The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871 
The loss of HMS Megaera in 1871 

The Royal NavyLoss of Megaera (1/3) ◄► (3/3)

103. The Engineers and Carpenters of the "Megaera" in her several Commissions are in some degree to blame for not having called attention to the circumstance that parts of the ship were closed up and inaccessible even to view.

104. Captain Thrupp also appears blameable for not taking care that the Cargo was properly stowed before leaving Sheerness.

105. We are of opinion that it was an unfortunate circumstance that Sir Sydney Dacres should have placed Officers in charge of the "Megaera", very few of whom had ever sailed in iron vessels, as it must be difficult, for those who are not familiar with their construction, to form a sound opinion as to the character of defects or accidents which may occur at sea, or to adopt the best methods for repairing them.

106. On the question of the general responsibility of Dockyard Officers it is doubtful what are the precise Rules in force. They all unite in declaring that their duties are limited to the examination and remedy of reported defects, and of such other defects as may become apparent in carrying this duty into execution; and these views are supported by the evidence of their immediate Naval Superiors, who hold or have held the post of Dockyard Superintendents. On the other hand, the Admiralty Officers urge the very opposite statements, and point to the Circular Orders in existence, and to the impossibility of their being able to ascertain whether the Dockyard Officers have done or have not done their duty in examining ships. It is clear to us that while the intentions of the Admiralty were to enforce adherence to these Circulars, nevertheless their orders have always been understood and obeyed by the Dockyard Officials in the limited sense above referred to. But it appears to us that it would be quite possible to mature a system whereby the respective duties of all these Officers could be defined and checked, so as to render it very difficult for any serious mistakes to occur, and that without such a system, responsibility in practice becomes little better than nominal.

107. We think that a complete survey should be made of every iron ship at suitable intervals. But the circumstance that such survey had been made should not release a Superintendent of a Dockyard from the duty of at all times making sure that a vessel has left his charge in good order.

108. We feel compelled to add that we have formed, however unwillingly, an unfavourable opinion as to the mode in which the Administration of Her Majesty's Dockyards is generally conducted. The important work of the survey of vessels seems often to have been done in an incomplete and unsatisfactory manner. Officers too often appear to us to have done no more than each of them thought it was absolutely necessary to do; following a blind routine in the discharge of their duties, and acting almost as if it were their main object to avoid responsibility.

109. As regards the Admiralty, we have endeavoured to restrict our inquiry to matters which immediately bore on the loss of the "Megaera"; but owing to witnesses often travelling into points which seemed to affect their own character, and which it was difficult to check, we have been led to exceed such limits. We do not consider that there is any evidence to show that the Admiralty ever cut down an Estimate from a feeling of parsimony, or sacrificed efficiency from a desire to reduce expenditure. We do not believe that in any case connected with the "Megaera" the reduction of an Estimate contributed to her loss. We consider, however, that it would have been sound economy to have got rid of the vessel long ago, as being an expensive ship to maintain and of comparatively little value for any service.

110. We feel bound also to state that, in the course of the inquiry, it has been clearly shown to us that the System of Administration at the Admiralty is defective in some important points. Its Secretariat arrangements are insufficient, and its mode of Registration of correspondence defective. It is an extraordinary circumstance indicative of this that when Sir Spencer Robinson asked for the report which Mr. Reed was supposed to have made in 1866 on the thinness of the iron plates of the "Megaera," that reference did not lead to the production of the Report of the Dockyard Officers of the same year to a similar effect. A very little reflection ought to have led the Clerk intrusted with the search to endeavour to ascertain, and to produce any documents of the period which bore on the subject under inquiry. The explanation of Mr. Claude Clifton in this matter is very unsatisfactory.

111. The checks by which responsibility is to be enforced, judging by the case of the "Megaera," appear to be practically almost nominal. There was, indeed, a Ship's Book for the "Megaera," but neither the circumstance that she was coated with an experimental Cement, nor the nature of the different surveys which had from time to time been held on her, nor, indeed, a word whereby a suspicion would arise as to her real condition at the time she was selected for the voyage to Australia, was to be found therein. Such a record was worse than useless; it was simply misleading. When estimates for the repair of ships are received at the Admiralty, judging from this case, they are disposed of without sufficient reference to previous Reports and former outlays. Reports from dockyards seem to be received with too much reliance on their correctness. It is with difficulty that the details of the actual work performed under each Estimate can be traced. Nothing like Completion Statements of the work done in each instance to it ship appear to be furnished. No one seems to have known, or to have recollected in 1870 and 1871, that the "Megaera" had never been thoroughly overhauled since 1864. That she had been once declared only fit for 18 or 24 months' service in her then existing condition, and on two subsequent occasions fit for 12 months' service only. That when pronounced equal to the voyage to Australia more than six years had passed, and that before she could have returned to England seven years at least would have elapsed since she had been properly examined and really made efficient for sea service.

112. We have come to the above Conclusions after careful and full consideration. It is with reluctance and pain that we express unfavourable opinions with respect to the conduct of Officers and the Management of a great Department. But, in doing so, we hare acted on a strong sense of duty, and of the imperative obligations which have been placed on us by your Majesty.


GEORGE P. BIDDER, Secretary.
6th March 1872.

* Signed by me subject to the following remarks. - H.C.R.

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