THE LOSS OF THE "JOHN"
Falmouth, May 9, 10 p.m.
PLYMOUTH AND STONEHOUSE JOURNAL
Thursday May 17th,1855
Up to the present time about 80 corpses have been washed on shore in the immediate vicinity of the wreck. Owing to the change of wind the vessel has not entirely broken up, as was anticipated from the state of the weather on Saturday last. She appears to have parted just abaft the foremast, which still remains entire.
The Government steamer Avon, which had been dispatched from Plymouth for that purpose, left Coverack to return to that port with such passengers as wished to avail themselves of the opportunity. Captain Robertson, R.N., from the Board of Trade, has arrived to investigate the circumstances connected with this calamitous event, and the examination on oath of the crew and passengers commenced in the Town-hall here at two o'clock this afternoon before a numerous bench of county magistrates.
THE evidence of William Goodwin, the chief mate, was to the effect that they left Plymouth, with moderate weather and wind from the north ward, between two and three o'clock in the afternoon of Thursday last. He turned in at a-quarter before nine o'clock, and shortly after passing the dead man at a distance of four or five miles, up to which time he did not observe any material alteration in either the wind or weather, the course steered being W.S.W,, he was awoke from sleep by the ship striking violently on a rock. He immediately went on deck, he being then told that the ship had run against the Manacle Rocks. He supposed it was about ten o'clock. The weather was hazy, and he did not see the Falmouth light, found the master boatswain, and a number of passengers consisting of men, women, and children, on deck.
The vessel soon forged herself off, and they endeavoured to run her towards the shore, but found the rudder was gone. After running for the land for about three-quarters of a mile they dropped an anchor, and the master gave orders for the boats to be lowered. The quarter-boat was first got out and some of the crew jumped into her. The deponent soon after lost sight of her. The life-boat was then attempted to be got out, but was stove and rendered useless. They then tried the long-boat, but the state of the tide prevented its being launched, and she remained hanging on the tackles. They has another boat, a pinnace, on board, but deponents did not know what became of her. In smooth water the boats would have accommodated about ninety-five persons.
When the anchor was dropped the vessel was full of water. She grounded in about thirty feet with a flowing tide. The passengers got on the house on deck, the poop-deck, and in the rigging. Those on the poop were all washed away as the tide rose. During the night a great many were washed out of the shrouds and drowned. Deponent got from the house to the main rigging. After daylight boats came alongside from the shore and took off the surviving passengers. Deponent came on shore in the last boat at about six o'clock. The master left at the same time in another boat. One man was then in the mizzen and two in the main rigging. The crew consisted of nineteen in all. They are saved. Did not consider himself responsible for the vessel's course whilst the master was on deck, and is not aware that the master left. Received no orders from the captain, and gave none to the boatswain. After the vessel settled down in the water never left the deck. Those on board were in the water all the time they were hoisting out the boats.
Has no certificate of competency, but one of service. They made sail after being towed outside the breakwater by a steam-tug, and deponent remained on deck till half-past eight or nine o'clock. At eight o'clock the boatswain relieved him. The vessel was the off the Dead man, and the wind a little abaft the beam. The first boat from ashore came to their assistance about half-past three o'clock, up to which time they were powerless. There was a great confusion of the boats alongside, but the captain gave his orders collectedly, and deponent did not see him get into one of the first boats. If the ship's boats had been safely got out a great may must have been saved. Had been mate before, though for the fist time with Capt. Rawle, whom he considered to be a sober man. Cannot account for the vessel's getting on shore. They had neither guns, muskets, blue lights nor rockets on board, and the only signal that could be made was a light in the rigging. If the boats from the shore had arrived earlier more would have been saved. He did not look at the compass during his watch. There was a light there between eight and nine o'clock. He saw none of the crew assisting passengers. They were all sober as far as he knew. There was no attempt to make a raft.
Edwin Elliot, boatswain, was next examined, and stated that he performed the duty of second mate at sea. He relieved the deck for the first watch at a quarter past eight o'clock. Did not look to see what course was being steered. The master had charge of the deck, and only left it for quarter of an hour to go below. There was a light in the binnacle, and James Curry, an able seaman, at the helm. Does not know anything about steering. Heard the chief mate come on deck and ask Curry what course she was steering. This was between eight and nine o'clock. The answer from the captain and man was, "W.S.W.". They trimmed sails three times by the masters orders, but he does not know for what purpose they hauled in the weather braces. Did not notice whether the ship carried a strong weather helm or not. Was in charge of the watch, but not of the ship.
The master was in charge, and he thought it would have been improper for him to look at the compass under such circumstances. Noticed the Falmouth light at nine o'clock on the starboard beam, and the "look-out" man reported it to the captain, who answered, "All right". Did not see the Lizard lights, which he considered must have been shut in. At about half-past nine o'clock a sail was reported, and the captain ordered the yards to be squared; immediately after the look-out man reported "Fishing boats ahead," deponent ran forward, and saw they were rocks, and the next moment the vessel struck. The captain sang out to brace around the yards, and to run the vessel on shore to save the lives of the passengers, and they did their best to do so. The confusion was very great, and they could not get the boats off on account of the number and state of the passengers. There might have been at the time two fet of water on the upper deck. The master did everything in his power to assist the passengers up the rigging to save their lives.
On further examination, deponent stated that the captain went below after the light was reported and the course altered, which was about an hour before the vessel struck, does not believe the master any more than himself, and any apprehension of danger till the vessel struck. The captain, helmsman, and the rest of the crew were sober, neither were they the worse for liquor on leaving the Sound. Deponent has had charge of watch seven years, and knows the compass, but nothing of navigation, though he can take a bearing, heard the captain order a good look-out to be kept for lights. Considers he behaved with coolness after the vessel struck, and that the boats were stove owing the confusion and motion that prevailed. Can give no account how the accident happened. Considers it lucky the boats were smashed in, otherwise all would probably have been drowned.
The enquiry was resumed on Saturday.
Lieutenant Timothy Carew, R.N., the Government immigration officer at Falmouth stated that he inspected the vessel, and had signed the clearance certificate, believing that the provisions of the Passenger Act had been complied with. A seaman named Elder stated that when the vessel struck the captain was not unnerved, but acted as a seaman ought to act, and went about to tranquillise the passengers. Some other seaman gave evidence as to the steering of the vessel, but nothing of material importance was elicited respecting the fatal occurrence. The proceedings were adjourned.
On Saturday, Mr O.Dowd, assistant solicitor to the Board of Customs arrived at Plymouth and shortly after proceeded to Falmouth, to make enquiries on the part of the Board of Trade. The new Merchant Shipping Act of 1855, came into operation on the first of May, two days before the departure of the John. By this act the Board of Trade obtain very astringent powers over passenger ships. Section 501 limits the liability of the owners to £15 per ton, and, should the case be enforced in the present instance, the liability would amount to £6,960, the registered tonnage being 464 tons. Section 510 states that damages payable to each case of death or injury shall be assessed at £30. Impounded damaged are to be paid to Her Majesties Pay-master-General, and are distributed by the Board of Trade, who shall refund to the owner any surplus remaining under it's control.