EDITORIAL – National Wrecks Register 20th Edition 1869

Accreditation the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette 29/10/1870.


            The twentieth annual Wreck Register, published this week, reveals in a more than usually striking form, the changes attendant on a seafaring life, and the risk run by those “who go down to the sea in ships.” During the year 1869 (that embraced by the register just published), no fewer than 2114 wrecks occurred – the greatest number in any one year yet recorded. Of course the number of vessels is rapidly on the increase, and in a similar proportion the rate of casualties may be expected to multiply. Unfortunately, the casualty rate is beyond all proportion to the increase of seagoing vessels. This, unquestionably,, ought not to be the case. Every year, had this to the facilities for shipbuilding, both in timber and iron, and the greatest science is displayed in securing an almost perfect model. There is ample provision made for a rigid supervision in the construction of vessels of every class, and it cannot be even insinuated that British shipbuilders, are degenerating, or that the wooden walls of the present day are not equal, if not superior, to those built even 20 years ago. It may be that, in naval architecture, in the demand for something new – or that, in the tremendous competition which exists everywhere, and in every department of commercial enterprise where the saving of time is so great a desideratum – “safety” is sometimes sacrificed to “speed.” Even where this surmise proved to be untenable, there are three circumstances which undeniably tend to send ships to the bottom of the sea, and the hardy and daring songs of this sea-port isle into eternity, without a moment’s warning. Notwithstanding the increased value of vessels, and the costly merchandise they carry from every shore and every clime, a great many vessels are entrusted to the care of men utterly incompetent for the task, or who can scarcely be said to be quite sober for two watches out of the eight. Others, a game, are to tell us, or foolhardy, and collisions contribute a large proportion of the casualties reported. This cause of disaster is one which, in many instances, ought to have been averted, and when the life of a sailor is beset with so many dangers, nothing ought to be left to careless or incompetent men, too, thus still further increase that risk. On this head the Wreck Register remarks: – “Turning to the cases of collisions at sea off our coasts, which are of a very distressing character, the number reported last year is 461; 148 occurred in the daytime, and 313 at night. It is overwhelmingly to contemplate the loss of life from these, in too many instances, avoidable wrecks. The numbers given for the year 1868 were 99 in the day, and 280 at night. Those four 1869, again, give 90 as the total and 371 as partial wrecks; and of the total wrecks no less than 29 happened from bad look-out, 16, from want of proper observance of the steering and sailing rules, 8, from thick and foggy weather, and 37 from other causes. Of the partial losses (?) (?) collision, 66 were from bad look-out, 53, from neglect of misapplication of sailing rules, 23, from want of seamanship, 33 from general negligence and one of caution, 11, from neglecting to shore proper light, and 185 from various other causes.” Another prolific source of disaster is found to be the desire, when a vessel has put to sea in ballast, to save time and the cost of loading and unloading ballast, to unnecessarily risk encountering a gale which, even under bare poles, it is impossible for the vessel to ride out. On the other and, and to a still greater extent perhaps, a very large proportion of the wrecks are due to overloading. To either the one or the other of these causes must be traced the loss of 19 vessels in 1869 under a calm, 100 under a light breeze, 178 under a moderate breeze, and 220 under only a fresh breeze. Government has made provision for the inspection, by a competent person, of all emigrant carrying vessels, and why should there be no supervision or check upon card go-carrying vessels as well, when the lives of the crew are in jeopardy? 2114 wrecks and casualties, and the loss of 933 lives, seem sad calamities for one year. No fewer than 400,000 vessels, having at tonnage of 70 millions, entered inwards and cleared outwards from British ports. The 2114 wrecks or casualties involved the loss or damage of 2594 ships, representing a tonnage of 537,605, and employing (?) 2,579 hands. The increase in the tonnage shows a very gratifying and healthy condition of our maritime commerce. At the same time, the sacrifice of life and property is by far too great, and, but for carelessness and incompetency, would be far less. Of the total of 606 wrecks during the past year, says the Record, not counting the collisions, 74 arose from defects in the ships or their equipments, such as imperfect charts, compasses, &c., 45 of them, indeed, been caused by absolute unseaworthiness; 80, it seems occurred through the fault of those on board. It is a lamentable fact that 154 vessels should thus have been totally lost in one year, irrespective of collision cases, into many instances, through the shortcomings of man, attended, as these disasters too frequently work, with a deplorable loss of life. And as regards those casualties, 1147 in number, classed as “partial losses other than collisions,” it appears that 156 of them were caused by carelessness, and 72 by defects in the ships or their gear; and, taking the record of the past 10 years, 3249 vessels were either totally or partially lost, from really preventable causes in that period, and the loss of life in such cases most, of course, have been truly alarming. With the exception of such dreadful national calamities as the loss of the “Royal Charter,” the “London,” and, more recently, the “Captain” and the “Cambria,” the coasting colliers contribute by far the largest proportion to the wreck list. Vessels of this class employed in the regular carrying trade numbered 1200, or about half the whole body of ships to which accidents happened in the year. Thus it is, in a great measure, that so many casualties occur on our coasts; for such is the notoriously ill-found and unseaworthy manner in which these coasting colliers are sent on their voyages, that in every gale of wind, even it be one of a moderate character only, it becomes a certainty that numbers of them will be destroyed, as will be seen from the fact that 844 of them were lost in 1864, 934. In 1865, 1150 in 1866, 1215 in 1867, 1014 in 1868, and 1200 in 1869, or 6357 in six years. Although the greatest loss of life took place in the Irish Sea, the largest number of casualties occurred on the East Coast. With the exception of the Bristol Channel, no part of the coast is so thickly studded on the “Wreck Chart” with the record of maritime disasters as the sea-board from the Forelands to the Tyne – Shields, Sunderland, and Hartlepool have all had their share of wrecks, and at the mouth of the Tees. There is quite a cluster of casualties recorded. From Scarborough and Flamborough Head, to the Humber and The Wash, the ports have been comparatively free from casualties of any kind; while from the latter point to Dover, the array of black dots on the chart is quite appalling. The Yorkshire coast is well known to be beset with many dangers to the mariner, and in our own immediate locality. We have frequently had disastrous wrecks to record. The Tees Conservancy Commissioners have carried out last improvements within the channel of the river; and once across the bar, a vessel is perfectly safe between the “slag walls” which are so rapidly extending along its course at every point. The well-equipped lifeboats at Redcar and Saltburn have frequently been called into requisition, and have proved valuable agencies in the saving of life. The black calendar of disasters on the chart would be still more disheartening but for the unwearied exertions of the directors National Lifeboat Institution. At the present time there are 223 lifeboats on the coasts of the British Isles under the management of this institution, besides 41, controlled by local boards alone. Wherever there is a dangerous spot on. I’ll coast, and provided sufficient men are to be found there competent to work a lifeboat, it has been the constant aim of the institution to form a lifeboat station. During the past 22 months, the Institution has contributed, by its lifeboats and other means, to the saving of 1838 lives from different wrecks on our coasts, in addition to 64 vessels rescued from destruction -making a grand total of 19,687 lives saved from shipwrecks since the first establishment of the Institution, in addition to the property of incalculable value. Of the multitudinous calls made upon the philanthropic and the benevolent, perhaps none are so deserving as the National Lifeboat Institution. As no nation can boast of a fleet of merchantman like that which carries the British flag, neither can any nation compare with ours in regard to the means provided for saving the life from the dangers necessarily attending a seafaring life. Something (?) undoubtedly to (?)(?) burn into firewood  many of the old, rotten, unseaworthy hulks which continue in the carrying trade. At the same time, disasters will occur, and the best means of alleviating the force of these calamities is by aiding the Lifeboat Institution in maintaining its large and valuable fleet of boats in good trim, and well-equipped for any emergency that may arise.


Lol Hansom May 13, 2013 Editorial, Letters and other.