The Life-Boat Disasters at Southport and St. Anne's
SINCE the publication of the last number of the LIFE-BOAT JOURNAL, terrible disas- ters have befallen the crews of the Life- boats at Southport and St. Anne's, on the coast of Lancashire, the full details of which are given in the following report famished to the BOARD OF TRADE by the Special Commissioners appointed to hold the official inquiry into the circumstances, Sir DIGBY MURRAY, Bart., attending on behalf of the Board of Trade, and Capt.
the Hon. H. W. CHETWYND, E.N., Chief Inspector of Life-boats, on behalf of the ROYAL NATIONAL LIFE-BOAT INSTITUTION.
[OFFICIAL REPORT,] To the Eight Honourable The Lord STANLEY of Preston, &o., President of the Board of Trade.
MY LORD, In obedience to your instructions we have visited Southport, St. Anne's and Lytham, and have inquired into the circumstances attending the rescue of the crew of the barque Mexico, of Hamburg, and the accidents to the Southport Life-boat, Eliza Fernley, and the St. Anne's Life-boat, Laura Janet, and we now have the honour to report as follows:— The rescue of the crew of the barque Mexico was effected by the Lytham Life-boat Charles Biggs.
There is some difference of opinion both as to the force of the wind and its direction during the period occupied by the rescue and the return of the boat, but as nearly as we can judge the force was about 7 of Beaufort's scale, and the direction W.N.W. We attach a memo- randum and letter from Mr. Hartnup, of the Liverpool Observatory at Bidston. (Appendix 15.) The tide at the time of the rescue was about half ebb, and although there was an eddy running to the northward close in shore, the main stream was running W.N.W., or in the teeth of the wind, and consequently con- siderably increasing the very heavy sea which was already running owing to the continuance of bad weather. The tide setting against the wind caused the sea to break heavily, rendering it extremely dangerous to boats.
The narrative-of the coxswain of the Life- boat Charles Biggs is attached; it is briefly as follows:— The Lytham boat was launched successfully at five minutes past ten, signals of distress having been seen at 9.30 P.M., December 9th, bearing about S.W. from the boat-house; she proceeded down the river under oars for a mile and a half, and then set sail, steering about S.S.W., the wind being W.N.W., wind and sea about abeam. The boat was filled four or five times, and when a quarter of a mile from the ship, the sails were taken in and the masts down. After getting the oars out, a heavy breaking sea struck her, throwing the boat over with her gunwale under water, the sudden lurch breaking three of the oars. The boat subsequently got safely alongside the ship, and was successful in rescuing the crew.
She did not see either of the other Life-boats or any signals from them.
Owing to the very heavy breaking sea which was running at the time, this was a very good Dimensions of the Charles Biggs: Ft. in.
Length over all .... 37 0 Beam 80 Depth 3 5J This boat had four water-ballast tanks hold- ing about one ton; the three after ones only were filled on this occasion.
This was this boat's first service; she had only been about a fortnight in the hands of the SOUTHPORT BOAT ' ELIZA FERNLEY.' Signals of distress were observed at the boat- house about 9 P.M. of December 9th. The crew were immediately assembled, horses procured, and the boat was transported about three and a half miles along the sands and successfully launched a little to the westward of the wreck.
By about 1 A.M. the Life-boat had reached a position a little ahead of the vessel on her star- board bow, and was about to let go her anchor to veer down to the wreck, when a heavy breaking sea struck her about four points on the bow and instantly capsized her.
Tho anchor at this time was in the act of being let go, and consequently fell overboard with about 12 feet of cable, two or three ,turns of the inboard part of which were round the bollard, which turns were probably washed off as soon as ever the boat capsized. The depth of water was about 17 or 18 feet.
The evidence is somewhat conflicting as to the number of men who were under the boat when she capsized; there is no doubt there were six, and Henry Robinson, one of the sur- vivors, was of opinion there were nine, but as it was impossible for them to see one another, it is not quite certain that some of the voices •which he heard may not have been those of men on the outside of the boat.
The boat never righted, and was found on the beach about three miles to the westward of Southport at 3 A.M. of the morning of the 10th.
Three men, Peter Wright, Timothy Rigby, and Peter Jackson, were found dead under the boat.
Ralph Peters was found on the shore with life nearly extinct; he expired soon afterwards.
John Ball was found at about 4.15 A.M. of the 10th standing in a pool of water near the boat up to his knees; he was taken in a cab to the Southport Infirmary and died there.
John Jackson and Henry Robinson came ashore in the boat and were able to effect their escape, but they were in too dazed and ex- hausted a condition to afford any .assistance to the other men. These other men appear to have become entangled by the oars and lines, and no assistance unhappily being at hand they were unable to extricate themselves. The other bodies were found in various positions on the beach.
We are of opinion that the loss of life was attributable to the boat never righting after she capsized, although there is evidence that she made several attempts to do so, but always fell back again, and we think her failure to right was occasioned by the anchor having been let go, and also to the number of men holding on round and under the boat, though the former of these two causes would probably be sufficient to account for the casualty, as has been proved to have occurred on previous oc- casions.
This boat had been out on service eleven times previous to this disaster, had saved fifty-two lives, besides rendering assistance to one vessel.
It has been stated in evidence that some of the crew remonstrated with the coxswain for keeping the boat so much broadside to the sea; the Press have also stated this. We are of opinion that in such a sea he may not have been able to prevent the boat falling off at times, but as he was a man of very great ex- perience, who had rendered good service in the past, we are not disposed to attach much im- portance to this allegation.
Dimensions of the Sonthport Life-boat.
Length over all .... 34 0 Beam 85 Depth 3 5J This boat was built in 1874.
THE ST. ANNE'S LIFE-BOAT.
. The distress signals were observed at about 9.15; the crew were summoned, and the boat was successfully launched at 10.25.
She proceeded for about 500 yards under oars, and then made sail, crossing the Salt House Bank.
What happened after this is a matter of pure conjecture. There is some evidence to show that two red lights and other signals were seen about west by north from Southport, at a dis- tance of about two miles. If these two red lights were distress signals from the Life-boat, she had probably met with some casualty in that position; but as none of her crew have survived, any opinion as to the cause of the disaster must be purely hypothetical. The Life-boat was found on the beach in the position marked on the plan (Appendix No. 11) at 11.15 A.M. on the 10th. The boat was bottom up, and three bodies were found hanging on the thwarts with their heads downwards. The boat in drifting ashore must have capsized as soon as she got into shoal water, and it would then have been impossible for her to right again.
Whether she capsized before this there is no evidence to show.
There is evidence of some shouting having been heard in the direction in which these two lights were seen, which renders it possible the boat may have been disabled in the before- mentioned position, but we doubt whether it was possible for snouting to have been heard on such a night a distance of two miles, although the listeners were to leeward.
This boat had been out on service on five occasions, and had saved six lives on December 4th last. She was built ia 1881.
We regret to have to state that from evidence taken by us at St. Anne's and Lytham we find that the coxswain was physically unfit for the performance of so arduous and difficult a service as he was ill with consumption, and was not expected by his medical man to last beyond the spring.
Two or three of the others were not strong men, and one poor fellow had only had a basin of gruel all day prior to proceeding on this service. The Honorary Secretary of the Branch states in his evidence with reference to this man, " I believe he (Bonney) stinted himself for the sake of his family. I don't think his privations lasted for more than a week or two; he showed no signs of it." We were privately informed that this man's children always appeared well clothed and fed, and that he only stinted himself for their sakes.
There was no one in authority present at the launch of this boat excepting the coxswain who was drowned, and therefore nobody alive is responsible either for the coxswain or any of the men proceeding in the boat on this night in an unfit condition.
The coxswain, according to the rules of the NATIONAL LIFE-BOAT INSTITUTION, is the person in authority at a launch on service.
We are unable, in consequence of the lack of evidence, to assign any reason for the loss of this boat.
Dimensions of the St. Anne's Boat.
Length over all 34 7 Beam 84 Depth 3 6i She was built in 1881, and her righting powers had been tested on the station.
A paper was put in by Lieutenant Tipping, B.N., which was certified as correct by the Secretary of the NATIONAL LIFE-BOAT INSTITU- TION, showing the number of self-righting Life- boats which have been launched on service for the past thirty-two years, the number of lives which have been saved by them, and the number of lives which hare been lost through their capsizing.
From this paper, it appears, that inclusive of the loss of life into which it has been our C 'nful duty to inquire, the boats have been nched 5000 times on service, and have saved over 12,000 lives. On these occasions, there were only 41 capsizes, 23 of which were un- attended by any loss of life. In the remaining 18, 88 lives were lost, viz.:— 76 Life-boat men, 12 Shipwrecked men, giving a total of 88 men.
The 76 Life-boat men lost represented about 1 in 850 of the men afloat in the Life-boats on service, and the capsizes 1 out of each 120 launches on service. In addition to this, the boats have been out for exercise 15,000 times during the same period of thirty-two years, with a loss of only 8 lives.
Looking to the long period embraced, and the arduous and dangerous nature of these services, we cannot but think that this is a splendid record, reflecting great credit on the manage- ment of the ROYAL NATIONAL LIFE-BOAT IN- STITUTION and then: officers.
Good, however, as the record is in the past, we think, looking to the experience gained in the course of all these years, it may be excelled in the future. The fact of one boat out of three having effected the rescue of the crew of a stranded ship, while the other two were cap- sized, might have been a matter either of accident or of superior management, but with- out seeking in any way to detract from the gallant service of the Lytham boat, we are satis- fied that the Life-boat, the Charles Siggs, wag far the better boat of the three, having both far greater stability and righting power than the other two boats. She is fitted with four water- ballast tanks amidships, running along the keelson, holding about one ton of water: they can be filled as soon as the boat after launching gets into a sufficient depth of water, they take one minute to fill, and can be pumped out in the same space of time when required. This boat has also larger air cases running along the sides above the deck, and consequently holds less water when filled through a sea breaking on board, than the older type of boats.
We are of opinion that greater safety can be obtained in the future by increasing the stability of these self-righting boats, which will at the same time increase their righting power, but in this we have been in a great measure anticipated by the NATIONAL LIFE-BOAT INSTITUTION, who, guided by the experience which they and their officers have attained in the past, have already fitted about seventy-five boats with water ballast, and are as fast as practicable increasing that number. They have besides constructed or fitted four boats with drop-keels; these boats will have still greater stability, but owing to the increased weight of these fittings, and the consequent greater draught of the boats, they will not be adapted for all stations.
The only pleasant duty which has devolved upon us during this painful inquiry, is to be able to bring to the notice of your Lordship the great gallantry of the fishermen of this neighbourhood. We have ascertained that there is never the slightest difficulty in obtaining a crew to endeavour to save life, no matter what may be the state of the weather; and the pecu- liar formation of this part of the coast, and the numerous sandbanks, which, in bad weather, cause a very nasty confused and breaking sea, render the service a particularly dangerous one.
We are, &c., (Signed) DIGBY MURRAY, HENRY W. CHETWYND, Captain B.N.
Directly the intelligence of the sad disasters to the two Life-boats, entailing the loss of twenty-seven lives, reached the Institution, telegrams were despatched to the Local Honorary Secretaries, expressing deep sorrow and sympathy, and requesting them to provide, on behalf of the Institu- tion, for the immediate necessities of the survivors and the widows and orphans.
It was also suggested that a special fund should be at once raised for their benefit, to which the Institution would liberally contribute.
Two of the District Inspectors of Life- boats were promptly sent to the Life-boat stations in question, to make full inquiries and render all possible co-operation.
A special meeting of the General Com-mittee of the Institution was subsequently convened to consider the whole circum- stances, this sad calamity being unpre- cedented in the history of the Society, and it was unanimously resolved:— " That this Committee desires to take this, the earliest opportunity, of placing on record its high apprecia- tion of the past services of the crews of the Southport and St. Anne's Life-boats, and its deep and heartfel-t sympathy with the widows and families of the brave and noble men who lost their lives in the gallant and heroic attempt to rescue the crew of the barque Mexico, on the night of the 9th December." The sum of 2,000?. was voted by the Committee to the local fund for the benefit of the widows and orphans, and rewards and other payments, amounting altogether to 239Z., were made to the representatives of the crews of the Life-boats and others, including the funeral expenses, as well as payments to the Lytham and Blackpool Life-boat men for launching their boats on the morning of the 10th December, to look for the missing St. Anne's Life-boat. On that occasion the Blackpool coxswain was injured, and was in danger of losing his life, a heavy sea throwing the boat on to her beam ends, and pitching him into the sea. Fortunately, he retained his hold of the yoke-lines, and was hauled on board again, after he had been dragged along for about sixty yards.
The sympathy shown by the public was most remarkable and gratifying.
Her Majesty the Queen, the Patroness of the Institution, graciously contributed IQQL to the special fund, and His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Germany sent 2501. The Daily Telegraph appealed to its readers to give their aid, with the re- sult that the munificent sum of 6,646Z.
was contributed through the medium of that newspaper. Funds were also started in Southport, St. Anne's, Lytham, Black- pool, Preston, Liverpool, Manchester, Blackburn, Chorley, and other towns, the aggregate reaching close upon 30.000Z.
New and improved water-ballast Life- boats have been sent by the Institution to Sonthpoit and St. Anne's, to take the place of the boats which met with the disasters, and it has also been decided to provide a second Life-boat for the South- port Station, to be kept moored afloat at the end of the pier. A large sailing- boat, of the self-righting type, 40 feet long and. 10 feet wide, provided with a sliding keel, has baen chosen by the Institution for that purpose.
A statement having appeared in several newspapers to the effect that the BOARD OF TRADE contemplated an inquiry into the efficiency of the Life-boat Service as conducted by the ROYAL NATIONAL LIFE- ' BOAT INSTITUTION, the following letter was addressed to the Chairman of the Insti- tution, on behalf of LORD STANLEY of PRESTON, the President of the Board of Trade :— " Board of Trade, Whitehall Gardens, S.W., 13th January, 1887.
Dear Sir Edward Birkbeck, In reply to your letter, Lord Stanley of Preston wishes me to inform you that the state- ment which has appeared in various newspapers to the effect that the President of the Board of Trade has promised his best consideration to the desirability of holding an official inquiry into the sea-worthiness or otherwise of the Life-boats of the Royal National Life-boat Institution, is without foundation.
Lord Stanley is aware that the Institution is giving the matter its most serious considera- tion, and he has offered to place at its disposal any official assistance that it may require.
I am to add that representations have been made to the Board of Trade as to the desira- bility of instituting an official inquiry, but as Lord Stanley believes that the Institution is in full agreement with the Board of Trade in tlie matter, he does not think that any occasion for such an inquiry has arisen.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) T. W. P. BLOMEPIELD.
" Sir EDWARD BIRKBECK, Bart, M.P., Chairman of the Royal National Life-boat Institution.".