Management

The inquest jury said

We also further find a great want of caution in the existing regulations concerning the construction of the passage boats, the regulation of the number of passengers to be carried, and the duties of the crew; and we further find a deodand on the said boat of £100 sterling.[1]

Construction

The company was well aware of some of the problems with the designs of its passage boats. As Ruth Delany put it[2]

It was almost inevitable that there would be accidents with these highly unstable craft.

She lists these accidents:

  • the sinking of a fly boat in the nineteenth lock in 1836 (without loss of life)
  • the breaking of a stop-rope, causing a fly boat to become stuck in the gates of the eleventh lock
  • instances of boats leaking after accidents, sometimes with water over the floorboards
  • passengers having to be taken off boats that heeled after striking the bank or a lock
  • the drowning of a four-year-old child when a heavily laden boat turned over and partly sank at Ballynacargy
  • the drowning of six people at Longford earlier in 1845 when a boat capsized and sank.

It is not clear what, if anything, the Royal Canal Company learned from these incidents.

Number of passengers

The company had no rules about the maximum numbers of passengers to be carried: both the captain and Samuel Draper, secretary to the company, said so at the inquest.[3] Draper excused the absence of rules by saying that some boats carried more than others; the possibility of a rule for each boat had presumably escaped him. He said that boat-masters were instructed not to take “a greater number of passengers than can be carried with perfect safety” but said nothing of the criteria to be used in making that judgement.

On 25 November 1845 the boat carried ten passengers in the front cabin and thirty-nine were eligible to sit in the second. They included thirty-six fare-paying adults, one free passenger (Teeling) and “two children not chargeable”. Witnesses at the inquest discussed the resultant crowding, the shortage of seats and the effect on the boat’s trim. However, there was no discussion of the implications for speedy evacuation.

I have had more in the second cabin than thirty-six. It was very full at the time, and a respectable female came from the back cabin to the front, as there was not room.[4]

I paid my fare to Carrick-on-Shannon, but I had to stay at the steerage in consequence of there being no room for me in the cabin. I could not get room to stand or sit in the cabin. I was rebuked by some person for standing at the steerage, and I said that if he would get me some other place, I would be glad of it. I spoke to the captain to get a place in the cabin for me, and he said he would try.[5]

The cabin was a very small confined one; the people were sitting in each other’s laps.[6]

[…] she was deeper in the stern than the keel; she would hold forty in the back cabin (thirty-six were in it), but could not say whether so many could sit comfortably in the Longford, but thought they could sit comfortably in that boat if the parties were agreeable; thought that the back cabin could take forty safely, and the front twenty-eight or thirty; there were only ten in the front cabin upon the 25th November; When he left the boat at the tenth lock she was in good trim; she was a little sunk behind, but with proper steerage she was in a safe state, and fit for the performance of the voyage.[7]

Other than in that last remark, the effect of the trim on the steering was not discussed.

Duties of the crew

According to Samuel Draper, Secretary to the Royal Canal Company,

[…] the captain of the present boat was selected from a number by the Board, but no person is selected until he is trained properly.[8]

Amongst the duties of the captain, according to Draper, was to stand in for the steersman when he went to his dinner.[9] Yet despite having been appointed, and presumably therefore properly trained, only two months earlier, Christopher O’Connor, the captain of the Longford, was unaware of that regulation.

I beg to say that I can steer day or night boats perfectly well; and also that there is no order that the captain should take the helm when it is given up by the person who may be steering […].[10]

The Morning Post had a slightly different version:

The captain was called, and stated that he was perfectly competent to steer, and that there was no order for the master to steer when the steersman was at dinner; if he had been called on, of course he would have steered, but the captain is not at all supposed to take the part of a working man.[11]

James Dunne, acting steerer on the day, did know of the regulation:

[…] the captain is the proper person to take the helm when the steerer goes to his dinner; there is a general order to that effect; he is supposed to be in charge of the steering of the boat when the men are at their dinner […] he had often heard it said that it was the duty of the captain to steer when the men were at their dinner.[12]

However, that knowledge did not cause him to take any steps to inform the captain that he intended to leave the helm. The captain had been on deck just minutes earlier, when the inspector, Mr O’Neil, left the boat at Porterstown bridge; Dunne said nothing to him then. After the captain had gone below, Dunne followed: he sent no message to the captain but gave the helm to Patrick Teeling, the canal labourer who was a free passenger on board.

I did not send for the captain when leaving the helm.[13]

Dunne said that, if Patrick Teeling had not been “in the way”, he would have called the captain.[14] However, Dunne did not consider the captain capable of steering, despite [because of?] having seen him do so. Nor did he consider his own replacement as cabin boy, Alexander Campbell, capable of it, although Campbell himself said that, when acting as cabin boy, he “always steered when the men were at their dinner”.[15]

Once below, Dunne saw the captain but, again, said nothing to him.

I brought my dinner to the bar, and saw the captain near me there; he did not ask me who was at the helm when I came below.[16]

The witness said that he did not go into the same room with the captain when he went below, but into an ante-room.[17]

The captain was in the ladies’ room when I went down. He did not ask me any question.[18]

The captain, however, said that he “did not take notice of Dunne when he came below”[19]. Thus, at the time of the accident, the captain was unaware that Dunne was no longer steering the boat.

I could not say in whose hands the helm was when the accident occurred. I was on deck when Mr O’Neil went ashore at the bridge. I saw Dunne at the helm then. I went down, and was about four minutes below when the accident took place. From the time we left Dublin I did not observe that any person but Dunne took the helm.[20]

Furthermore, Dunne’s invoking of the captain-should-steer rule was a piece of humbug; he admitted that the rule was not usually applied:

When the steerer gives up his place to any person upon his going to his dinner, it is usual for him to do so without apprising the captain of it.[21]

That accords with Ruth Delany’s observation that there were “many more incidents between the trade-boats and the fly-boats” than there had been with the slower boats, partly because the steerers had a habit of handing over the helm whenever they were “called thence by particular circumstances”.[22]

The ignoring of rules in Dunne’s leaving the helm bore out the inquest jury’s finding of “a great want of caution in the existing regulations concerning […] the duties of the crew”. But that was as nothing compared with the farce that put Dunne at the helm in the first place.


This is the fourth of a series of articles about the sinking of the passage boat Longford on the Royal Canal in 1845. The first provides an overview of the accident; the second is about the passage boat services and the crew of the Longford; the third is about the inquest and trial. The fifth continues the theme of this page, the weaknesses of the Royal Canal Company, and the sixth discusses who was steering when the accident occurred.

[longford184530]

Notes and sources

[1] Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[2] Ruth Delany and Ian Bath Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789–2009 The Lilliput Press, Dublin 2010: see pp 152–153 and 165–166

[3] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor and of Samuel Draper, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[4] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, The Morning Post 29 November 1845. That might explain why ten people were said to be in the front cabin but only nine of them, perhaps those who had paid the higher fare, were named

[5] Evidence of Patrick Morris, The Morning Post 1 December 1845

[6] Evidence of Patrick Morris at the trial, Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

[7] Evidence of William Keatinge at the trial, Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

[8] Evidence of Samuel Draper, Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, and Weekly Price Current 28 November 1845. The Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845 said that Draper was “interrogated by the coroner without being sworn”

[9] Evidence of Samuel Draper, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[10] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[11] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[12] Evidence of James Dunne, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[13] Evidence of James Dunne, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[14] ibid

[15] Evidence of Alexander Campbell, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[16] Evidence of James Dunne, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[17] ibid

[18] Evidence of James Dunne, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[19] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[20] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 27 November 1845

[21] Evidence of James Dunne, Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 27 November 1845

[22] Delany op cit p152

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