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Colonial Cases

The Fungshun, 1889



The Fungshun

Court of Enquiry


Source: North China Herald, 24 August 1889


   A Court of enquiry into this accident was held on Tuesday at the Custom House, the members of the Court being:-

   Mr. Boyd Bredon, Esq., Commissioner of Customs, President,

   Nav. Lieutenant Edgar G. H. Gamble, H.M.S. Merlin,

   Capt. Guthrie, s.s. Bellerophon,

   E. V. Brenan, Esq., Acting Harbour Master,

   E. Hext, Esq., I.M. Customs, Clerk of the Court.

   After the evidence had been heard, the court delivered the following finding:-

  1. - The s.s. Fungshun of 863 tons register, owned by the China Merchants S. N. Co., and commanded by Capt. Ernest Walter Tisdall, left Shanghai for Chefoo and Tientsin on the morning of the 1st August, with a general cargo and 95 passengers, more or less.

   All went well until the afternoon of the 2nd when the ship struck and glided over a rock on the N.E. point of Alceste Island. The master on finding that the steamer was leaking, decided on beaching her which he successfully accomplished in a sandy bay about 3 miles to the S.W. of Alceste Island without any loss of life.

  1. - That in the opinion of the Court, the Fungshun struck with her starboard bilge on a rock not marked on the chart but still so close to the visible part of the reef as to be well within her distance of the one mile limit recommended by the sailing directions in the China Sea Directory.
  2. - That the course kept in rounding the Promontory was in view of the strong and uncertain tides running at this point, and the dangerous reefs extending off it, so close to the land that it allowed no margin for rectifying an error in steering which in this case appears to have been one, if not the principal cause, which brought about the accident.
  3. - That the Master therefore committed an error of judgment in taking the ship so close to the land when no tangible advantage could be derived from his so doing, and no reason existed for not keeping the full distance recommended at page 566, China Sea Directory, which reads as follows:-

   "When bound o Wei-Hai-Wei Harbour, from the eastward, after rounding the Shantung Promontory, and giving Alceste island berth of one mile, etc., etc."

  1. - That after the accident the behaviour of the Master, Officers and crew was in the highest degree commendable, and that the saving of the ship and of the lives on board was in a great measure due to Captain Tisdall's prompt action in beaching the vessel, thereby avoiding what might have been a lamentable catastrophe.
  2. - That the chief officer, Mr. Frahm, is deserving of some censure for not keeping a better watch over the action of the quartermaster, who he acknowledged to have been a bad steersman, the more especially as he admits in evidence that he considered the vessel to be too close to the land.
  3. - That the evidence of the captain and the two deck officers shows that in the matter of selection of quartermasters, sufficient care is not exercised, regard being had to the importance of their duties, and it is recommended that the manager of the Company establish some system by which none shall be allowed to be employed as quartermasters for their seamers but men with certified discharges.

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