British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 3

Testimony of Robert Hichens, cont.

1237. How many oars had you on board?
- I do not know; there was not much time for counting the oars; I did not think much about the oars.

1238. But you had time afterwards?
- I did not count them, Sir; I do not know.

1239. How many did you see used?
- Four.

1240. Four altogether?
- But then there was more in the boat than that.

1241. Very well, I understand. Were there any biscuits on board?
- Not that I am aware of, Sir.

1242. Did you look for them?
- No, Sir.

1243. Then you cannot say?
- No.

1244. Was there water on board?
- Yes, Sir, there was a breaker of water.

1245. A breaker with water in it?
- Yes, Sir.

The Commissioner:
What is a "breaker," - a can?

1246. (The Attorney-General.) I understand it is a cask that shape. (Showing.) (To the Witness.) It is a breaker into which you put the water?
- A breaker with a bung-hole to it, just like the top of this water-bottle. There was no compass, Sir, and no biscuits.

1247. (The Commissioner.) I thought you said you did not look for the biscuits?
- I understood the other two men to say there was no biscuits, my Lord.

1248. (The Attorney-General.) So far as you are concerned you did not look, and so far as you know there were none - that is as I understand it?
- Yes.

1249. Did you tell anybody to look?
- No, Sir.

1250. You were in charge?
- No, Sir, not at that time.

1251. But at any time before you got on to the "Carpathia"?
- I heard them say that there was no biscuits when we got to the "Carpathia."

1252. When you got to the "Carpathia"?
- When we got to the "Carpathia." When we were aboard the "Carpathia."

1253. Did you look yourself then?
- No, I did not look myself then.

1254. You said something about the compass; did you look for a compass?
- Yes, Sir.

1255. Was there one?
- No, Sir.

1256. Had you a mast and sail on board?
- That was taken out of the boat before the boat was launched.

1257. By whom?
- By the men that were working about in the boat.

1258. You mean the men uncovering the boat?
- The men that were helping to get it out. When the boat was being lowered down out of the rails the passengers took them and laid them on the deck.

1259. When you started, did you start from the ship's side without any mast or sail?
- Yes, Sir.

1260. But there had been a mast and sail in the boat which had been removed before she was launched, is that it?
- Yes, Sir.

1261. Does that mean that in the confusion the mast and sail were not taken - is that what you mean, or were any orders given?
- No, Sir. They were passed out of the boat to make room, I think.

1262. At any rate, they were passed out of the boat and not passed back into the boat?
- Yes.

1263. But you did not hear any special order given about it?
- No, Sir.

1264. Now about the boats on the "Carpathia"; were the boats taken on board the "Carpathia"?
- Some were. Mine was not. Mine was cut adrift.

1265. Some were taken on board. They were all taken to the "Carpathia," and then the boat was set adrift - was that it?
- Yes.

1266. (The Commissioner.) Do you know how many lifeboats were taken on the "Carpathia"?
- I think about 13, my Lord.

1267. Then there were not many cut adrift?
- I think there was about two cut adrift, my Lord.

1268. (The Attorney-General.) Do you know anything about the use of glasses for the look-out? Have you acted as look-out at all?
- Well, I have been on the look-out, Sir, in mail boats, but not in the White Star Line.

1269. In what mail boats have you been on the look-out?
- Troopships chiefly, Sir, and different kinds of vessels.

1270. Have you been on any liners?
- Yes, Sir.

1271. For what companies?
- The Union-Castle and the British India.

1272. When you were on those vessels were glasses used by the look-out?
- I do not know, Sir. I was never on the look-out on those ships. I was quartermaster always.

1273. You cannot tell me. You do not know whether there were or not?
- No, Sir.

1274. And you do not know whether there were on the White Star Line or not?
- No.

The Commissioner:
I want to know if this man can tell me whether the rockets which were sent up would be visible to this supposed ship which was five miles away.

1275. (The Attorney-General.) You told us, you know, that rockets were sent up to a ship that was, according to your view, two points on the port bow about five miles away?
- Yes.

1276. Would the rockets that were sent up from the "Titanic" be seen by a vessel five miles away?
- Quite easily, Sir.

1277. Did you see any answer - any answering signal? What I want to know is this: Did you see any rockets from any other vessel?
- No, Sir.

Examined by Mr. SCANLAN.

1278. I think you have told his Lordship that the night was calm?
- Yes.

1279. Was the whole of the Sunday a calm day? - As far as I can remember there was a little breeze in the afternoon.

1280. A moderately calm day, it was?
- Yes.

1281. Considering that the night was calm, would it have been possible if the "Titanic" had been provided with sufficient lifeboats to have taken safely away from her after the collision every passenger and every member of the crew?
- Well, I think so, Sir.

1282. You have told us that you had only one sailor, in addition to yourself, in this lifeboat?
- That is all, Sir.

1283. How many sailors do you consider would be necessary in order properly to man and navigate this lifeboat?
- At least four besides the man that is steering the boat - five.

1284. Would that number have been sufficient even though the sea had been stormy?
- No, Sir. In stormy weather you require more men. It is all according to the weather.

1285. (The Commissioner.) Will you tell me this: Would the lifeboats, in your opinion, have been of any use at all if there had been a rough sea?
- I am sure they would not, my Lord.

1286. They would not?
- No.

1287. (Mr. Scanlan.) Would the utility of the lifeboats depend to some extent on the proximity to you of any rescuing ship?
- I beg pardon; I did not quite follow you; Sir.

The Commissioner:
That is not a question which it is necessary to ask.

Mr. Scanlan:
Even in a rough sea is it not possible with good seamanship to keep a lifeboat afloat?

The Commissioner:
Will you ask him first whether it is possible or easy to get it afloat to begin with.

1288. (Mr. Scanlan.) In a rough sea, when you have some wind, is it possible - is it easy (of course it is more difficult) to launch a lifeboat?
- Well, yes, it is very difficult in lowering and launching a lifeboat in strong weather or strong winds - heavy sea.

Mr. Scanlan:
Is it possible even in a heavy sea for qualified seamen, able-bodied seamen, to launch, man, and navigate a lifeboat?

1289. (The Commissioner.) Had you ever had to do it?
- Well, not in big ships, I have not, Sir.

1290. What was the fall from the boat deck to the water?
- About 65 ft., my Lord.

1291. (Mr. Scanlan.) You say that your boat had a light. I think you stated that you came close beside four of the other lifeboats?
- Yes, Sir.

1292. Was there a light in any of those?
- The one that we tied up to - Mr. Bailey's - had no light because we were talking to him. He came alongside of us.

1293. Were you sufficiently near the other two or three boats to observe whether or not they had lights?
- Oh, yes. We kept on showing our lights. The boats that had lights kept on showing their lights. Everybody did not have a light.

1294. While you were in the deck-house engaged at the wheel, did you learn from any of the Officers whether warning had been communicated to the "Titanic" of the presence of icebergs?
- The only thing I knew about ice at all was the order I received for the carpenter from the Second Officer.

1295. Was anything said to you about the reporting of icebergs?
- No, Sir.

1296. Is it usual on board liners in circumstances of danger to double the watches - the look-out?
- That is always so, Sir.

1297. Had the watch been doubled or augmented - increased in any way - on this occasion?
- Not that I am aware of. They do not double the watches on the bridge, where there are three Officers on the bridge, two Junior Officers taking eight-bell watches, and the senior Officer taking command of the bridge.

1298. (The Commissioner.) Do they double that watch?
- No, Sir.

1299. (Mr. Scanlan.) What watches do they double?
- In ships where they are not manned with so many Officers, and when they are nearing the shore in foggy weather they might double the watches.

1300. Is it usual in circumstances of danger to station a watchman at the bows - a look-out man?
- I cannot say. He cannot see so well as the man can see in the crow's-nest.

1301. I am asking you, is it usual or not?
- In some ships, Sir, they do station a man there.

1302. (The Commissioner.) As well as in the crow's-nest?
- I have not seen that, my Lord - not a man stationed forward and stationed in the crow's-nest, too.

1303. (Mr. Scanlan.) If a watchman was stationed at the bow he would be considerably nearer the water than the man in the crow's-nest?
- Yes, that is so, Sir.

1304. Would not a watchman stationed there with glasses have a better opportunity of detecting an iceberg ahead than a man in the crow's-nest?
- I do not think he would have so good a chance myself, Sir.

1305. On this occasion there was not a watchman or a look-out man on the bows?
- Not that I am aware of, Sir.

The Commissioner:
Are your instructions, Mr. Scanlan, that it is the practice on large liners to put a man in the bow to watch?

Mr. Scanlan:
Yes, my Lord.

The Commissioner:
From whom do you get such instructions?

Mr. Scanlan:
The instructions I get are from the Seaman's and Fireman's Union, my Lord, and from officials of that Union.

1306. (The Commissioner.) Have you ever seen a man in the bow, when there are men in the crow's-nest?
- Never, my Lord.

1307. Did you ever hear of such a thing?
- Never, my Lord.

1308. (Mr. Scanlan.) Besides you there were six other quartermasters?
- Five others besides me.

1309. Six quartermasters in all. Is it usual when the order for drilling is given and the order for crews of the lifeboats, to station a quartermaster to a particular boat?
- Yes. In the case of an emergency and a boat being launched the quartermaster not at the wheel would be the likely man to be sent with the boat with the Officer in charge.

1310. I want to ask you a question about boat drill. When you have boat drill on the ships you have been sailing on, is it the practice for the seamen and the firemen and the stewards to muster on deck and take their stations in the places that they have to go to if an accident happened?
- Always, Sir.

1311. And is it your evidence that on this occasion this was not done?
- Not that I remember, Sir. It might have been done, but not to my knowledge.

1312. Had there been any training given to the seamen to your knowledge in the launching and manning of the "Engelhardt" collapsible boats?
- Not that I am aware of.

1313. Are they as easy to launch as the ordinary lifeboat?
- No, they are a little more difficult, Sir, because those boats are swung in. You have to get the boats out, Sir.

Examined by Mr. HOLMES.

1314. You were given the order to hard-a-starboard?
- Yes.

1315. Was that the only order you had as to the helm?
- Yes.

Mr. Holmes:
Because, if your Lordship will remember, the evidence of the Witness Scarrott on Friday was quite the contrary, when he came up on deck.

The Commissioner:
What did he say?

Mr. Holmes:
He said that the ship appeared to be under a port helm, and appeared to be going around the iceberg towards the starboard side.

The Commissioner:
Did he say so?

The Attorney-General:
Yes, I think so.

1316. (Mr. Holmes.) It is Question 354. (To the Witness.) She never was under a port helm?
- She did not come on the port helm, Sir - on the starboard helm.

1317. You said that after you left the "Titanic" the boats that had lights were showing them to each other?
- Yes.

1318. Can you say how many boats you saw lights in?
- No; I did not count them.

1319. Were there two, or three, or four?
- Five or six of us.

1320. Five or six other boats had lights as well as yourself?
- Yes.

Examined by Mr. LEWIS.

1321. Had you ever crossed the Atlantic before?
- This was my first time in the North Atlantic, Sir.

1322. So that you had no idea as to the course, whether it was the usual course or not?
- No.

1323. With regard to the captain giving an order to the carpenter, did the carpenter return?
- I do not know, Sir.

1324. Have you had any experience as a quartermaster? How many able men would be required to successfully man a lifeboat the size of the one you were in?
- For drill purposes they take 10 to 12 men.

1325. I mean under circumstances like these that you have been explaining?
- They take about 4, Sir, besides somebody in charge to steer the boat.

1326. You think it would require at least 4 men and someone in charge to look after her properly?
- Yes, Sir.

1327. Can you tell me whether any steps were taken to prevent passengers approaching the boat?
- Steps were taken as regards the male passengers. They had to stand back and let the women and children get in the boats first. That was the order, Sir.

1328. What method was adopted to see to that?
- All the Officers had revolvers, as far as I am aware of, Sir.

1329. Did you observe any ropes drawn across the deck in any way?
- Not that I am aware of. I never went to the aft side of the bridge, scarcely, from the boat I was stationed in.

1330. These revolvers - were they used at all?
- I heard several reports, Sir, but, as regards anything else, I do not know.

1331. You simply heard?
- I heard the reports of the revolvers - yes, Sir.

1332. You would not have seen the whole of the deck?
- No, I assisted in one boat, and my own boat that I was in.

1333. You would not have seen the whole of the deck?
- No.

1334. When you left the ship, what position was she in? Was she well down?
- Yes, the ship was well down by the head - well down by the bow, Sir.

1335. Had you any knowledge at all as to wireless messages having been sent?
- No.

1336. No knowledge whatever?
- No, Sir.

Further examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.

1337. There are two or three questions that I should like to ask this Witness before my friend, Sir Robert Finlay, or Mr. Laing examines him. I am now going to deal with some questions which I see were put to him in America, because we shall have to call another Witness later on, and as this Witness may not be here then, he should be asked them now. You were examined before the Commission in America - you remember that?
- Yes.

1338. Did you say that you started for the light which you expected to be that of a fishing schooner?
- I said that, Sir. Yes, I did say that.

1339. You told us here it was a steamer; I see that this is what you said there?
- We expected it to be a steamer from the ship, but when I got into the boat and could not get nearer to it, and being calm weather, and then we expected it to be a fishing boat, a cod banger, as we call it.

The Commissioner:
You led us to suppose that you thought at the time it was a steamer?

1340. (The Attorney-General.) I must point out to you that you said she was disappearing gradually as you were getting towards her?
- So she was.

1341. Did you borrow a fireman from one of the other boats to help you to row?
- Yes, that was in the morning part, to row back to the "Carpathia."

1342. Did you say this? "We borrowed a fireman from one of the other boats to help us to row, but we got no nearer the light"?
- No, I do not remember saying that. I remember when I got this fireman out of Mr. Bailey's boat. It was to pull back to the ship. In fact I know we pulled back to the ship immediately I got him aboard, because all the other boats were going ahead of us showing us their lights.

1343. Were you at the tiller through the night?
- I was, all the night.

1344. It was very cold?
- Bitter cold.

1345. Did you hear cries of distress?
- Faintly; yes, Sir.

1346. For several minutes?
- I could not say several minutes, for a minute or two.

1347. Did you answer to the question: "Did you hear cries of distress"? Answer, "Yes, for several minutes"?
- I think I said for two or three minutes. I do not think I said for several minutes.

1348. "Some men in the boat said they were the cries of people in the other boats signalling. I suppose they said that so as not to alarm the women." You said that?
- Yes.

1349. Did you go in the direction of these cries of distress?
- We had no compass in the boat and I did not know what direction to take. If I had a compass to know what course I could take from the ship, I should know what course to take, but I did not know what course to go upon.

The Commissioner:
I do not understand you. "I did not know where these cries came from."

1350. (The Attorney-General.) You heard cries of distress, you have told us?
- Yes.

1351. Where did they come from?
- I suppose from the "Titanic" when the "Titanic" had sunk.

1352. Could not you tell in what direction they were coming?
- No, not hardly, Sir.

1353. Not hardly?
- No, I could not tell what direction they were coming.

1354. (The Commissioner.) Was this after the "Titanic" had gone down?
- After the lights had gone. I did not know whether the "Titanic" was gone down, but the lights had gone away from the ship.

1355. (The Attorney-General.) As I understand, what you told us before was that you saw the "Titanic," that she had her lights burning, you stopped about a mile's distance, and when you got to about a mile's distance you did not see the lights any more?
- That is right, Sir.

1356. That is what you tell us?
- Yes.

1357. What I want you to tell us is this: how long after that was it, or when was it, that you heard the cries of distress?
- I had no time in the boat. I could not tell you hardly what time.

1358. Had you stopped before you heard the cries of distress?
- Yes. We were made fast then to the other boat. Me and Bailey was made fast together.

1359. Mr. Bailey's boat?
- Yes.

1360. If I understand you correctly, you did not make any attempt to reach the cries of distress, did you?
- It was a matter of impossibility; I could not do it.

1361. I want to understand why it was a matter of impossibility?
- I only had one sailor in the boat, and I did not know where we were. I had no compass. I judge I was about a mile away the last time I saw the lights.

1362. (The Commissioner.) You had your ears. Could not you hear where these cries came from?
- Your Lordship, in the meantime, the boats were yelling one to another as well as showing their lights to try and let each other know whereabouts they were.

1363. I do not understand how a compass would help you to get to the cries?
- That is the only thing that would help me, your Lordship.

The Commissioner:
I should have thought your ears would help you better?

Examined by Mr. COTTER.

1364. On the day of muster in Southampton, what Officer called the names out?
- Mr. Murdoch, I think, Sir.

1365. After you had answered your name did he give you any instructions with regard to the boat, fire, or bulkhead door drill?
- Not that I am aware of.

1366. He never gave you any? In other ships you have been in you said you have seen the general boat muster?
- Yes.

1367. There was none on the "Titanic"?
- No.

1368. Now I will take you to the time that she struck and you came out of the wheelhouse. You stated that she took a list to starboard?
- Yes.

1369. When you got on deck had she come to a level keel, or had she still a list to starboard?
- She still had a list to starboard when I was out on the deck.

1370. Had you any trouble in getting the people into the boat - the women?
- Well, not a great deal of trouble, Sir; some seemed to come and some was half-inclined - they seemed rather to prefer to stay, to the best of my knowledge.

The Attorney-General:
May we know who this gentleman represents?

1371. (Mr. Cotter.) I represent the National Union of Stewards. (To the Witness.) When you got on deck you said the boats were slung. How far from a large ship's side is a boat when it is slung from the davits?
- About two feet - that is, when the ship is level, when she has no list.

1372. Did any of the women object to step over that gap of two feet, with a drop of 60 feet?
- You understand, Sir, that our boat was listed in against the ship's side because the vessel had a list to starboard, and I was on the port side of the ship.

1373. But no women endeavoured to step on board the boat?
- Some had to be helped into the boat.

The Commissioner:
And some would not go at all?

1374. (Mr. Cotter.) Yes; but I am going to try and point out that some women will object, when boats are slung out, to go on board. (To the Witness.) In your opinion, if you had shipped the women with the boats slung, would it not have been better, and you would have got more women and children in?
- I do not know that.

1375. I was just asking you for your opinion. When you were being lowered had you any difficulty in getting the boat away from the ship's side?
- Yes, we had to put our hands out several times.

1376. To push it away?
- Yes.

1377. That is, through the length of the drop from the upper deck?
- Yes, and the list as well.

Examined by Mr. LAING.

1378. With regard to the "Cherub" log, where was it put out?
- I think it was put out shortly after we left Queenstown.

1379. Is it taken every watch?
- It is taken every two hours by the quartermaster when he got on the poop at the time.

1380. What was the reading when you took it?
- The reading for the last day had been 45 miles.

1381. That is the calculation. What was the reading on the log?
- I do not know the exact reading on the log, Sir.

1382. It would show the distance run from Queenstown, I suppose?
- Yes.

1383. And in order to get what you said it was, 45 miles in two hours, you must make a calculation?
- No. We took it, you see. We used to take it, we Quartermasters, by the speed the ship was travelling. We used to talk about it ourselves in our cabin.

1384. I want to know what reading you got from this log at 10 o'clock?
- I could not tell you.

1385. Unless you knew what it was at eight o'clock you could not make the calculation?
- We could only make the calculation by the run for the day. She had been going by the log.

(The Witness withdrew.)