Thursday, 29 October 2015


London, 22nd February, 1911. 



Preliminary observations. 

This Inquiry was held at the Caxton Hall, Westminster, on the 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th of December, 1910, the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 16th, 17th, 30th and 31st of January, and 1st and 22nd of February, 1911. 

After the sixth day of the hearing, Mr. Hallett, who had been very unwell from the commencement of the proceedings, found himself unable to continue the Inquiry. The Court regretted very much the loss of his valuable assistance, but, as no allegation whatever had been made against the vessel's machinery, all the evidence on the contrary going to show its thorough efficiency, it was considered better to proceed with the Inquiry without an engineer assessor, and, with the consent of parties, this course was adopted. 

On the whole I agree, but there was the question of a section of copper piping (used in the heat transfer system) replaced at Durban. The copper was found to be flawed which had greater implications for the 'thorough efficiency' of the 'vessel's machinery'. Such a small, flawed item could have been the precursor to a significant explosion in the engine room.

Mr. Frederick Laing, K.C., Mr. Norman Raeburn, and Mr. Digby appeared for the Board of Trade; Mr. Butler Aspinall, K.C., and Mr. Craig Henderson for the builders; Mr. Leshe Scott, K.C., M.P., and Mr. Daniel Stephens for the owners; Mr. Bucknill for Dr. Edward Bryan, and for others interested in the passengers. Mr. W. M. R. Pringle, M.P., at first appeared for Mr. H. E. Starke, but he withdrew at an early stage of the proceedings. 

At the outset of the case it was agreed by counsel for the parties that any matters tending to throw light on the circumstances of the ship's loss should be placed before the Court, although, according to the strict rules of evidence, they might not be admissible. The Court approved the adoption of this course, but has had to consider what effect should be given to such "hearsay" evidence. While desirous that the natural anxiety of the public, and particularly of the friends and relatives of those lost in the ship, should, so far as possible, be set at rest by a complete examination of every scrap of information available, the Court had to remember its functions as a legal tribunal upon which it was incumbent to observe the law of evidence. The rule which, in the peculiar circumstances of the case, it laid down for its own guidance was, that, while any findings of fact must be based upon strictly legal evidence, yet it would consider those findings in the light of the more or less irregular evidence allowed to be introduced, and see how far its conclusions were thereby fortified or invalidated. In the absence of direct evidence it is satisfactory to the Court to find that the inferences it has drawn from the legal evidence would not require any modification had the "hearsay" to which it has listened been evidence upon which it could have acted. 

This is a very important paragraph, illustrating the limitations confronting the Court. So much of what was reported on the behaviour at sea of the Waratah hinged on impressions, with limited legal admissibility. Over subsequent decades, much of what was said within the realm of impressions and hearsay, became entrenched as 'fact'. The Court was however ambitious, attempting to tackle 'every scrap of information available'. 'Irregular evidence' would be tested in terms of validation. This might explain why some circumstantial evidence did not appear to be fully explored through cross-examination and therefore not recorded in the Inquiry transcript. Such a scenario was to play favourably into the hands of certain parties,,,,, 

the owners in particular.

copper pipes

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