Official Inquires

The Collision between the Bruiser (s) and the Haswell on the Suffolk Coast.

The statement of John Scott, Mate of the Bruiser, was next read. It was as follows: -- I was Chief Mate of the late screw steamship Bruiser. I have been used to the sea for about 35 years, have been Mate for eight years, and hold a certificate of competency from the Board of Trade at Hull. For the last 22 years I have been in the service of the General Steam Navigation Company, first before the mast, then as Boatswain, the Second Mate, and for the last eight years as Chief Mate. During the whole 2 years, with very few exceptions, I have been in the constant habit of performing the passage to and from London to Hull. The collision I am about to speak of is the only one that has occurred to me. About 11 30 A.M. of Saturday, the 18th of August, 1866, the Bruiser, which belonged to the said company, left Hull on her passage to London, with passengers and a general cargo. She was 344 tons register, with two engines of 40-horse power each, and was manned with a Crew of 25 hands all told. She arrived off Aldborough about 2 30 on Sunday morning. It was my watch on deck. It commenced at midnight, and I had remained on the bridge since that time. I had met eight or nine steamers during that time. Most of them passed outside and to the eastward of us. I had no occasion to alter our course for any of them except the last one, which we met between 5 and 10 minutes before the collision. I saw her three lights and ported. She did the same, and we passed each other well clear. After this I told the man at the wheel to keep her course, which he did, our course being S.W. and by S. ½ S. I then saw a white light about one point on the starboard bow. I looked well at it, and called the attention of Brailey, the man looking out with me on the bridge, to it. Seeing only the white light I took it to be a ship at anchor. Brailey was of the same opinion. I looked through the Captain's night glass to satisfy myself, and could see nothing but the white light. To give the ship a good berth I ordered the helm to be starboarded till I brought the white light about two points and a half on the starboard bow. I then gave the order "Steady." I continued to watch the light, and so did Brailey, and we both thought it was a ship at anchor. The next thing I saw was a faint red light close to us. I ordered the helm to be put hard a-starboard, and the engines to be stopped. Both these orders were obeyed. I hailed the other ship. I called to them to put their helm hard a-starboard, but there was no answer. Then she struck us right amidships. She cut us nearly in half. I saw no one on her bows when she struck us. The Captain came on deck just before the collision. Every exertion was then made to save the passengers on board the Bruiser, and as many as possible were got on board the Haswell. When the Haswell was backed out the Bruiser instantly filled with water, and went down stern foremost. That must have been about 10 minutes after the collision. When I was on board the Haswell I saw one of the Crew put up the red light. It had evidently been trimmed and was burning brightly as it ought to be. Had it been in that state when I saw the white light, I must have seen it as well as the white light. I did not see the man take the light down.

By Mr. Traill: I hold a certificate of competency as Chief Mate, from Hull. I was examined at Hull.

Mr. Traill said they would now hear any remarks which the learned gentlemen who appeared for the parties might wish to offer.

Mr. Cooper said he would leave the case in the hands of the Court. He would merely observe that the Haswell exhibited the necessary lights, and was pursuing the course pointed out by the Admiralty regulations, and it was in consequence of the Bruiser not complying with those rules, and starboarding her helm instead of porting, that the collision occurred.

Mr. Cohen then proceeded to address the Court for the Owners of the Bruiser. He observed that it was a well-known fact in all cases of collision that the evidence was generally very contradictory. During the progress of this inquiry it had been the object of the other side to throw the entire blame of this melancholy occurrence upon the Bruiser. He did not intend to pursue the same course, but simply to elucidate by the evidence that, so far as the Officers and Crew of the Bruiser were concerned, the collision was unavoidable under the circumstances. It was also his desire to vindicate his clients, the General Steam Navigation Company, and the conduct of Captain Harty, the Commander of the Bruiser. Statements had gone forth imputing negligence to the company, and it was important to show that the vessel was sent to sea, both in respect of her boats and lights and the appointment of her Officers, in an efficient condition. He submitted that the company were quite free from blame. They sent the steamer in every way well fitted for the voyage, and they appointed an efficient Master to command her. It might be said that a prima facie case had been made out as against the Bruiser, but he urged that many circumstances were to be taken in mitigation, and which might release the parties for whom he appeared from blame. The learned counsel then referred to the general facts which had come out in evidence, and adverted to the conduct of Captain Harty, who, before he went below and left the Bruiser in charge of the Mate on the morning of the collision, first saw that the lamps of the vessel were properly trimmed; and with reference to the remarks of the magistrate, that it was extraordinary that Captain Harty had not complained to Captain Chase, of the Haswell, of the bad state of the lights until some time after he had been on board that vessel, expressed his opinion that Captain Harty had acted in a very proper manner in devoting all his time and attention to saving the passenger and Crew before he made any allusion to the cause of the disaster. He would not attribute the collision to the bad state of the Haswell's lights, and would assume that her red light was not a bad light, although a little dim, and might be seen at a distance of a mile. But then came the fact that just before the accident a schooner and the passenger steamship Grenadier passed and obscured the Haswell from the observance of the Bruiser. He contended that there had, at all events, been no gross negligence on the part of the Bruiser. When the Haswell was first observed the red light was not in a good condition, the others were not remarkable for their brightness, no smoke was seen, and she had every appearance of a ship riding at anchor. He would just remark that some of the witnesses had stated that the lights of the Haswell were not very good, and he pressed the Bench to consider that there was no gross negligence, but an error in judgement, in taking the masthead light of the Haswell for the riding light of a ship at anchor, and so committing the fatal error of starboarding. He begged them to be as merciful and as lenient in dealing with the Officer in charge of the Bruiser's deck at the time of the calamity as they could be consistently with the duty they owed to themselves, to the Board of Trade, and to their country.

Mr. Cooper said he should not address the Court in reply as was his privilege, for he did not feel himself to be in the position of a public prosecutor.

The Court then retired to consider its judgement, and, after an absence of an hour, returned, when

Mr. Traill handed to Mr. Boustead, the chief clerk, the judgement of himself and the Nautical Assessors, which he read as follows: -- "After a careful consideration of all the circumstances attending the lamentable collision, and maturely weighing the evidence adduced on behalf of the respective vessels, as well as of the evidence of those witnesses who were not interested in the question, the Court have come to the conclusion that John Scott, the Chief Mate of the Bruiser, committed a grave error in judgement in mistaking the masthead light of the Haswell for the riding light of a vessel at anchor, as it appears clearly from the evidence of the Mate of the Grenadier that all the lights of the Haswell were distinctly to be seen at a considerable distance a few minutes before the collision. From the evidence of the witness of the Grenadier, in corroboration of the Officer on the look-out on board the Haswell, the Bruiser was no doubt on the port bow of the Haswell, and, has a better look-out been kept, ought to have seen the red light of the Haswell, if not before, at all events on passing the Grenadier, and in sufficient time to have ported his helm and have avoided the collision. It was contended on the part of the Mate of the Bruiser that the Grenadier might have intercepted the view of the side lights of the Haswell until the former had passed the Bruiser, and that the Mate might have been confused by the brightness of the lights that had just been passed. The Court cannot assume this to have been the case in the absence of positive proof, and it can only be urged in mitigation of his default, and will, no doubt, be taken into consideration by the Board of Trade on application for a renewal of his certificate, which, under the very serious circumstances of this case, the Court feels it necessary, in the execution of its very responsible duty, to cancel, and it is hereby cancelled from this date. The Court have no reason to attribute any portion of the blame of this collision to the Officer in charge of the Haswell, and therefore return him his certificate."

Mr. Traill said it might appear that their sentence was somewhat severe, but the Court felt that, considering the whole circumstances of the case, they could pursue no other course.

Mr. Slaughter, the Second Mate of the Haswell, was then called, and he had his certificate returned to him.

The proceedings then terminated.

The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, Monday, September 17, 1866.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

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