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Colonial Cases

The Ocean Mail, 1863


The Ocean Mail

Consular Court, Shanghai
11 August 1863
Source: The North-China Herald, 15 August 1863



11th August 1863.

Before J. HUTCHINGS, Esq., Comdng H.M.S. "Acorn."  Capt. HUTCHINSON, Str. "Rona." Capt. THOMPSON, Str. "Fame."

W. H. LAY, Esq., Vice-Consul.

The Court was assembled to enquire into the loss of the Ocean Mail which, with a valuable cargo of tea, was lost in the Yang-tsze about a fortnight ago.  From the evidence it will be seen that the statement, made by the pilot, in our last week's issue - that the vessel was not near the North Bank - is completely discredited.

ALEXANDER LINKLATER, said: - We anchored about four miles below Woo-sung, on the evening of the 1st, in 6 ½ fathoms water.  We did not begin to heave the anchor till 5 a.m. the next morning.  As soon as the anchor was off the ground, the Pilot ordered the helm to be ported and the mainyard squared.  I asked what he meant by steering the vessel in that way, and whether it would not be better to put the helm a-starboard and brace the main yard yup.  I thought the vessel was too near the North Bank.  He said he knew the channel and would  keep the vessel all right.  I could not contradict him as it was my first voyage to Shanghai.  A quarter of an hour afterwards, the helm was pout hard astarboard and the mainyard braced up.  Orders were then given to set the mizen topsail, which was being done, when the vessel touched the ground, steering S. by W.  She only took ground by the keel, but in my opinion the after keel was twisted out of her at once.  She brought suddenly up head to wind, her stem towards the Bank, but not aground forward.  S he heeled heavily to starboard, righted and heeled equally heavily to port, I at once ordered the pumps to be sounded; and sounded myself over the stern, where I found 2 ½ fathoms.  The carpenter reported five feet of water in the well, so I ordered all hands to the pumps, and the carpenter to report every minute of the water gained.

He first reported eight feet, and a minute or two afterwards, twelve feet; the steward, too came out of my cabin and reported the water up to my bed.  Two or three minutes afterwards there were eighteen feet, the starboard rails being covered.  The vessel was then set on the North Bank.  It was useless to pump more as I found the starboard bilge knocked in, so I ordered the boats to be cleared immediately, they were so, and the chief officer with 8 or 9 of the crew got into the quarter boat, with the Pilot, who called out that he could not stay by the ship, but must get away as fast as possible.  The pinnate with the second mate and five hands then tried to get away; my instruments and writing desk and the ship chronometer had been put into her.  She capsized and an apprentice pilot and an apprentice to the vessel were drowned.  I was picked up by the Pembroke; I returned the same evening, intending to strip the wreck, but could not near her on account of the sea and current.  We remained by the wreck till Thursday and saved all we could.

To Court. - The S.E. end of Bush Island bore N.W. 5 ½ miles. Block House Island, E.; Woosung, W. b y N. 6 1/23 miles.  I lost one Chart, but have another here.  The wind was S.E. or S.E. by E. when we weighed.  We were steering S. b y W. when we grounded.  The lead was not hove after we got under weigh till the ship took the ground.  I hove the lead, and had the well sounded within two minutes after we struck.  She struck something hard; it was not sand, I said "the ship is ruined, she is a total wreck."

J. A.  WILSON, the Pilot of the "Ocean Mail" - We were under weigh, and had the main-topsail set by about 6 a.m.  The ship's head was about S.S.W. reaching to the Southward.  I was forward when the ship struck; but went aft.  She listed over about six streaks, and worked as though she were on a pivot, her head slewing round to the different points of the compass.  About ten minutes after, she listed over so much that I could not stand without holding on to the bulwarks.  She then gave a great crash and righted again; at this time her head was N.  The captain said the keel was out of her, and told the carpenter to sound the well.  He reported 5 feet of water; all hands were out to the pumps, but directly afterwards 8, 12 and 18 feet were reported.

To Court:- I steered the ship myself; he head was W.N.W N.W., varying, till I weighed the anchor, after which we headed S.S.W.  The lead was not going.  I could not spare a man; a third of the crew were sick.  We were as nearly as possible in mid channel when we weighed.  The Captain did not say we were too close to the North Bank, nor did he interfere with me till the ship was lost.

CHARLES BRUCE, second mate of the Ocean Mail, threw no new light on the affair.

The Court, after some deliberation, gave the following judgment: - That the loss of the Ocean Mail was to be attributed to want of sufficient caution on the part of the pilot in keeping her too close to the North Bank and not having kept his lead going.  The Court severely censured him for this carelessness.

The master was also to blame for not seeing the lead properly hove, when suspicious that she was too close to the bank. But the Court considered that he did his best to save the wreck and the lives of those on board after the ship struck.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School