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Wreck of the City of Washington, 1873

(From Sessional Papers of the Government of Canada, 37 Victoria 1873 (4), p. lvii. Note: the 1873 date on these papers is an error and should have read 1874.)

...Another fine ocean steamship, the City of Washington, was also lost during last year on the coast of Nova Scotia, but fortunately without any loss of life. She belonged to the Inman Line, was 18 years old, built of iron at Glasgow, 2,870 tons gross, 1,951 tons net or registered tonnage, propelled by a screw, with engines of 460 horse power. She left Liverpool for New York on the 24th of June last, and from the 27th of that month till 1.15 p.m. on the 5th of the following month, when she went ashore on the reefs off Little Point Ebert in the County of Shelburne, she appears to have been enveloped in a thick fog, and to this cause and the neglect of the master to take soundings when passing over the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, and the deviation of the compass, may be attributed the loss of this steamer. A Court of Enquiry was held on this case by Captain Scott, R.N., under an Order in Council, and the master's certificate of service was suspended for one year. As the accident occurred in broad daylight, near the main land and in fine weather, the boats were promptly lowered, and the passengers and crew, amounting in all to 576 persons, were safely landed.

Appendix No. 41.

Pp. 354-355

Report Of Investigation Into Cause Of Wreck Of Steam Ship "City Of Washington."

It having been reported that the steamship City of Washington, of the Inman Line, had been wrecked on the reefs off Little Port Ebert, on the south-east coast of Nova Scotia, the Governor-General in council directed an investigation to be made into the circumstances attending the disaster, in conformity with Act 32 and 33, Vict., chap. 38.

During the progress of this enquiry, I have been assisted by Captain George A. Mackenzie, a retired ship master, and Mr. D.M. Browne, a navigating lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and every effort has been made to ascertain the causes which led to the loss of the ship.

It appears that the City of Washington was of the burthen of 1,951 tons, and was at the time laden with a general cargo, part of which consisted of about 300 tons of steel rails, and 700 boxes of tin. She was commanded by William Robert Phillips, who held a Board of Trade Certificate of Service, (No. 45,472). There were also four executive officers on board, but, with the exception of the 3rd officer, who had sailed in her previously, both master and officers were strangers to the ship. The ship's complement of men was ninety-six, inclusive of firemen, stewards, &c.; and she had on board at the time of the disaster, twenty-nine saloon and 442 steerage passengers.

She left Liverpool bound for New York, on the 24th June last, and called at Queenstown the following day. On the passage to Queenstown, it is stated in the evidence, there did not appear to be any derangement of the compass. Fastnet Rock Light was passed at 11.38 p.m. on the 25th June, and a course was shaped W.N.W. On the 26th morning, observations and the sun at noon, placed the ship in latitude 51 29' N. and longitude 13 14' W.; and by working up the log, there is no material difference between the position by observations and the dead reckoning. On the 27th forenoon, sights and the sun at noon, placed the ship in latitude 51 45' N. and longitude 19 40' W.; but the position by dead reckoning (not shewn in the log-book) places the ship forty miles south of that shown by observation, and here, no doubt, is the beginning of the misfortune that attended the City of Washington. It does not appear that the dead reckoning was kept up to this period; had it been done, it would have been clearly seen that the compasses were affected. On the 2nd July, at midnight, the bearing of the Pole Star was observed by the first officer, between the passing clouds, but as he states it was a very indifferent observation, no great reliance could be placed on it. From the 27th June, until the time she struck (with the exception of the above bearing) no observations could be taken, owing to the prevailing thick fog, and consequently, the ship had to be navigated entirely by dead reckoning. On the 2nd and 3rd of July, she must have passed over the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, when soundings might have been obtained, and by that means a fresh departure taken, but unhappily, the presumption that they were too far to the southward, for soundings prevailed, and led the master to neglect this necessary precaution. To this omission, together with the discrepancy in the deviation of the compasses, may be attributed the loss of this fine ship.

It would appear that a good look-out was kept during the voyage, and that no blame can be attributed to any of the junior officers of the ship; and that wen she took the ground on 5th July, at 1.15 p.m., the boats were lowered with alacrity, and the passengers and crew landed in safety.

That this accident should have occurred so near the main land, in broad day-light and with fine weather, is a matter for which all must be devoutly thankful, for had it happened in the dead of night and stormy weather, but few of the 567 souls on board could have been saved from their perilous position.

Having duly weighed all the circumstances, and having worked up the reckoning as shew in the log-book, I am of opinion that it was imprudent to ignore the dead reckoning between the 25th and 27th June, which shewed that the ship was considerably to the northward; and as this could not have been due to Rennell's current, it must have shewn that the compasses had a large amount of easterly deviation.

It was also imprudent to pass the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, without trying for soundings to correct the reckoning, seeing that for six days no observations could be obtained, and as thick weather prevailed for two days after so passing the Banks, it was highly imprudent to continue at full speed without taking a cast of the lead, to show that the ship was off soundings, and particularly so, when it ought to have been known by the master that so much more iron and steel had been placed on board since the compass corrections had been obtained.

Under these circumstances, I am of opinion that the Master's Certificate of Service held by William Robert Phillips, the master, should be suspended for the space of one year from the date of the loss of the steamship City of Washington, and this certificate is herby suspended accordingly.

Given under my hand at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 17th day of July, 1873.
(Signed,) P.A. Scott,

Capt. R.N., Commissioner.

We concur in the above.
(Signed,) G.A. Mackenzie.
D.M. Brown.

Approved and confirmed
(Signed,) P. Mitchell,
Minister of Marine and Fisheries.


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