26 MARCH 1853, Page 12


THE Australian steam-vessel which has been so totally condemned by the force of its own performances had been duly examined by official surveyors, and yet the causes of its failure appear to be in- scrutable ! We have this statement on the authority of Mr. John Griffith Firth, Chairman of the Australian Royal Mail Steam Navi- gation Company; who makes a defence of that company in the Times. We do not question his statement at all, but it suggests reflections upon which he has not touched. To learn that a ship whose en- gines will not work, whose bottom leaks, and whose seaworthiness is disproved after repeated trials, has been passed by the Admiralty Surveyor as fit for the contract service, and registered at Lloyd's as A 1, excites a new train of ideas. Taking the two facts together, the vessel's unseaworthiness and that double certificate, one is in- clined to ask, whether the service of shipbuilding has so totally de- clined in this country that the Surveyor of Lloyd's and the Sur- veyor of the Admiralty can have the opportunity of over- hauling a ship in every part and yet cannot distinguish be- tween a sound piece of shipbuilding with efficient engines, and one whose engine-room will be flooded and whose engine will not work ? Nay, we perceive that after the vessel had been subjected to its awful trials with passengers on board, the cause of these un- looked-for casualties still bails the scrutiny of the Company's officers as well as that of the dockyard authorities. Thus the scientific officers of Lloyd's, the scientific dockyard authorities, and the scientific officers of the Company, scrutinize a leaky and in- curable ship, and cannot tell what the matter is! This is awful intelligence. If we have persons so incompetent in the most re- sponsible stations, what are to be the consequences ? Are we to have ships of the Navy sinking before they can meet the enemy ? Are we to learn that a vessel registered as A 1 for a voyage to the Antipodes is only fit for a voyage to the bottom ? and are we to understand that a great commercial company cannot procure men sufficiently drilled in the business of ship-surveying to discover the cause of a leak?

We have no doubt, however, that persons thoroughly endowed with scientific training might easily be found in this country, and that the discrepancy between the survey report and the report of the facts upon trial is to be explained on different grounds. Offi- ces are used for the performance of a duty, but when once the office is established, then the machinery of the office becomes in the eyes of its officers a thing superior to the duty. In the eyes of a Colonial clerk, for instance, the Colonial Office is more im- portant than 'the Colonies ; and if one is to be sacrificed for the sake of the other, it is a colony must go. But there is one thing superior to the office as a whole, and that is, the high connexions of birth or wealth that may adorn the supreme parts of the office. If a certain divinity doth hedge a king, so also a species of sacred im- munity casts an atmosphere around the higher parts of every office, demanding a corresponding etiquette or minus, and requiring costly sacrifices. Between these upper parts of an office and the higher classes of those who are brought in contact with it there is an au- gust intercourse ; and if nice customs must curtsey to great kings, so the rigid requirements which hamper the inferior must give way to those superior classes. Hence there is a sort of polite- ness established in the conduct of official duties, which is stronger than the work to be done by the office. A gentle- man shall contract to furnish preserved meats for the Admi- ralty; the meats shall be found, instead of being preserved, to be compacted rottenness ; and yet, although these things are known, there will be the utmost repugnance to throw diffi- culties in the way of any gentleman who comes to the office shrouded in the sacred repute of wealth. In presence of such a person, it is presumed to be " all right." If there is some indig- nation at the idea of giving rotten offal to the British sailor, the idea of making the contractor himself eat of such food, in the presence of those whom he has deluded, would be considered an outrage upon courtesy. By the same rule, if a very wealthy company, with officers who receive high salaries and enjoy board- rooms properly furnished, requires a survey of its ship, the visit is a courtly ceremony, and the inclination will be to presume that all is right. Thus, it seems, the title A 1, or the certificate of sea- worthiness, may easily be procured for a ship like the Australian. This inclination to indulgence for wealthy defaulters is not con- fined to official persons. The Company which counts upon the fa- vourable consideration for breach of contract with the Government alleges that in two instances it has itself been disappointed by breach of contract. " The Adelaide was not delivered to us when contracted for "; " our fifth ship, the Victoria, which ought to have been ready for the February mail, is not yet launched"; and this breach of contract obliged the directors " to repair and equip with the greatest haste the Australian immediately on her return from her voyage." Penalties are introduced into contracts to en- force fulfilment, and if the contract be not fulfilled the penalty should be exacted: but that would be unpolite; and so much more is politeness considered, as imperatively due to men who per- form public duties on a certain scale of magnificence, that, as we learn from these facts, a practice is rowing up of disregarding contract-stipulations or certificate-duties ; and thus, in the year 1853, we find the spokesman of a public company, whose ship cannot keep at sea, reckoning up a string of difficulties to ex- plain why a steamer cannot keep pace with a sailing-ship ; and representing that a leaky tub is classed A 1 at Lloyd's and enjoys the official certificate of the Admiralty Surveyor. What an im- mense amount of politeness must have been exchanged all round!