21 AUGUST 1852, Page 14


"Sun' on fire ! " is the most appalling sound that can be heard by people at sea. In a home constructed of the most combustible ma- terials, on the unstablest of all foundations, cremation or drown- ing appear to be the only alternatives; and yet, appalling as that contingency is to those who have the charge of vessels, it is un- questionable that the apprehension is not sufficient to prevent the most glaring neglects. The improvements in navigation do not appear to have produced a corresponding improvement in this re- spect; on the contrary, it may be said that those improvements have had the effect of drawing a larger number within this peculiar kind of risk. On the,other hand, provisions to secure the chance of rescue after the ship may have been destroyed by fire are by no means made according to the laws of the simplest arithmetic. Al- though it is well known that ships are liable to be burnt, and that if burnt actual destruction awaits all on board except by one chan- nel, that one channel is not secured. "I have gone many voyages to Australia and India," says "An Emigra- tion Surgeon," writing to the Times, "and can solemnly aver that I never was on board a single ship that in case of an accident possessed more than one boat—the captain's gig—actually seaworthy. The long-boat, which is supposed to be the chief resource in case of disaster at sea, is never fit for any purpose ; being made the receptacle, voyage after voyage, for sheep, pigs, and other live-stock, and her bottom is thus rendered as rotten as an old sponge." With larger and better-appointed vessels there have been re- cently some attempts to make ampler provision of boats ; but the Emigration Surgeon shows that in the majority of cases matters remain as they were twenty, or forty, or fifty years ago. The long-boat is the lumber-room of the neck; and when, in the day of trial, it is wanted as a long-boat, it proves to be no more ser- viceable than a lumber-room.

In like manner, the rule to extinguish all fires after a certain hour, is known to be perfectly necessary; and yet it is broken

every hour in the night in every latitude. "The practice of going into the hold with lighted candles," says "H. M. S.," another cor- respondent of the Times, "appears to have become too general on board steam-boats." Whatever may have become the practice on board steam-boats, we believe it has been the practice from time immemorial on board the generation before steam-boats. "K. M. S." saw sailors descend into the hold underneath the gentle- men's cabin to investigate some injury to the paddles of a Channel steamer, with a lighted candle in their hands. But lighted can- dles are often carried down amongst goods perhaps even more combustible than luggage. They have been seen not far from a store of gunpowder, and in hands not always of the soberest. It is true that on such occasions lanterns are to be used ; but where is the use of glass when there is no wind ?" asks the practical sailor ; and out comes the stump of a candle in the fingers. What if it gutters, and scalds the fingers P It is all very funny, and very jolly ; and, somehow or other, these things happen tolerably often without an explosion or a conflagra- tion. It may be set down as an axiom fixed in the tarry mind, that lanterns are nonsense, and that fear of fire is "Betty Martin." Accustomed to run risks that they do not understand—to be pulled through storms by devices which to them are little better than chance expedients—sailors are naturally trained to be indiscreet and to make light of precautions. They are all the more certain to do so if they observe their officers also trifle with precautions and rules ; and no one can have gone a voyage of moderate length without seeing how readily, especially in matters of remote contingency, the mind even of responsible officers gives way to a momentary convenience. The two great counteractives to these perilous tendencies are education and discipline ; especially education of the officers, and discipline of the men. Under the rules for certifying seamen, the standard of education has gradually been raised, and experience will probably dictate a still greater elevation of that standard. But half-edueated and drunken masters are still not unknown in the merchant navy ; and it will be a long while before the edit- cation of the sailor can be brought to such a pitch as to make him appreciate the value of a permanent protection against a contin- gency that seldom occurs. The expenditure of time and trouble in the precautions which are imperatively needed to prevent acci- dent with fire, might, without any very great trouble, be reduced to an equivalent in money, and so compared with the loss of ship, its cargo, and its crew, not omitting the domestic liabilities of that crew. But could this species of equation be effected, however eloquent it might be to the underwriter or even the educated sea- captain, it would have but little moral force with the common sea- man. The only thing which can speak cogently and practically to him is penalty for breach of discipline. The Emigration Sur- geon suggests a penalty for going to sea without the requisite number of boats in sound condition. The same kind of penalty might be enforced upon men for every breach of discipline, or upon officers for permitting such breach. In order to enforce these penalties, every serious casualty at sea should be made the subject of an inquiry, if possible before an author- ized tribunal, or in the meanwhile before the owners or their agent. It might help the operation of punishments, if a due ob- servation of discipline were noticed by a reward given specifically and solely with that object. The harsh conduct of master-mariners is often defended on the score that they are responsible for so much, and that they have so many rude agents under their com- mand ; but there can be no doubt that if the government of ships of all classes were reduced to a more systematic discipline, far greater results might be attained with far less harshness. In all cases when important operations have to be attained by the action of many hands, discipline is essential : at sea or on landrin railway or in ship, it is the source of permanent safety.