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It will be thus seen, that whilst in the year ending June 30, 1851, the number of persons killed in boats propelled by steam was ninetyfour per cent. of the number of boats in use, in the year ending September 30, 1854—being the first year after the law went into operation—the loss of life in such boats was only fourteen per cent.!
It will be difficult to find on the pages of our statutes a law which has apparently done so much for human security as the one now sought to be amended; and the committee would be unwilling to recommend any change in its provisions, unless the same was one of necessity.
The bill referred to your committee contemplates a repeal of so much of the act as prohibits the carrying on board steamboats spirits of turpentine, unless secured in the manner provided in a part of the section quoted above; and the reasons for the change in the law are given in a certificate signed by fourteen steamboat captains, which is as follows:
“We certify that we consider spirits of turpentine on board of steamboats, exposed to chimney or other sparks, not more liable to take fire than whiskey or other spirits, and if not prohibited by law we would as soon carry it.
"MOBILE, December 18, 1854."
This certificate is apparently given in good faith, and the committee see no reason to doubt the correctness of its conclusion, if to it be added the additional fact, that the spirits of turpentine and the whiskey be contained in vessels alike incombustible. But it is supposed that the framers of the law proceeded on the ground that spirits of turpentine was, in its nature, much more combustible than spirituous liquors; and in case of a fire happening on board a steamboat, would subject her and her passengers and crew to much more danger than would an equal quantity of the latter article. Gunpowder might be placed in vessels that would afford a perfect security against chimney or other sparks; but in case of a fire breaking out on board a steamboat, the knowledge that the article was on board and not secured in the manner provided by law, would produce immediate confusion, anel, in many cases, lead to fatal disasters, which, but for that cause alone, might have been avoided. The certificate is apparently founded on the idea that the law is intended only to guard against fires proceeding from sparks flying about the boat from the chimney or otherwise, and assuming that, as spirits of turpentine can be secured safely from sparks whilst on its transit, it does not come within the reason of the law. We think this is taking too narrow a view of the subject, and that the better opinion is that the law was designed, so far as was possible, to prevent the happening of fires on board of steamboats from any cause, either arising from sparks, from overheated chimneys, carelessness of either firemen or others of the crew, or from accidents of the passengers, the bursting of boilers, or collisions, and intended, in view of the great loss of life that had been suffered on American waters, to provide, by a wise foresight, against all probable accidents, and to that end prescribes not only that combus
tible matters, but those merely corrosive, and substances that ignite by friction, shall all be placed in equal security against fire; so that in case a steamboat, from any cause, takes fire, all on board may know where the combustible and dangerous articles are deposited, and be enabled to act with an understanding of their real situation. This knowledye would, doubtless, in many instances, enable the passengers and crew to save themselves and the boat, while a want of it might create a panic that would end in one of those frightful calamities that have too often attended our inland navigation, and from which our Atlantic steamers have by no means escaped.
No statistics showing the amount of this business, nor any suggestion that the trade suffers for want of other mode of conveyance than that furnished by passenger steamboats, has been made to the committee, and they unanimously recommend that no legislation be had upon the subject, and they ask to be discharged from any further consideration of the same.
2d Session. S
JANUARY 30, 1855.
Mr. WALLEY, from the Committee of Claims, made the following
REPORT. The Committee of Claims, to whom was referred the petition of Surah Ir
ving, asking that she may receive, for the services of her late husband, the difference between the salary as clerk in the Census department and that of superintendent, for the time actually employed as such, have had the same under consideration, and beg leave to report :
That, by an order of the Secretary of the Interior, dated May 30, 1851, William Irving was appointed acting superintendent of the seventh census, during the absence of the superintendent, in accordance with which order he entered upon the discharge of such duties on the said 30th day of May, and continued to discharge the same until the 22d day of September following, to the entire satisfaction of the department.
It further appeared to your committee that the superintendent was absent from the country on the business of the department, and that the Secretary of the Interior was fully authorized by law to appoint officers from time to time, as might be necessary for the proper discharge of the duties of the Census department; and that he appointed a clerk, who was receiving one thousand dollars per annum, to discharge the duties of superintendent, whose salary was fixed at the rate of twenty-five hundred dollars per annum.
Your committee recommend that the prayer of the petitioner be granted, and therefore beg leave to report the accompanying bill.