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Colonial Cases

R. v. King, 1897

[shipping, collision]

R. v. King

Supreme Consular Court, Constantinople
Source: The Times, 30 January 1897



A Reuter telegram from Constantinople, dated January 28, says: - The hearing of the case against Captain King, of the British steamer Orchis, was resumed to-day at the Supreme Consular Court before Judge tarring and a jury.  Captain King was charged with not having stopped his vessel to render assistance to the crew of the Admiral's barge belonging to the French warship Devastation after the barge had been run into by the Orchis in the Gulf of Smyrna.  Four men were drowned in consequence of the accident.  The jury, after three-quarters of an hour's deliberation, returned a verdict of not guilty, and Captain King was acquitted.  The civil action brought against the captain and owners of the Orchis for £1,500 damages will be heard to-morrow.  The case has excited great interest here.

Source: The Times, 27 March 1897


(Before Mr. R. H. B. MARSHAM, with Assessors.)


Captain Kiddle, R.N., Captain Ronaldson, and Captain Hughes were the assessors.

This was an inquiry into the collision off Smyrna, on or about January 2 last, between the steamship Orchis and the barge of the French man-of-war Devastation, which collision resulted in the loss of the lives of four French sailors.

The Hon. Alfred Lyttleton appeared for the Solicitor to the Board of Trade (Mr. W. Morton); Mr. Roberts for the owners of the Orchis; Mr. H. W. Nelson for the master.

The Orchis, a steamship registered at Liverpool, was built of iron in 1871; her length is 280 ft., she is rigged as a brig and fitted with compound engines of 200-horse power, her tonnage being 1,138.  Her crew numbered 22.  On January 22 she left the quay at Smyrna at a quarter-past 4 in the afternoon bound for Odessa, the wind blowing strong from the N.N.E.  There were several men-of-war, French, Italian, and American, lying in the roads, but these, being anchored in two lines, formed a channel 400 yards wide, and did not in the opinion of the French witnesses, impede the navigation. The engine-room records show that the engines of the Orchis were slowed in clearing the harbour.

The admiral's barge quitted the side of the Devastation very shortly before the collision, and steered across the bows of the Orchis under a considerable head of sail and on the port tack.  The look-out on the Orchis did not appear to have seen the barge until she was close upon the port bow.  The bow of the Orchis struck the barge upon the quarter, cutting her practically in half. On beheld of the English vessel it was said that almost immediately after leaving the quay-side she began to use her whistle.  The Orchis did not stand by, but went full speed ahead immediately after the collision, one justification for that course being that it was feared that the Orchis would drift on to the ram of the Devastation, which was lying at anchor, or on to the American ship Cincinnati.  No boat was lowered from the Orchis, but other boats from the neighbouring men-of-war picked up 21 of the crew of the barge, four being unfortunately drowned.

The master of the Orchis, Mr. Gordon King, was arrested and tried in the British Consular Court at Constantinople for a misdemeanour under section 422 of the Merchant Shipping Act, which requires that in case of collision the person in charge of each vessel shall render to the other vessel such assistance as may be practicable and necessary and stay by the other vessel until he has ascertained that she is in no need of further assistance.  The master having been acquitted in that Court,

Mr. LYTTELTON, admitted, on the principle that no one should be twice prosecuted for the same cause, that this Court could not further inquire whether the master had been guilty of the misdeamanour constituted by the section, but must confine itself to ascertaining whether he was responsible for the collision.

Mr. NELSON,  for the master, attributed the blame of the collision to the Devastation, from which vessel (he said) if a proper look-out had been kept the barge would not have been despatched until the Orchis had passed, even at the risk of keeping the admiral waiting for three or four minutes.  The barge could not be seen by the Orchis until she shot out from the line of battleships across her course, but from the Devastation, a large vessel standing high out of the water, the approaching Orchis should have been sighted.  He also argued that there could have been no proper look-out on board the barge.

The COURT found, in answer to the questions submitted, that the Orchis had four boats, three of which were lifeboats.  She had six lifebuoys.  It was not necessary for the Orchis to pass through the channel between the warships at anchor after leaving Smyrna harbour, but the Court thought that no blame attached to her master for having done so.  The Orchis was navigated between the lines of the men-of-war and nearer to those on the starboard side, which, as these were to windward, the Court thought a prudent course.  When the Orchis was approaching the sailing barge belonging to the Devastation, proper measures were not taken by the master of the Orchis to keep out of her way in accordance with Article 17 of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.  The omission to comply with this rule was the cause of the disaster.

When the Orchis was approaching the barge so as to involve risk of collision, her speed was increased, the master stating that he put his engines to full speed with the view of clearing the boat and getting more steerage say.  He further stated that he did not stop the engines till about 20 or 30 seconds before the collision, and that he did not reverse the engines because he was afraid of his propeller's striking a man whom he saw in the water.  A good and proper look-out was not kept on board the Orchis, inasmuch as no one was placed forward with that special object.  The Court was also of opinion that if the Orchis had been reported earlier to the officer in charge of the sailing ship he might possibly have taken some steps to avoid the collision.

The Court suspended the master's certificate for six months but would recommend the interim grant to him of a chief mate's certificate.  The Court wished to thank the French Government for having directed the officers to attend, and to thank the officers personally for the evidence they had given.

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