From Lancaster Guardian Saturday 09 March 1861:
THE LOSS OF THE "LYRA." - THE BOARD OF TRADE INQUIRY.
We stated last week, that the Board of Trade had ordered an inquiry to be held into the cause of the foundering of the Belfast and Morecambe steamship Lyra, William Inch master, which took place on the morning of the 13th ultimo[13-2-1861], on the Shell Wharf, near Rossall. The investigation accordingly commenced on Thursday at the Police Office, Fleetwood. The presiding magistrates were Mr. T. L. and Mr. E. Birley; Captain Harris, R.N , appearing as nautical assessor; Mr. O'Dowd, appeared on behalf of the Board of Trade; and Mr. Field, of the firm of Carson Ellis, and Field, attended as the legal adviser of Captain Inch. The charterers of the steamer were represented by Mr. Briggs, master of Morecambe harbour. It being the first inquiry of the kind in Fleetwood, much interest seemed to be taken in the proceedings, the court room being well attended throughout the day.
Mr. O'Dowd, in opening the case, observed that the receiver of Wrecks, Mr. Walker, had informed the magistrates that the Board of Trade had directed an inquiry into the circumstances attending the recent loss of the Lyra. As he believed that no inquiry of that kind had been held in Fleetwood on any previous occasion, he would take the liberty of calling attention to the clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act bearing on the inquiry, touching the nature and duties of that tribunal. He then read sections 432 and 433 of the statute, which defined the powers of the court and the authority given any party interested to call upon two justices of the peace to investigate the circumstances attending the wreck, abandoning, or damaging of any vessel; he added that the captain also could apply to two justices to hear such a case, who thereupon should proceed to hear the same. Upon the conclusion of the inquiry, they would send a report the Board of Trade, with such observations as they might think fit. In addition, however, to their ordinary power as magistrates, they could express what opinion they chose, and send to the Board such portions of the evidence only as they thought pertinent. The Board's Assessor, who was present to assist them, would analyse the evidence but it rarely happened that any difference of opinion arose between that gentleman and the justices, who were guided his experience. With reference the question of costs, if they were of the opinion that any party had misconducted himself in their opinion, he would have to bear the expenses of that inquiry, or such proportion as they might determine. If, however, none was deemed to blame, then the Board of Trade would pay the costs. The magistrates could also demand the master's certificate and forward it to the Board, if they thought him to blame; but, were he held innocent, then they would return his certificate, and at all times the Board wished to deal as leniently as was consistent with due regard to the public interests.
The case was as follows: The Lyra was a paddle steamer, built at Govan in 1848; registered tonnage 380, estimated horse power 300, the property of the Londonderry Steam Company, and commanded by Mr. William Inch. It appeared that she left Belfast on the evening of the 12th of February for Morecambe, with a general cargo and seven passengers. Her crew numbered 26, exclusive of the captain. Nothing worth mentioning occurred during the greater part of the voyage. At half-past seven o'clock on the morning of the 13th, Walney light, was seen ENE, distant two and a half miles. That was the mate's deposition. About five minutes afterwards, the weather being hazy and a light breeze from the east blowing, the vessel was, according to the master's account, NW by N of the Rossall land-mark distant about five and a half miles. Mistaking it for the Wyre lighthouse he kept it on the port side, which would have been his proper course. He did not discover his mistake until the ship was between three and four miles from the beacon. Then certain mode of escape would have been to reverse the engine, which would have brought him into the Lune Deep, which had been designated the beacon for vessels bound for Morecambe. Instead of reversing his engine, however, he continued his speed, altering his course, as he stated, to EbyS but accoring to the mate's account ENE. In about a minute afterwards she struck, whilst going at a speed of between 10 and 11 knots an hour.
He (Mr. O'Dowd) could not comprehend how seamen could have adopted such course in such an emergency. He altered his course without slowing speed. Although there were cases in which some allowance might be made for masters acting precipitately when speed was desirable, on that occasion he feared that Captain Inch could not plead such an excuse, as he could not possibly have got to Morecambe sooner, because of having to anchor near the Wyre light to wait till there was water to carry him to Morecambe. So then the bad excuse of speed could not be pleaded in Captain Inch's case. The Lyra struck in about a minute after her course was altered, seeing that he could not keep her afloat, the master tried to put her in shallow water. In the meantime a pilot observed the distress of the ship, carrying the intelligence to the Prince of Wales steamer, anchored near the light, that vessel went to the Lyra, and rendered assistance, taking off passengers and the live stock. Fortunately no lives were lost. If, therefore, the Captain could explain how the loss was unavoidable, and not the result of lack of caution on his part, no one would be more pleased than himself (the learned gentleman).
Mr O'Dowd then proceeded to call witnesses, the master having first handed
his certificate to the magistrates. The first witness called was Serge Heasley,
who said, I was chief officer of the Lyra and have a certificate for service -
We left at half-past eight on the evening of the 12th of February, our
ship being in good condition and well found and worked by a crew of 23 hands.
On the night of the 13th, about half-past 7, we saw the Walney light,
being ENE 2.5 or 3 miles distant, the weather then being hazy. After passing
Walney we tried to make out the Wyre light, daylight having set in, we were running
nine knots in nearly low water, although the bay has many sandbanks, some
of which are bare at low ebb, we did not take a cast of the lead. I was looking out
but could not see the high land of Fleetwood, at about a quarter to 8, Captain Inch
being on the deck with me. I saw nothing for five or six minutes before the
vessel struck, when I saw what I thought was the Wyre lighthouse. I did not
hear the captain give any orders, nor did I see any alteration in our course;
but immediately she struck, I got a glimpse of the compass and saw her head ENE.
The weather continued hazy, but I saw a landmark, and thought it was the Wyre light-house.
The master was then in charge, and always was in charge in the bay. In clear weather
Rossall beacon is a very conspicuous object. I have been 5 months in the Lyra.
The distance from the southern tip of Walney to the landmark, as near as I can
tell is nine or ten miles. In thick weather it is customary to sound when going into the bay,
and vessels then make for the Lune deep. When the ship grounded I suggested
to the master to reverse the engine, and he gave the order to back the vessel.
When I saw the indistinct object I said nothing to the Captain as to sounding as the weather was not foggy only hazy. After striking we backed the vessel astern the length of herself. Her bows then settled down when the quarter boats were slung in the davits for launching, and a boat lowered containing four crew and a passenger who were sent to Fleetwood. At half-past nine, the steamer Prince of Wales came to our aid, and took off the passengers and the cattle. Soon afterwards a steam tender, the Adjutant, came but the Lyra had now nearly sunk. I know the Oyster Patch, and was looking for it before we struck, and could not see it owing to the haze, but had we been in the Lune channel I could have seen it and I thought that from the time we had left Walney I ought to have seen it. I did not see the Prince of Wales till she was getting under weigh, nor the Wyre light.
Mr. Field - The light was deceptive that morning, and just before she struck, I thought we were three or four miles from the landmark, which is not unlike the lighthouse. It is not customary except in thick weather to heave the lead.
Captain Harris - When I took the bearings at Walney at half-last seven they were ENE. The landmark was on our port bow when I and the captain first saw it, but no remark was made with reference to it. After striking our course was altered. The landmark appeared to me like the lighthouse, I will not swear I took it for the light. At Walney we steered SEbyS 1/2 S, but I can't be sure the master altered the course.
Daniel M'Alister, a seaman, was next examined by Mr. O'Dowd, and said -
I was on the lookout the morning of the 13th, and saw some indistinct object which
I first took to be the Rossall landmark. This I reported to the first officer as
on the port bow. As we got nearer, the object became more distinct, but the
land appeared hazy, and at no time could I make out the object, which I supposed
either the lighthouse or the beacon. I only told the mate of it once. About a
minute before the vessel struck, the mate ordered me to clear away the anchor
to let go.
Mr. Field - When I told the mate of the object, he made some reply, but I did not catch it. The Danger patch buoy is of the ordinary size, and in hazy weather it cannot be seen half a mile off.
By Captain Harris - In five or six minutes after seeing the object the vessel struck.
John Adams, another seaman, deposed - On the morning of the 13th I was steering
the Lyra. The first land we saw was the Rossall beacon and the low land about. About
six or eight minutes before the vessel struck I saw an object like the beacon. At
the same time she struck, I was steering E, but immediately before our course was
SE by S, which was changed by the captain to SE, next to ESE, and then to E,
when she struck rather heavily. I told the captain I could see the landmark,
and he replied that he thought it was the Wyre lighthouse. The weather was not
so hazy but that we could see a "good bit" off.
By Mr Field - Captain Inch has never had an accident before this since I joined the ship, and whenever we could not see distinctly he used the lead.
By Captain Harris - We always tried to make the Danger patch buoy from Walney. On the morning of the wreck the land seemed a good distance off the port bow when I first saw it. About five minutes before the ship struck I thought we were on the south side of the Lune, which is a dangerous place.
the head engineer, was called, and said - I was on duty when she struck.
She was then going about 9.5 knots an hour. Three or four minutes after striking,
I received an order to stop her, and immediately afterwards to reverse; and I
reversed for ten minutes, when I was ordered to stop her. After stopping I ran
on the bridge to the captain, who ordered me to back the engines as long as I could,
and I did till the fires were put out by the water, five minutes
afterwards. I then told the captain I could do no more.
By Mr. Field. - I received my orders from the paddle bridge. Both engineers were on duty.
By Captain Harris. - The shock when she struck felt like a tear, and 15 minutes afterwards the engine room filled with water, which came down the companion way, and also a small quantity from the bulkheads. I then shut the side valves, and blew off the steam.
The court then adjourned for a quarter of an hour, and upon resuming,
John Hesketh was examined and deposed - I am a pilot for Fleetwood, and on the 13th of February, I was on the Wyre lighthouse. I noticed a steamer blowing off her steam behind the Warf[sic]. She was about four miles from the light, on the oyster ground. This was about twenty minutes past eight, the weather at that time being hazy, with an east wind blowing lightly. I could see the Lyra distinctly with the naked eye, and with glass I could see that she was a steamer going down forward. Upon this, I got into my boat, and went to the Prince of Wales, which lay at anchor under the North Warf Bank, near the light. I told them what I had seen, and went to the Lyra to render assistance. When I got to her, the forepart of the vessel was under water, and she was covered to the break of the quarter-deck. The Prince of Wales soon afterwards arrived.
Captain Harris. - I have been the pilot about eleven months. I know the spot where she struck [pointed out to the chairman]. There is rough ground there. It is from half to three-quarters of a mile from the Lune Deep. It would be good to place a buoy to mark that ground as one much wanted on the edge of the oyster ground, many wrecks having occurred there-abouts, chiefly of small vessels. In coming from Walney, a vessel should sight Rossall beacon, but if not in sight, then I would make for Lune deep, keeping E.S.E., to enter the channel to the south of Danger Patch. In thick weather, I would keep the lead going until I got into the Lune deep, and should then steer E.S.E. for the Wyre light. It is, in hazy weather, possible to mistake the beacon for the light though the lead and the bearings would rectify that error.
By Mr. Field. - I have known vessels take soundings after sighting the light and beacon; but I would not do so if I could see them. It would be necessary to sound if, on seeing the beacon, I did not see the lighthouse. I have taken bearings since the wreck, so as mark where the Lyra lies, and she is about two and three quarter miles from the beacon. I took the bearings from the Lyra for my own amusement, the objects I chose to take them from being the Pile Light, the Rossall Landmark, and the Danger Patch buoy. The Light bears E. by N.1/2 N. the Landmark E. ; and the danger buoy N.E.by N.1/2 N., near as I can think.
Mr. Field then called Mr. W. Briggs, harbour master at Morecambe, who said that he
attended to represent the charterers of the Lyra. He had ever found Captain
Inch who had command of the ship for ten months an exceedingly careful master,
in all sorts of weather, and the owners were perfectly satisfied with him.
Captain Inch them made a statement, not upon oath, that he was the master of the Lyra at the time of the wreck. I passed the Walney light at a quarter-past seven on the morning of the 13th of February. It lay on our bow, and the ship was steering SEbyS 1/2 S, the distance from Walney being ENE about five miles, in my opinion. I then altered the course to SEby S, with the intention of "fetching" the Wyre Light. About twenty minutes afterwards I saw an object which I took for the lighthouse, but some time after I found that it was the landmark. The weather was moderate and rather hazy. After sighting this object, I ran in the same course for twelve or fifteen minutes. I then discovered my error, and became aware of the nature of the object I had seen. I was then, I thought, in Lune deep, four and a half miles from Rossall. Had I been there, the Wyre lighthouse would have been on my starboard bow. I looked for the Wyre light and found it on my port bow, and altered my course four points. If that order had been carried out, it would have taken the ship into the Lune Deep. In my judgement she did not strike the ground, but some rocks. I had not the least idea that I was across the Lune in shallow water. I have since ascertained that the vessel now lies at the point I indicate.[which differed from the position pointed out by the pilot]
The Lyra drew 8ft. 7in. forward, and 9ft. 1in. aft. I have been master of Lyra about ten months, and make a passage twice a week both ways. I have never had an accident before, nor have I, when I have met with any foggy weather, neglected soundings. I did not consider it necessary to sound on the morning of the 13th.
By Mr. O'Dowd - I know now that it was necessary to take soundings.
Mr. Field - I wish to put in letters speaking of the Captain's character, and I have another witness to examine, but if the court adjourns, I can call him tomorrow.
This was thought advisable and the inquiry was adjourned until Friday at 10 o'clock.
On Friday the inquiry into this case resumed. The same magistrates were in court,
which was only thinly attended.
Captain Inch was again called by Captain Harris, and asked to point out the course he was steering on the chart. Having done so, Captain Harris told him that according to his evidence he must have been very negligent on the morning of the 13th, for, when he saw the object he supposed to be the lighthouse, if he had taken bearings of that light the compass would have shown him that the object he saw was the landmark. The least thought would have shown him his error.
Mr. Field then handed in several letters and certificates of the good conduct of Captain Inch, all speaking highly of his skill as a seaman, his worth as a man, and his general trustworthiness and excellence as a servant.
Mr. Bristow, one of the agents for the Londonderry Steamboat Company at Liverpool, attended, and spoke warmly of Captain Inch's conduct as master of a vessel. These recommendations were handed in and recorded in the depositions.
Mr. O'Dowd then asked if the master knew if the Lyra was insured, and for what amount, but the Captain could not answer the learned gentleman; neither did he know if she was insured. He had not any interest, direct or indirect, in the vessel, further than receiving his monthly wages as master.
Mr. Field then said he would call the attention of the Court to 435 the section of the Merchant Shipping Act, wherein it was stated that at the conclusion of the investigation the magistrates should if the master was not proved blameable, return his certificate to him, and he submitted that as no case had been made against Captain Inch, the certificate should not be forwarded to the Board of Trade but handed back to the master, agreeably to the provisions of the section quoted, as the evidence had not gone to the extent to show that the wreck had been caused by the master's misconduct.
Mr. O'Dowd replied that he had stated the law bearing upon the case at the opening; but he was sorry to be obliged to say that he could not concur in the statements of Mr. Field. It was not his intention to make any comments on the case; but the remarks of his learned friend could not be passed over; and he was bound to say that if ever there was a case which proved that the vessel was lost by the fault of the captain, then the present was one. He was not disposed to say much, and he should not have made any remarks, had Mr. Field addressed the court in any other tone.
The court was then cleared while the Bench deliberated upon the case, and on the admittance of the public again,
Mr. E. Birley said that they had agreed upon a report, and as they thought that it was not desirable to withhold it from the public, their Clerk should read it:
Mr. Moor then read the following report:
In compliance with your lordships' request, we the undersigned justices of the peace for the County of Lancaster, assisted by Captain Harris, nautical assessor to the Board of Trade, have made a formal investigation into the circumstances attending the loss of the Lyra on 13th February last, on the Oyster Bank, in the vicinity of Fleetwood, and we beg to report:
That the Lyra, a paddle steamer, 350 tons register, sailed from Belfast to Morecambe, on the evening of the 12th of February, laden with a valuable general cargo. On the following morning, at half-past seven, Walney light bore ENE at a distance of two and a half miles (as the mate states) but the master computes the distance at five miles. From this position, a course was steered SE by S, till an object was seen on the south shore near Fleetwood. The weather was somewhat hazy, and it was difficult to define distant landmarks with precision. The object discovered was taken to be the Screw Pile light [Wyre light] by the master, and it was first seen on the port bow. Nevertheless the master states he did not alter his course for fifteen minutes, although the bearing of it at the time would have shown that it could not be the Wyre light. The vessel proceeded at full speed, at a rate of 9.5 knots per hour; and on approaching nearer, he discovered his error, the object being the Rossall land mark. He then gave direction to haul up more to the eastward, in the hope of getting into his proper course in Lune Deep, over which he had previously passed.
The ship struck, quickly filled, the fires were put out, and the ship eventually sunk not far from where she first struck. Providentially no lives were lost, assistance having been rendered by the Prince of Wales steamer, then moored at the Wyre lighthouse. When a vessel is proceeding to Fleetwood or Morecambe across the bay from Walney, the real course is to get soundings in Lune deep, particularly if the weather be so hazy as to obscure distant marks, a precaution which in this instance was entirely neglected by the master. Nor does it seem, though the weather was hazy and the object first but indistinct, that the engine was slowed, or any precaution taken on entering an intricate channel. On the contrary, when the master discovered his mistake, he continued full speed in the hope of regaining the deep channel, a proceeding which, in all probability, precipitated the destruction of the ship, for it would appear that at that time, though in shallow water, the vessel had not actually struck.
After considering the evidence, we are of the opinion that the Lyra was lost by the default of William Inch, her master. And in compliance with the 438th section of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1854, we forward his certificate of competency for a home trade passenger ship to the Board of Trade, to be dealt with as my lords may think fit.
In the course of this inquiry, it was elicited that the Walney light and Rossall beacon are under the control and management of the Commissioners of St. George's Quay, Lancaster, who receive a toll of 3d per ton per annum from every vessel entering the estuary, and that formerly a buoy was placed on the SW prong of the Oyster bank, which has long since ceased to exist. We beg particularly to call attention to the fact that, as from the evidence of John Hesketh, a pilot of this port, it appears numerous small vessels have been lost near the spot where the Lyra grounded. A buoy placed in the position indicated would, in the opinion of this witness, be of great service when the landmarks are not easily distinguishable. In this opinion we beg to express our concurrence.
Several excellent testimonials were handed in giving Mr. Inch a good character for sobriety, good conduct, and careful attention to his duties, which will no doubt weigh with your lordships in your decision.