|Causes of Shipwreck - Emigrant Ship John
In our impression of yesterday we published the conclusion at which the magistrates at Falmouth, assisted by Captain Robertson, had arrived with regard to the loss of the emigrant ship John. As we pointed out two days back the more striking features in the evidence, it will be unnecessary to recount the particulars of the case with which the public must, unfortunately, be too familiar. The various conclusions now formally enunciated are obvious deductions prom the evidence and if we advert to them at all, it is because they are now established by competent authority. The boats on board the John ware not stowed in their proper places, nor were they prepared for service if wanted. We may venture to add, as a fair deduction from the evidence, that even had they been properly stowed, and had they been prepared for service, there was not in them sufficient accommodation to secure the safety of the passengers.
In the report of the magistrates it is added that there were not on board the ship any means for making a signal of distress by night ; and to this cause they attribute the lose of so many lives, as the weather was moderate for some time after the ship struck.
For these two deficiencies blame is very properly attached to the owners of the ship, and still more to the Government emigration officers. The boats and the signals must, however, be considered merely as palliatives ; the prime cause of the calamity is that which warranted the committal of the captain for manslaughter under the coroner's inquest about a week back.
It is this :- " Either from the ignorance, or gross and culpable negligence of the captain, the courses steered by his orders were the direct cause of bringing the vessel on the Manacle Rocks.". Such is the substance of the report of the Falmouth magistrates to the Board of Trade in its most important point, and were we to fill many columns with comment, we could not add to it or take from it is the smallest particular. The John leaves her port. And by the orders of the master such courses are steered as within seven hours afterwards, according to the condition of the tides, and the force of the tides, could not but bring her on the Manacle Rocks. The John arrived at the Manacles just for the same reasons as another ship may arrive at Bombay, and another at New York. The master and crew carefully navigated her for that point, and she reached it. All other matters are secondary. The boats were not in serviceable condition - there were no means in hoisting or making a night signal - the mate was an ignoramus - after the vessel struck the captain showed no alacrity in endeavouring to rescue his passengers from the perilous strait into which he had brought them, and the crew followed his example ; but the main primary cause of the calamity was the gross ignorance of the commander.
It is something to arrive at a clear idea upon so momentous a point, for the remedy world appear to follow as a matter of coarse. How is it that a master so incompetent to take the charge of a vessel is sent to sea at all? Something? we had heard of a Merchant Seamens' Act, which was to bring about an entirely new order of things. Masters in the merchant service were to be submitted to the most stringent tests, and no one was to be placed in as position of authority who was not fitted for the post. In the very case before us, in addition to the shortcomings of the captain the first mate held only a certificate of service, not one of competency. The only remedy is, that the Board of Trade should enforce to their utmost extent the penalties of the new Act against the owners of the John. If there be no regard for human life among the owners of emigrant ships, perhaps consideration for their own pockets may render them more careful in the selection of competent officers.
Times May 18.
SG & SGTL Vol 12 ; Page 204 ; 3 Sep 1855
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