Was a merchant marine master who lost a ship always investigated?

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      My great-grandfather, Captain William Kennedy (1816-1876), lost two of his mercantile marine ships:
      1. the iron s.s. Ignez de Castro off the Portuguese coast on 5 Feb. 1859 (part of cargo and all passengers and crew saved).
      That this was not held against him is suggested by the fact that soon after his return home, he was given command of an important experiment when Scotts of Greenock built iron s.s. Thetis to test her new high-pressure compound engines.
      2. the wood ship L’Agouhanna in the Indian Ocean 3 Feb. 1869 (spontaneous combustion of the coal cargo); the crew were in boats for nine days, all saved.
      Can members advise as to whether enquiries were always held in event of the loss of a ship? If so, where are the records held?<br
      If my g-grandfather was subject to such investigation, where would I be able to find a copy of the board of enquiry’s report?


        I suggest you endeavour to access a copy of “Temperley’s Merchant Shipping Acts”, edited by Sir William Lennox McNair and John Philippe Honour. The latest edition, the fifth, was published in 1954 by Stevens and Sons at London.
        This is effectively based on the 1894 Merchant Shipping Acts (MSA) which reflect both the content and tone of earlier MSA. Therein may be found references to forms of 19th Century enquiries into the loss of British merchant vessels, including references to the types of court and enquiry that may be convened by the then authority the Board of Trade (BoT).
        Certainly under modern legislation and the current MSA, the successors to the BoT, the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCGA), have extensive powers to convene enquiries into the loss (and indeed other incidents occurring aboard) of UK-registered vessels and sometimes those of other flags in UK waters. If as a result of such enquiries a Master or other certificated officer is found wanting, his Certificate of Competency can be revoked or he may be issued with a lesser certificate.
        If you visit the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) at:
        you will get an idea of their investigative function which is similar [to the former BoT maritime functions].
        Some records of enquiries into maritime losses are retained at the National Archives at Kew, together with many other records relating to British ships and merchant seamen. Access for intial research:


          I recommend you go to the Port Cities website and look at the Southampton section at:

          You will find some very useful information on wrecks and a large number of Board of Trade Wreck reports.

          Frank Scott

            I am not sure how the system worked, but even outside the old Empire means existed to take action if it was considered that the Master had been at fault in any way. One example concerns a very famous shipmaster, Captain JCB ‘Bracewinch’ Jarvis.

            The four-masted barque Earl of Dalhousie (1,677 grt) capsized in San Francisco Bay on 12 May 1885 while under tow to the Oakland Flats for cleaning and painting. To ensure stability with a swept hold Captain Jarvis had struck down all yards except for the mainyard. The top-sail yards were slung three-by-three over the side, while the other yards were stowed on deck. The plan was to tow the ship in the morning when it was supposed to be calm. However, that day the afternoon breeze came unusually early, well before noon, and the tug also had to fight the tidal stream. When the tug turned to starboard to avoid an anchored American ship, the Bell O’Brian, the Earl of Dalhousie heeled hard over as she was hit by a strong gust. She managed to right herself after that first gust, but she did not recover from the next one, lying over on her side and eventually capsizing.,br>
            As a result of the accident Captain Jarvis had his certificate suspended for six months. The ship was subsequently salvaged and re-rigged under his supervision.

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