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Wreck Report for 'Castilian', 1899

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Unique ID:17660
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Castilian', 1899
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 5891.)


FORMAL investigation held at the Court House, Yarmouth, N.S., on the 21st and 22nd days of March, 1899, into the cause of the stranding and total loss of the steamship "CASTILIAN," on Gannet Dry Ledge, off the Coast of Nova Scotia, on the 12th day of March, 1899, before Commander 0. G. V. SPAIN, R.N., Commanding the Fisheries Protection Service of Canada, Chairman of the Commission; Captain BLOOMFIELD DOUGLAS, R.N.R., Naval Assistant to the Marine and Fisheries Department, Commissioner, and Captain JOHN E. MURPHY, Master Mariner, of Yarmouth, Commissioner.

Mr. William B. Ritchie, Q.C., appeared on behalf of the owners of the steamer "Castilian."

Captain Reginald Barrett, R.N.R., master of the s.s. "Castilian" appeared.

The proceedings were opened by the Chairman reading a letter from the Hon. the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, dated the 15th of March, 1899, addressed to him, appointing the Commission as above stated.

From the evidence attached herewith, the steamship "Castilian" was a new ship of 4,670 tons nett registered tonnage, owned by Messrs. Allan & Co., of Montreal.

Her nominal horse-power was (a); length 475 ft.; beam 53 ft. 8 ins.; depth of hold 36 ft.; and draught of water 28 ft. 2 ins. on leaving Portland. Total number of crew 114 men. Engine-room staff 26. Deck staff about 30, including officers.

She was inspected by the Board of Trade officer before leaving Liverpool on her first voyage, and received a certificate as a Foreign-going Passenger Ship.

She had 19 boats when inspected, but left Liverpool with only 17, two having been taken on shore, with the consent of the Inspector, as they were in excess of the number required by law.

The ship was built in Belfast. She was swung there to ascertain the deviation of her compasses, and was again swung on the Clyde for the same purpose.

The deviation cards agreed in both cases. On leaving Liverpool on the outward passage they were tested on two short runs, and proved practically correct.

It is also stated in evidence that in crossing the Atlantic no error was found in the compasses, two of which were of Lord Kelvin's pattern, one on the bridge and the other in the wheel-house.

The ship left Liverpool on the (a) for Halifax, arrived there on the (a) and left for Portland on the (a)

Again the compasses proved correct on the passage from Halifax to Portland.

The ship left Portland on the 11th day of March at 12.50 p.m., bound for Liverpool, with (a) passengers in the saloon, (a) in the second cabin, and (a) in the steerage.

She carried a large cargo, and had a number of horses, cattle and sheep on board.

The ship's equipment in all respects was the same as when she left Liverpool after the inspection by the officer of the Board of Trade at that port.

On leaving Portland, the weather was fine, wind moderate from S.W., and it was clear.

A course S.E. by E. 1/2 E. was steered when the ship was outside the harbour.

The mean speed when the offing was reached, as ascertained by the patent and common logs, appears to have been 13 knots.

The ship was ably commanded by Lieut. Barrett, R.N.R., an officer of long experience in the Atlantic trade, and the first and second officers possessed Master's certificates of competency under the Imperial Board of Trade.

There can be no question as to the equipment of the ship, and that it was fully officered and manned.

After leaving Portland, a departure was taken from the Halfway Rock outside the harbour. From this point a course of S.E. by E. 3/4 E. magnetic was steered.

The two Lord Kelvin's compasses, by which the courses were set, were, in the opinion of the master and first and second officers, practically correct.

The two deviation cards, made in Belfast and the Clyde, which were produced in Court, showed no deviation applicable to the course steered, or any other course.

From Halfway Rock the course made good by the ship agreed with the course S.E. by E. 3/4 E. steered by the Lord Kelvin compasses.

After passing the Halfway Rock, the point of departure, the same course, S.E. by E. 3/4 E., was maintained until Matinicus Light was brought abeam, its estimated distance from the ship being 16 miles.

The position of the ship at this point indicated that the courses steered showed no error in the compasses.

The weather continued fine and the wind moderate from the S.W., and the water smooth.

The watches appear to have been properly arranged, there was a look-out man in the crow's nest, and, in fact, nothing appears in evidence that affects the discipline or proper navigation of the ship at this period of the passage.

At 8 p.m., the sea having become rougher, the course was altered at S.E. by E. 1/2 E., or a quarter of a point more southerly, to allow for its effects.

The weather continued the same, the night was dark,. but neither hazy nor foggy.

The master, on going below at 8 p.m., gave orders to take a cast of the lead at 1 a.m. (on the 12th), and at that hour soundings were reported to him by the first officer as having been obtained at 62 fathoms—stony bottom.

Referring to the Admiralty Chart of Halifax to the Delaware, dated the 30th of September, 1895, and corrected to December of the same year, taking the courses and distance from the position given in passing the Halfway Rock and sighting the Matinicus Light at a distance of 16 miles, the ship should have been in latitude 43° 18' N., longitude 67° 2' W., with the Seal Island Light on a magnetic bearing of N.E. by E. 3/4 E., distant 45 miles, and the soundings shown at this point should have been 98 fathoms.

But no notice appears to have been taken of this discrepancy by the officer of the watch, the first officer, who reported the soundings to the master, or by the master who received the report.

This discrepancy, using the soundings obtained and the soundings shown on the Admiralty Chart, is great, placing the ship approximately N.E. 17 miles from her estimated position.

The Court desires to call special attention to this discrepancy, which, remarkable as it was, afforded no hint to the master or the first officer that the soundings did not agree with the reckoning.

It does not appear that either of these officers consulted the chart, or indeed took any notice of the warning thus given by the soundings.

From 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. the ship proceeded on the sam course of S.E. by E. 1/2 E., and at the same rate of speed, when another cast was taken by the orders of the master. The depth obtained was 65 fathoms—stony bottom.

This sounding nearly agreed with the depth given on the chart, 69 fathoms being shown on the chart, close to the estimated position of the ship; but working back on the opposite course steered by the ship, there is no line of sounding on a N.W. by W. 1/2 W. course from the position shown on the chart at 2 a.m. to 1 a.m.—a distance of 13 miles—which agrees with the sounding actually taken.

Had the master not taken the cast at 1 a.m., he might have considered the sounding at 2 a.m. verified the position he assigned to the ship by the course and distance he had steered.

It is evident that the first sounding taken at 1 a.m. was the warning note, and its disregard was a fatal error, though perhaps only a venial one.

From 2 a.m. to 2.30 a.m. the ship maintained the same rate of speed and course, when a cast of 36 fathoms was obtained in a sandy bottom. About three miles to the southward of this estimated position, 72 fathoms were given and about five miles to the N.E., 37.

The Court considers that it was imprudent and injudicious on the part of the master to have proceeded thus far with such long intervals of time between the soundings, and that it would have been wise had the speed of the ship been reduced.

But the ship proceeded again at the same rate on the same course until 3 a.m., when a cast of the lead was taken, the sounding being then 17 fathoms on a sandy bottom.

The master, in his evidence, in reference to the assumed position of the ship at this time, gave it, as his opinion, that the sounding of 17 fathoms confirmed him as to the position he had assigned the ship, but on reference to the chart, it will be seen that from the point indicating the position of the vessel there is but one sounding of 19 fathoms, and that is 18 miles distant on a N.E. by E. 1/2 E. bearing.

In the opinion of the Court, the master should at once have stopped the engines, reversed them, and steered to the southward until he got into a safe depth of water, say 50 or 60 fathoms, and from thence proceeded cautiously to E.S.E.

The master, however, altered the course from S.E. by E. 1/2 E. to S.E., or 1 1/2 points to the southward, and proceeded on this course until 3.30 or thereabouts, when a cast of 10 fathoms, on a sandy bottom, was obtained, and the helm was immediately put hard a-port. Even then the engines were not promptly or immediately stopped.

Something white was seen by the first officer and the look-out man, and the third officer sounded the alarm, and shortly afterwards the ship took the ground quietly, and in spite of the action of the engines she remained fast on the Gannet Dry Ledge, where she subsequently became a total wreck.

From the evidence given and concurrent testimony of the passengers, the master, officers, and crew behaved with great coolness, discipline was perfectly maintained, the boats were ready for use, officers and crew with provisions appointed, and every effort made in the interest of all concerned.

Signals were displayed from the stranded ship to the shore, and subsequently an officer and boat's crew were sent in one of the ship's boats to Yarmouth, from whence and from other sources assistance was rendered.

The master, first and second mate, did their duty by remaining by the ship as long as necessary, but the third officer, Mr. Windus, and the fourth, failed to display the zeal and loyalty to the owners of the ship, an example to the crew usually manifested by British seamen when disaster occurs. These two officers left the ship on Monday the 13th.

Means were taken to salve the cargo and removable fittings and stores from the ship by salvage parties, and it is pleasing to know that humane efforts were generally successful in rescuing as many of the horses, cattle and sheep on board as possible.

On the evening of the 22nd, after a very heavy gale, the ship broke in two.

The Court desires to record their regret that the master failed to pay attention to the cautions expressed in the Admiralty Sailing Directions for the S.E. Coast of Nova Scotia and Bay of Fundy, 1885 edition, pages 154-155, as to the rapidity and irregularity of the tides at the entrance of the Bay of Fundy, and the cautions expressed in the British Admiralty Directions which are included in the United States Sailiug Directions.

Evidence was given before one of the Commissioners in Halifax on the 16th of March, by Captain Hopkins, of the s.s. "Beta," that he experienced a strong N.W. set of the tidal stream on his approaching the coast between Sable Island and the Sambro Ledges, on the same night as the stranding of the "Castilian" occurred.

And Captain Pye, of the s.s. "Halifax," in his declaration made at Halifax on the 20th of March, stated that he had also met with a strong current setting up the Bay of Fundy to the North and North east on the morning of the 12th March, and that he did not find an ebb. He was compelled to change his course more to the southward to avoid danger.

Captain Squares de Carteret, of the cable steamer "Minia," in a letter to the agent of the "Castilian" at Halifax, stated that he once experienced a stream running to the northward of six miles an hour when passing Seal Island and Cape Sable, and he frequently found its rate four miles an hour, and on his way to Boston a short time ago he set a course to pass 20 miles off Cape Sable Light and passed about two miles off outside the Brazil Rock Buoy.

Likewise, Mr. Aulay Kennedy, of Halifax, in his declaration made on the 20th of March, stated that on two separate occasions between 1879 and 1885, while navigating officer of the above-mentioned steamer "Minia," he experienced a current running up and down the Bay of Fundy four knots when only two knots were reported by the Admiralty Charts and Sailing Directions.

That the disaster to the "Castilian" arose from either some newly developed error of the compasses, or from an abnormal direction and strength of the tidal stream on the flood indraught into the Bay of Fundy or both, must be conceded, but the Court considers the master, Captain Barrett, R.N.R., and Mr. Duncan McAffer, first officer, did not exercise the caution that should have been most carefully observed in a new ship after the first discrepancy in the sounding at 1 a.m., when the first cast was taken of 62 fathoms, when by the chart 90 to 98 fathoms should have been found.

In the opinion of the Court this was the initial error in the navigation of the "Castilian," and, although the subsequent soundings taken at long intervals after such a discrepancy were assumed as being confirmatory of the master's estimate of his position, the rejection of the warning at 1 a.m. led to the disaster, combined with the subsequent errors in judgment already alluded to.

The Court has taken the long successful career of the master, Captain Barrett, R.N.R., into their fullest consideration, and bear willing testimony to his professional knowledge and careful navigation of ocean steamers in the past, but it cannot avoid the responsibility or the painful duty imposed upon it, and with much regret must express their censure as to his proceedings in this case.

Also to the first officer, Mr. D. McAffer, who, in the opinion of the Court, should have recognised the danger to the ship, in assuming the first soundings of 62 fathoms at 1 a.m. as being in accordance with the ship's reckoning, and the soundings shown on the Admiralty chart.

Further, in the opinion of the Commissioner. Captain John E. Murphy, of Yarmouth, neglect is attributable to the master and first officer for not comparing the masthead compass with the standard compass when off Matinicus.

The Court, having most carefully and completely enquired into, and investigated the circumstances attending the stranding and total loss of the Allan s.s. "Castilian," on Gannet Dry Ledge, off the Coast of Nova Scotia, at 3.40 a.m., of the 12th of March, 1899, and, having fully considered all the evidence that it was possible to obtain, has come to the conclusion that the disaster is attributable to the following causes:—Not taking into sufficient consideration the first sounding of 62 fathoms at 1 a.m., which naturally should have pointed out that the vessel was not in the position that she was supposed to be; not accurately noting the distance run by the log when the different soundings were taken; and running the ship at too high a rate of speed after finding the water was shoaling rapidly.

When the cast of 36 fathoms was obtained, the ship's speed should have been at once reduced, and constant soundings taken.

Instead of this having been done, no sounding after that of 36 fathoms was obtained for about half an hour, namely, at 3 o'clock, when 17 fathoms were found.

Although a similar depth is to be obtained about 10 1/2 miles S.E. by S. 1/2 S. from Seal Island, and the master states he considered he had over-run his distance and was on Seal Island Bank, he merely altered the ship's course from S.E. by E. 1/2 E. to S.E., or 1 1/2 points, and kept on at full speed for nearly half an hour, when a cast of 10 fathoms was taken, after which the ship almost immediately took the ground.

There can be no doubt, indeed, it was admitted by the master, that, had he stopped the engines and reversed them when the 17 fathoms cast was taken he would have saved the ship.

Probably the after knowledge derived from the circumstances connected with the courses the ship was steered, and the disaster which ensued, influenced the master in confessing his error, and in the same manner those circumstances have to a certain extent enabled the Court to arrive at this opinion.

The Court also considers, taking the evidence obtained from a number of well known and responsible masters of ships, who were in the locality of the catastrophe on the 12th of March, that there was some peculiar current setting into the Bay of Fundy on that day, which materially assisted in putting the ship to the northward of her course, but this does not account for the long distance the vessel was out of her position as assumed by the master.

He appears to have placed too much faith in his compasses, taking into consideration that the "Castilian" was a new ship, and it was nearly the first occasion on which she was running on an easterly course.

The master, who is without doubt, a most experienced and well known navigator, having constantly navigated vessels in the vicinity of the disaster in question for upwards of 20 years, in the opinion of the Court, took his position too much for granted, and, although it refrains from dealing with the certificate of either the master or first officer, considers it their painful duty to censure them both, and the master, Reginald Barrett, and the first officer, Duncan McAffer, are hereby censured accordingly.

Further, in the opinion of the Commissioner, Captain John E. Murphy, of Yarmouth, neglect is attributable to the master and first officer for not comparing the mast head compass with the standard compass when off Matinicus.

O. G. V. SPAIN, R.N., Commanding Fisheries Protection Service of Canada, Chairman and Commissioner.

BLOOMFIELD DOUGLAS, R.N.R., Naval Assistant, Commissioner.

JOHN E. MURPHY, Master Mariner, of Yarmouth, Commissioner.

Given in open Court at Halifax, N.S., this 29th day of March, A.D. 1899.

(Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 11th day of August, 1899.)

(a) These blanks were not filled in because the ship's books were reported to the Court as having been stolen.

2773—110—5/99 Wt 99 D & S 1



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