INQUIRY REGARDING THE LOSS OF THE EARL OF WEMYSS.
An inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of the ten females and children who were drowned during the late gale on board
the Earl of Wemyss, Leith smack, has been instituted, under the di- rection of Lord Melbourne, by Mr- Hare, and other Magistrates re- siding near Brancaster, in Norfolk. These gentlemen assembled at the Hare Arms, Docking, on Saturday week. The first witness they examined was Captain Nesbit, the master of the Wemyss. He gave a description of the gale, and how his vessel was driven aground by it on the Norfolk coast. She grounded about half-past ten on the night of Saturday the 31st August. At this time, he supposed the tide to be ebbing. No person asked to be sent ashore ; and if such a request had been made, he could not have granted it; for at half-past two he hoisted the boat out, but it was found impossible to have any commu- nication with the shore, and she was taken in again. The sea was then coming in breakers over the ship ; but they tried the pumps, and found no water in her. The water broke a pane of glass in the sky- light of the foremost cabin. About three o'clock, he went down into the ladies' cabin, where there was no water; and he told them to keep quiet, for that in two hours the tide would leave them and he hoped they would be able to get ashore. He then returned upon deck; and in five minutes time she filled from a leak in her bottom, which be has since found was from her keel giving way. The sea broke over her and completely filled her in an instant—in the time that he crawled from the companion to the mast. All the skylights had been covered with painted cloth, made for the purpose, at eight o'clock on the Saturday; and continued to be so until after the wreck, when the sea washed them off the deck. The hatchway was battened down, except the space left for the companion-ladder. He gave no directions about the ladies being placed in the upper berths. He had every reason, to believe, and thinks, that if the keel bad remained whole, and no leak occurred, be should have been able to get the passengers safe on shore. If the vessel had not sunk from the leak in her bottom, he did not think she would have taken in water enough above to fill the cabin. To the best of his judgment, believes it was eleven a.m. when he left the vessel. The people on shore brought waggons to take them out. Had left the vessel in charge of Mr. Mingay, one of the Coast Guard. He was unable, from the fatigues he bad undergone, to give any as- sistance in getting the dead bodies out of the vessel. On the 2d Sep- tember he received 4481. from Mr. Newman Reeve, which that gentle- man had taken as the representative of the lord of the manor. The evidence of Captain Nesbit was confirmed in almost every particular by the Mate, David Muckle Reid. After the cabin had filled, one of the men put down a stick into it, hoping that some of the ladies might lay hold of it and the witness said he put down his legs for that purpose, but could feel none of them.
At this stage of the proceedings, Mr. Ashurst, a 'solicitor arrived from London, to attend the investigation on behalf of the relatives of some of the sufferers. Although the inquiry was instituted at the re- quest of his clients, yet they had not been informed of the time fixed for it until late on the day before. He wished to have the inquiry ad- journed till the following Monday, and that be might be allowed to cross-examine the Captain, who had left the place. The Chairman, Mr. Frederick Hare, doubted the propriety of a cross-examination ; and said that he had no power to compel the attendance of the Cap- tain. But subsequently, Mr. Ashurst exhibited informations against the Captain, which induced the Magistrate to grant a summons for his appearance on Monday. On that day (30th September), Mr. Henry Gooch, one of the pas- sengers, gave a full account of the circumstances attending the ship- wreck, most of which have already been detailed in the Spectator. He said that Mr. Logan, one of the passengers, a Navy surgeon. also thought that the tide was ebbing instead of flowing, and lay down in his berth under that impression. About four in the morning, however, be discovered his mistake ; and told the Steward to inform the Captain that the tide was flowing and not ebbing. The Captain came down into the cabin ; and then, for the first time, consulted the Almanack, and found out his mistake. The evidence of Mr. Gooch proved the extreme neglect of the Captain and Mate. The latter was told to put a tarpaulin over the broken skylights; but it was not done, and the first heavy sea filled the cabins with water. The witness, who had re- mained with the ladies nearly all the time, was dragged up through the skylight quite insensible; being in the gentleman's cabin when the ves- sel filled. He had lost a pair of trousers, in the pockets of which were eighteen sovereigns ; his other clothes were found and restored to him, but these were not.
The investigation was then adjourned for the day. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, several witnesses were examined ; the prin- cipal of whom was the Reverend Mr. Holloway. He spoke very in- dignantly of the brutal indifference of Captain Nesbit, and Mr. Mac- naughten, the agent of the vessel, respecting the loss of life which had occurred. They seemed to think only of the loss of property. Mr. Holloway detailed at length the means taken by him to administer re- lief to the sufferers, and to have the bodies of the ladies carefully and decently laid out. He also stated his belief, that Macnaughten, with
the Captain, Mate, and Steward of the vessel, had got up a story to- gether, as he overheard the former, in conversation with them, say,
" Mind and stick to that." This witness also gave evidence as to the shameful manner in which the Captain allowed the property of the passengers to be plundered on board the ship. A good deal of evidence was given as to the mode in which rings, watches, and other valuables, were taken from the persons of the ladies when they were brought upon deck. Mr. Newman Reeve seems to have been most active in this work ; being, as he said, the representa- tive of the lord of the manor.
John Large, a mariner of Brancaster, said very positively, that it was perfectly practicable for the Captain to have put his passengers ashore in a boat. He had been on board the ship ; and though he found the hatches where the goods were, carefully fastened down, there was no appearance of nails or canvass about the cabin skylights.
Mr. William James Mingay, the person appointed by Captain Nes- bit to take care of the vessel when he left it, stated the difficulty be had
in preserving order among the crowd who thronged to the vessel—most of them for the purpose of plunder. He was assisted in clearing out the cargo by the Coast Guard, and about sixty seafaring and labouring
men. He was aware that Mr. Reeve had detained some of the pro- perty, and be told him he was very wrong in so doing: Mr. Reeve seemed very uncomfortable about it.
William Green, chief boatman of the Preventive Coast Guard, said that he tried to reach the vessel by wading, but was unable. He saw. the boat put off, but was glad to see it taken back, as it was impossible for it to get to land. He would not have run the vessel ashore, nor have slipt his cables when he found the tide was flowing. By heaving the lead, it would have been easy to ascertain the state of the tide.
The Constable of Brancaster and the Postmaster said, that a Scotch- woman had been taken into custody on a charge of plundering the • ladies : she had been a passenger on board the Wemyss. She was searched, but no property was,found upon her ; and Mr. Macnaughten, the agent of the vessel, gave her a sovereign to go out of the way. Several witnesses gave testimony respecting a box belonging to Mrs.
• Pyne, one of the passengers, which was found on the beach with the padlock taken off. The box had been given to Mr. Reeve : but there seems to be some confusion in the evidence on this point.
Mr. Nathaniel Pyne, of Grosvenor Place, London, came to Bran- caster on the 6th September. He saw both the Captain and Mate of the Wemyss at the Ship Inn. They gave him the same account of the storm, and the circumstances attending the wreck, as they gave in their evidence ; except that the Mate said the skylights were not even covered, as there was no time to cover or batten them down.
Mr. Ashurst stated, that he had applied to Lord Melbourne for an order to compel the attendance of Messrs. Horsburg, Davies, and Logan, who were passengers in the Wemyss, at the inquiry; but his Lordship declined interfering at present, especially as Messrs. Logan and Davies had already been examined on oath at the inquest.
Mr. Joseph Newman Reeve, whose name has repeatedly occurred during the inquiry, was then examined. He was informed by Mr. Ashurst, that he was charged with having acted with great brutality, and that his honesty was also called in question : it would therefore be advisable. for him to be cautious in making any statement, as what he said would be evidence against him in case the relatives thought it right to proceed against him. Mr. Hare, the Chairman, also told Mr. Reeve, that his statement or examination must be considered perfectly voluntary.
Mr. Reeve said he was desirous of making a statement. He was commissioned by his father-in-law, who is lord of the manor, to render every assistance in his power to the sufferers ; and he went to the beach . for that purpose. When he got on board, several of the bodies were seen floating in the cabin, and a number of men were endeavouring to get them out.
In allusion to a charge of brutality. which Mr. Ashurst, the solicitor, had made, he begged to say that he took charge of the property of the bodies to pro- tect them from revolting indignities—such as having their fingers cut off to get the rings off them. Healing that there were some rings found upon the persons of the drowned, he came forward and said to those who had them, " Allow ins to take charge of theiia.". Some were put' into his hand and others lie took off. He used every delicacy in placing the bodies on the deck. There were blankets and things taken out of the water, and every thing was done as far as delicacy would permit. He could have done no more.for them if they had been relatives of his own. One of the ladies— the stout one, Mrs. Pyne—had a reticule in her possession ; he took charge of that. Some gentlemen were standing around him and asked him to open it ; he did so; the wind was blowing very hard ; he put it into his pocket ; he thought it would be wrong to examine the contents then. Mr. Blingay cam; up to him and requested he would give up the bag to biro. He told him that he only knew him as a farmer, but not as an agent. He there- fore declined giving it, but at the same time he pledged his honour not to part with it except in his presence. After he left the vessel, the first place he went to was the church ; he there saw Mr. Holloway, the minister; in a few minutes after he had entered, he told him that he had a reticule of Mrs. Pyne's. He had it then . in his pocket. He wore a short jacket ; the bag was wet in his pocket. He raised the jacket on one side towards Mr. Holloway, and unsnapped the reticule without taking it out of his pocket ; but so, as he judged, that Mr. Holloway saw the direction of a letter contained in it. The letter contained the address of Mrs. L. Pyne. He thought that it was addressed to St. George's Terrace, Bayswater. After be had spoken to Mr. Holloway, he walked into the church to see the bodies laid out, and then went home ; he told Mr. Sims, his father-in-law, the lord of the manor, that he had gut a reticule belonging to a lady. Mr. Sims said to him, that he bad better take care of it until a proper owner could be found ; he then lucked up the reticule in a drawer. He subsequently went into town to the Ship Inn, where he saw the Captain : he told him that he had found a reticule belong- ing to one of the passengers, and that he should be very glad to restore it to the owner. The Captain said " Very well, Sir." He then saw Dr. Logan, who was sitting in the bar, and asked him, did he know any thing of the ladies; he referred him to Mr. Horsburg, who told him, from a conversation he had had with Mrs. Pyne, he understood that she had placed her reticule in her bosom. He then went home and examined the reticule, which he found to contain some biscuits, four Exchequer Bills of 1001. each, and a purse containing 481. in bank-notes and gold. He wrote a letter to Mr. Pyne at Bayswater, informing him that he had possession of the reti- cule. He afterwards delivered it to Captain Nesbit, in the presence of Mr. Mingay and several of the passengers. He also gave up several articles of jewellery, a necklace, rings, and ear-rings. Mr. Gooch, one of the passengers, then made to him the following observation— Well, Sir, that is all very well, and we don't fur a moment doubt your vera- city ; but ulna a pity it was that you did not cause the bag to be opened in the presence of some person ; supposing the contents might have been 4,0001. in- stead of 400/. He replied, that it would be a very poor reward for his services.
He saw Mr. Pyne when he arrived : that gentleman, upon hearing what bad been done, shook hands with him, and expressed himself satisfied. Mr. Reeve concluded his statement by saying, that he had no legal adviser, and, if he had done wrong, he must throw himself ott their mercy. Mr. Ashurst said, that if he wished to have an attorney present, the investigation would be adjourned. Mr. Reeve---." I hope no unfair advantage will be taken." Captain Davey, a Magistrate, remarked, that after the caution Mr. Reeve had received, no use that might be made of his statement could be deemed unfair.
Hannah West, Mrs. Pyne's servant, was then examined. She assisted Mrs. Pyne to pack up previous to her departure in the Wemyss. Among the baggage, was a tin box, the same which was then produced to the witness. Her mistress told her that the box con- tained brilliants and jewellery worth two or three thousand pounds. A roll of bank-notes, and sonic plate, were also placed in the box ; which was tied up and secured by a padlock. She was certain that her mistress did not open the box before she went on board. Before she went, having occasion for money, she gave an order upon her agent, rather than open the box to take out money. She saw the tin box, and a workbox also containing some money, deposited in the cabin of the Wemyss.
Hannah Pike was employed in laying out the bodies of the passen- gers. Mrs. Pyire's ear was inflamed by the hole where the ear-ring was worn being torn down, but not torn through. She observed the same with respect to another lady. The investigation is not yet concluded. - Our report brings it doves( to Wednesday night.