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Wreck Report for 'Lady Frances', 1885

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Unique ID:14986
Description:Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Lady Frances', 1885
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 2722.)


The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876.

IN the matter of the formal Investigation held at the Sessions House, Westminster, on the 11th of November 1885, before H. C. ROTHERY, Esquire, Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captain PARISH and Rear-Admiral MORESBY, as Assessors, into the circumstances attending the stranding and loss of the steamship "LADY FRANCES," on the Ishailah Rocks, in the Mediterranean, on the 11th of September 1885, and the subsequent loss of the lives of nine of her crew.

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 her having been kept too far to the southward of her proper course, and that the master and second officer, who were mainly responsible for the navigation at the time, were both drowned.

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

Dated this 11th day of November 1885.




Wreck Commissioner.

We concur in the above report.









Annex to the Report.

This case was heard at Westminster on the 11th of November 1885, when Mr. Marsden appeared for the Board of Trade, Mr. Ince for the owners, and Mr. Botterell for the chief officer of the "Lady Frances." Eight witnesses having been produced by the Board of Trade and examined, Mr. Marsden handed in a statement of the questions upon which the Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court. Mr. Ince and Mr. Botterell then addressed the Court on behalf of their respective parties, and Mr. Marsden 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 "Lady Frances" was an iron screw steamship, belonging to the Port of West Hartlepool, of 1374 tons gross and 884 tons net register, and was fitted with engines of 120 horse-power. She was built at West Hartlepool in the year 1876, and at the time of her loss was the property of Mr. Walter Jackson, of No. 6, Crosby Square, London, and others, Mr. Walter Jackson being the managing owner. She left South Shields on the 26th day of August last, with a crew of 19 hands all told and a cargo of coals, bound to Alexandria, and at 11.15 a.m. of the 8th of September following was off the Island of Gozo, which she passed at the distance of about 3 miles, and was then put upon a S.E. by E. 1/4 E. course. According to the chief officer, the only officer saved, the master and second mate having been drowned, that course was continued till midnight, when it was altered to E.S.E. At noon of the 10th the course was altered to S.E. by E., and at midnight to S.E. 1/2 E., but at noon of the following day, the 11th, she was again put on a S.E. by E. course, and that course was kept till between 5 and 6 p.m., when it was altered to S.E. by E. 1/2 E., and during the whole of the time the engines were kept at full speed, the vessel making about 8 knots an hour. At about 11 p.m., whilst still on a S.E. by E. 1/2 E. course, and still going at full speed, the second officer being on the bridge and in charge of the deck, and a man on the look-out forward and another at the midship wheel, she struck on what proved to be the Ishailah Rocks, which are within a short distance of the coast of Africa, and about 170 miles West of Alexandria. On sounding it was found that there were 5 fathoms aft, 3 forward, and 2 amidships; orders were at once given to reverse the engines full speed and to carry out anchors astern, but all their efforts to get her off proved unavailing. At length, at about 4 p.m. the next day, the water was found to be gaining upon them, upon which the boats, which consisted of two lifeboats and two smaller boats, were got out, and having been properly provisioned the whole of the crew, at about 6.30 got into them, the captain with 9 of the crew taking charge of one lifeboat and one of the smaller boats, and the chief officer, with the remaining 8, of the other lifeboat and smaller boat. During the following night the captain, with his two boats, remained under the lee of the vessel, but on the following morning, finding that the vessel, with the exception of the topgallant forecastle, was under water, they made sail and shaped a course for Alexandria. At this time there were 7 hands in the lifeboat, and 3 in the smaller boat, but on the morning of the 14th, a squall having come on, the captain ordered all hands into the lifeboat, and the smaller boat was then abandoned. The next morning, the 15th, the lifeboat was upset, and all were thrown into the water; the chief and third engineers were drowned, but the rest of the crew succeeded in getting back to the boat. All the provisions, however, had been lost by the upsetting of the boat, and they were consequently reduced to great distress, one after the other being either washed out of the boat, or going mad and jumping overboard; at length, on the 17th or 18th, the boat was fallen in with, some 5 miles to the westward of Alexandria, by a steam tug called the "Whitworth," but there were then only two of the hands remaining in her, and both of these were out of their minds; they were, however, taken to the hospital at Alexandria, and having recovered their senses, they were sent to this country, and have been produced before us as witnesses. In the meantime, the mate, with his two boats had on leaving the ship pulled straight out to sea, and lay to till daylight, when they also shaped a course for Alexandria. On the 14th, it began to blow very heavy, but they continued to pull during the daytime, and to lie to at night, until the morning of the 16th, when, the men being exhausted, it was determined to run the boats ashore; the small boat reached the shore in safety, but the lifeboat was upset in the surf, and one of the hands was drowned, the rest of the hands, however, succeeded in reaching the shore some 20 miles to the westward of Alexandria. Of the crew of 19 only 10 were saved, the other 9 having been drowned, including the captain, the 2nd mate, and the 1st and 3rd engineers, the only officers saved being the chief mate and the 2nd engineer.

These being the facts of the case, the first question upon which our opinion has been asked is, "Were safe " and proper courses set and steered after passing " Malta? and were proper measures taken to ascertain " and verify the position of the vessel from time to " time after passing Malta, and particularly when land " was seen about 5 p.m. on the 11th September?" We were told by Mr. Marsden that the bearing of Alexandria from their point of departure three miles north of Gozo would be S.E. by E. 3/4 E., and, if so, it is clear from the courses which the chief officer told us that they steered that she must have been kept on much too southerly a course; the more so as the further they got to the eastward the less would be the variation, or, in other words, the nearer would be the directions of the true north pole and the magnetic pole, so that the keeping her on the same course would tend to set her head still more to the southward. We have therefore in the courses steered quite sufficient to account for her getting to the southward of her proper course; and that she did so is clear from the position in which the chief officer says that she was at noon of the 11th, namely, in latitude 32° 12' north, and longitude 25° 7' east, or within some seventeen miles of the coast of Africa; and that this was about her position at that time is confirmed by the evidence of one of the witnesses, who told us that he saw the coast at about noon that day, and that it seemed to him to be about 15 miles off. Now I am told by one of the assessors, who has made this voyage hundreds of times, that the proper course for a vessel bound to Alexandria is far out of sight of the African coast, that you may sometimes sight the coast of Candia, but that he never remembers on any of his voyages to have sighted the coast of Africa at that part, and that the fact of seeing the coast of Africa should have been a sufficient warning to the captain that he had got too far to the southward of his course. it appears to us, therefore, that the courses set and steered after passing Malta were neither safe nor proper courses, and that she should have been kept on a much more northerly course.

Secondly, as to whether any steps were taken from time to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel? According to the chief officer observations were taken regularly at mid-day, as well in the morning and in the afternoon to ascertain the vessel's position. He told us that he used to take the observations, but that the master took the time, and himself worked out the latitude and longitude; and, judging from what the chief officer told us as to her position at noon of the 11th, we may assume that the observations and calculations were properly made. But after noon of the 11th no steps whatever seem to have been taken to ascertain the vessel's position, although it must have been clear, not only from the ascertained position of the vessel at noon, but from the fact that land had been seen, that she was very considerably to the southward of her proper course.

The second question which we are asked is, "What " was the cause of the stranding of the vessel?" Assuming that the vessel was at noon of the 11th in the place where the chief officer has told us she was, namely in latitude 32° 12' north, and longitude 25° 7' west, and that from that time she was steered S.E. by E., till between 5 and 6 p.m., and after that S.E. by E. 1/2 E. till she struck, it would be quite sufficient to account for her going ashore, if not where she did, at all events not very far from it, without its being necessary to suppose that she was set to the southward by any current, which the assessors tell me is never found after passing Cape Bon.

The third question which we are asked is, "Was the " vessel navigated with proper and seamanlike care, and " was there a good and proper look-out kept?" The vessel was, in our opinion, navigated in a most improper and unseamanlike manner; to continue her first on a S.E. by E. course, and then upon a S.E. by E. 1/2 E. course, after seeing the coast at noon and again at about 6 p.m. of that day, which would show them that they had got too far to the southward of their proper course, was a reckless and unseamanlike act. We are also strongly inclined to think that the second officer, who was in charge of the deck at the time, could not have been keeping a good look-out, otherwise he must, before the vessel struck, have seen the land, which the chief officer told us was clearly visible to him as soon as he came on deck, at the distance of some 3 or 4 miles. It is true that the look-out men say that they did not see any land before she struck, but they are not very likely to criminate themselves, and the only conclusion that we can come to is, that they also were probably not keeping a good look-out.

The fourth question which we are asked is, "What " was the cause of the loss of life?" We are not disposed to blame anyone for the loss of life which ensued after they had taken to the boats, and which was no doubt due to the rough weather which they encountered. They seem to have done everything that it was in their power to do to save their lives; and in our opinion, the chief officer deserves much credit for the way in which he seems to have handled the boats,

The fifth question which we are asked is, "Whether " at the time of the stranding or at any time previously " the master was in a state of intoxication?" The master is not here to answer for himself; at the same time we can have no doubt, from the evidence before us, that he was the worse for liquor, not only when the vessel went ashore, but also at other times during the voyage. There is also one circumstance connected with this man on which we should have been glad to have had some explanation. From the copy registry which has been brought in, it would appear that this man, John Etherington, was appointed master of the vessel on the 16th of November 1883, and that he continued to act as such until the 9th of June 1885, when he was superseded by a man named Henry Dew. Captain Etherington, however, appears still to have continued to serve on board her, but in the capacity of chief officer, and on the 25th of August last, the day before the vessel sailed, he was restored to his position of master. Now it certainly is a very extraordinary thing for a man who had been acting as master of a vessel for more than a year and a half to be degraded to the position of chief officer, and then after one voyage in that capacity to be restored to his position of master. Mr. Jackson, the managing owner, could give us no explanation of the fact; he said that he had been managing owner only since the 15th of July last, and that before that Mr. Robert M. Middleton, another of the owners, was manager; but Mr. Jackson had been for some time before that one of the owners, and we should have thought that the degradation of Captain Etherington must have been a fact which he might and ought to have known. As it is, however, we have no information on the point; at the same time it naturally raises a suspicion whether he had not, when he was formerly master, been guilty of some act of misconduct, for which he had been degraded. But be this as it may, it is clear to us from the evidence that we have before us that this master was the worse for liquor when the vessel went ashore, which may perhaps account for her having, after the land had been sighted, been kept on a course which must inevitably have put her ashore.

The sixth question which we are asked is, "Whether " the chief officer is in default?" So far as we can see no blame is attributable to the chief officer. He seems to have been kept by the master in a very subordinate position, not being consulted as to the courses steered, or allowed to see the chronometer, charts, or deviation cards. He assisted, no doubt, to take the observations, but was not allowed to work out the calculations, the master performing that duty himself, and without any assistance; but it is obvious that the very best navigator may occasionally make a mistake in working out the latitude and longitude, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that they should be checked by the chief officer where, as in this case, he holds a master's certificate, and would therefore primâ facie be competent to assist him. So far, however, as appears, the chief mate was not in default.




Wreck Commissioner.

We concur.







L 367. 2499. 180.-11/85. Wt. 408. E. & S.


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