British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 9

Testimony of Joseph T. Wheat

Examined by the SOLICITOR-GENERAL.

10868. Is your name Joseph Thomas Wheat?
- Yes.

10869. Were you assistant Second Steward?
- Yes, assistant Second Steward.

The Commissioner:
Does that mean a second class steward?

10870. (The Solicitor-General - To the witness.) Does that mean a second class steward or not?
- No.

10871. Just tell me who your superiors are in your own department?
- The Chief Steward, the second Steward, and the Purser.

10872. And you would come fourth, as it were?
- Well, after the pursers; there are a number of them, quite a number of pursers abroad.

10873. You mean the purser rating; I see. Putting aside the purser rating, you have the chief steward and the second steward?
- Yes.

10874. Was the chief steward saved?
- No.

10875. Was the second steward saved?
- No.

10876. At the time when this accident happened were you in your bunk?
- No, just about to turn in.

10877. You were just going to turn in?
- Yes.

10878. Did you hear the collision?
- Yes, I heard a noise.

10879. As you judged it at the time, what did you think it was?
- Well, I thought she had cast one of her propeller blades. It sounded to me like that.

10880. Have you been on a ship where that has happened?
- Yes.

10881. And you thought it was that?
- Yes, I thought it was the same thing.

10882. We must find out where your room was?
- On F deck down by the turkish baths.

10883. Is it the port or starboard side?
- Port side.

10884. I see "Turkish Bath Attendants" and I see "Second Steward" marked. Those are on the side of the ship?
- Yes, on the outside.

10885. Then I see on the inside, "Two assistant second stewards"?
- Yes.

10886. That is your room?
- Yes.

10887. You had a mate in your room with you?
- Yes.

10888. Was he in the room with you at the time?
- Yes, he was in his bunk.

10889. You roused him, I think, did you not?
- Yes.

10890. Did he get up and find out what was the matter?
- Yes. I asked him if he had heard any noise, and he said "No."

10891. What deck did you go to?
- To E deck.

10892. That would be the deck immediately above you?
- Yes.

10893. And what did you learn when you got to E deck?
- Well, I met the night watchman. I think his name was Johnson. He told me she was making water badly forward.

10894. Was that man Johnson saved?
- Yes.

10895. I think we have had him here as a Witness; he is a Scotsman, is he not?
- Yes.

10896. You met Johnson?
- Yes.

10897. And he told you she was making water forward?
- Yes.

10898. Did you go forward yourself?
- Yes, I went forward myself.

10899. On the E deck?
- Yes, forward on E deck.

10900. And what did you find when you went forward on the E deck?
- I went down to the Post Office room, which is down on G. You will find a stairway leading from E down to the Post Office and baggage room.

10901. I want to trace this because I understand this is only a few minutes after the accident?
- Ten minutes or a quarter of an hour.

10902. You were on E deck. You go forward?
- Yes.

10903. And you go down as low as G deck?
- Yes.

10904. Now will you tell me again which is the stairway by which you go down from E deck?
- The first stairway leads down to the squash racquet Court and then continues on down to the Post Office and baggage room.

10905. Is the stairway immediately aft of the squash racquet Court?
- No, forward of the squash racquet Court.

10906. I thought forward of the squash racquet Court was a bunker head?
- When you go down to the squash racquet Court you turn to the right to get to the squash racquet Court.

10907. Is it the stairway which, when you get to G deck brings you close to the Post Office?
- Yes.

10908. You went down that stairway?
- Yes.

10909. And you think it was about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour after you had felt the collision?
- About that, I should think.

10910. Now will you tell us what you found when you got down to G deck?
- I saw the mail men dragging bags of mail up, which I took to be the registered mail. The water was already on that deck.

10911. It was already on G deck?
- Yes.

10912. Did you get down to the actual level of G deck?
- Yes, I was on G deck.

10913. You were standing there?
- Yes.

10914. Was there water where you were standing?
- No, it was just making up the stairs then, just making G deck.

10915. You mean coming up from below, the Orlop deck, to G?
- Yes.

10916. Is there a stairway which goes down again from G deck to the deck below?
- Yes, but that is behind those stairs. You turn round again to get down the stairs.

10917. I want you to tell us where you saw the water coming up as you say just making G deck?
- It was almost flush with G deck when I got on it.

10918. Do you mean where this stairway is which leads down?
- Yes.

The Solicitor-General:
Your Lordship has that, no doubt.

The Commissioner:
I have. This means that the water in this part of the boat had risen above the Orlop deck.

10919. (The Solicitor-General.) So I follow, at that part. Your Lordship observes this is the compartment of the ship which is immediately in front of the No. 6 section. No. 6 boiler section is the compartment next aft. (To the witness.) Did you spend long enough there to see whether the water was rising rapidly or slowly?
- Yes, it was rising rapidly.

10920. Did the water actually reach the deck you were standing on, G deck, while you were there?
- Yes, it was just on G deck.

10921. Just reaching it?
- Yes; it was over G deck before I left; it covered G deck.

10922. Then what did you do? Where did you go?
- I went upstairs to E deck again and went down to F deck to close the bulkhead doors on F deck by the turkish baths. There are two bulkhead doors there.

10923. And did you close those?
- Yes.

10924. Did you do that alone, or did somebody help you?
- I closed the inside one myself, and then to close the other we had to go on top and turn that one with a key. Mr. Dodd and Crosby, the turkish bath attendant, helped me.

10925. Is Mr. Dodd the second steward?
- Yes.

10926. Now we will first identify the two doors. They are on F deck, are they not?
- Yes.

10927. I see just in line with the turkish baths on my plan two watertight doors marked. One is a watertight door which is nearly amidships and the other is a watertight door more on the starboard side?
- Well, they are both on the starboard side.

10928. Yes, they are; quite right. Which was the one you closed first?
- The inside one.

10929. The one nearer amidships?
- Yes.

10930. And that one you closed unaided?
- Yes.

10931. Then did you pass at once to the other one which is on the outside?
- Yes.

10932. And that one you were helped to close?
- That was closed from E deck.

10933. It had to be closed from the deck above?
- Yes, they are closed with a key.

10934. Did you go up to the deck above and help to close it?
- Yes.

10935. Now at the time when you closed the first of those watertight doors on F deck, the one that you closed unaided, was there any water on F deck as far as you saw?
- No.

10936. You told us you thought it was about 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour before you went down and saw the water rising?
- Yes.

10937. Could you give us some idea, how long after that was, or should you say that you closed these watertight doors by the turkish baths?
- I do not suppose it would be more than five or six minutes.

10938. Then you were a few minutes down looking at the water?
- Yes.

10939. When you say you closed these doors, do you mean you did this out of your own idea?
- Yes.

10940. Or had an order been given?
- No, I did it on my own.

10941. As far as you know up to that time, had any order been given about closing watertight doors?
- No. I heard none.

10942. What was the next thing after that?
- After the bulkhead doors I proceeded up the stairs on to C deck. I had to pass D first, and before I got to C, Mr. McElroy was looking over the banisters.

10943. Is Mr. McElroy the purser?
- Yes. He saw me coming and told me to get the men up and get all lifebelts and all passengers.

10944. What do you mean by getting the men up?
- Most of them were down below at the time.

10945. By the men, do you mean the crew?
- Yes, our own department.

10946. You would be one of the superiors responsible for a lot of the stewards?
- Yes.

10947. You were to get them up?
- Yes.

10948. Did you pass the word round?
- Yes.

10949. You went to the stewards' quarters?
- Yes.

10950. And gave these orders?
- Yes.

10951. And did the stewards turn out?
- Yes, they were nearly all out when I got down there.

10952. They were nearly all out already?
- Yes.

10953. What was the next thing?
- They were all round the decks getting the lifebelts on the passengers, and getting warm clothing on them, which took, I should think, about half-an-hour. Then we got the word to pass all women and children on to A deck on the port side.

10954. I want to get it in order. At some time you returned to your own room, did you not?
- Yes, that may have been before I went to the glory holes.

10955. Try and get it in order for me, because I think you saw some water when you went to your own room?
- That was later on.

10956. Very well, tell it us in the right order.
- It was, I should think, about ten minutes or a quarter to 1 when I got the order from Mr. McElroy again to get all the men to the boats - to their stations.

10956a. That is, all your stewards?
- Yes.

10957. Did you pass that order along?
- Yes, for as many men as I could see there; and then I went down below again and went down to my own quarters. I think you will find there were about six or eight rooms down our quarters, the turkish bath attendants.

10958. There is a cluster of rooms on F deck there?
- Yes. I went and saw if all the people were out of those rooms first, and as I was coming up there was water running down off E deck on to F deck, down our section.

10959. Water running down off E deck to F deck?
- Yes.

10960. That is, from the higher to the lower?
- Yes, it had come from E deck and was running down on to F.

10961. Can you tell us where it was you found this water falling from E deck to F deck?
- It was running down the stairway.

10962. Is that the stairway near your quarters?
- Yes, the only stairway down there.

10963. (The Commissioner.) In great quantities?
- No, not very much.

The Solicitor-General:
Let us be sure I have the stairway which you are speaking of.

The Commissioner:
Is he saying there was water running from d to E deck?

The Solicitor-General:
No, My Lord, he has not said so yet; and I do not think he says so at all.

The Commissioner:
From e to F?

The Solicitor-General:
Yes. Your Lordship has the plan of E deck and F deck.

The Commissioner:
I have.

The Solicitor-General:
Will your Lordship look at the plan of F deck at the place where his own quarters were. It is the room marked "Assistant Second Steward." Now, next to that, immediately level with that is a stairway.

The Commissioner:
Yes, going up to E deck.

10964. (The Solicitor-General.) If you trace it on the corresponding plan of E deck you see it again. (To the witness.) Was that stairway which is opposite your quarters where the water was coming down?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
Then it was coming down from E deck towards F deck down the stairway?

The Solicitor-General:

The Commissioner:
But not in quantities?

10965. (The Solicitor-General.) I want to see what he says. (To the witness.) Was there a stream of water, or was it merely trickling?
- It was more than trickling, and it was not exactly a stream. It was more than trickling, though.

10966. Was it continuing to fall?
- Yes.

10967. When you were there?
- Yes.

10968. (The Commissioner.) What time was this?
- I should think it would be about a quarter or ten minutes to 1.

10969. A little more than an hour after the collision?
- Yes, about an hour, I should think.

10970. (The Solicitor-General.) Supposing the watertight doors in F deck had been shut, as you shut the two you know about, this water could not have come back along F deck, could it?
- No.

10971. But, of course, there are no watertight doors in E deck?
- There is one right forward on E deck alleyway.

10972. There is one?
- Yes.

10973. But the bulkheads as a whole do not go up to E deck?
- No.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I think two bulkheads do go up to E deck.

10974. (The Solicitor-General.) In a sense you are right, and in a sense, I am right. What I mean is you cannot, on E deck, shut the door. I said the bulkheads did not come up to E deck. What I meant was, the top of the bulkhead is the floor of E deck, level with E deck?
- You mean of the f deck bulkheads?

10975. I want you to help us about the water. You saw water that was apparently coming from E deck and falling down the stairway into F?
- Yes.

10976. But you did not find water backing along F deck?
- No.

10977. There are watertight doors on F deck, and you had shut two of them yourself?
- Yes, I thought the water had come up the stairway leading down to the Post Office, and then ran along E deck, and then down on to F.

10978. And, of course, if the watertight doors on F deck forward of that had not been closed then water could have made its way along F deck, and would not have had to mount the E deck, and then return to F deck?
- Yes, it would.

The Commissioner:
Is the suggested explanation that F deck, forward of the watertight doors which he had shut were by this time full of water, and that the water had risen up to E deck? Is that the idea?

The Solicitor-General:
That is the idea, My Lord.

The Witness:
No, My Lord; in the section forward of the bulkheads where I shut the doors, I do not think there was water there at all.

10979. Then we are agreed. Where did the water come from, that you saw falling down the stairway between E deck and F deck?
- I think that had come from the Post Office stairway.

10980. (The Solicitor-General.) That is right forward?
- Yes, and there is no bulkhead between the stairway and those stairs on E deck.

10981. I want to follow your idea; I think I do. You had already seen water in the stairway by the Post Office?
- Yes.

10982. And that is on G deck?
- Yes.

10983. And is there a stairway which mounts from that place near the squash Racquet Court up to F deck, and from there up to E deck?
- Yes.

10984. And assuming that the water rose high enough, is there anything there to prevent it from rising as high as E deck?
- No.

10985. But supposing that the water rose there as far as F deck, it could not run aft on F deck, because you had closed the watertight doors?
- It would come up the stairway. But the watertight doors are not near the Post Office.

10986. I know they are not?
- The watertight doors are further aft.

10987. I quite follow?
- There is nothing to stop the water from coming up to F deck.

[There was no question 10988.]

10989. What I want to see is why it did not come along F deck?
- Because the bulkheads were there.

10990. Because of the bulkheads, and because the watertight doors in the bulkheads were shut?
- Yes, but there are no bulkheads forward by the post office.

10991. No, but there is a bulkhead between the place where the post office is and where your quarters are?
- Yes, there are two bulkheads.

The Solicitor-General:
I think your Lordship's suggestion is the one the witness means to make.

The Commissioner:
What is that?

The Solicitor-General:
That the water did rise in that stairway till it got to E deck, and that it then passed aft and fell into F deck.

The Witness:

The Commissioner:
That is what he means?

10992. (The Solicitor-General.) Yes. (To the witness.) You saw this water coming down from e to F. Were you there long enough to be able to tell us whether it was increasing in flow, or whether it was coming the same as it started?
- No, I did not wait to see.

10993. You were only there a minute or two, I suppose?
- Yes.

10994. Did you find any people in the quarters you had gone to search, or had they all left?
- They had all left.

10995. They had all turned out? -Yes.

10996. And did you return then to E deck?
- Yes, to the working alleyway.

10997. And did you go up this stairway, down which this water was coming?
- No, I went further aft than that.

10998. You went further aft and then went up another stairway?
- Yes. I came up the stairs out of my room; water was coming down there, but that was different from F deck, and then went through the emergency door on to E deck, the working alleyway. You will find "Emergency Door" right at the top of the stairs.

10999. We do. Was that emergency door open or closed?
- Open.

11000. So that you did, if I follow you rightly, Mount the stairs down which this water was coming?
- Oh, yes.

11001. Then, when you got to E deck, the top of these stairs, you could tell whether the water was coming along E deck or not?
- Yes.

11002. Was it?
- It was coming from forward.

11003. From forward, along E deck?
- Yes.

11004. Was it coming along that working alleyway?
- No.

11005. Then where was it coming?
- From the starboard side. The working alleyway was quite dry.

11006. (The Commissioner.) Was there a list by this time?
- No, I did not notice any.

11007. (The Solicitor-General.) I want to trace that water. You saw it coming from forward, aft?
- Yes.

11007a. The passage way which runs across?
- Yes.

11008. Along, not the working alleyway, but the other alleyway, that is, on the starboard side?
- Yes.

11009. And then, in order to fall down those stairs, it would have to turn a corner, would it not?
- Yes.

11010. The passage way which runs across?
- Yes.

11011. And then fall down those stairs?
- Yes.

11012. When you got up to E deck was there a continuous stream of water doing that?
- Yes, but it was not very much.

11013. (The Commissioner.) Give me an idea of the quantity, because I do not know what "very much" means?
- Well, it would cover the stairs; just enough to cover them.

11014. Do you mean to say half of an inch or something like that?
- Yes, something like that.

11015. And was it going down the stairs quickly, or merely trickling down?
- No, it was running rather quickly.

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