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Colonial Cases

The Nylghau, 1889


The Nylghau

Court of Enquiry, Hong Kong

14, 16 December 1889

Source: North China Herald, 27 December 1889



   A Marine Court of Enquiry was held at the Habour Master's Office, Hongkong, on the 14th and 16th inst. to enquire into the circumstances attending the loss of the British ship Nylghau, which was wrecked of the Pratas Reef on the 16th November.  The Court consisted of: Captain Rumsey, R.N., President; Lieut. McFarlane, H.M.S. Victor Emanuel; Captain W. H. Smith, of the Arabic; Captain Farrand, of the Propontis, Captain Ronn, of the Strathearn. The following is the finding of the Court:-

   We find that the British ship Nylghau, official number 80,617, of Yarmouth, N.S., of which Watson Baker Butler, whose certificate of competency as master is 1990 of Canada, was master, left Singapore on the 1st November, 1889, bound for Hongkong with a crew of 17 all told and a full cargo of timber.

   That having worked up the Luzon coast until the 24th November in lat. 17.43 N. and long. 119.58 E., having got the northeast monsoon, the ship was had across the China sea to Hongkong, but that on the evening of the 25th at about 8.10 p.m. she truck on the Pratas Shoal and was there abandoned.

   It appears from the evidence of the master, who is the only competent witness before the court on the subject, that at noon on the 25th November he ship was in a position in lat. 20.16 N. and long. 118 E. That at 4 pm. on that day she was further allowed to have gone 18 miles N.W. In this position the master seeing that the wind was falling and the ship "breaking off" determined to pass to the southward of the Pratas shoal and with that intention set the course due west.

The assumed position at 4 p.m. was 40 mils E by S ΒΌ S from the eastern extremity of the Pratas shoal and seeing that the ship struck somewhere on the eastern edge of the shoal at about 8.10 p.m. this would make the distance of 49 miles run in rather less than four hours, which seeing the state of the wind and weather the Court considers extremely improbable;  and they are inclined to the belief that either the master's observations placed the ship too far to the S.E. or that the ship experienced a W.N.W. set during the afternoon of the 25th, a set which the admiralty chart 1661 stated was experienced by H.M.S. Encounter in February, 1883, the period of the N.E. monsoon.

   It appears that the compass had not been adjusted for more than one year, and though it is probable that this did not contribute to the casualty we are of opinion that therein the master did not use due caution.

   The ship does not appear to have been prematurely abandoned and after the casualty all steps were taken that the circumstances permitted for the safety of the crew.

   The entire crew left the ship in two boats.  One of these has not been heard of since the morning of the 27th, when she was sighted apparently all well by the master in the other boat.  Unsuccessful search has been made for her by H.M.S. Cockchafer.  She was in charge of the mate, John Briggs, and contained six men in addition and appears to have left the ship properly found.

   We are of opinion that the master would have displayed sounder judgment if he had carried out the recommendation given in the chart and in the sailing directions of the Pratas Shoal.  But we consider this omission to have been an error in judgment and not a wrongful act or default and we do not deal with his certificate, which is therefore now returned to hm.

Given under our hands at Hongkong this 16th day of November, 1882. .  .  .   Daily Press.

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