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Loss of the Hartlepools - Board of Trade Enquiry


The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876. 

IN the matter of a formal Investigation held at the Public Board Room, Post Office Chambers, Middlesbrough, on the 4th and 5th days of January 1889, before CHARLES JAMES COLEMAN, Esq., Judge, assisted by Vice-Admiral POWELL and Captains WILSON and HORE, into the circumstances attending the stranding of the British steamship "HARTLEPOOLS," of West Hartlepool, at or near Egersund, Norway, on or about the 6th day of December 1888, whereby loss of seventeen lives ensued. 

Report of Court. 

The Court having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the annex hereto, that the casualty was caused by the vessel being set 60 miles to the eastward of her course by a strong current, for which sufficient allowance had not been made, and by the neglect of the lead, and the Court finds the master, John Race, in default, and suspends his certificate (No. 01,209) for three months from this date. 

Dated this 5th day of January 1889. 


We concur in the above report. (Signed) R. ASHMORE POWELL, R. WILSON, Assessors. KENNETT HORE.

Annex to the Report. 

The "Hartlepools," official number 81,507, which forms the subject of this investigation, was an iron steamship, built by Messrs. Wm. Gray & Co., at West Hartlepool, in the county of Durham, in the year 1880. She was 1,753.78 gross and 1,13111 registered tonnage, brigantine rigged, 258.5 ft. in length, 34.6 ft. in breadth, and 19.7 ft. in depth of hold, and was fitted with two compound inverted surface condensing direct-acting engines, of 150 horse-power combined. The diameters of the cylinders were 33" and 61", and the length of stroke 33", and they were made by Thos. Richardson & Sons, of Hartlepool, in 1880, when the vessel was built. She belonged to "The Hudson Shipping Company, Limited," Mr. Thomas Sharp Hudson, of Victoria Terrace, West Hartlepool, being the managing owner, and appointed the 24th October 1884. She was commanded by Mr. John Race, who holds a certificate of competency, as master, No. 01,209, he being appointed to her on the 18th February 1888. She was well found and equipped for the voyage, and had four boats, three of which were lifeboats and one a jolly-boat. The two largest lifeboats were stated to be 22 to 23 ft. long, the third lifeboat about 16 ft., and the jolly-boat about 15 ft. long. They were all properly supplied with oars, rowlocks, boat hook, beakers, baler, &c., and the two largest had masts, but the sails were not kept in the boats. The four boats stood on chocks on the bridge deck, and hung to the davit heads by tackles ready for immediate use. She had three compasses, the pole (a spirit compass, made by Macgregor, of Liverpool, in 1887, by which the courses were set and the vessel navigated), a steering compass, and one aft, the latter two being supplied, when the vessel was built, by Harris, of Hartlepool. They were all in good order and condition, and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel, and were last adjusted in Cardiff, in July 1888, by Mr. Stanton, a professional adjuster. 

The "Hartlepools" left Galatz on the 8th November with a cargo of 2,220 tons of rye and barley for Bergen, in Norway. On the 1st December she went into Dartmouth, where she coaled and trimmed, so as to adjust a slight list to starboard, which she got in crossing the Bay of Biscay. 

On the 3rd December, at 9 p.m., the North Hender Lightship bore S.E. by S. 1/2 S. 7 or 8 miles. A course was set N.E. 1/2 N. and kept until 6 a.m. on the 4th, when she had run 70 miles. The course was then altered to N.N.E., the weather being fine but hazy. 

At 8 a.m. on the 5th the course was again altered to N. by E. 3/4 E. in order, as the captain stated, to counteract any easterly current. The captain appears to have been continually on deck from the time that the ship took her departure from the North Hender, and at 1 a.m. on the 6th he told the second officer to call him if it came on thicker, and he sat down by the funnel. About an hour afterwards he was awakened by the ship striking the rocks. He ran on the bridge and found the engines already stopped. He ordered the port lifeboat and jolly-boat to be swung out and got ready for lowering, at the same time he ran aft and burnt a blue light. There appears to have been considerable confusion on board, and, notwithstanding the direction of the captain to the contrary, the chief officer and 13 men went into the lifeboat and ordered it to be lowered.

Unfortunately the fore tackle fouled, and the after one having been let go the boat filled and the men were thrown out. Ropes were thrown from the ship, but only one man succeeded in getting on board. The jollyboat had by this time been lowered, and, having cleared herself of the tackles, she drifted from the ship, when three of the men from the lifeboat reached her and got into her, but she was almost immediately afterwards dashed against the rocks, and two of the three were drowned. The survivor swam to the ship and was saved. At this time the sea was smooth outside, but a heavy surf was breaking on the rocks, and the ship was partially under water. Three of the crew got on the rocks from the ship, but two of them were drowned, and the third returned to the ship again; two more were swept off the decks, whilst the captain and three others took refuge in the rigging and on the yards, and were afterwards taken off by a boat from the shore. The captain on landing found the ship had been lost on rocks half-a-mile from the shore and about 4 miles to the southward of Ekersund. The next day the vessel had nearly disappeared, and became a total wreck. Of the crew consisting of 21 hands all told four only were saved. 

The Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court on the following questions: 

1. What number of compasses had the vessel on board, where were they placed, and were they in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel? 

2. When and by whom were they made, and when and by whom were they last adjusted? 

3. Did the master ascertain the deviation of his compasses by observation from time to time; were the errors of the compasses correctly ascertained and the proper corrections to the courses applied? 

4. Whether all the bulkheads were fitted with sluices? 

5. Whether all or any of them were open at the time of the casualty? 

6. If all or any of them were open at the time of the casualty, was it necessary and proper to keep them open; and, if open, did their being so contribute to the loss of the ship or the loss of life? 

7. Whether proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel from time to time after leaving the North Hinder? 

8. Whether safe and proper courses were set and steered? 

9. Whether the master made a safe and proper alteration in the course at or about 8 a.m. of the 5th December, and whether due and proper allowance was made for tide and currents? 

10. Whether the master was on deck at a time when the safety of the vessel required his personal supervision? 

11. Whether he gave instructions to the chief officer that he should be called when lights were seen, and, if so, how did it happen that he did not verify the position of the vessel when a light was seen on the port bow about 9 p.m. of the 5th December? 

12. Whether, when the vessel struck, the master made every possible effort to preserve discipline? 

13. What was the cause of the complete failure of this vessel's boats in fine weather and a smooth sea? 

14. What was the cause of the casualty? 

15. What was the cause of the loss of life, and whether every possible effort was made to avoid it? 

16. Whether a good and proper look-out was kept? 

17. Whether the lead was used, and, if not, whether such neglect was justifiable? 

18. Whether the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care? 

19. Whether the master is in default? 

In the opinion of the Board of Trade the certificate of John Race, the master, should be dealt with. To which questions the Court replied as follows: 

1. There were three compasses on board; a pole (by which the courses were set and the vessel navigated), one on the bridge, a steering compass, and one aft. They were all in good order, and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel. 

2. The pole, a spirit compass, was made by Mr. Macgregor, of Liverpool, in 1887, and the other two by Mr. Harris, of Hartlepool, when the vessel was built, in 1880, and they were last adjusted by Mr. Stanton, of Cardiff, in July 1888, a professional adjuster. 

3. The master did ascertain the deviation of the compasses by observations from time to time, and properly applied the errors found. On the N.E. courses by the pole there was no deviation, it being stated by the master to be correct magnetic. 

4. All the bulkheads, four in number, were fitted with two sluices each. 

5. Only two of them were open at the time of the casualty, the forward engine-room bulkhead sluices. 

6. The two sluices that were open were promptly closed when the vessel struck, and they in no way contributed to the loss of the ship or the loss of life which followed it. 

7. Proper measures were not taken to ascertain and verify the vessel's position after leaving the North Hender, inasmuch as the lead was not used to verify the position and distance found by dead reckoning. 

8. Proper courses were set and steered, but they were not made, and the use of the lead would have pointed this out. 

9. The alteration made in the course, at 8 a.m. of December 5th, would have been a safe and proper alteration had the vessel been in the position which the master supposed her to have been. 

10. The master was on deck but, not believing the vessel was in any danger, was sitting asleep by the funnel. 

11. He gave instructions to the chief officer that when lights were seen he was to be called. The light seen at 9 p.m. of December 5th on the port bow was a vessel's light to seaward and not reported to him, as no danger was anticipated. 

12. The Court is of opinion that the master did his best to preserve discipline, but in the excitement of the vessel striking the crew got completely beyond his control, and to this fact we attribute the sad loss of life which followed. 

13. Although there was a smooth sea outside, there was a very heavy swell breaking on the rocks, and we do not consider that there was an entire failure in the working of the boats. On lowering the port lifeboat the fore-tackle fouled, and the after-tackle being let go the boat canted and filled, and the men were washed out of her. The jolly-boat was safely launched, but drifted away. She was, however, caught and used to save the lives of three of the men, two of whom, we regret to say, were afterwards lost. 

14. The casualty was caused by the master being 60 miles out of his reckoning, and to the eastward of his assumed position, although he steered to be 60 miles west, showing sufficient allowance even then was not made. 

15. The loss of life was caused principally by the mate and crew rushing into the lifeboat in direct opposition to the captain's orders, who did all he could to prevent it, and in lowering her away in a hurry the fore-tackle fouled and the after one was let go. The men were washed out of her. Some men were also washed off the deck, and two off a rock, where they had attempted to land. 

16. A proper look-out was set, but we are unable to say it was kept, from the fact that the look-out man saw something dark ahead, 15 minutes before the ship struck, which he did not report. 

17. The lead was not used, and its neglect was not justifiable, as it would have shown the master that he was not in the position that he supposed himself to be. 

18. We cannot say that the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care, seeing that the lead was not used, especially when sights and observations were not obtainable, and to this neglect the Court attributes the sad disaster which followed. Had the lead been used after leaving the North Hinder, it would have warned the master that the current was steadily setting him to the eastward before the night of December 5th. 

19. The master alone is in default. 

It is impossible, we think, to acquit the master of blame in the loss of his vessel. Of the unhappy result of the stranding, relating to the loss of so many lives, we do acquit him, as we think, that had the chief officer and the crew obeyed the captain's order, not to get into the lifeboat, no lives would have been lost, as the weather outside the rocks was smooth and the boats the vessel carried were amply sufficient for life-saving purposes. 

Now what brought the ship to the place where she struck and was lost? The captain had made an allowance for current, but it was not sufficient. Had he verified his position by occasionally sounding he would have ascertained that he was drifting to the eastward, and was approaching the land. He appears to have laid a course which he thought was sufficiently safe, but unfortunately the current was stronger than he imagined, and hence the ship was set further to the eastward and the casualty was brought about. The captain was constantly on deck, and so far looked after his vessel, but his remissness in not using the lead was a serious failure in seamanship on his part, and for this we feel bound to find him in default. 

Taking into consideration all the facts of the case, and giving the master the full benefit of his previous good character, we suspend his certificate for three months only from this date. 

The Court makes no order as to costs. 
Dated this 5th day of January 1889. 


We concur in the above report. 

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