British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 7

Testimony of Herbert Stone

Examined by Mr. BUTLER ASPINALL.

7803. What certificate do you hold?
- A first mate's steamship certificate.

7804. And on the 14th of April this year were you serving on board the "Californian"?
- Yes.

7805. What were you?
- Second Officer.

7806. And on the night of the 14th of April was it your watch from 12 o'clock onwards?
- It was.

7807. From 12 to 4?
- Yes.

7808. Did you go on watch at midnight?
- Shortly after.

7809. Did you find the ship stopped and surrounded by ice?
- Yes.

7810. Was the captain up?
- Yes.

7811. Did you speak to him?
- Yes.

7812. Did he tell you anything?
- Yes.

7813. What did he tell you?
- He told me the ship was stopped, surrounded by ice, and he pointed out another steamer.

7814. He pointed out another steamer. What could you see of the other steamer?
- One masthead light and a red sidelight and two or three small indistinct lights.

7815. Did he say anything to you when he pointed her out?
- He asked me to tell him if the bearing of the steamer altered or if she got any closer to us.

7816. Is that all he said about her?
- And that the Third Officer had called her up on the Morse lamp and received no reply.

7817. He told you that?
- Yes.

7818. Did you look and see these lights yourself?
- Yes.

7819. How far away did you judge they were?
- Approximately about five miles.

7820. And how were they bearing from you at this time?
- S.S.E. by the standard compass.

7821. Did the captain then leave you?
- I went on the bridge and left the captain.

7822. I suppose you relieved the other Officer and took charge?
- Yes.

7823. Did the Third Officer make any communication to you about this steamer when you relieved him?
- He told me the steamer had, stopped about one bell and that he had called her up on the Morse lamp and got no answer.

7824. Did you continue to keep this vessel under observation?
- The whole time.

7825. Was there any reason for that?
- None whatever except that it was another ship, stopped in ice the same as ourselves.

7826. It interested you?
- Yes.

7827. After a time did you make any communication to the captain?
- Yes.

7828. How?
- By means of the speaking tube.

7829. What did you communicate to him?
- I communicated that I had seen white lights in the sky in the direction of this other steamer, which I took to be white rockets.

7830. What time was it you gave him that information?
- Just about 1.10.

7831. Had you, seen white lights?
- Yes.

7832. Now, will you tell me what you had seen?
- First of all, I was walking up and down the bridge and I saw one white flash in the sky, immediately above this other steamer. I did not know what it was; I thought it might be a shooting star.

7833. What was the nature of the flash?
- A white flash.

7834. You did not know what it was?
- No.

7835. How long have you been at sea?
- Eight years.

7836. You know distress signals?
- I know what they are, yes.

7837. Was it like a distress signal?
- It was just a white flash in the sky; it might have been anything.

7838. I know, but what did it suggest to your mind? What did you say to yourself? What did you think it was?
- I thought nothing until I brought the ship under observation with the binoculars and saw the others.

7839. Then you took up your glasses, apparently, and looked?
- Yes.

7840. And how many more did you see?
- I saw four more then.

7841. What were they, rockets?
- They had the appearance of white rockets bursting in the sky.

7842. Did they come in quick succession?
- At intervals of about three or four minutes.

7843. Now what did you think they were?
- White rockets.

7844. What do you think they meant?
- I thought that perhaps the ship was in communication with some other ship, or possibly she was signaling to us to tell us she had big icebergs around her.

7845. Possibly, what else?
- Possibly she was communicating with some other steamer at a greater distance than ourselves.

7846. (The Commissioner.) What was she communicating?
- I do not know.

7847. Is that the way in which steamers communicate with each other?
- No, not usually.

The Commissioner:
Then you cannot have thought that. Just attend to the question.

7848. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) You are an Officer and hold a certificate and have been to sea for eight years?
- Yes.

7849. You had been keeping this vessel under close observation and saw five rockets go up in fairly quick succession. What did you think at the time they, meant? You applied your mind to the matter, did you not?
- Yes.

7850. Now, what did you think at the time?
- I knew they were signals of some sort.

7851. I know; of course - signals of what sort did you think?
- I did not know at the time.

7852. (The Commissioner.) Now try to be frank?
- I am.

7853. If you try, you will succeed. What did you think these rockets were going up at intervals of three or four minutes for?
- I just took them as white rockets, and informed the Master and left him to judge.

7854. Do you mean to say you did not think for yourself? I thought you told us just now that you did think.
- [No Answer.]

7855. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) You know they were not being sent up for fun, were they?
- No.

7856. (The Commissioner.) You know, you do not make a good impression upon me at present.

7856a. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) Did you think that they were distress signals?
- No.

7857. Did not that occur to, you?
- It did not occur to me at the time.

7858. When did it occur to you? Did it occur at some later time to you?
- Yes.

7859. When?
- After I had heard about the "Titanic" going down.

7860. So throwing your mind back after that information then you thought they were distress signals?
- I thought they possibly might have been distress signals.

7861. (The Commissioner.) From the "Titanic"?
- No, not necessarily.

7862. After you had heard that the "Titanic" went down, then it occurred to you that those might have been distress signals?
- Yes.

7863. From the "Titanic"?
- Not necessarily. They may have been from some other steamer. I did not think that vessel was the "Titanic."

7664. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) Your vessel had stopped, had she not?
- Yes.

7865. That was on account of the danger from ice?
- Yes.

7866. Did that fact help you at the time to come to some conclusion as to what these signals meant - danger from ice you know, I suggest, followed by distress signals?
- I kept the ship under close observation, and I did not see any reason to suppose they were sent as distress signals from this ship.

7867. You communicated the fact to the Captain?
- Yes.

7868. Through the speaking tube?
- Yes.

7869. I think you said you left it to him to judge. Did he answer back?
- Yes.

7870. What was his answer?
- He asked me, "Are they Company's signals?"

7871. What was your answer?
- I said, "I do not know, but they appear to me to be white rockets."

7872. Is that all you told him?
- Yes; that I had called her up on the Morse lamp.

7873. No, I do not want to break away from what passed between you and the Captain; you told the Captain, you mean?
- Yes.

7874. That you had called them up on the Morse lamp?
- Yes, and received no answer whatsoever.

7875. When did you call her up on the Morse lamp - after the five rockets were seen?
- Previously, and during the time that they were being sent up.

7876. Did that suggest anything to you - a ship showing five rockets, you signaling with your Morse lamp, and getting no answer? Did that suggest anything to you?
- No, because I have often signaled ships before, and got no answer from them.

7877. Now, having given this communication to the Master, and having got his reply, did you continue to keep this vessel under observation?
- Yes.

7878. Did the Master, when you had this communication through the tube, tell you to go on Morsing this vessel?
- Yes.

7879. And did he tell you that you were to send him any news and give him any information that you had got?
- When I received any information to send the Apprentice down to him with it.

7880. That is Gibson?
- Yes.

7881. Was Gibson on the bridge at this time?
- No, he did not see the first of the rockets.

7882. He came later, did he?
- Yes.

7883. When he came, did you give Gibson any information?
- I told him what I had seen.

7884. What did you say to him?
- I told him I had seen those white rockets from the ship and that I had told the Captain about it.

7885. Did you say anything more to Gibson than that?
- I told him the instructions I had had from the Master, and he at once went to the Morse lamp and called up the ship again.

7886. Did he get any reply?
- None.

7887. Did you speak to Gibson about the meaning of these five rockets?
- No, I did not.

7888. (The Commissioner.) Had not you and Gibson a conversation about them as to what they meant?
- No.

7889. If Gibson says he had such a conversation, he is wrong?
- We had no conversation about rockets then at all. Later on we talked about them.

7890. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) After Gibson had come, and while he was there, did you see more rockets?
- Yes.

7891. How many?
- Three, in the direction of this steamer.

7892. In quick succession?
- About the same period as the others.

7893. The same class of rocket as before?
- Yes.

7894. Did anything pass between you and Gibson when, those rockets went up?
- Not as regards the rockets, no.

7895. Are you sure of that? You, see you have got this vessel under observation; she has shown five, you have communicated with the Captain, he has asked you to give him more information and to send Gibson down; there is Gibson, and up go the three rockets: did not you say something to Gibson about the rockets, or Gibson say something to you?
- He remarked to me once that he did not think they were being sent up for fun, and I quite agreed with him.

7896. That was my phrase, but at any rate you agreed with him. Now, just tell us a little more in detail what passed between you about this. Did either you suggest to Gibson or did Gibson suggest to you that that ship over there is probably in trouble and wants assistance?
- No.

7897. Are you sure?
- I made no remark about that at all, about the ship being in distress, the whole time.

7898. Did it, never occur to you?
- It did not occur to me after what the Captain said.

7899. But what had the Captain told you which would force your mind to the conclusion that that is a vessel which is not in distress?
- He emphasised the fact about company's signals.

7900. But you knew they were not company's signals, did you not?
- I said I did not think so.

7901. (The Commissioner.) You did not believe they were company's signals?
- I had never seen company's signals like them before.

7902. Then what did you think they were?
- I did not think what they were intended for; white rockets is what I saw them as.

7903. Wait. You did not think they were company's signals?
- No.

7904. You did not think they were being sent up for fun?
- No.

7905. What did you think?
- I just thought they were white rockets, that is all.

7906. That you know because your eyes told you of it, but what did you think they were being sent up for?
- Naturally, the first thought that crossed my mind was that the ship might be in trouble, but subsequent events showed that the ship steamed away from us; there was nothing to confirm that; there was nothing to confirm that the rockets came from that ship, in the direction of that ship. That is all I observed.

7907. You did not think they sprang out of the sea?
- No.

7908. Where did you think they came from, if they did not come from that ship?
- Possibly from a greater distance past the ship.

7909. You thought they came from some other ship?
- Possibly.

7910. Have. you ever said that before to anybody?
- I told the Captain so.

7911. That you thought they came from another ship?
- Possibly they might have come from another ship.

7912. Did you tell that to the Captain?
- Yes, afterwards.

7913. When afterwards?
- The next day.

7914. Have you ever said that to anyone before today, that you made that observation to the Captain?
- Not that I know of.

7915. Then you tell us now for the first time in the witness-box. Has anyone ever suggested that these rockets possibly came from another ship, except you today in the witness-box?
- From another ship from the one we had under observation?

7916. Yes. Has anyone ever suggested before you have suggested it today in the witness-box?
- Yes, the captain and I had a talk over about it.

7917. Now when did you first say that the Captain and you had made this suggestion? Have you said it before this morning?
- No, not that I know of, to anyone official.

7918. Never mind about "official" - to any one at all?
- Conversations between myself and the other Officers on the ship; we talked about this ship the remainder of the passage.

7919. Did you ever say to any Officer that you and the Captain had talked about these rockets and had expressed an opinion that they might have come from some other ship? Have you ever said that to anybody till now? You have said it to me, you know?
- Yes.

7920. Have you ever said it before to anybody else?
- Yes. I think I have said it both to the Chief Officer and to the Third Officer in conversation.

7921. Tell me what you said to the Chief Officer?
- I have remarked at different times that these rockets did not appear to go very high; they were very low lying; they were only about half the height of the steamer's masthead light and I thought rockets would go higher than that.

7922. Well, anything else?
- But that I could not understand why if the rockets came from a steamer beyond this one, when the steamer altered her bearing the rockets should also alter their bearings.

7923. That pointed to this, that the rockets did come from this steamer?
- It does, although I saw no actual evidence of their being fired from the deck of the steamer except in one case.

7924. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) Which is the one case?
- One rocket that I saw that appeared to be much brighter than the others.

7925. Was that one of the five or one of the three?
- One of the three.

7926. That, you felt confident, came from the vessel that was showing you these navigation lights?
- I am sure of it.

7927. That you were sure of?
- Yes.

7928. And you had further confirmation in the fact as you have told my Lord, that when the navigation lights altered their bearing, the rockets altered their bearings in a corresponding manner?
- Yes.

7929. That would tell you as a sailor that it was almost certain that those rockets were being fired from that steamer which was showing you those navigation lights?
- Almost certain, yes.

7930. I suppose, at any rate, now you have not any doubt but that that ship which was showing you the navigation lights was the ship which was showing you these series of rockets?
- Except, as I say, that they were very low; they did not appear to go high enough to me.

7931. After you had seen the three rockets was Gibson sent anywhere by you?
- He was sent by me previous to that.

7932. Where was he sent?
- He was sent down to get ready some gear for streaming a fresh patent log.

7933. I do not think that is material. Did you at any time send down Gibson to make a report to the Captain?
- Yes.

7934. When was that?
- At two o'clock.

7935. How long after you had seen the three rockets?
- I saw the last of the rockets as near as I can say about 1.40.

7936. That would be twenty minutes between seeing the last rocket and the sending of Gibson to the Captain?
- Yes.

7937. During that time were you talking this matter over with Gibson?
- No. I was watching the steamer by the compass with my binoculars.

7938. Was the steamer altering her bearing to your vessel during that period of time?
- Yes, from the time I saw the first rocket.

7939. The first of the eight that you have told us of?
- The second - excepting the first flash, which I was not sure about.

7940. You say you saw the steamer altering her bearing with regard to you?
- She bore first S.S.E. and she was altering her bearing towards the south towards west.

7941. Under way apparently?
- Yes.

7942. During that 20 minutes did you notice anything which you would call funny or odd about her light?
- Yes.

7943. What did you notice?
- On one occasion I noticed the lights looked rather unnatural, as if some were being shut in and others being opened out; the lights appeared to be changing their position - the deck lights.

7944. Her deck lights?
- Yes, and I lost sight of her red sidelight.

7944a. That would be consistent with her altering her heading?
- Yes.

7945. What was there funny about it?
- Merely that some lights were being shut in and others exposed and I remarked to Gibson that the lights looked peculiar, unnatural, but when I took the glasses and brought her under close observation I took it to be due to the fact that very likely she was porting for some iceberg close at hand and was coming back on her course again, showing her other lights, the original lights.

7946. Is this right, that during this 20 minutes Gibson said this to you: "Look at her red light; is not there something funny about it"? Did anything of that sort happen?
- Not her red light that I remember.

7947. Gibson has been here, and he told us that he directed your attention to the red light. If you do not remember it, say so?
- I do not remember his saying anything about her red sidelight at all.

7948. At the end of those 20 minutes did you then send Gibson to report to the Captain?
- Yes.

7949. What report did you tell Gibson to give to the Captain?
- I told Gibson to go down to the Master and be sure and wake him up and tell him that altogether we had seen eight of these white lights like white rockets in the direction of this other steamer; that this steamer was disappearing in the S.W., that we had called her up repeatedly on the Morse lamp and received no information whatsoever.

7950. Did Gibson go away?
- He went down.

7951. Did Gibson return?
- He returned.

7952. When Gibson returned did he tell you what had passed between him and the Captain?
- He told me he had woke the Captain up and given him my report; the Captain asked him the time and asked him if he were sure there were no colours in them, red or green.

7953. You mean the rockets?
- Gibson assured him they were white rockets.

7954. Is that all?
- Then he told me that as he shut the door he heard the Captain say something - what, he was not quite certain about.

7955. Did Gibson then remain on the bridge with you?
- Yes.

7956. And after Gibson had returned did you continue to keep this ship under observation?
- Until she disappeared, yes.

7957. What did you see of her which disappeared?
- A gradual disappearing of all her lights, which would be perfectly natural with a ship steaming away from us.

7958. (The Commissioner.) What do you mean by all her lights?
- The deck lights, which were in view. The masthead light would be shut in except for a slight flickering, the glare of it, and the red sidelight would be shut in altogether. The lights I would see would be the lights at the end of the alleyway or engine room skylight, and the stern light.

7959. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) Did the stern light that you speak of as disappearing, suddenly become black or gradually fade away as if it was going away?
- It gradually faded as if the steamer was steaming away from us.

7960. Did it have the appearance of being a light on a ship which had suddenly foundered?
- Not by any means.

7961. (The Commissioner.) Can you give me an idea of the speed at which she was steaming away when these lights gradually disappeared?
- No, it would be very difficult to express an opinion.

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