Research Document #20
Reports from the Board of Trade’s Inquiry
into the Wreck of the Norwich City
This document is provided on this web site as a matter of general interest and to aid in research by individuals. No permission to reproduce it or transmit it is implied or granted.

The wreck of the Norwich City was thoroughly investigated, and the reports and accounts of the accident are an excellent primary source for understanding Nikumaroro and the plight of any person stranded there. The following documents are reproduced here:

  1. Cover Letter to the Board of Trade, London
  2. Statement of Henry Cleveland Lott, Second Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  3. Statement of John Harry Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  4. Statement of Daniel Hamer, Master, S.S. Norwich City
  5. Statutory Declaration by J. H. Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  6. Position Report describing condition and location of S.S. Norwich City
  7. Report of J. Thomas, First Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  8. Crew List
Cover Letter to the Board of Trade, London


9/12/29

The Assistant Secretary,

The Board of Trade, London

Dear Sir,

In pursuance of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 section 481 a Naval court was held to collect what evidence was available referring to the wreck of the "Norwich City" on Gardner Island on 29/12/29*.

The evidence taken herewith submitted. It was the unanimous opinion of the court that the bravery shown by the Island boats crew sent with the Trongate should be recognised and an affidavit to that effect has been submitted to LLOYDS.

Signed:

Cecil Robert Willcocks, Registrar of Shipping Apia
Thomas Henry Bates, Collector of Customs
Thomas Andrew, British Merchant, Apia
Claude Arthur Johnson, British Merchant, Lloyds Agent

Click on the document above to open a new page with a full-sized image of the original.
*This is apparently a typo.
Statement of Henry Cleveland Lott, Second Officer, S.S. Norwich City


Naval Court Held under Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, Section 481.

Consisting of Registrar of Shipping and Seamen, Apia, Cecil Robert Willcocks,
  Collector of Customs, Thomas Henry Bates,
  British Merchant, Apia, Thomas Andrew,
  Claude Arthur Johnson, British Merchant, Apia and Lloyd's Agent

Note: the original of this report is entirely innocent of paragraphing. Paragraphing has been inserted to improve readability.

Henry Cleveland Lott, Second Officer of Norwich City:

The first thing he [sic] knew was at 5 past 11 there was a crash and the vessel went up on the reef. I jumped off the settee on my room, went outside, and returned and put on some clothes. I went straight to the bridge for orders. There was nobody on the bridge. Coming down of the top bridge I met the Captain on the lower bridge. I asked the Capt. for orders. See that the lifeboats were already prepared for lowering but not to be lifted off the hooks. I attended to that right away and the Capt. then instructed me to go round and see what water she was making. There was not water in No. 1 and no water in No. 2. nor no. 5 or no. 4 but water in No. 6. I reported that to the Capt. and at about that time she started to make water in No. 5.

Orders were then given for everybody to stay round the galley and not to go forward of the funnell. From then on I remained round the galley. After a considerable time I noticed smoke coming from the fiddley. I looked down in No. 3 and I could just see flames down below. I went quietly to the Engineers and told them. They went down below and reported that the ship was on fire. The Capt. then gave orders to launch the lifeboats, starboard lifeboats first. The starboard lifeboat was lowered to the level of gunwale and stopped there. We next tackled the port lifeboat with the intention of towing her round to the lee side. When it was about half way down a huge wave took it and bent the davit clean over. It was then swept clear of the ship. By that time the ship was a furnace in the Engine room and No. 5 hold. Just as the life boat was carried away on the port side the Capt. was thrown overboard. We saw no more of him and thought we had lost him.

The mate then gave orders that we should lower the starboard boat and tow her clear of the fire. We had the intention of waiting on board till daylight. She started exploding down below. Daylight was just about breaking then so the mate gave orders to take to the boats. Everybody got into the boat and when we had all settled down and were ready we let go the lines. The lifeboat was immediately swept aft and when under the quarter she was overturned by a wave. The next I know I was hanging on to a line attached to the ship, together with the Chief Engineer and the cook. After we had been washed about a bit we went off one by one. The Chief Engineer first, the Cook second and myself last. Next I was washed up on the reef. After touching the reef I was washed clean off and back to the ship again. By that time her side from the Engine-room to No. 5 hold was red-hot. I was carried back to the same rope and was hanging on again. I was washed away from the rope and thrown clear of the reef. I was swimming outside the reef for some time and eventually made into the reef again and washed ashore. I was met there by the wireless operator, cook and several members of the crew. About two minutes after I was washed ashore, the Chief engineer was washed up.

We then gathered what stores we could from the life boat. Both boats were washed ashore. We then went into the bush and made a camp. The steward's body was washed up about half an hour after we landed. We tried artificial respiration for about an hour but without result. The next body was an Arab who was under the upturned boat and we got him out in the evening. Later on during our stay on the Island the Carpenter's body was found, by the Capt. and 3rd Mate. These bodies were buried on the island. No further bodies were washed up till the time of our leaving.

I found a pool of fresh water on the morning of Saturday. By next morning was turned to salt water and undrinkable. We had the breakers from the lifeboats. The brackish water from the pool we boiled before using it. The Trongate arrived on the Tuesday morning and the Lincoln Ellsworth. At the time of the wreck it was raining hard and wind from the westward, blowing hard. It rained hard right through the following day. After that it was showery and hot. I was in the bush when the two ships were sighted and saw them when they were close to the wreck. The next thing I saw was a boat making for the reef from the Trongate. We thought it was a ship's boats crew and warned them off the reef. We tried to shout a warning but by that time they had landed. When they landed I found they were a surf boats crew of islanders. We took the stores and water from the surf boat and went to the camp. They told us that it was impossible to go through that surf again so we went to the lee side. The surf boat went across the lagoon. On arrival at the lee side the surf was pretty well as bad. After several attempts with the surf boat they eventually got away with three men. They returned to us again. A rocket line was fired from the Trongate's life boat about 2.30 before the lifeboat had left the island with the three men. The rocket line could not be used for life boat purposes but was used for sending messages with.

The surf boat returned to us after they had discharged the three men to the Trongate's lifeboat. They got ashore after it was found impossible to through the breakers again so the surf boat an crew remained on shore for the night. At daybreak next morning the boys said it was just as bad on account of the surf and sharks and they did not think it safe to work. It was decided then that the boys should take a message off themselves to the Trongate. At the last moment it was decided to take three more so three more were taken in the boat. After a few attempts they got away. Shortly afterwards the boat returned but in a difference place, with water and provisions, and the balance of the crew were transferred to the Trongate.

Mr. Lott states that he wishes the rest of the information reserved for the Board of Trade Inquiry in London.

Without the assistance of the surf boat crew the rescue could not have been carried out.

In answer to an inquiry from Mr. Johnson the ship was in ballast.

Mr. Lott states that the reason she went so high was because she was in ballast, down by the stern, and it was the top of high water.

I certify to the best of knowledge and belief that the above is a true statement.

Signed, H.C. Lott

Click on any link below to go to that document.
  1. Cover Letter to the Board of Trade, London
  2. Statement of Henry Cleveland Lott, Second Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  3. Statement of John Harry Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  4. Statement of Daniel Hamer, Master, S.S. Norwich City
  5. Statutory Declaration by J. H. Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  6. Position Report describing condition and location of S.S. Norwich City
  7. Report of J. Thomas, First Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  8. Crew List
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