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William Loney RN - Background

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NameGanges II (launched as Agincourt)Explanation
TypeBroadside ironclad frigate   
Launched27 March 1865
HullIron
PropulsionScrew
Builders measure6638 tons
Displacement10600 tons
Guns36
Fate1960
ClassMinotaur
Ships book
NoteLaid down as Captain.
1895 t.s.
1904 = Boscawen III.
1906 = Ganges II.
1908 = C109 c.h.
Snippets concerning this vessels career
DateEvent
(7 August 1872)Commanded by Captain Edward Stanley Adeane, flagship of Rear-Admiral Reginald John James George Macdonald, Channel squadron, flagship of the second in command
1 October 1874
- 5 August 1875
Commanded by Captain Lord Walter Talbot Kerr, flagship of Rear-Admiral Frederick Beauchamp Paget Seymour, Channel squadron
(1878)Commanded by Captain Richard Wells
1885
- 1886
Commanded by Captain Charles Thomas Montague Douglas Scott, Channel squadron
1904Renamed Boscawen III
1906Renamed Ganges II
Extracts from the Times newspaper
DateExtract
We 9 August 1871The Court-Martial on the officers of the Agincourt was brought to a close yesterday, after an inquiry of ten days. Captain BEAMISH and Staff-Commander KNIGHT have been severely reprimanded, and Lieutenant BELL has been admonished to be more careful for the future. We can hardly suppose that our readers have accurately followed the evidence given at this trial, which, indeed, cannot be completely understood, except by those conversant with the sea. But its general tenour is not difficult to seize. The testimony of a variety of witnesses confirms the unfavourable opinions which were formed on the first news of the event. There are certain mischances which carry condemnation with them, and among them is such an event as the stranding of the Agincourt on the Pearl Rock. It was 9 o'clock on a fine summer morning, the 1st of July, the sun shone brightly, the breeze was light, when six ships of the Channel Squadron left their anchorage in Gibraltar Bay to steam towards the Atlantic. Within two hours the Agincourt, an immense ironclad of 6,621 tons burden, had been run upon a rock at the southwest corner of the Bay, and, but for the exertions of the Captain and crew of the Hercules, another ship of the Squadron, it would have become a total wreck. By immense exertions the Agincourt was saved, but for three days the fate of the vessel hung in suspense, and a few hours of bad weather might have destroyed her.

A defence in such a case is almost hopeless. The Pearl Rock is perfectly well known, and minute directions have been given for keeping clear of it. At night the lighthouse gives the necessary indications; by day every person in charge of a vessel can, by paying attention to the proper bearings, keep clear of danger. What are Captains and Lieutenants for but to attend to such things? An undermanned merchant ship left in charge of an ignorant second mate might be expected to come to some such misfortune, but surely not a well-ordered QUEEN'S ship, with a whole staff of officers assigned to her, with an Admiral on board, and another Admiral exercising supreme command within signalling distance? If there is to be responsibility at all in the Navy, if the lives of seamen and the enormously valuable national property which these ironclads represent are to have security, such an occurrence as this could not be passed over. The officers may be gallant and zealous, they may have behaved well after the ship had struck, and thus have half redeemed their fault, but the Admiralty could not do less than send them, before a Court-Martial; and the Court, considering the facts, could not do less than condemn them.

That there was negligence can, unfortunately, not be doubted. The only question is on whom the blame should chiefly rest. The persons concerned are primarily Captain BEAMISH, Staff-Commander KNIGHT, and Lieutenant BELL, who had the immediate direction of the ship. Then come the two Admirals, Admiral WELLESLEY being largely responsible, as under his directions the whole Squadron was moving. It does not follow that because one class of these is guilty the others are innocent. In the first place, nothing can relieve the Captain of a ship from his responsibility in navigation. In fighting it may be different; the Admiral may command him to lay his ship alongside a battery when to do so is certain destruction. But a Captain cannot be excused for running his ship on rock out of deference to a signal from the flagship obviously given with lack of proper knowledge. This opinion was given in the strongest terms by Rear-Admiral WILMOT. He was asked whether a Captain in a fleet, unless he had a moral conviction amounting to positive certainty that his ship was running into danger, ought to haul out of the line or make a signal to that effect. Admiral WILMOT replied: - "If he had any doubt whatever that his ship was in the neighbourhood of danger, it would be his duty to haul out of the line if necessary, and to signal to the Commander-in-Chief or to the senior officer the reason for doing so. I speak of dangers which could not otherwise be avoided." This being the case, the question was whether Captain BEAMISH and the other officers inculpated had taken due care to ascertain the position of the ship with respect to the rock, and to direct her course accordingly. On this point the evidence is too voluminous even for the shortest summary, but the opinion that there was negligence is not that of subordinates alone, or of persons unconnected with the service. We again quote Admiral WILMOT, who certainly has no interest in showing that his ship was badly handled. Being asked whether he agreed with a witness who had stated that proper precautions had not been taken by the officer in charge of the deck for passing so well-known and dangerous a shoal as the Pearl Rock, and also what his own impression was on the subject, the Admiral answered, "Simply that the ship struck, when I am of opinion that if greater attention and greater decision had been shown by those in charge, and if the navigation of the ship had been more at liberty, she would not have struck." The Court by its decision shows that it took this view. The defence of the Captain and of Staff-Commander KNIGHT is laid before the public this morning, and everyone may judge how far their conclusions are borne out by the evidence. Captain BEAMISH states that, though both he and Staff-Commander KNIGHT thought, when the signal to steer W.S.W. was made, that this course was unusually close, yet, as the marks were always kept well open, he had at no time the slightest apprehension of danger, but expected to pass at a safe distance from the Pearl Rock; "Closer, undoubtedly, than he should have gone had the Agincourt been a single ship, but not sufficiently close to justify him in hauling out of line," or in reporting to Admiral WILMOT; that he considered the ships of the; starboard division were being led into danger. Thus it is plain that both Captain BEAMISH and Staff Commander KNIGHT did actually make a most grievous error in judgment; and yet so easy were they on the subject that Captain BEAMISH actually left the deck a few minutes before the accident, and was in the act of coming out of his cabin to return to the bridge when the ship struck. Staff-Commander KNIGHT firmly denies the charge of negligence. "He would assert that he was most watchfully and minutely attending to the navigation of the ship; and he attributed the stranding of the Agincourt to one cause only - the misdirection so unfortunately given in the sailing directions." With respect to the officers who have been put on their trial, it may be taken that the Court has done its duty. But we have no hesitation in saying that the signals by which the starboard line was directed from the Minotaur, and which were the prime cause of the disaster, should now form the subject of inquiry.
Th 10 August 1871

THE RESCUE OF THE AGINCOURT.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.

Sir, — The ship ran on the Pearl Rock at 10 50a.m. on Saturday, July 1. The following sextant angles were taken from the bridge immediately over the spot on which she was pivoted:- Centre of Carnaro Tower to east-end of Palomas Island 32 deg. 38 sec.; east end of Palomas Island to Frayle Tower, 54 deg. 59 sec.; centre of Carnaro Tower to Europa lighthouse, 55 deg.

At first she was only supposed to rest on a ledge of rocks from the keel to the first bilge piece on the starboard side under the second mast. The length of this rock in a fore and aft direction was 24 feet, and on every side it was steep. A subsequent examination discovered the second and more dangerous rock immediately under the aft cylinder in the engine-room. It consisted of three pinnacles.

A piece which the diver brought up showed the rock to be composed of a hard blue stone, and the surface when fractured was quite lustrous. Probably no ship was ever stranded in a more dangerous position, or in one which so severely tested her wonderful strength. It was fortunate that the section on which she rested was the strongest in the ship, as the sleepers of the engines, the keel, and bilge pieces all helped to sustain the enormous pressure. I did not go on board until Saturday evening. I am unable, therefore, to give any account of the first attempt to pull her off, except that the lower cable which they tried to pass to the Hercules took charge and upset the launch of the Monarch. The current at this time appeared to be flowing past the Agincourt at the rate of four or five miles per hour, and was swirling round in large eddies. No boat could stem it, and the whole of the pulling launches had to be towed up. The wind had been easterly for several preceding days, and the change to the south-west, joined to the influence of a full moon, probably caused this great increase in the velocity of the current.

The Hercules succeeded in taking the end of a hemp cable on hoard, but it carried away before she had swung end on.

Sunday, July 2. - At high water went astern with the engines, but she only slewed her head a little towards the land, and rolled slowly through small arcs.

At day light the wind was south-west, and it gradually increased in strength, as the sun rose, until the force was 6 or 7. Several lighters came off, but it was blowing too hard to put any to windward; those to leeward were filled with provisions, shot, and shell On sounding round the ship at low water the least water found was 24 feet, although she was served three feet forward. Worked steadily throughout the day and night at throwing the coals overboard where the water was deep, and it varied all around, except on the 24 feet patch, from 5 to 9 fathoms.

At sunset the wind fell, And the Warrior's party laid out a bower anchor on the port bow, with an 18-inch cable fast to it. This was taken in through the chock abreast of the fore rigging, and led to the steam capstan; but it came home when the strain was put on it.

The Hercules had in the morning made a running moor astern of the Agincourt, dropping the second anchor close to the stern. A chain stream cable was passed from the quarter chocks of the Agincourt on the maindeck to the hawser of the Hercules, and shackled to her distant bower. When all was ready the Hercules knocked the slip off, weighed her remaining anchor, and steamed out of the way. The end of the iron sheet cable baring been passed round the steam capstan was brought aft and shackled to the bower cable of the Hercules after the stream had brought the end inboard. When the cable was taut, 6½ shackles (81 fathoms) were out. Both capstans were now manned, and heavy purchases applied to assist the steam capstan; the anchor came home immediately, and after heaving in to 5½ shackles (68 fathoms) the cable was secured as it might have assisted the ship if an easterly wind had set in.

At high water made sail and set on the engines at 46 revolutions. The ship shifted the position of her head a point inshore, and many thought she was afloat, but the transit marks on shore remained the same. When the water began to fall the engines were stopped, and it now became evident that the ship was hanging amidships.

Monday, July 3. - The diver discovered the rocks under the engine-room, and this explained the cause of the ship's hanging after she was apparently afloat.

At 8 a.m. a number of rollers suddenly came up from the south-west, and the ship, although served 5ft. forward, rose and fell sensibly. Shortly afterwards water was heard rushing into the double bottom under the port after cylinder, and the inside skin bowed upwards under the great strain. In a few minutes the double bottom under this compartment was full and a slight leak was visible in the inner skin. Heavier timber was placed across the inside plating and shored up to the cylinders. In a few minutes a leak was reported in the slop and bread rooms, which are only separated by a wooden bulkhead. The water rose rapidly, and beds and bread were floating about. The Downton 7-inch pumps were set going and five rivets were knocked out of the water-tight bulkhead to allow the water to flow into the engine room. The main engine was disconnected, the bilge injection turned on, and the shaft turned occasionally at the rite of 12 revolutions per minute, which easily cleared the engine-room. The slop room was a more difficult undertaking, as the pumps at full swing, aided by the five rivet holes, took 14 hours to effect it. Once the water obtained a height of 12 feet. I may mention an anecdote which came under my personal observation at this time. Several of the men were swimming among the loose bales and slinging them. When all were cleared out I asked a man who was swimming what water he had. Elevating both hands over his head be plunged down perpendicularly until his fingers disappeared, and on coming to the surface called out "No bottom."

In the interval shores and strengthening pieces had been made to secure the hatches of these compartments, as the combings were two feet below the level of the water outside. When the water was cleared out the carpenters cut away the lining of the skin and bulkhead, and reaching the sluice valve they found it would not close and water came through the next department. A wooden plug secured this and the ship was tight once more.

Two bower and one sheet anchor, one bower cable, 19 six-ton guns, slides and carriages, all the boats' guns, the remainder of the powder and shell, all the spare sails and a great amount of small articles were put into lighters and towed on shore.

Tuesday, July 4. - At daylight the wind came up fresh from the E.N.E., force 4; at noon, east, force 3 to 4. The current, which during the whole time the ship had been ashore had been constantly running to the eastward, turned at low water for a short time to the westward, and reduced its velocity from four or more knots per hour to two at the height of the flood. Two 12-ton guns were hoisted out and the coals thrown overboard or into lighters, as convenient.

The Hercules weighed anchor and let it go square off the starboard quarter distant one cable, and slewed her stern towards the Agincourt with a Manilla six-inch hawser. A stream cable was laid out and passed in through her starboard stern pipe. To this her bower cable was shackled on and then hove in by the Agincourt and treble bitted. A second bower cable was passed in through the other stern pipe and secured in a similar manner.

The Spanish paddle steamer of war Linias was sent square of the quarter with two six-inch hawsers. The Lion Belge (tug) had a third hawser from the same bitts, and was also sent square off. The Redpole and the Adelia (tugs) were on the port side. At low water the ship was served to 19 feet forward and 27 feet aft, On this day it was high water by our tide-tables at 3 53 p.m. and by the Sailing Directions at 3 20 p.m.

At a few minutes before 3 p.m. the ship's head swung to the westward, thus leaving her suspended on one point. The draught of water before she commenced to swing was 23 feet forward and 23 feet aft.

At 3 5 p.m. the ships were hailed to go ahead. The Spanish man-of-war set on full speed, and when the hawsers tautened her port towing bollard flew 20 feet into the air. The Hercules gathered way slowly, and as the chain cables tautened the strain was tremendous. Imperceptibly the ship slid off the rock and was towed into Getares Bay, as the engines had been set on to clear out the water from the double bottom up to the time she floated. When this had been effected the screw was connected, but it was unfortunately fouled by both the towing cables as she closed on the Hercules.

The Agincourt is one of only two iron ships which have ever come off the Pearl Rock, and it his solved a problem successfully which had been deemed impracticable - viz., that if an ironclad of this sort got on shore it would be impossible to get her off. The other was the Liverpool steamer Lydia, which cleared out 600 tons of cargo in 24 hours, and being thus lightened floated off.

From the collated reports of various divers the damage to the bottom does not appear to be of a serious nature. On the starboard side, where she rested on the ledge, a piece of the inner bilge keel is broken off or rolled up, but the underlying plates are sound. On the port side a butt is opened slightly for about two feet, and the adjoining plate is bulged in and cracked across in an irregular manner. A knife may be inserted in some part of this crack, and the remainder is closed at the edges. The keel plates where they rested on the pinnacle are arched a little upwards, but no flaws can be discovered.

I cannot conclude this short description without again expressing my admiration of her wonderful strength and faultless workmanship - qualities which, it may be truly said, have saved us from a national disaster; and I may further add that none but an English-built ship would have escaped destruction under similar circumstances. Whatever errors may have been committed in allowing the Agincourt to run on the Pearl Rock, there were none in getting her off, and it will be gratifying to the pride of English seamen to learn that their brethren effected it with the ordinary resources of the ships present. Although the guns, which weighed from 6½ to 12½ tons each, anchors weighing seven tons each, and other weighty articles were hoisted over the side into lighters, and 2⅜-inch cables laid out from ship to ship, only one man was injured by accidentally falling into a boat alongside, and as Admiral Wellesley feelingly remarked in his general order to the fleet, - "We all wish him a speedy recovery."

The conduct of the officers, seamen, and marines of the squadron made one feel proud of his country. Many worked unceasingly for 36 hours, and when relieved threw themselves down where they worked to snatch a short sleep as they best might, so thoroughly were they exhausted. Throughout the four days no murmur escaped their lips, and when the water was gaining on the pumps in the slop and bread rooms, and men were swimming in them, they worked on as bravely as ever. The Hercules was splendidly handled, and her captain was thanked in general orders.

Your obedient servant,
AN ENGLISHMAN.
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