British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 23

Testimony of Sir Walter J. Howell, recalled

Further examined by Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS.

22720. I think yesterday we were just on the subject of the Regulations and Suggestions to Surveyors, and we were on Rule or regulation 16. I notice on page 8, Rule 16, that certain paragraphs have been struck out, and there is inserted, dated February, 1907, a slip of an amended Rule: "In all sea-going steamers coming under survey for passenger certificate for the first time the following requirements regarding the height of the bulkheads should be complied with." The collision bulkhead is in all cases to extend to the upper deck. If an iron or steel watertight deck or flat is fitted below the upper deck at the afterend of the vessel and forms the top of the after watertight compartment, the aftermost bulkhead may terminate at the said watertight deck or flat, but if no such watertight deck or flat is fitted, the aftermost bulkhead should extend to the upper deck." What was it that led to that alteration in February, 1907? Can you tell me?
- I am sorry to say I cannot. This is rather an illustration of what I have said once or twice, that I am anxious that questions of this kind should be put rather to the Officers who will follow me as experts on their particular points, than to me as an administrative Officer.

Mr. Edwards:
I am quite content with that, Sir Walter, if I know that that Officer or those Officers are going to be called as Witnesses.

The Attorney-General:
Which Officer is it you are referring to?

The Witness:
This is Mr. Archer.

The Attorney-General:
He will be called.

22721. (Mr. Clement Edwards.) Very well. (To the witness.) Now yesterday I think your expression was that in cases of special difficulty, or in things of an exceptional character, the matter would not be decided in the discretion of the local Surveyor, but would be referred to the Board of Trade?
- Any question of importance would be.

22722. When it was proposed to build these two colossal ships, the "Titanic" and the "Olympic," was there any reference to the board with regard to that?
- That is a question Mr. Archer will be able to answer much better than I should be able to do.

22723. You can tell at least if there was any reference to the board. I am not going to ask you as to details?
- I am under the impression that certainly there were questions referred to the board.

22724. If there were, would Mr. Archer be in possession of the documents relating to the reference?
- Yes.

22725. Can you tell me apart altogether from the special reference, when the question came up of the construction of these two great ships which were something above and beyond anything we had had before, whether the board gave any special consideration to their size in relation to safety?
- I am under the impression that the professional Officers certainly did consider that.

22726. And again perhaps I can get something from Mr. Archer?
- And Sir Alfred Chalmers and Captain Young.

22727. Apart from those two Officers, was there any general consideration or discussion? You told us yesterday that on matters of great importance there might be discussion between the different members of the Department?
- I think they were talked about, but I do not remember any special discussion with regard to any difficult question that arose.

22728. You have no record, no minute or anything of that sort dealing with the subject?
- I do not recollect one, but these Officers will be able to tell you better than I can.

The Commissioner:
It would be a convenience to me if you would tell me what particular questions they are which you think ought to have been discussed?

Mr. Edwards:
One of the questions which has emerged is that on a boat of this size with these decks, the provision of a large number of boats on the upper deck was likely to make the ship tender.

The Commissioner:
That is quite enough for that; I can understand that. Now what other question?

Mr. Edwards:
Then there is the point as to the relative means of access from the different quarters of the ship to the boat deck in the event of accident.

The Commissioner:
Very well, you mean relative as between the different classes?

Mr. Edwards:
I mean relative to the different classes and the crew, and also relative of course to the size of the ship, with these additional decks as compared with what for convenience I will call the older type of ship.

The Commissioner:
What is the other question if there is any?

Mr. Edwards:
Then there is the question, of course, of the bulkheads and the watertight doors, and the question of manning, which I did not wish to touch upon except in a general question. There was a question I was going to ask as to the efficiency of the deckhands and their numbers.

The Commissioner:
Is there anything else?

Mr. Edwards:
No, I think not.

The Commissioner:
That serves as an indication to Mr. Archer, who I hope is here, of the matters upon which he must prepare himself as far as you are concerned.

22729. (Mr. Clement Edwards.) I am obliged, My Lord. (To the witness.) I think it was in 1909 you issued some instructions on the subject of manning - a circular?
- Yes.

22730. And I think in that circular you stated that there must be a sufficient number of efficient deckhands. Now, have you any standard or test of efficiency of a deckhand?
- The deckhands -

The Commissioner:
Do answer the question. Have you any standard? I do not know what it means, because I do not know what the standard of a deckhand is, but have you any?

22731. (Mr. Clement Edwards.) A standard of efficiency?

The Witness:
There is no standard laid down in this circular, but the Emigration Officers have a standard.

22732. (The Commissioner.) What is it?
- I do not know.

22733. How do you know that?
- Well, I happen to know in my own mind.

22734. I do not see how you can know they have a standard, if you know nothing about the standard?
- Then I must say I know nothing about it.

22735. I do not know what a standard of efficiency for a deckhand means?
- I suppose it means the service they have had - the experience they have had.

22736. The length of service?
- Yes, the number of years they have been at sea. That would be regarded as a standard, whether they attain the standard laid down for an A.B., for instance, service of so many years before the mast. But I am rather construing Mr. Edwards's meaning.

22737. (The Commissioner.) When are boys taken on a ship? I suppose at 14 years. Is there a standard of efficiency so far as a boy of 14 years old is concerned?
- There is no standard of efficiency as far as we are concerned with regard to a boy of that kind.

22738. I suppose he must be a healthy well-grown boy with hands and feet and arms and legs?
- Yes; no doubt.

Mr. Edwards:
Is there issued from the Marine Department of the Board of Trade anything in the nature of a code of qualifications by which your respective Officers may test the efficiency?

The Commissioner:
The answers to that I am sure is No. Do you want a printed qualification for a greaser? I do not know what this means.

Mr. Edwards:
If I may say so with respect, I only want to get this point. We have it with regard to the seaworthiness of a ship; we have it in regard to bulkheads, that it is a matter in the discretion of the local Surveyor.

The Commissioner:
Be clear. What is the "matter in the discretion"? You say "it" is a matter. What is it?

Mr. Edwards:
What I have just said.

The Commissioner:
Then say it again.

Mr. Edwards:
What is a matter within the discretion of the local Surveyor is the issuing of a declaration that a ship is efficient.

The Commissioner:
That we know.

Mr. Edwards:
And seaworthy.

The Commissioner:
Is that the "it" that you referred to?

Mr. Edwards:
And in the case of bulkheads Sir Walter told the Court yesterday that there was no regulation laid down and no standard fixed for bulkheads. The matter of deciding whether they were right and proper was within the discretion of the local Surveyor without reference to any code or standard.

The Commissioner:
Yes.

Mr. Edwards:
Now, what I really want to get is this: when the Marine Department issue a circular requiring that there shall be efficient deckhands, whether there is any actual test of that efficiency, or whether that again is a matter to be determined entirely according to the particular views of the particular local Officers.

The Commissioner:
What is it you suggest ought to be in these directions - the height of the man, the width across the chest, or - which I can understand - how long he has been at sea? That I can understand as being of some value.

Mr. Edwards:
Exactly, My Lord. I do not pretend there is a test of efficiency dependent upon the height.

The Commissioner:
It must be, More or less, you know. I should think that if a dwarf presented himself he would be rejected. I think he ought to be rejected.

22739. (Mr. Clement Edwards.) There is authority for asking "why God made the gem so small, and why so huge the granite"? (To the witness.) All I want to get at is this: whether there is any sort or kind of common standard laid down by the Board of Trade by which the local Officers may test the efficiency of a deckhand?
- I can answer that quite simply, No.

22740. Therefore it is left entirely to the discretion and the judgment of the different local Officers?
- That is so.

The Commissioner:
You do not help me unless you suggest to him what you think ought to be done. Suggest to him what ought to be done.

22741. (Mr. Edwards - To the witness.) Do you not think that when your department takes upon itself the responsibility of saying there shall be efficient deckhands it should issue instructions indicating of what that efficiency shall consist?
- It has been thought better to leave it to the local Officers.

22742. Do you or do you not think it would be better to have a common fixed standard for all the ports in the United Kingdom, instead of that standard, varying with the particular judgment of the different local Officers.

The Commissioner:
You know it is there I want your assistance. What do you say ought to be the standard laid down?

Mr. Edwards:
That there ought to be a medical test and that there ought to be a test of service and a test of efficiency.

The Commissioner:
What do you mean by a "test of service"?

Mr. Edwards:
Length of service.

The Commissioner:
Do you mean enquiries into the man's past connection with the sea?

Mr. Edwards:
Yes, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
You do not mean some practical test?

Mr. Edwards:
I am coming to that.

The Commissioner:
But do you mean that? Do you mean that he is to be put into an engine room to grease in order to see whether he can grease?

Mr. Edwards:
That would not be a deckhand, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Well, take a deckhand.

Mr. Edwards:
I was coming to that. A deckhand might include the duty of being a look-out.

The Commissioner:
Is the ship to put out to sea with men in the crow's-nest in order to find out whether they are good look-out men?

Mr. Edwards:
I do not suggest that, My Lord. There are commonsense limits.

The Commissioner:
I want to know where the commonsense limits come in, because it appears to me at present that if you have a really qualified man representing the Board of Trade to see these men, to look at them, and to make enquiries about them, and to ascertain what their past is, you have as good a test as you can have.

The Attorney-General:
There is some definition of it. I do not know whether your Lordship noticed it. But I am afraid I was trying to get something else for the Court, and I am not sure I followed exactly what men Mr. Edwards means.

The Commissioner:
I understand the suggestion of Mr. Edwards is that the selection of the deckhands and of the crew generally should not be left in the discretion of a local Officer representing the Board of Trade, but that he should have a list of printed directions - and then I am asking Mr. Edwards, what they are to be - which would control the discretion.

The Attorney-General:
There are some instructions with reference to it.

The Commissioner:
Will you tell me one?

The Attorney-General:
Yes, I notice this, that amongst the requirements, which have
been already mentioned, in the book, "Instructions Relating to Emigrant Ships," at page 10, which gives the scale, to which my friend's attention was called, there is this: "The term 'deckhands' means the master and the mates and all bona fide able-bodied seamen. The carpenter, boatswain, quartermasters, lamp trimmer and other petty Officers who have served or are fit to serve in the capacity of A.B. may be regarded as bona fide able-bodied seamen for this purpose. Of the total number of deckhands carried one in five may be an ordinary seaman and two boys may be taken in place of each ordinary seaman so allowed. One cook and one steward may be reckoned as bona fide able-bodied seamen if they produce proof that they have served as A.B.'s, and the Emigration Officer is satisfied by actual trial that they can pull an oar and are fit to serve in that rating. Tradesmen, such as joiners, etc., are not to be counted." Those are the instructions. Of course, as your Lordship knows, the able-bodied seaman is defined, there is no doubt as to what that means. That is section 126 of the Merchant Shipping Act. He must have served at sea for three years before the mast. Then there is the ordinary seaman and, of course, ship's boys.

Mr. Edwards:
Do you not think, Sir Walter, that there ought to be a minimum standard or test laid down for every one of the deck hands in the matter of boat handling, for instance?

The Commissioner:
Will you, if you can, in words state to me what the direction is to be or what you suggest it should be? Tell it to me in words.

Mr. Edwards:
I suggest, My Lord, that the men ought to undergo an examination and a test to show that they can handle a boat, not only in a smooth sea, but can handle a boat in even a rough sea.

The Commissioner:
I want to know from you how is it to be applied; you cannot order a rough sea, you know.

Mr. Edwards:
You can take advantage of a rough sea, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
But the men may not be there when there is a rough sea.

Mr. Edwards:
Exactly.

The Commissioner:
The local officer may say: "It is a great pity you did not come here yesterday; we had a high wind; to- day it is all smooth and calm." Have a little common sense. You cannot lay down these hard and fast rules, and in my judgment, at present, at all events, it is very undesirable that you should. It is far better to leave the matter in the discretion of a qualified man, and let him exercise his discretion. It seems so to me.

Mr. Edwards:
With very great respect, My Lord, it is rather, if I may say so, because I apprehend that to be your Lordship’s present view -

The Commissioner:
It is.

Mr. Edwards:
And because your Lordship will be responsible for the issue of recommendations from this Enquiry that I am very anxious to give evidence which may somewhat shake your Lordship’s faith in the view to which you have given expression.

The Commissioner:
Do you really suggest to me - I understood you did just now - that at Belfast or southampton or wherever it may be, the local officer is to wait for a rough day in order that a seaman may go out in a boat and show him what he can do. Is that what you suggest?

Mr. Edwards:
I do suggest that, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Then I think it is an outrageous thing. Are steamers to be kept waiting until it is a rough day?

Mr. Edwards:
I purposely safeguarded myself by saying that I did not suggest that this kind of test or examination should take place ad hoc a particular voyage.

The Commissioner:
When is it to take place?

Mr. Edwards:
It may take place at any time before a man gets a certificate that he is an efficient person capable of being a deck hand.

The Commissioner:
Then this is not a test that is to be applied before the surveyor issues his certificate to that particular steamer: it is a test to be applied some time or other in the lifetime of the particular sailor.

Mr. Edwards:
That is precisely what is now done, My Lord, in regard to A. B.’s. That is to say, it is required by the Merchant Shipping Act that so many A. B.’s shall be carried. When a man comes and says, "I am an A.B.," he is not put through any particular test; he is asked to produce his certificate.

The Attorney-General:
That is right.

The Commissioner:
That is quite right.

Mr. Edwards:
And what I suggest is, if that is done with A.B.’s, there is no reason why it should not be done with any ordinary seaman, and I was going to put this: It is not the fact that a recommendation -

The Commissioner:
Is there any rule which requires that an A.B. shall be tested in a rough sea in an open boat?

Mr. Edwards:
No, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Do you suggest that there should be?

Mr. Edwards:
I do suggest that there should be a test for the deck hand.

The Commissioner:
Of that kind?

22742. (Mr. Edwards.) Of that kind, and that before a man may obtain a position on a ship as a deck hand he shall produce a certificate which shows among other things that he is perfectly capable of handling a boat under all the probable circumstances which are likely to arise on a voyage. (To the witness) Sir Walter, has not a recommendation come or has not the Advisory Committee considered this question of tests for all seamen?
- I believe it has been before them.

22743. Is not this the proposal which came before the Advisory Committee.

"That this Committee call the attention of the Board of Trade to the failure on the part of certain shipping companies to carry out the recommendation of the Advisory Committee respecting the crews engaged in the deck department on British vessels, and this Committee recommends that in future all seamen engaged in the deck department be qualified seamen and prove such qualification either by producing three years’ certificates of discharge, or failing this, proving that they have knowledge of the compass, can steer, do ordinary splicing of wire and hemp rope, tie ordinary knots, and have a knowledge of the marks and deeps of the lead line."

The Witness:
Which letter is that?

22743A. (Mr. Edwards.) It is in the minutes of the Advisory Committee of 1910.

The Witness:
I have no exact recollection of it; I do not remember that particular letter. The professional officer will be able to answer that, I think. I have now the reply sent to their recommendation, if I may read it.

22744. What is the reply?
- This is an extract from a letter to the Advisory Committee in reply to their recommendations. This is dated 13th October, 1908.

22745. Will you read your reply?
- Yes, it is a long letter. This is in reply to the report of the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee, 1908. They made a recommendation, and this is the reply: "The proposal to test and certify the efficiency of seamen beforehand is also not free from difficulty from the administrative point of view. The present practice, as stated above, is to require that the members of the minimum effective watches shall all be efficient seamen, and if there is any doubt the men are examined on board by one of the nautical surveyors. This ensures a practical test of the men at the commencement of the voyage, and it has been carried out without difficulty or delay. To test and certify the efficiency of the men beforehand might possibly obviate the necessity for a visit by the surveyor, but the test, is they are to be of real value to masters and men, would have to be systematised and standardised and protected from impersonation and fraud. Apart from the practical difficulties which this would entail, the board feel great hesitation in attempting to inaugurate such a system by departmental instructions without express statutory authority."

22746. That is in 1908?
- That is in 1908.

22747. Now, in the minutes of 1910 you will find, I think a further reference to this subject by the Advisory Committee?
- I have not it.

The Committee:
Read it, Mr. Edwards; you have got it, I have no doubt.

22748. (Mr. Edwards.) "That this Committee is of opinion that no superintendent of a Mercantile marine office should allow any seaman to be treated as equivalent to an efficient seaman unless such seaman can produce a certificate from any competent body recognised by the Board of Trade showing that he can comply with the requirements above referred to." Those are the requirements I read: "And this Committee further recommends that specific instructions be sent to superintendents to that effect." Now, have you that Minute?
- I have not it before me here; I think the nautical officer can give it to you.

22749. Can you tell me if, in fact, any instructions have been issued to superintendents of the marine offices to that effect?
- No, I think not.

22750. Do you issue from the Board of Trade any regulations as to distress signals at sea?
- Yes.

22751. Can you refer the Court to them?
- Speaking from memory, I think the distress signals are contained in the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

The Commissioner:
Now what points are you going to make on this, Mr. Edwards? Is it that distress signals are not effective, or what?

Mr. Edwards:
No, My Lord. The point here is as to whether, if there are common distress signals part and parcel of the Regulations under the Merchant Shipping Act, then it may bring the responsibility home to those responsible for the navigation of the "Californian." That is what I am upon.

The Commissioner:
At present, so far as I am concerned, you need not labour that point, because, if it be the fact, as I am disposed at present to think it is, that the "Californian" saw those distress signals, and that they were the signals of the "Titanic," I have no doubt at all in my mind that they ought to have made efforts to get to the titanic."

Mr. Edwards:
Then I will not pursue that point.

Examined by MR. HARBINSON.

22752. Is there a Statistical Branch of the Board of Trade?
- Yes.

22753. Does that Statistical Branch keep a record of the passengers that leave this country and go to America every year?
- I have no personal knowledge of what is kept in the statistical Department, but I believe they do.

22754. Could you ascertain for the Court, the percentage of the different classes that leave the United Kingdom each year and go to America?
- Yes, I can certainly promise that, if you will say within what period.

22755-6. I will before the Enquiry closes?
- You will send us word.

The Commissioner:
Can you tell us how many Irish emigrants were on board this ship the "Titanic"?

Mr. Harbinson:
Less than 200, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
And how many emigrants were there altogether?

Mr. Harbinson:
I should say, My Lord, somewhere about 800.

The Commissioner:
Now can you tell me this. The 600 were foreigners, I suppose.

Mr. Harbinson:
English and foreign, I should think.

The Commissioner:
I am not at all sure.

Mr. Harbinson:
I am not able to say the exact percentages.

The Commissioner:
No, the exact percentages I should not expect you to be able to ascertain. I think you will find it is a fact that something less that 200 were Irish emigrants.

Mr. Harbinson:
Roughly speaking, 180, I think, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Something like that; I think that is right, and that the remainder were foreigners. Now have you ascertained what percentage of the Irish emigrants were saved and what percentage of foreigners were saved?

Mr. Harbinson:
I do not think there are any returns. I know the percentage of Irish.

The Commissioner:
What is the percentage of Irish?

Mr. Harbinson:
The percentage of Irish was something like 30, but I will tell you accurately.

The Commissioner:
I will accept it for the moment; I daresay it is right. That would be about 60 of the of the Irish emigrants saved. Now what percentage of the others were saved?

Mr. Harbinson:
It has been put in, My Lord; I will just refer your Lordship to it in a moment.

The Commissioner:
Does it distinguish between Irish emigrants and foreign emigrants?

Mr. Harbinson:
No, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
That is what I want.

Mr. Harbinson:
There is no table put in distinguishing them. There is none.

The Commissioner:
How many third class passengers were saved altogether. In the Attorney-General’s opening, is it?

Mr. Scanlan:
Yes, My Lord.

Mr. Harbinson:
The table put in quite recently by the Solicitor-General sets it out.

The Attorney-General:
That is the same thing. It only sets out what I opened.

Mr. Harbinson:
Of the third class passengers the Attorney-General says there were 709 carried, 170 saved, Making the percentage of saved 25 per cent.

The Attorney-General:
That is right.

The Commissioner:
You say there were 180 Irish emigrants?

Mr. Harbinson:
Roughly that is it, My Lord, I think.

The Commissioner:
And 60 were saved?

Mr. Harbinson:
That is my recollection.

The Commissioner:
Very well, 60 saved. How many third class; there were 709, were there?

Mr. Harbinson:
Yes, 709 carried and 176 saved.

The Commissioner:
There were 520 other than Irish. Now how many of those were saved. I suppose 116. Is that right? If the figures are right the unfortunate people whom you represent were saved to a much greater extent than the foreigners.

Mr. Harbinson:
Of course, My Lord. So far as I know that is a speculative calculation. There has been no evidence put in which would give the figures correctly.

The Commissioner:
But we know the total number.

Continued >