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The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871
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Victoria, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith.
To Our right trusty and well-beloved Councillor John Laird Mair, Baron Lawrence, Knight Grand Cross of the most Honourable Order of the Bath, Knight Commander of the most Exalted Order of the Star of India; Our right trusty and well-beloved Councillor Abraham Brewster; Our trusty and well-beloved Sir Michael Seymour, Knight Grand Cross of the most Honourable Order of the Bath, Admiral in Our Fleet; Our trusty and well-beloved Sir Frederick Arrow, Knight, Deputy Master of the Corporation of the Trinity House; Our trusty and well-beloved Henry Cadogan Rothery, Esquire, Registrar of Our High Court of Admiralty of England; and Our trusty and well-beloved Thomas Chapman, Esquire, Fellow of the Royal Society, Chairman of the Committee for Lloyds' Registry of British and Foreign Shipping, and Vice-President of the Institution of Naval Architects, Greeting:
We have deemed it expedient for divers good causes, that a Commission should forthwith issue to inquire into and report upon the state and condition of Our late Ship "MEGAERA," when selected for her recent voyage to Australia, the circumstances under which she was despatched from this Country, the extent and cause of the leak subsequently discovered in the Ship, and of any other defects in the Ship's hull at the time when she was beached at St. Paul's; also, as far as may be deemed expedient, the general official history of the Ship previous to her said voyage, and her classification at successive dates.
Now know ye, that We, reposing great trust and confidence in your knowledge, ability, and discretion, have authorised and appointed, and do by these Presents authorise and appoint, you the said John Laird Mair, Baron Lawrence, Abraham Brewster, Sir Michael Seymour, Sir Frederick Arrow, Henry Cadogan Rothery, and Thomas Chapman, to be Our Commissioners for the purposes aforesaid.
And for the better discovery of the truth in the premises We do by these Presents authorise and empower you, or any three or more of you, to call before you, or any three or more of you, such persons as you may judge necessary, by whom you may be the better informed on the matters herein submitted for your consideration, as also to call for and examine all such books, documents, papers, and records as you shall judge likely to afford you the fullest information on the subject of this Our Commission, and to inquire of and concerning the premises by all other lawful ways and means whatsoever.
Our further will and pleasure is, that you do, as soon as can reasonably be, report to Us in writing, under your hands and seals, your several Proceedings by virtue of this Our Commission, together with your opinion on the several matters herein referred for your consideration.
And We will and command, and by these Presents ordain, that this Our Commission shall continue in full force and virtue, and you Our said Commissioners, or any three or more of you, may from time to time proceed in the execution thereof, and of every matter and thing therein contained, although the same be not continued from time to time by adjournment. And for your assistance in the due execution of these Presents, We have made choice of Our trusty and well-beloved George Parker Bidder, Esquire, Barrister-at-law, to be Secretary to this Our Commission, to attend you, whose services and assistance We require you to use from time to time as occasion may require.
Given at Our Court at Saint James's, the Twenty-second day of November 1871, in the Thirty-fifth year of Our Reign.
By Her Majesty's Command.
WE, Your Majesty's Commissioners, appointed "to inquire into the state and condition of the late ship 'Megaera' when selected for her recent voyage to Australia, the circumstances under which she was despatched from this country, the extent and cause of the leak subsequently discovered in the ship, and of any other defects in the ship's hull at the time when she was beached at St. Paul's, and as far as may be deemed expedient the general official history of the ship previous to her said voyage, and her classification at successive dates," do most humbly report that, in obedience to Your Majesty's commands, we have carefully considered the several matters which have been referred to us. We have perused all the papers, which during the progress of our Inquiry have from time to time been laid before us by the Admiralty; they have been printed in Appendices Nos. I. and II. We have also examined a great number of witnesses, whose evidence will be found in the Minutes.
GENERAL HISTORY OF THE SHIP.
1. The "Megaera," which was a vessel of 1,391 tons old measurement, was launched in the year 1849, having been built under contract by Messrs, Fairbairn and Co.; her whole cost, engines and everything included, was nearly 75,000l. Although one of the earliest of Your Majesty's Iron Vessels, it appears from the Specification that the framing of the ship was exceptionally strong, the frames being only "12 inches apart in the way of the engine room (75 feet), gradually increasing to 18 inches apart forward and aft." On the other hand the plating was in parts somewhat lighter than would now he usual for a vessel of her description. She was originally built for a Ship of War, but about the year 1851 her guns were taken out of her, and she was then converted into a Troop Ship.
2. At the beginning of 1859, which is the earliest period to which it has seemed to us necessary to carry back our inquiries, she was at the Cape of Good Hope, having been continuously employed during the two preceding years on Troop Service in the Eastern Seas; when it was discovered that some of her bottom plates were much corroded, that many of the rivet heads were completely eaten off, and that decay was extending to all of them. Accordingly, Sir F.W. Grey, the Admiral Commanding-in-Chief, being of opinion that there would be a risk in retaining her on that Station during the ensuing winter, ordered her home.
3. On her arrival she was sent to Portsmouth, and a Survey having been held upon her, the Dockyard Officers reported that they had carefully examined the hull, and found it to be in good condition, as far as related to the plates forming the bottom; but that the heads of the rivets generally were much decayed, many of them being entirely wasted away, owing to the wash of the bilge water backwards and forwards. Where, however, the rivet heads were protected by the brickwork and Roman Cement, which had been introduced into a part of the bilges some time before, they were nearly in a perfect state. Orders were accordingly given that the "Megaera" should be thoroughly repaired, and that she should be lined with Day's Patent Cement, which was also to be used in conjunction with brick in filling in the openings between the frames to the height of the limber holes.
4. On the completion of her repairs the "Megaera" was employed from the beginning of 1860 down to January 1864 in carrying Troops to and from the Mediterranean and the Channel Islands, and between the Islands in the West Indies. During this period any repairs which she required were effected at Portsmouth, the Dockyard at which she had been fitted out. On her return, however, to England in January 1864, she was transferred to Devonport, and on her engines and boilers being opened out, it was resolved that she should have new Boilers, and that her Engines should be replaced by those of the "Pioneer," another of Your Majesty's ships. Accordingly, on the 17th of February 1864, Orders were given that she should be paid off into the Third Division of Reserve, to have her repairs made good.
5. A question now arose as to the fitness of the "Megaera" to be retained as a Troop Ship, and upon Admiral Mends, the Director of Transports, being referred to, he stated that in his opinion she was not a good Troop Ship, owing to her slow steaming and sailing powers, and to the small number of Troops which she could carry in proportion to her crew. Until, however, she could he replaced by a ship of a better description, he thought it would be well, as her hull was strong, to retain her for the Troop Services to be performed coastwise in this country during the summer mouths, and to convey Detachments, Military and Naval Invalids, and Supernumeraries, and small quantities of Stores between the Ports in the Mediterranean, and between the Mediterranean and England. It was therefore determined to fit her as a Store Ship, with accommodation for Naval Supernumeraries. Orders were accordingly given that she should be fitted to carry "about 200 Supernumeraries, and about 500 tons of Naval Stores;" and it was further ordered that she was not to be dismantled, and when ready, was to be prepared for the First Division of Reserve.
6. In 1864 the " Megaera" was thoroughly refitted, at a very great expense. Day's Cement, which had been put into her in 1859, was removed; and at the request of Commander Madden, the Officer then in command of her, she was cemented with a composition called Spence's Patent Cement. On the repairs being completed, she was in the early part of 1865 commissioned at Devonport with a complement of 165 men, as a Store Ship.
7. From this time until August 1870, a period of about five years and a half, the vessel was almost continuously employed, carrying Stores and Supernumeraries, chiefly to and from Rio and Ascension, going on one occasion as far as the Falkland Islands, and between this country and the Mediterranean. Although paid off in December 1867, she was immediately afterwards recommissioned; and in August 1870 she was again paid off, and put into the Reserve. As her employment brought her frequently into the Home Ports, any repairs which she needed were from time to time made good, in 1865 at Devonport; from that time to January 1869 at Woolwich; and thenceforth and until her departure for Australia in February 1871, at Sheerness.
8. The first circumstance of any importance, which occurred subsequent to her repair in 1864, was on her return to this country in June 1866, when she was for the first time ordered to proceed to Woolwich for repair, and was there docked for the purpose of having her bottom cleaned and recoated. In the course of cleaning the outside, the Dockyard Officers were led to suspect that the vessel's plates were thin, and accordingly a large number of holes were bored in her bottom, but chiefly in the neighbourhood of the water line. A Report was then drawn up by Mr. Ladd, the Master Shipwright, and Mr. Trickett, Chief Engineer of the Yard. In that Report, which is dated 30th July 1860, they stated that they had examined the "Megaeras" hull, and found the bottom to be in good condition, the thinnest plates being ⅜ths of an inch thick; but that the plates between wind and water all round the vessel to about 20 feet from the stem, from the wales down to the first lap, about 8 feet in breadth in midships, and about 5 feet in breadth forward and aft, were very thin. And whilst recommending that a sum of 250l. should be expended to replace some of the thinnest and most defective plates, the Surveyors observed that, although they considered the vessel, if required, might be used for temporary service, they were of opinion that she would shortly need to be doubled in the parts above named. Annexed to their Report was a detailed statement signed by Mr. Trickett and his Assistant, Mr. Patridge, showing the plates in the neighbourhood of the water line to be in some parts four-sixteenths and in other parts only three-sixteenths of an inch thick.
9. On information being received in the Controller's Office of the state of the "Megaera's" plates, Mr. Reed, the Chief Constructor, determined to visit the Yard in person, alleging, as he has informed us, from experience, that when a vessel from one of the Western Dockyards came into an Eastern Yard, the Officials were sometimes disposed to recommend larger repairs than were necessary. He accordingly went down to Woolwich on the 31st of July, and after inspecting the vessel came to the conclusion that it would not be necessary either to replace or to double the plates.
10. Amongst the Documents forwarded to us by the Admiralty was a paper, which would seem to have been originally sent up by the Woolwich Officers, and which from its importance and the frequent reference made to it in the course of our Inquiry, it may be well to set out at length. It is headed, "Woolwich, 30th July 1866. - Forwarded for the consideration and directions of the Controller of the Navy - W.E. Edmonstone, Capt. Superintendent;" and is in the following words:-
|"If defective plates in bottom be removed and new plates fitted -|
|"If covering of defective plates be adopted -|
|"To allow of vessel running from 18 months to 2 years longer -|
|"Defer date of completion from 22nd to 31st August.|
|"From ⅜ths to a ¼ of an inch just about the water line.|
|"Minute of Sir Alexander Milne on Controller's submission.|
11. It was no doubt upon this Document that the Dockyard Officers based their additional estimate of 250l. It seems to have been laid before the Controller, and that Officer, after hearing from Mr. Reed the result of his visit to Woolwich Dockyard, on the same day, the 3lst of July 1866, sanctioned the additional expenditure of 250l. upon the ship, observing that it was to keep her "fit for service for 18 months or 2 years longer." The Controller's Submission was thereupon approved by Sir Alexander Milne, the then First Naval Lord, and an Order to that effect issued by the Board.
12. The next important event to which it is necessary that we should call Your Majesty's attention, occurred on her return to Woolwich in November 1867. On this occasion Sir John Hay, one of the Lords of the Admiralty, suggested that she ought to be paid off; but that, if recommissioned, it should be with a reduced establishment, and a Navigating Officer in command. This was approved by Sir Alexander Milne, who added that she was to be paid oft, and recommissioned, if fit. Instructions were accordingly given by Sir Alexander Milne that she should be paid off at Woolwich, "all standing, nothing to be touched in any way, and that, if the ship was not in want of repair, she should be at once recommissioned by a Staff Commander." This Order bears date the 30th November 1867; and on the 3rd of December following Sir Spencer Robinson wrote to the Commodore Superintendent at Woolwich Dockyard, to inform him that, if the ship was not in want of repairs, she would be at once recommissioned, and directing him to report accordingly.
13. In the meantime, however, and before any estimate for the repairs had come up, it occurred to Sir Spencer Robinson that, when the ship had been last in hand at Woolwich, a Report had been made "that she was very thin (her side and bottom plates), and that she would only last about a year;" and. he accordingly directed a search to be made for that Report. No such Report, however, could be found; and as at this time Mr. Reed had met with a railway accident, which detained him in France, it was not possible to refer to him on the subject. Mr. Morgan, however, who was in the Chief Constructor's Office, informed the Controller by a Minute dated the 4th of December, that Mr. Reed had "himself inspected the 'Megaera' at Woolwich some "18 months or two years ago, and found her plates in the neighbourhood of the water line extremely thin." He added that he had a strong impression that Mr. Reed had then mode a Report to that effect in writing. This, however, is doubtful, for Mr. Reed himself was not certain whether he had made merely a verbal communication to the Controller, or had given in also a written memorandum to be used only for the moment; the presumption is that all that passed between himself and the Controller on the subject in July 1866 was verbal. No Report could be found from Mr. Reed, nor, unfortunately, was the Report of the Dockyard Officers of the 30th July 1866, with its detailed Statement of the thinness of the plates in the neighbourhood of the water line, then forthcoming. The circumstances under which these documents were not discovered at that time, will be fully considered hereafter.
14. Subsequently, on the 6th of December, Mr. Barnaby reported to the Controller that, although no Report could be found in writing, it was quite certain that Mr. Reed, after inspecting the "Megaera," had spoken of her plating in the neighbourhood of the water line as being extremely thin; and he suggested that it would therefore be well to direct Woolwich to survey the plating and report its condition. Accordingly an Order to that effect was on the same day issued by the Controller.
15. In the meantime an Estimate of the repairs required for the "Megaera" had been drawn up by the Dockyard Officers at Woolwich; and on its being laid before the Controller for his approval, he declined to sanction it, until a Report had been received from Woolwich as to the condition of the "Megaera's" bottom. Further inquiries on the subject were thereupon addressed to Woolwich, and at length a telegram was received from Commodore Edmonstone, the Superintendent of Woolwich Dockyard, dated the 18th of December 1867, stating that the "Megaera" had been overhauled, and that she could be prepared to run another 12 months at an expense of about 250l., in addition to the Estimate for 445l. already sent in for making good defects; but that at the end of 12 months she would require to be replated round the water line, at an expense of about 1,500l. This telegram, however, instead of being sent, as it should have been, to the Controller, was addressed direct to the Admiralty, and was at once passed to Sir Alexander Milne, who thereupon, and without communication with Sir Spencer Robinson, ordered that the vessel should be "recommissioned by a Staff Commander with a reduced complement," which was fixed at 119 men; and an Order to that effect was, on the 19th of December, sent to Woolwich. Sir Spencer Robinson stated in his evidence that this telegram was never communicated to him.
16. On the 20th of December 1867 the Woolwich Officers sent up their amended estimates, stating that the skin of the ship had been examined, that the plates removed would have to be replaced, and that several rivets were also required. They added that the estimate was not for a thorough repair of the ship and machinery, but for 12 months' service only. Sir Spencer Robinson seems to have accepted this Report as evidence that the vessel's bottom had, in accordance with his directions, been carefully examined; and having ascertained that the Board of Admiralty had ordered her to be recommissioned, sanctioned the amended estimate as "for the repair and refit of the "'Megaera' for 12 months' service at sea." And here it should be stated that the additional sum, asked for by the Dockyard Officers in their amended Estimates for the repair of the plates, was under 35l/. Why so small ft sum was required, when only two days before Commodore Edmonstone had telegraphed that 250l. additional would be wanted to fit her for a service of 12 months, none of the witnesses was able to explain.
17. Nothing important occurred from that time until the return of the "Megaera" from Ascension, in March 1870. On that occasion she proceeded to Sheerness for repairs; and a list of defects having been sent in, an Estimate was on the 13th of April 1870 drawn up by the Dockyard Officers, in which there is a note to the effect that the bottom, of the "Megaera" was "stated to be very thin in many places," but that this could not be ascertained, until the vessel had been placed in dock. The Officers informed us that they bad inserted this note, not from anything they had themselves seen, but in consequence of a communication made to them by the Ship's Carpenter. On their Report coming before Mr. Morgan for the Chief Constructor, he stated that he considered the "estimates for the hull defects rather high." And on their being referred back to Sheerness for reconsideration, the Officers sent in amended Estimates, observing at the same time that the bottom of the vessel, on being docked, had been found to be in a better condition than was expected, which had enabled them to reduce the amount. A portion also of the repairs was at this time postponed, the Director of Transports urgently requiring the services of the vessel for the conveyance of Stores, &c. to the Mediterranean.
18. On the repairs being effected the vessel proceeded with Troops and Stores to Gibraltar and Malta, returning at the latter end of July 1870 to Sheerness. A list of defects was then sent in, which was reported upon by the Dockyard Officers; and an Estimate was on the 2nd of August forwarded to the Admiralty for a sum of 231l. On the following day, Mr. Morgan, proposed that they should be taken in hand; the Controller approved; and thereupon an Order to that effect was sent to Sheerness.
19. In the meantime the Director of Transports, requiring to send some Stores and Provisions to Malta, had on the 2nd of August suggested that the "Megaera" should be employed for the purpose. On the proposal coming before Sir Sydney Dacres, the First Naval Lord, he remarked that she was about the most expensive vessel that could be employed for freight, and proposed paying her off. On being referred to, the Director of Transports concurred, observing that it had been several times brought to the notice of their Lordships, that the expense of the "Megaera" was quite disproportioned to the value of her services; and that he had been induced to recommend her employment for the conveyance of Stores to and from Malta in the belief, that some special reason existed for keeping her in commission. On this Lord John Hay, the Fourth Lord of the Admiralty, remarked to Sir Sydney Dacres that he was doubtless aware that the "Megaera" was being repaired for service at a cost of 231l.; and asked whether it was to be understood that she was to be paid off, because if so, it had better be done at once, and the Stores sent by freight. Sir Sydney Dacres replied that he was not aware of any repairs to the "Megaera," and that he proposed paying her off on Mr. Childers's return, the Channel Squadron having taken the men, which were wanted, to the Mediterranean. On the 4th of August, Sir Sydney Dacres, in a Minute proposed to pay off the "Megaera," as a most extravagant vessel, and quite useless as a Transport, observing that she carried about 470 tons freight, and required a large Crew of Officers and Men. On the 9th Mr. Childers approved, and on an inquiry being made of Sir Spencer Robinson as to the Division of the Reserve, into which she should be put, he on the 10th of August replied "the Fourth Division." Accordingly on the same day Orders to that effect were issued by the Admiralty.
20. Three days afterwards, however, on the 13th of August, Captain Luard, the Captain Superintendent at Sheerness Dockyard, telegraphed to the Controller in these words, "The defects of the 'Megaera have just been made good. She is ready for at least one year's service at any moment; do you intend her to be placed in the Fourth Division of Reserve, when paid off? These are our present orders. But thinking it possible that there may have been some mistake, I venture to trouble you with this telegram." Sir Spencer Robinson immediately replied, "Keep the 'Megaera' ready for one year's service, and disturb nothing, returning her perishable Stores only."
21. From that time the ship remained in the Reserve, with comparatively very trifling repairs to her, until the beginning of 1871, when, reliefs being required for the Australian Colonies, it was proposed that the "Megaera" should take them. Sir Spencer Robinson informed us that he objected to her employment, not on the ground of her unseaworthiness, but as being unsuited for that service; but that Sir Sydney Dacres, with whom the selection rested, overruled the objection. Accordingly, on the 13th of January a Telegram was sent by the Controller to Captain Luard, asking him, "if the 'Megaera' were wanted for a nine months' service at sea, is she in a fit state to undertake it; and what time would be required, before she could receive her Crew and a large body of Supernumeraries?" To this Captain Luard immediately replied, that she was "ready with the exception of completing stores and coals," but that, as she had been five months out of Dock, she "would require to have her bottom cleaned." He added, that she could be docked on Friday the 20th, and could receive her Crew on the following Monday, the 23rd, and asked if he should proceed with coaling and stores. On this Sir Spencer Robinson proposed to approve, if Sir Sydney Dacres concurred, and that concurrence having been given, a Telegram was sent to Sheerness sanctioning her employment for the proposed service.
22. On the 16th of January, Lord John Hay wrote a letter to Mr. Barnaby, the Assistant Constructor, asking in what condition the "Megaera" was as to seaworthiness, as they talked of her for a trip to Australia. On the following day Mr. Barnaby replied that the "Megaera," having undergone repairs at Sheerness, was reported to be complete; that she was a good sea boat, and although more than 20 years old, was sound and strong; but that her boilers were only good for one year's service.
23. Inquiries having subsequently been made as to the capacity of the ship for Stores and as to the accommodation which she would afford for Officers and Men, Sir Sydney Dacres on the l7th of January wrote a Minute in these terms: - "It is best to fully understand the nature of the service the 'Megaera' will be employed in, namely, as a Man-of-war by the Captain of the 'Blanche,' who, with the Officers and Crew of that ship, will navigate her to Australia, taking the Officers and Crew of ' Rosario' as passengers. The 'Megaera' will be brought to England by the relieved Crews of the two ships named. It will materially lessen expense, if she can take as many Stores to Australia, as she can stow, after giving full room to the Officers and Crew."
24. On the 23rd of January 1871 Sir Sydney Dacres telegraphed to the Captain Superintendent at Sheerness to inform him that the "Megaera" would have to take a fresh Crew for the "Blanche," consisting of 180 men, and about 120 men also for the "Rosario;" and asking whether she would be able to convey all to Sydney, for if not, the "Basilisk" would have to take the surplus. On the following day a reply was sent from Sheerness, that the "Megaera" could take the 300 men, and would be ready to receive them on the following Monday. And thereupon an Order was on the same day issued by Sir Sydney Dacres for the ship to be commissioned on the 31st.
25. On the 28th of January, in reply to an inquiry as to what quantity of Stores could be conveyed in the "Megaera," in addition to the Crew to be embarked, Captain Luard replied that she could stow 350 tons; and about that quantity was accordingly put on board her.
26. After the vessel had been docked and her bottom recoated, she was on the 22nd February 1871 reported by her own Officers, as well as by the Dockyard Officers at Sheerness, to be complete and fit for service at sea, and on the same day she proceeded on her voyage, having on board some 300 Officers and Men all told, under the command of Captain Thrupp.
27. On the 24th of February, in obedience to Orders from the Admiralty, the vessel put into Plymouth, and whilst there a list of defects and alterations was sent in by the Captain. But as it appeared that the ship had been fitted out at another Port, where all her requirements were known, and where the proposed alterations appear not to have been thought necessary, and as no defects were alleged to have occurred since her departure from Sheerness, Admiral Codrington, the Commander-in-Chief at Devonport, refused to sanction the delay of four days, which would have been required to make good the defects; but understanding that the Ship's Artificers could do the work, he supplied Captain Thrupp with the necessary materials. Thirty additional boys were also here taken on board; and at 9.30 p.m. of Saturday the 25th, the vessel left the Sound, and proceeded on her voyage.
28. Having met with bad weather, the "Megaera," on the 28th of February, put into Queenstown, with her main deck ports reported leaky from age and warping, and the connecting piece of the outer bobstay broken off in the stem. Two days afterwards, on the 2nd of March, Captain Thrupp wrote to the Senior Officer at Queenstown, requesting permission to land 100 tons of the cargo, owing to the extreme discomfort of the ship, every available space below being taken up with cargo; and with it were forwarded letters to himself from the Chief Officers and the Surgeon of the Ship. On the facts being communicated to the Admiralty, Orders were on the same day sent by telegram to the Senior Officer at Cork, telling him to exercise his own discretion in the matter of lightening the "Megaera." This was followed up on the 3rd by a further telegram, desiring Admiral Forbes, in command at Queenstown, to proceed on board the "Megaera," to inquire strictly and carefully into her state and condition, and to report by telegram and letter his opinion as to the fitness of the ship to undertake the service, upon which she had been ordered. On the 4th of March another telegram was sent to the Senior Officer at Queenstown, directing him to take out 127 tons of Stores destined for the Cape.
29. On the 4th of March, Admiral Forbes replied both by telegram and by letter that the "Megaera" was landing the 127 tons of stores for the Cape, and that, if four of the Officers (three being of Ward Room rank) were taken out of her, the comfort of the rest would be greatly increased. He also stated that all the decks were very much lumbered; that she was very badly stowed, and that by better stowing much clearance might be made; that some of the ports had been repaired, and new ones placed where necessary; that the vessel had been inconveniently crowded with cargo; but that in his opinion the ship was quite fit to undertake the service, on which she had been ordered.
30. On the 13th of March, the "Megaera" being ready for sea, Admiral Forbes telegraphed to the Admiralty, "I recommend ship should proceed at once; shall she or no?," and was on the same clay answered by Sir Sydney Dacres, "certainly, if you approve," but that the "Megaera" was on no account to "start until the weather was far more favourable for getting to the S.W."
31. On the 14th of March the vessel left Queenstown, arrived at Madeira on the 21st, and was there detained by the violence of the Equinoctial gales for four days and a half. On the 26th she reached St. Vincent, and having coaled, sailed on the 4th of April, and arrived at Ascension on the 19th. Thence she proceeded to the Cape of Good Hope, arriving there on the 18th of May, and having received 82 tons of coals, and made good some slight defects, left for Sydney on the 28th.
32. The vessel proceeded on her voyage, without anything material occurring, until the evening of the 7th of June, when, finding 15 inches of water in her, the Chief Engineer ordered it to be pumped out. No particular notice was taken of the circumstance, as she generally had from 12 to 15 inches of water in the Engine-Room Compartment, 24 or 36 hours after the fires had been drawn. On the 8th, at 8 p.m. she was found to be making ¾ of an inch per hour. Every part of the Engine-Room Compartment was carefully overhauled, but without being able to discover any leak. At 1 a.m. of the 9th it was found that the water had increased to an inch per hour; and as the Chief Engineer could in no way account for the quantity which she was making, he reported it to Captain Thrupp. At this time the vessel was in lat. 39º 40' S., and long, 44º 22' E.
33. Every effort was then made to discover the leak, but in vain. On the 10th the water was found to be increasing, and additional pumps had to be worked, the ship rolling very heavily. On the 12th the communication between the Engine-room Compartment and the Screw Passage was cut off, and the latter having thereupon been pumped out, was found to be perfectly tight. On the 13th the Engine-room and Stokehole were pumped and baled nearly dry, and at about 9.30 p.m. the leak was discovered on the port side, a little abaft the mainmast, and about 7 feet 4 inches from the centre line of the ship. It was between two of the frames, immediately under the coal bunker. Much difficulty was found in getting at the leak, and it was decided that the best mode of doing so was by cutting a hole through the frame opposite to the place where it was seen, and which could be done by lifting the stokehole plates, the frame being flush with the aft side of the coal bunker, By 5 p.m. of the 14th the Engineers had succeeded in cutting a hole about six inches long by five inches wide through the frame; when it was at once discovered that the leak was caused, not by a rivet having fallen out, as was at first supposed, but from a hole eaten through one of the plates in the bottom. On examination it was fond that the edges of the hole were so thin that the iron could be readily torn away; and there were also between the same pair of frames other rusty places, three of them so bad, that, according to the statement of the Engineers who examined them, they could feel the iron in the bottom with very little pressure bend like a sheet of tin.
34. Proceedings were immediately taken to endeavour to stop the leak, and with that view an iron plate from 6 to 7 inches long and about 4 inches wide, with an india-rubber patch, was put over it, and fixed down by a straight brace inserted between the back of the plate, and a plate above it. This seemed, however, to have little or no effect in stopping the flow of water into the ship. On the 15th the pumps ceased to throw, and on lifting the doors of the valve boxes it was found that pieces of iron and coal had got under the valves. These having been removed, the pumping recommenced.
35. Captain Thrupp, however, finding that the water was gaining upon the pumps, altered his course for the Island of St. Paul, his object being to have the bottom examined by the Divers who were on board, and by putting a plate on the outside to stop the leak, so far as to enable her to prosecute her voyage to Australia. On the night of the l6th, the ship was hove to until daylight, when the Island being seen about nine miles distant, she was run in, and anchored. In the meantime the leak had nearly stopped, owing as it was thought to something having been sucked into the hole; but at 6 p.m. of the 17th, it again broke out in full force.
36. During the 17th the ship was observed to be driving, and on her anchor being weighed, it was found that the crown and both flukes were gone. Having steamed in and again come to an anchor, the Diver was sent down to examine the outside of the ship's bottom, and in the afternoon discovered the leak, but it was then too late to put the plate on.
37. At daylight of the 18th it was found that the Ship had lost another anchor; and having been again run in, and anchored, the Diver was sent down with a bunker plate 8 or 9 inches square, having a three-quarter inch bolt through the centre. The first plate having been lost, a second was immediately prepared, with which the Diver again descended, and this time succeeded in passing the bolt through the leak, and another iron plate having been put on the inside, the two plates were secured together by a nut screwed on to the bolt. At first the leak appeared to be worse, but after a few turns of the screw it stopped almost entirely.
38. In the meantime the hole through the frame had been enlarged six inches each way, making it altogether 18 inches long, which afforded a better opportunity of examining the leak. And Captain Thrupp having called for a Report from the Engineers on board the ship, they were of opinion, after a careful examination of the plates in the neighbourhood of the leak, that they were so eaten away with rust holes, that it would not be safe to continue the voyage, to Australia. Accordingly with these Reports before him, and a statement from the Diver that the vessel was on the outside for a considerable distance pitted with rust, he determined after consultation with his Officers to run her ashore. Every effort was then made to land as many Provisions, Stores, and Coals as possible; and on the following morning, the 19th, it having been found that one of the flukes of the anchor was gone, the vessel was kept under steam, the wind blowing very heavily in squalls, until 1.40 p.m., when they steamed for the bar, and at 1.52 she took the ground with 10 feet of water forward, 13 feet amidships, and 18 feet under the stern. The ship struck heavily at first; the remaining anchor was let go to prevent her from slipping off the shore, and she was turned full speed ahead to keep her in position, until the water rose and extinguished the fires. She then settled down and remained perfectly stationary and upright.
39. It will not be necessary to follow the proceedings of Captain Thrupp and his Officers and Men after they had landed, or to describe the steps which they took to preserve their lives, and to make their condition known to any passing vessels, or the means by which they ultimately succeeded in effecting their escape from the island. Suffice it to say, that Captain Thrupp and a portion of the Crew remained on board the "Megaera," employed in saving as many Stores and Provisions as possible, until the 29th of June, when the ship was finally abandoned, and all hands encamped on shore. But it was not until the 3rd day of September following, 76 days after the vessel had been run ashore, that she ultimately went to pieces in a gale of wind, which it is said hardly any vessel could have withstood.
40. We propose now to consider some of the more important questions, which have arisen in the course of our Inquiry.
DEFECTS WHICH CAUSIED THE LOSS OF THE "Megaera"
41. It is, of course, impossible to say, what defects might have been discovered, had the "Megaera" gone into port, and been thoroughly and completely inspected. Judging, however, from the Reports and Evidence of those, who were on board her at the time, and whose duty it was to ascertain the extent of the damage, there seems no reason to think that the defects, which immediately led to her loss, were otherwise than local. All the witnesses, who examined her internally, limited her defects to the immediate neighbourhood of the leak. They described it as having occurred between the second and third frames abaft the foot of the mainmast on the port side, and as being about 7 feet 4 inches from the centre line of the Ship. They stated that between these two frames, which in that part of the Ship were only 12 inches apart, to a distance from the leak of about three feet up and down, the internal surfaces of the plates were more or less pitted or corroded with rust. That besides the leak there were three deep indentations, not far from it, which were so nearly eaten through, that they could feel the iron, with a slight pressure, bend like a piece of tin. They further stated that on the surfaces of the plates, which were thus pitted, there was neither Paint nor Cement, nor any appearance of either between the two frames.
42. There is no point, which has been more satisfactorily established by evidence, than that the interior of the hull of an Iron Vessel will continue sound and strong for a great number of years, provided that it be kept free from rust and corrosion. Formerly this was effected by coating the interior with red lead; but it having been found that the paint washed off by the action of the bilge water, Cement was substituted in its place. So long, indeed, as either the paint or the Cement remained sound and durable, the iron was effectually preserved; once, however, the iron exposed, corrosion would necessarily take place, pits be formed, and ultimately holes be eaten through the plates.
43. That the appearance presented by the plates was due to the action of bilge water upon their surfaces, was confirmed by the evidence of two scientific Witnesses, Drs. Frankland and Odling, gentlemen whose opinion on such a point is entitled to the greatest respect. They stated, moreover, that in their opinions the defects were due not to galvanic action, but to the long continued action of bilge water, and that the pieces of oxide, which had been taken from the pumps, were such as they would have expected to find, had the action been going on for some years; for that rust produced by slow corrosion came off in flakes, or solid pieces, whereas rust caused by rapid galvanic action had more of the character of a powder.
44. This being so, what we have now to consider is, how, and under what circumstances, it was that the surface of the iron came to be exposed. And for this purpose it will be well that we should first give an exact description of the vessel in the part, where the defects, which immediately led to her loss, occurred.
45. It seems that above the two frames between which the defects were found, was the port coal bunker, the after part of which was flush with the third frame abaft the step of the mainmast, through which the hole was cut to get at the leak; the frames were in this part of the ship only about 12 inches apart, and about 16 to 18 inches high over the keel, gradually diminishing in height as they receded from the centre line of the vessel. The bottom of the bunker did not rest directly on the frames, but stood some 18 inches above them; there was, however, an iron plate, called by some of the witnesses a strengthening plate, which was fastened on the top of these frames, thus preventing all access from above to the skin of the ship in that part. What the object of this plate was, we have not been able to discover, but it was suggested that it might have been introduced for the purpose of relieving the weight of the coal bunker.
46. But besides this horizontal plate, there was a vertical plate between the same two frames, about flush with the inner side of the coal bunker, and extending to within a few inches of the ship's bottom. This plate cut off all access from the centre line of the ship to the space between the two frames where the leak was, just as the horizontal plate cut off all access from above. The vertical plate seems to have had a slot about two inches wide, extending nearly from top to bottom of the plate, which would allow the water to pass freely from between the frames into the bilges. None of the witnesses could explain what was the object of this plate, but some of them stated that there were similar plates between some of the other frames. And as doubts have been expressed as to whether there ever were any such plates, we will proceed to state our reasons for thinking that there was one, and the circumstances under which, as it appears to us, it was originally introduced.
47. It appears that on the 6th of December 1860, whilst the vessel was at Portsmouth, the Chief Engineer of the "Megaera" reported that serious inconvenience was experienced in the stokehole, when the ship rolled at sea, from water coming from the back of the boilers out of the bilges, and washing the coals about, making it almost impossible to keep up steam. He added that this occurred, when the bilge pumps were sucking, and recommended that the open space behind the boilers should be closed up. On the 13th of the same mouth, the Inspector of Machinery Afloat recommended wash plates to be fitted between the plates, flush with the front of the Boilers under the stokeholes. And on the 19th the Dockyard Officers reported that the open space behind the boilers had been closed, and that wash plates were also being fitted to prevent the wash of the bilge water. It may therefore well be that this vertical plate was one of the "wash plates," which were put into the vessel in December 1860.
48. The space, then, between these two frames, where the leak occurred, being thus closed, two suggestions have been offered to account for the absence of any Cement there at the time when the vessel was lost; either that no Cement at all was ever put there, when her interior was coated with Spence's Patent Cement in 1864, or that the Cement was so bad, that it had subsequently been washed off. And as a great deal has been said in the course of the Inquiry as to the character of this Cement, and its suitableness for the purpose to which it was applied, we propose to state the circumstances under which it appears to have been used in the "Megaera," and others of Your Majesty's Ships.
49. This cement appears to have been brought for the first time to the notice of the Admiralty in a letter from Messrs. Smith, the Agents for the Patentee, to the Controller of the Navy, dated the 31st of July 1863, stating that they had "just completed a variety of experiments with Spence's Non-conductive Composition, with a view of testing its applicability for coating internally the bottoms of Iron Ships," and that "the results prove it to be superior, in every respect, to any other Composition now in use for that purpose." Accordingly on the 1st of August following, a letter was written by Mr. Reed, to the Messrs. Smith, asking them what was the nature of the Composition, what the cost, and by what means they had satisfied themselves that it was superior in every respect to any other composition then in use for the purpose. In reply, Messrs. Smith, in a letter dated the 5th of the same month, stated that the "Composition, as prepared for coating internally iron ships, consists of argillaceous earth, grease in certain proportions, cow hair, and some carbonaceous matter, which form a plaster so pliable that it can be applied to any form of surface, and is also impervious to water."
50. On the following day, the 6th of August, Mr. Lloyd, in the name of the Controller, wrote to the Admiral Superintendent at Portsmouth, requesting him to direct the Officers to report, whether it would be desirable to coat the inside of the "Sharpshooter," or any part of it, with this Composition. On the 11th a Report was made by the Master Shipwright, Chief Engineer, and Chemical Assistant, in Portsmouth Dockyard, recommending that Spence's Composition should he applied to one side, and Day's Composition to the other side of the interior. On this Report being received, Mr. Abethell, in the name of the Controller, submitted that it should he applied as proposed; that Submission was approved by Rear-Admiral Frederick, and on the 14th of August an Order was issued from the Admiralty for the work to be done. In pursuance of that Order the starboard side of the "Sharpshooter" was coated with Spence's Composition, and the port side with Day's. And on the 19th of September following, in reply to an inquiry from the Storekeeper-General, Mr. Large, in the name of the Controller, directed that the expense of coating the starboard side with Spence's Composition should be charged to the vote "for experimental purposes."
51. The Admiralty being desirous still further to test the comparative merits of these two Compositions, on the 3rd of September in the same year, sent an Order to the Commodore Superintendent at Woolwich, that the inside of the "Buffalo" should be coated on one side with Day's, and on the other with Spence's Composition. But on the 6th of November following, Mr. Smith was informed, in answer to a further application on the subject, that their Lordships did not consider it desirable to make a more extensive trial of this Composition until sufficient time should have elapsed to observe the results of the trials already ordered.
52. Up to this time the Controller appears to have had no personal knowledge of this Cement, all the inquiries and all the Orders in regard thereto having emanated either from Mr. Reed, Mr. Lloyd, or other persons writing in the Controller's name, or from the Lords of the Admiralty direct. The first knowledge that the Controller seems to have had of the matter was from the letter of Commander Madden, of the 11th of February 1864, in which that Officer requested that Spence's Patent Cement might be applied to the new Boilers about to be fitted to the "Megaera," as well as to the inner skin and rivet heads of the ship; stating at the same time that he had every reason to believe that the Composition was most efficient in preventing oxidation, and that a great saving in fuel might be effected by its application as well as increased safety being secured, owing to its non-conducting qualities. This letter having been forwarded by the Commander-in-Chief at Devonport, Sir Spencer Robinson on the 15th of the same month caused an inquiry to he made of Messrs. Smith as to the cost of the proposed work, and having received a reply on the 16th, he on the 19th wrote to the Admiral Superintendent, requesting him to direct the Officers to cause Spence's Composition to be applied to the new Boilers of the "Megaera," and to the inner skin and rivet heads of the ship, agreeably to Commander Madden's request. Judging from the papers that have been laid before us, it would seem that this Order was given without any inquiry having been made as to the nature and character of this Cement, or as to its use in others of Your Majesty's ships. Sir Spencer Robinson, however, states that he did make all the necessary inquiries on the subject, that there were other documents on the subject besides those which have been laid before us, but that not having access to the papers in the Admiralty, he could not state precisely what those inquiries were.
53. On the 28th of June following Messrs. Smith applied to the Controller for permission to line the inside of the "Northumberland" with "Spence's Patent Cement," and requested that reference should be made on the subject to the Officers at Portsmouth and Woolwich. The reply from Portsmouth was that it had been applied to the starboard side of the "Sharpshooter" as an experiment, and that it was still under trial, sufficient time not having yet elapsed to enable a Report to be made on its qualifications."
54. On the 20th of July Messrs. Smith suggested that as nearly a year had elapsed since the inside of the "Sharpshooter" had been coated, some idea of the value of the Composition might be obtained, if a "small piece, to the extent of a square foot, were lifted in two or three places, and the state of the iron examined and reported upon." Mr. Baskcomb also, the Overseer of the building of the "Northumberland" at Millwall Iron Works, on being applied to, suggested that the "Sharpshooter," which was then at Portsmouth, should be examined. Nothing of the kind, however, appears to have been done, but on a Minute from Mr. Reed, that he had heard very good accounts of it, and one from Mr. Barnaby, that it would not entail any additional expense, Orders were given that the Cement should he applied to the interior of the "Northumberland."
55. On the 22nd of August 1864 Messrs. Smith again wrote to the Admiralty, calling attention to their Cement, and requesting that Reports on the subject might be called for from the Officers of Woolwich, Portsmouth, and Devonport Dockyards. Reports were accordingly called for by Sir Spencer Robinson from those Dockyards, which were in some degree favourable to its use. But in December following, on a further application to apply it to the interior of the "Enterprise," Mr. Saunders, the Assistant Master Shipwright of Devonport Dockyard, reported "that if the Composition is similar to that used in the 'Megaera,' it has a very offensive smell, and becomes soft when saturated with water." And accordingly Sir Spencer Robinson decided not to apply it to the "Enterprise."
56. On the 6th of February 1865, Messrs. Smith applied to the Controller for leave to cover the inner skin and rivet heads of the "Bellerophon" with this Cement, but Sir Spencer Robinson informed them that it was not considered desirable at that time to make any trial of Spence's Composition, other than that then being carried out in the "Northumberland." And on their renewing their application on the 10th of June following, Sir Spencer Robinson replied, that from the advanced state of the ship it would be impossible to apply it; and that from the specimen shown, he should not be disposed to order the use of this Composition on any other ship, at least, until sufficient time had elapsed to show the result of the trial in the "Northumberland."
57. Nothing further would seem to have been done in regard to this Cement until the 4th of October 1865, when a letter was received at the Admiralty from Commander Hare, of H.M.S. "Sharpshooter," dated from Rio, the 30th of August, in which that Officer stated that the Composition used for coating the inside of that vessel on the starboard side (Spence's Cement), "a loose sort of Cement mixed with hair, is crumbling away, forming mud in the bilges, choking the pumps, &c.;" that "in the starboard Condenser, were it :has not been much exposed to the action of the water, it is deteriorating and falling off in parts; and that in the bilges it has been completely washed away;" whereas that, on the port side (Day's Cement) was firm and hard, and in good condition throughout.
58. This letter was referred to Mr. Reed, but nothing was done, beyond calling the attention, of Messrs. Smith and Mr. Baskcomb to the fact, until the beginning of the year 1867, when Sir Spencer Robinson called for a Report from the Dockyard Officers at Devonport, on the Cement which had been put into the inside of the "Northumberland." In reply, the Dockyard Officers, in a letter dated the 1st of April 1867, reported (1) that three pieces of the Composition, had been cut out in the fore hold, that they appeared firm and hard, but were easily removed from the iron, and that water did not appear to lodge in that part of the ship; (2) that four pieces were cut out in the wake of the Boiler space and the space between the Boilers and Engines, and about three feet from the middle line of the ship; that here they were all damp, having evidently absorbed water, especially at the under part of the Composition, which came in contact with the iron; "the iron plating," they said, "was quite damp, and there was scarcely any adhesion between the Composition and the iron;" oxidation had consequently, insinuated itself between the two surfaces. Under these circumstances they were of opinion, that the Cement was not well suited for the purpose. Accordingly on the 3rd of the same month, Mr. Reed for the Controller sent down an Order to Devonport to remove it from the interior of the "Northumberland."
59. On these facts coming to the knowledge of Sir Spencer Robinson, he directed the fullest inquiry to be made into the circumstances attending the use of this Cement. In reply Mr. Reed stated that the Composition had proved so wholly useless for the purpose as to leave no choice, but to take it out; he added that it "was much vaunted at the time as superior to everything." On its removal from the "Northumberland," it was found to be of no value, and accordingly on the 18th of January 1868, Sir Spencer Robinson wrote, to the Storekeeper General informing him that Spence's Composition had been used extensively for some years, and with considerable success, as a coating for Boilers, that Mr. Spence's Agent thought it would be equally applicable for coating the Inside of Iron Ships, but that in this trial it had wholly failed, and that it would not again be used for that purpose.
60. One thing deserves to be noted in connexion with this Cement, that whether we look to the letters of Commander Madden, of the Dockyard Officers, or even of Sir Spencer Robinson or Mr. Reed, all seem to have thought, almost to the last, that the Cement or Composition, which it was proposed to apply to the Interior of Vessels, was the same as that which had been successfully employed for several years for Boilers, although they varied in price. The mistake, indeed, would seem to have been shared by the Messrs. Smith, the Agents of the Patentee, for they call .it indifferently sometimes Spence's Patent Cement, sometimes Spence's Patent Composition; whereas it appears, from the evidence of Mr. Smith himself, who was examined before us, that the two are entirely distinct; that, which is applied to boilers, being called Spence's Composition, and being still in use; whereas that, with which the "Megaera" had been lined internally, was called Spence's Cement, and had long since ceased to be used.
61. Such then being the character of Spence's Patent Cement, it seems to be comparatively a matter of little importance whether it was applied more or less efficiently, or not at all, to the closed-in space between the two frames, when the "Megaera" was lined with it in 1864; for if the character that has been given of it by the Agents to the Patentee and others can be relied upon, it is almost certain that by the year 1866 it must have been seriously deteriorated, if not wholly washed away, at least in those parts where it was exposed to the action of the bilge water. In either case corrosion must have been going on for some years. This is of course upon the assumption that the space between the frames being, as we have shown, inaccessible except by the removal of one or other of the plates by which it was closed in, was not inspected by any of the persons, into whose hands the Vessel from time to time came. If this had been done the defective character of the Cement would have been discovered, and any corrosion or rust formed by the exposure of the iron would have been stopped. It therefore becomes necessary to inquire whether any, and if so, what steps were taken to ascertain from time to time the condition of the interior.
INSPECTION OF INTERIOR.
68. The Ports, to which the "Megaera" went subsequent to 1864, for the repairs of her defects were, as we have already stated, Devonport, Woolwich, and Sheerness. Whether it was or was not the duty of the Dockyard Officers to examine her interior on any occasion of her coming into port for repairs, it is clear that they never did so. The view taken by these Officers of their duties was, that so long as a ship remained in Commission, all that they were required lo do was to report upon the list of defects from time to time given in by the Officers of the Ship, adding, however, any defects which might be apparent on a superficial examination of the vessel. They conceived that not only were they not called upon, but that they would not have been justified in examining the vesse1 more minutely, and they relied mainly, if not entirely, upon the Ship's Officers to point out to them any defects that might exist. They seem to have thought that there was no regular time for making a thorough overhaul of any vessel, or even a careful inspection of her interior, except when she had been paid off and was about to be fitted again for a new Commission, or when she was brought forward from the Fourth to the First Division of Reserve; but if kept continually in Commission, no inspection of the interior would, in their opinion, be required, until in fact it became necessary to take out her Boilers.
63. Unfortunately in the case of the "Megaera," from the year 1864 down to her departure in February 1871 she seems never to have been in a position when, according to the views of these gentlemen, her interior should have been carefully inspected. In 1865, when she went to Devonport, and again in 1866 and 1567, when she was repaired at Woolwich, she was in Commission; and even in December I867, when she was put out of Commission, the Order from the Admiralty was that she was to be paid off, "all standing, nothing to be touched in any way;" and "if the ship is not in want of repair, she will be at once recommissioned." When again she was recommissioned, she was repaired, not for a full Commission of three or four years, but for 12 months' service only, which took her out of the regular course of a recommissioned ship, and would, in the opinion of the Dockyard Officers, obviate the necessity of so careful .in examination, as might otherwise probably have been made. Again, in 1868, 1869, and down to August 1870, whenever she came into Port, she was in Commission. And even then, when the repairs, alluded to in Captain Luard's Telegram of the 13th of that month, were effected, which seems ultimately to have led to her being placed in the First, instead of the Fourth Division of Reserve, she was still in Commission, the ship not having been paid off until the 25th of that month. When in the First Division she was kept ready merely for temporary service and not for a full Commission, so that there appears to have been no period from 1864 down to her departure in February 1871, at which, according to the opinion of the Dockyard Officers, it was incumbent upon them to make a careful inspection of the Interior. All that they seem to have done at any time was cursorily to inspect the Cement in the bilges and run of the ship, some 4 or 5 feet at the utmost on each side of the centre line; but there she had only Portland Cement and bricks, and as to that there was never any question. As to the Cement beyond those places, they appear never to have examined it at all, except in spots where for another purpose the Ceiling had been removed; but those were high up the ship's side, and would afford no evidence of what was the state, of the Cement, where it came within reach of the bilge water. Nor ought it to be forgotten, even as regards the platform of Portland Cement and bricks, that as it was laid on Spence's Cement, the bilge water might easily have filtered under it and corrosion have taken place without there being any appearance of it on the surface.
64. Against this view of the supposed duties of the Dockyard Officers the Controller has most strongly protested. He has told us that Order after Order was issued to them, calling their attention to the danger of neglecting the Interiors of Iron Ships, and the importance of frequently and carefully examining them; and he has especially referred us to three General Orders on the subject, issued respectively in 1854, 1866, and 1867, the first and third being addressed to the Officers of the Dockyards, and the second to Officers in command of Vessels in Commission.
65. The first of these Orders bears date the 25th of May 1854, and is addressed to the Commanders-in-Chief of every Station and to the Superintendents of all the Dockyards, and is in these terms:-
"I am commanded by my Lords' Commissioners of the Admiralty to call your attention to the circumstance that on a recent occasion of an iron steam vessel being surveyed for repair, it was found that, whilst the bottom plates were equally corroded externally, internally those in the flat of the floor and under the engine, were in places almost eaten through; and this rapid decay being attributed to the plates not being kept properly clean and adequately coated, their Lordships desire you will avail yourself of every opportunity that may offer of having the bottoms of any iron vessels under your orders examined, both internally and externally, for the purpose of cleaning and paying the plates with Composition for the preservation of the iron."
66. The second is dated the 15th of August 1866, and is addressed to the Commanding Officers of all Ships in Commission. It is in these words:-
"The insides of iron ships in their double bottoms, wings, and under the boilers and engines, as well as the inner portions of the several compartments, &c., being subject to injury from moisture, wherever the Anticorrosive Composition originally applied has been removed, it is their Lordships' directions that all such parts, wherever accessible, be carefully inspected in the first week of each quarter by an Engineer Officer and by the Carpenter of the Ship, who are to report the exact result of their examination; and in the event of any dampness, or want of Anticorrosive Composition, or any other defect being discovered, immediate measures are to be taken to remedy the same, by drying; as far as possible the iron work, and making good, the deficiency of Anticorrosive Composition, or any other defect.
"Whenever an iron ship is commissioned, the Captain or Commanding Officer is to ascertain what Anticorrosive Composition, Paint, or other substance, has been applied to the parts of the Ship above referred to, and he is to demand such quantities of the proper materials, as he may consider necessary, for keeping the same in perfect condition."
67. The third Order bears date the 17th of January 1867, and is addressed to the Superintendents, and also to the Captains of the Steam Reserves. It is in these words:-
"With reference to Circular No. 288, of the l5th August 1866, as to the preservation of iron in iron ships, I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint you that on a ship coming into the hands of the Dockyard, or into the Reserve, either from Sea, from another Yard, or from Contract Yards, the Captain of the Reserve is to be held responsible for the condition of the inside of the ship under the Circular above referred to; and he is to apply to the Superintendent by letter for such, assistance as he may require, to keep the Ship clean, and the iron free from Corrosion."
68. It will be observed that the second of the preceding Orders, which was issued to the Commanding Officers of Ships in Commission, only requires them to inspect such parts as are "accessible," a very necessary limitation in their case, seeing that it might be practically impossible to examine all parts of the interior, when the vessel was at sea. In this respect it differs from the other two Orders, which contain no such limitation, and the latter of which, that of 17th January 1867, imposes upon the Captains of Reserve especially, the necessity of carefully examining the Interiors of any Iron Ships, that might come into their hands, and of seeing that they were kept "clean, and the iron free from Corrosion."
69. Assuming, however, that there was no such necessity on any of the other occasions of the "Megaera" having come into Port previous to August 1870 for repairs, it seems clear that there ought to have been, at that period at all events, a careful examination of her interior by the Sheerness Officers; if not when she was paid off; at any rate during the five months she remained in the Reserve, and before she was recommissioned in January 1871 for her voyage to Australia. It appears, however, as though the Dockyard Officers had regarded even the Order of 1867 as a dead letter; but, apart from its very recent date, it was stated by Mr. Barnaby, in his evidence, that on directions having been recently issued to the Dockyards to send up copies of all Orders relating to the Inspection of the Interior of Iron Ships, this Order of the 17th January 1867 was sent up from Sheerness as being still in force.
70. The Dockyard Officers, however, allege as another reason for having neglected to examine the interior of the "Megaera," the impossibility of so doing. They state that in the Engine-room Compartment, with which we have more particularly to deal, it was practically impossible to examine the skin of the Ship without taking out the Engines, Boilers, and Coal Bunkers; that this could not have been done except at an expense of some 1,500l. to 1,800l., which they would not have been justified in incurring without express authority; and that all that they could examine was a space of some 4 or 5 feet on each side of the Centre Line of the Ship.
71. There is no doubt that it was difficult, if not impracticable, to inspect the greater part of the Engine-room Compartment, without removing some of the permanent fittings of the vessel; for the "Megaera," being one of the first of the iron ships built for Your Majesty's Service, was not constructed in the same manner as vessels now are, so as to afford ready access to all parts of the skin of the vessel. We are, however,, clearly of opinion, that it does not follow, because certain parts were difficult to get at, they ought not on that account to have been examined; on the contrary, it appears to us that that fact ought to have rendered it the more necessary to do so. In. our opinion it was the duty of the Dockyard Officers to have opened up and examined from time to time the inaccessible parts, or obtained authority to do so. Nor can it be doubted that there were many parts of the interior, which they could have inspected without incurring any such heavy expense as they mention, had they thought that it was their duty to do so3 and which would have afforded a fair indication of the average condition of the interior.
THINNESS OF THE PLATES.
Another very important question remains to be considered, namely, the thinness of the "Megaera's" plating.
72. In considering this question it is necessary to bear in mind the distinction between the thinness of the plates in the neighbourhood of the water line, and that of the plates in the bottom, or as it is more properly called, the flat of the bottom. The one is, as Mr. Waymouth and other witnesses have told us, quite independent of the other. The reduction of the thickness of plates in the neighbourhood of the water line is usually caused by the vessel rubbing against Piers, Barges, &c., and by the alternate wetting and drying of the surface in those places were friction has rubbed off the coating. On the other hand, the reduction of the thickness of the bottom plates is ordinarily caused by the action of Bilge Water on the inner surface of the iron. Where, however, the bottom plates are well cemented, no corrosion takes place. The action in the former case is external, in the latter internal.
73. It has been already stated that in July 1866, whilst the vessel was at Woolwich, a great number of holes, some hundreds, it is said, were bored in her, more especially between wind and water line; and the result was, as stated in the Report of the Dockyard Officers, that her plates in the neighbourhood of the water line were found to be very thin, the thinnest being one-fourth and three-sixteenths of an inch thick. No doubt this showed a considerable diminution of the plating, the original thickness of these plates having been seven-sixteenths of an inch; and the question seems then to have been considered, whether it was necessary to replace or double the plating, and it was decided that instead of incurring such an expense, which in the former case would have amounted to 4,331l, and in the latter to 2,070l., a sum of 250l. would be sufficient to replace those which were the most defective, and that she would then, be able to run for 18 months or two years longer.
74. When the thinness of the "Megaera's" plates came under discussion in December 1867, the course which the matter took was as follows: - Sir Spencer Robinson having some recollection of the former report and survey inquired, "where she was commissioned, and when last in hands of Dockyard, and where." The reply was "'Megaera' was commissioned 18th January 1865 at Devonport. She was last in hand (and docked) at Woolwich in May 1867." Sir Spencer Robinson thereupon asked "Was the Report then made that she was very thin (her side and bottom plates), and that she would only last about a year? Please refer and let me know." The reply is that there is no such Report, and Mr. Claud Clifton, who was then the clerk in the Steam Branch, where this document was at that time, answered "Nothing in Steam."
75. Mr. Claud Clifton was examined and produced to us the original papers, from which it appears that every thing relating to the thinness of the plates was on one sheet of paper; and he has told us, in justification of his note, "Nothing in steam," that he understood the inquiry as to the thinness of the "Megaera's" plates to be confined to a supposed report in May 1867, and that he consequently did not look beyond that date; but that had Sir Spencer Robinson's inquiry, instead of being "Was the report then made," &c., been "Was a report made" as to the thinness of the plates, he said that he should have looked further, and would probably have found the document.
76. It then appears that Sir Spencer Robinson, not content with the answers which he had received, caused an inquiry to be made of the Constructor's department on the subject, and Mr. Morgan's reply was that the Chief Constructor had "himself inspected the 'Megaera' at Woolwich some 18 months or two years ago, and he found "her plating in the neighbourhood of the water line extremely thin. I have a strong impression that he made a report to that effect in writing." On this answer being sent to the Dockyard Ship Branch, Mr. Waymouth, the clerk in charge, replied, "Controller informed Woolwich that the Chief Constructor would inspect 'Megaera' on the 31st of July 1866, but we have no report from him shown in D.S. books or referred to in any Submission, neither is there any minute to be found to the effect of Controller's memorandum of the 2nd instant." The above was then forwarded to the Dockyard Material Branch, and to the Steam Branch, and Mr. Claud Clifton's note thereon is, "Nothing since 1st January 1866."
77. This document was also produced in original before us, and the reply of Mr. Morgan, followed by the notes of Mr. Waymouth, of the Dockyard Material Branch, and of Mr. Claud Clifton, are all on one and the same sheet of paper. In explanation of his note, "Nothing since 1st Jan. 1866," Mr. Claud Clifton has told us that he on that occasion looked only for some report from Mr. Reed, and for nothing else; that this time he did not look for any report as to the thinness of the vessel's plates, although Mr. Morgan had stated that the Chief Constructor had found the plating thin in the neighbourhood of the water line some 18 months or two years before, and Mr. Waymouth had called his attention to the precise date, the 31st of July 1866. He said that he considered that all that he had to look for was some report from Mr. Reed; that he only searched for such a report from Mr. Reed; and that, finding none, he thinks that he was justified in saying, "Nothing since 1st Jan. 1866."
REDUCTION OP ESTIMATES.
78. There were two occasions in which the estimates, as originally sent in, were reduced, and it may be important to examine them. The first was in April 1867, when the vessel having returned from a voyage to the Mediterranean, a list of defects and alterations were sent in by the Ship's Officers. This was reported upon by the Dockyard Officers at Woolwich, and an estimate was sent up. On its coming before Sir Spencer Robinson, he stated that the alterations had been asked for on trivial grounds, and that they were "mostly reported as unnecessary by the Dockyard Officers and Superintendent," and he submitted, for the reasons which he gave, that only certain of the items should be allowed. This submission was approved by Sir Alexander Milne, and those items only were allowed. And the estimates were thereupon reduced by the Officers themselves from 345l., the amount originally asked for by them, to 178l.
79. In July 1868 the "Megaera" was again at Woolwich for the repair of commission defects, and on that occasion Sir Alexander Milne, on the list being sent up, observed, "To be made good, but not more to be done than is absolutely necessary." Even then, however, the whole sum reported to be necessary and asked for by the Dockyard Officers was sanctioned.
80. The second occasion, on which the original estimate was reduced, was in April 1870, when on her return from the Mediterranean she went to Sheerness for the repair of her commission defects. This was the occasion, on which the Dockyard Officers, in their first report, stated that the bottom of the "Megaera" was reported "to be very thin, which cannot be ascertained, until the vessel is placed in dock." On this estimate coming before Mr. Morgan for the Chief Constructor, he reported that he considered the estimates for the hull defects to be rather high, at least so far as could be judged from any information contained in the papers, and he submitted that the Officers should be directed to proceed with the work, but to reconsider their estimate and report whether it could not he reduced. That submission was approved by the Controller, and an Order to that effect was issued to the Dockyard Officials. On the l6th of April a pressing demand came from the Director of Transports for the services of the "Megaera," suggesting whether only such works as might be necessary for the voyage to Malta and back should not he taken in hand. On the same day the Chief Constructor telegraphed to the Captain Superintendent, that they were to proceed with their work, but that any unimportant defects that could not be completed by the 30th must be deferred.
81. Under these circumstances the Dockyard Officers at Sheerness, on the 22nd of April 1870, sent in revised estimates, saying that the works required had been carefully examined, the work lessened as much as possible, and the estimate reduced accordingly. It was found that one of the items, in respect of which a reduction could be made, was the bottom (item No. 1), which in the first estimate was supposed to be very thin in many places; whereas in the amended estimate it was said that on being docked the bottom was found to be in a better condition than was expected, which would enable the estimate to be reduced. Another item, in which it was found possible to reduce the estimate, was in regard to painting the cabins (item No. 14). It is said that the first estimate provided for graining the cabins throughout; whereas in the second estimate it was proposed to paint them only, which would save time. A third item, in regard to which it was found that a reduction could be made, was the repair of the wing bunkers (item No. 29). In the first estimate it was proposed to repair them effectually, and it was thought that about 120 sheets of iron would be required for the purpose; whereas in the amended estimate it was said that the iron lining would be temporarily repaired, but would require to be more effectually done, when she could be spared for a longer period. On this occasion the repairs, so far as the hull was concerned, were reduced from 722l., as originally estimated, to 563l; but this was not a reduction affecting the seaworthiness or efficiency of the vessel, but merely a postponement of certain proposed repairs, owing to the pressing demand for her services by the Director of Transports.
82. One more occasion, however, there was, on which certain contemplated repairs were not executed, and that was on the 24th of August 1870, just when she was about to be paid off and put into the Reserve. On that occasion a list of defects bad been sent in by Mr. Sturdee, the Master Shipwright at Sheerness, to the amount of 360l., but on its coining before Captain Luard, that Officer stopped it, on the ground that, with the exception of item No. 1, for the repair of the mizen crosstree, which was afterwards effected at a cost of 6l. only, none of the repairs need be undertaken, as the vessel was merely held ready for temporary service. These were the only instances, in which there were any reductions of estimates.
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