We are always looking for interesting items for "Scanner", and are even more pleased when we locate one with a touch of humour. The following is a case in point, and shows that shipmasters can be just as ingenious as auto drivers when it comes to producing excuses when "the law" is after them!
The report comes from the October, 1923, issue of "Canadian Railway and Shipping World", describing the findings of the enquiry into a collision between the canallers EDWARD L. STRONG (27), (b) SHERBROOKE (46), (c) AROSA (51), (d) IDA O. (52), (e) WELLANDOC (II), and GLENDOCHART (27), (a) H. G. DALTON (16), (b) CORSEULLES (21), (d) CHATSWORTH (42), (e) BAYLEAF (51), (f) MANCOX. The STRONG was owned by the George Hall Coal and Shipping Company Ltd., while GLENDOCHART belonged to James Playfair's Glen Line Ltd. She also joined the Hall fleet in 1925, and served it until all of the George Hall vessels were absorbed into Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. in March of 1926.
So let us now join the inimitable Capt. L. A. Demers, that irrepressible pursuer of culpable negligence amongst steamboat officers, as he sorts his way through another can of worms. Please remember that we are not dealing with a 1982 traffic accident, but rather with a steamboat collision that occurred almost 59 years ago!
"Enquiry held at Montreal, Sept. 11 & 12, 1923, before Capt. L.A. Demers, Dominion Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Capts. J.O. Grey and C. Lapierre as nautical assessors, into the collision between the EDWARD L. STRONG and the GLENDOCHART in the Cornwall Canal, between Locks 17 and 18, July 8, 1923, when the former ship sustained some damage.
"Capt. W.J. Mills, of EDWARD L. STRONG, stated that when about a quarter of a mile from a barge, which was tied to the government wharf, he sounded a one-blast signal to a steamship which had been passing the bridge, but received no response. Later, when about 100 feet from GLENDOCHART, he sounded the alarm signal and went full speed astern. The current, which was estimated at a mile, was with him, and his speed was three miles. At that time, he gave full speed ahead, then full astern, his ship's bow coming into contact with GLENDOCHART's port bow.
"Capt. W.J. Hawman, of GLENDOCHART, stated that he took the wheel after passing through the bridge and heard the STRONG's signals, but did not reply, owing to certain regulations which, he stated, exist, prohibiting the sounding of whistles in the vicinity of the hospital. His ship was going about 1 1/2 miles at dead slow, the collision happening about 150 feet above the barge VALENCIA. There was ample room for the STRONG to pass, and GLENDOCHART's engines had been stopped for four or five minutes. He stated that the STRONG collided with his ship, whereas his log reads: 'We collided with s.s. EDWARD L. STRONG!
"GLENDOCHART's wheelsman stated that the master, being uncertain as to the safety of passing the barge, took the wheel from him, and that had he been in charge, he could not have done worse. He also stated that the engines were going, whereas the captain stated that they had been stopped four or five minutes. The engine movements could not be confirmed by the engineer.
"The court held that, by not answering the STRONG's signals, which he was expected to do, notwithstanding that they were in the vicinity of a hospital - the promulgation of rules to the contrary not having been proved - and proceeding, and in view of the barge VALENCIA being moored to the government wharf, limiting the space, and attempting to head off the descending ship, the captain of GLENDOCHART showed a wilful disregard of ordinary prudence. The STRONG, on account of the current, had the right of way, and indicated that by the one-blast signal, which, the court stated it rightly presumed, was intentionally disregarded by the captain of GLENDOCHART, this being proved by the fact that he took the wheel from an experienced man.
"The court, therefore, in view of the unjustified action, found Capt. W.J. Hawman of GLENDOCHART in default, and suspended his certificate, No. 864, for one month from September 12 to October 12. The certificate of Capt. W.J. Mills, of EDWARD L. STRONG, was returned to him, and he was advised that, in future, though he may have the right of way, it may depend on the evidence whether he is justified in availing himself of that privilege when, by so doing, his ship may be placed in a position of danger."
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.