Report of Inquiry by Capt Walker into the loss of PSS Queen Victoria.
Also account of a similar accident to PSS Prince on 3 August 1846.
After the investigation was concluded, the Dublin Steam Packet Company kindly furnished me with a steamer to visit the scene of the accident, when I found the wreck of the unfortunate vessel lying in 12 or 13 fathoms water, with a portion of the broken mainmast a few feet above the water, about 150 yards from the point whereon the Baily Lighthouse is situated.
Having elicited the particulars attending the loss of the vessel, and carefully considered the evidence, I have now the honour to report, for your Lordships' information that the steam-ship "Queen Victoria," belonging to the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, of 337 tons register, and propelled by engines of 250 horse-power, left Liverpool for Dublin on the afternoon of the 14th of February at about three o'clock, and passed the N. W. Light Ship at twenty three minutes past four, With the wind moderate from the N.E., and the weather fine but cloudy. The crew consisted of 24 persons, including the master and three mates, and there appear to have been 12 cabin and 75 deck passengers, besides the stewardess, making a total of 112 persons. The ship was properly equipped, and, in addition to what is required by the Steam Navigation Act, she had an extra life-boat and ninety cork jackets placed in boxes on the quarter-deck under the seats. The officers had the character of being careful and experienced men. The master had been twenty-five years in the service of the company; Mr. Davis, the mate, twenty-eight years in the same employ, thirteen of which he had filled the situation as first mate. It appears by the evidence of Davis that the two quarter-boats would each contain twenty persons, and the two life-boats would hold double that number; but unfortunately these boats, instead of being suspended over the side, were placed upon chocks on board, and it was necessary to raise them about three feet, and reverse the davits, before they could be lowered into the water, - an operation easily performed by a practised and well disciplined crew, but a work of time in a vessel with a large number of passengers in a state of confusion. The instructions issued by the company to their officers direct the commanders not to go at full speed in thick or foggy weather. I regret these orders were not attended to. After leaving the N. W. Light Ship the "Victoria" shaped a proper course, and at 8:30 sighted the Skerries Light, the weather still continuing moderate. At fifty minutes past midnight, the Baily Light was seen right ahead, or a very little on the starboard bow, and about two o'clock A .M. the lights on the Kish were also observed. About this time a snow shower came on, which obscured everything, and in less than half an hour the vessel ran with the speed of eight or nine knots upon the rocks. The engines were reversed, and in a few minutes she sunk in deep water.
In accordance with my instructions, it now becomes my duty to refer to the evidence, and to submit to your Lordships' attention the conduct of those in charge of the vessel.
As regards Captain Church, the master of the Queen Victoria, whose character up to the time of the loss of the vessel appears to have been praiseworthy. and whose experience from having been so many years in the service of the Steam Packet Company must have been considerable, I regret that it is my painful duty to condemn his conduct most strongly. Having been called at 50 minutes past midnight, and told that the Baily Light was in sight, and having been again told at ten minutes before two o'clock that the weather was so thick from a snow shower as to obscure the lights, and to prevent objects being seen the length of the vessel, instead of giving orders to slow the engines, or going immediately upon deck, he said to the mate, "There is no fear of the land; the danger is from meeting vessels." About two o'clock he appears to have gone on deck; but the evidence upon this point is conflicting. Whether he did so or not, it is proved that the ship was then going at a speed of eight or nine knots an hour; that the Kish Lights had been seen a few minutes before bearing a point or two abaft the beam, which, with the Baily Light W.N.W., would place the vessel within three miles of the shore and the course steered was directly for it. Captain Church was not heard to give any orders. He had lead and log lines on board, but he neither sounded nor ascertained how fast she was going, nor did he slacken speed, or adopt any precaution to prevent the fearful accident which took place. After the vessel struck, his presence of mind appears entirely to have deserted him. He ordered her to be backed from the rocks; but it was soon found she was sinking. The snow shower had passed over; the morning was fine, and the water smooth; the boats might easily have been prepared, and the lives of the people saved; but no directions were given. One quarter boat succeeded in getting away with seventeen passengers, and reached the shore in safety, not a sailor belonging to the steamer being in her. The other quarter boat was improperly lowered, and the people in her precipitated into the sea, and drowned. The two life-boats, which ought to have saved the lives of so many, appear to have gone down with the vessel. The result is, that thus the lives of fifty-nine persons, including the unfortunate master, have been sacrificed for the want of proper care and attention. If when the thick weather came on, the direction of the steamer's head had been altered, and the engines slowed, the disaster would, in my opinion, not have taken place.
The conduct of Thomas Davis, the mate, was greatly to blame. He acted in obedience to his orders in calling the master when the Baily Light was first seen; also when the change took place in the weather. He states that he ordered four bells to be struck (two o'clock), and told the men to "keep a good look out", for that the captain was not upon deck; but he had seen the Kish Light a point or two abaft the beam, and ought to have known he was close to the land, and be should then have stopped the engines, and have informed the master, and I consider him very culpable in not having done so. In his evidence he states that, after she struck, he appointed persons by name to prepare the boats; but none of the witnesses heard these orders given to any individual in particular, and they do not appear to have been acted upon. Mr. Davis considers he would have been guilty of a breach of discipline in stopping the vessel without the orders of the captain, and he appears to have been vigilant in watching the men on the look-out from the time of his coming on deck, and after the accident he made signals of distress, by which the position of the wreck was denoted to the steamer "Roscommon," on her way from Dublin to Liverpool, and the lives of several persons saved in consequence.
I now beg to refer your Lordships to the evidence of Mr. Vereker, ballast-master, and for many years secretary to the Ballast Board of Dublin, from which it appears that in consequence of a steamer called the "Prince," belonging to the same Company, having struck her bowsprit against the rocks under the Hill of Howth in 1846, a correspondence took place between Mr. Howell the secretary and the Corporation, the former suggesting and the latter admitting the necessity of having a fog-bell on the Baily Lighthouse, and that a resolution to have one there was passed at a Board meeting, and was entered in the minute book; that a bell was procured from London, and forwarded to Dublin, but that it had not been put up, in consequence, as he stated, of matters of more importance inducing the inspector to postpone its erection; but he added, it is now the intention of the Corporation to have it put up with as little delay as possible. Your Lordships will, however, perceive that upwards of six years have elapsed since the Ballast Board admitted the necessity of having a bell on the Baily, and up to the present time it has not been put up; and Lieutenant Sarsfield, R.N., Mr. Howell, the secretary of the Steam Packet Company, and Mr. Davis, the mate, are all of opinion (with which opinion I concur) that had there been a bell there to have given an alarm the vessel would not have been lost, and it is to be hoped that no time will be lost in placing one in that situation. Having attended the coroner's inquest, I cannot refrain from remarking on a portion of the evidence, by which it appears that four hours before the "Victoria" struck there was no person on watch in the Lighthouse, - the person in charge awoke by hearing the cries of the ship-wrecked parties on the rock, - and that one of the keepers, from infirmity of age, being between seventy and eighty, could scarcely be expected efficiently to perform the duties of his station.
It now becomes my pleasing duty to bring to the notice of your Lordships the conduct of Patrick Darcy, the young seaman who by his presence of mind in putting his finger in the plug-hole of the boat, and by unremitting exertions, prevented her from sinking, and in company with the two other passengers (Ralph and Kegg) succeeded in landing fourteen persons, and on going a second time to the wreck in saving four others who bad taken refuge in the rigging of the vessel when she went down.
To conclude, the result of my investigation is as follows:-
1st. The "Victoria" was lost through the negligence of the master in not sounding, stopping the engines, or taking proper precautions when the snow-shower came on.
2d. The conduct of the mate was to blame. He supposed the master was below, and ought to have known that the danger was imminent, and should have stopped the speed of the vessel.
3d. The steamer was well found in all respects, with the exception that the boats were not so placed as to be ready for immediate use.
4th. Had there been a fog-bell on the Baily Light it is probable the accident might have been prevented.
5th. That the Lighthouse was not properly attended to.
The question of the fog-bell and the condition of the Lighthouse and its
establishment are for your Lordships' consideration. With regard to the
boats, I deem it my duty to state my opinion, founded on the present and
former cases of accident, and to suggest, that it would be very desirable if
in all cases the boats of steamers were so placed as to be immediately ready
for use, and if the officers in charge were instructed to station portions of
the crew to the boats and to hold them responsible for their use and
efficiency when required.
(Signed) W. H. WALKER
For details of witness statements and list of crew and passengers: see here.
Wooden paddle steamer Prince of Dublin, launched Wilson, Liverpool 1838, completed 1839, used for the mail contract awarded in 1839 between Liverpool and Kingstown, owned City of Dublin Steam Packet Co., 626 grt, 165 x 23.6 x 16.2ft, 270hp engines
[from Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent - Thursday 11 October 1838]: LAUNCHES. On Saturday last a fine steamer, named the Prince, belonging to the City of Dublin Company, about 700 tons burden, was launched from Messrs. Wilsons' yard, north of the Clarence dock, Liverpool. She is to be placed on the station between Liverpool and Dublin.
[from Liverpool Albion - Tuesday 16 April 1839]: NEW DUBLIN STEAMERS. The City of Dublin Steam Company have two large and powerful steamers now fitting up in the Trafalgar Dock. They are called The Prince and The Princess, and are intended for the Dublin Post-office line of packets. The Prince is so nearly finished that she will, to-day, at noon, proceed to sea on an experimental trip. On the first of next month she will be ready to convey the evening mail to Dublin.
As the Liverpool and Dublin mail-steamer Prince was approaching the
entrance to Dublin Bay, in a dense fog, on Monday morning, she struck
against the rocks off the Hill of Howth. The force of the collision,
and the confusion on board, caused the passengers to hurry on deck in a
state of great alarm. The accident might have been a serious one had it
not been for the strength of the bowsprit, which sustained the whole
shock of the collision. Not only was the bowsprit shattered close to
the figure head of Prince Albert, but the capstain was damaged, and the
forecastle companion carried away by the concussion. The action of the
steam engine having been reversed, the vessel recoiled from her most
dangerous position - most dangerous, for had there been any rocks and
not deep water at the base of the cliff, and one of these rocks gone
through her bottom, the consequences would have been awful. She was got
under weigh again in the course of a short time, pursued her course to
Kingstown, and Tuesday morning arrived on her return trip. The damage
was very trifling in amount, and no blame, so far as we have heard, is
attachable, to anyone on board. She was fortunately only going at the
rate of one knot an hour in consequence of the fog. Had she been going
at the rate of three or four, the consequences might have been dreadful.
On board were Daniel O'Connell [described as Liberator of Ireland], Sir Robert Kane, the O'Conor Don [Chief of Clan Connor] and his daughters, Mr. Martley Q C, and his lady, Mr. Steel, the Head Pacificator [close associate of Daniel O'Connell], and Miss Bevan, and many other passengers, including several French and other foreign gentlemen.