In order to have some conception of the character of the work of the Institution, it is necessary to give as briefly as possible some account of the commerce of this country, and the number of ships which annually reach and leave our shores, together with the number of lives and value of the property thus exposed to the perils of the sea. As a rule “dry statistics” are well avoided : yet some attention to the following details respecting wrecks on the Coast must convey to a reader the absolute necessity for the organised system which the Institution has now so firmly established, and which has resulted in sailors of all nations, whose ships may be unhappily wrecked on our shores, having such confidence in the resources for their rescue. So strongly is this feeling often manifested that crews cling to their captains and ships while there is the least remnant of a hope of getting their vessels out of danger, and even at periods when the Life-boat men know by long experience the imminent risk the distressed sailors are incurring by their tenacity of losing their lives.
In the absence of the wreck statistics of 1873 we find that the number of vessels which entered inwards and cleared outwards from the ports in the United Kingdom in 1872, including repeated voyages, was 612,211I, having a registered tonnage of 102,938,262 tons. We also learn from Returns published by the Registrar-General of Seamen, that on the 31st of December, I873, the number of British Vessels registered, exclusive of River Steamers, was 20,799, having a total tonnage of 5,473,932 tons, and crews numbering over 200,000 men and boys. The value of the enormous commercial transactions in which these ships are engaged in one year is believed to represent about six hundred millions sterling.
It will also be interesting to know that the sea-board of England and Wales is 2,000 miles in extent, and that the Institution has on that length of coast 181 Life-boats ; the Scottish Coast is 1,500 miles in length, on which the Society has 30 Life-boats : while the length of the Irish Coast is1I,400 miles, on which the Institution has 31 Life-boats.
As regards shipping disasters on our coasts, we find from the last Annual Wreck Register, published by the Board of Trade, that the number of wrecks, casualties, and collisions from all causes on and near the coasts of the British Isles in the year 1872, was 1,958, with the loss of 590 lives.
The number of vessels lost or damaged on these occasions was 2,381 representing a registered tonnage of 581,000 tons, and with crews to the number of 22,757 men and boys.
The number of vessels wrecked in 1872 had increased on the previous year by 392. It should here be explained that the number of ships represented in the wrecks, casualties, and collisions of the year, is greater than the number of actual casualties, inasmuch as in each of the 409 cases of collision, two or more vessels of course were involved.
Of the 2,381 ships, 1,878 are known to have been ships belonging to Great Britain and its dependencies, with British certificates of registry ; and 430 are known to have been ships belonging to foreign countries and states. Of the remaining 73 ships, the country and employment are unknown. Of the British registered ships, 1,156 were employed in the British coasting trade, and 722 were employed in the (over sea) Foreign and Home trade. Of the ships belonging to foreign countries and states, 19 employed in the British coasting trade met with casualties.
Of the total number of wrecks, &c. (1,958), reported as having occurred in 1872 on and near the coasts of the United Kingdom, 409 were collisions, and 1,549 were wrecks and casualties other than collisions.
The annual average number of wrecks on the coasts of the United Kingdom reported in 1852-71, divided into four periods of five years, is as follows : – 1852, 1,115 ; 1853, 832 ; I854, 987 ; 1855, 1,141 ; 1856, 1,153. Total for the five years, 5,228, or an annual average of 1045 wrecks. 1857. 1,143 ; 1858, 1,170 ; 1859, 1,416 ; 1860, 1,379 ; 1861, I,494. Total for the five years, 6,602, or an annual average of 1,320 wrecks. 1862, 1,488 ; 1863, 1,664; 1864, 1,390 ; 1865, I1656 ; 1866, 1,860. Total for the five years, 8,058, or an annual average of 1,611 wrecks. . 1867,. 2,090 ; 1868, 1,747 ; 1869, 2,114 . 1870, 1,502; 1871, 1,575. Total for the five years, 9,028, or an annual average of 1,805 wrecks.
The following list shows the parts of the coasts on which the wrecks and casualties, on and near the shores of the United Kingdom in 1872 happened ; it will be seen that the greatest number occurred on the East Coast. The numbers are as follows : East Coast, 885 : South Coast, 276 ; West Coast, 516 ; N. and W. Coast of Scotland, 44 ; Irish Coast, 198 ; Isle of Man, 20 ; Lundy Island, 9; Scilly Isles, 10.