THE TASMANIA INQUIRY.
*' CARELESS AND NEGLIGENT NAVIGATION." ' AUCKLAND, September 21. Mr Brabant delivered the following •written deoision, which he has forwarded to the Marine Department :—lt appears from the evidence that the Tasmania left Auckland for Gisborne and Southern ports on the •28th July, with cargo and about seventy passengers. The number of the orew was forty-two, of whom ten wero seamen. Her ■draught was between 16ft and 17ft forward ■and 19ft aft. She had been lately painted and •cleaned. The ship's compasses are described *8 being splendid ones; they varied only 2deg •at the mo3t, and had been adjusted daily by taking azimuths. The ship reached Gis- . Wno roadstead at 4 p.m. on the 29th July. Th« weather had been bad on the voyage ■dawn, but it was clearing. It was still blowing hard with squalls of rain, but clear between the squalls, and after dark the 'land could te seen three miles or more off. It being impossible to communicate with the land that night, Captain M'Gee had decided to proceed on his voyage to Napier, and kept the ship going slowly seawards until 9 p.m., when a courae was set and the ship proceeded at full speed until about 1055 o'clock, when she struck •on a rock, disabling the engines and causing her to take in water. Six boats were iaunched by the captain's orders and the passengers embarked in them, excellent •order being kept. Afterwards the officers and crew took to the boats, which, how*ver, still remained alongside the ship. At 1.15 a.m. on the 30th there was 12ft or ISft of water in the eDgine room. About 1.30 the boats left the ship. She is believed to have sunk about 2 a.m. Her position When she struck is fixed beyond doubt by the-evidence of Captain Adams, of the Uiugadee, who saw the tops of the mast's above water on the Ist August, aud the position has since been verified by Captain Neale, •of the Government steamer Hinemoa, and Mr William Armstrong, Government surveyor. The boats remained near the place where the ship sank until daylight, when two of them were safely navigated to Gis borne and two were sifoly beached on the shore, and two upset in tho endeavor to land, resulting in the drowning of, it ia rereported, thirteen pcrßons, though the exact number is not kuowu. Captain M'Gee and his navigating officers have given evidence of the course and the management of the ship from the time she left Gisborne roadstead till she struck. The evidence is that at 5.20 p.m. the ship was inside the second buoy from the shore at the roadstead. He then headed her S.S.E., and went slow viz , two miles an hour until 9 p.m. ; that at 7.55 p_m. he took bearings, and found YouQg Nick's Head bear west and Tuihine Point north, which would place the ship, he says, six miles from Gisborne, well over to the east side of Poverty Bay. At 9 p.m. he altered the course to south-by-east-half-east by compass—he gave that direction to the third officer, who was in charge of the deck from eight to twelve o'clock; that the ship was then put at full speed, which would be ten miles an hour; that in ten minutes, having looked at the chart, he altered the course to " S. by E. & E., nothing to the southward "; that he went on the bridge and gave the course to the third officer, and instructed him to keep good look out, and to call him at eleven o clock. The captain then went below to get rest. Mr Wilhocks, the chief officer, confirms the captain's statement as to the course up to 8 p.m., at which time he handed over charge of to the third officer. He states that he took bearings at 7.45, which showed Young Nick's Head bearing W. and Gisborne light N.W. by N. \ N. Mr M'Grath, the third officer, confirms the captain's statement as to the course .set, and states that the ship was steered that course up to five minutes before she Struck; that the wind and sea were right ahead ; that she was going a shade over two knota ; that about 10.53 p.m. he observed a bright light on the starboard bow which disappeared in about ten seconds ; that the lookr outmanthensounded two bells, which showed he had seen the light; that he (the third officer) did not see the light again, but immediately observed land on tho starboard bow, and, think, ng that tho land was Stretching too far . ahead, he ordered the ship to be hauled out two points; thu, he then called the captain, who came on fcho bridge, gave the order " Starboard," and immediately after " Hard a-starboard," but that before the Bhip had time to pay off she struck. Mr M'Grath also says that the ship was heading one mile and a-half clear of the cape when he hauled her out; that if she had continued on the course as altered by him the ship would have passed the cape at a distance of two miles and a-half. Mr Whitefield, the chief engineer, states that the vessel's speed from 9 to 11 p.m. was about ten knots. Mr Nioholson, the second .officer, also gave evidence, but there is nothing in it which I need refer to. The seamen who steered the ship and gave evidehceaay that they_ steered her on the course given by the captain, and the officers agree in 'saying that the ship must have struck on a rock, to the south and east of where she now lies and to the N. and W. of Table Cape. .The approximate situation of the supposed rook, is marked "E." on Mr Armstrong's map which accompanies the evidence. The captain thinks the ship drifted off the rock after striking; the other officers that she remained on the rock until the boat 3 left her, or nearly until that time. I regret to have to state that I cannot regard the Btory told by the captain and hia navigating officers as being true as a whole. If it were true, the accident could not have happened. Their story and conclusions are also inconsistent with known proved facts, and contradicted by evidence which, I think, is reliable. Further, some of the statements made are inconsistent with each other. For instance, I may point out that if the ship were at full speed ten knots from the point of departure (9 p.m.) until 10.55 p.m., she would travel nearly twenty miles, which would carry her past the captain's situation of the supposed rock, which is only fifteen or fifteen and a-hall miles from the point of departure. Even if she went nine knots she would reach the cape at 11 p.m. Mr M'Grath states that a few minutes before the ship struck he was steering the course set—viz , *' S. by E. ;' f E., nothing to the southward " ; that on that course she would have passed one and a-half miles clear of the cape ; that alter he pulled her out two points she headed two and a-half miles clear of the cape; and that she was then two and a-half miles from the land. Theße statements are quite irreconcilable with the ship having struck the supposed rock or anywhere else inside the cape, as a glance at the chart will show. Mr Tole referred to the case of Spales y. Joseph, heard before the Court of Appeal in 1897. In that case it was held that where in an action for negligence in the management of a vessel whereby it ia wrecked the evidence showed that if the vessel were navigated as stated on uncontradicted evidence the accident could not have happened, the Court would be justified in rejecting as incredible such parts of the. evidence which showed that there had been ho negligence. Further, that if a ship on her right course and with everything in order is shortly afterwards found fair out of her course and wrecked, it must be imputed, in absence of explanation, to negligent navigation of the ship. To me the case of the Tasmania is exactly similar. The vessel has been wrecked, but no credible explanation is given by the master or the officers. My assessors advise me that the course set by Captain M'Gee was, from his alleged point of departure, a perfectly safe one, and would, if steered, have carried the ship about three miles to the east of Table Cape. The chief officer says in hia evidence that he cinnot account for the ship being so far out of her course as she undoubtedly was. The only explanation suggested by the other officers ia that there must have been an iuaet which carried her towards the land. But they admit they did not then or before observe any inset. There is no evidence of any wind or weather or other cause which would cause such temporary insetas would take tho ship three miles out of her course. Captain Neale gave evidence that- he had nevor experienced any such inset there. For these reasons I am forced to the conclusion that, auppoaing the point of departure to be correctly stated, and that the course was set as stated, it was not correctly made or cowectly steered.
Later on I shall remark on the question as to where the ship struck, but 1 will now return to-the alleged uncharted rock. The witnesses brought from Giaborne by the Marine Department are Captain Neale, of the Government steamer Hinemoa ; Mr Armstrong, Government Surveyor ; Mr W. H. Clayton, of Gisborne, a passenger by the Tasmania; and Waitakiua, an aboriginal Native. This Native, who is an elderly man, states that he has lived at Waiwhara, near Wainui, on the Mahia Peninsula, all his life ; that he has fished on various fishing grounds near the supposed situation of the rock, and has been whaling'in the vicinity; and that he never heaTd of such a rock, and does not think it possible it could exist without his knowing it. Captain Neale, in his evidence, says he was in the Hinemoa when the marine survey was made by Mr Armstrong; that a bar of iron was dragged by the vessel, and two circuits were made round the wreck, and numerous soundings taken; that no trace of a rock was found ; and that he does not believe there is any about there. Mr Armstrong saya that there is a level sandy bottom to the sea within a radius of a mile from the present position of the wreck; that he found no evidence whatever of any rock within a distance from herof two miles to the east, two miles to the south, aid a mile to the westward ; thut there is practically a sandy bottom all over these boundaries, and a remarkable uniformity of depth. He says he heard it suggested at Giaborne that the ship might j have struck at the fishing ground' called Matakana; that he visited the spot, and has placed it on his plan, and that the depth of water there is thirtyseven fathoms. I consider it to be proved, as far as such a negative question can be proved, that no such rock exists. I have before pointed out that, even it did, it is very improbable that the ship could be there at 10.55 p.m. if she were going ten knots an hour, or even nine knots an hour, which I conclude she really waß going. I, do uot know that it is necessary for the purposes of this inquiry ti fix where the ship did strike, but if the evidence of the captain and officers on the question is set abide all the rest of the evidence goes to show that she struck on the rocks at or about the N.E. point of Tabic Cape. It seeim to me that the captain's orders when he camo on deck—first "Starboard," then immediately "Hard a - starboard" are suggestive that he must have thought the ship .dangerously near the land, and not two and a-half or three miles off, as stated. The only witness besides the officers who gave evidence as to the place of striking was Mr Clayton. This witness says that he lives at Giaborne and is well acquainted with the lay of the land. Severely crossexamined by Mr Campbell and contradicted by the chief officer as to the statements he made about the doors of the social hall of the ship ; it was also argued that, being a landsman, he would be unable to recognise land at night. Of course, landsmen are as a rule less able to judge distances at sea than seamen, whose eyes are accustomed to the work. This particular witness, however, has no interest himself in the question ; he speaks his opinion with confidence ; and I do not doubt he freely believes what he asserts to be true. I shall show that his statements are confirmed by other facts, and I do not doubt he fully believes what he has said is true. I shall B how that his statements are confirmed by other facts. E e says he was in the social hall of the Tasmania on the night she was wrecked, and went out from time to time to the rail of the ship; that from there he saw the land, which was visible on each occasion ; that he recognised the land as the peninsula, and just before she struck she was heading round the cape; that he heard two bells struck on the forecastle ; that immediately afterwards he saw a flash light between the course of the steamer and the land, and that it only lasted a second or two. The witness does not know what light this was ; but, as a fact, Foreland light is a flash light, and we have evidence that the third officer saw a onght light, which disappeared in a few seconds on the starboard bow, immediately before two bells were struck, and there is the evidence of Clayton that he saw a similar light in the same direction immediately after the bells. Armstrong, in his evidence, says that tho extreme end of the eipe is within the line of the flashing light of Portland lighthouse. The situation of the supposed rock is well inside the line ot light. I have alreadv pointed out that the ship could not have been travelling ten knots, because if she were she would by 10. So have been right past the cape; but if we suppose that owing to the wind and sea sho was travelling only something over nine B ho would get to the point of the cape about that time. Ine Maori witness in his evidence saya that on the night of the wreck he was in a house at Waiwhara facing the sea; that he saw the porthole lights of a large steamer broadside on to the shore. He then thought she must be the Waihora anchored there. He has marked on the chart the place where he saw the steamer. J. he spot marked was nearly in a direct line between the cape and the place where the Tasmania now lies. If then the ship ran on the point of the cape at 10.55 p.m considering the direction of the wind and sea and such an inset round the cape as the Hood tides causes, it. is quite likely mv assessors think, that she might drift by 2 a.m. to the place where she now lies. At any rate, however, the ship to have struck at all must have been far inside the proper course, and in the weather and vnler the ci cimstanccs described it must be considered careless and negligent navigation on the part of the officers to allow her to get so far inside. Mr M'Grath, the third officer, is a young man who had lately joined the ship, and had never been accustomed to have charge of a watch on a large steamship, and ho was not familiar with the voyage the vessel was starting on that evening. That he had not made himself familiar with the coast is shown by the answers to the questions put to him as to the distance from Young Nick's Head to Table Cape. He said twenty-eight miles, when it is really about twenty-one. The captain knew the inexperience of his officer, and when he left the deck in his charge he should have been asked to be called not at eleven o'clock, the time when the ship if not on her right course, and as he thought gomg ten knots, would have been going round the cape, but at a much earlier hour, or, in the alternative, he should have perfectly pointed out the dangers of the voyage. Mr M'Grath says the captain told him he would probably sight the land about eleven —words which might be taken to mean not before eleven, and might fill that officer with false security. As to Mr M'Grath there can be no question that he was guilty of gross negligence. He did not keep a good look-out as directed by the captain. If he had the accident could not have happened aa between the squalls the land could be seen a few miles off. There wa3 some evidence from the passengers that the boats were not properly equipped, but seeing it came from men who did not appear to know much about boats I thought it neither definite nor ttrong enough to throw blame on to the officers for. It is to be regretted that there were not more passengers before the Court as witnesses. This, however, was impossible, owing to the inquiry being held so far from the ports to, which the passengers were proceeding. There was, unfortunately, much loss of life, caused by the upsetting of two of the boats in trying to effect a landing through the surf, but the evidence seems to show that this was not caused by the boats being unseaworthy or badly equipped, but by injudicious management on the part of those in charge. One of the passenger witnesses thought the ship's carpenter incapable of managing the boat he was in charge of, but I could not pursue the question, aa the carpenter had left for Melbourne before the inquiry. The decision I have come to is that the Tasmania was wrecked by careless and negligent navigation by Thomas M'Gee (master) and Perceval M'Grath (third officer), that the certificates of each be suspended for six months, and that the captain be ordered to pay the costs of the inquiry, but not to exceed £IOO. My assessors concur in this decision.
Permanent link to this item
THE TASMANIA INQUIRY., Evening Star, Issue 10425, 21 September 1897
THE TASMANIA INQUIRY. Evening Star, Issue 10425, 21 September 1897
Using This Item
Allied Press Ltd is the copyright owner for the Evening Star. You can reproduce in-copyright material from this newspaper for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons New Zealand BY-NC-SA licence. This newspaper is not available for commercial use without the consent of Allied Press Ltd. For advice on reproduction of out-of-copyright material from this newspaper, please refer to the Copyright guide.