Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times and Farmers' Gazette

- Saturday 16 February 1856

On Thursday morning at 11.00 o’clock, a public official inquiry was instituted into the circumstances attending the disastrous loss of the emigrant ship Josephine Willis by a collision with the SS Mangerton steamer off Folkstone on the 3rd inst., before Mr Yardley, magistrate of Thames Police Court, and Captain Robertson , RN, representing the Board of Trade, at the Town Hall, Poplar, under a provision of the Merchant Shipping Act.

Mr Ballentine appeared as council for the London and Limerick Steam Company (the owners of the Mangerton steamer), instructed by Mr H O’Shea, the company’s solicitor; and Mr O’Dowd, barrister, represented the proprietors of the Josephine Willis, with Mr Winckworth, their solicitor; and Mr O’Dowd, barrister, was in attendance to assist at the inquiry on behalf of the Board of Trade, as was also Mr Hamel, solicitor to the Customs.

A preliminary discussion arose, at the instance that Mr Yardley, as to the right of council to be present and to be heard at an inquiry which, in his opinion, was more in the nature of a preliminary than a judicial investigation; and, Mr Ballantine and Mr Parry having been heard in defence  of their right to conduct the case of of their respective clients, the Court decided that, though there were, in point of fact, no persons before it whom it could at present recognise, council might maintain and assist in the investigation, but not as representing any particular persons whom the Court could recognise.

To render some parts of the evidence intelligible, it should be premised that, on the night of the collision, the Mangerton steamer exhibited three lights, in conformity with the Act of Parliament – namely, a bright light on the foremast, about fifty feet above the level of the sea; a red light on the paddle-box on the port side of the vessel; and a green light on the paddle-box of the starboard side. The Josephine Willis on the other hand, carried a lantern on her bowspirit with three panes in it –  one to the front showing a bright white light, and two others a red and green light. Captain Robertson contends that it was in contravention of the statute that the Josephine Willis, she being a sailing ship, to exhibit a light that of triple character, and that she ought only to have shown a single bright white light. The rule of the road, as it is called, on the high seas, which has an important bearing on the inquiry, is thus defined in the 296th section of the Merchant Shipping Act :-

“Whenever any ship whether steam or sailing ship, proceeding in another direction, so that if both ships continue on their projected courses, they would pass so near as to involve any risk of a collision, the helms of both ships shall be put to port, so as to pass on the port side of each other; and this rule shall be obeyed by all steam ships and by all sailing ships, whether on the port or starboard tack, and whether close hauled or not, unless the circumstances of the case are as such to render a departure from the rule necessary in order to avoid immediate danger, and subject also to the proviso that due regard shall be had to the dangers of navigation , and, as regards sailing ships to the starboard tack close hauled , tot he keeping such ship under command.”

Mr Kester Clayton was the first witness called. He said in questions asked by Mr Yardley, – I was chief officer on the Josephine Willis, a passenger ship of 786 tons burden, bound from London to Auckland, New Zealand. She left London on Saturday morning, the 2nd February and passed through the Downs and by the South Foreland, the latter at six PM on Sunday 3rd. The crew, forty nine in number, consisted of a captain, three officers, an assistant surgeon, three able bodied seamen and apprentices. There was also about sixty nine passengers on board. The ship was in all respects and efficient state when she left London. When we passed the South Foreland, the wind was south east. The atmosphere was beautiful overhead, but hazy on the water and horizon. My watch was six to eight o’clock that evening.  The accident happened a little after eight o’clock, and when I had charge of the ship. I was on the poop at the time. A man called Grindle has charge of the wheel. At seven o’clock the wind changed to the SSE. We then braced the yards nearly “sharp”, and hauled the bowlines. At the time of the accident the atmosphere was still clear overhead. There was no moon, but it was starlight. It was hazy on the sea and the horizon. The haze rose to the topmast head, or about half mast high. We were not then, in consequence of the mist, carrying all the sail which the state of the wind might have justified. At the time of the accident we were sailing at the rate of seven knots per hour, steering WSW, which was the proper channel course, with the wind as it was, to clear Dungeness. At ten minutes to eight Folkstone bore north by west, and we were about four miles and a half from that place. I think eight bells had struck when the look-out man on the forecastle called out – “Light ahead, on the starboard bow withal.” That immediately drew my attention in that direction. I was then on the port side of the poop and then ran forward to the forecastle, when I saw the light on the starboard bow. It was a bright light, but not vest visible, and I could not see if it was in motion. I ran afterwards to the poop, and, supposing it to be Dungeness light, starboarded the helm. The ship them came to, about a point to the wind, and I steadied my helm. I then went to the lee side of the poop, and looked at the light, under the foot of the mainsail. Presently, after a time, but I don’t know how long, I saw the red light, more than four points on the starboard bow. Immediately after that I saw the green light. I knew then that it was a steamer’s light, and I made no alteration to my course, for I was sure that we would go clear of each other if we kept our respective courses. I still remained on the poop and the only direction I have the helmsman was “Steady”. The red light was shut out by that time. About a minute or so after that, but I cannot state the time exactly, the green light vanished, and I called to the helmsman to put the helm hard a starboard. The effect was to put the ship a little round. I saw that a collision was inevitable, and it took place immediately afterwards.The steamer came nearly stem on to us, with her head a little inclined a little forward, and struck us just before the main rigging on the starboard side. About a minute before the collision, the captain of the Josephine Willis came on deck and repeated my order to keep the helm hard a starboard. When the steamer hit, she backed away. After the collision, and not before, the steamer reversed her engines. I saw that by the back water coming up the ship’s side. She backed astern, and then went on ahead for about half a mile. I reported to the captain that the ship was rapidly filling with water, through the breach in her side made my the steamer, and he ordered the boats to be lowered. The two quarter-boats were then lowered, and one of them was stove in while being lowered by passengers. I returned to the poop with Mr Mohan, the third mate, where I saw the captain pulling his coat off. He directed me to throw the hen-coops overboard, which I did, so far as I was able. The passengers and crew were then mostly on the poop but I could not, in the confusion, distinguish passengers from crew. I noticed a man and his wife in their night dresses on the poop. The captain called out for all persons below to come to the poop, but I cannot say that any effort was made to get them up, except calling out. About the same time or a little after the captain asked for the quarter boats to be lowered, he ordered the lifeboat to be lowered. I went to endeavour to get the longboat ready, but I found the water on the quarter-deck at knee height. I returned to the poop, and the ship heeled over and I went overboard. By change, I got hold of a rope-end, and hauled myself into the rigging of the mizentop. The ship was then lying on her beam ends in the water. There were four or five others in the rigging besides myself, one of whom was the carpenter, and several of the passengers and crew on the deck were calling out to the steamer for help, but she did not return. The steamer’s boat at length came with two passengers in her, but none of the steamer’s crew, and took myself and others off the rigging, and conveyed us to the steamer, about half a mile distant. Before taken into the boat I was also benumbed that I fell into the water, and I was hauled back into the boat by the carpenter. The steamer was then lying to with no sails set, and with her machinery in motion, and the crew were engaged in removing the cargo from the fore part of the ship. I went to the captain of the steamer, and asked if he was going back to the ship; he replied that he had to remove the cargo from the fore part of his vessel. I was then ill and benumbed with cold, and went down below to warm myself. After an hour or two, I returned on deck and assisted in removing he cargo. When I was down warming myself the machinery of the steamer was not put in motion at all, and upon returning on deck she was lying in much the same position, except she had drifted a little. No effort, that I know, was made on the part of the steamer to return to the ship; but she let of rockets and blue lights. The steamer eventually returned to Ramsgate harbour. We had finished removing the cargo before the machinery was put in action to return to Ramsgate.

SS Mangerton strikes Josephine Willis
The SS Josephine Willis rammed by the SS Mangerton steamer.

By Captain Robertson — When I saw the green light, the red light, and the bright light at the same time, I did not alter my helm. When I lost the green light, and saw only the bright light and the red light, the head of the steamer was then coming directly towards us. By my losing sight of the green light I knew the steamer must have ported her helm. I never altered my helm until I saw the collision was inevitable, considering if the steamer kept in the course she was then going we should steer clear. When I saw the three lights I knew there was no risk of a collision ; and if I had then ported my helm I should have run right into her. When the captain came on deck he could do nothing to avert the collision. I consider my evidence as to what took place on board of the steamer after I got there as with nothing, as I was then in a state almost insensible for a time. We had on board the Josephine Willis, fixed on the bowsprit, one lamp, showing three different coloured lights. I have a certificate of competency from the Trinity Board. I consider the light earned by the Josephine Willis to be a proper one. I don’t know that the act of Parliament says that no vessel except a steamer should carry a bright light, a red light, and a green light. When I passed the Trinity Board the present rules of the board were not in existence.

By Mr Ballentine – The changing the course of the vessel was done under an error on my part in mistaking the the steamer’s light for that of Dungeness. At Folkstone I stated on the inquest I was, perhaps, not sufficiently acquainted with Channel navigation, but I said so in the confusion of the moment, when Mr Towne, a local attorney was cross examining and sneering at me. The fact is quite otherwise, for I had previously undergone and examination, and received a certificate of competency by the Channel Pilot.

By Mr Parry – The light of the steamer, which I mistook for Dungeness light, was a bright light, and Dungeness light is also a bright light. When I first saw the bright light the Josephine Willis could not be said to be said to be on either bow of the steamer. The helm of the steamer must have been ported to shut out the green light from me. It is my firm opinion that if the steamer had kept on her course, and not ported her helm, she must have cleared the Josephine Willis by about half a ship’s length. The Josephine Willis was almost cut in two by the steamer. She was struck right in the hospital part of the ship, where fortunately there were no invalids at the time, or they must have been killed in the collision.

By Mr Yardley – I have served as chief mate for five or six years in June. I have been sixteen or seventeen years at sea, and about ten or eleven years as officer.

Mr. Henry Grey Ray, examined by Mr. Yardley, said, — I was a passenger, with my wife and brother, on board the Josephine Willis. I was on deck about 20 minutes before the collision took place, and I was on the poop when it occurred. The look-out man reported a light ahead. After that I saw a red light. The order was then given to luff, and the mate ran forward. I then saw a green light, and the order was given to luff again  afterwards lost sight of the green light. I think, the mate had gone forward before we lost sight ol the green light, but lam not sure. After I List sight of the green light I saw all three lights again; and the green light was insight until just a few seconds before the steamer struck us. I heard no order given to the man at the helm after the mate went forward. The steamer took a sweep just before the collision and came right into the Josephine Willis, as if she (the steamer) had pointed her helm. Immediately after the collision I heard the captain give order to lower the boats. I saw several persons lowering one of the quarter boats, which was stove in in the process. I had previously put my wile and another woman into the boat. The doctor, a man named Smith, the second mate, myself, and two others were also in the boat. The boat at length got clear of the ship, and on tacking the water a coat was put into the hole, and kept her from sinking. After putting off from the ship we came up with the lifeboat of the Josephine Willis, in which were about 20 persons, but I could not say who they were, and I put my wife and the other woman into her. On getting on board the Mangerton I saw the boatswain of the Josephine Willis, and I volunteered to go with him to the wreck in the lifeboat, to afford assistance to any of the passengers who might be alive ; but he refused to go, alleging as a reason that in the state the steamer then was she might go down, and if he did not keep the lifeboat near her, the persons who had already been saved might go down with her. That gave me a notion of the dangerous condition of the Mangerton, and I did not further urge the boatswain to go to the wreck, nor did go myself with any one else. The captain of the steamer said he must remove the cargo from the fore part of the vessel, to insure her safety and all on broad, before he could go to the assistance of the Josephine Willis. The whole of the crew of the steamer were then engaged in the removal of the cargo. Before the safety of the steamer was ascertained a boat was sent from her to the relief of the ship, and she returned about half-past 9, bringing Clayton and several others ; but four of the crew of the Josephine Willis, who had got on board the steamer, had previous to that time refused to go on that errand when it was proposed to them. A little after 10 those men and others left the steamer in the lifeboat of the Josephine Willis, with the intention, as we thought, of going to the assistance of any one who might be floating about the scene of the wreck ; but I did not see anything of them afterwards. I believe they landed at Deal. A Deal lugger was also hailed by the captain of the Mangerton, and sent out to the assistance of the Josephine Willis. That lugger would have carried 50 or 60 persons, and the lifeboat from 20 to 30. I think some portion of the crew and some of the boats of the steamer might have been spared to go to the succour of the Josephine Willis. The sea was calm, and I saw nothing to prevent them. We heard a great cry of distress from a number of persons on the Josephine Willis just as the Deal lugger came alongside the steamer, and she and the lifeboat went away to their relief. It did not occur to me at 10 o’clock, when the steamer was ascertained to be safe, to despatch some of the boats of the steamer to the assistance of the crew and passengers of the ship, because I thought the lugger and the lifeboat which had gone away on that errand were amply sufficient. There would have been no danger whatever in going away in the boats of the steamer in search of any of the crew and passengers who might be floating about on spars or any part of the wreck. It was safer to be in the boats than on board the steamer herself.

On cross examination by Captain Robertson he said the steamer remained about two hours and a half in the vicinity of the collision before proceeding on her course again. If we had ported our helm on board of the Josephine Willis when we saw the bright and red light there would be no doubt that we would have steered clear of each other. The rule of the road is when two ships are approaching for both to port helm.

By Mr Ballentine – When we  on board the Josephine Willis saw the red light and the bright light, the course would have been to port our helm. I did not think the steamer was safe even at ten o’clock, two hours after the collision.

By Mr Parry – My impression is that the steamer would have cleared us by thirty or forty yards until she ported her helm, and then she ran straight into us. I heard them call out on the steamer “Port, port!” and just after than she mush have ported her helm, for she came right into us. The collision occurred almost immediately after the order to port, and I believe it to be a consequence of that order.

John Sheen said, – I was an able seaman in the Josephine Willis, and on the look-out in the fore part of the ship for some time before and at the time of the collision. When I first saw the bright light I reported it to the chief mate that there was a light ahead. The chief and second mates came to me. We could then not make out any second light. The first mate returned to the poop, and just after that I saw a red light and white light, when we put our helm astarboard. We then lost sight of the red light and caught the green light, the sight of which we never lost up to the time of the collision. The Mangerton came straight stem on to us. It was the circumstance of the Mangerton porting her helm that caused the collision, considering the course the Josephine Willis was pursuing. When the captain gave the order to lower the boats, I along with others , proceeded to lower the lifeboat, which would hold about twenty five or twenty eight persons. Some nineteen or twenty persons got into her, and I among them, and we pushed on from the vessel, but we did not leave the vessel until the water was almost on the poop. We afterwards came up with another boat in which Mr Ray, his wife, another woman and others, and we took the two women on board, and making the number in the lifeboat about twenty, and then proceeded to the Mangerton in the company of the other boat.

By Captain Robertson – If the Josephine Willis had ported her helm, the probability is that she would have run clear of the Mangerton.

My Mr Parry – When we got on board the steamer we asked the captain, or, at all events a man on the quarter-deck, whom we took to be the captain, whether he was not going to return to the relief of the crew and passengers, when he said he would do so after he got his cargo moved from the fore part of the ship, and he started cursing and swearing at us. If the helm of the Mangerton had not been ported, we should have cleared each other.

By Captain Robertson – But if we both continued our courses, and nothing had been done on either side to alter course of either ship, they would have very likely came into collision.

Corroborative evidence was given by William Grindle, the man at the helm of the Josephine Willis at the time of the collision; James Smith, a seaman; and John Trill, the boatswain’s mate.


Passengers saved, 13 ; officers and crew, 22: Kester Clayton, chief officer, steward, passenger’s cook, boatswain’s mate – John Trill, one midshipman, one apprentice, three boys, two sailors – William Grindle, James Newman and the ship’s butcher); total, 35.

Chief Cabin — George Andrews [of St. Austel, Cornwall], Henry Grey Ray, Mrs. Henry Ray, of Milton, near Sittingbourne.
Second Cabin — Chas. C. Fleming, Wm. Ripley.
Steerage — Walter Wright, George Horner, William Ford, Wm W. Wallis, Jas. S. Scott, David Garside, George Sutton [a boy], Miss Catherine May.


Cabin passengers lost, 20 : steerage ditto, 36 ; crew. 14 ; total lost, 70.

Captain Edward Canney Cabin Cabin — Fredk. Golding, Stanhope Vickers, Herbert G. Ray, Miss Emma J. Logan, Master A. H. Logan. Second Cabin — John Hamilton, Mrs. Jane Hamilton, Robert, Alexander, Samuel Hamilton, Mrs. Sarah, Master W. James, Samuel, Agnes, Mr. Hamilton, Miss Susan Nicholls, Charles Stuart, Mrs. Harriet Stuart, Sydney [Sidney] Wm. Beck. Steerage. — Henry Davis, Mrs. Hannah Davis, Rebecca and Cresswell A. Davis, Sarah Lamb, Elizabeth Lamb, Wm. Lloyd, Margaret Egan, Arthur Lawler, Catharine Gibbons, Catherine Bunke, Elizabeth May, Sarah Walters, Margaret Sharp, Caroline Gore, John and Jane O’Neil, James Sutton, Harriet, William, and Francis Sutton, Elizabeth Austin, John George Austin, Henry Guttersen, Margaret Guttersen, Mary De Kruger, Henry De Kruger, Edward De Kruger, Robert De Kruger, Frederick De Kruger.

Bodies Found

Mrs. Harriet Sutton, Miss M. Parkhouse, Mrs. Agnes Davis, Master Asher Davis. De Kruger and Jane De Kruger, A. O’Neil, J. O’Neil, J. O’Neil.


Richard Bouichier, the Captain of the steamer was charged with, manslaughter as the result of the investigation; but the police were unable to trace him. At the resumed inquiry, the jury, after more than an hour’s deliberation, returned the following verdict ; “We come to a unanimous conclusion that George Summers, and others, came by their death in consequence of a collision between the ship ‘Josephine Willis’ and the steamer ‘Mangerton,’ owing to an error in judgment on the part of the” chief officer of the ship, mistaking the light of the steamer for Dungeness Light, and star boarding the helm. We also agree, that if a proper look-out had been kept on board of the steamer, the collision might have been avoided. We feel it our duty also to state that there appears to have been a great want of humanity on the part of the crews of both ships, in not sending assistance to the passengers of the ship while they had it in their power to do so ; and we believe that, if proper efforts had been made, many more lives would have been saved. The annexed list of the unfortunate creatures who are believed to have gone down in the ship and perished, has been furnished by Messrs. Willis and Co., the brokers, of Crosby Square, the charterers of the Josephine Willis.