Government commission for inquiring thereon. - Extracts from Commissioners' Report thereon. - Abstract of Accidents on board ninety-two Steam-boats. - Regulations adopted by the Dublin Steam Packet Company. - Overhauling and examinations of Vessels and Machinery. - Reports. - Alarmingly unsafe condition of the Boilers of many Steam vessels. - Primary causes of Accidents. - Explosions. - Fires. - Collisions. - Outline of proposed legislative regulations forthe prevention of. - "Rule-of-the-road."-Signals. - Captain Smith's Paddle-box boats. - Necessity of disengaging apparatus for Paddle wheels. - Murdoch's patent mode of effecting. - Act of Parliament for Regulation of Steam Navigation.
When it is considered that steam-vessels are principally employed in the conveyance of passengers, and that from the extent of their accommodations the number of persons assembled together is usually very great, frequently amounting to some hundreds, the paramount consideration should be to guard against accidents, where the consequences may involve the most appalling sacrifices of human life.
With the rapid extension of steam navigation it was to be expected that accidents would become more frequent: and, in 1831, a committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the subject, with a view to recommend preventive measures. The committee examined a number of witnesses, and presented two Reports; but these were not followed up by any legislative enactment; although some bye-laws were passed by the Corporation of London for regulating the speed of vessels in that part of the Port of London called the Pool. In the course of the year 1838, however, in consequence of some accidents of a serious nature, especially two explosions which occurred on board of one vessel within a short interval of time, and by which, we believe, in the whole, sixteen persons lost their lives, the attention of the Government was, in a more especial manner, called to the subject. They in consequence appointed Captain Pringle, R.E. and Joseph Parkes, C.E. to undertake an inquiry into the cause of such accidents, and the means of preventing the recurrence of them; in order to lay the ground of some legislative measure for the security of the public.
The chief points to which their attention was directed were -
1st. The number and nature of the accidents which have happened in steam vessels, within the last ten years, as far as can be ascertained.
2d. The practical means for preventing the recurrence of accidents.
In order to obtain this information they were directed to visit the principal ports, to confer with the local authorities there, the owners and officers of steam vessels, and the most eminent constructors of marine engines."
In compliance with these instructions the commissioners drew up a series of queries, which they circulated amongst parties connected with steam navigation; they visited the ports of Liverpool, Glasgow, Greenock, Leith, Newcastle, Shields, Sunderland, and Hull; and personally examined various steam-vessels, some plying, and others undergoing repairs in their machinery and hulls; and received much valuable information from correspondents residing at places which their time did not permit them to visit. The substance of the information thus acquired is embodied in a well-digested report, in which most of the accidents are fairly traced to their true causes, and a number of valuable suggestions are made for the prevention of their recurrence. From this mass of authentic information and of well-considered opinions we propose to make some extracts in elucidation of the subject of the present section.
From the information obtained the commissioners were enabled to draw up a schedule of the accidents which have happened to life and property on board steam vessels, within the period of the ten years preceding their report. This schedule, however, is to be considered as only an approximation to the real number of accidents, and a few of them occurred anterior to that period, but were mentioned by one or more of their correspondents.
The following is a numerical abstract of the schedule.
ABSTRACT OF NINETY-TWO ACCIDENTS.
Ascertained Number of Lives lost.
Wrecked, foundered, or in imminent peril . . .. . . . . . . . .
Explosions of boilers . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. .
Fires from various causes . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . .
Collisions . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . .
Computed number of persons lost on board the Erin,
Frolic, and Superb. . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . .
From Watermen's and Coroners' lists, in the Thames, exclusive of the above, during the last three years
From a list obtained in Scotland, exclusive of the above, being accidents in the Clyde, during the last ten years . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . ..
The greatest ascertained number of lives lost at any one time, occurred by the wreck of the Rothsay
Castle, when . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . ..
119 persons perished.
The greatest number, at any one time, from collision.
The greatest number, at any one time, from explosion
The greatest number, at any one time, from fire . .
The following information and suggestion were derived from the evidence of Mr. J. C. Shaw, engineer and marine manager to the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, Liverpool: -
No accidents have ever occurred in any of the Company's vessels from explosion, or rending of boilers. They construct and repair their own boilers, and prefer the cylindrical shape, with the internal flues of similar form. The boilers are all separate, each containing its own water, and the steam-pipes have separate valves to shut off the communication with the other boilers. The advantage of this plan is forcibly evinced in the case of the collision between the Thames and the Shannon. The Thames must have gone down had the water in the different boilers not been distinct.
The engines and boilers of steamers are certainly not overhauled and repaired so frequently as they should be. Experience has shown to the Company the value of a frequent and minute system of overhauling and repairing. The arrival of any one of their vessels is instantly notified at the office, both at Liverpool and Dublin; the foreman of the boiler makers, and the master engineer, immediately go on board, and are required within two hours to make a report in writing of the actualstate of the engines, boilers, and all their apparatus, by filling up printed forms prepared for each. The hull is inspected by a shipwright. Each vessel is placed on the gridiron at least once in every three months, merely to sight her bottom. The head fireman, having extra wages, is fined in the event of his not pointing out even if a rivet-head has sprung, or any other defect in his boiler during his last voyage.
The safety-valves in all their vessels are so arranged that the engineer can raise them to ease his boiler, but cannot load them beyond the assigned pressure; eight pounds per square inch is the highest pressure employed in their new cylindrical boilers. Vacuum valves, glass water-gauges, and a mercurial pressure gauge, fitted to all the boilers. The blowing-off and feed-cocks are of brass. In making new engines, they are also subject to a written detailed specification.
The Company's vessels are all constructed to a specification settled with Messrs. W. & J. Wilson, their builders; they are all much more substantial than the scantling required by Lloyd's Rules; they now build no vessels without iron water-tight bulk-heads. In the event of purchasing hulls built in other ports, they have them all in the graving-dock to be minutely examined, and such additional fastenings are added as are required to bring them up to their standard of strength.
The combustion of the coals has not unfrequently arisen in steamers from carelessness in dropping tow or waste among them, and leaving them there; and also from spontaneous ignition. The Company's boilers do not touch the skin of the vessel by many inches. The skin, or inside planking, is lined with sheet lead throughout the wake, or vicinity of the boilers; and the lead is covered over with thin sheet-iron. The addition of the lead is a most important feature, as it prevents charring. The boilers are all covered with dry hair-felt, and between them and the deck is a wrought-iron ceiling, resting on cast-iron beams. The coals are stowed in the space between the iron ceiling and the deck, with as much safety as in the iron coal-boxes. On the arrival of every vessel, a gang of coal-trimmers enter her and sweep down every atom of coal into the bunkers, for which we pay 5s. each trip, on the production of a certificate from the commander, that the work is done. By taking the duty off those on board, attention is secured to this important work; thus the old and often powdered coal gets burnt up first, and any defect in the ceiling-plates is at the same time discovered and remedied.
A great saving of heat results from this complete covering, and the boiler tops are saved from the corrosion which used to take place when wet coals were stored upon them, or from rain or spray affecting them.
Boilers after being in use four years should be surveyed very frequently. After five years running, the boilers, timbers in their wake, deck-beams and ceilings, all require looking to, lest they might be injured; the middle of the vessel, which should be the strongest, becomes the weakest, after so long a period of working, in consequence of the skin being charred from constant eat. No steamer should have a license to ply which was not furnished with at least one valve inaccessible to the engineer or passengers, with a glass water-gauge to each boiler, and a mercurial pressure gauge, and always in order. The machinery should be inspected and certified by a competent, disinterested engineer, unconnected with any marine engine manufactory.