Board of Trade Inquiry
On 22 March 1864, an inquiry into the sinking of the Iona II, instituted by the Board of Trade, commenced. The legal proceedings took place at the old Justice of the Peace Court Hall Brunswick Street Glasgow and were reported in the Glasgow Herald 23-25 March 1864. Many of the crew were present as witnesses to the event along with other experts with a connection to Iona II.
Five crew members gave evidence and they had mixed opinions of Iona II’s seaworthiness. The Chief Officer, Joseph Sigar Gray and Second Engineer, George McGregor, simply recounted the events from their perspectives and gave no opinion on why the vessel sank. William Allen, Chief Engineer, seemed to insinuate that the failure of the bilge pumps may have contributed to the sinking of the Iona II. Andrew McGowan, carpenter, gave evidence at both the Queenstown mutiny investigation and the Board of Trade inquiry. On both occasions he verified that the vessel was seaworthy and that that he had safely sailed to Nassau in a vessel that took on more water than the Iona II. George McColl was the inquiry’s representative for the mutinous firemen, having served one month in jail for refusing to do his duty. He gave evidence that, while he thought the Iona II as fine and well-built vessel, he did not consider it appropriate for crossing the Atlantic, which he had previously successfully crossed in a similar vessel.
After the crew’s accounts had been heard, other experts in the matter were consulted who similarly had conflicted opinions of the sinking. George Barber was the shipwright surveyor that had seen to the Iona II during construction. He considered the vessel to be very well built and suitable for river steaming but entirely inappropriate for the Atlantic crossing. Despite the reinforcement work, which he had witnessed while working on a nearby vessel, the Iona II was too weak in longitudinal strength for large sea waves. This was in contrast to testimony from, Andrew Burns, manager at J. & G. Thomson Ltd. who stated that he considered the strengthening works sufficient for the ocean voyage and would have crossed the Atlantic on the Iona II if given the opportunity. John Main, shipyard foreman and David Mc Nutt, owner, simply stated details of the hull maintenance and strengthening works that had taken place in the month prior to Iona II’s last voyage.
The captain, Thomas Chapman, gave the final evidence via a letter in which he recounted the events from 16 January until the final sinking on the 2 February 1864. He stated that he believed the vessel to be seaworthy upon departing Queenstown and, when the incoming water proved too much for the pumps, he took every effort to head for port to seek swift repairs for the vessel and ensure the safety of the crew.
The final judgement of the inquiry was reported that no blame was to be placed on either the captain, who had operated the vessel to the best of his ability, or the owners, who had done everything in their power to adapt the well-built vessel for the Atlantic crossing.
Reasons for sinking
Many reasons have been suggested for why the Iona II sank:
• the bilge pumps could not keep up with the water leaking in
• overladen with cargo, the vessel strained in the heavy weather and sprang a leak
• the bending and flexing of the long and thin vessel allowed water in through the hull plates
• the unenclosed engine room may have allowed waves to come in and douse the engine
It seems that no one at the time knew what caused the sinking, and it was not the responsibility of the Board of Trade inquiry to find out. This did not stop the speculation, however, as was suggested in the local newspaper -
'…by this time the water had so gained on the efforts of the crew to keep the vessel clear as to render her unmanageable, and to obstruct the working of the engines.' North Devon Journal 4 February 1864
It is possible that the cause of the loss may only be found through examination of the remains of the hull, now buried in sediment off Lundy Island.