I am anxious to call the attention of the House to the Correspondence which has taken place in reference to the collision between the Bombay and Oneida, which resulted in the terrible catastrophe of the foundering of the Oneida, a United States man-of-war, with a loss of 112 men. It is well known, Sir, that on the other side of the Atlantic, this calamity has excited very strong feelings of indignation and resentment, and that the charge of inhumanity has been brought against the captain of the Bombay, in no measured term, for having, it was supposed, left the doomed ship to her fate; and it is, Sir, because I believe further inquiry and discussion will prove that it was not the fault of Captain Eyre, and, in fact, that he only did his duty, and that a great slur has been cast on our Mercantile Marine, that I have thought it in- cumbent upon me to bring it forward, though I sincerely wish some one more competent than I am should have taken up this matter. It will be in the remembrance of the House the horror with which, in this country, we first heard last April that the British mail steamer Bombay had run into the United States corvette Oneida, and that a fearful loss of life had ensued. This feeling was intensified when we were informed that great blame was attributed to the Bombay for not having stayed by the other ship, and for not having made some attempt to save life. The next mail brought the result of the naval Court of Inquiry, which had been held at the request of Captain Eyre, he having been most desirous from the very first that the fullest investigation should, be made, believing himself perfectly innocent. I am sure, Sir, that no one can approach the question without feeling the deepest and profoundest sympathy with the American people for this sad and lamentable accident; and for myself I can most truly say I sincerely trust that whatever may be the result of the discussion which I expect will ensue on this Motion, I most cordially hope that the expression of that regret and condolence which has been felt by every man in this country, and which animates the hearts of us all, may be some mitigation, however slight, to the sufferings of those who are now mourning the loss of their friends and relatives, taken from them in a far-off land. I am well aware that a very strong prejudice exists not only in America, but also in this country, against Captain Eyre, the popular impression being, that after causing a collision and being aware of the danger, he brutally proceeded on his course. Sir, the reverse was the case. It is our natural impulse to attach blame, whether rightly or wrongly, to the survivor in a collision of this description, and I am bound to confess that the first impression on taking a superficial view of the case on the first glance at the evidence, is prejudicial to Captain Eyre; but, if the House will kindly bear with me for a few minutes, I think I shall be able to prove incontestably that a great injustice has been done, that a brand and stigma has been placed not only on Captain Eyre, but on our whole Merchant Navy, totally without foundation. The naval Court of Inquiry at Yokohama had two issues before them. Firstly, they had to decide whether the collision was due to the fault of the Bombay; and, secondly, they had to determine what had been the conduct of Captain Eyre after the collision. On the first point they came to the unanimous conclusion, that no blame whatever could be attributed to the Bombay; and I do not intend to touch upon this part of the question, as, although I am well aware that in America the fault is still placed on the Bombay, yet I am convinced that no Court could come to any other conclusion than that the Bombay followed the rule of the road, and that the Oneida did exactly the contrary. On this question I will not therefore say another word, as this point is practically settled, and is no longer in dispute. On the second issue—namely, as to Captain Eyre's conduct after the collision—the Court, after very long and anxious deliberation, after taking three whole days to consider their verdict, decided that Captain Eyre had acted hastily and ill-advisedly in not waiting and endeavouring to render assistance to the Oneida; but they placed on record that they recognized in the fullest sense that Captain Eyre had been placed in a position of great difficulty and doubt, and that he had been called upon to decide promptly. The sentence they pronounced was that Captain Eyre's certificate should be suspended for six months—a judgment which, to my mind, was either far too small, if Captain Eyre was guilty, or else was indefensible. If the Captain of the Bombay was aware when he proceeded on his voyage that the Oneida was in great danger, and that his own vessel was not seriously injured, I do not think that any punishment or disgrace, however severe, would be too great for him. To have wantonly sacrificed the lives of 112 human beings, would have been the perpetration of an act so gross, so brutal as to have been utterly indefensible. It would have been a disgrace to the age we live in, and one which could not have been too much reprobated. If the evidence proved this in the slightest degree, or if there was the smallest ground of suspicion that Captain Eyre saw signals of distress or knew the damage sustained by the Oneida, I should be the very last person to have brought this forward. Sir, the facts of the case, as shown by the evi- dence are simply these—The engines of the Bombay were stopped about two minutes before the collision; but, notwithstanding this, and that every precaution was acknowledged by the Court to have been taken by the Bombay, the ship collided, or rather grazed, on the starboard quarter of the Oneida. The shock was very slight—the evidence proves that it was so little felt that two ladies who were playing at a game of Bezique actually continued their game. The night was starlight, but very dark, and the only damage to the Oneida which could be discovered at the instant they were locked together, was that a portion of the upper works had been knocked away. In a very few seconds the two vessels cleared, and the Oneida was last seen standing away under all plain sail and under steam, as if nothing had happened; the screw was distinctly seen revolving under the stern; no hail for assistance was heard or reported; no blue lights or rockets were seen. I think, Sir, that the fact of no blue lights or rockets having been shown is a point of very great importance. The House must bear in mind that two minutes is ample time in every man-of-war to show signals of distress, and in every well-found merchant vessel the period is generally considered to be from five to seven minutes; and, therefore, Captain Eyre, not being aware at that time of any reason to prevent these usual signals being made, came to the natural and irresistible conclusion that the other ship did not wish to communicate. The Americans themselves acknowledge that no blue lights or rockets were fired, and that no signals were made, with the exception of three guns—which their evidence proved were fired to leeward, about 20 minutes after the collision, and not until their vessel was in the act of sinking, and therefore with the muzzle of the gun close to the water. Now, Sir, the Court of Inquiry satisfied themselves that the report of these guns was not heard by the Bombay, and it is quite dear from the evidence that the fact of their being fired to leeward is sufficient to account for the flashes not having been seen. On board the Bombay the chief officer reported to the Captain that his own ship was making a great deal of water, and during the time he was sent to find out the extent of the damage, which could not have been less than 10 minutes, the ship remained stationary. Great stress has been laid on the evidence given by the engine-room log to prove that the engines were only stopped five minutes; but it must be remembered that the second engineer allowed that he never looked at the clock before inserting the time in his log book, and stated in his examination that he was not certain if it ought not to have been 10 minutes. The duties performed by the chief officer during the interval seems to me perfectly conclusive on this point. Captain Eyre states this very well in his letter to the Board of Trade, when he states—
I do not know what further or stronger evidence on this point is necessary. It fully corroborates the statement of all the other witnesses that the Bombay remained at least 10 minutes near the scene of the catastrophe, and shows that the engineer had made a mistake in the excitement of the moment. Well, Sir, what was the position of Captain Eyre? He was informed that the ship was making a considerable amount of water, and that there was actually no less than seven feet of water in one compartment. No signals of distress during 10 minutes had been made by the Oneida. She had been last seen proceeding on her course as if nothing was the matter, and the only apparent damage was to her upper works on the starboard quarter. He knew that his own vessel was about 18 years old, and that therefore the compartments could not be trusted, and he came to the conclusion that his own vessel was the most injured, and that therefore he ought to lose no further time; but, in justice to his passengers, proceed on his course. To put the matter in a very homely light, I would instance two carriages, A and B, coming into collision on a dark night. If the owner of carriage A knew that it was the fault of B's coachman, and were to see carriage B driving away, what would the conclusion of A be? Why, surely that his carriage was the most damaged, and that B wanted to get away. Well, Sir, it seems to me that this illustration is an exactly parallel case. I cannot help feeling most strongly that as there were no signals of distress seen, it was the duty of Captain Eyre to proceed. It must not be forgotten that after the ship proceeded on her course, if any signals had been made they would have been seen for at least 20 minutes. Captain Eyre leaving the care of his own vessel to the pilot, stationed himself on the bridge, and kept his glasses fixed on the spot where the Oneida was last seen. I am quite certain that 99 out of every 100 officers would have followed the same course that he did, and to prove this perhaps the House will allow me to quote from a letter which I received from a most distinguished officer in reply to a letter from me, asking his opinion as to the conduct of Captain Eyre. This letter, Sir, I attach the greatest importance to; it is written by an officer who has just returned home from having had command of the China Station, who is beloved in the Navy as being a thorough sailor, and whose opinion in this House will, I well know, carry the greatest weight. I allude to Admiral Sir Henry Keppel. He states in his letter—"With regard to the time of waiting, I would remark that it is impossible to conceive that the following operations could have been performed in a less time than 10 or 12 minutes, taking the most moderate calculation, and during the whole of which time the engines were stopped—namely, I ordered my chief officer, Mr. Loggin, to go for ward to see what damage had been done. He had to go from the bridge to the forecastle, a distance of 130 feet, to examine the ship's bows. It was dark, and he had to feel his way and examine them with the aid of a lantern. He came back and reported—'Not much damage done; only the bobstay gone.' This would take at least four or five minutes. I then ordered him back to sound the wells to ascertain if the vessel was making water. He had first to find the carpenter, who was on the forecastle. The carpenter had to go into his cabin to get the sounding rod. Having obtained that, the chief officer had to go to the lower deck and sound the wells. The sounding would take more than a minute. In doing this, water was heard rushing into the store-room adjoining. The store-room was locked; the key of it had to be obtained from the steward or storekeeper. Having obtained this, the chief officer had to go down into the store-room, and having found a good deal of water in the compartment—namely, seven feet deep—he came back and reported the same to me. I then had the conversation with the pilot. These operations could not have taken a less time than six or seven minutes, and, therefore, adding this to the previous time of four or five minutes, makes the whole 11 or 12 minutes; and if this matter is properly considered, it is impossible to imagine that a less time than this could have been consumed in performing these operations, and probably more."
"My dear Tracy,—There has never been any question as to the collision between the Oneida and Bombay being entirely the fault of the former. With regard to the subsequent conduct of the captain of the Bombay, I can assure you that I have carefully gone into the evidence. I have,
moreover, examined the track chart at the Peninsular and Oriental Company's office in the City, as well as personally questioned Captain Eyre, and I am decidedly of opinion that his conduct afterwards, under the peculiar and difficult circumstances in which he was placed, was free from blame. The evidence as to the duties performed by the chief officer is conclusive in my mind that the engines must have been stopped fully 10 minutes, more than ample time for any ship, especially a man-of-war, to make signal by rockets or blue lights, should she wish to communicate.
"Captain Eyre assured me that after he had acceded to the pilot's request to proceed, he himself took up a position on the bridge, and facing aft never, with his glasses in his hand, took his eyes off the spot where the vessel he had been in contact with would have been had she not proceeded, as he last saw her, under sail and steam; and I am satisfied that no better look-out could have been kept than that he performed himself, while the pilot looked out for his ship, which he naturally believed had received the greater injury, her having sprung a leak being reported.
"The shock, too, of the collision was so little felt on board that I know a lady who thought so little of it that she continued her game of bezique with which she was occupied at the time. I think that had I been in Captain Eyre's position, with mails and passengers on board, I should have acted as he did.
"Further inquiry will, I trust, prove that Captain Eyre has been already hardly dealt with.—Believe me, very truly yours,
"United Service Club,
Pall Mall, S.W., June 27."
Can anything be stronger than this? I believe, Sir, that there is no man living so competent to give an opinion on a professional question of this nature as Sir Henry Keppel. Not content with this testimony alone, I have also written to officers of very high standing in both the Navy and Mercantile Marine, and from one and all I have received the same answer. There is one other letter I should like to quote from, as it is from an officer at Portsmouth who is placed in constant communication with officers of all ranks from his position as Commander of the Excellent, and is known as a first-rate sailor, and is, therefore, able to give the generally expressed professional opinion. Commander Maxwell states—
"Many thanks for the papers relating to the Bombay and Oneida. I feel, after reading them, that Captain Eyre was not to blame, and am sure I should have done precisely as he did. I should not have considered it necessary to wait at all after seeing the other ship proceed on her course. I should have taken it for granted that, proceeding under a full head of steam, and all sail with the wind free, without making any sign, she had received no serious damage. It always seemed to me that the sentence of the Court was nonsensical; either Captain Eyre was guilty of the most criminal and flagrant neglect, in which case the punishment was totally inadequate, or he was perfectly innocent, and ought not to be blamed at all."
I will not weary the House with further letters on this subject, as these two are, I apprehend, sufficiently conclusive. Well, Sir, under these circumstances, Captain Eyre, knowing that he was not to blame, and being convinced of that by the opinion of every professional man he asked, determined on arriving in England to appeal to the Board of Trade to exercise its prerogative of mercy, and to return his certificate. Captain Eyre felt that his antecedents were strongly in his favour; that during the 34 years he had been at sea he had always been looked upon as a most careful, prudent, and humane officer; that he had never before met with any kind of disaster; and therefore felt he deserved fair play at the hands of the Board of Trade. Considering the importance of the subject, it was natural to suppose the Board of Trade would have been only too glad of this opportunity of instituting further inquiry, not Only in justice to Captain Eyre, but also to America. I find, Sir, that the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade, under 25 & 26 Vict., c. 73, sec. 23, is very clearly laid down in a letter from them to the Foreign Office of May 6, where they state that the Board of Trade have full power under this Act to review the sentence of a naval Court of Inquiry and to mitigate such sentence if they so think fit; but that they have no power to increase the punishment awarded by such Court. The clause under which this jurisdiction is given is clearly a power of mercy, but nothing whatever further. It will, perhaps, be convenient if I remind the House that before the year 1862 the Board of Trade delivered judgment on the evidence taken by naval Courts, but the dissatisfaction caused by this procedure of one Court receiving evidence and another pronouncing judgment was so great, and the injustice so palpable, that this judicial power was distinctly taken away from them by Parliament, and conferred on the Courts of Inquiry, and the Board of Trade was simply allowed to retain its prerogative of mercy. It was rather a curious thing that one permanent official of the Board of Trade gave very strong evidence on this point in favour of the jurisdiction being taken away from the
Board of Trade. Before the Committee which sat in 1860, Mr. Farrar said—
"I do not think it is a satisfactory thing for persons to pronounce a sentence who have only the written evidence before them, and who do not examine witnesses.…Very much depends upon the demeanour of the witnesses and various circumstances of the case, which it is very difficult to decide upon written evidence."
The Board of Trade have also full power to institute criminal proceedings against a master or crow, but being penal the evidence must of course be distinct and conclusive. What course did the Board of Trade follow with this jurisdiction? Did they re-open the Inquiry, that further investigation might be held, with the view of seeing on what grounds Captain Eyre asked for a mitigation of his sentence? Did they call him before them, and give him any opportunity of substantiating his claim for mercy? or did they take criminal proceedings against him? No, Sir; they did not do one of these things. They replied to his application that, after reviewing the evidence taken at the Court they were of opinion that he had been guilty of a gross breach of the 33rd section of the Merchant Shipping Act, that they considered the sentence of the Court of Inquiry far too lenient for the gravity of the offence, and that he had been guilty not only of an offence created by statute, but that he had been guilty of acting contrary to the dictates of humanity. If anything ever was an increase of punishment, certainly it was this. I maintain it was a reprimand of the severest character; a judgment a hundred times greater than that delivered by the Court of Inquiry. It is a stigma cast on a man's private and professional character of the deepest dye, and one which I apprehend no properly constituted tribunal would think of inflicting without the clearest possible evidence. It must not be forgotten, as I have already stated, that the Board of Trade have undoubted power and right to bring a criminal action against a captain, and therefore, if in their opinion Captain Eyre was guilty of inhumanity, and of an offence created by statute, surely they ought to have indicted him for manslaughter, in having, through his neglect, caused the loss of 112 persons. But, Sir, the Board of Trade made a curious statement in their letter to the Foreign Office. They allow that such a charge being penal must be supported by distinct and conclusive evidence, but ac-
knowledge that they have no such evidence in the present case. They deliberately accuse a man in one public document of virtually being guilty of manslaughter, and in another letter to a separate Department they aver they have not sufficient evidence to prove the charge. I ask the House—Is this fair, is it right, is it just? I am told by gentlemen of very high standing at the Common Law Bar that they consider it so strong a case that, in their opinion, Captain Eyre would succeed if he were to bring an action of libel against the Government. But, Sir, Captain Eyre is a poor man, and we all know the frightful cost which such an action against all the power of a Government would entail. My hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade, to whom I went directly I discovered what had been done, informed me with his usual courtesy, the reasons which he considered justified the letter. I understood him to say that, in the first place, he did not consider it to be an additional punishment, it being only an answer to Captain Eyre's own request that the evidence should be reviewed. Now, Sir, it is often very useful to refer to the expressed opinion of gentlemen who write letters, fully to understand their intention. I therefore looked back again to the evidence given by Mr. Farrar in 1860, and I find he stated that—
"I believe that the publication of the sentence that a captain has been in default is a greater punishment to him than the deprivation of his certificate;"
which proves conclusively that the officials themselves were well aware that a reprimand of the strong character they were inflicting was a great increase of punishment, even if they had not alluded to the charge of inhumanity. But, as practical men, I think we can easily prove whether the letter of the Board of Trade was or was not an increase of punishment. I would ask any hon. Gentleman in the House whether, with such a stigma cast upon a captain by a public Department, published officially to the world, if he would not have grave doubt if he would be justified in employing that captain again in command of a passenger ship? There can, I apprehend, be little doubt that it would prevent his obtaining further employment, unless some contradiction was given to it; and what greater punishment can you have
than professional ruin? My hon. Friend told me that he was very careful before coming to a decision to ask the opinion of five professional officers. I think he told me that he called in two Assessors of the Court of Admiralty and three others. But, Sir, this does not alter my case, as even if it had not been a secret Court of an entirely ex parte nature, it would not have justified the letter written by the Board of Trade. Sir, if I understand the matter rightly, I believe that these five officers were never formed into a Court at all, and did not even consult together, and certainly did not give Captain Eyre a hearing; and, therefore the opinion so given in a hurried manner could not have been worth much. I will not take up the time of the House any longer; I think I have shown from the evidence, from the letters I have read, and especially from the one from Sir Henry Keppel, that Captain Eyre was harshly dealt with by the Court of Inquiry in the first place, and that at any rate there were ample grounds to warrant the Board of Trade re-opening the Inquiry. To have refused such further investigation, and to have confirmed the sentence of the Court below might possibly be justified; but to have declined to do so, and at the same time to brand Captain Eyre with inhumanity and the crime of manslaughter, I apprehend the House will agree far exceeded the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade, and, certainly was not acting according to all recognized dictates of justice. I hope, Sir, I have stated this case moderately and fairly, and I trust that my hon. Friend will not for one moment consider it an attack upon him, as such I assure him it is not. I have far too high an opinion of his abilities to believe that he would have allowed the letter of the 5th of May to have been written if he had not been overworked and obliged to trust entirely to the permanent officials of the office. Everyone in the House must concur with me in regretting the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, as, if he had been able to attend to his duties, it is impossible this miscarriage of justice could have occurred. I am told, Sir, by some, that it has been found necessary to sacrifice Captain Eyre in order to appease popular feeling in America; but I cannot believe that we have sunk so low, that we
have degenerated to so frighful an extent, and I believe such an idea to be as unjust to America as to England. There always has been a bond of union of sympathy and of feeling existing between the two nations. I most sincerely trust that it may long continue; but depend upon it, Sir, the only true way of preventing dangerous international questions arising in matters of this nature, is not only to allow, but to enforce the fullest and the most impartial investigation and inquiry. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, and I appeal to the House for the honour of England's Mercantile Marine, not to allow the matter to stand where it is. If it can be shown that Captain Eyre has been guilty of inhumanity, by all means indict him for manslaughter; but if he is innocent, I maintain that the charge of inhumanity ought to be withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That, in the opinion of this House, there is nothing in the evidence taken by the Naval Court of Inquiry, or in the Correspondence which has been laid before Parliament, to justify the severe reprimand administered by the Board of Trade to Captain Eyre, and that further inquiry into his conduct ought to be made."—(Mr. Hanbury-Tracy.)
said, the House, he was sure, would readily believe him when he said that since he had been at the Board of Trade no case had caused him so much pain and anxiety as that now before them, and he must disclaim the excuse that had been made for him by his hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury-Tracy), that he had not given personal attention to the matter but had left it to others. He could assure him that he had given the utmost attention to all the circumstances connected with it, and was prepared to take the whole responsibility that was attached to his office in respect to it. The magnitude of the disaster under which 112 men were drowned, the serious question involved with regard to the conduct of Captain Eyre, and the attempts which had been made by the Press of another country to raise an international question out of it, had contributed to give to it a painful importance; but he could assure the House that no pains had been spared to arrive, as far as Captain Eyre was concerned, at a just and right conclusion; that their desire had been to treat the ques- tion exactly as if the disaster had occurred to a British vessel instead of to one belonging to a foreign but friendly Power. Nothing would have pleased him better than to be able to come to the conclusion that Captain Eyre was not to blame, that his conduct after the collision was right, that they could have returned him his certificate free from any stain. If they could have done that, they would have acted upon that opinion regardless of what might have been thought elsewhere. Unfortunately, however, it was not so; but he would show the House conclusively that they had come to the decision upon just and proper grounds, and after the most careful consideration. He would not go at length into the facts of the case; they were, unfortunately, too well known. Two vessels came into collision on a dark night some 12 miles from the port of Yokohama. The one, an iron vessel, struck the other at its most dangerous quarter, abaft the mizen chains, at an angle of 45 degrees. Both vessels were steaming at a speed of eight knots. The Bombay, after standing by for some five minutes, proceeded on her way. The Oneida had her quarter carried away, and her steering apparatus rendered useless, and she sank in less than 15 minutes, carrying with her 112 officers and men, who were unable to escape in her boats. The question which the Court at Yokohama had to determine, and which the Board of Trade had to revise, was whether Captain Eyre, under the circumstances, was justified in proceeding on his course, or whether he should not have stood by or followed the Oneida, with a view of rendering such assistance as lay in his power. Now, as a general rule, he need hardly point out to the House, there was no law imposing a penalty upon a person who refrained from performing an act of humanity—who did not do his best to render assistance to save the lives of others. He was not aware that the law of any country would punish the Priest or the Levite who passed by the wounded and dying man. The single exception to this rule was contained in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1862, which declared that if after collision between two vessels the captain of the one did not stand by to render assistance to the other, provided there was no danger to his own vessel, he should be deemed guilty of a wrongful act, and should be liable to suspension of his certificate. The clause was inserted in 1862 by Lord Kingsdown, in consequence of the numerous cases in which, in his experience of the Privy Council cases, vessels after collision had proceeded on their course without attempting to render assistance, in order to avoid the legal consequences of the collision. The present, he believed, was the first case of importance which had occurred since the enactment of that provision, but it showed at once the wisdom and policy of it, and it was the more important as a precedent. Now, on the arrival of the Bombay at Yokohama a naval Court of Inquiry was asked for at the instance of Captain Eyre himself. The Court consisted of the British Consul, two naval officers, and two merchant captains. Captain Eyre was represented by counsel, and the survivors of the Oneida were represented by the United States' Minister in Japan. Everything was done to elicit the truth, and all the possible witnesses in the case were examined. The two questions which the Court had to determine were—first, to what cause was due the collision; and secondly, whether Captain Eyre's conduct after the collision was justifiable. On the first point they held that the collision was not due to the negligence of Captain Eyre, and as the professional officers whose opinion the Board of Trade have taken were of the same view he should say no more about it. On the second point the Court came to an unanimous conclusion, on the following points—namely, first, that after the accident Captain Eyre was under no immediate apprehension of danger to his own vessel, his passengers, or mails; second, that, although he was unaware of the extent of the injury done to the Oneida, yet from the questions he put to the pilot he evidently thought that she might have sustained serious damage; third, that he waited, at the most, five minutes after the collision to see if signals of distress were made; fourth, that after proceeding on his course he gave no orders to keep a proper look-out for any signals from the Oneida. Upon these findings, after making allowance for the difficulties of his position, the Court held that Captain Eyre acted hastily and ill-ad-visedly in that, instead of waiting and endeavouring to render assistance to the Oneida, he, without having reason to believe that Ms own vessel was in danger, proceeded on his voyage. They held this to be a breach of the statute already alluded to, and condemned him to a suspension of his certificate for six months. In due course these proceedings were forwarded to the Board of Trade, and Captain Eyre and the directors of the Peninsular and Oriental Company appealed against this decision, and asked for a return of his certificate. In his appeal Captain Eyre entered into an expiation of his conduct, but he did not allege in any way that any further evidence was forthcoming, or that the inquiry was not properly conducted; he did not ask for another formal inquiry. In accordance with the usual practice, of which he must be well acquainted, he simply asked the Board of Trade to review the decision of the Court of Yokohama and to return his certificate. Upon this the Board of Trade pursued the course which they have always done in these cases. They had no means or power to hold a fresh inquiry of a formal character—in the very numerous cases of appeal which had been before them no case had occurred in which they had directed or attempted a fresh inquiry, although possibly if fresh facts were brought to their notice, or if the first inquiry were proved to be informal or unsatisfactory, they would take steps to rectify it; but the invariable practice had been to refer the evidence taken before the Court below to their professional officers. In the present case they referred the evidence to Admiral Bedford and Captain Walker, the most experienced officers attached to the Board of Trade, and he might add that, not content with this, they took further professional advice outside their Department, and consulted two gentlemen connected, with the Admiralty. All these authorities came to the same conclusion as to the conduct of Captain Eyre, and it was after the most careful consideration of them by Mr. James and himself that the official determination was come to and the letter written of which Captain Eyre complained. As the question raised as to the conduct was mainly a professional one, to be decided with reference to the customs of the merchant service and to considerations of a nautical character, he should not be out of Order in reading the opinion given by the officers he had alluded to. Admiral Bedford and Captain Walker reported as follows:—
Among other opinions which the Board took was that of Mr. Lushington, formerly Deputy Judge Advocate General, and now Secretary of the Admiralty, whose experience in such cases rendered his opinion exceedingly valuable. That opinion was as follows:—"As to Captain Eyre's conduct after the collision, nothing that has been advanced could, in our opinion, justify it. It contrasts most unfavourably with the conduct of the master of the Mary when in collision with the Normandy so far as any cause for apprehension as to the result to the former was concerned. Looking to the actual condition of the Bombay after the collision, to the fact that her speed in making her anchorage could have been little less than what it was before the catastrophe, the indifference to the possible fate of the Oneida is most inexcusable. Had the Bombay been in a critical position she had the same remedy which she left to the Oneida—namely, to ground on the Spit; but Captain Eyre never reflected that if a vessel that gave the other her bow and stern could be injured, how much more must that vessel have been damaged when she received the blow abaft the mizen chains and at such an angle of incidence! Again, did he reflect upon the probable injury done by the blow to the steering apparatus of the Oneida, which might incapacitate her, as the fact was, to take advantage of the proximity of the Spit? That something was revealed, as the ill-fated vessel passed astern, sufficiently to awaken very serious surmises to those who saw it is manifest, and though it is quite possible that Captain Eyre may not have seen it, it speaks badly for those who did that they should allow the vessel to proceed without telling the captain what they thought they saw. The fact is, what the fate of the Oneida was could be nothing more than a surmise, and the duty of every ship legally and morally is to endeavour to ascertain the extent of the damage and to render such assistance as may be in their power."
Captain Richards, the Hydrographer to the Admiralty, expressed a similar opinion in almost the same words. After considering these and other opinions which they took, the Board of Trade came to the conclusion which was communicated to Captain Eyre—namely, that, after making every allowance for the difficulty of the position in which he was placed, he was guilty of a gross breach of the statute, and that, far from being able to reverse the decision of the Court, they were of opinion that the sentence was too lenient. The hon. Member behind him (Mr. Hanbury-Tracy) had complained that they had affixed to Captain Eyre the stigma' of inhumanity. The words used were these—"As to the conduct of Captain Eyre after the collision, I have no hesitation in saying that he was guilty of a flagrant breach of his statutory duty. It is proved that his own vessel received no dangerous injury, and that he did not think she was in any danger. It is proved, also, that he had good reasons for supposing, and that he did suppose, that the Oneida had received severe injury, and was possibly in danger of sinking. Yet he stops only five minutes, and then steams ahead for Yokohama, leaving the Oneida to her fate, whatever it might be. Doubtless he never contemplated such a terrible disaster as actually occurred; doubtless, also, he had never been placed in a similar situation before; but giving due weight to these circumstances, I am clearly of opinion that he committed a breach of the statute, that he omitted a duty plain both by legal obligations and the simple dictates of humanity, and that his conduct was inconsiderate to a disgraceful degree. For such misconduct his sentence was a very light one—in my opinion, far too light."
He apprehended that there would be very few who read the case who would not think that the words were no stronger than were deserved. The hon. Member had endeavoured to show that the Board of Trade were not justified in using stronger language than the Court below, or in stating their opinion that the sentence was too lenient. The difference between the Board of Trade and the Court below was not as to the facts which they found, but as to the inference to be drawn from them; and he apprehended that it was fully competent for the Board of Trade, in revising the evidence at the instance of the appellant, to state their opinion upon the whole case in declining to return an officer his certificate. It was not for the officer, after having invoked the interference of the Board of Trade, to turn round and say they had no right to express an opinion upon his conduct, or upon the sentence which they were asked, to reverse. The Board of Trade had the power of reversing the decision, and of restoring the officer's certificate, and they were asked by the officers of the Peninsular and Oriental Company to review the evidence. He took it to be clear beyond doubt that it was their duty to express their opinions in answer to the appeal. They had constantly been in the habit of doing so, and never had it been ques- tioned before. In this case, after reviewing the evidence, although they agreed with the Court of Yokohama in the general facts which they found, they were not of opinion that the sentence was strong enough; they thought that it was not in the interest of the merchant service that it should be generally thought that captains might act—if indeed they ever could act—as Captain Eyre did under similar circumstances, and be liable to no more than a suspension of their certificates. The hon. Member had urged everything that could be said for Captain Eyre, but he had passed over everything that told against him. To him it appeared to be clear, beyond all doubt, that Captain Eyre knew that the Oneida was in very considerable danger. His question to the pilot as to where she could be run ashore showed that. It was also reported by Lieutenant Clements that on his going on board the Bombay immediately on her arrival at Yokohama Captain Eyre informed him that he had cut off the quarter of a Yankee frigate, adding "Serve her right; she crossed our bows with a starboard helm." Could the captain of the Bombay suppose that he had cut off the quarter of a Yankee frigate and yet not know that she was in considerable danger? Another point made by the hon. Member was, that the Bombay must have remained where she was after the collision for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour. Now, the Court below expressly found that she remained barely five minutes, for the best evidence on this point was that of the engineer who was watching the machinery, and who took down on a slate at the time the period at which the engines were stopped and when again they were set in motion; this record gave an interval of only four minutes. It was clear, again, from the evidence given by the survivors of the Oneida, that in consequence of the confusion on board, and the difficulty of finding gunners, the guns were not fired till five minutes after the collision. It is impossible to suppose that while the Bombay was remaining stationary those on board her should not have heard the report of these guns; but it might easily be different when the vessel was again under steam and attention no longer directed to the Oneida. Everything, therefore, pointed to the same conclusion, that the Bombay remained stationary only five minutes. The only other point suggested on behalf of Captain Eyre was anticipated danger to his own vessel; but this was negatived by all the evidence. If his danger were great, it would have been better to have remained where he was, close by the Saratoga Spit, where the Bombay could have been safely run ashore, than to run 12 miles to Yokohama; and, just in proportion as there was fear for the Bombay, there was far greater fear and alarm for the Oneida, which received on her quarter the blow. But, in point of fact, the Bombay was not in danger. It was a vessel built in five compartments, only one of which had been injured. Accordingly it appeared that there was really nothing to be said as against the view which had been taken by the Court of Yokohama, or by the Board of Trade. The conduct of Captain Eyre was not justifiable, and it would not be in the interest of the merchant service to come to any other conclusion. It was with pain he was compelled to rake up all these matters against him. He would far rather have been in a position to defend him; but not the less did he believe the view arrived at by the Board of Trade to be a sound one. No doubt there was much to be said on the other side. The greatness of the calamity and the fearful loss of life could not have been contemplated or expected by Captain Eyre or anyone on board, and others were responsible in a great measure for that loss of life. It was clear, for instance, that had the Oneida had her proper complement of boats, which it seemed her captain had demanded previous to sailing, all her crew might have been saved. The Oneida was, at the time of collision, under command of a very young and inexperienced officer, and there was great confusion on board after the collision occurred; her engines were not stopped, and her sails not taken in. But all these considerations did not affect the question whether Captain Eyre was justified in his conduct or not. The officers and men of the Oneida met their death like brave and honourable men, and the best justice they could do them was to treat Captain Eyre as they should have done had the calamity occurred to our own countrymen; and he could safely say that he had heard but one universal expression of the deepest pain and regret at the loss of so many men, and of dis- tress that a British vessel should have been the unwitting cause of it, and that its captain should have failed, under the circumstances, to render what assistance was in his power. As regarded the Motion before the House, he ventured to think that the facts adduced would not support it. Further inquiry was unnecessary, and was really impossible, inasmuch as all the witnesses were in Japan or elsewhere. The case must, therefore, rest upon the Report of the Board of Trade, and the professional opinions which he had quoted."The statute simply embodies the dictates of humanity, and in disobeying it you have been guilty not only of an offence created by the statute, but of a disregard of the natural duties which circumstances of danger, such as those of the Oneida, impose on those who have been the unwilling cause of the danger."
said, the whole controversy had arisen out of the Board of Trade taking upon itself certain duties which Parliament had distinctly declared it ought not to undertake. Under the old Shipping Act of 1854, the course adopted in such cases as the one under debate was for evidence to be taken by the Marine Courts at the place where the accident occurred, and when taken to be sent to the Board of Trade, in order that that office should come to a decision upon it. This plan was, however, found to work so badly that in the year 1862 an Act was passed depriving the Board of Trade of this function, and declaring that it was not in any shape or way to give any decision as to the misconduct of the master or the mate. That was done because it was thought to be exceedingly wrong for a private tribunal to take into consideration the conduct of an officer and arrive at a conclusion which might injure his character and prospects for life. He himself knew little of shipping, and nothing whatever of Captain Eyre; but he had most carefully read the evidence in this case, and more especially the evidence of the survivors of the crew of the Oneida, and he was of opinion that that evidence showed that previous to the collision the Bombay had had all her lights right, and that she ported her helm. On board the Oneida, meanwhile, the command was left to a young man of 23, utterly inexperienced, who, on seeing that a collision was imminent, sent for the principal navigating officer; he only came on deck for a few minutes, returned a hasty answer, and went below again to dinner. The orders on board the Oneida were first to "starboard," then to "port," and then to "starboard" the helm again; and the evidence of the officer himself showed that it was exceedingly difficult to understand the real nature of the orders which were given. The most important point, however, was that the Bombay stopped her engines, and endeavoured to avoid a collision, while the Oneida, on the other hand, never stopped her engines, but went on immediately under full sail and steam for a distance of at least two miles, and for a period of 16 or 17 minutes. All the evidence, in short, went to prove that it would have been impossible for Captain Eyre to have done anything more than he did. He stated most distinctly that he remained stationary, according to his own impression for about 10 or 15 minutes, and that he saw no blue lights or rockets, and heard no guns. On the other hand, the Oneida men admitted that no blue lights were shown by them, and no guns run out at the time. They declared that after the vessel had proceeded on her course some distance three or four guns were fired. It ought to be remembered that in that case, the sails of the Oneida being up, Captain Eyre would be prevented from seeing the flash of the guns. Moreover, the evidence of the American officers showed that all their attention was directed to setting sail and running on shore as fast as they could. The officer Yates, of the Oneida, stated in his evidence that after the collision occurred the captain asked him whether the ship was safe, and he said "Yes," to which the captain replied, "All right! Set the foretopsail, and run me ashore as soon as possible." Now, Captain Eyre did stop his engines. It was said that he ought to have waited longer on the spot where the collision took place; but all nautical men, he (Mr. Goldney) believed, were prepared to admit that to turn his vessel round and follow the Oneida would have occupied so long that he could have rendered little, if any, effectual assistance when he did arrive, and had he lowered his boats it would have been impossible for him to have seen anything. Captain Eyre seemed to have acted with the greatest humanity; he consulted with the pilot and with others on board, and he remained the whole time upon the bridge to see if he could render any assistance, but it was a matter of impossibility to do so. The Court found that he could not have avoided the collision; but they added that they regretted to have to record that he acted hastily and unadvisedly by proceeding on his voyage instead of waiting to render assistance; and that this constituted, in their opinion, a breach of the 33rd section of the Merchant Shipping Act. The Board of Trade endorsed this, by saying that there was a gross breach of the 33rd section. This section said that in every case of collision it would be the duty of the person in charge of each ship to render to the other such assistance as might be practicable. He (Mr. Goldney) contended that it was not practicable that in this case assistance could have been rendered. To do so, it would have been necessary for the captain of the Bombay to have put his ship round, which would have taken 10 or 12 minutes; and he could not have lowered his boats, because no light was shown; and there was nothing to show that the other ship was in distress. Captain Eyre applied to the Board of Trade for the return of his certificate, and he (Mr. Goldney) thought that as there was no appeal to the Board of Trade, they had taken extra-judicial power to themselves, and had unfairly censured Captain Eyre, and that without giving him an opportunity to show why his certificate should not be suspended; and his only remedy was to bring his case before Parliament.
said, he did not understand the Secretary to the Board of Trade when he talked of this collision having taken place in midships. [Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE: I said mid-chains.] That was just as inexplicable. He would tell the House how it took place. The American sloop-of-war was one of those river-built boats that were brought into the American Navy at the time of the rebellion, and converted into men-of-war by putting hammock nettings round her and putting guns on board, and she was then sent to perform police duties in the seas of Japan. For the purpose of returning to America she left Yokohama, and the only reason why she was not condemned in Japan was that it suited the Government to send her home. She was proceeding down the Channel under the charge of a midshipman, the captain being sick and the officers at dinner. The night was dark, there was a strong breeze, and she was running before the wind, and going as fast as her engines would propel her. A light was seen ahead of her, and the midshipman instead of putting his helm a-port put it a-starboard. He (Sir James Elphinstone) believed the Board of Trade rule to be—
"When you see a light ahead,
The contrary being done, the Oneida crossed the bows of the Bombay, which was a well-found, well-officered, and well-commanded ship. The Bombay was proceeding up the harbour at eight knots, with sails furled, and against a strong wind and tide, with every officer and man at his station, whilst the other ship was sweeping down under steam and sail. Captain Eyre did all that was possible to avoid a collision, and he caught the ship not amidships, nor in mid-chains, but at the most remote angle that he could catch her, in consequence of backing his engines, porting as long as possible, and then putting the helm hard a-starboard, and in this way the shock was mitigated as much as possible. She was caught upon the quarter gallery, a structure which was outside the ship, and which might easily be carried away without any material damage being done. There was evidence that the collision did not produce any shock; the ships immediately separated, and the Oneida vanished into positive darkness under the influence of her sails and the strong tide. Now, what was Captain Eyre to do? His ship was nearly 300 feet long, he was in a narrow channel, and it would have taken 15 minutes to get the ship round. And what was he to go after when he got round? There was no indication that the other ship was hurt, though he had smashed away some of her outside hamper. If the ship had belonged to any other country—if she had not been a Yankee man-of-war—they would not have heard a word about it. Captain Eyre did what he should have done. He stopped his ship to see what damage she had received, and sent the chief mate forward, and he found water rushing into her fore compartment. She was an iron ship; and he (Sir James Elphinstone) had known iron ships break in half as soon as one compartment was filled. If he had been in the same position he should have done as Captain Eyre did. A man in command of such a ship, with mails and passengers on board, when he found nine feet of water in the fore compartment, would have been a fool, or worse, if he had gone back after anything. If he had lowered his boats, he would perhaps have divested himself of the means of saving his own crew and passengers. He (Sir James Elphinstone) believed Captain Eyre to be a judicious officer, and the conduct of the Board of Trade in censuring him was a matter that would rise up in judgment against them, for they had arrogated to themselves functions for which they had no warrant. The speech of the hon. Gentleman who represented the Board of Trade was to him utterly ridiculous in a professional point of view, for he could not possibly understand the operations he had described. If the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hanbury-Tracy) would divide the House on this question, he, as one of the few merchant captains who had seats in Parliament, would support him. He must say that in his opinion Captain Eyre's conduct on the occasion in question was that of a judicious seaman, and no doubt also that of a man who would have risked his own life to save the crew of the Oneida if it had been possible to save them.Port your helm, and go to bed."
said, the experience of the hon. Baronet (Sir James Elphinstone) had been earned in wooden ships; but, as an owner and builder of iron ships, he would remind the hon. Baronet that iron ships were very different to wooden ships in a collision. They were built in water-tight compartments, and, if tolerably strong, they were quite as seaworthy for all practical purposes after one compartment had been smashed in as they were before. It was by no means extraordinary that there should be eight feet of water in the fore compartment, considering that that compartment occupied not more than one-tenth of the length of the vessel, and that she would probably draw 15 or 16 feet; and it was putting the case in a wrong position to say that the ship was in danger of sinking. There was not the slightest doubt about the circumstances of the collision; and the Court of Inquiry, which was fairly and impartially constituted, had decided, distinctly and clearly, that the captain of the Bombay was not in the least to blame. Therefore, those gentlemen who tried to vindicate the character of Captain Eyre by raising a question with regard to these circumstances, so far from being his good friends, were very much more his enemies. But there was also no doubt about the decision of the Court that Captain Eyre did not remain long upon the scene of the collision. They could all understand that a man, under circumstances of great excitement and suspense, might think he had remained for 8, 10, or 15 minutes; but the engineer, who was not aware of what had occurred, and was thus a calm and impartial witness, stated that the engines were stopped for about four minutes. That had not been disputed. The only remaining point raised was that the Board of Trade ought to have reversed the sentence of the Court. As a merchant shipowner he begged most earnestly to protest against the idea that the Board of Trade, except under very special and extraordinary circumstances, should reverse a decision arrived at by scientific, impartial, and competent men. Such a course would establish a dangerous precedent. He had a great regard for his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade, and for the permanent officials; but, as a general rule, shipowners would rather have their property and servants subject to the judgment of such a Court as he had described than to any permanent officials of the Board of Trade. It was not surprising that the Board of Trade should have expressed an opinion upon Captain Eyre's conduct; and Captain Eyre had nobody but himself to thank for it. He said to Cæsar he would go, and to Caesar he went. He appealed to the Board of Trade, and it would have been most unwise and improper for that Board to have passed over the whole subject without expressing some opinion upon what had occurred. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not take any steps that would in any way tend to reverse the decision of the Court that Captain Eyre was perfectly clear of any blame as regarded the collision, but was to blame because he did not remain upon the scene of the accident a longer time.
said, he should not have addressed the House had it not been for a remark which had been made by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone). The hon. Baronet had stated that, had it not been for the nationality of the Oneida, nothing would have been heard of the matter. He (Mr. Graves) could not forget that the nation referred to had special claims upon us, for, beginning with the Irish famine and ending with the Cotton fa- mine of Lancashire, they had come forward whenever a calamity befell this country, and in the most chivalrous and generous manner endeavoured to help us in our distress. If from no other motive than gratitude, there was abundant reason for giving this question the fullest consideration; and it should be the endeavour of hon. Members to remove rather than add to any acerbity of feeling which might exist between the two nations; they ought to endeavour, by the tone of their remarks, to remove any impression that, in endeavouring to screen an officer, they were sacrificing feelings of justice. He knew enough of the Americans, from considerable experience, to say on their behalf that they would not accept any sympathy at the expense of justice. He was satisfied that, when they knew the real state of the case, and when they felt that they had the sympathy of that House, as representing the country, in their terrible calamity—for this was a great calamity—they would be induced to view the matter through the medium of the facts rather than of sentiment. What were these facts? The Court at Yokohama was unanimously agreed that the collision was caused by the fault of the Oneida's officers. There was no attempt to throw blame upon Captain Eyre for the collision itself, but there was an attempt—which he considered a fair one—to throw blame upon Captain Eyre for his conduct subsequent to the collision. For that conduct alone he had been deprived of his certificate as a master for six months. He had considered the case, and was willing to admit to the fullest extent that there were extenuating circumstances in favour of Captain Eyre of such a character that it was almost difficult to say who had done wrong. He remained on the spot for five minutes, and saw the vessel sail away without blue lights, rockets, or a single indication that she was in danger. He had on board many passengers, and it was reported to him on the bridge, within five minutes, that there were seven feet of water in the fore compartment. These were the extenuating circumstances in his favour as against the inhumanity with which he had been charged by the Board of Trade. But he (Mr. Graves) did contend that Captain Eyre might have remained longer, and that he ought to have remained longer, until he had assured himself that there was no danger whatever to life. He now came, however, to the real question before the House—the conduct of the Board of Trade. That Board had statutory power to modify and mitigate the sentence of a Court, but it had no right to add one tittle to the sentence. Captain Eyre appealed to the Board of Trade to exercise its mercy, and that appeal was met not simply by a refusal, but in a manner which agravated the original finding of the Court. The whole professional career of a man like Captain Eyre depended on his character for humanity. Who would employ him when he was branded with inhumanity by one of the Departments of the State? It was unfortunate that the Board of Trade did not confine itself to the exercise of its statutory powers, instead of adding tenfold to the sentence by stating that Captain Eyre was guilty of gross inhumanity.
said, the words gross inhumanity were not used. The expression employed was that Captain Eyre had disregarded those natural duties which circumstances of danger such as those which attended the Oneida called for.
said, he did not wish to make his argument stronger by adding one word to it. His desire was to smoothe over the question rather than to embitter it. He held that the Board of Trade had unfortunately—perhaps inadvertently—allowed itself to make use of an expression which was of infinitely graver moment to the future of Captain Eyre than the mere sentence of six months' suspension.
Sir, I am sorry I do not feel able to allow this debate to close without noticing the remarks which fell from the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone). I mostly deeply regret that he has detracted so much from the weight due to his professional skill and experience by the heated tone and the strength and vehemence of language he has brought to the discussion of a question which ought to be treated in a strictly judicial manner. One expression, in particular, which fell from him, I confess I heard with astonishment. The hon. and gallant Baronet said that "if this had not been a Yankee man-of-war we never should have heard a word about it." Even the use of the mere term "Yankee," though it is but a slight touch of colour added to the description, serves to show the temper in which he approaches this question. Let me look to the substance of that declaration: it is this—that the gentlemen who constituted the Court at Yokohama were actuated in a judicial investigation not by an intention to perform a judicial duty, but by a mean subserviency to the fear of America, and that it was upon that fear, and not upon the evidence, that their sentence was grounded. That is the plain meaning of the hon. and gallant Member's words.
intimated his dissent from this.
Will the hon. and gallant Baronet explain what he meant?
Well, I meant an American man-of-war. The Secretary to the Board of Trade used the word "Yankee," and meant no more than I did. I have the greatest respect for the Americans. I have many friends among them, and I look upon them as our right-hand men. The Oneida was a weak ship, and went down like a bit of brown paper.
The hon. and gallant Member has entirely passed by my point. The use of the words "Yankee man-of-war" is comparatively a slight matter. What I said was, that the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth amounted to fact—although, perhaps, his warmth may have led him to say more than he intended—to a distinct charge against the Court at Yokohama that their decision was not founded upon the evidence, but was influenced by the fact that they were dealing with the case of an American man-of-war. That is the meaning of the words of the hon. and gallant Baronet, and I shall only be too glad to hear that they do not express his feelings upon the subject. I must own that I am very sorry that any reference has been made to the United States in the course of the debate—even in the temperate spirit of the hon. Member behind me (Mr. Hanbury-Tracy)—except in the terms used by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves). I apprehend that the United States have a right to expect at our hands sympathy for the disaster which as a nation we unwittingly were the meant of inflicting upon them. I am quite sure that if we were to suppose our relative positions changed, and that 112 persons had been lost in an English vessel in consequence of a collision with an American vessel, we should feel that a debate of this kind ought to be conducted in a tone of great tenderness towards us. Beyond such an expression of sympathy, the only object for introducing the name of the United States in treating on this question should be to lead us to feel that inasmuch as this is not an ordinary case of loss of life, but one where persons of different nations are concerned, we should adhere most strictly to a judicial impartiality in reference to it. And that is all I will say in referring to the painful share which the United States had in this transaction. I greatly lament that this subject has been brought before the House, and I doubt whether the raising of such a discussion is beneficial to Captain Eyre. I feel deeply for Captain Eyre, because I feel this is one of those cases in which even the administration of justice involves hardship upon individuals. Errors such as those that have been charged against Captain Eyre are the errors of a moment. What has he been charged with? Why, that in the doubt and confusion which a collision in the dark entails he committed a momentary error; and yet the imperious necessity of the public interests of mankind and of navigating nations require that even these momentary errors should be visited with severity, and the law of this country proceeds upon the principle that the mere fact of omission to render assistance in the case of danger is a matter requiring an investigation by the public authorities. By the 33rd section of the Merchant Shipping Act of this country—but not so by the law of any other country—such neglect is constituted into a statutable offence, and an infringement of the law in that respect is directed to be investigated by a Court from which an appeal lies to the Board of Trade. Under these circumstances it appears to me that, inasmuch as it is quite plain that Captain Eyre is a man of character, ability, and experience, it would have been much wiser on the part of his Friends to have trusted to the gentle and gradual action of public opinion and to his own manliness in showing that he had felt the consequences of the responsibility of his momentary error, and that he was determined to re-establish his honest fame by showing that he was ready to learn the lessons of adversity rather than to bring the matter under discussion in this House; because it is almost inevitable that in a discussion of this kind allegations on the one hand should be met by counter-allegations tending to aggravate the case. It is hardly possible to discuss the matter in a calm and judicial spirit; and the very fact that new topics are introduced which may seem to enhance the culpability of the captain, will have their effect on the public mind and be more injurious to Captain Eyre than any benefit which he may derive from the able statements made in his defence. There are only two points in relation to the case that I wish to notice. The first is, as to the special censure which has been thrown upon the Board of Trade; and the second is, as to the general policy of bringing matters of this sort before the House. I admit that the hon. Member has confined his Motion to those parts of the judgment of the Board of Trade which tended, in his opinion, to enhance the sentence of the Court of Yokohama. But, in bringing that Motion forward, the hon. Member took a much broader ground; and, in point of fact, the whole of his speech, and of the speech of the hon. and gallant Baronet opposite, has been a complaint on the part of Captain Eyre not only against the declarations of the Board of Trade, but also against the original sentence of the Court of Yokohama. With regard to the declarations of the Board of Trade, I must call on the House to remember that that Board exercises an appellate jurisdiction rather by the general commission entrusted to it by Parliament than under any judicial law. What was the point referred to the Board of Trade? The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) says that a Court of Appeal cannot legally enhance the sentence. That is perfectly true; but I am not at all aware of any established rule of judicial procedure which prevents a Court of Appeal, in confirming the sentence, from reviewing the evidence upon which that sentence is founded, and even from expressing an opinion that that evidence not only sustains such sentence, but does more than sustain it, and would have justified its being carried further. But what is the course adopted by Captain Eyre in this matter? Does he request the Board of Trade simply to re-consider the sentence? Quite the contrary: he requests them to review the evidence as well as the decision. The Board of Trade, therefore, considered the decision and sustained it; and they reviewed the evidence; and they stated that in their opinion it would have justified the Court in going even further than it had done. And the hon. Member will please to recollect that in delivering this judgment the Board of Trade did not act merely as a Department of the Executive Government. It was their duty to consult their professional advisers, who advised them, under a full sense of their responsibility; and it has been shown to-night that the declaration of the Board of Trade fell short of the terms used by the judicial and professional advisers of the Board. Under those circumstances, it appears to me that the issue before the House is an extremely narrow one, and extremely difficult to sustain. Would it have been satisfactory to my hon. Friend to have begun by admitting that the sentence of the Court was unassailable, but that the objection he took was to the terms in which the Board of Trade had given their sentence in answer to the application of Captain Eyre? As regards the general question, what does this question amount to? May it not be described as an appeal by the hon. Member to this House to try, in the course of a discussion which we commenced somewhere about 11 o'clock to-night, the merits of a collision at sea at the other end of the world, and to try it when it has already been tried, I will not say by the Board of Trade in this country, but by a Court which sat upon the spot, and had an opportunity of taking all the evidence, and which has delivered a judgment under a full sense of its responsibility. There was every opportunity for the parties interested to be heard; or, at least, if there was any difficulty on this point, it affected the Oneida rather than the Bombay. We are now asked to overturn a responsible and deliberate judgment by an irresponsible and hasty judgment. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth has shown considerable confidence in his own opinion; and I would ask him whether, in a case of this kind, it would be wise and safe to encourage appeals of this description to a popular and mixed as- sembly from sentences of a judicial character, and thus weaken the authority of such judgments. This is really a matter in which the character of the country is involved. By the principle introduced into our Merchant Seamen's Code we had given pledges to the world—for the world is just as much interested in that Act as Englishmen—"We pledge ourselves, by this law, to treat as an offence a neglect to render due assistance in case of danger to life from a collision." And if we were not to enforce the law under all circumstances, we should compromise our character in the eyes of the world. Then it is said by the Motion of the hon. Member that further inquiry should be made into the conduct of Captain Eyre. What further inquiry is desired? The Board of Trade has no power to call another Court to sit on the case. The demand of my hon. Friend simply amounts to this—that, having made an investigation with the best means of information at command, we should have a new investigation, which should be conducted without any such means of information. Setting aside all reference to the United States, and the naturally excited feelings of the people of the United States, I think the Motion of my hon. Friend rests on grounds that cannot be sustained; and I hope the House will not be tempted to embark in a course which would be attended with so much public danger, and full of national difficulty.
Sir, this question is one which ought to be regarded solely upon the truth and justice of the case; and, viewing it in that light, I am desirous to say that, having carefully read and considered the evidence which has been brought before us, I cannot at all concur in any censure either upon the decision which was arrived at by the Court of Yokohama, or upon the conduct subsequently of the Board of Trade. I should be sorry to say a word which might for a moment be considered unfair to Captain Eyre, who is, no doubt, a very meritorious officer; but the chief question involved is one of higher importance than the character of any man, for not only is the character of our merchant service at stake, but even our national character. It should be clearly understood, both by our law and in our practice, that whenever the misfortune of a collision at sea takes place it is the paramount duty of the captain of the surviving vessel to endeavour to secure the safety of the lives of those in the injured vessel, so far as is consistent with the safety of those in his own vessel. I think there is no answer to this view of the case. I am very glad to hear the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) has discussed this subject, and I was also very glad to observe the calm and impartial manner of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), who really represented the true light in which a subject like this ought to be regarded. There ought to be no warmth of feeling exhibited on either side in the discussion of this question, and we should look to nothing but the strict justice of the case.
said, that he and naval friends of his who had looked into the facts of the case had arrived at a diametrically opposite conclusion to that come to by the Court; but after what had been said by the Secretary of the Board of Trade and the First Minister of the Crown, he would recommend his hon. Friend not to press his Motion.
the debate which has taken place seems, Sir, to have shown most satisfactorily that the Board of Trade are startled at the construction of their own letter, and that they entirely disclaim the intention of imputing inhumanity to Captain Eyre. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government has also clearly stated that, in his opinion, Captain Eyre can only be accused of an error in judgment at a most critical and difficult moment, and not of inhumanity. There was one point raised by the hon. Member for Tynemouth, about which I must say one word. He stated that an iron vessel, built in compartments, would be perfectly safe, even if she had a hole as big as the door of the House of Commons in her. Now, Sir, this is perfectly true of a new vessel; but he seems quite to forget that the Bombay was 18 years old, and, therefore, the same trust could not be placed in her compartments as in a vessel just built. The charge of inhumanity being distinctly withdrawn I will not press my Motion any further.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.