News from 1908: Celtic II collides with Moorhen

Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
The Times, 15 July 1909

(Before MR. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEANE, sitting with two of the Elder Brethren
of the Trinity House.)
Passenger Liner in Collision

This action was brought by the owners of the steamship Moorhen against the
owners of the steamship Celtic, one of the White Star liners, to recover the
amount of the damage sustained by reason of a collision between the two
vessels in the Mersey about midnight on November 29 last. The plaintiffs'
case was that the Moorhen, a screw steamship of 1,756 gross tons register,
was lying at anchor head to tide, about abreast of Princes Half-tide Dock,
in the course of a voyage from Antwerp to Liverpool with cargo. The weather
was a dense fog, the wind S.E. light, and the tide about half flood of about
two knots force. The Moorhen's fog bell was being regularly sounded. In
these circumstances those on board her saw close to them, on the starboard
bow, the lights of two tugs, followed by a number of port lights and a large
white light astern of the Celtic, whose triangle had shortly before been
heard. The helm of the Moorhen was hard-a-starboarded as soon as the first
tug was seen, but before anything more could be done the Celtic, with her
port quarter, struck the starboard main rigging of the Moorhen, doing her
damage, and then struck her again on the starboard bow, doing more damage.

According to the defence, the Celtic, a screw steamship of 20,904 gross tons
register, 700ft. long, inward bound from New York via Queenstown to
Liverpool, with general cargo and 540 passengers, and manned by a crew of
360 hands, anchored about 8 p.m. on the 29th about abreast of Seacombe, on
account of the dense fog which set in. The bell was kept duly rung forward
and the triangle aft, a duly licensed pilot remained in charge, and the
officers and crew were all at their stations. About 10 30 p.m. the Celtic
began to swing to the flood tide, and the engines were moved ahead and
astern as required to assist her to swing safely. At about 11 p.m. the port
propeller fouled something, and the tug Toxteth, which was waiting to assist
the Celtic to the landing-stage when the weather cleared, warned a steamer
at anchor, which proved to be the Moorhen, to keep clear of the Celtic
because she was in trouble and got the reply "All right." (This allegation
was denied by the plaintiffs.) At 11 35 p.m. the port anchor was let go, and
at about 11 55, when she had swung nearly head on tide, she fouled with her
port quarter the starboard side of the Moorhen, whose bell had been heard
frequently before the collision, and whose anchor lights were seen close on
the port quarter very shortly before the collision. The defendants said that
nothing more could in the circumstances have been done by those on the
Celtic, but alternatively if there was any negligence on their part, which
they denied, that those in charge of the Moorhen could and ought to have
avoided the collision by keeping a good look-out, slacking out chain and
going astern. In the further alternative the defendants pleaded compulsory

Mr. Laing, K.C., and Mr. A. D. Bateson appeared for the plaintiffs; and Mr.
Lauriston Batten, K.C., and Mr. C. R. Dunlop for the defendants.

On the ground of compulsory pilotage only, the Court found in favour of the


MR. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEANE, in giving judgment to-day, said that the case as
brought was very different from that presented on the documents and
pleadings. Mr. Laing said that on the pleadings a foul berth was shown; on
the evidence, clearly, it was not such a case, for the Celtic anchored
inside and to the east of the line where the Moorhen was, and the finding of
the Court was that, in clear weather, the Celtic came up river and when the
fog came down anchored a good bit to the eastward of mid-river, probably for
the purpose of being handy to the landing stage. He was advised by the Elder
Brethren that, having anchored to the eastward on the ebb, she might well
have realized she was to the eastward and have sheered out. That, however,
was a small point. She had on her starboard bow a coasting steamer, and she
says she heard her bell. The Celtic anchored with 60 fathoms of chain, and
he had no hesitation in saying that she anchored too near to the bank on the
east side. The result was that, with the flood, she swung with her stern on
to the bank and her port propeller jammed on it, and she dragged down inside
the coaster. Then, working her starboard propeller, she got her stern more
out and her port quarter came in contact with the Moorhen's starboard side.
The evidence satisfied him that the Moorhen heard no bell, but shortly
before the collision she heard the triangle, which would indicate a vessel
at anchor and not one drifting down. It was said that before the collision
the Celtic, when in difficulties, sent a tug to warn the Moorhen. That orders
were given to do so, and that the tug master went and shouted out to some
vessel, he had no doubt, but his mind was in doubt as to whether the message
was conveyed to the right steamer. If it was sent to the Moorhen it was very
shortly before the collision, and it was not possible for the Moorhen to
sheer out in time. Therefore he was of opinion that there was nothing the
Moorhen could do and that she was not to blame. Therefore it was either an
inevitable accident, or the fault of the Celtic, or the fault of her pilot.
Undoubtedly the pilot was in charge, and there was no evidence that his
orders were disregarded or that he did not have every assistance. Therefore
he had to ask himself whether the collision was entirely the fault of the
pilot. In his opinion it was. The pilot brought this big vessel, 700ft.
long, into a position in which he ought to have realized that when she swung
she would be in difficulties, and he thought the pilot was guilty of a
fault of commission in putting her there and of omission in not sheering


On the question of costs, his Lordship said that the plaintiffs came to
fight a case on the documents, on which there was one story. There was
another on the pleadings, and a third was raised in Court. He wished Mr.
Dunlop to show cause why the defendants should not pay the plaintiffs'
costs, for it ought to be very well known that the Court expected the
documents to be absolutely trustworthy, and when he found that they were
not, he was anxious, whenever he could,. to mark his sense of it.

MR. DUNLOP submitted that as the defendants had succeeded on an issue raised
in the defence which the plaintiffs knew would be raised, the plaintiffs
were not misled by a state of facts being found which were not raised by the
pleadings, and that the defendants ought not to be penalized in the way his
Lordship suggested.

MR. LAING contended that the Court had an absolute discretion, and that had
the true facts been pleaded the plaintiffs might never have brought the
action at all, at any rate the defence should have been amended, and the
plaintiff ought to have all the costs up to that time.

HIS LORDSHIP said he would consider his decision, and the question of costs
would be reserved.

Batesons, Warr, and Winmshurst, solicitors for plaintiffs; Hill, Dickinson,
and Co., solicitors for defendants.


The Times, 20 July 1909

(Before MR. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEANE, siting with two of the Elder Brethren
of the Trinity House)
Passenger Liner in Collision-Costs

The costs of this action, the facts of which were reported in The Times of
July 15, were dealt with by his Lordship to-day. The plaintiffs were the
owners of the s.s. Moorhen, and the defendants were the owners of the s.s.
Celtic, one of the White Star liners. The action was brought to recover the
amount of the damage sustained by reason of a collision between the two
vessels in the Mersey during a fog on the night of November 29 last. The
defendants raised a defence on the merits, and in the alternative pleaded
compulsory pilotage, but the Court found in favour of the defendants on the
latter issue only, and the question of costs was reserved.

Mr. Laing, K.C., and Mr. A. D. Bateson appeared for the plaintiffs; and Mr.
Batten, K.C., and Mr. C. R. Dunlop for the defendants.

MR. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEANE, to-day, said that it was an action in which he
found that the Celtic was in charge of a compulsory Trinity House pilot, who
was alone to blame for the collision. The question of costs arose because the
case on the documents was that the Celtic had a foul berth, but when it came
into Court it was found to be a case of grounding, and he had doubts whether
he ought not to give the plaintiffs the costs of the trial, for they came to
fight one issue and found they had to fight another. It was vital that
parties should have their documents perfectly straight and perfectly
correct---the conduct of those who put forward these documents was very
blameworthy---but he had come to the conclusion that on the cases and
practice he would not be justified in making the defendants pay the
plaintiffs' costs of trial The fault was that of the pilot whether it was a
case of grounding or fouling, and therefore he thought, even supposing it
had been a case of foul berth, Mr. Laing's clients would not have been any
better off. For that reason he had to make what he believed was the usual
order in compulsory pilotage cases, but whatever the practice, he had a
discretion and there would be no costs on either side.

Solicitors.-For plaintiffs, Batesons, Warr, and Wimshurst; for defendants.
Hill, Dickinson, and Co.


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