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Wreck Report for 'Brixham', 1884

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Unique ID:15214
Description:Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Brixham', 1884
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 2401.)


The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876.

IN the matter of the formal Investigation held at the Sessions House, Westminster, on the 17th December 1884, before H. C. ROTHERY, Esquire, Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captains CURLING and VAUX, as Assessors, into the circumstances attending the foundering of the steamship "BRIXHAM" through striking on the Meixido Rock, off the Coast of Spain, on the 6th of November 1884.

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 subsequent loss of the said ship was due to the wrongful acts and defaults of Charles Blake, the master. The Court accordingly suspends his certificate for six months, but recommends that during the period of such suspension he be allowed a first mate's certificate.

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

Dated the 17th day of December 1884.




Wreck Commissioner.

We concur in the above report.







C. VAUX, R.N.R.,


Annex to the Report.

This case was heard at Westminster on the 17th of December 1884, when Mr. Kenelm Digby appeared for the Board of Trade, Mr. Nelson for the owners, and Mr. Stokes for the master of the "Brixham." Six witnesses having been produced by the Board of Trade and examined, Mr. Kenelm Digby handed in a statement of the questions upon which the Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court. Mr. Nelson and Mr. Stokes then addressed the Court on behalf of their respective parties, and Mr. Kenelm Digby having replied for the Board of Trade, 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 "Brixham" was an iron screw steam ship, belonging to the Port of Brixham, of 579 tons gross, and 363 tons net register, and was fitted with engines of 67 horse power. She was built at Pallion, near Sunderland, in the present year, and at the time of her loss was the property of the Brixham Steamship Company, Limited, Mr. Frederick William Baddeley, of Brixham, being the managing owner. She left Lisbon at about noon of the 4th of November last, with a crew of fourteen hands all told, and a cargo of about 700 tons of manganese, bound to Cardiff in South Wales, and at 11 p.m. of the same day passed the Burlings, when she was put upon a course for Cape Finisterre. What that course was we shall presently have to inquire, for the witnesses are not agreed on the point; they all, however, agree in saying that she proceeded at full speed, making from 7 1/2 to 8 knots until 6 p.m. of the 5th, when the weather having become very foggy, the engines were put at half speed, and so continued until about 4.20 a.m. of the 6th, when the captain, who was on the Upper bridge, observed something dark on the port bow, and thinking that it was a vessel, he stopped the engines, and ordered the helm to be put hard-a-port; almost immediately afterwards, however, she struck, upon which the engines were ordered full speed astern. After striking three times she came off, and the helm being kept hard a-port, and the engines all the time reversing full speed, she came round to about S.W. by S., upon which the engines were again set on ahead. It was, however, soon seen that the water was gaining rapidly upon them, upon which the boats were put out, and all hands got into them; and in about three quarters of an hour to an hour after they had left her, she was seen to go down head foremost. They then pulled towards the shore, but not finding any place to land, they hauled off until about 9 a.m., when, the fog having cleared, Cape Finisterre was seen some ten to fifteen miles off; and having soon afterwards been taken in tow by a fishing boat, they were towed into Corcubion Bay. The rock upon which the vessel struck proved to be the Meixido Rock, situated some 8 miles to the south of Cape Finisterre. All the lives were saved, but the vessel and cargo were totally lost.

These being the facts of the case, the first question which we are asked is, "Whether safe and proper " courses were set and steered between the time of " passing the Burlings and the stranding of the " vessel, and whether proper allowance was made for "indraught?" There is, as I have said, some discrepancy between the witnesses as to the courses steered after leaving the Burlings; what those courses were we shall presently have to inquire, but it seems clear that, whatever courses they were, they could not have been safe and proper courses, or the vessel would not have got upon the Meixido Rock, which is inside of Cape Finisterre. It is well known that there is a strong indraught on this coast, especially during the winter months; and she had also all the time a swell from the N.W., both of which would tend to set her to the eastward, and for which the captain seems to have made no allowance.

The second question which we are asked is, "Whe- " ther proper measures were taken to ascertain and " verify the position of the vessel on November " the 5th?" No measures of any kind appear to have been taken to ascertain the position of the vessel during the 5th, the excuse being that no observation could be taken on that day for either latitude or longitude, the sun being obscured.

The third question which we are asked is, "Whether " there was error in the compasses; and if so, whether it " was due to any and what ascertainable cause, and " whether the error, if any, had been properly ascer- " tained, and the proper correction to the courses " applied?" The captain has told us that his deviation card told him that there was hardly any deviation on his pole compass, the greatest amount being only one-eighth of a point upon a N. by W. course, and that, during the time that he had been in command, he had ascertained by observation that this was so; and he added, that in laying his course he never made any allowance for deviation, the errors being so slight. It was suggested, however, by Mr. Stokes that possibly the cargo of manganese which he had on board, combined with the foggy state of the weather, may have put his compasses out. That the fog alone could have deranged the compasses cannot be admitted for one moment; nor do we think that the cargo could have affected the pole compass, seeing that it was erected on a pole standing some 10 feet above the upper bridge. We think therefore that there is no ground for supposing that there was any error in the compasses, such as to require any correction to be applied.

It will now be convenient to take question 7, which is, "What was the cause of the casualty?" The master told us that the course steered from 11 p.m. of the 4th, when they passed the Burlings, until midnight of the 5th was N. by E., and that then it was altered to N.N.E., and he is supported in that statement by the chief officer. On the other hand the evidence of Tribble, the boatswain, who, although young and without any certificate, appeared to be very intelligent, was that the course steered after passing the Burlings, at all events during his watches, was N.N.E., except from 8 p.m. to midnight of the 5th, when the course was N. by E.; what it was between midnight and 4 a.m. he does not know, as he was below, but at 4 a.m., when he came on deck again to take his watch, a N.N.E. course had been resumed. Now it is very difficult to understand how the vessel could have got on the Meixido Rock if a N. by E. course had been steered, as the master tells us, from the Burlings, seeing that that course would, if made good, have taken the vessel some 44 miles to the Westward of Cape Finisterre, and far out of range of the light, from which she would take her departure to cross the Bay of Biscay. On the other hand a N.N.E. course, which, it is admitted, is the usual course when the weather is clear and fine, would, if made good, take the vessel some 3 or 4 miles to the westward of Finisterre; and seeing that the- weather was clear and fine from the time of their leaving the Burlings until about noon of the following day, there seems no reason for the master taking the unusual course of going so far to the westward of Cape Finisterre, the more so as he told us that he was well acquainted with the navigation, having been 15 or 16 times up and down the coast. On the whole we are disposed to believe the evidence of Tribble in preference to that of the master and chief officer, and that the course steered from the Burlings to 8 p.m. of the 5th was N.N.E., then for four hours N. by E., and then again N.N.E. until she struck. Such a course, if made good, would bring the vessel not very far to the westward of Cape Finisterre; and if we allow for the indraught, which is especially strong in the winter months, and for the swell from the N.W., which would tend to set her towards the coast, we can well understand how she might in this way have got on the Meixido Rock; whereas if she had been kept on the courses stated by the master, there is in our opinion no way of accounting for her getting where she did. In our opinion the casualty occurred in this way: She was kept on a N.N.E. course from the Burlings until 8 p.m. of the 5th, when it was altered for four hours till midnight to N. by E., and then the N.N.E. course was resumed; and this, together with the indraught and the N.W. swell, brought her on the Meixido Rock.

The fourth question which we are asked is, "Whether " the master was justified in not using the lead?" Seeing that the master had no observation on the 5th, and had seen nothing since leaving the Burlings to indicate to him his true position, that he must have known by the distance run that he was nearing Cape Finisterre, and that since 6 p.m. of the preceding day it had been and still was densely foggy, there is in our opinion no justification whatever for his not having taken a cast of the lead. It was said that, if he had been where he thought he was, a cast of the lead would have been of no use to him, for it would have given him no bottom, and consequently would not have shewn him where he was. But, as a fact, a cast of the lead for some hours before he grounded would have given him considerably less than 100 fathoms, and have shewn him therefore that he was too near-the coast, and consequently in dangerous waters. In our opinion then there was no justification for the master not having taken a cast of the lead.

The fifth question which we are asked is, "Whether " the vessel was sufficiently manned?" It seems that she had a master, a mate, a boatswain, and four able seamen, giving the master, the boatswain, and two able seamen for one watch, and the mate and two able seamen for another watch. Now two able seamen for a watch gives only one man for the helm, and one for the look out, and no spare hand in case the officer of the watch should require anything to be done. Thus, for instance, suppose that it had been necessary during a watch to take a cast of the deep sea lead, it would not have been very easy to do so, seeing that a correct sounding cannot always be obtained by a man dropping the lead over the side from forward without having some one between him and the officer in the stern, a the lead might reach the bottom before the officer would feel it, and he would go on paying out line as the vessel drifted away from her position. Not indeed that the paucity of hands in any degree justifies the master for not taking a cast of the lead, for it might have been done when they were relieving watches, or if necessary all hands might have been called up to assist in so necessary a duty. The question however of whether the vessel had a sufficient number of hands on board to navigate is one especially for the Assessors; and whilst they think that she was scantily manned, they are not prepared to say, looking at the size of the vessel, that she was undermanned.

The sixth question which we are asked is, "Whether " the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike " care and skill, and whether the master is in default?" For a master when he is approaching a dangerous coast and is ignorant of his true position, and there is a thick fog prevailing, not to take a cast of the lead, is neither proper nor seamanlike conduct. In this case the master was alone responsible for the navigation; he put her upon a course which would take her within a comparatively short distance of Cape Finisterre, making no allowance for the indraught or for the north-westerly swell, and he chose to continue that course, although there was a dense fog and he was in ignorance of his true position. For all this the master is clearly in default.

Under these circumstances the Board of Trade have asked that his certificate should be dealt with. Mr. Stokes has contended that if he is to blame, he has only been guilty of an error of judgment. But in that opinion we cannot concur; for a master to continue his course in a dense fog, when in ignorance of his true position, and without taking a cast of the lead, is not an error of judgment, but culpable neglect; and we must, therefore, deal with his certificate. He has also, in our opinion, attempted to deceive the Court by telling us that he had put her from the Burlings upon a N. by E. course, when, in fact, she must have been on a N.N.E. course, otherwise she never could have got to the place where she struck. On the whole, looking at all the facts of the case, the Assessors are of opinion that the certificate of this master should be suspended for six months. I will only add, that had the master not shewn an evident desire to discharge the duties of his position by remaining on deck, and had he turned in and left the navigation of the vessel to his officers, our sentence would have been much more severe. The neglect, however, to take a cast of the lead, under the circumstances, was, in our opinion, a very grave offence.

The Court, on the application of his counsel, agreed to recommend that he be allowed a chief mate's certificate.

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




Wreck Commissioner.

We concur.







C. VAUX, R.N.R.,


L 367. 2176. 170.—12/84. Wt. 36. E. & S.


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