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Colonial Cases

The Suwonada, 1872


The Suwonada

United States Consular Court, Hong Kong
20 February 1872
Source: The North-China Herald, 29 February 1872



Hongkong, 20th February.

Before D. B. BAILEY, Esq., U.S. Consul.

Captain T. E. NICHOLS, U.S.N.

Lt. Cdr. H. F. PICKERING, U.S.N.

Cdr. Adlam, R.N.

Captain Toppin, s.s. Douglas.

The Court was held to enquire into the loss of the steamer Suwonada.

   A Special Admiralty Chart, corrected to May 1870, was laid on the table.

   The proceedings were opened by the President reading a petition from Captain Clark to the Board, and documentary evidence consisting of the protest extended at Foochow, and the official report of Captain H. H. Wallace, of the Ashuelot, was also read to the Court, together with the survey report on the rock by the officers of that ship.

   The first witness, Mr. O. Wilson, late chief office r of the Suwonada, was then called, and, being duly sworn, stated that the steamer sailed from Hongkong fully equipped and manned for the voyage she was about to undertake; and that she proceeded upon her voyage in the usual way.  In reply to a question from Captain Toppin whether the ship when undetr the command of Capt. Jayne had been through the Haitan Straits, he stated that the Log Book recorded that she had made the passage through when drawing 18 ½ feet of water; and further enquiry from the Court elicited the fact that she was drawing but 13 feet 6 inches when leaving Hongkong upon her last voyage.  Witness was asked by Capt. Nichols to state the rise and fall of the tide in the Haitan Straits, and replied that it was 16 feet.  Being questioned as to his experience on the coast, he stated that he had passed though the Haitan Straits many times during the past eight years and never heard of a rook existing in that channel.  The witness gave details of the occurrence, confirmatory in every respect of those already published, especially in regard to the good order and discipline of both crew and passengers, and the threatened attack by the piratical boats.

   Charles Mclean, chief engineer, was then called, and deposed that in his department the vessel was fully equipped and in order.  He also testified that after the accident he found it impossible to keep the leak under with all the steam pumps, including the bilge injection.  The ship was running 13 knots when she struck.  He did not think that any further steps could have been taken by Captain Clark with a view to saving the ship; and that every effort was made to save life and property.

   Pedro Quivedero, quartermaster, stated that at the time the ship struck, he was heaving the lead, and could get no bottom at 8 fathoms, and the ship seemed to be steering her usual course.

   Captain Toppin here expressed an opinion that the rock must be a boulder, possibly caused by some recent earthquake, as he had gone though that passage for the last ten years, and never had any impression that there was such a rock.  It was in the direct course he always took.

   Captain Clark was then asked by the Court whether he had any remarks to offer, and stated that he was quite willing to leave the matter in the hands of the Court, with the evidence which had been given, to which he had nothing further to add.

   The Court was then cleared; and has since given the following decision.

   The Court after hearing all the evidence produced, and having carefully and maturely considered the same, is of the opinion that the steam-ship Suwonada was in good sea-going condition,  well found in boats, anchors and cables, with five good pumps connected withy the engine, and fully manned;  that the ship was pursuing the usual route of steamers (through Haitan Straits) bound up the coast during the prevailing N.E. monsoon; that the rock upon which she struck is not laid down in the latest published charts, and its existence was not known to shipmasters and others navigating the Haitan Straits; that the ship was steering a mid-channel course, with a careful leadsman in the chains (who could get no bottom with 8 fathoms of line) when she struck; that subsequent researches proved the rock to be lying almost directly in mid-channel in its narrowest part, and that after the accident Captain Clark, his officers and crew, did everything that was possible to be done for the preservation of the ship, cargo, and the lives of those on board, and that order and discipline were preserved on board until the last moment.

   In conclusion, the Court, in exonerating Arthur Hamilton Clark, late commander of the steamer Suwonada, from all blame for the unfortunate loss of said vessel, would express the opinion that his conduct under the circumstances was that of a thorough seaman, a cool, brave and judicious commander, and that to the exercise of these qualities are the survivors indebted for their lives. - Daily Press.

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