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(Photo: HM Torpedo Boat Hunter)

Action against a Naval Officer

The hearing was begun on Saturday before His Honour Judge Percy Gye and a jury, at the Isle of Wight County Court, of an action brought by Messrs Woodnutt & Co., marine engineers and yacht builders, of St Helens, Isle of Wight, against Lieutenant and Commander Percy Johnson, formerly commanding His Majesty’s torpedo boat destroyer Hunter, for damages alleged to have been done by a torpedo to the plaintiffs’ steam-launch Swiftsure in June last, whilst the Hunter was at torpedo practice in Osborne Bay.

The plaintiffs’ evidence was to the effect that the Swiftsure was under charter to Mr Ismay, towing Mr Ismay’s racing yacht Emu from Bembridge, I.o.W., to Southampton. When passing through Osborne Bay the Captain of the Swiftsure saw the Hunter manoeuvring nearly a mile to starboard and coming nearer.

Suddenly he felt a violent shock astern, and saw a torpedo come up on the port side of the launch. The torpedo had evidently struck the stern of the launch, passed under it, and proceeded some fifty yards before it finally came to rest on the surface.

A groove was cut in the propeller shaft of the launch and other damage was done. The Admiralty sent a surveyor and a marine engineer to see the Swiftsure, and the Naval authorities later wrote that a Court of Inquiry was of the opinion that the Service was in no way responsible for the damage, which they held was due to the negligence of the Coxswain of the boat in not avoiding the torpedo.

The evidence showed conclusively, in the official opinion, that it was not the torpedo which struck the launch, but the launch which struck the torpedo. The Admiralty counter-claimed for £27 for damage to the torpedo.

The total of plaintiffs’ claim was £90 9s. Lieutenant and Commander Percy Johnson, and also the Signalman and others, gave evidence supporting the official view, and Lieutenant Johnson said that the collapsible head of the torpedo was not damaged.

Lieutenant the honourable A. L. O. Forbes-Sempill, HMS Hecla, torpedo-lieutenant, said that the damage to the torpedo showed that it had received a blow, and that it had not given a blow. It could not have received the injuries by running into the yacht.

After hearing other evidence, the court adjourned.

(The Daily Telegraph, Monday March 9th, 1908, p. 12.)

 …The Admiralty’s case was that the torpedo had finished its course of 1,000 yards and was at rest on the surface of the water when the launch negligently ran into it.

Engineer Commander A. W. Gibbs, in charge of the torpedo depôt at Portsmouth, said the weapon used in the Service was the most perfect weapon in the world and could be depended upon to do what they wanted it to do.

The jury found that the torpedo was discharged too near the launch and that there was no negligence on the plaintiffs’ part. Judgement for the plaintiffs on the claim and counter-claim, with costs, was given.

(The Daily Telegraph, Thurday, April 2, 1908, p. 11.)

Note by Contributor:

The Emu was the five-mètre yacht of James Hainsworth Ismay, the younger brother of J. Bruce Ismay.

She may have been commissioned by Sir Thomas Henry Ismay, who died in November 1899. J. H. Ismay was a partner in the firm of Ismay Imrie & Co, managers of the White Star Line, but retired in 1902.

He had a home at “The Cottage,” Bembridge, Isle of Wight, although his principal residence was in Iwere Minster in Blandford, Dorset.

J. H. Ismay: born March 14, 1867, died January 24, 1930.

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James Hainsworth Ismay


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2005) ISMAY YACHT TORPEDOED! (Daily Telegraph, , ref: #4448, published 8 February 2005, generated 17th June 2021 06:10:51 PM); URL :