Mr. J. Hargreave Hamel appeared to conduct the proceedings for the Board of Trade; Mr. Cohen, instructed by Mr. Peace, represented the General Steam Navigation Company, the Owners of the Bruiser (s), and the Captain of the vessel; and Mr. Cooper, of Clarkson and Cooper, appeared for the Owners and Master of the Haswell.
Rear-Admiral Sir F. Nicholson, Mr. Pratt, the Secretary of the General Steam Navigation Company, and other gentlemen interested in the proceedings, were accommodated with seats on the bench.
Mr. Hamel, in opening the case, said: I have the honour to appear before you in pursuance of an order from the Lords Committee of Privy Council for Trade, directing an official investigation to be held into the circumstances attending the fatal collision, off the Suffolk Coast, between the steamers Bruiser and Haswell, of London, which occurred a few miles from Aldborough, at about 2 30 A.M. on Sunday, 19th August last, and resulted in the total loss of the Bruiser and a lamentable sacrifice of human life. The weather at the time was fine and clear, the coast lights being distinctly visible. There was a slight breeze from the S.W., and the water was perfectly smooth. The Bruiser left Hull for London the day before the accident with about 90 first and second-class passengers and a full cargo. She was commanded by Mr. Charles Harty, her Master, who holds a certificate of competency as Master, and had a Crew of 21 hands, all told. The Haswell, a steam collier, left London for Sunderland the previous afternoon in ballast. She was commanded by Mr. John Chase, who holds a certificate of competency as Only Mate, and he has a Crew of 19 hands, all told. The Masters of the two steamers had gone below some time prior to the collision, the Bruiser being left in charge of Mr. John Scott, her Chief Mate, who holds a certificate of competency, and the Haswell in charge of Mr. William Slaughter, her Second Mate, who holds a certificate of service as Master. The vessels had been in sight for some minutes before the collision, but owing, it is asserted, to some defect in the Haswell's lights, the Bruiser, when close to her, starboarded her helm, and the Haswell, which had ported and was going at reduced speed, ran into her with considerable violence, striking her amidships on the starboard side, and cutting through her decks as far as the engine-room skylight. The Master of the Haswell, who hurried on deck immediately and saw the nature of the damage sustained by the Bruiser, kept his engines moving slowly ahead until she began to sink rapidly, when he backed astern, and in less than a minute after the collision the Bruiser foundered. Exertions were made by the Crews to save life, and the Chief Mate of the Haswell exhibited great presence of mind by lowering a ladder from the bows of that vessel on to the Bruiser's bridge. This was, humanly speaking, the means of rescuing many lives from destruction. It appears from the deposition of the Master of the Bruiser that, notwithstanding all these exertions, 11 passengers and three of her Crew perished, including two Firemen, who were jambed in their berths by the Haswell's bows. All the survivors but three were taken by the Haswell to London, where they arrived at 5 P.M. the same day. The other three were passengers picked up by the schooner Perservance, which came up at the time, and were landed at Yarmouth. I think it undesirable that I should enter further into details, as the evidence of the two Crews is somewhat conflicting, and I am anxious to say nothing that can in any way appear to prejudice the case. I may add, that I have endeavoured to secure the attendance of each member of the respective Crews who can throw any light upon the cause of the casualty, or who were on deck at the time; also of any of the passengers whose names I could learn, together with some of the Crews of the screw steamer Grenadier and the schooner Perseverance, which were at hand when the collision took place. I have not served the two Masters with the formal notices of inquiry, as required by the 23rd section of the Merchant Shipping Amendment Act, 1862, as they were below at the time of the accident, and had left the decks in charge of properly qualified Officers. These Officers have been duly served, as it is possible their conduct may be called in question. It is almost superfluous for me to observe that the Board of Trade, whom I have the honour to represent, can have no interest in this or any of these inquiries beyond the desire to arrive, by the most impartial means, at the truth. The sole object of this investigation is, as far as practicable to trace these disasters to their source, to find out their cause, with a view to such precautionary measures as may tend to prevent a recurrence of the like calamities. It is solely in the interests of the public that I appear here, and my desire is that this investigation shall be conducted with the strictest fairness and impartiality. It is to me a source of much satisfaction that, during the several years that I have been entrusted with inquiries of this nature, in various parts of the kingdom (averaging in number about two a month), I have had the good fortune not only to escape censure from any quarter, but to obtain many gratifying expressions of approval, and were the present inquiry to fail through any fault of mine, it would be to be a source of great regret, particularly as this will probably be one of the last, if not the last, case of the kind that I may have the honour to conduct.
Captain Chase, the Master of the Haswell, was then called, and was under examination when this report left.
Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius
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