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Wreck Report for 'Polynesian' and 'Capernaum', 1895

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Unique ID:16702
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Polynesian' and 'Capernaum', 1895
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. S 100.)


The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

IN the matter of a formal Investigation held at the Town Hall, Hull, on the 14th, 15th and 16th days of May 1895, before E. C. TWISS, Judge, assisted by Admiral GRANT, C.B., Captain ANDERSON, and Captain COSENS, into the circumstances attending the casualty which happened to or on board the British sailing ship "POLYNSIAN," of Glasgow, through collision with a fishing smack off Flamborough Head, on the 26th day of May 1894, whereby loss of life ensued.

Report of Court.

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the annex hereto, that the said casualty was due to collision between the "Polynesian" and the fishing smack "Capernaum" of Scarborough, resulting in the loss of the latter vessel and all (5) hands.

The Court finds the master, Mr. Thomas Ludgate, and the chief officer, Mr. Andrew Robertson, of the "Polynesian," in default, and suspends the certificate as master of the former for nine calendar months, and the certificate as mate of the latter for three calendar months from the date hereof, but upon the application of Dr. Jackson the Court recommends that the master be granted a mate's certificate and the chief officer a second mate's certificate during the terms of their suspension.

Dated this 16th day of May 1895.



E. C. TWISS, Judge.

We concur in the above report.













Annex to the Report.

This inquiry was held at the Town Hall, Hull, on the days above-mentioned, when Mr. Saxelbye represented the Board of Trade.

Dr. Jackson appeared on behalf of the master of the "Polynesian," and the chief and second officers were also parties to the inquiry, and appeared in person, but were not represented by counsel or solicitor. Upon the application of Mr. H. C. Lambert, Mr. Richard Williamson Harrison, owner, in May 1894 of the fishing smack "Capernaum" of Scarborough, for whom he appeared, was allowed to become a party to the inquiry.

The "Polynesian," official number 73,838, is a British sailing vessel rigged as a barque, and built of iron by Messrs. Robert Duncan and Company, of Port Glasgow, county Renfrew, in the year 1876.

Her dimensions are:—Length 197.5 feet, breadth 32.6, and depth of hold 19.4 1/2 feet. Her gross tonnage being 920.44 tons, and her registered tonnage 863.57 tons. She is provided with four boats, two of which are lifeboats, stowed on skids forward, one on either side of the vessel. They were all provided with the necessary appliances in accordance with the Regulations, and kept ready for use. At the time of the casualty which forms the subject of this investigation she was, and still is, owned by Mr. William McDickie and several others, Mr. Robert Dickie, of 17, Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow, being the manager, having been so appointed on the 6th of December 1890. The "Polynesian" loaded a cargo of coal in the River Tyne, consisting of 1,291 tons bound for Santos, Brazil, and left that port at 9 a.m. on the 26th day of May 1894 with a crew of 16 hands all told, under the command of Mr. Thomas Ludgate, who held a certificate of competency as master, number 016,487, and bearing date March 30, 1892.

In addition to the crew, there were on board the master's wife and their child.

At the time of leaving the weather was fine and clear, with a fresh breeze from the eastward and a choppy sea.

After discharging the pilot, the tug towed them for some little time, when the hawser was let go and hauled in and sail made. In the course of the forenoon and afterwards the crew were engaged in clearing the decks ready for sea and stowing the anchors, the master being in charge.

All appears to have gone well, and at about 4 p.m. the position of the vessel by dead reckoning was given by the master as latitude 54° 26 N., and longitude 0 2 E., Flamborough Head bearing S.W. by S. 1/2 S. magnetic, distant 19 1/2 miles. The wind at this time is described by the master to have been E.N.E. true, and the course, which he stated was set for steadiness, was S. by E. 1/2 E. magnetic, although the vessel was in fact, according to his statement, being kept full and by, and making a speed of 9 knots.

At the hour named he saw a fishing vessel with tanned sails, three points on the port bow, from seven to eight miles distant, running before the wind, and heading about W.S.W. After looking at her for a short time he went below for the purpose, he said, of consulting his chart, leaving no one in charge of the vessel, although the chief and second officers were on the forecastle head at the time superintending the stowing of the anchors, and the setting up of the head gear. Having been below for about a quarter of an hour the master came on deck again, and at once saw the fishing vessel referred to close to his port bow and trying to cross ahead of him. He at once went to the man at the wheel and asked him, "How the helm was?" and received the reply, "Hard up." He thereupon said. "Keep it so," and noticed that she had already paid off four points under her port helm. He next ran forward on to the forecastle head, and upon getting there found that the smack's mast was already in contact with his boom guys.

According to his evidence, the "Polynesian" at once caused the smack to heel over, and ropes were then thrown over from the forecastle head, but the two men who were seen to be on the smack's deck took, he stated, no notice whatever, being apparently paralysed with fear. He further stated that the smack continued to heel over more and more to port, subsequently throwing the two men into the water, very shortly after which she disappeared under his bow. Finding the vessel had sunk and one man being reported floating in the water, he ordered the helm hard down, the mainyard aback, and two or three hands to clear away the jollyboat, at the same time sending one man up the main rigging and one up the mizen rigging, in order to keep the man in the water in view. In about 10 minutes the boat was put out and sent in charge of the second mate, with three hands, and proceeded in the direction of where the man was still seen to be swimming, but just before the boat reached the spot one of the hands aloft reported he could see him no longer.

The boat cruised about the vicinity for some time. but seeing that nothing further could be done, it was recalled to the vessel and taken on board, having been absent altogether about three-quarters of an hour. The "Polynesian" then proceeded on her voyage, and on passing Deal the master said he endeavoured to report the casualty by signalling, but failed to do so. On arriving at Santos, however, he reported the matter to the British consul.

The chief officer, in the course of his evidence, informed the Court that at about 3.45 p.m., whilst on the forecastle-head, he first saw the "Capernaum," distant seven to eight miles, and about three points on the port bow, heading apparently about W. magnetic. He said he kept his eye on her from time to time, as the vessels approached one another, and when he thought she was getting too close, viz. two or three vessel's lengths off, he shouted out to the man at the wheel, "Hard up the helm," and at the same time directed him to do so by waving his hand.

He further stated that the smack never altered her course, and though his vessel's head payed off, as has already been described, four points, the "Polynesian" came into collision with the smack in the manner previously given.

He informed the Court that as soon as the master had left the poop and gone below he missed him, and thereupon considered himself in charge of the vessel, but it is to be noticed that he never left the forecastle head, where he said he was engaged on no particular duty, but keeping a general oversight of the ship and what was going on. He informed the Court that in his opinion it was the duty of the smack to keep out of his way, and he intended to hold on as he did until a collision was imminent.

The "Capernaum," official number 28,880, was a British yawl-rigged fishing vessel, built of wood in 1861 at Scarborough, at which port she was registered.

Her dimensions were:—Length, 57.1 ft.; breadth, 18.1. ft.; and depth of hold, 7.15 ft.; and her tonnage, 37.59 tons nett register. She was owned and managed by Mr. Richard Williamson Harrison, of Scarborough, and was painted black, with the fishing number S.H. 4 on both bows and on each side of her mainsail.

Her sails were tanned, and had a white cloth in the after leach of her mainsail. She was painted green forward (whiskers), with a narrow yellow beading all round her, just above the deck line. She had a stump foremast, and her mizenmast had a pole top. Her maintopsail was set on a yard which was in a line with the mast.

The "Capernaum" left Scarborough on the 22nd day of May 1894 to fish on the edge of the Dogger Bank, under the command of Mr. George Blogg, with four other hands—that is to say, Gardiner Warman second hand, —— Appleby third hand, and J. Bullimore and —— Appleby deck hands.

She was generally engaged in line fishing, and her ordinary trip lasted from four to six days, and on this particular occasion she was expected to be back in Scarborough on Saturday, the 26th of May 1894. On the morning of the 25th of May the smack "Good Design" left Scarborough under the command of Mr. Louis Burton, and reached the fishing ground about 70 miles E.N.E. of Scarborough on the morning of the 26th at about 9 a.m. He informed the Court that at that hour he noticed the "Capernaum" taking in her fishing lines, and he identified her by the white cloth in her mainsail and the green "whiskers" forward, and he entertained no doubt whatever but that the vessel he saw was the "Capernaum."

At about 10 a.m. he noticed her take in her boat and make sail for home, steering about W.S.W., the wind at the time fresh from the N.N.E. He further stated there was nothing in the weather during that or the following week to account for the loss of the "Capernaum," which on his arrival at Scarborough a few days after he at once heard of as missing. This evidence was corroborated by William Park, second hand of the "Good Design." who gave the direction of the wind as from N.E. by N. to N.N.E.

Robert Duncan, of the smack "Providence," of Scarborough, stated that on the morning of the 26th May he left the fishing ground 90 miles E.N.E. of Scarborough, and at about 3 p.m. of the same day he noticed a barque standing in for the land heading about W.S.W. That she apparently yawed about, and the last he saw of her she was going away about S.S.E. He further stated that he passed the barque about one mile to windward, and that the wind at the time was steady N.N.E., and had been and continued so all the day. This evidence, coupled with that given by Andreas Brami, A.B., who was at the wheel of the "Polynesian" from 1 p.m. to the time of the collision, and who stated that he did not accurately know the direction of the wind, but thought it was N.E. easterly and that he was steering a course S.E. by S. 1/2 S. by steering compass, and that the yards were not braced sharp up, in addition to the fact that the "Polynesian" was admittedly going at the rate of 9 knots, satisfies the Court that the wind was more to the northward than as stated by the master and chief officer of the "Polynesian," and that she was not close hauled as they asked it to believe, but was going free. It is to be remarked that on reference to the official log we find the direction of the wind given as E.N.E., with the word "true" inserted above it in brackets, which would be E. 1/2 N. magnetic.

It is also to be observed in the mate's log the wind is given as E.N.E. true, and when questioned on the singularity of entering the wind as "true," the chief officer stated that he "supposed he had entered it so because of the collision."

There has been a conflict of evidence between the master of the "Polynesian" and his officers with regard to the length of time which intervened between the vessels coming in contact and the foundering of the "Capernaum." The master stated that she sank slowly, 10 to 15 minutes having elapsed after the collision, whereas both the chief and second officer agreed that it all happened in a very short time, and the Court is disposed to agree with their view. Having regard to the speed and weight of the "Polynesian" the probabilities are that she struck and went clean over the "Capernaum," sinking her immediately.

With regard to the question of identity, it should be mentioned that the witnesses from the "Polynesian" were all agreed that the smack with whom they had been in collision was painted black as to her hull-was yawl-rigged, and had tan sails, and the letter S followed by two or three figures on her bow.

They also stated that they saw a young man at the tiller, and an elderly man forward with grey beard or whiskers, and this answered the description of the skipper of the "Capernaum" as given by the owner.

These facts coupled with the evidence generally leaves, in the opinion of the Court, it open to no doubt whatever but that the unfortunate smack that was run over and sunk, was the missing fishing vessel "Capernaum," of Scarborough.

At the conclusion of the evidence Mr. Saxelbye submitted, on the part of the Board of Trade, the following questions upon which the opinion of the Court was desired:—

1. What was the vessel with which the "Polynesian" came into collision at or about 4 p.m. of the 26th May 1894?

2. Was it the duty of the "Polynesian," under the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, to keep out of the way of the other ship. If so, did she comply with Article 14. If not did she comply with Article 22 of the said Regulations, and whether the "Polynesian" complied with Articles 23 and 24 of the said Regulations?

3. Whether the master of the "Polynesian" was on deck at a time when the safe navigation of the ship required his personal supervision?

4. Whether a good and proper look-out was kept on board the "Polynesian"?

5. What was the cause of the loss of life, and whether every possible effort was made by those on board the "Polynesian" to render assistance?

6. Whether the "Polynesian" was navigated with proper and seamanlike care?

7. Whether the master and officers of the "Polynesian" are, or either of them is, in default?

Dated this 15th day of May 1895.




For the Solicitor

Board of Trade.

Mr. Lambert then addressed the Court on behalf of the owner of the "Capernaum," and was followed by Dr. Jackson on the part of the master of the "Polynesian," and Mr. Saxelbye having replied for the Board of Trade, the Court gave the following judgment in the replies to the several questions submitted for its opinion:—

1. There is no doubt whatever, in the opinion of the Court, but that the vessel with which the "Polynesian" came into collision at about 4 p.m. on the 26th day of May 1894, was the fishing smack "Capernaum" of Scarborough.

2. Taking the evidence as a whole the Court is satisfied that both vessels, when approaching one another, had the wind free on different sides, and it was therefore the duty of the "Polynesian," having the wind on the port side, to keep out of the way of the "Capernaum." This being so, the "Polynesian" did not comply with Article 14, sub-section (c) of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. Neither did she comply with Article 24 of the said Regulations. Article 23 is not applicable to her case.

3. The master was not on deck at a time when the safe navigation of the vessel required his personal supervision.

4. The Court is of opinion that a proper look-out was not kept on board the "Polynesian."

5. The loss of life was attributable to the "Polynesian" having, after she had come into collision with the "Capernaum," run clean over her with such rapidity that those on board the latter vessel had no opportunity of making any effort to save their own lives. Every effort appears to have been made by those on board the "Polynesian" to render assistance after the "Capernaum" had disappeared.

6. The "Polynesian" was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care.

7. The Court finds the master gravely in default for leaving the deck at the time when, and under the circumstances in which, he did, without first having ordered a competent officer to take charge.

The chief officer is also in default for having failed to inform the master when he saw the vessels approaching one another, so as to involve risk of collision, and for having himself neglected to take the necessary steps to avoid it.

The Court orders the certificate of the chief officer to be suspended for three calendar months and that of the master for nine calendar months from the date hereof, and in determining the latter period the Court has not failed to give every consideration to the excellent character which he has received from his employers.



E. C. TWISS, Judge.

We concur.













Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 31st day of May 1895.

87089—8. 200.—5/95. Wt. 165. E. & S.



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