A BOARD OF TRADE INQUIRY IT really seems tae me, BAILIE, as if I wid hae tae gie up the coal ree a’thegither; the public are making sich demands on my time. They appear tae think because Providence has gifted me wi’ mair brains than the maist o’ my fellow toonsmen, that I shouldna be allooed tae dae onything for the guid o’ my family, but be aye working awa’ in a public way for the public benefit. One o’ the last o’ my offices wis that o’ presidin’ at a Board o’ Trade Inquiry into the loss o’ the “Auld Reekie,” on the Forth and Clyde Canal. There wis ither twa magistrates at the inquiry, but they were only tae make up a “quorum,” as it’s ca’ad, an’ as they cam frae Cam’slang, they really kent naething aboot navigation. We had twa nautical assessors frae London, wha micht as weel have stayed at lame, as I tell’t them. Says I, “Min’ ye, altho’ ye come frae London ye’re no tae think a’ the wisdom o’ the woel’ is centred up there. There’s faur ower much o’ London noo-a-days, but when yo’re doon here in Stra’bungo ye’ll hae tae jist ca’ canny.” So that kept the twa o’ them gey quiet the rest o’ the day. Thou we had a W.S. frae Musselburgh on behalf of the Board o’ Trade, and he, in his opening statement, said — I quote here frae the newspapers tae mak’ it mair correct — “The ‘Auld Rookie’ was a vessel of 19 tons gross, built at Kirkintilloch in 1869, and well found in all respects. In 1879 she received a complete overhaul; the bowsprit was painted and a new nose glued on the figurehead. She sailed from Falkirk on the 19th ult., at 4 p.m., and all went well till Kilsyth was reached, then the hatches were battened down and all made snug for the night; the cargo was a miscellaneous one, principally chuckies. On reaching Maryhill, she was steered N.S.E.W., and at eight o’clock she suddenly struck on a sunken rock opposite the barracks, and began to fill with water. The lifeboat having been stove in the crew were in great danger, but were ultimately rescued by a passing gabbart. The vessel was subsequently lifted and repaired on the slip. “The points for this Court to consider are, 1st, Was the ‘Auld Reekie’ in proper sailing trim for the voyage; 2nd, Was she properly navigated up till reaching Maryhill; 3rd, Was she steered in a proper course; 4th, Was the stranding the result of unskilful or reckless navigation; 5th, Was Captain M’Fee, or any of his crew, in default.” This wis what wis ca’d the libel, an’ after it wis read the prosecutor sat doon, an’ said he left the case in oor hauns, the hauns o’ three responsible ratepayers; so I being chairman put a peppermint drap intae my mouth an’ cries, “Bring forrit the first witness.” The first witness wis Captain M’Fee, wha deponed that he held a master’s certificate for the home trade for the last three months. Previous to that he had been a polisman, but the walking didna agree wi’ him. Knew the bow o’ a boat frae the stern because the bow wis sherper. Had been in the same employ for three weeks, and never had an accident before, except once when he ran the bowsprit through one o’ the lock-keeper’s windows. “Noo, Captain,” says I, “pay attention; wis the man wi the horses a competent and careful man?” “He wis, your honour; he sat sideways on the hinmost horse an’ tell’t us stories a’ the road.” “What were ye daeing when she struck?” “The mate wis scrubbing the frying-pan tae cook the ham an’ eggs in, an’ I wis giein’ a recitation as it wis my turn.” “And who was at the helm?” says a brither magistrate. “He didna need a helm when the horses were drawing it,” says I. “D’ye, Captain?” “No, sir.” “Of course, no.” So that shut the ither magistrate up, an’ he began tae draw figures on the blotting paper, an’ left me alane. “Wis this rock that ye struck on mentioned in the chart?” “Weel, I couldna say exactly, for we had been using the chart for a table cloth, an’ some o’ the rocks got covered wi’ caunle grease.” “It wis a pity that this ane hadna been covered wi’ caunle grease an’ ye micht hae slided ower. I suppose ye got a great fricht when ye struck, captain?” “I did, your honour. I thocht it wis a’ up.” “It wis liker being a’ DOON,” says I, an’ they a’ laughed, an’ I said, “Oh! that wis jist a wee bit joke o’ mine hardly worth laughing at! Wis yer compasses in guid order?” “Weel, no, they werena in vera guid order, for the weans had been boring holes in the floor wi’ them, and spoiled a’ the pints.” “Did ye tak’ ony observations as ye cam’ alang?” “We did, your honour; we observed three men playing at pitch and toss on the banks o’ the canal, and we”- “Tut, tut! I mean observations at the sun. Disna’ you seafaring folk keek up at the sun every noo and again, to see what o’clock it is — through yon binnacle, or whatever ye ca’ it. Hooever, we’ll never heed that, as we’ll hae tae gie judgment noo.” So, after consulting a wee and haeing a snuff, and the London folk haeing said they wid leave it a’ in oor hauns, I gets up and says— “Ahem! Silence in the Court! This Court unanimously find that the ‘Auld Reekie’ wis in guid order, well found, and seaworthy; therefore nae blame attaches tae the managing owners, wha leave this Court withoot a stain on their character. Wi’ Captain M’Fee it’s different. We find he committed a great error o’ judgment in no using the lead when he found the horses had a difficulty in drawing the boat alang; he micht hae kent there was something bye or’nar. It has been hinted that she wis sailing stern foremost when she struck; but, in the opinion o’ this Court that wis a sma’ matter, even if it wis the case; for if a boat’s weel built she should be fully stronger at the stern than at the bow — at least she should be thicker, and that’s something. We find, further, that the mate had nae business tae be meddling wi’ the frying-pan when they were in a dangerous channel, so we cancel his certificate for six weeks. And, further, we find that Captain M’Fee should keep his compasses in a proper place, and no’ let the weans get at them, so we cancel his certificate for three weeks, but grant him a mate’s certificate instead, so that he has vera little tae compleen aboot. We mak’ nae order as tae coats; ye can jist settle that among yoursel’s. And noo we dissolve the Court.” And so, BAILIE, we gied even-haunded justice a’ roon, and I think ye’ll alloo it wis tempered wi’ mercy.