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H.D. Pochin - Wreck Report

IN the matter of the, formal Investigation held at West Hartlepool on the 16th and 17th May 1883, before H. C. ROTHERY Esquire, Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captain PARFITT and Rear Admiral PICKARD, as Assessors, into the circumstances attending the supposed loss of the steamship "H. D. POCHIN," whilst on a voyage from West Hartlepool to Wismar.

Report of Court.
The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons annexed, that the said ship when she started on her last voyage was, so far as regards her hull, equipment, and machinery, in a good and seaworthy condition, and although fully laden was not overladen; but that she was not in her usual and proper trim, being only two inches instead of what she ordinarily was, from 12 to 18 inches by the stern; and that she probably foundered during the heavy gale which prevailed in the North Sea on the day after her departure, owing to her having been so heavily laden forward, which would prevent her rising to the seas and cause her to ship heavy water in the forward well between the bridge and raised forecastle.

The Court is not asked to make any order as to costs.

Dated the 17th day of May 1883.

Annex to the Report.
This case was heard at West Hartlepool on the 16th and 17th of May 1883, when Mr. Howard Smith appeared for the Board of Trade, and Mr. Tilly for the owners of the "H. D. Pochin." Twenty-one witnesses having been produced by the Board of Trade, and examined, Mr. Howard Smith handed in a statement of the questions upon which the Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court. Mr. Tilly then produced a witness, and addressed the Court on behalf of his parties, and Mr. Howard Smith having been heard in reply, the Court proceeded to give judgment on the questions on which its opinion had been asked. The circumstances of the case are as follow:

The "H. D. Pochin" was an iron screw steamship, belonging to the Port of West Hartlepool, of 1,011 tons gross, and 640 tons register, and was fitted with engines of 99 horse power. She was built at Jarrow-on-Tyne in the year 1871, and at the time of her loss was the property of Messrs. Pyman, of West Hartlepool, Mr. Thomas English Pyman being the managing owner. She left Hartlepool about noon of the 5th of March last for Wismar, with a crew of 18 hands and a cargo of 1,090 tons of coal, besides 180 tons in her bunkers. From that time nothing more has been either seen or heard of her, and as there can be little doubt after this lapse of time that she has been lost, the present inquiry has been ordered with a view of ascertaining if possible what has been the cause of her loss.

Now the first question upon which our opinion has been asked by the Board of Trade is, "Whether the " 'H. D. Pochin,' when she left West Hartlepool on the " 6th of March last, was in a good and seaworthy condition as regards her hull, machinery, and equipment?" It seems that the vessel was built by Messrs. Palmer, of Jarrow-on-Tyne, for Messrs. Holloway Brothers, of London, who sold her in 1873 to Messrs. Bolckow, Vaughan & Co. of Middlesbrough; and she was purchased from them in the year 1880 by the Messrs. Pyman, of Hartlepool. She seems to have been a good vessel, was classed 100 A1 at Lloyd's; and we have the evidence of Captain Jackson, who served in her during the whole time that she was in Messrs. Bolckow, Vaughan & Co.'s possession, from 1873 to 1880, at first as mate, and for the last three years as master, that she was a very strongly built vessel. In November and December 1881, and in January 1882 she was put into dry dock, and a sum of about 4,000l. was spent upon her, new boilers having then been put into her, the greater part of her decks renewed, three steam winches supplied in place of two steam cranes; and the hull and machinery having been thoroughly overhauled. We were also told by Captain Pyman, the owner's uncle, and the superintendent of their vessels, that, finding that the iron bulkhead at the fore end of the bridge house was not so strong as they are now made, he took the opportunity of strengthening it by putting in 9 knee plates and some angle irons. She seems to have been surveyed by Lloyd's as late as last December, and was then found fit to be continued on her class 100 A1. We were told by Captain Pyman that she had less sheer than they give them now, but apart from this she seems to have been a good strong, vessel, and to have been in a good and seaworthy condition as regards her hull, machinery, and equipments, when she left West Hartlepool on her last voyage.

The next question which we are asked is, "Whether "the vessel was overladen?" She had a cargo of 1,090 tons of coal, besides 180 tons in her bunkers, making a total of 1,270 tons, which, judging from the statement that has been laid before us of the quantities carried by her on the 23 voyages which she has made since she has been in Messrs. Pyman's possession, would seem to have been the average amount of dead weight carried by her, the vessel having occasionally had some 30 or 40 tons more or less according to the season of the year. With this cargo she drew, according to the owner, 16 feet 4 forward and 16 feet 9 aft, but according to the dock pilot and staithman, which seems the more reliable evidence, 16 feet 5 forward and 16 feet 7 aft; and this it seems to be admitted would give her a freeboard amidships of about 2 feet 3. I ought to state that the vessel had a raised quarter deck and bridge house connected, extending about 12 feet forward of the midships, and a raised forecastle forward about 32 feet long with a well about 65 feet long between it and the bridge. Now was this a sufficient freeboard for such a vessel? The learned Counsel for the Board of Trade has told us that, although in his opinion the vessel was fully laden, he was not prepared to say that she was overladen, or that she had too little freeboard, and we are not disposed to quarrel with that finding.

The third question which we are asked-is, "Was she "in proper trim?" It seems now to be generally admitted that, trimmed 2 inches by the stern, or even with 5 inches, as the managing owner contends, the vessel was neither in her usual nor in proper trim. Captain Jackson, who, as I have stated, served in her from 1873 to 1880, at first as mate, and for the last 3 years as master, told us that they always took care that she was trimmed from one foot to eighteen inches by the stern, and that in that trim she was an excellent sea boat. We see also from the record of the 23 voyages, to which I have already referred, that during the time she has been in Messrs Pyman's possession she has always been trimmed from a foot to eighteen inches by the stern, sometimes as much as 1 foot 10 inches, and that, except upon the last voyage, she has never been less than 10 inches by the stern. And the reason is clear; with the raised quarter-deck and bridge-house connected and extending some 12 feet forward of midships the vessel would be well protected aft; but forward with a well 65 feet long, and an unusually small sheer, she would be very liable to ship heavy seas, unless the bows were kept well out of the water. Captain Jackson was not prepared to say that with only 2 to 5 inches by the stern she would be positively dangerous, but he said what amounted to much the same thing, that he would not have liked to have gone in her in that trim. And Captain Pyman said that had he been at Hartlepool he would certainly not have allowed her to leave with only 2 or even 5 inches by the stern. There can, therefore, be no doubt that,' in the opinion of those best qualified to judge, she was not, when she left, in proper trim.

I will next take the fifth question, which is, "What " is the probable cause of the vessel not having been " heard of since she left West Hartlepool on the 5th of " March 1883?" After the evidence that has been laid before us as to the character of the coal put on board her, it is not suggested that her loss was due either to explosion or to spontaneous combustion. It seems, however, that on the day after she sailed a very severe gale prevailed in the North Sea, in the course of which no less than some 60 or 70 fishing smacks and 6 steam vessels are reported to have foundered, many of them with all hands; and it is most probable that this vessel, trimmed as she was, only about 2 inches by the stern, and with a full cargo on board, was not able to rise to the seas. Had she been less deeply laden, or had she been trimmed as she usually was, more by the stern, it is quite possible, seeing that she was a good strongly built vessel, that she might have been able to weather the gale.

I will now take the 4th and 6th questions together; they are, "Who is the person, or who are the persons " responsible for the vessel having left West Hartlepool " in the trim she did?" and, "assuming the vessel is " lost, is Mr. T. E. Pyman, her managing owner, or " is any other person to blame for her loss?" Seeing that her loss is, in our opinion, due to her having been sent to sea trimmed only about 2 inches, instead of a foot or eighteen inches by the stern, and with a full cargo on board, the question which we have to consider is, who is responsible for having sent her to sea in that state? It happened, most unfortunately, that when the vessel was at West Hartlepool, Captain Pyman, the superintendent, and a person of considerable experience, was absent from home; had he been there she would in all probability not have been allowed to leave the port in that trim. In his absence the person with whom the responsibility rested of sending her away in a seaworthy state was Mr. Thomas English Pyman, the managing owner. He, however, had occasion to leave Hartlepool for Whitby on the Friday, the day before the vessel arrived, and he accordingly left directions with one of his clerks, a Mr. Lawson, to see the captain on the arrival of the vessel, and to tell him to keep her lighter than usual, as she was going to a shallow port. What exactly passed between Mr. Lawson and the captain we do not know, for the captain is drowned, and Mr. Lawson, most unfortunately, left this country on the 26th of April last for Riga to get up evidence in another suit in which the owners are engaged; and neither party has asked that the inquiry should be adjourned for the attendance of Mr. Lawson. Under these circumstances we must endeavour to ascertain from less direct evidence what probably passed between the captain and Mr. Lawson. According to Mr. T. E. Pyman, immediately on his return from Whitby on the Tuesday following, he asked Mr. Lawscn whether he had given the master his message, and was told by him that he had done so, and that he had informed the captain " that he was to keep the vessel lighter than usual so " as to avoid lighterage at Wismar." On the other hand we have the report of certain conversations which took place between the captain and his wife, his sister, and the latter's husband on the evening before and on the morning of the vessel's departure. It seems that by about 10.30 p.m. of Saturday the 4th of March the vessel had taken in all the cargo which had been ordered for her except some 70 tons, which it was intended to put into the forehold, but on attempting to shift her for the purpose of getting the fore hatch under the spout, it was found that, owing to the tides being then dead neap, she was hard and fast astern, whilst the bows were afloat. A steam tug was accordingly obtained, and an attempt was made to tow her off, but without success, and she remained till the following morning, when the water having risen, she was found to be afloat. The question then which seems to have exercised the master's mind was, whether he should leave as he was, with some 70 tons of cargo short, or whether he should take in the remainder of the cargo. If he took the remainder in, he knew he must put it into the forehold, for he had been directed to take her lighter "so as to avoid lighterage at "Wismar," which was a shallow port, and he could only do so, if he took in all the cargo, by putting her on a more even keel than she usually had; and under these circumstances he seems to have been anxious to obtain instructions from one of the firm. Unfortunately both Captain Pyman, the superintendent, and Mr. T. E. Pyman, the managing owner, were away, but he went on the Sunday morning to a Mr. Forman, a clerk to Messrs. Pyman, but as it was not within his province, he does not seem to have been able to give him any very definite instructions on the subject. From some cause or other, however, the captain seems to have come to the conclusion that he had orders to take in the remainder of the cargo; his remark to his wife, when she asked him if he was bound to take it, "that the owner's " orders must be obeyed," seems to prove this. But however this may be, finding that he could get no definite instructions that he might leave some of the cargo behind, he ordered 62 1/2 tons to be put into the forehold on the Monday morning, which would bring the vessel down by the head, and left her with only about 2 inches by the stern; and in this trim she left the port. It is proper to add that, according to the evidence of Mr. Guthe, a clerk to Messrs. Lohden, the charterers, the captain might, so far as they were concerned, have left the 62 1/2 tons behind, for although the charter was for a full and complete cargo, they were only to pay freight on the quantity carried; and he told us that they were sending other cargoes, and could obtain freights at the same rate without difficulty. The captain however could hardly be expected to know this; and he would feel that at any rate any deficiency in the amount carried would be a loss to his owners. At all events he seems to have felt that in the absence of any specific directions to the contrary he was bound to carry his full cargo, and he could only do so by putting the vessel nearly on an even keel, and in a trim in which he had never before taken her to sea. Mr. Pyman admitted at the last that the natural result of his instructions to Mr. Lawson, unaccompanied with an intimation that he might take less cargo, would be to put the vessel nearly on an even keel. So far, therefore, he is to blame for having sent her or allowed her to go to sea in that trim. We are quite ready to believe that Mr. T. E. Pyman was not fully alive to the consequences which would result from the instructions he gave to Mr. Lawson. Whether Mr. Lawson told the master that he was to take the full cargo or not there is no evidence to shew; but apparently he did not tell him that he might leave a portion of it behind; all that he seems to have impressed on the master was that he was to avoid incurring lighterage at Wismar, and he could only do so, if he took a full cargo, by putting her upon a nearly even keel.

The Court was not asked to make any order as to costs.

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