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Wreck Report for 'Maggie Flett' and 'New Londoner', 1903

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Unique ID:18529
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Maggie Flett' and 'New Londoner', 1903
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 6637.)


The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

IN the matter of a formal investigation held at the Moot Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne, on the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th days of January, 1904, before EDWARD ARMORER HEDLEY and NICHOLAS HENRY MARTIN, Esquires, two of His Majesty's Justices of the Peace, acting in and for the City and County of Newcastle-on-Tyne, assisted by Captains KIDDLE, R.N., WOOD and MELVILLE, (Nautical Assessors), and Mr. S. HALSEY, (Fishery Assessor), into the circumstances attending the collision between the British sailing ship "MAGGIE FLETT," of Lossiemouth, and the British steamship "NEW LONDONER," of Newcastle, off the River Tyne, on the 25th day of November, 1903.

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 collision, whereby loss of life ensued, was caused by Captain J. W. N. Searle, the master of the "New Londoner," failing to take proper and sufficient measures to keep out of the way of the "Maggie Flett," by porting his helm in time and slackening his speed. The Court finds Captain Searle alone in default, but, under the circumstances, does not deal with his certificate.

Dated this 15th day of January, 1904.







We concur in the above Report.













Annex to the Report.

This was an inquiry into the circumstances attending the collision between the British s.s. "New Londoner" and the British fishing-vessel "Maggie Flett" (whereby loss of life occurred), and was held at the Moot Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne, on the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th days of January, 1904, before Edward Armorer Hedley and Nicholas Henry Martin, Esquires, assisted by Captains J. Kiddle, R.N., A. Wood, and W. G. B. Melville, Nautical Assessors; and Mr. S. Halsey, Fishery Assessor. Mr. W. S. Burton appeared for the Board of Trade, Mr. D. Stephens was Counsel for the Tyne and Tees Steam Shipping Company, Limited, Mr. Wallace represented the master of the "New Londoner," while Mr. John Strachan, the chief officer, and Mr. William Simpson, second officer of the "New Londoner," and Mr. James Flett, second hand of the "Maggie Flett," appeared in person.

The "Maggie Flett," of Lossiemouth, official letters and number I.N.S. 1714, was a decked lugsail net and line fishing-boat with two masts, her length of keel being 54 ft. and her registered tonnage 34 tons. She was owned by Messrs. James Flett, senior, John Flett and James Flett, junior, fishermen, of 55, Queen Street, Branderburgh, James Flett, senior, being the master of the vessel.

The "Maggie Flett" was, on the voyage in question, in good condition and well found: she carried no boat and there were no life-belts on board, but there was one life-buoy kept on a crutch on deck. The boat was steered by a wheel and the compass was fixed in a binnacle on the foreside of the wheel and was stated to be correct.

The "New Londoner," of Newcastle-on-Tyne, official number 104246, was a steel screw steamship, built at Newcastle-on-Tyne, in the year 1894, by Messrs. Wigham, Richardson, & Co., and was of the following dimensions: — Length 270 ft., breadth 33.65 ft., and depth in hold from tonnage deck to ceiling at midships 15.5 ft. She was schooner-rigged and fitted with triple-expansion engines of 350 horsepower, constructed by Messrs. Wigham, Richardson, & Co., in the year 1894. She was of 1456.39 gross,. and 707.67 net registered amended tonnage, and owned by the Tyne and Tees Shipping Company, Limited, Mr. Richard Welford, of King Street, Newcastle-on Tyne, being appointed managing owner on the 18th February, 1903. The vessel was, on the voyage in question, in good condition and well-found, and fitted with lifeboats and life-saving appliances in accordance with the Act. She carried 7 boats, viz.:—4 lifeboats,. 2 cutters, and a jollyboat, the large boats being carried in chocks on the bridge-deck, three on each side, and the small boat right aft on the starboard side of the quarter-deck.

The story of the "Maggie Flett" was as follows:—She left Lowestoft at the conclusion of the herring fishing on the 23rd November last bound for Lossiemouth with a crew of seven hands all told under the command of Mr. James Flett, senior. Being wind-bound she put into Scarborough on the 24th, leaving the next day at 7.30 a.m., with a fair wind from the westward carrying a single reef foresail and two reef mizzen. She proceeded under that canvas till about two miles off Whitby, when she put another reef in the foresail, and so continued till noon, when, on account of a change of wind, she tacked towards the land a bit. She tacked again about five miles north of Hartlepool about 2.30 of the 25th, getting on the port tack, and, taking in a reef, so continued till between Seaham and Sunderland, when whole sail was set. When between Sunderland and South Shields they reefed the foresail down to four reefs and took in the mizzen. There was then a fresh breeze from the W.N.W. and they intended, on that account, to make for the Tyne. The tack of the sail was hooked between the stem and the mast, thus enabling them to tack without lowering the sail. The side lights were duly put out before sunset, at about four o'clock, and the second hand James Flett, junior, who was on the look-out, kept an eye on them from time to time. He was stationed forward, and his father was at the helm, the binnacle being lighted up. The rest of the hands were on deck. It was the last quarter of the flood tide, and they continued on the port tack till about half-a-mile from the North Pierhead, when they stayed in order to avoid a steamer going north, and put the boat on the starboard tack heading roughly S.S.W. They proceeded on the starboard tack till about 20 yards off the South Pier buoy, when they again stayed, and, heading roughly N.N.W., went on the port tack towards the North Pier, which James Flett stated was slightly on their starboard bow. On opening the mouth of the Tyne on this tack, they saw the masthead and green lights of a steamer proceeding down the river about 500 yards off. The steamer's red light was never seen, and they thought, on that account, she must be going north. They continued on the port tack till it seemed a collision was inevitable, when the skipper called out "Ready about," put the helm down, and stayed the boat, which came round quickly on the starboard tack, but, before the sheet was belayed, the steamer, which proved to be the "New Londoner," struck the boat with her stem and starboard bow on the starboard quarter about 15 or 20 ft. from the sternpost. The result was that the boat was cut in two, the after-part at once sinking and taking down the master Mr. James Flett, senior, and two brothers, James and George Campbell, all of Lossiemouth. Nothing has since been seen of the bodies or of the after portion of the wreck. Of the rest of the crew, two remained on the fore part and two were thrown into the water, but were pulled on board the wreckage, and they were all subsequently rescued by Mr. John Burn, a Tyne pilot who was in the vicinity in his coble. Mr. James Flett marked on the accompanying chart*. the position where he stated their boat stayed on the starboard tack and also that where the collision occurred. These positions are both well inside the piers, the first being directly on the line of lights and the second on the south of mid-channel.

Such is the story of those on board the "Maggie Flett," who maintained that the red light of the "New Londoner" was never opened out, and that the casualty was entirely due to the steamer failing to port in time and proceeding at an excessive rate of speed.

Mr. James Flett, senior, was stated to have been well acquainted with the port and to have been an able and experienced skipper.

Turning now to the "New Londoner," the master, Mr. John William Norman Searle, who held a certificate of competency as master, No. 04753, stated that he had been in the Company's service since 1863, and during that time constantly engaged in sailing between the Tyne and Thames and Continental ports. He had had command of the "New Londoner" since she was built some 10 years ago, and for that period had made two passages weekly between the Tyne and Thames and hack. The vessel left the Company's wharf at Newcastle about 4.15 p.m. of the 25th November last, bound for the Thames, with a crew of 31 hands all told, and the same number of passengers. She had on board between 300 and 400 tons of general cargo, her draught of water on leaving being 10 ft. forward and 19 ft. aft, that being her usual trim with that amount of cargo.

She was steered by steam gear from the upper bridge, and was lit up throughout by electricity, and her regulation lights were all showing. She proceeded down the river under the charge of a Tyne pilot, who was dropped about 5.30 at South Shields. The master and chief officer were on the bridge, the second mate at the wheel, and the boatswain and an A.B. were stationed on the look-out on the forecastle-head right forward. They proceeded "slow" (some five knots), the tide being last quarter flood and the weather dark and clear, all lights being clearly visible, with wind about N.W. and force 4. There were no vessels ahead or coming in inside the piers. They continued "slow" till a little past the Groyne light, when the master ordered the engines "half speed," which would make about seven knots through the water. When about abreast the Herd buoy, the order was given to port, so as to bring the vessel to the south of midchannel. She came round under her port helm, the South Pier light then being about half a point on their starboard bow. When in the act of rounding the South Pier end, at about a distance of 200 ft, a sailing vessel's red light was seen about one and a half points on the starboard bow. At this time the after part of the steamer was abreast of the South Pier light, and she was heading about E.S.E. under her port helm. The vessel appeared to be something under a quarter of a mile off. The master at once ordered the helm hard-a-port, and gave one blast of his whistle, indicating that he was porting. The vessel came round, and the sailing vessel's red light changed very quickly, passing to the steamer's port bow for half a point and then disappearing, apparently about two ships' lengths (600 ft.) away. At this time they were outside the piers, having passed the South Pier buoy, the South Pier end bearing about N.W. The master, imagining that he had now cleared the sailing vessel, ordered the engines to be put "full speed ahead," but before the order could be carried out, the vessel's green light appeared about half a point on their port bow in the same position as they had previously seen the red light. In a few seconds, however, the collision occurred, an interval of about a minute and a half having elapsed since the red light was first seen. The master placed the spot where the collision occurred at about a quarter of a mile S.E. from the South Pier end, as marked by him on the accompanying chart*. He ordered the engines "full speed astern," and life lines &c. to be thrown over and the boats to be put out. The boats were said to have been got into the water without delay, but when they eventually reached the scene of the collision they found that the four men had been rescued by the pilot coble, and that no trace could be seen of the remainder of the fishing boat's crew.

They subsequently made for the "New Londoner," which then resumed her voyage, having been delayed about three-quarters of an hour. The two men on the look-out place the position of the casualty at about two ships' lengths outside the South Pier, and, as will be subsequently seen, this is practically corroborated by the pilot Burn.

Captain Searle attributed the casualty, first to the "Maggie Flett" making the port too close to the South Pier, and so infringing No. 20 of the Port Byelaws, and, secondly, to her putting-about on the starboard tack.

It will be seen that on nearly every material point there is a conflict of testimony between those on board the two vessels, and it now remains to see what light is thrown on the occurence by pilot Burn, who was in a fairly good position to see most of the principal events leading up to the casualty and witnessed the actual collision.

On the evening in question, he and his brother were in their coble between the pier ends reaching towards the South Pier end, and, when within about 20 yards of it, he noticed, he said, the "New Londoner" coming down the river on the south side of the channel almost abreast the Herd buoy, her three lights being visible. The coble then tacked over to. the North Pier, in doing so shutting in the "New "Londoner's" green light. They then lay about 100 or 200 yards south of the North Pier end, and, when the steamer was between the Herd buoy and the North Pier end, they observed the "Maggie Flett" sailing about five points from the wind, which was W.N.W. He then saw the "New Londoner" change her course to starboard, giving one short blast, and the "Maggie Flett" put-about, showing the coble her green light, which was then on the port side of the steamer, who gave another short blast, and the collision occurred in about half-a-minute, there being an interval of about half-a-minute between the two blasts. He considered the steamer was going at the time about eight knots. He at once made all haste to the scene of the casualty, arriving there in between five and ten minutes and found the wreckage between the buoy and the South Pier end. It was stated the position of the buoy was 50 ft. to the south of that marked on the Admiralty Chart, it having drifted there some little time ago. He rescued the four survivors from the floating piece of wreck and cruised about endeavouring to find the remainder of the men, but without success. It was 6.10 p.m. when he took the men on board the coble, and, in about 20 minutes after the collision occurred, the steamer's boats arrived. Burn fixed the position of the collision at about 500 or 600 ft. to the eastward of the South Pier end, marking it on the chart, this approximately coinciding with the evidence of the look-out men on the steamer. He stated that sailing vessels were accustomed to take the harbour on the port tack and that it was proper for a vessel beating in against a head-wind (as was the "Maggie Flett") to do so from off the South Pier end. He added, that it was quite impossible for the fishing-boat to have fetched in between the piers on the tack she was on when he first saw her, so that Flett must have been mistaken when he stated the collision occurred at the spot indicated by him inside the piers.

The first question naturally to be considered is where did the collision actually occur, for upon that must depend in the main the further question as to who is to blame for the casualty.

As will be seen, the Court adopted the evidence of Burn corroborated, as it practically was, by the lookout men on the "New Londoner."

Then come two important points as regards the conduct of the "Maggie Flett"; (a) Did she, on entering the port, infringe Clause 20 of the Port Byelaws, and (b) did she keep her course and speed as required by Article 21 of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, and, if not, did she bring herself within the exceptions mentioned in the note to that regulation?

(a) While Byelaw 20 undoubtedly applies to sailing vessels as well as steamers, at the same time it can scarcely be construed as strictly against a sailing vessel beating into port against a head wind, as was the "Maggie Flett" on this occasion. The byelaw has received judicial interpretation in the cases of the "Harvest" (11 P.D. 14-90) and the "John O. Scott" (1897 P. 64) where it was held that its scope extended beyond an imaginary line between the pier ends and that the test was "did a vessel coming from the southward" (as was the "Maggie Flett") leave a fairway for vessels going out of port?" The Court found as a fact that the "Maggie Flett" passed the South Pier head on making for the north of mid-channel at a distance of about 600 ft. to 700 ft. They accordingly put this question to the assessors: "Did the 'Maggie Flett' keep so close to the pier head as not to leave reasonable room for the 'New Londoner' to get out of the river and pass to the southward of the "Maggie Flett'?" To which the assessors replied, "The 'Maggie Flett' left sufficient room for the 'New Londoner' to go out and pass to the southward." This was purely a nautical question, but the limit did seem to the Court somewhat fine. (b) The Court put the further question to the assessors: "Was the 'Maggie Flett' justified, under the circumstances, in staying and going on the starboard tack in contravention of Article 23?" The assessors answered this question in the affirmative. The Court could not accept the evidence of the "New Londoner" that the "Maggie Flett" crossed the bow of the steamer showing her red light on the latter's port bow till it disappeared, then showing her green light in the same position, and thus bringing about the collision.

When regard is had to the time it would take the "Maggie Flett" to stay and change tack, to the relative speeds at which the vessels were respectively proceeding at the time, and to the fact that the head of the "New Londoner" was then swinging to starboard under a fixed hard-a-port helm, this seemed to the Court impossible.

The Court found, after weighing the evidence in the light of the facts admitted or proved, that the "New Londoner" did not open out her port light on the "Maggie Flett's" port bow, and that the master of the steamer was to blame in not porting earlier and that he should have slackened speed on approaching the "Maggie Flett." A collision would, in all probability, have happened had the sailing vessel maintained her course on the port tack, and, in the opinion of the Court, she was justified, in the moment of agony immediately preceding the collision, in staying and changing tack as a last resort in her extremity.

The Court is satisfied that nothing further could have been done to rescue the unfortunate men who lost their lives: they apparently went down with the after part of the boat.

While finding Captain Searle in default and responsible for the casualty, the Court, having regard to his long service and unblemished career, felt justified under the circumstances in not dealing with his certificate.

At the conclusion of the evidence, the following questions were submitted on behalf of the Board of Trade, Mr. Stephen. Mr. Wallace and Mr. Flett addressed the Court, and Mr. Burton replied.

(1) When entering the port of Newcastle-on-Tyne on the evening of the 25th November last, was the "Maggie Flett" being brought in to the north of mid-channel as required by Clause 20 of the Byelaws for the Regulation of the Port of Newcastle-on-Tyne? When leaving the port on the said date was the "New Londoner" kept to the south of mid-channel as required by Clause 19 of the said byelaws?

(2) At or about 5.45 p.m. of the 25th November last were the sailing ship "Maggie Flett" and the steamer "New Londoner" proceeding in such directions as to involve risk of collision within the meaning of Article 20 of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea? If so,

(a) Did the master of the "New Londoner" take proper measures to keep out of the way of the "Maggie Flett" as required by the said Article?

(b) Did he avoid crossing ahead of the "Maggie Flett" as required by Article 22?

(c) Did he on approaching her, if necessary, slacken the speed or stop or reverse as required by Article 23?

(d) Did the "Maggie Flett" keep her course and speed as required by Article 21 of the said regulations?

(3) Was a good and proper look-out kept on board both vessels?

(4) What was the cause of the collision and loss of life, and was every possible assistance rendered by those on board the "New Londoner?"

(5) Were both vessels navigated with proper and seamanlike care?

(6) Was the casualty to the "Maggie Flett" and the loss of life caused by the wrongful act or default of the master and chief officer of the "New Londoner," or either of them, and/or was it caused by the neglect of the second officer of the said vessel and the second hand of the "Maggie Flett," or of either of them?

To which the Court replied as follows:—

(1) Just prior to the collision which occurred, according to the evidence of John Burn, a Tyneside pilot, who was in the vicinity, about 500 or 600 ft. to the eastward of the South Pier, the "Maggie Flett," on entering the port, was standing to the north on the port tack, with wind W.N.W., making for the north of mid-channel, as required by Clause 20 of the Byelaws for the Regulation of the Port of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The Court is advised that the "Maggie Flett" was, on entering the port, at a reasonable distance from the South Pier end, and left sufficient room for out-going vessels to pass out of the river to the southward.

The "New Londoner," on leaving the port, kept to the south of mid-channel, as required by Clause 19 of the said byelaws.

(2) At or about 5.45 p.m. of the 25th November last, the "Maggie Flett" and the "New Londoner" were proceeding in such directions as to involve risk of collision within the meaning of Article 20 of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

(a) The master of the "New Londoner" did not take proper measures to keep out of the way of the "Maggie Flett" as he did not port his helm in time.

(b) He took steps to avoid crossing ahead of the "Maggie Flett," as required by Article 22, by porting, but he did not do so in time.

(c) On approaching the "Maggie Flett" the master of the "New Londoner" did not slacken speed or reverse. In the opinion of the Court he should have slackened speed as he approached the sailing vessel.

(d) The "Maggie Fleet" kept her course and speed until a collision appeared to those on board inevitable, when her helm was put down and she was put about on the starboard tack. Before, however, this evolution was completed the collision occurred, the "New Londoner "striking the "Maggie Flett" with her stem on the starboard quarter about 15 ft. or 20 ft. in front of the stern-post, cutting her in two.

(3) A good and proper look-out appears to have been kept on board both vessels.

(4) The collision was caused by the master of the "New Londoner" failing to take proper and sufficient measures to keep out of the way of the "Maggie Flett." Three of the hands of the "Maggie Flett," viz:—James Flett, the master, James and George Campbell, brothers, all of Lossiemouth, went down with the after-part of the fishing-boat, and their bodies have not been recovered. Every possible assistance appears to have been rendered by those on board the "New Londoner," but before their boats succeeded in reaching the scene of the collision, the survivors had been rescued by pilot Burn in his coble.

(5) The "New Londoner" was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care. The "Maggie Flett," in the opinion of the Court, was navigated with proper and seamanlike care.

(6) The Court finds that the casualty was caused through the wrongful act and default of the master, John William Norman Searle, alone, but, having regard to his long service and freedom from casualty, the Court does not deal with his certificate.







We concur.













(Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 23rd day of February, 1904.)

*Not printed.

180 Wt 40 2/1904 D & S 1 17157


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