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Wreck Report for 'Demerara', 1888

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Unique ID:15391
Description:Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Demerara', 1888
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 9.)


The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876.

IN the matter of an Investigation held before H. G. WILCOX, Esquire, a person appointed by the Board of Trade to inquire into and report upon the circumstances attending the supposed loss of the British steamship "DEMERARA," of Glasgow.




Board of Trade Offices, Liverpool,

April, 1888.

IN obedience to the instructions contained in your minute of the 16th ult., wherein you appoint me inspector, under the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1854 and 1876, to inquire into, and report to you, the circumstances attending the supposed loss of the British s.s. "Demerara," of Glasgow, which left this port on the 25th of December last, and has not since been heard of, I beg to report that the inquiry took place on the 4th inst., of which the following is a summary:—

The "Demerara," O.N. 68,003, was a British screw steamer, built of iron, by Messrs. I. and G. Thomson, of Glasgow, in the year 1872, and was owned by the Cunard Steamship Company, Limited, of 8, Water Street, Liverpool, Mr. Thomas Boumphrey being the general manager.

The "Demerara" was 307.4 ft. long, 347 ft. beam, and 24.6 ft. deep. She was brig rigged, and fitted with two engines of 300 horse-power combined. She was registered at the Port of Glasgow. Her tonnage, after deducting 672.91 tons for propelling power and crew spaces, was 1,231.47 tons register.

The builders forwarded the original plans of the vessel, with an intimation that there was no one now in their employment who could prove the particulars given on the plans.

The company produced plans—copies of the originals, with the addition of any alterations that may have been made in her fittings since she was built, and which represented the ship as she was previous to her sailing in December last.

Capt. William Watson, General Superintendent of the Company, who had been in their service for 18 years, stated that the specification showed that the "Demerara" was to be built of the best iron, and to be equal to Lloyd's requirements for their highest class of vessels. She had two decks laid, and a third tier of beams. The upper or main deck was of 7/16 iron, from the after part of the after hatch to the fore part of the fore hatch, with a teak deck of 3 1/2 inches thick laid down over it. The lower deck was of yellow pine four inches thick. She had seven iron bulkheads, five of which were watertight and extended to the upper deck, the only openings in them being in the bulkhead at the fore end of the stokehole, which had a watertight door in it worked from the deck, and in the bulkhead in the after end of the engine room, in which was a watertight door at the entrance to the tunnel, also worked from the deck.

The ship's frames, reverse frames, bulkheads, beams, and stanchions, were in excess of Lloyd's requirements, and the frames and beams were closer spaced, but the plating was in some places 1/16 of an inch lighter than that Society ask for.

She had three hatchways—the fore, main, and after. The fore and after hatches were about the same size—8.6 by 7 ft.; they were secured by a stout fore and after, and the hatches were 1 1/2 in. boards on carlins of 3 in. square.

The main-hatch was 17 ft. long, by 14 ft. wide; this was fitted with two athwartship bearers of iron, and three fore and afters. The hatches were of 1 1/2 in. boards secured to carlins 3 in. square; the coamings of these three hatches were of iron about 15 in. high. She had other openings in her upper deck:—First, from the fore end, there was a companion-way for the crew; this was made of iron, with iron doors on the after-side; it measured 4.7 ft. by 3.1 ft.; then came the fore-hatch, which has already been described; then the main-hatch, which has also been described. Then came the boiler opening; this was protected by coamings 7 ft. 6 in. high of iron; the gratings at the top were fitted with proper coverings for bad weather. Next came the engine-room hatch, measuring 1 ft. 6 in. by 11 ft. 6 in., with iron coamings four feet high, on which was bolted a strong teak skylight with glass sashes protected with brass gratings; the sides of this skylight were three feet above the iron, making in all seven feet in height. Then came the after-hatch, which has been mentioned before. Then there was the stairway to the lower deck, inside the after-house, with a door leading to it on each side of the house, the house being strongly constructed of teak, and the coamings bolted to the beams. Abaft this was the skylight over the after cabin. This was a flat-topped, teak-built skylight, with massive coamings bolted to the deck, with glass round the sides. It was 15 ft. long by 7 ft. 6 in. broad. Owing to the cabin below being filled with cargo on her last voyage, this skylight was not required for the purposes for which it was constructed; it was therefore carefully protected by 2 1/4-inch boards, bolted to the coamings and stanchions, all over the glass at the sides, and the whole skylight was covered with two tarpaulins.

The bulwarks were 3 ft. 8 in. high, and were well supplied with freeing ports, and other means of freeing the deck of water. On each side there were seven freeing ports, measuring 2 ft. square; seven mooring pipes, 15 in. by 8 in.; and six scuppers, 7 in. by 4 in. Besides these there were three gangways, which could be opened, if necessary, to free the deck of very heavy water. These in length measured 29 feet in the aggregate, and opened to within a few inches of the deck.

The vessel could be steered either from the bridge or aft by hand. If the steering gear on the bridge had been damaged, the gear aft could be instantly connected, and before the ship could have time to fall off into the trough of the sea.

The life-saving gear carried by this vessel was ample—very much in excess of what would be wanted to save the people she had on board. It consisted of, first, six boats, viz., two life boats, two launches, a gig, and a jolly boat; these measured in the aggregate 2,044 ft., and were capable of accommodating, under the existing regulations, 204 people. These were carried on skids about 8 ft. above the main deck, and had their falls hooked on, and all ready for immediate use. Besides this she carried 56 life belts, independent of those carried in the life boats.

Captain Watson said that the disc was placed 5 ft. 6 in. below the upper deck, amidships, giving a draft of 21 ft. 8 1/2 in.; a mean was taken between the summer and winter freeboards, and the disc placed accordingly, the calculations being made in accordance with the Load Line Committee's Tables. He said that the winter freeboard by these would be 5 ft. 8 1/2 in. He also stated that the spare buoyancy was 31.4%, and that he believed that with that surplus buoyancy she would float with the cargo she had in her, if any one of her compartments were full of water, but that she would sink if two were full.

There were no openings on the lower deck except the three hatchways, which, when the cargo was in, were secured with hatches and tarpaulins.

The vessel was put into graving dock in March 1887, and thoroughly overhauled from keel to deck. All the cement was removed, and paint scraped off, and all defects made good. In places where any corrosion appeared, the plates were taken out and new ones put in their place; she was recemented, and repainted, and a large portion of the ceiling renewed, and when she left the dock she was in perfect order,

Captain Watson considered she was a perfectly stable ship. Her meta centre had been worked out with reference to the cargo she carried on her last voyage, and he had no doubt that she was thoroughly stable. He said he had formed no opinion as to how she was lost. He could not account for it. He had known the "Demerara" the whole time she had been sailing, which was chiefly in the Mediterranean trade. He had known her to leave often before as deep as she was on her last voyage. She had always shewn herself a good ship, had never suffered any severe sea damage, and he had never heard any complaint against her as a good sea boat. He said she had a good crew and as good a captain as any in the service, and she had been passed in June last for a Board of Trade passenger certificate.

Mr. Thomas Boumphrey stated that he was general manager of the Cunard Steamship Company, and that, in his opinion, the "Demerara" was a thoroughly strong vessel, of good sea-going qualities, and that she was thoroughly overhauled and repaired in March and June of last year. He said the disc was placed 5 ft. 6 in. below the main deck, upon the basis of Lloyd's rules for three-decked ships. The ship and freight was not insured. She left the Mersey on the morning of the 25th of December last, bound for Trieste, and she was supposed to have been seen at 2 p.m. on the 27th of December 200 miles south of the Scilly Islands, going well, since which time she has not been heard of.

Mr. Boumphrey further stated that she carried three officers, all with masters' certificates, and that her captain, Mr. William John Lutt, was in all respects a good and trustworthy man, of perfectly sober habits. He also stated that she carried a comfortable cargo, there being nothing of a dangerous character among it, as this would not have been allowed by the rules of the service. He also could form no idea as to the cause of her loss; but he thought it was not probable that she had been overwhelmed by the severity of the sea, but more probable that she had collided with some other ship.

Mr. Black, engineer and shipwright surveyor to the Board of Trade, stated that he examined the "Demerara" in dry dock last March, and corroborated Captain Watson's account of what was done to her then; he also surveyed her in June, on an application from the company for a six months passenger certificate. From this survey he satisfied himself that the hull, machinery, and equipments were in all respects in good order, that the compasses were in good order, and that the master and mate knew their errors, and knew how to apply them, and he therefore issued a declaration for six months, on which the Board of Trade granted a certificate for six months, dated the 27th of June 1887. On Mr. Black being questioned as to why a six months certificate was wanted, he said he would not have objected to have issued his declaration for 12 months, only that the company asked for a six months certificate; in his opinion the hull, machinery, and equipments were fit for a 12 months' certificate.

Mr. James Bain, superintendent engineer to the Company, stated that the engines, boilers, machinery, and pumps were in perfect order. The bulkhead doors were examined, and found to be in perfect working order, and that in November 1886 she was fitted with a new propeller shaft and a new propeller. The fidley gratings were protected by an iron bulkhead, which was raised 7 feet 9 inches above the deck, and tarpaulins could be secured over these gratings if necessary.

Mr. Edward T. Fenwick, formerly chief mate of the "Demerara," stated that he had made several voyages in her, extending over a period of 22 months, in the Mediterranean trade; that he had encountered all kinds of weather in her, and had always found her a good sea boat. In bad weather, he said, the fidley gratings were always covered with tarpaulins.

Mr. W. H. Laslett, senior shipwright surveyor to the Board of Trade at Liverpool, produced calculations as to the freeboard required by the Load Line Committee's Tables, and he stated that the winter freeboard required was 5 feet 9 inches.

Mr. John Rooney, stevedore, stated that he commenced loading the ship at 8 p.m. on the 22nd of December last, and finished at 10 p.m. on the 24th of December. She carried a general cargo of the usual description, including bales and cases of British manufactured goods, cotton, oil, bags of ammonia, coffee, &c., &c., and 307 tons of bar iron. in the after lower hold was stowed bar iron, cases of iron, and leathern goods; in the after orlop the cargo consisted of fine goods, and a small quantity of bar iron and tin; in the after 'tween decks there were dry hides, coffee, cotton, bedsteads, buckets, and a few cases of glass; and forward there were iron chains, cotton, and soda. In the main lower holds there were bags of ammonia, casks of bleaching powder, and barrels of herrings. In the main orlop were bags of guano, bleaching powder, herrings and oil. In the main 'tween decks were bar iron, guano, cotton, soap, soda, cases of glass, and sundry other packages. In the fore lower hold were casks of oil, grease, and herrings; in the orlop were herrings, oil, resin, and lard; and in the fore 'tween decks were casks of beer, potatoes, butter, and drums of paint. The total weight of the cargo was 1,695 tons. There was a little cotton stowed on deck, on the main hatch; this amounted to 72 bales, weighing 11 tons 17 cwt.

Mr. Rooney, stevedore, stated the cargo was well stored, and secured from shifting, and with perfect safety to the ship, as far as her stability was concerned. He considered the vessel in good trim, and saw the hatches all put on and covered with tarpaulins, which were properly secured, the centre of the disc being 6 1/2 inches above the water line.

Captain Robert Inglis, marine superintendent to the Company, stated that he saw the vessel leave the dock on the morning of the 25th of December last. She was then drawing 21 ft. 7 in. forward, and 20 ft. 8 in. aft, or a mean of 21.1 1/2. She was loaded a little by the head at the master's request. The hatches were all on and battened down, and covered with three sets of tarpaulins. The after skylight was also covered with two thicknesses of canvas, and there were also canvas coverings for the fidley gratings ready for use. Her six boats had been inspected and swung out before leaving, and were in all respects in good order and ready for use. He said she carried 90 life belts, 48 life-buoys, three sets of "collision blinds," and two suits of sails. She had a crew of 39 hands, including the master, 3 officers, carpenter, 2 boatswains, 4 quartermasters, and 10 A.B's. She had on board also two passengers. Captain Inglis declared that she had no cargo on deck of any sort, except the 72 bales of cotton already mentioned, and that he considered her in all respects perfectly fit for her intended voyage. He stated further that he could form no opinion as to the cause of her loss, but thought it more probable that she was lost by collision than in any other way, as no traces of her have been found.

Mr. W. H. Diaper, first-class pilot, stated that he took the "Demerara" out of dock on the morning of the 25th of December last. The hatches were on and battened down, and she appeared to be in good trim. The master and crew were all sober, and attentive to their duties. He left her about 10.20 a.m. westward of the Bar Lightship, all going well. When asked if there was any cargo on deck, he replied he had not noticed any.

Captain Fenwick, master of the s.s. "Morocco," belonging to the Cunard Co., left the Mersey in that vessel on the evening of December 25th, or 12 hours after the "Demerara" left, also bound to the Mediterranean. He stated that nothing particular took place till midnight on the 27th December, when he encountered a heavy sea, with a strong and increasing wind from the S.E., in about lat. 46° 31' N. and long. 8° 30' W. He brought the ship's head to the wind and sea, and remained hove-to till 2 a.m. on the 30th December, having during this time experienced a heavy gale and high sea. The weather then moderating a little, the "Morocco" was kept on her course, but at 5 p.m. the same day, the wind and sea again increasing, he brought her to the wind for the second time, and remained hove-to till midnight of the 31st December, when the weather moderated, and she proceeded on her voyage, arriving in safety at Gibralta, where the non-arrival of the "Demerara" caused Captain Fenwick much surprise, as she was a faster vessel than the "Morocco." Captain Fenwick described the weather as severe, but not extraordinarily so; he never had any anxiety as to the safety of his own ship.

Mr. Gough has put in Reports of the Wreck Commissioner's Court in the cases of the "Kaieteur," and "Bengal," and he calls attention to the finding of the Court as to the loss of these vessels. From these it appears that in the case of the "Kaiteur," the Court found that the cause of the damage the vessel sustained at, or about, 2.30 a.m. on the 29th December last, was no doubt due to her having been struck by an exceptionally high wave. In the case of the "Bengal," the Court found that the cause of the damage the vessel sustained on the 27th of December was due to the extreme violence of the gale, and to the heavy seas which broke on board her. According to the chief officer he had never, during the whole of his experience, seen more terrific seas. Letters, too, have been put in, one from the captain of the "Wordsworth," which left Cardiff on the 27th, and another from the captain of the "Tiber," which left Cardiff on the 24th, from both of which it appears that they encountered the same gale of wind, and they describe it as being of a very severe character. I believe other vessels are missing, and are supposed to have been lost in the same gale.

The evidence all goes to prove that the "Demerara," when she left Liverpool on Christmas day last, was in thoroughly good condition in every respect. Her hatchways and all other deck openings were properly and efficiently protected, all the hold ventilators were plugged up, and only those into the stoke-hole open, which were through the fidley gratings. Her boats were in good order and ready for immediate use. There was nothing of a dangerous nature in the cargo, which was well stowed and secured. She had 500 tons of bunker coal, the bankers being well ventilated, and there is no doubt that the vessel was sufficiently stable. In fact, she was in as fit a state to prosecute her intended voyage with safety as skill and care could make her.

Her freeboard in dock was six feet one and a-half inches. The freeboard required by the Load Line Committee's Table is five feet nine inches. She therefore had at least four and a-half inches more freeboard than required, not taking into consideration what she would rise in purely salt water. The vessel on leaving was a little by the head, but she had been trimmed thus by the captain's request, as the consumption of coal would soon put her on an even keel.

With regard to the weather that prevailed in the Bay about the time the "Demerara" was crossing it, there can be no doubt that a heavy gale was blowing from S.E. to east, but Captain Fenwick distinctly said that it was not of such a severe character to make him anxious as to his vessel's safety; while, on the other hand, the chief officer of the "Bengal" declared he had not seen more terrific seas in the whole of his experience. (What his experience is, is not mentioned.) I think myself that in describing heavy weather at sea, a man's judgment is often affected by the state of his nerves; and it is a curious fact, that during this time—from the 25th to the 31st of December—the Meteorological Office have no record of strength of wind above 8 (Beaufort's scale) in the vicinity of the Bay. At Cape Finisterre, on the 27th, the wind was E., force 7; on the 28th, N.E., force 8; on the 30th, E., force 8; and on the 31st, S.E., force 7. The fact that the "Wordsworth" and the "Tiber," both coal laden, weathered the gale in safety, proves that it was not of such destructive force that nothing could live in it, and I find it hard to believe that the "Demerara" could not also have weathered it. Taking into consideration the facts that two vessels are known to have been left abandoned and afloat, and that others are missing, I think it is more probable that the "Demerara" either struck one of these, or was struck by one of them, and foundered before there was time to liberate a boat, than that she foundered merely from stress of weather.

I have the honour to be,


Your obedient servant,


The Assistant Secretary,

Marine Department,

Board of Trade.

50022—432. 180.—4/88. Wt. 12. E. & S.


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