§ Mr. Buckingham
said, in rising to call the attention of the House to the subject of which I have given notice, and to submit to their judgment the motion which I shall take the liberty to place in your hands, "for leave to bring in a Bill for the establishment of a Marine Board, and for the better regulation of the Merchant Shipping of the Kingdom," I have to ask the indulgence of the House, while I place before them the facts and arguments on which I shall presume to ask their acquiescence in granting leave to introduce the Bill proposed. The subject of the shipping interest has been so often before the House in various shapes, that it is unnecessary to speak of its importance, even were the question one which affected the shipping interest alone. But, in addition to the mere interest of the ship-owner, there is that of the nation at large, which is deeply injured by the annual loss of life and property at sea, which it is my object and my hope to see diminished. We have, indeed, a valuable recognition, in his Majesty's Speech delivered from the Throne at the opening of the last Session, 165 of the claims of the maritime commerce of the country to protection, from the funds of the nation at large; and this royal declaration was made the chief ground for the Ministers asking the House to vote the additional sums required in the navy estimates for equipping several additional ships of war. In the inquiry into the administration of our Light-houses—in the revision of our Pilot Establishments—in the formation of the Board of Longitude, and in the organization of the Trinity-house—we recognise and act upon the sound principle of giving legislative protection to our merchant shipping: and not trusting merely to their self-interest to secure the means of protecting themselves. But, if it be our duty to protect the maritime commerce of this country from capture by enemies or pirates, through the presence in different quarters of the globe of our ships of war—if it be our duty to establish light-houses to warn them against the hidden dangers of the coasts—to form a Board of Longitude for the correction of the nautical ephemeries, the improvement of the chronometer, and the correction of charts, to save the shipmaster from the perils of an inaccurate reckoning—and to have a Trinity Board for the regulation of those admirable bodies of pilots who, in every port, are found ready to take charge of ships and guide them through the most intricate channels to harbours of safety—if all these be fairly and legitimately within the province and under the control of the Legislature, and are productive of good effects, then is it also the duty, as it can be shown to be the interest, of the nation, to save this mass of maritime property, as well as the lives that are sent to guard it on the seas, from a destruction more powerful and more extensive than that occasioned by the fleets of the enemy or the hidden rocks and shoals of their own shores:—a destruction occasioned by defective building in the first instance, defective equipment in the next, and, above all, by defective management, against each of which evils, it is within the power of the Legislature easily to provide; and, if I shall succeed in proving to the House that they have the power, I will not, for a moment, doubt their readiness to exercise it for that purpose. The House is aware, that in the last Session of Parliament, a Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the causes of the 166 increased number of shipwrecks, with a view to ascertain whether such improvements might not be made in the construction, equipment, and navigation of merchant vessels, as would greatly diminish the annual loss of life and property at sea. That Committee, composed almost entirely of nautical and professional men, with some of the representatives of the principal seaports of the kingdom, did me the honour to elect me their chairman, and having thus had the advantage of presiding over their proceedings, and hearing all the evidence produced, I was intrusted with the duty of drawing up the Report, founded on the evidence; which Report, as it is now placed on the table of the House, received the unanimous assent of the Members of the Committee. The foundation, therefore, was carefully and deliberately laid; and, as the facts which I shall adduce in support of the measure that I propose to introduce, will be drawn from the volume of evidence accompanying that Report, it will be in the power of hon. Members to verify those facts for themselves. It appears, from the best authorities, that the number of merchant vessels registered as belonging to Great Britain and her colonies, carry in the whole to about 2,500,000 tons. The property alone contained in these vessels, including ships and cargoes, cannot be less, at the very lowest estimate, than fifty millions sterling—reckoning the empty ships only at 10l. a ton—and supposing half of them to be laden, estimating the value of those cargoes at the same rate per ton. But besides this vast extent of property risked upon the seas, there are from 150,000 to 180,000 seamen whose lives are perilled on the ocean:—and for the preservation of both of these, the Legislature is bound to adopt whatever, course may be shown to be just, practicable, and efficient. It might have been supposed, indeed, that in a country like England, whose maritime superiority has been the national ambition and the national boast, and where the false protection of the restrictive and prohibitory system was so long held out to the shipping interest as a privilege and reward, every possible precaution would have been taken to secure vessels from loss, by guarantees for then-solid construction, competent equipment, and efficient navigation. Yet, while we legislate for the size of coaches, waggons, and omnibuses, even to the breadth of 167 their wheels, and strictly prohibit their carrying any more goods or people than they are licensed to convey—on the humane principle of guarding the lives and property of his Majesty's subjects by land—we leave the more perilous element of the sea open to do its worst, and to engulph in its yawning wave as many ships and seamen as may tempt its dangers, without appearing to do more than lament the catastrophes when they are reported to us, and without taking the slightest pains to prevent their recurrence. Hence it happens, that notwithstanding the great improvement which has taken place within the last half-century, in the safety of every other occupation or pursuit, the provisions for the safety of ships at sea have been wholly neglected, and shipwrecks instead of diminishing, as our improved science and improved experience might have reasonably led us to expect, have been gradually and steadily on the increase. From the year 1793 to 1829, a period of thirty-six years, and when our fleets were covering every sea—the average loss of vessels throughout the whole of that period, was 557 in the year. In 1829, the losses are thus recorded in the books of Lloyd's Coffee-house, from whence the former average was ascertained:—"On foreign voyages, 157 wrecked; 284 driven on shore, of which 224 are known to have been got off, some with more and some with less damage; 21 foundered or sunk; 1 run down; 35 abandoned at sea, 8 of which were afterwards carried into port; 12 condemned as unseaworthy; 8 upset, one of them righted; 27 missing, one of them a packet, no doubt foundered." Here is a number of 545 casualties in the ships employed on foreign voyages alone, an amount nearly equal to the whole average annual loss from 1793 to 1829;—but when we come to add the loss in the home trade to this, its amount will be largely increased. It appears, by the same authority to be thus:—"Colliers and coasters, 109 wrecked, 297 driven on shore, of which 121 are known to have been got off, and probably more; 67 foundered or sunk, 4 of them raised; 6 run down; 13 abandoned, 5 of them afterwards brought into port; 3 upset, 2 of them righted; 16 missing, no doubt foundered. During the same year, 4 steam vessels were wrecked; 4 driven on shore but got off, and 4 sunk." Here is nearly an equal number of 523 casualties in the home 168 trade; making together upwards of a thousand vessels lost, or damaged, in the course of a single year; and as many of these were laden with valuable cargoes, and some perished altogether, so that none were even left to tell the causes of their loss—the immense amount of life and property thus sacrificed to the deep, may well excite our sympathy as well as our surprise. But, moreover, many vessels are lost every year in distant parts of the globe, or founder at sea, of which the public at large hear nothing, but which, if the particulars could be given, would greatly swell the whole amount. And yet this evil has gone on every year increasing instead of diminishing. In two months only of 1833, no less than 100,000 tons of British shipping were lost, which, calculating the value at only 10l. a ton, would make a million sterling of property in the ships alone, without including their cargoes, and reckoning the seamen at only four for every hundred tons, here were the lives of 4,000 men put in peril, and one-fourth of them probably were drowned. The recent loss of several of the transport ships laden with emigrants must be fresh in the recollection of the House, and if each individual case excited, as it did at the time of its occurrence, universal sympathy and compassion, what must the aggregate amount of all these horrors be, when brought into one general point of view. Since 1833, the losses have increased greatly. It appears that of ships belonging to the river Tyne alone, there were lost at sea, between February 1832 and April 1834, according to the published lists, no less than 143 vessels, measuring 30,788 tons, or more than one-seventh of the whole of the ships and tonnage of the port; and that no less than 35 of the crews of these vessels perished,—exceeding at the lowest calculation 200 men. From April 1834, to the end of 1835, there had been 89 vessels lost and abandoned, making altogether a number of 232 ships from one single port in forty seven months, or less than four years; and during all this period not a single vessel had so run out her career as to be broken up from being unseaworthy, of which it is alleged that traces can only be found of about five vessels so disposed of at that port in the long space of seventy years. All that are built appear to be run on till they are wrecked or founder? On the 31st of December, 1835, there were belonging to 169 the port of Shields, about 1,800 men and boys who were members of the Loyal Standard Association there; and during the last three years no less than 264 of these, had to claim assistance from this Association for the loss of their effects, by the shipwreck of the vessels in which they sailed, while 69 Members had been drowned, and their wives and children became claimants on the funds. Another communication, of more recent date, from the same quarter, says, that within the last four years there had been lost by wreck, foundering, and otherwise, 250 sail out of 1,000 belonging to the port, or one-fourth of the whole number: and while the books of the Seaman's Society showed the deaths of their members to be, upon the average of the last ten years, only 166 from sickness, accidents, and old age, aggravated by exposure, fatigue, and the ravages of the cholera all put together; the number of those who were drowned by shipwrecks during the same period amounted to 110 annually: being nearly three-fourths of the number of all the deaths arising from every other cause. By a statement of the ships publicly reported on Lloyd's List as 'not since heard of,' or 'supposed to be lost,' from the 1st of January, 1833, to the 1st of May, 1834." it appears, that, independently of all the losses by ship-wreck that are well ascertained and reported with such painful frequency in the public prints, there are no less than 95 vessels of various sizes reported as "missing," and "supposed to be lost,' and "not since heard of," in the short period of 16 months from the Port of London alone, the greater number if not the whole of these vessels having probably foundered or sunk at sea, with the loss of every creature on board; and calculating the property of ship and cargo in each to be, on the average, worth 10,000l., and the crews and passengers to average sixteen persons to each vessel, here would be, from this single cause alone, a loss of nearly a million sterling in property, and upwards of fifteen hundred lives. And the general result of the evidence taken before the Committee shews, that on the average there is lost every year to the British nation, the immense sum of three millions sterling in property, and at least a thousand lives in brave and valuable seamen. I think the House will agree with me that it is high time to look into the causes of this, so that, 170 by rightly understanding these, we may apply ourselves to the discovery and application of the proper remedies without delay. To these, therefore I will now venture to draw the attention of the House. The proximate causes resolve themselves into three principal ones—imperfect construction of the ships, insufficiency of their equipment, and incompetency in their management at sea. But the remote causes he deeper than the surface; and it is necessary to expose these by showing what it is that leads men to build bad ships instead of good ones; to send them, to sea unprovided with requisites; and to place in command of them incompetent officers. The remote cause of all, or, at least, that which has by far the greatest share in the production of all the others, is the influence of Marine Insurance; and to the abuses engendered by this system, are to be clearly traced nearly all the defects of our present maritime system. This practice is, no doubt, of very ancient date, as far as the principle of wagers or games of risk and chance are concerned; but Marine Insurance especially appears to have had its first statutory recognition in the reign of Elizabeth; and in the 43rd year of that reign, chap. 12, an Act was passed, of which the following preamble sufficiently shews the view then taken of Marine Insurance. The preamble says, "By means of policies of insurance it cometh to pass, upon the loss or perishing of any ship, there followeth not the undoing of any man, but the loss lighteth rather easily upon many than heavily upon few; and rather upon them that adventure not, than those that do adventure; where by all merchants, especially of the younger sort, are allured to venture more willingly and more freely." The very words of the preamble shew, that even then it was contemplated to put the loss on other shoulders than those of the shipowners and merchants, on whom it did not fall even lightly, since they escaped altogether, and the younger merchants were naturally allured to venture deeper than they otherwise could have done without such a system; but though they escaped the "undoing of any man," (of which the preamble speaks) the loss of life was sustained by those who perished, and the loss of property was sustained by the whole community. In consequence of this system of shifting the losses from those who did adventure to the shoulders of 171 them who did not, a new class of persons sprung up, who were neither merchants nor ship-owners, but insurers of property for both, called generally underwriters. It would not take long for these gentlemen to discover, that in proportion as ships were frequently lost, would there be a disposition in merchants and shipowners to pay high premiums for insuring their safety; and as high premiums would yield more profit than low ones, the more the proportion of shipwrecks increased, the more the premiums would be advanced, and the better it would be for their business; while, on the other hand, every thing that could tend to make ships more safe, and to reduce the number lost, would have the effect of lowering premiums and diminishing their profits; until, if these improvements were carried to such a state of perfection as to make shipwrecks rare instead of frequent, their pursuit would soon become unprofitable. The underwriters at Lloyd's having become, in the course of years, a numerous and powerful body, and being strong enough to disregard the opinions of the shipowners, availed themselves of the first fitting opportunity of so doing. Previous to the year 1798, the mode of classifying the merchant ships for the purposes of insurance, was to take into consideration all the circumstances connected with each separate vessel, her age, place of building, manner of construction, materials, and equipment; and to assign to each her proper rank as to comparative safety; and the Shipowner's Registry Book was kept on this principle. As this plain and rational way of proceeding did not satisfy the underwriters, they compiled another volume, called the Underwriter's Book, in which they regarded only one of all these elements, namely the age of the ship, as at all important. This is so clearly and so forcibly explained by the shipowners themselves. [The hon. Member quoted a passage from their Register Book, dated April, 1799.] The merchant, finding that he could get his goods insured at the lowest premium in the newest ships, always gave the preference to the vessel most recently from the stocks; and when his insurance was effected, as this is generally done, up to the full value, he became utterly indifferent as to whether the vessel arrived safely or not: since he would be reimbursed in the event of her loss. The shipbuilder, finding that new ships were 172 more in demand than good ones, and that weak ships were preferred to strong ones, because they were cheaper and would not last so long as even to become old, constructed his vessels in the slightest way in which they would hold together and look decently when afloat; because all he wanted was a ready sale, and the cheaper his ship, the faster she was sure to go off his hands, and give him the means of laying down the keel of a new one. The shipowner, too, finding that if his vessel continued beyond the term prescribed for the first class, or A 1, she immediately became ineligible for good freights, took care to buy the cheapest vessel he could find; and, insuring her to the full value, was just as indifferent as the merchant as to whether she lasted the full term or not, because he was safe by being insured, whatever became of the cargo or the crew. Such a combination of powerful motives and interests as these being in daily operation, led at length to the entire extinction of all competition as to who should build the strongest and best ships for the merchant service. It must be clear, then, that the system of Marine Insurance has been one powerful cause of the deterioration of our merchant shipping, and the consequently increased frequency of shipwrecks; and if anything more could be necessary to prove this fact, it would be found in the exemption from this deterioration, by which the ships of the navy, and of the East India Company are marked. Neither of these ever come within the influence of the system of insurance; and consequently their construction has been constantly improving in strength and safety, while that of all other vessels has been retrograding. Thus, while in 1833, more than 800 merchant ships were known to be lost, besides many others, no doubt, not reported,—while the Amphitrite was wrecked on the coast of France, and 100 human beings drowned; and no less than eighteen ships perished in the spring of 1834, with emigrants to Quebec, by which 700 persons lost their lives; while the coasters on our own shores and the steamers to and from our own ports were also consigning their crews and passengers to destruction in the deep, not a single ship of war was lost. Here, then, is at once a solution of the principal cause of the evil to which I am anxious to call the attention of the House; and since, whoever gains by such a system, the na- 173 tion must be a loser, I ask, whether it is not the duty of the Legislature to interfere. The underwriter may make a handsome fortune by the excess of his premiums over his risks. The shipowner may reimburse himself, by having a vessel that will run a few years, and then when she is lost, getting a new one for his insurance, to replace the one that has sunk. The merchant may benefit by insuring his goods at a high rate, and getting his profits even if they are lost, with new orders to supply the markets to which they never reached—and the manufacturer may benefit by the consumption of the goods sent to the bottom of the sea, and the necessity for new shipments to supply their place. But as all these compensations are obtained by increased charges on the general business transacted by them all, the public have to pay the cost, indirectly in various shapes by increased prices, on the commodities, as well as new taxes or duties on the articles required to supply the place of those lost, and thus the nation is injured by the sacrifice of three millions worth of property engulphed in the waves, and a thousand lives swallowed up annually in the ocean; while the widows and orphans of the victims who have perished, become chargeable on the public and private charities of the country, in a thousand different ways. I come now to a second cause, which is this: the frequent incompetency of the persons placed in charge of such vessels as officers and commanders. And here, too, the contrast between the navy and the merchant service is striking. In the navy, an examination takes place of every midshipman who is to pass as a lieutenant, and of every master, on whom the principal responsibility of the navigation rests, before he is appointed to a ship. In the East-India Company's service also, the sworn officers, to the number of four in each of their vessels, were strictly examined in navigation and seamanship, without a thorough knowledge of both of which, they were never intrusted with a charge. With the French, the Dutch, the Danes, the Swedes, and even with the Russians, a rigid examination takes place into the qualifications of persons about to be appointed to the command of merchant vessels, and the result is, that much fewer of all these are lost out of any given number, in consequence of the better construction and more competent management of the ships. 174 But in the general merchant service of England, no provision whatever is taken to secure competent officers or competent commanders; and thus, while we provide that no man shall practise medicine or surgery who does not prove himself qualified by a public examination, lest a few of his Majesty's subjects should suffer by his ignorance, we take no pains to secure the possession of proper qualifications in those to whose charge, millions of property and thousands of lives are consigned, and a large portion of each only to perish. Not to weary the House with too many instances, let me mention only one. In the last year only, there was a vessel of 279 tons lying in the Thames named the Hedleys, bound from Belfast to Quebec, commanded by a Captain Storey, who was actually not more than fourteen years of age; who was moreover, the very youngest person on board his own ship, and whose apprentices were even older than himself. The probability is, that he was a near relative of the owners, and it was thought the captain's pay and privileges might be as well retained in the family, while an experienced mate might be put into the ship as a sort of viceroy over him; but it must be evident that circumstances might arise to make it of the utmost importance that the commander should have the entire confidence of all the crew; and in a moment of peril, when, the greatest skill and experience might be necessary for their safety, how could such a youth as this inspire his men with respect for his judgment or his authority? The instances of disastrous consequences resulting from incompetency, sometimes from ignorance of seamanship, sometimes from ignorance of navigation, sometimes from extreme youth and inexperience, and very often from intoxication and the total absence of all discipline, would fill a long and melancholy catalogue, but on this I will not enlarge. A third cause deserves also to be mentioned, which is, the severe and rigid economy to which all shipowners and shipmasters are obliged to resort from the sharp competition of foreign vessels These vessels procuring cheaper materials for their construction, and having cheaper provisions and stores, can sail and make a profit at extremely low freights. The English shipowner, on the contrary, pays more dearly for nearly all the articles used in building and equipment—not because of their natural price, but because 175 of the heavy duties on them all: he has taxed timber—taxed cordage—taxed canvas—taxed bread—and taxed beef to provide, and therefore he has nothing to spare for any supplies beyond those of the merest necessity: while to talk to him of providing his vessel with all the various improvements for the safety of the ship and crew—as accurate charts, good chronometers, perfect sextants, excellent barometers, patent rudders, solid channels, life-buoys, apparatus for saving men from drowning, or, in short, anything else that costs money, is like asking him to load himself with heavy weights before he sets out on a race of competition with a rival who has nothing whatever to incumber him, and with whom he has great difficulty in keeping pace, even when he has nothing to carry. The English ship-owner will never do this, nor can we fairly expect him to do so, as long as his only object in sending ships to sea is to make them the instruments of increasing his fortune. A fourth cause of the present defective state of our merchant shipping is the inaccurate system or rule of tonnage measurement. The old mode was bad enough—complicated, difficult, and most inaccurate in its results. But the new mode, enforced by an Act passed only a Session or two since, is absolutely worse, because its results are farther off from the truth. In consequence of this utter inadequacy of the rule of measurement last adopted to reach the case, there is still the same temptation as ever to build vessels, not of the best shapes for sailing and stowage, but of the shapes that will best evade their liability to heavy tonnage duties. The law is, in short, a complete premium for the building of ships with large stowage only, without reference to the good qualities required in a safe sea-boat: and thus, while the American merchant ships, not subject to such a law, are built of the most graceful and beautiful forms, uniting fast sailing, good stowage, and perfect safety in all weathers—while our ships of war, not subject to any tonnage duties, are of the finest models for strength, speed, and capacity united; our merchant ships are often mere tubs, and if seen ashore look like warehouses intended to be floated, in which bulk of space was the chief consideration in their construction, and safety and speed of navigation the last.
A fifth cause may be enumerated, and 176 this is the last on which I shall venture to touch—which is, the entire absence of all responsibility or accountability to any public authorities when either lives or property are lost at sea in merchant ships. In the navy—if a vessel runs ashore, or founders, or runs foul of another, or receives any material injury in any way, a court of inquiry is instantly ordered on the captain and officers in charge, and they are either acquitted or sentenced to some appropriate punishment as the evidence may warrant. On shore—if a coachman, however unintentionally, upsets a coach, and any lives are lost, a coroner's inquest is held to inquire into the case, and the verdict condemns or acquits the individual accordingly; and in the event of an injury being sustained by a broken limb, and the action is shown to be occasioned by want of skill, an action lies against the unskilful driver or his employers, and compensation is recovered by the injured party—for the loss of his labour and medical expenses till he is restored. But in the English merchant service, ships may be wrecked on the coast, or sink to the bottom at sea, and no public inquiry is made into the causes of either the one or the other. The underwriter pays the merchant, out of the large premiums he has been receiving, and the merchant is satisfied; the ship-owner is reimbursed by having a new ship given him to the full value of the old, and he is satisfied; the manufacturer gets a new order to supply the place of the goods lost, for which he has been guaranteed payment before their shipment, and he is satisfied. The public pay the whole cost of this, as well as the tax on the articles lost, and they, too, from ignorance, it is believed, of their interest in the matter, appear to be satisfied. The poor sailors are gone to the bottom, with all that they possessed, and they will call for no inquiry; while their widows and orphans, to whom their wages would be so acceptable, lose them all, both the husband and parent who toiled for them, and the hard earnings which they would have received if he had arrived in safety, for "freight is the mother of wages" in the jargon of the law, and the poor dependants of the drowned men go without their just due, and they must be satisfied. The House will agree with me then, I think, in saying, that such a state of things demands a remedy; and the Bill which I propose to 177 introduce is intended to give to a great extent the remedy demanded. I should wish much to see a revision of the system of marine insurance; but as I think that should be the subject of a special Act, I will not embody it in the present Bill, and therefore will only advert to it briefly. I believe that the most effectual way of bringing about a change in this system, with the least violence, and the greatest benefit to all existing interests, would be for the Legislature to pass an Act granting all the facilities and advantages that a legislative provision would afford to a class of "Shipowners' Mutual Insurance Societies," of which there might be one at least for every large port in the kingdom, of which the smaller ports could readily avail themselves, and as many as might be thought desirable for London. On the same grounds as the incorporated friendly societies for the mutual benefit of its members, without profit to any individual, have been favoured by the Legislature with exemption from stamp duties in their various transactions, and with power to employ their capital in particularly advantageous modes, all "Mutual Insurance Societies of Shipowners," the characteristic of which would be a provision for mutual security and mutual benefit without profit to any individuals, might be also privileged by such exemptions and such advantages. The result of this would be, that the shipowners of London, and of every other large port, would become, as the nation is for the navy, and as the East India Company always were for their ships, their own insurers. Every one would then have an interest in the strength, safety, and preservation of ships, instead of in their weakness, danger, and loss. Ships would be gradually built of the strongest and best description, as Indiamen and ships of war, of which there are some now afloat of eighty and ninety years old, and be kept also in the same good state of repair; because the fewer the vessels lost, the lower would be the premiums, and every shipowner, being a member of such a mutual insurance society, would be himself the receiver of all the benefits that now go entirely to enrich a class of men who drain a large annual income from the premiums paid to cover losses. I would not, of course, recommend the prohibition of individual insurance; but the incorporation of such societies as these would, by the fair and 178 legitimate operation of their own superior advantages, progressively induce the shipowners of England to disentangle themselves from the net by which they are now surrounded, from the extent and influence of a society, whose ramifications extend over all the world, and which is only to be superseded by some great change like that which I suggest, by substituting mutual insurance for the present system, and encouraging the transition by legislative enactments and exempting privileges, as well as by prohibiting the insurance of any sea risk for more than three-fourths of its actual value. The remedy which the Bill that I seek to introduce will apply, will be the formation of a Marine Board in the port of London, to be charged with the especial duty of superintending the general state and condition of the whole of the mercantile marine of the kingdom and promoting by every means in its power whatever can tend to improve it. But, in addition to the surveys of ships and examination of officers for the purposes before described, it is indispensable that some code of maritime law, and some system of maritime discipline should be composed and legalised, to give it sanction or force. The House will be surprised, no doubt, to learn that England, undoubtedly the first maritime nation in the world, and whose boast has hitherto been "to rule the subject wave," is behind every other maritime country in the world in this respect. During the last year, the attention of the French Government having been called to the propriety of introducing some improvement in their laws and discipline, for the mercantile marine an officer was sent to London to ascertain what was the law and discipline of the merchant ships of England, which were naturally thought by the French Ministers, by whom this officer was sent, to be models of perfection worthy of being imitated. This gentleman, having seen my name associated in the public journals with the progress of the great questions of the abolition of impressment for the navy, and the registration of seamen in the merchant service, addressed himself to me for information on the subject of his enquiries. His astonishment was, however, extreme, when he learnt that though we had so many millions of property, and so many thousand lives afloat in our merchant ships, we had no code of laws and no 179 system of discipline embodied in any shape or form whatever. In France, on the contrary, while they have a perfect system of registration for their naval seamen, by which the necessity of impressment is entirely avoided, and the system of the drafts from which is so efficient, that according to the testimony of one of our gallant admirals, Sir George Cockburn, in his evidence before a Finance Committee of the House of Commons, they can always get their ships of war manned and at sea in a shorter space of time than we could ever effect by our odious and detested press-gangs;—they have had, for more than a century past, an excellent code of laws for the regulation and discipline of the merchant service. The French Ordonnance of 1681, was admitted by Lord Mansfield, Lord Tenterden, and the highest legal authorities, to be one of the best digested, most complete, and perfect body of maritime law that has ever been promulgated. The consequence is, that comparatively very few French vessels are lost, in proportion to the whole number employed. In England, however, all the property and life afloat upon the sea is wholly unprotected by any code of laws or code of discipline: and hence we have accordingly shipwrecks, founderings, mutinies, floggings, putting men in irons, drunkenness, insubordination, and piracies, to such a frightful extent, as to astonish all who look into the catalogue in detail. The Marine Board, to be established by this Bill, will be charged with the drawing up of such a code of laws and rules of discipline, for submission to the Legislature for its sanction; and there are two functions which it may advantageously exercise as a part of its ordinary duty. It would add greatly to the efficiency of the remedies here proposed, if the Government would at the same time give every facility to the formation of Marine Hospitals for the old and infirm, as well as Marine Asylums for the retention, in a state of comfort and sobriety, of the merchant seamen in every port. If a permanent retreat, however, be desirable for the seaman when his day of active service is at an end, and old age unfits him for any thing but repose, some temporary asylum to save him from the horrors of worse than shipwreck, by which he is surrounded the instant he puts his foot on shore, is equally important. Almost from the mo- 180 ment of a seaman landing, either in an English or a foreign port, to the moment of his sailing again, he is so surrounded by temptations of the most vicious kind, and so excited by intoxication, that every day he remains on shore, he is robbed of health, strength, comfort, clothes, and money; and kept in a state of frantic excess or senseless stupidity. The moment a ship arrives in port, a class of man-en-trappers of the most depraved description he in wait to catch the unwary seaman even before he lands; his chest and hammock are taken off to the crimp's lodging-house; women, and music, and drink, are all put in operation to influence his passions, destroy his reason, and make him an easy victim. He has an account run up of ten times the amount he ever consumed. He is pilfered of the money he received for the voyage he has just completed, and his person and clothes are held in pledge till he is sold by these crimps to some captain wanting hands; and then the score is paid off by his entrapper and keeper, taking a portion, or the whole, of the two months' wages that the seaman receives for the voyage on which he is about to enter, while the poor wretch himself is kept a close prisoner on board lest he should desert; and is hardly ever sober until he gets to sea. When it is considered that there are nearly 50,000 men and boys every day in this state of drunkenness and demoralisation—for this is the state of nearly all those engaged in the foreign trade of the country—the coasters being happily free from this detestable system of crimping, it must, I think, strike all hon. Gentlemen who hear me, that it is the duty of the Government to see whether by the establishment of a Marine Asylum in each of the principal sea-port towns, and the presenting strong inducements to resort to them after retiring from a foreign voyage, seamen might be rescued from the misery, and disease, and plunder, to which they are now subject, for the want of some such home as this. There is but one topic more to which I will advert, in the shape of a remedy, but as it is an important one, I trust the House will bear with me for a few moments longer, while I mention it. I believe that the shipping interest is really depressed, and from two main causes; the first—that owing to the system of building ships to last for short periods instead of long ones, there have been 181 more ships built than could find profitable employment; for the old system of classification gave such an unhealthy stimulus to over-production in the number of ships, as to lead to a competition that greatly reduced freights, and left little or no profits. This too led again to the most erroneous conclusions as to our maritime prosperity, which was inferred from the increasing number of our vessels, while this increased number was the great evil to be deplored. The second cause of depression is, that the taxes and expenses in the construction and navigation of our ships, make the burthen literally too heavy to be borne. I would humbly suggest, therefore, the propriety of beginning at once, and proceeding as fast as may be thought safe and practicable, to abate these burthens one by one, if they cannot be taken off altogether and entirely. The duties on timber, cordage, canvas, and all that enters into the building and equipment of ships, might be greatly lessened—the importation of foreign provisions in bread and flour, might be permitted—the tonnage dues for light-houses might be altogether abolished. It is as much a national object to have lighthouses, as it is to have observatories or telegraphs, and the national funds should be applied to the support of the whole. The tonnage dues abolished, the whole system of tonnage measurement should be revised, and if no temptation were presented to build ships of bad shapes to avoid this impost, we should soon see the merchant ships of England as graceful and beautiful in their forms as those of America—uniting speed, stowage, and safety in the highest attainable degree; and worthy, which certainly they now are not, of the maritime dignity and reputation of our country. By the system I have endeavoured to expose, we are silently looking on while the nation is literally despoiled of three millions sterling per annum, consigned to destruction in the deep; and while a thousand of our brave and enterprising countrymen are offered up a sacrifice to the shrine of Mammon. We do but mock and blaspheme the name of the God of Mercy, when we invoke him, in our public prayers, "for the safety of those who go down to the sea in ships, and are exposed to the perils of the deep," while we at the same time sanction a system so destructive of human life, and then impute to Providence what our own 182 avarice first engendered, and our own negligence still prolongs. I hope I have said enough to justify my asking the House to accede to the motion which I now beg leave to place in your hands,—"That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the establishment of a Marine Board, and for the better regulation of the Merchant Shipping of the Kingdom."
§ Mr. Hume
, in rising to second the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Sheffield, begged to say that he was by no means friendly to the interference of the Legislature in commercial matters. It appeared to him, however, that a case had been made out by his hon. Friend which called loudly for Legislation. Whether the evils existed to the extent pointed out by his hon. Friend he was unable to say; but of this fact he was sure, that, for the pains and trouble which his hon. Friend had taken on this subject, the least that was due to him was to give him leave to bring in his Bill. It was a very strange anomaly that for every person who met his death by accident on shore, the law provided that there should be an inquiry before the coroner; but if 500 men perished at sea, unless their bodies were driven on shore, no provision whatever was made for inquiry as to how these lives had been lost. He thought it only just that his hon. Friend should have an opportunity of bringing in his Bill, and they would have a sufficient opportunity in its future stages of considering its details.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
did not rise, on the part of the Government, to offer any opposition to the bringing in of this Bill. He felt that it was due to the hon. Member for Sheffield, and to the report of the Committee, to allow the Bill to be brought in. He confessed, however, that he should look for the Bill with some curiosity, because, not only from what had fallen from the hon. Member for Sheffield, but from the report of the Committee, he should be inclined to think, that this Bill would enter into a great variety of subjects, and would attempt to legislate upon details which he did not believe susceptible of legislation. The hon. Member for Sheffield had stated, that whilst this country enjoyed so large a portion of the commerce of the world, and so large a proportion of commercial marine, in comparison with other countries, they had not the same protection afforded by the Legislature. Now be would say, that this 183 very fact was rather an argument against too much meddling with the subject by the Legislature; that it was owing to the absence of interference on the part of the Legislature, that this country, which, according to the statement of the hon. Member for Sheffield, was far behind all other countries in legislation on this subject, was advanced far beyond them in the practical results, and in the station which she held comparatively with other countries, with reference to our commercial marine. He thought that the hon. Member for Sheffield had a little destroyed his own argument on this point, because he was only able to quote the instance of France, in which, according to the statement of the hon. Member, an admirable code of laws existed. Now, when he turned to the report of the Committee, he found that it was not the French commercial marine that was brought forward as an example to show their superiority, but the commercial marine of the United States, where, if he (Mr. Thomson) were not misinformed, no regulations of a kind similar to those the hon. Member sought to introduce were actually in force. [Mr. Buckingham: They are in force, but not to the same extent.] To what extent, then, were they in force? He would again venture to caution the hon. Member against admitting too many details into this Bill. There might be some points in which the Legislature might advantageously interfere, but he cautioned the hon. Member against going into too many details; and he did so the more, because, from the report of the Committee, as he stated before, he was inclined to believe that this would be the case. Fie should not follow the hon. Member through all his arguments in favour of the different propositions laid down by him, but when he saw the Bill, he would examine it closely. He must say, at once, that he protested against the doctrine laid down by the hon. Gentleman with reference to insurances. Did the hon. Member think that marine insurance was a feature in our commercial system, of which we ought to endeavour to get rid? Were any one to ask him such a question, he should say at once, that he thought it one of the greatest improvements in modern times, and of the very highest importance in commercial affairs. In his opinion, the practice of insuring vessels, so far from making shipowners careless with respect to them, had 184 a contrary effect, and for this reason—that if it could be proved that they were not seaworthy, or insufficiently found, the owners could not recover from the underwriters. The hon. Member for Sheffield stated, that insurances had been effected on vessels, of which mere boys had been intrusted with the command. Now if this fact came to the knowledge of the underwriters, no one would suppose that the owners of ships would find their advantage in employing boys for the sake of saving 10l. or 12l. a-year, when upon insurances effected under these circumstances, they must pay an infinitely higher sum, or run the risk of their ship going to sea without any insurance at all. When he said this, he did not at all mean to prejudge the question of a Board, as far as mere examination went. He was rather disposed to think that some such plan would be attended with advantage, and he would remark that there was one attribute of that board with which he felt disposed to agree, namely, that it would be advisable, if possible, by some means, to obtain an after inquiry into the causes of shipwrecks, in the same way that they instituted inquiries respecting deaths caused by any accident whatever. He believed that such inquiries, if properly managed, would be attended with considerable advantage. He thought that they ought to afford a security of this kind, in deference to the feelings of the public generally, which were naturally excited in cases of shipwreck. With regard to another point adverted to by the hon. Member for Sheffield, he must say, that as far as related to ships engaged in the conveyance of passengers, the Legislature had already adopted some provision on this subject. A few years ago he had himself introduced provisions, which were still in force, by which ships taking passengers were subjected to certain regulations. At the same time, he had no objection, at first sight, to express his wish, that there should be an inquiry into the causes of accident occuring in all ships whatever. To the proposition of the hon. Member, with regard to the construction of ships, and the submitting the construction of them to a Board, he must at once say, that he had the most serious objections, as he believed such a proposition would be the means of stopping all improvements in the construction of vessels. It would prevent that competition by which an improved con- 185 struction was discovered. He was desirous that the great mass of ships that went to sea, should be better built, and better constructed generally, but he believed that those improvements in construction, that now took place, would not occur, if the proposition of the hon. Member were adopted. If men were satisfied the moment they got their certificates, that their ships were sufficiently well constructed, one of the greatest inducements to improve the construction of ships, and by which a superior construction could be obtained, would probably be done away with. It would be the means of putting an end to invention and improvement. He believed that one great cause of the faulty construction of commercial ships, arose from the principle adopted of determining their measurement. He had certainly given a great deal of time and consideration to this subject; and the result was, that he had introduced a Bill to Parliament, two years ago, which was afterwards passed into a law, to effect a different mode of measurement. He hoped it had proved successful as far as it went. He did not imagine that it was perfect, and should be happy to support any measure which he considered an improvement, or by which any fault in the construction of vessels might be removed. He would not then enter into any further details. He would be happy to give all the attention in his power to the Bill, when it came before the House again, and he certainly would not present any obstacle to its being introduced.
§ Mr. George F. Young
begged to offer a few words, as otherwise some misapprehension might arise in consequence of an expression used by the hon. Member for Sheffield. He understood that hon. Member to say, that the Committee upon whose report this Bill was introduced were unanimous in the resolutions they had come to. As a Member of that Committee he begged to say, that they were not unanimous in their opinion, as he himself did not vote for many of them. Other members of the Committee entertained similar scruples, but they did not think it necessary to divide the Committee. The hon. Member for Sheffield seemed, by his Bill to endeavour to carry out his own preconceived opinions. He seemed throughout his observations to deprecate the present practice of marine insurances. Now, he begged to assure the House, that they could not 186 usefully interfere with the practice of marine insurances. He would tell the House, that it was impracticable. They might drive marine insurances away from this country, and compel the owners of ships to insure in foreign countries, where they were not subject to these restrictions; and if they made laws so stringent as to compel British vessels to insure in this country, they would make it impossible for the shipowners to maintain competition in the carrying trade with other nations; and the consequence would be, that the mercantile marine of the country would be destroyed. The hon. Member for Sheffield had greatly overstated his case when he said, there were inducements to shipowners to send their ships to sea in an unfit state. Now, the condition of every policy of insurance was, that the ship should be seaworthy, and sufficiently equipped and manned, and if the case were different in any respect, the underwriters would be very ready to avail themselves of this plea, and would refuse payment to the amount of the policy. With respect to the construction of ships, if the Legislature attempted to interfere with the builders of vessels, they would prevent competition amongst individuals as to the construction of the ships they wished to employ, and the objects of which must be best known to themselves. By leaving this matter alone, he believed, that they would be sure to obtain in the aggregate that construction of ships which was best adapted for the purposes of the maritime commerce of this country. It would be injurious and absurd to introduce a construction of one description, or any other impediment upon free individual competition. He agreed with the hon. Member for Sheffield, that it was most inconsistent and improper, that men who were intrusted with such important interests as the command of merchant ships should not be required to give some proof of competency. To this extent he cordially and entirely agreed with the hon. Member, and he further agreed with him, that if, through any circumstances, a ship were lost, the commander of such ship at the time ought not to be allowed to resume his station until, by an inquiry before a competent tribunal, he should have been exonerated from all blame. He would make no objection to the introduction of the Bill.
§ Mr. Robinson
could not consent to the 187 introduction of this Bill without making a few remarks. He gave the hon. Member for Sheffield every credit for his humane intentions and his benevolent motives in introducing this Bill. It was due to the hon. Member, and to the Committee to allow the Bill to be introduced, but he must say, he protested against the provisions of the Bill, except so far as the interests of humanity rendered it necessary. If the House went beyond that, they would incur the risk of doing a great deal of mischief. The hon. Member for Sheffield had made some observations from which it was to be inferred, that the underwriters had an interest in the loss of ships, inasmuch as the occurrence of such losses had a tendency to augment premiums. The hon. Member for Sheffield stated, that such was the ingenious process by which these transactions were carried into effect, that neither the owners of the ships, the owners of the cargo, or the underwriters were in a degree interested in the subsequent fates of the vessels. This was a most extraordinary proposition, and he never expected to hear such a statement from any one possessing the hundredth part of the good sense of the hon. Member for Sheffield. So far from the underwriters being indifferent as to the seaworthiness of vessels, and the competence of themselves, that they required something like a proof of all these things before they insured vessels at the current rate of premium. If an insurance were offered without proving the quality of the vessel and the competence of the master, the necessary consequence would be, that the party insuring must pay an extra premium. As to boys of fourteen years being allowed to command vessels, he could not speak to the fact; all he would say was, that if proved it would vitiate the policy of insurance. The hon. Member for Sheffield said, that in all other nations there were some legislative enactments with respect to ships and their owners; but the hon. Member had only adverted to France. He must say, that France was the last country he would look to for an example with respect to its commercial marine. If any thing were obvious, it was the manifest superiority of this country over France. But what was the case in the United States? It was perfectly well known, that if any country were entitled to claim superiority 188 in point of commercial marine, it was that country; and yet there was no such regulations existed as those proposed by the hon. Member for Sheffield. Having stated this, he would very briefly state how far he agreed with the hon. Member. He was perfectly willing to admit, that the concession to the proposed board of a power to inquire into all cases of shipwreck and loss of life might be productive of very satisfactory results. It was due to the public, that a strict investigation should take place into the causes of such disasters. To that extent he would go with the hon. Member for Sheffield. With reference to the remarks which had been made upon the subject of the incompetence of masters of vessels, he would just observe, that he had good grounds for believing, that in the character of persons appointed to the command of merchant vessels a great improvement had latterly taken place. He would certainly not at the present period offer any objection to the course proposed by the hon. Gentleman. He would look into the details of his Bill with a view to render it as effective as possible. If in this stage of the proceeding he were to offer any opinion it should be with reference to those parts of the hon. Member's plan which related to the construction of vessels—a matter in which the Legislature would, in his estimation, do more harm than good by interfering with it. He was perfectly willing to give his assent to the proposition, that no vessel should be suffered to go to sea without being subjected to some examination in the first instance, for the purpose of ascertaining her competence or incompetence to proceed on the proposed voyage; but as to legislative interference, with a view to prevent shipowners from insuring beyond the value of three-fourths of the ship—to that he never could consent.
§ Mr. Aaron Chapman
concurred in many portions of the measure proposed by the hon. Member for Sheffield. He more particularly assented to that portion of it which related to the overlading of ships. By this system he believed, that vessels were not un frequently rendered so top-heavy as to be almost unavoidably lost—a subject than which none could be more proper for Parliamentary inquiry He (Mr. Chapman) was as strongly interested in the maritime commerce of 189 this country as any hon. Member could be; but he begged, at the same time, to impress upon the House the necessity of legislating with care and caution upon a subject of this description and of not permitting themselves to be carried into precipitate legislation by the personal attachment of hon. Members to Quixotic views.
§ Sir Edward Codrington
said, that with all proper deference for the opinions of those hon. Gentlemen who were connected with the mercantile marine of Great Britain, he did not think that sufficient attention was paid to the safety of the lives of the seamen and others who made the voyage on board merchant ships. He had seen vessels knowingly lost. He repeated, that he had seen merchant-vessels purposely lost. He had once been standing on the beach at Brighton, and had been asked by some people near him why he was looking so attentively seaward? "To see that vessel lost," was the answer which he made. He awaited the result accordingly; and the vessel was undoubtedly lost, as he had anticipated, for no other earthly reason, as he believed, but that she had been largely insured. He doubted very much whether the people at Lloyd's were aware of the extent of danger to which vessels were exposed in consequence, as it was termed, of their being "well insured."
thought, that in the case of a vessel being known to be decidedly not seaworthy, a sufficient security might be found in the natural reluctance which seamen would feel to trust their lives to such a conveyance. He did not, however, object to the principle of the Bill, but would be glad to see it referred to a Committee, for the purpose of pruning down the redundancies by which it was encumbered.
§ Mr. Warburton
was apprehensive that the constitution of a board for licensing masters of merchant vessels might be tantamount to the formation of a sort of corporation of masters, whose exertions, corresponding with their own interests, would be directed to the limitation of the list of masters to the smallest possible number. No man could dispute the fact, that great advantages had resulted from the system of insuring vessels; neither could it be doubted that it had been productive of very great evils. There was one security, however, against abuse to be found in the 190 fact that, whatever might be the amount of losses, the premiums would exactly increase in proportion. Nothing could be more certain than that ships had been often fitted up for the express purpose of being lost. He would not say that so disgraceful an occurrence had taken place very often; but he certainly would say not very seldom. It was well known that it sometimes was the interest of shipowners, in the event of a vessel running ashore, to sustain a total loss of the vessel rather than a partial loss, and thus to secure the payment of the whole amount insured. There were undoubtedly many portions of the subject introduced by the hon. Member for Sheffield which called for legislative interference. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would make his Bill comprehend only the broad and leading points of the question, and leave all minor points to the good sense of the individuals engaged in maritime commerce.
§ Captain Pechell
said, it was perfectly notorious that when a ship was fit for nothing else it was sent to bring timber from Canada. He hoped the hon. Member for Sheffield would receive that credit he was justly entitled to for his very great perseverance in this matter.
Sir John R. Reed
only rose to express his astonishment at the observations of the hon. Member for Bridport, alleging that ships were lost purposely. He believed that such occurrences were at least extremely rare as he had never met with one.
§ Mr. Pease
was not opposed to the principle of insurances; but, at the same time he thought the subject required great and vigilant attention. At present it was too often the case that men were induced to join ships at two hours' notice, without any opportunity of examining into their seaworthiness, whose lives were thus recklessly exposed to danger. He thought that the dictates of humanity required that some attention should be devoted to this subject.
§ Lord Sandon
was heartily glad that the hon. Member had persevered so far as to introduce a Bill which was likely to remedy many of the evils which had been proved before the Committee to exist in this department of business. He felt himself bound to bear testimony to the zeal of the hon. Member whose Bill, if not shackled with too many regulations, he had no doubt would do much good.
§ Mr. Buckingham
wished to state in re- 191 ference to the objections that had been made, that it was not his intention to touch the question of marine insurances. He did not propose to interfere with the construction of ships, for, as a marine commander, his own experience taught him that every ship ought to have a form suited to the particular business in which she was engaged. The Bill contained only twenty clauses, and he would be glad to adopt any suggestion that might be offered for its improvement.
§ Leave given to bring in the Bill.