficulties, the pumps occasionally got choked with small pieces of iron from the ship's bottom. It was also found that two plates near the leak were disjointed. Under these circumstances, the captain decided it was impossible to proceed to Australia; preparations were therefore made to land the crew. Accordingly the 16th, 17th, and 18th were employed in landing provisions and stores, and building tents.
"June 19.- The wind was so strong and the see so heavy that boats cold not work, and it was scarcely possible to keep clear of the rocks under steam, so it was determined to run for the bar and make the best of it, and this was very cleverly done. Everybody now went to work from daylight to dark landing stores and provisions. Two Frenchmen were found on the island; they said there was very little water on the island and that it was seldom that a ship came in sight; however, our people found water on the high land, and we soon rigged up a condensing apparatus near the beach, which will supply all needful purposes so long as fuel lasts. There is a good deal of grass on the island, and there are many wild goats, also small wild cabbage, carrots, and celery; fish and crayfish abundant and easily caught.
"About the 24th of June a ship was reported in sight. Fancy our excitement. I was on the beach, and so was sent away in the lifeboat in pursuit, and after running about five miles to cut her off the ship passed, flying away to leeward under double reefed topsails and foresail, not apparently seeing us at all, and so we had to return thoroughly wet and cold, and glad enough were the captain and all hands to see us back, for it had long since been dark and there was a smart breeze. I was now ordered to be always ready to intercept any ship that came in sight and go in her with despatches wherever she was bound. A letter-bag was kept in the sentry's charge, in which the captain's despatches to the Admiralty was kept, supposed to be always left with my portmanteau ready in the boat.
"I had started on several other occasions in pursuit of vessels seen at a distance, but all in vain till Sunday, July 16, when we were startled with the cry of 'Sail ho!' We had not seen one for many days. I was at once afloat with the despatch-bag and portmanteau, and soon saw a large ship off the north point; so I stood out, and she shortened sail, and I found myself on board the Dutch ship Aurora, bound for Sourabaya, Java. Captain Thrupp was away somewhere when I left, so I did not see him. However, I had my orders to go where any ship would take me, and communicate with the Admiralty and senior naval officer. The boat returned, and the master of the Aurora waited for some hours to see if anything else was wanted, and then shaped his course for Java. And when I began to look about me and examine the letter-bag next day there was no letter from Captain Thrupp in it; nothing from him reporting the loss of the ship. His letter used always to be left in the bag in case of my having to start without seeing him. He must have had it out to make additions and never put it back again. So I shall have to write a report to the Admiralty of all I know about the loss of the ship, and I suppose I must be brief, and not anticipate the captain's report, - at any rate I have no official documents to guide me.
"July 28. - The master of the Aurora, Mr. Fisser, makes me very comfortable, I wish those at St. Paul's were as well off; but they were all disposed to make the best of it, and great rivalry among the officers who could build the best houses out of turf and stones. This every one did for himself. We have made a good run so far, and are now within 500 miles of Sourabaya."Batavia, August 7. - In consequence of my communication from Sourabaya to the Consul here, I find that a ship has been chartered to carry provisions to St. Paul's, and is engaged to leave at daylight on the 9th. I do not like the arrangement; there is no necessity for such haste, but I suppose it is my duty to go in her, as the ship cannot be detained. The Rinaldo could have done everything requisite. I hope that I have done all that is right and proper. The Oberon takes sufficient provisions for immediate use, and glad will they all be to see her."
|Fr 29 September 1871|
The Rev. W.J. Stracey calls our attention to the following paragraph respecting this luckless vessel in our "Naval and Military Intelligence" of the 9th of January, 1852:-
"The Megaera, new steam frigate, screw, 1,391 tons, has broken down off Plymouth, from Sheerness on her first voyage, en route to the Cape, with the 60th Rifles on board, whom she embarked at Dover. A letter we have received from an officer says, 'She was sent to sea on the 3d of January with one of the finest regiments the world could boast of on board, destined for the Cape of Good Hope. It had for some days been known that this gallant and distinguished corps was to embark for immediate service for the Cape, and a steamer large enough to convey the whole regiment was ordered to Dover to receive them. Mark the result. The morning of the 3d was fine, the sea like glass, and this gallant band embarked, amid the cheers and regrets of the inhabitants, to be landed at the Cape, and to immediately take the field against the enemy. This steamer (Megaera) was one of those singled out by the Board of Admiralty as superior to any that we have ready, and so well fitted that no one could complain of any want of accommodation. She started; the prayers and good wishes of thousands accompanied her. Night came on, and with it a most terrific gale; nothing stowed away; all confusion, and so perfectly unfitted for a troop-ship was this pet of the Admiralty that she had not even a place fitted to receive the soldiers' rifles or accoutrements, not even a locker of any description to stow away their food; and it is further a fact that so shamefully has she been fitted that there was not even a place to contain the officers' wine and stock. At midnight, we are told, the scene was frightful; 800 men with no place to sleep in; beer-barrels, hampers of better cheer, great drums, officers' stock, men's wives, baggage of every description, all reeling and knocking about together. At this moment the gale was at its height, the rudder became choked, so that for a time the vessel would not steer; her top sides opened so much as to admit of the water pushing in, and her decks, fore and aft, were up to the ankles in water; at which moment some confusion took place in the engine-room, from the circumstance of some of the compartments of the machinery catching fire.'"A question was put in the House of Commons respecting this incident, but without eliciting much explanation.
|Tu 3 October 1871|
We have received the following from the Admiralty for publication:-
"Copy of telegram received October 2, at 9 a.m., from Galle, dated October 1, 7 20 p.m., via, Falmouth:-Thrupp to take his passage home in the mail steamer, and he may be expected to arrive at Southampton about the 4th of November."
|We 4 October 1871|
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - I happened to be at Funchal in the early part of 1852, and recollect the Megaera putting in on her way to the Cape with the Rifle Brigade.
They had been, if I remember rightly, 16 days out from Southampton, undergoing great risk and every kind of inconvenience and hardship from the wretched and dangerous condition of the ship, and the shameful accommodation provided for officers and men.
The Brigade remained some time at Funchal while the ship was being partially patched up, and I well remember the unanimous and loud indignation of the officers, and the serious doubts they expressed on leaving as to whether they should ever see the Cape.
It is depressing to reflect on the results of 20 years. The ship which in 1852 was unfit for transport, and unseaworthy, is lost in 1871 from the same causes when bound on the same errand. Quousque tandem?I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Richmond, Oct 2.
|Th 5 October 1871|
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
I cannot, however, understand why this news was not received by the Admiralty earlier.
I have a brother-in-law, a sub-Lieutenant, who was on board the Megaera, bound to Sydney to join the Rosario; a brother of his is also a lieutenant in the 75th Regiment, and is at present stationed at Singapore.
From the one on St. Paul's Island we received, on the 23d of September, a letter dated the 30th of June, 1871, merely announcing his safety. From the other at Singapore we received, on the same date, a letter dated "Singapore, August 19, 1871," which contained the following passage:- "Of course you have heard by this that all the officers and crew of the Megaera are safe in Sydney now. I saw it in a telegram to-night."
If this was known at Singapore on the 19th of August it appears unaccountable that the Admiralty were not advised of it.Your obedient servant,
RICHARD DICKSON. 43, Bedford-row. W.C.,
|Fr 6 October 1871|
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,- In The Times of to-day is a letter from Mr. Richard Dickson, In which he says that he cannot understand why the news of the safety of the crew and passengers of Her Majesty's ship Megaera was not sooner known in England than from Captain Thrupp's telegram from Point de Galle, because his brother, Lieutenant Dickson, of the 75th Regiment, in a letter dated Singapore, August 19, 1871, says, "Of course you have heard by this that all the officers and crew of the Megaera are in Sydney; I saw it in a telegram to-night."
Now, if Mr. Richard Dickson had just taken The Times and noted the dates of the various incidents in the Megaera drama, he would have seen plainly enough why the news of the safety of the crew and passengers was first known from Captain Thrupp.
Lieutenant Jones got away from St. Paul's Island about the 17th or 18th of July, in the Dutch ship Aurora, to Sourabaya, Java, and telegraphed the first news of the Megaera disaster to England ; about the 9th of August my firm in Batavia despatched from Batavia the screw steamer Oberon, en route to England, with provisions for the east aways. and Lieutenant Jones as passenger in her. The next day Her Majesty's ship Rinaldo left Batavia for St. Paul's Island, the Peninsular and Oriental steamer Malacca, chartered in Hongkong, following, which vessel, as we now know, rescued the shipwrecked; how, therefore, could it be known in Singapore on the 19th of August that "all the officers and crew of the Megaera were in Sydney?"
Lieutenant Dickson says in his letter that he saw it in a telegram. Lieutenant Dickson must have been mistaken.I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
22 Laurence Pountney-lane, London,
|Tu 24 October 1871|
The following despatches relative to the stranding of Her Majesty's ship Megaera have been received at the Admiralty from Captain Thrupp, through the Post Office, from Batavia. No other letter or telegram on the subject has reached the Admiralty by this opportunity:-
"REPORTING HER MAJESTY'S SHIP MEGAERA AT ST. PAUL'S ISLAND.
"H.M.S. Megaera, at St. Paul's Island, June 17.
"Sir, - At midnight on the 8th inst., in lat. 39 40 S., long. 44 22 E., the chief engineer having reported to me that the ship leaked considerably, I manned the pumps by employing a part of the watch, who contrived to get the water under. On the 12th the water from the leak gained, and then I employed men in addition to bale her out and used the donkey pumps. On the 13th it was reported that the leak was caused by the loss of a rivet in the ship's bottom, under port bunker, nearly abreast of the mainmast (which was afterwards found to be incorrect, as a plate was discovered to have been considerably worn away, and the edges of the hole so thin that they could be easily bent with two fingers). We continued using the hand pumps and donkey engines, at the same time baling out, until the 15th, when finding the water gaining on us so considerably, I was obliged to get up steam to enable me to use the bilge pumps, at the same time shaping my course for the island of St. Paul's to enable me to send the divers below (we fortunately having demanded before leaving England a diving apparatus) and examine the state of the ship's bottom.
"If by putting a plate on from the outside with a spindle, and lined with fearnought supplied for that purpose, and another plate inside screwed to the outside one, the poop awning thrummed, doubled, and placed over that part of the ship, then carefully frapped round with ropes to keep it in its place, I trust that the ship may be made sufficiently seaworthy to continue our voyage to some part of Australia; should, however, our ship not have arrived soon after you receive this letter, we have found the ship too bad to proceed, and are waiting at St. Paul's for a ship to convey us on.
"In making this report, I have taken the opinion of the officers whom I ordered to survey the ship and give me their opinions as to the ship being sufficiently seaworthy to proceed on our voyage.
"I have to add that on the 14th a plate lined with india-rubber was put on from the inside, being gently pressed, but would not stop the leak.
"On the night of the 16th, being about 20 miles from St. Paul's, rounded the ship to until daylight; it was blowing a very heavy gale, the ship being under fore staysail, gaff foresail, with head not set, and the same with storm main trysail, using steam to keep the ship free of water. The ship behaved beautifully, riding quite easily, notwithstanding the very heavy sea running. After an anxious night just at daylight the clouds lifted for a short time and we made out the island of St. Paul's about nine miles nearly astern, ran in under steam with four boilers, at 9 a.m. anchored with S.B. anchor in 14 fathoms, veered to 3½ shackles. 11 40, the ship dragging, weighed and found the crown and both flukes of anchor gone, steamed in again, anchored with B.B. in 12½ fathoms, veered to 5 shackles, sent the diver down to examine the ship's bottom, sent a boat away to sound and ascertain if the ship was anchored on a sandy bottom or rock. Mr. Lloyd, navigating lieutenant, reported the bottom to be black sand; steaming during the continued heavy squalls to ease the cable.
"In the afternoon the diver discovered the leak, but it was too late to put a plate on that evening, housed top gallant masts, kept yards pointed to the wind, men working continually at the pumps. I ordered the two chief engineers, Mr. Mills, of the Megaera, and Mr. Brown, of the Blanche, also Mr. Richards, engineer of the Rosario, to send me in reports as to the capabilities of the ship (copies of which I enclose). They reported that even in the event of the present leak being thoroughly stopped, the plate is so honeycombed from corrosion, which they attribute to age and wear, that they consider it most unsafe to proceed on the present voyage unless a thorough examination of the ship's bottom could take place, removing the cement, and putting new plates on, which under the present circumstances is utterly impossible. Notwithstanding this report, I still anticipated being able to proceed when the leak was stopped. Sunday, June 12. - At daylight the ship dragged again; weighed, and found cable had parted close to the anchor. 8 30 a.m. - Anchored again with port sheet anchor in 13 fathoms, veered to five shackles; it was not possible to veer more cable as the wind shifted to suddenly in squalls, that ship would have grounded with more cable; neither would it have been safe to let go two anchors with the chance of drifting, and not having time to weigh both.
"The diver reported the ship's bottom was generally clean, but there were several rusty spots; the leak he discovered by placing his hand over each until he felt the motion of the leak through the hole, he could not say whether the other rusty spots were nearly leaks or not, but the corners of two overlapping plates were eaten away near the bad plate to the extent of 4in. by 1½in. He could easily have picked through the rusty iron left with his knife, but thought it would not be right to do so. Besides these rusty spots, damaged corner-plates, and the leak itself, the diver reported five or sir plates, from the keel upwards, looked very rusty under the stokehole. Between 8 and 9 a.m. on that Sunday, the 18th of June, Messrs. Mills and Brown reported again to me that, upon a further examination when the ship was pumped out dryer, we found many of the girders eaten through at the bottom, and others nearly so, one of those quite through ran across the plate through which the leak had taken place.
"The bilge pumps were constantly being choked, and on the doors of the valve boxes being taken off to clean them, also the lid of the non-return valve, pieces of iron were taken out about a quarter of an inch think and an inch and a half diameter, evidently having been washed from the bottom, for some of them had remains of cement on them. On receiving this second report, and also that of the diver, I came to the conclusion that, evidently breaking up as the ship was, the girders separating from the bottom, that bottom leaky in one place and very thin in many more, the pumps continually being choked with pieces of iron and those thick pieces - that in the face of these reports from men who knew the nature and endurance of iron better than myself or any other officer of the ship, I could not longer persist in proceeding on our voyage with so many lives at stake, we being 1,800 miles from the nearest part of Australia; so at 9 15 a.m. I turned the hands up, read prayers, and then informed the ship's company that the ship was not fit to proceed on her voyage, and ordered provisions and stores to be at once landed.
"At about noon the diver succeeded in putting a plate on, and nearly stopped the leak. I then got a Frenchman living here to pick out a nearer berth for the ship to the shore, where the whalers generally anchor, and the anchor might not get foul of the rocks; we shifted into 8½ fathoms, sandy bottom, with good shelter from the Ninepin Rock.
"We landed most of our provisions the first day, and employed the men at night filling coal bags ready to be landed in the morning. We also kept men at work clearing the store-rooms and troop-decks, everything we could from the lower part of the ship, keeping the pumps going at the same time. Monday, June 19. - Steaming up to anchor, very heavy squalls, ship's quarter close to rocks. 7 30 - Dragging weighed anchor, found one fluke gone, remained then under weigh, steaming in and landing boats with coals, wind increasing, no use anchoring, signalled to boats inside to remain, hoisted up those alongside; twice the ship's head paid off in shore, though steaming with four boilers, and we were only just saved by steaming full speed astern. 1 30 p.m. - Blowing very heavily in squalls, ship only just able with four boilers to remain near the land; deemed it advisable to beach, the ship having only one anchor left, three having parted since anchoring at 9 a.m. on the 17th, and the impossibility of the remaining one holding, or of our steaming all night, clear, and close to the land. 1 40. - Steamed for the bar. 1 52. - Took the ground, 10ft. forward, 13ft. gangway, 18ft. under the stern.
"Marks.- Points, S., 20 deg. E.; gap, N., 5 deg. W.; ship's head west about 30 zeros from inside of bar; ship bumped heavily at first; water soon rose in the holds; let go remaining sheet anchor from the bows to prevent the ship slipping offshore, and steamed full speed ahead to keep the ship in position, until the water rose and extinguished the fires; ship settled down and remained perfectly stationary and upright; a shore was put over to keep the ship upright, but snapped immediately; a raft had been constructed to land stores upon, but with the assistance of four boats belonging to the island we did not use it. Hoisted out three tanks to use as boilers for condensing; charts reported no water on the island. 10 p.m. - Up boats, bar being unsafe in the dark at low water. Midnight, water in fore compartment 7½ft., engine room 12½ft., aft 14ft. At daylight on Tuesday, the 20th June, lowered boats and went on landing stores all day; during the night we had been hoisting all we could above the water. Many casks of lime, paint, oil are under water, some shell and powder. The sails were all saved and most of the slops and bales; some are wet and damaged. I hope to get up many things yet by using the diver. Though wine and beer stores of all sorts were landed; together, I have not heard of anything being missing or any drunkenness, the officers and men both working willingly. Some officers were filling coal bags, working under the maindeck, where we had opened it to get out coal for condensing.
"There are several sheds and houses on shore that, with tents, have enabled us to get many stores under cover. Two shore boats were manned, loaded, and discharged by some of the officers entirely. We have about 13,000lb. of bread, and about six weeks' flour. So the men are on one-third allowance of these provisions, or, using one bag per diem, they will last 130 days. We have found 3,000lb. of rice on the islands besides. Of rum and other provisions we have more than four months'. Any quantity of fish. Cray fish can be caught, and water, our chief difficulty, has been found in abundance. Twenty men can fetch for every one in two hours. This is rain water, but it rains frequently during the next four months.
"June 24. - The draught of water, 12ft. 9in. forward, 15ft. engine-room, 17ft. 8in. aft. Punished Jethro Spear, ordinary second class (second class for conduct), with 48 lashes for refusing to work. This is the only case of insubordination that has occurred.
"The condensing arrangements are now complete. 300 gallons with coal, 150 gallons with turf can be made daily; but as long as a supply can be obtained from the wells by means of hoses, we do not intend to use any coals; the turf cut and dried we find answers for fuel, using a little wood as well.
"This afternoon all the men, with their bags and hammocks, are under tents and well protected from the weather, though about 40 men and 13 officers are still living on board. As soon as sufficient tents and houses are erected all will be landed. They are quite able at present to live on board, but the smell of bilge water is increasing. I therefore propose in a few days to land every one.
"Sunday, June 25. - Read prayers on board; the wind very light, I consider to be the cause of heavy rollers coming in, there being no lee side to the island unless a strong westerly wind is blowing. The First Lieutenant read prayers on shore. During the afternoon the weather was better for landing. No work was carried on, the day being Sunday.
"Monday, 26th. - Sent a party of 100 men to finish hoisting up a studding sail boom for a flag-staff; signalmen and a party of marines to carry water from the water pools to the starting hose at the top of the cliff, 860ft. above the ship, are quartered there under canvas, with turf sides to their tents.
"We have completed the length of hose the whole distance, 860ft., to the camp this day, and the water runs down freely in about 10 minutes, being a great saving of sending men all the way to the top with barricoes.
"It is estimated that there are about 100 wild goats on the island, a large quantity of mushrooms, some few cabbages and potatoes. There are hot fresh water springs, strongly impregnated with sulphur, and not healthy to drink, but very well suited for washing, with a clay close to it that lathers well and makes excellent soap; this spring is within a quarter of a mile of the encampment.
"There are only five men at present on the sick list, with sores and wounds. The climate, as far as we can judge at present, is very healthy; great care has been taken that any men getting wet are shifted immediately.
"One red light has been seen at night, and two ships passed the island on Friday, the 23d inst. We fired guns and sent a boat out, but they passed too far off to recall them. A 'sea message' has been prepared, and we trust to send it adrift shortly, as well as using two life buoys for the same purpose.
"June 29. - Commenced building large barracks; abandoned ship; all hands encamped on shore.
"I have, &c.,
"P.S. - 9th July, 1871. - Encamped at St. Paul's. The divers have been at work ever since the 27th of June; they could not get into the magazine, but have recovered from the forepart of the ship a great quantity of the cargo. In one day they got up three coils of rope, four wooden casks, 12 bales, two rolls of lead, two tubes, 14 casks of oil, 11 casks of tar. This was the most recovered in any one day. Some of the wet bales contained hammocks, others canvas, flags, stockings, serge, and duck; these are all being opened, dried, and sewn up in canvas. Nearly all the marine clothing packed in casks could not be got at before the ship grounded; they are nearly all wet and not fit for issue. Cases of mess traps have been opened, oiled, and repacked, more or less damaged. The new sails for the Clio, Blanche, and Rosario I had hoped to save from being used at all; but the weather is so cold, the Megaera's sails so thin and worn, the men getting wet at night, that I reluctantly gave permission for these new sails to be used to cover stores and tents, with orders not to cut any of them; but I am afraid they will get very much damaged from exposure to the weather. It is a question of health or saving of sails; I think the former most important. Every bit of canvas, except new in bolts, has been used to shelter men and officers. Probably they will be here for many months. The thermometer is below 48 deg. at night and the weather wet and stormy. A leading stoker got wet in his tent last night, and is suffering acutely from rheumatism; others have had diarrhoea, and some slight attacks of dysentery among the officers; but there are only eight on the sick list at present, owing to the great care of the medical men, attending, inspecting, and seeing tents are kept clean and dry.
"On Thursday, the 6th of July, a large old building, containing stores and candles, was blown down by the violence of the wind. The men inside escaped without injury, crawling out from among ruins; it was built of loose stones.
"The same day I had to recall the working party from the ship because the bar was so bad. Many of the roads have been repaved and pieces of ground levelled ready for building; one or two small houses of stone erected, as well as those for the officers. Parties of men and officers are fishing in boats, and fish caught are served out by the ship's steward, 1lb. to each man as far as they will go. From 100lb. to l50lb. are caught by this means every day. Still, having been here now three weeks, and not having been able to send word of our want of provisions, I have thought it advisable to reduce the allowance of provisions. The men have now only 4oz. of biscuit, 1/3lb. of salt or preserved meat, half an allowance of tea every other day, quarter allowance only of sugar. Lime juice without sugar is served out every other day; no flour issued at all; but, having plenty of cocoa, they have that instead of their tea every other night.
"The men's clothes suffer very much from the hard work they have had, carrying water barricoes, digging, cutting turf, rolling casks, working in mud over their boots or shoes. I have ordered canvas leggings to be made to save their trousers. The boats require constant repair; one cutter, a very old boat, is so damaged that she cannot be repaired. A great number of bottles, weighted with lead, with a tin flag above the cork, containing an account of our position, have been thrown overboard from our lifeboat some miles out to sea, as well as one lifebuoy and a barricoe; more bottles are ready, and will be sent from time to time.
"I have ordered Acting Lieutenant Lewis T. Jones to hold himself ready to leave at a minutes notice, should any chance occur from sighting a vessel. I have ordered Assistant-Paymaster Cummins, who is sick, also Navigating Sub-Lieutenant Roxby and Haslewood, both for surveying duties in Australia, to be ready as well, and will send Mr. Farie, midshipman, a ship's corporal, and 30 supernumerary boys if any vessel will take them.
"A second tank has been strengthened to use as a boiler, another sunk below high-water mark for condensing, and an additional quantity of piping laid down by the engineers. Their men are also employed in cutting, drying, and stacking turf.
"The blacksmiths are constantly employed repairing spades; nearly all we had have been broken. Our work is much delayed by the few picks and spades we have.
"Parties have been sent out to collect different grasses, with herbs, dandelions, and other substitutes for ordinary vegetables that can be found, to prevent the men from suffering from scurvy, as there is very little lime-juice left. They have succeeded in cooking some tolerable vegetables. The weather has been very cold indeed - below 42 deg,, with snow lying on the ground at the signal-station; continual hail in squalls for nearly a week, accompanied by wild, stormy weather. During the bad weather very few fish have been caught.
"ARTHUR T. THRUPP, Captain.
(Enclosure No. 1.)
"Her Majesty's ship Megaera, St. Paul's Island, June 17, 1871.
"Sir - In answer to your memorandum of the 17th inst,, calling upon me to state my opinion of the capability of the ship, I respectfully beg to state that, after a careful examination of the leak through the plate and of the plate itself (as far as I could see and reach), I am of opinion that, even in the event of the present leak being temporarily stopped, the plate is so honeycombed from corrosion, which I attribute to age and wear, I consider it most unsafe to proceed on the present voyage unless a thorough examination of her bottom could take place, which, under the present circumstances, is utterly impossible.
"I have, &c.,
(Enclosure No. 2.)
"Her Majesty's ship Megaera, Island of St. Paul's, June 17, 1871.
"Sir, - In compliance with your memorandum of this day's date, calling upon me for my opinion as to the capabilities of the ship, I beg to state I have carefully examined the plate in which the leak has broken out, and find it is gradual decay of the iron, and that the plate for some distance round the hole is much corroded, and large nut holes found in the plates, and the place where the leak is broken through is not more than 1-16th of an inch thick. This fact I ascertained by placing my finger through the holes (from the inside), and taking the state of the plate and the age of the ship (upwards of 23 years) into consideration, in my opinion, as an engineer, the ship is absolutely unsafe to continue her voyage to Australia without being placed in dry dock, in order to remove the coating of cement on the bottom so as to thoroughly examine it.
"I have, &c.,
(Enclosure No. 3.)
"Her Majesty's ship Megaera, Isle of St. Paul's, June 17, 1871.
"Sir - In compliance with your memorandum of this day, calling upon me for my opinion as to the seaworthiness of this ship, I beg to state that, considering the age of the ship, and that one of her bottom plates has given way and caused a leak that scarcely the pumps could keep under, in all probability other plates are in as bad a condition, and therefore we might expect other casualties, I consider her unsafe to proceed on the voyage.
(Sub-Enclosure of Nos. 1 and 2,)
"Her Majesty's ship Megaera, June 18, 1871.
"Sir, - We, upon a farther examination when the ship was pumped out drier, found that many of the girders were eaten through at the bottom, and others nearly so; one of those eaten quite through ran across the place through which the leak had taken place.
"The bilge pumps were constantly being choked, and on the doors of the valve boxes being taken off to clear them, also the lids of the non-return valves, pieces of iron were taken out a quarter of an inch thick and an inch and a half in diameter, evidently having been washed from the bottom, for some of them had remains of cement on them.
In addition to letter, dated 19th of June, 1871.
"Her Majesty's ship Megaera, aground at St. Paul's Island, July 18, 1871.
"Sir, - I have the honour to inform you that on Sunday, the 16th of July, in the afternoon, a vessel was reported in sight; seeing our flag hoisted upside down on the hill as a signal of distress she shortened sail and came close in under the land; the lifeboat, with Acting-Lieutenant Lewis T. Jones, got alongside of her with a few Admiralty returns and a remittance list. She proved to be the Aurora, a Dutch ship, from Amsterdam, bound for Batavia in ballast, with a small general cargo. In a few minutes the lifeboat came back, leaving Mr. Jones on board, sending a message that she could take 20 men, and would do anything I wished. She then filled with the intention of getting closer to the shore; it was getting late, and she never came back, though her lights were reported in sight at 4 S.W. next morning, which could not have been correct, for at daylight two hours afterwards, though fine and clear (the island of Amsterdam, 50 miles off, in sight), nothing was seen of her.
"I very much regret that so good an opportunity of sending my despatches was lost; on all other occasions, when sighting a vessel they have been sent out in the lifeboat. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I was on the opposite side of the island, examining to find a new path up the crater, that we might more easily communicate with the south side of the island. On returning, I was going out in the lifeboat to make arrangements with the Dutch captain, when the vessel made sail. We expected her all the next day, but she never came back.
"Knowing that water would be the chief difficulty, we have had prepared a number of casks that are filled with condensed water and water from the hills. By these means we could send on board any vessel three tons a day, and in a few days get sufficient to take a large number of our men to Australia.
"But in case of any ship being sent to take the men and stores the vessel should have steam power at her command especially at this stormy season of the year, as the anchorage is unsafe, owing to the heavy squalls and rocky bottom.
"As soon, as Lieutenant Jones reaches Batavia he has orders to communicate with the Senior Officer at Singapore, as well as telegraphing to England and Australia, if possible.
"I have ordered a duplicate of all these letters to be forwarded direct to England, so that no time may be lost in acquainting their Lordships of our present position. I have done this in case the ship should not be proceeding direct to Sydney or Australia at all."I am, &c.,
" ARTHUR T. THRUPP, Captain.
"To the Secretary of the Admiralty."
|Tu 24 October 1871||If any persons have fancied that the censures directed against the Admiralty when the news came of the loss of the Megaera were impatient, exaggerated, or in any way unjust, let them read the official despatch of Captain THRUPP which we publish. to-day. It is fortunate for My Lords that the House of Commons is not sitting, and that the feelings which this document must excite will in some measure subside before any formal notice can be taken of it. The country, however, will read it with a mingled sentiment of indignation and pride. The courage, the resource, the promptness in command and the readiness in obedience of British seamen are what they were in the most heroic period of our annals, while the bungling, the recklessness, the stupidity which sent the Megaera to sea cannot have been exceeded in the days when the Dutchman sailed into the Medway with the broom at his masthead. It is now clearly proved by the testimony of the Captain and the three Engineers that the Megaera was utterly rotten and falling to pieces, that she could not safely make the shortest voyage where heavy weather was to be expected, and that, furthermore, this absolute unfitness for service could have been ascertained with the greatest ease by any person of ordinary skill who examined the ship. We now see that when she was placed at the bottom of the list of vessels of her class, and declared unfit to be employed for any kind of freight in the Abyssinian War, there was no excessive caution or scrupulosity displayed, but simply such common judgment as would be exercised by any shipowner or trader who knew his business. This vessel, built in 1844, had been brought, by long service and natural decay, to such a point of crankiness that a hole might have been kicked in her bottom when the Admiralty, on the advice of some one or more of its familiars, decided on fitting her with sailors and stores, and sending her half round the world. The sailors fancy that if it had been a question of transporting soldiers there would have been more care for their safety, but we doubt much whether the people who selected the Megaera could have had the intelligence to make complimentary or even invidious distinctions.|
The ship sailed in February, and the incident after putting into Queenstown will be remembered from the referent to it in the House of Commons when the news of the loss arrived. At Queenstown she was inspected by the Admiral; some attention was paid to the complaints of the officers, and a portion of the stores taken out to give them room, but the vital point of her unseaworthiness was never ascertained. She was favoured with exceptionally fine weather during the voyage, and this enabled her to make her way to the remote region where the Island of St. Paul is situated. On the 8th of June she sprang a leak, and her subsequent history is related in the Despatch of Captain THRUPP. He tells the incredible tale with all simplicity. First, let us notice what kind of vessel the Megaera was found to be when her Captain and crew got her in comparative safety to the shores of St. Paul's. The Captain naturally desired to proceed on his voyage if there were a possibility of doing so. The captain who loses his ship loses with it professional reputation and the chance of further employment, unless he can prove clearly that the event was due to causes absolutely beyond his control; and no man is willing to subject himself to such an ordeal. So when the leak was first reported, and even after it was determined to run for St. Paul's, Captain THRUPP thought he might be able eventually to reach Australia. But it was not "the loss of a rivet in the ship's bottom," as he and the Engineers sanguinely hoped, which caused the leak, but "a plate was discovered to have been considerably worn away, and the edges of the hole so thin that they could be easily bent with two fingers." The weather was terrible when, on the night of the 16th of June, they neared St. Paul's. The next day they anchored in 12½ fathoms, and sent down a diver to examine the ship's bottom. The three Engineers who were on board were ordered to report, and their opinions accompany the Despatch. Mr. MILLS says he is of opinion that, even in the event of the present leak being temporarily stopped, the plate is so honeycombed from corrosion - which he attributes to age and wear - that it would be unsafe to proceed with the voyage. Mr. BROWN found that the leak was due to the gradual decay of the iron; that the plate for some distance round the hole was much corroded, and that large rust holes were in the plates. "The place where the leak has broken through is not more than 1-16th of an inch thick." Subsequently the two Chief Engineers found that "many of the girders were eaten through at the bottom, and others nearly so; one of those eaten quite through ran across the place where the leak had taken place." The bilge pumps being constantly choked, the valve boxes were taken off to examine them, as also the lids of the non-return valves, when "pieces of iron were taken out a quarter of an inch thick, and an inch and a half in diameter, evidently having been washed from the bottom, for some of them had remains of cement on them." The captain states that on receiving this last report, and also that of the divers, he came to the conclusion that, "evidently breaking up as the ship was, the girders separating from the bottom, that bottom leaky in one place and vary thin in many more, the pumps being continually choked with pieces of iron and those thick pieces," he could not longer persist in the voyage with so many lives at stake, they being 1,800 miles from the nearest part of Australia. "So, at 9 15 a.m., I turned the hands up, read prayers, and then informed the ship's company that the ship was not fit to proceed on her voyage, and ordered provisions and stores to be at once landed."On the 19th of June heavy squalls blowing, and only one anchor being left, the Megaera was beached. What follows is as interesting as Robinson Crusoe. They found themselves better off than they expected. They took out three tanks to use as boilers for condensing, the charts reporting that there was no water on the island. But there had been a rainy season, and water was to be had in abundance. The bread was sufficient for 130 days if the men were placed on very short allowance, and, besides this, there were 3,000lb. of rice found on the island. Fish could be caught in any quantity, and crayfish also were to be had. With the usual cleverness of the sailors a hose 860 feet long was carried up to the top of the cliffs to the neighbourhood of the water-pools, and the water ran freely in about ten minutes. But, in spite of all these devices, the crew of the Megaera must have been a prey to intense anxiety. The island, though in the track from the Cape to Australia, is rarely visited, and their little store might be exhausted before aid could come to them. It was not till the 16th of July, a month after they had sighted the island, that a vessel was reported in sight. It was the Aurora, a Dutch ship, and Lieutenant JONES got alongside. She sent word that she could take 20 men, but disappeared during the night. However, she carried the news which in due time was to bring deliverance to the crew of the Megaera in their island prison. Such is this strange history; and our first feeling, now that we know it, with its details, on good authority, must be thankfulness that Captain THRUPP and his crew should have escaped such imminent danger. Never were men more near destruction than those who were sent to sea in the Megaera. But for their proximity to the island they must all have perished. It is pleasant, in this miserable story of perverse and obstinate folly, to be able to pay a tribute of admiration to the seamanlike qualities which those on board displayed in the hour of need. We may congratulate ourselves that as long as we have men like them no amount of official imbecility can quite ruin the British Navy.
|Th 26 October 1871|
HER MAJESTY'S SHIP MEGAERA
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir,- We have this day received a letter by the Cape mail steamer Norseman, from Captain Burgoyne of the Oberon, dated September 22, lat. 30 S., long. 13 E. in which he says:- "I landed the provisions at St. Paul's Island on the 26th of August and sailed on the 27th; people all well there."We remain, Sir, your obedient servants,
SHAW, MAXTER, and Co. 2, Royal Exchange-buildings, Cornhill, London, Oct 25.
|Tu 31 October 1871||Capt. Thrupp, late of Her Majesty's ship Megaera, has arrived in London. Capt. Thrupp has reported himself at the Admiralty. A court-martial has been ordered to assemble at Portsmouth to try him, and Rear-Admiral Loring, C.B., is to be the president.|
|Ma 6 November 1871||The Simoom, iron-built screw troopship (built in the same year as the Megaera), now lying in dock at Portsmouth ready for commission, has been subjected during the past few days to a most thorough and careful survey to ascertain the exact present condition of her bottom plating and also of her frames and general structural strength. The results of this survey prove unmistakably that the ship's plates over fully eight-tenths of its area is as sound and perfect as when the ship was first placed in the water upwards of 20 years ago. Over the remaining fifth part there is proof of slight wear at the water-line and round the bluff of the bows. Here there are one or two very small spots where the plating has worn down or been chafed down to three-eighths of an inch in its thickness. Where the ship has been opened up inside the iron of the frames, &c., has been found perfectly free from all corrosion, and the frames as effective in strength as the day they were first put together. The Simoom has been always known as a ship built of unusual strength, both structurally and in her outer plating; but until the present survey had been concluded no one could well have anticipated that the outer plating would have been found in such an exceptionally good state of preservation. Nearly 600 holes have been drilled through the plating, and a careful measurement has been taken of the thickness of the plate in each instance. These holes extend all over the ship's bottom to about 13 inches or two feet above the load water-line. Looking along the water-line on the starboard side, from aft to forward, and taking the three-feet band of plating where the greatest amount of wear and chafe is met with - i.e., from 18 inches above to the same distance below the water line - the thickness of the plating runs eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve-sixteenths of an inch in thickness, the eighth, or half-inch, only occurring in a few places where then has been chafing from coaling or lying alongside a wharf. The majority of the holes are marked ten-sixteenths. On the bluff of the how there are one or two thin places - one in a repaired plate marked three-eighths, and there are also slight indentations of the plating where the ship his bumped against a wharf or wall. The plating of the under part of the ship's bottom reaches a maximum, very generally spread over it amidships of seven-eighths thickness. In the run of the hull, under the quarter the plating is five-eighths. Round the Kingston valve four holes have been drilled. Two of these give the plating a thickness of ten-sixteenths, one a thickness of nine-sixteenths, and the other a half-inch. The plating on the port side of the ship, over the three-feet band, as before, below, at, and above the water-line, appears to be worn slightly more than on the starboard side. Looking from the port quarter gallery forward to the bows, the drilled holes give the thickness of the plating, in consecutive order, as 9-16ths, 7-16ths, 10-l6ths, ⅜ , ⅜, ½in., ⅜, 9-16ths, ½in., 9-16ths, ½in., ⅜, 9-16ths, 9-16ths, ½in., 7-16ths, ⅜ (these last two holes were drilled through the plating over the coal bunkers at the fore end of the boilers), 9-16ths, 9-16ths, 9-16ths, 9-16ths [difficult in original to distinguish ⅜ from ⅝]. The port bow plating was found, like that on the starboard side, to be slightly indented, and in parts chafed down to half-inch, and, in one instance, to three-eighths. The under plating of the bottom reached a maximum thickness of seven-eighths, like that on the starboard side, and the plating in the run under the quarter was of five-eighths thickness. The Simoom was built at Glasgow at the same time as the Megaera was built at Millwall, in 1849. Both were built from designs and according to specifications prepared by the Admiralty, the Simoom being of 1,980 tons, and intended to carry 14 guns, and the Megaera having a measurement of 1,380 tons, and being intended to carry ten guns. Each must have been built of equal strength in proportion to size, and it certainly now seems impossible to account for the vast difference which must have obtained in the bottom plating of the two ships previous to the Megaera being last commissioned - that is, if the Megaera's bottom plating was really so bad as has been represented. Any difference in the quality of the iron plating originally worked upon the ships' frames would not account for it, for the reason that it must be presumed as the bottom plating was found faulty on the Megaera being put out of commission, she would receive all requisite repairs at the dockyard where she was held in the steam reserve. There are, however, records at the Admiralty which show the exact amount of work the Simoom and Megaera have done since they were built, and also the exact amount of repairs and of what kind each has received. In the present survey of the Simoom a correct knowledge is obtained of the condition of her hull throughout. Is there no similar record in existence at the Admiralty showing the condition of the Megaera's hull? Even should there be no such document in existence, there are lying at Whitehall the quarterly returns from the Reserve in which the Megaera was stationed before she was last placed in commission, and these, signed by the master shipwright and the chief engineer of the yard, must certify to the condition of the ship's hull and her engines. It is to be hoped that any such returns made to the Admiralty have been carefully made out.|
|Tu 7 November 1871||Vice-Admiral W. Loring, C.B., Superintendent of Portsmouth dockyard, yesterday morning shifted his flag from the mizen to the fore of his flagship the Asia, Capt. E.B. Price, aide-de-camp to the Queen, on his promotion from Rear-Admiral to Vice-Admiral.|
Vice-Admiral Loring will preside over the court-martial ordered to assemble on board Her Majesty's ship Duke of Wellington in Portsmouth harbour, to try Capt. Thrupp for the recent loss of the Megaera. The Court is expected to commence its sittings about Thursday next.
|Tu 7 November 1871|
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - In your paper this morning I observe a comparison drawn between the present condition of Her Majesty's ship Simoom and the late Megaera, which might lead the public to believe that the condition of the Megaera was less unsound than she was known to be at the date of her being despatched from England last winter.
I quote from the official document supplied to me for my guidance when superintending lord at the Admiralty of (inter alia) the troop and store ships:-
"SCREW TROOP SHIPS.
"Comparative statement of the number of screw troop ships afloat, effective and ineffective, on 31st March, 1867, and on 31st March, 1868:- 1867. - Total afloat, 11; ready for sea, 6; ineffective, 5. 1868. - Total afloat, 11; ready for sea, 11; ineffective, 0. Six of these ships (the Adventure, Simoom, Tamar, Urgent, Himalaya, and Orontes) have been more or less extensively repaired since March last.
"The five others (the Indian transports) have been completed for sea service since March.
"NAMES OF SHIPS.
"March 31, 1867. - Afloat, 11 - 1, the Adventure, effective; 2. the Himalaya, effective; 3, the Orontes, effective; 4, the Simoom, effective ; 5, the Tamar, effective; 6, the Urgent, effective; 7, the Crocodile, fitting out; 8, the Euphrates, fitting out; 9, the Jumna, fitting out; 10, the Malabar, fitting out; 11, the Serapis, fitting out.
"March 31,1868. - Afloat, 11 - 1, the Adventure, effective; 2, the Himalaya, effective; 3, the Simoom, effective; 4, the Orontes, effective; 5, the Tamar, effective; 6, the Urgent, effective; 7, the Crocodile, effective; 8, the Euphrates, effective; 9, the Jumna, effective; 10, the Malabar, effective; 11, the Serapis, effective.
"SCREW STORE SHIPS.
"Comparative statement of the number of screw store ships afloat, effective and ineffective, on the 31st March, 1867, and on the 31st of March, 1868: - 1867. -Total afloat, 7; ready for sea, 7; ineffective, 0. 1863. - Total afloat, 7; ready for sea, 6; ineffective, 1. The Industry and Supply have been partially repaired during this financial year. The others have not had any repairs of importance. The Hesper has recently been paid off, and will probably require an extensive repair.
"NAMES OF SHIPS.
The foregoing extract is from a confidential report on the state of the steam ships of the Royal Navy, signed by Sir Spencer Robinson as Controller of the Navy, and which has since been quoted in Parliament.
It will be seen from this that though, the Simoom and the Megaera are of the same age, the Simoom had an extensive repair, which advanced her from No. 4 in 1867 to No. 3 in 1868 on the list of troopships. This repair was of the most complete character. The Megaera was merely patched up for short voyages, and was reduced by us from a captain's command to the command of a navigating commander, standing in both years at the bottom of the list of store ships. Since that time the Megaera was, I believe, further deteriorated by being sent to sea with a description of fiery coal of a cheap quality, when her bunkers caught fire on crossing the line, a fact acknowledged by Mr. Childers on the 1st of April, 1870, in reply to a question in the House of Commons.
J.C.D. HAY, M.P.
108, St. George's-square, S.W., Nov. 6.
|We 8 November 1871||THE MEGAERA. - A Royal Commission will be appointed to inquire into the case of the Megaera, and will begin its sittings immediately after the Court-Martial has concluded its work.|
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