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Wreck Report for 'Eldorado', 1885

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Unique ID:14940
Description:Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Eldorado', 1885
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 2503.)


The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876.

IN the matter of the formal Investigation held at the Sessions House, Westminster, on the 26th and 27th of March 1885, before H. C. ROTHERY, Esquire, Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captain KNOX, R.N., Captain BEASLEY, and Captain COMYN, as Assessors, into the circumstances attending the stranding and loss of the steamship "ELDORADO," on the Farilhoes Rocks, on the 11th of February 1885, whereby two lives were lost.

Report of Court.

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons annexed, that the stranding and loss of the said ship was due to the wrongful acts and defaults of Henry Bentley Smith, the master of the "Eldorado," and of Henry Edgar Power and George Lever, the second and third officers thereof. The Court accordingly suspends the certificate of the said Henry Bentley Smith for six months, and the certificates of the said Henry Edgar Power and George Lever for three months each, but on the application of counsel for the master recommends that during the suspension of his master's certificate the said Henry Bentley Smith should be allowed a first mate's.

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

Dated this 27th day of March 1885.




Wreck Commissioner.

We concur in the above report.




Captain R.N.,










Annex to the Report.

This case was heard at Westminster on the 26th and 27th days of March 1885, when Mr. McConnell appeared for the Board of Trade, Mr. Crofton for the master, and Mr. Bingham. Q.C., and Mr. Aspinall for the owners and officers of the "Eldorado." Fifteen witnesses having been produced by the Board of Trade and examined, Mr. McConnell handed in a statement of the questions upon which the Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court. Mr. Bingham and Mr. Crofton then addressed the Court on behalf of their respective parties, and Mr. McConnell 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 "Eldorado" was an iron screw steamship, belonging to the port of Glasgow, of 3,332 tons gross, and 2,157 tons net register, and was fitted with engines of 450 horse-power. She was built at Hull in the year 1873, and at the time of her loss was the property of Mr. Edwyn Sandys Dawes, of No. 13, Austin Friars, in the city of London, and others, Mr. Dawes being the managing owner. She left London on the 6th February last for Calcutta, via the Suez Canal, with a crew of 120 hands, of whom 20 were Europeans, and 100 Lascars, 47 passengers, and a general cargo equal to about her gross tonnage. At 2.45 p.m. of the 10th, Cape Finisterre bore east, distant from 6 to 7 miles; upon which she was put on a south 23° west course, equivalent to a S.S.W. course, and proceeded at full speed, making about 10 to 10 1/2 knots an hour; the weather at the time being fine, with a light breeze from the northward, which subsequently changed to about S.E., but with a long Atlantic swell from the N.W. At about 8.15 a.m. of the following day, the captain left the bridge, leaving the deck in charge of the third officer, and she continued her course, still going at full-speed, till about 9.20 a.m., when the second officer came up and relieved the third officer, who then went to his cabin to have his breakfast. What the state of the atmosphere then was, we shall presently have to inquire, but in about a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes afterwards the second officer sent down word to the captain, who was having his breakfast in the saloon with the passengers, to tell him that it was becoming foggy. In about two or three minutes afterwards the captain came up, and it is admitted that at that time the fog was so dense, that they could not see more than about from half a ship to a ship's length ahead. The captain at once ordered the steam whistle to be sounded, and the engines to be put at half speed, and then went into his cabin to look at his chart, and having, as he thought, determined the vessel's position, he returned to the bridge and then ordered the helm to be ported, and steadied her at W.S.W. Almost immediately afterwards a cliff was observed right ahead and breakers under the bow, upon which the captain ordered the engines to be reversed full-speed, and the helm to be put hard-a-starboard, but too late to avoid her going on the rocks. It was now about 9.50 a.m., and the fog soon afterwards lifting, it was found that they had struck on the Farilhoes, a group of rocks some 4 miles north of the Burlings. On then sounding the holds it was found that there were 8 feet of water in the fore, 2 feet in the main, and none in the after hold; but on sounding a second time shortly afterwards, they found 16 feet in the fore, 8 in the main, and 8 in the after hold; and as there were 5 fathoms of water under the stern, the captain ordered the engines to be put full speed ahead, to prevent the vessel slipping off into deep water. The boats were then got out, and the passengers put into them, and as two steamers, the "Allende" and the "Rome," were observed to the northward and westward lying to, the boats pulled towards them, and the passengers were put on board the "Allende." At about midday, as the sea was then breaking over her, and it was dangerous to remain in her any longer, the captain and the remainder of the crew left her, and some went to the "Rome," some to the "Allende." It was subsequently discovered that one first-class passenger and one Lascar were missing, and it seems probable that they perished in getting out the boats, when two of them were upset and smashed alongside. Finding that nothing more could be done, the "Rome" proceeded to Gibraltar, and there landed a part of the crew; whilst the "Allende" went to Lisbon, where she landed the passengers and the remainder of the crew. On the following day, the 12th, the master engaged a steam tug, and with some of the crew proceeded towards the wreck, but not getting there till it was nearly dark, they anchored for the night off Peniche Point. The next day they went to the wreck, and during that and the following day they succeeded in saving a portion of the passenger's luggage, and other articles, when the weather beginning to look threatening, the master of the tug, fearing that he would run short of coals, refused to remain any longer, and they accordingly returned to Lisbon. That night a gale sprang up from the S.W., and the vessel went to pieces and became a total wreck.

These being the facts of the case, the first question upon which the Board of Trade has asked for our opinion is, "What was the cause of the stranding of " the vessel?" We were told by the master that, when he left the bridge at 8.15, he first went to his cabin, but soon afterwards came out again, and asked the third officer to give him the distance that they had run from Cape Finisterre. The third officer accordingly got the log book, and having summed up the figures gave him 176 miles as the distance run up to 8 a.m. The captain then told us that he took the log book, and having summed up the figures made it to be 175 miles, and he then laid the course down on the chart, namely, S. 23° W. from off Cape Finisterre, which he said would take him if made good some 4 miles to the west of the Farilhoes, and having marked off 175 miles, it left him 27 1/2 miles before he would reach the Farilhoes, the total distance from the place from which he had taken his departure off Cape Finisterre to the Farilhoes being 202 1/2 miles. In thus, however, fixing the vessel's position at 8 a.m. the master admitted that he had made no allowance either for the current or for the N.W. swell, which they had had from Cape Finisterre. If, however, we refer to page 4 of the Sailing Directions for the West Coasts of France, Spain, and Portugal we find the following passsage, "The easterly current from the " North Atlantic Ocean strikes the land near Cape " Ortegal in Spain, and then appears to divide into two " branches, the northern (Rennell's Current) flowing " eastward along the Coast of Spain, then north along " the West Coast of France, where it is felt at 30 or 40 " miles off shore, and is 15 or 20 miles across." "The " southern branch," it goes on to say, "turns gradu- " ally to the S.E., and southward along the Coast of " Portugal, until having passed Cape St. Vincent, when " it runs eastward towards the Strait of Gibraltar. " It must not, however, be presumed that the " current along the West Coast of Spain and Portu- " gal always sets to the southward, for during " westerly winds it sets strong towards the land, and " immediately after the continuance of southerly gales " or strong breezes, the current will probably be found " setting to the northward." But, as there had been no "southerly gales or strong breezes," the wind from the time of their passing Cape Finisterre having been light at first from the northward, and afterwards from the southward and eastward, it might fairly be assumed that the current would have been in its ordinary normal condition, setting along the coast to the southward. And that there was such a current is clear from the evidence of the master of the "Allende," who told us that they passed Cape Finisterre on the preceding afternoon at a distance of about 5 miles,' and that he had then put her on a S.S.W. course, the same as the "Eldorado" was on; he stated that that course would, if made good, have taken him just within range of Bayona Light, but that at half-past 6 they found themselves well within the range of the light, and about 4 miles ahead of his reckoning by the log, shewing that they had been set by the current to the southward and eastward. He accordingly altered his course a quarter of a point to the westward, and at 9 a.m. sighted the Farilhoes right ahead, the "Eldorado," being at that time ahead of him, a little on his port bow, and between him and the Farilhoes. Now we are told that the "Eldorado" had run 176 miles by the log up to 8 a.m., after which her speed is said to have been 10 knots, so that by 9.45 a.m. she would have made 193 1/2 miles by the log; and if to this we add for the southerly current, at the rate of only half a knot an hour, it will make up the 202 1/2 miles from her point of departure off Cape Finisterre to the Farilhoes; which added to the slight easterly set caused either by the current or by the N.W. swell would fully account for the stranding of the vessel when and where she did.

The second question on which our opinion is asked is, "What number of compasses had she on board, and " where were they placed?" She had a Sir William Thomson's compass on the top of the captain's cabin, a steering compass on the after bridge, a pole compass on the saloon deck amidships, a compass on the deck over the second class cabin, and a steering compass in front of the after wheel. No vessel could well have been better supplied with compasses than she was.

The third question which we are asked is, "Did the " master ascertain their deviation from time to time, and " were the errors of the compasses correctly ascertained, " and the proper correction to the courses applied?" We are told that Mr. Tilley, the compass adjuster, accompanied the vessel as far as the North Foreland, that the vessel was there swung, and that Sir William Thomson's compass, by which the courses were set, was tested on every two points, and found not to have any deviation upon any point. The master told us that off the Isle of Wight, and before the pilot left he swung the vessel from west to S.S.W., and found 2° westerly deviation on a west course; that he afterwards took observations to ascertain the deviation and entered them in the Deviation Book, but that that book has been lost; and that on the night of the 10th, when they were on a S. 23° W. course, he swung her from west round by south to east, and ascertained that on a west course Sir William Thomson's compass shewed 3° of westerly deviation, on a south course 1° to 2° of easterly deviation, and on an east course 5° of easterly deviation; but that on a S.S.W. course there was no deviation at all. It seems therefore that the master did take measures from time to time to ascertain the error of his compasses, and to apply the proper corrections.

The fourth question that we are asked is, "Whether " proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify " the position of the vessel at 8 a.m. on the 11th of " February?" The only measure taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at 8 a.m. of the 11th of February, was to lay off a S.S.W. course, from between 6 and 7 miles off Cape Finisterre, and then to mark off 176 miles, the distance shewn by the log, but without any allowance being made for the southerly current or the north-westerly swell, which was a very unsatisfactory way of determining the vessel's position.

The fifth question which we are asked is, "Whether " a safe and proper course was set and steered, and " whether due and proper allowance was made for tide, " currents, and swell?" The course steered would no doubt, if made good, have taken him 4 miles outside the Farilhoes, but with the easterly set of the current and swell, it took him, as we have seen, directly on to them. Seeing, however, that it would be broad daylight when they reached them, there would be no objection to his taking this course, provided that he took care to alter his course in due time, and before he actually ran on them.

The sixth question which we are asked is, "Whether " the master was on deck at a time when the safety of " the vessel required his personal supervision?" At 8 o'clock she was estimated by the log to have run 175 or 176 miles. Adding half a knot an hour for the set of the southerly current during the 17 hours which had elapsed since she was off Cape Finisterre, makes 183 to 184 miles. From 8 to 9 she would, with the southerly set of the current, make about 10 1/2 knots, so that at 9 she would have made from 194 to 195 miles, which would bring her within 7 or 8 miles of the Farilhoes, the total distance from his point of departure to the Farilhoes being only 202 1/2 miles. Now, we are told that both the Burlings and the Farilhoes can be seen in clear weather at a distance of 24 miles, and as no report had been made to him of either the Burlings or the Farilhoes, the master ought to have asked himself, why it was that they were not seen; instead of which he goes down into the saloon to have breakfast with the passengers, and remains there until about 9.40, when in fact the vessel had nearly run her distance to the Farilhoes, and he is then summoned on deck, and on coming up finds the vessel in a dense fog, and within 5 or 6 minutes afterwards she strikes. In our opinion the master was not on deck when the safety of the vessel required his personal supervision.

I will now take the 7th, 8th, and 9th questions together; they are as follow:—"7. Whether a good " and proper look-out was kept by the second and " third officers, and whether the Burlings or Farilhoes " Rocks should have been seen by both, or either of " these officers?" "8. When was the fog bank seen " ahead? Was it reported to the master as soon as it " should have been, and if not, what was the cause of " the omission? Or should the officer of the watch " have slowed, or altered the course of the ship?" and "9. Whether a proper and sufficient look-out was kept, " and whether the officers of the watch were sufficiently " on the alert?" it was, as we have seen, the third officer's watch from 8 a.m. on that morning, but at 9.20 a.m. the second officer came on the bridge, and after standing talking together for about 5 minutes about the weather, the third officer went down to his cabin to have his breakfast. Both these gentlemen at first stated that, although there was a slight haze, they could at this time see distinctly some 6 or 7 miles ahead, and that was the report which the second officer made to the master on his asking him how long the weather had been in that state. In cross-examination, however, both of them were obliged to admit that this statement was not correct, and that, when the third officer left the deck, they could not, owing to the haze and the glare, see more than a mile or half a mile ahead. They, however, stated that they never saw any fog bank ahead, nor the Great Farilhao, which rises to a height of 315 feet above the level of the sea. On the other hand, we were told by Dr. Bendall, the surgeon of the ship, that at 9 a.m. his attention was called by one of the passengers to a bank of fog ahead, and to a dark mass in the middle, which he, the passenger, thought was land. He accordingly called the attention of Price, the quartermaster, to it, who said that he thought it was a blue cloud; but both Dr. Bendall and Price were clear upon the point that at 9 a.m. or shortly afterwards there was a bank of fog distinctly to be seen ahead. Holden also, the carpenter, and Robertson, the gunner, swore that at about a 1/4 or 20 minutes after 9 they saw a fog bank about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mileahead, and extending 2 or 3 points on either bow; and their evidence is strongly supported by that of the master and mate of the "Allende," who said that they saw the fog bank ahead at about 8.40 a.m. and the Farhiloes at about 9 a.m., the "Eldorado" at that time being about 2 miles ahead, and a little on their port bow; that at about 9.20 the fog covered them, that it was very dense for about 20 minutes, and that at about 9.50 it lifted, and they then saw the "Eldorado" on the Farilhoes Rocks. Now, with all this evidence before us, it is not possible for us to say that if the 2nd and 3rd officers had been keeping a good look-out they would not have seen this fog bank ahead, and that they were running into it; and there is no reason why the third officer should not also have seen the Great Farilhao, as Dr. Bendall and Price, and the master and mate of the "Allende" did. Both these gentlemen prevaricated a good deal whilst giving their evidence, and at first made statements tending to injure the master, but which they were subsequently obliged to depart from. It appears to us that both the second and third officers were not keeping a good lookout, and were not sufficiently on the alert, and that if they had been they would have seen, if not the Farilhoes, at all events the bank of fog into which they were running, and they ought certainly to have reported it to the master sooner than it was done.

The next two questions I shall take together; they are as follow:—"10. Whether the vessel was navigated " with proper and seamanlike care?" and "11. Whether " the master, second and third officers are, or either of " them is, in default?" In our opinion the vessel was navigated in a very careless and unseamanlike manner, the master, as well as the second and third officers, being all more or less to blame for the casualty. The master is to blame for not making due allowance for the current and the N.W. swell, for having continued his course at full speed until they were close down on the Farilhoes, and for having been off the deck at a time when the safety of the ship required his personal supervision. The second and third officers are to blame for not having kept a vigilant and careful look-out when left in charge of the deck, and for not having seen and reported the fog bank as soon as it ought to have been.

Lastly, the Board of Trade ask "that the certificate " of the master, second and third officers, should be " dealt with." Here is a very valuable vessel, worth, we are told, some 30,000l. or 40,000l., with a cargo probably worth considerably more, and with 47 passengers, and a crew of 120 hands, which is run on these well-known rocks, and in broad daylight, by the gross neglect and carelessness of the master and the second and third officers. The vessel and cargo have been entirely lost, and the lives of two persons, a first-class passenger and one of the crew have been sacrificed. It is a case which it is impossible for us to look over. The master, it seems, has been in the company's employ for about 20 years, and in command of their vessels for 15, and, as Mr. McConnell has said, he gave his evidence in a very straightforward and upright way, which is more, we are sorry to say, than can be said for the second and third officers. They have, however, by their misconduct, caused the loss of this valuable vessel and cargo, for which they can make no compensation whatever, and have imperilled the lives of all on board. Seeing that the principal responsibility for this casualty rests with the master, we shall suspend his certificate for six months, and we shall suspend the certificates of the second and third officers for three months.

The Court, on the application of counsel for the master of the "Eldorado," agreed to recommend to the Board of Trade that he should, during the suspension of his master's certificate, be allowed a first mate's.

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




Wreck Commissioner.

We concur.




Captain R.N.,










L 367. 2278. 170.—4/85. Wt. 36. E. & S.


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