Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

FOURTH DAY


 

QUEBEC,

FRIDAY, June 19, 1914.

 

The Commissioners appointed by the Honourable John Douglas Hazen, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries of Canada, under Part X of the Canada Shipping Act as amended, to inquire into a casualty to the British Steamship Empress of Ireland, in which the said steamship belonging to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was sunk in collision with the Norwegian Steamship Storstad, in the River St. Lawrence on the morning of Friday the 29th day of May, 1914, met at Quebec this morning, the nineteenth day of June, 1914.

Lord Mersey:
Now, Mr. Newcombe, whom do you wish to call?

Mr. Newcombe:
Would it be convenient for your Lordship to take Mr. Hillhouse, who will present plans and explain the structure of the ship?

Lord Mersey:
Mr. Aspinall, we have had no one from the boiler room here.

Mr. Aspinall:
I was speaking with some of my colleagues about that.

Mr. Haight:
Before we start the formal session, may I ask to be allowed a moment or two on a question of personal privilege? I should like to refer to the proceedings of the Court yesterday. The case must, I think, have some explanation other than a deliberate change of course on the part of one ship or the other when the change of course seemed to be a mere act of madness. When, therefore, the quartermaster of the Empress came to me, quite unsolicited, and when he had withstood the cross-examination of Mr. Newcombe and myself, I felt it to be my duty to my client and to this Court to present that evidence to the Court. But during the discussion which preceded the examination, and in answer to certain definite questions from your Lordship, I made answers which I should not like to stand on the record unexplained. If I had had an opportunity to choose my words with a little more care I should have expressed myself quite differently. But your Lordship may remember that the questions were perhaps somewhat leading and I answered them as asked without an opportunity of expressing myself as I should like to have done. While I feel that care should have been taken by the executive staff of the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. to hold the quartermaster after he had been ordered held by Counsel, I do not wish to be understood as suggesting for one moment that the Counsel of the line had any part in any manoeuvre to spirit away a witness or to suppress evidence. It would be farthest from my belief or desire to express the thought that the eminent gentlemen sitting at the table before me are actuated by anything but the strictest regard for the ethics of the profession which we all practise.

Lord Mersey:
Mr. Haight, your conduct in this case hitherto, in my opinion, has been quite irreproachable. You have done your best, and in my opinion you have acted in the wisest way in the conduct of the cause which has been entrusted to you here. It may be - let me say it - that in my conduct of the inquiry yesterday I became a little heated because I did not like one of your witnesses, but do not attribute my observation to anything you said or did for whatever you said or did was done with proper care and in the best interests of the people you represent. I am glad you have given me an opportunity to say that.

Mr. Aspinall:
On behalf of Mr. Beatty and Mr. Holden, I have to thank Mr. Haight for what he has said.

Lord Mersey:
You must say something more, Mr. Aspinall, about the boiler room.

Mr. Aspinall:
I was going to, My Lord. You Lordship asked me if we had any evidence of any person who was in that space at the time that the blow was struck. I have asked Mr. Holden, who was closely associated with the witnesses in getting the case up, if he could find any of the witnesses who could deal with that matter.

Mr. Holden:
We have, my Lord, the three junior engineers on duty, here - Mr. O'Donovan, Mr. McKeown and Mr. White, two of whom were in the boiler room. We have cabled for three greasers who went on the steamship Corsican by oversight and who are not back yet. The other trimmers and firemen went by the Corsican immediately after the casualty and are not here.

Lord Mersey:
If I understand, the question that calls for an answer is this: What was the real cause of the very quick foundering of this vessel? We have understood that she was constructed so as to float with any two of her watertight compartments open to the sea. We have not yet had any satisfactory evidence to show that more than two were open to the sea and that is one of the matters to which I want to direct your attention.

Mr. Aspinall:
In regard to the latter matter, the importance of which I fully appreciate, I am afraid there would be no evidence forthcoming to enable your Lordship to say with certainty that more than two of these compartments were open to the sea.

Lord Mersey:
You know that the day before yesterday, I think, I expressed an opinion - perhaps it was a hasty opinion - that the explanation of the rapid foundering of the vessel was apparent. What I had in my mind then was this: There was evidence that the Storstad had struck the Empress upon one of the bulkheads - No. 6, the result of which was the filling of the two compartments. Then I thought there was evidence, though I am not sure of it, that the stem of the Storstad had then been torn along towards the stern on the starboard side of the Empress and had probably opened other compartments besides those which were opened to the sea af the moment of contact and I thought that was sufficient explanation of the very rapid foundering of the ship. I have asked several witnesses we have had whether they could tell me if that damage had actually taken place but I have not had any answers which would satisfy me.

Mr. Aspinall:
From the first I have very closely considered whether there was any evidence which would enable the Court to come to the certain conclusion that more than two compartments were open to the sea, but I regret to say that in so far as I can see there is no testimony available to give your Lordship that information.

Lord Mersey:
Now we must have the plans which, I understood from Mr. Newcombe, he was preparing this morning, and our naval architects who sit with us will have them before them and they must advise us as to whether the plans are such that the steamer would remain afloat if only two and not more than two compartments were open to the sea.

Chief Justice McLeod:
Has there been any attempt to find the present condition of the ship?

Mr. Beatty:
Yes, my Lord; divers are now over the vessel, not divers particularly concerned with the vessel itself, but divers who are there for another purpose and they are to give us the result of their exploration of the water.

Lord Mersey:
Are they there in the interest of the underwriters?

Mr. Beatty:
In the interest of the underwriters of certain cargo and the Postmaster General.

Lord Mersey:
There was some bullion on board?

Mr. Beatty:
Yes.

Lord Mersey:
And they are there in the interest of the underwriters of the bullion?

Mr. Beatty:
And the Postmaster General.

Lord Mersey:
The mails were on board.

Mr. Beatty:
Yes.

Lord Mersey:
Now, Mr. Newcombe.

Mr. Newcombe:
My learned friend suggests that a convenient course might be for Mr. Hillhouse at present to produce his plans and make any preliminary statement which any member of the Court might desire leaving his more detailed explanations until after the evidence of the navigation has been completed; There are a number of the officers of the Norwegian ship to be called yet and they have their interpreter here ready to go on.

Lord Mersey:
You take the course which you think most convenient.

Mr. Newcombe:
Your Lordship suggested yesterday that it would be well at as early a stage as possible to put the Tribunal in possession of the technical information in respect to the plans and structure of the ship and I wish to carry out that suggestion to the satisfaction of the Tribunal.

Lord Mersey:
Call the witnesses in the order that you think most convenient; you know better than we do.

 

WITNESSES.

Percy A. Hillhouse - Naval Architect.
Testimony

Hugh Geoffrey Staunton - Superintendent of Life-Saving Appliances - C.P.R.
Testimony

George O'Donovan - Engineer - ss. Empress of Ireland.
Testimony

 

Lord Mersey:
Mr. McEwen has been in the box already.

Mr. Newcombe:
That is another man, my Lord, a sailor. The one referred to now is a junior fourth engineer.

Lord Mersey:
Then let him be called.

 

WITNESSES.

James McEwen - Engineer - ss. Empress of Ireland.
Testimony

James Anderson Murray - Harbour Master - Quebec, C.P.R.
Testimony

 

Lord Mersey:
Is that all the evidence you propose at present to call on behalf of the Empress of Ireland?

Mr. Aspinall:
It is.

Mr. Newcombe:
Now, my Lord, there are a number of men of the middle watch of the Empress, who have not been called. I have their names here. I am not instructed that they can give any information of value, but they are here, with one exception, I understand, and if your Lordship would like to hear the statements of these witnesses I will call them.

Lord Mersey:
I cannot tell whether I should like to hear them or not. I have not the least idea what it is.

Mr. Newcombe:
There are eleven I think in all, able seamen, ordinary seamen, and three assistant stewards.

Lord Mersey:
I thought you said there was one?

Mr. Newcombe:
No, My Lord, I said there were a number. I said there was one of that watch who is not available. He got away.

Lord Mersey:
Then he is out of it?

Mr. Newcombe:
Yes, my Lord, he is not available.

Lord Mersey:
For that we may be thankful. Can these men give us any information which we have not had already?

Mr. Newcombe:
I do not know, my Lord, but I am inclined to think they cannot.

Lord Mersey:
There are a great many people in Quebec at this time who are in the same position, namely that they cannot give us any information about this matter, and we do not propose to call them. Why do you tell us that you have a number of witnesses here who can tell us nothing about it?

Mr. Newcombe:
Because, my Lord, they constituted the middle watch of the ship.

Lord Mersey:
What has the middle watch got to do with it?

Mr. Newcombe:
If your Lordship thinks they have nothing to do with it, why I do not wish to call them.

Lord Mersey:
Have you any statements that they have made?

Mr. Newcombe:
I have not, but I am told that they can add nothing to what has been said.

Lord Mersey:
Do you think that you want them, Mr. Haight?

Mr. Haight:
My Lord, I haven't the slightest idea. If my learned friends would allow us to see the men and put a few questions to them.

Lord Mersey:
Do you want them to file in front of you so that you can have a look at them?

Mr. Haight:
No, my Lord, I certainly do not care about having a look at them, but if we coiuld see their statements it would help us to decide whether we wished to examine them or not.

Lord Mersey:
But I understand they have made no statements.

Mr. Haight:
Not to Mr. Newcombe, but to the attorneys for the Canadian Pacific Railway, I am sure they have.

Lord Mersey:
Have they to you, Mr. Aspinall?

Mr. Aspinall:
Yes, my Lord, some of them have made statements to Mr. Holden, and we will certainly let Mr. Haight have a copy of the statements that they have made to Mr. Holden.

Lord Mersey:
Very well. Will that do for you, Mr. Haight?

Mr. Haight:
Absolutely. I will just glance over the statements.

Mr. Aspinall:
We will show Mr. Haight the statements that these witnesses have made, and if he desires to have any called, I dare say he will let me know after lunch which he desires.

Mr. Haight:
If Mr. Holden will just indicate who the men are that he has here, I will just glance through the statement?

Mr. Aspinall:
Mr. Holden is fully possessed of the information and I am sure he will give it.

Mr. Newcombe:
Two are night watchmen and assistant stewards, and without knowing what they have stated I think it will be interesting to have them called. They are the only two surviving night watchmen who were on the deck.

Lord Mersey:
Have you taken any statements from these two men, Mr. Holden?

Mr. Holden:
Yes, my Lord.

Lord Mersey:
You will give these statements to Mr. Haight and let him exercise his judgment as to whether it is worth while to call them, because I do not want to take up time with a number of useless things. Now, what is the next thing to be done?

Mr. Newcombe:
I understand that my learned friend, Mr. Haight, will call the balance of the watch from his ship.

Mr. Haight:
I have two witnesses from the Alden, your Lordship, the witnesses of whom I spoke yesterday, and if your Lordship will permit I would like to examine them first so that they may return to their steamer.

Lord Mersey:
Very well.

Mr. Haight:
My associate, Mr. Griffin, will examine them.

 

WITNESSES.

Odin Sabje - 2nd Mate - ss. Alden.
Testimony

Hans Olveren - Seaman - ss. Alden.
Testimony

 

PETERSEN, seaman, s.s. Alden, sworn.

Lord Mersey:
Is this another witness on this point?

Mr. Griffin:
I have only one other, my Lord, namely the pilot on the Alden.

 

The Commission took recess for luncheon at one o'clock and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

 

 

WITNESS.

Peterson - Seaman - ss. Alden.
Testimony

 

Mr. Haight:
I find that the interpreter, who is engaged in the shipping business in New York, knows about the charter of the Alden. He tells me that she was chartered through Mr. Hilsen and I find I have here the rough extracts from the original charter of the Storstad and that shows that the brokers in the case of the Storstad were Bowering & Co. of New York and Clarksons of London.

Lord Mersey:
Were the two firms engaged in making the charter?

Mr. Haight:
I assume that Bowering & Co. of New York are the correspondents of Clarksons in London.

Lord Mersey:
That is the Storstad?

Mr. Haight:
That is the Storstad.

Lord Mersey:
What about the Alden?

Mr. Haight:
In the case of the Alden the brokers were George Hilsen, New York.

Lord Mersey:
Alone?

Mr. Haight:
He probably was working through some broker on the other side but he is the real broker who fixed the ship with the Dominion Coal Co.

Lord Mersey:
Will you let me see the extract?

Mr. Haight:
Yes, the form is the same as that used by the Dominion Coal Co. with a slight change in the wording.

Lord Mersey:
Have the Dominion Coal Company their own form of charter?

Mr. Haight:
You will see on it 'Form G, Dominion Coal Company, Ltd.' and then 'Time Charter.'

Lord Mersey:
These two charter parties are practically the same?

Mr. Haight:
I do not know that the Alden was chartered on that form, but I think very likely it was.

Lord Mersey:
At all events the Dominion Coal Company, I see by this, have their own form of charter.

Mr. Haight:
They have.

Lord Mersey:
And in print in one corner there is the name 'Bowering & Co., Agents and Ship Brokers.'

Mr. Haight:
It is not unusual with brokers who do a good deal of chartering for one concern to print a form and put the principals' names at the top. Some one in my office obtained that form from Bowering & Co.'s office in New York.

Lord Mersey:
Your impression is that the Alden was chartered on a similar form, but through other brokers.

Mr. Haight:
It was, I know, through other brokers and it is not unlikely that Hilsen used a similar form. I have even known one broker to use another broker's form, striking out the other broker's name and inserting his own.

Lord Mersey:
Just wait a moment till I look at it. (Form put in and marked Exhibit No. 9).

 

WITNESS.

L. H. Lapierre - Pilot.
Testimony

 

Mr. Newcombe:
I should like now to call the Marconi operators at Father Point. They are here and their services are required down at the station.

 

WITNESS.

Crawford S. Leslie - Marconi Operator - Father Point.
Testimony

William James Whiteside - Superintendent - Marconi Wireless Station, Father Point.
Testimony

John McWilliams - Great Northwestern Telegraph at Father Point.
Testimony

James D. Good - Mechanical Engineer.
Testimony

Ernest Pugmire - Passenger - ss. Empress of Ireland.
Testimony

Jacob Saxe - Third Officer - ss. Storstad.
Testimony

 

Lord Mersey:
Mr. Newcombe, where is the log of the Storstad?

Mr. Newcombe:
It is here, my Lord, I have had a translation of it made, and I gave the book to Mr. Haight with the translation in order to have it verified.

Mr. Haight:
I am exceedingly sorry to say that last night I did not have the opportunity to verify the translation.

Lord Mersey:
You may assume that the translation is all right. Tell me, Mr. Newcombe who has had possession of this log since the accident.

Mr. Newcombe:
Within a few days after the accident this log was turned over to Captain Lindsay, our officer, who was appointed to conduct the preliminary examination, and it has been in the hands of the officials of the Marine Department ever since, until the night before last when I gave it to my friend to see that the translation that had been made was satisfactory to him before putting it in. I intended to put it in yesterday but it was overlooked.

Lord Mersey:
I am asking you as counsel conducting this inquiry whether it is the practice for the Government whom you represent on occasions such as these to produce that log for the information of the court?

Mr. Newcombe:
Oh, certainly, my Lord.

Lord Mersey:
Then it ought to be produced at this point, and I shall ask you to hand the translation of the original log to Mr. Aspinall so that he may read it. Have you seen it, Mr. Aspinall

Mr. Aspinall:
We have had a copy made of the translation, my Lord.

Lord Mersey:
Oh, very well, you have had a copy. I think you must deal with this log, that is to say you must assume that we are going to, and any observations that you desire to make upon it you will make, and you will of course if you think fit, that is your business, make when you cross-examine the man who kept the log upon it. Now I think we will rise and you shall cross-examine this witness to-morrow.

 

(The commission thereupon adjourned until 10 a.m. Saturday, June 20.