British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 12

Testimony of Charles H. Lightoller, recalled

Further examined by the SOLICITOR-GENERAL.

13797. You were just telling us what you found when you came up on deck after you had heard of what had happened, and I think you just told us that the steam was roaring off - blowing out of the boilers, I suppose?
- Yes.

13798. Was it making a great noise?
- Yes.

13799. So great as to be difficult to hear what was said?
- Very difficult.

13800. Did you ascertain whether all hands had been called on deck?
- Yes; I met the Chief Officer almost immediately after, coming out of the door of the quarters. First of all the Chief Officer told me to commence to get the covers off the boats. I asked him then if all hands had been called, and he said, "Yes."

13801. I should like to understand whether there was a division of duties here. In an emergency of this sort, have you a special responsibility for one side of the ship as against the other?
- No.

13802. Then there is an order from the Chief Officer that you should see to the stripping of the covers off the boats?
- Yes.

13803. Did you do that?
- Yes.

13804. At that time had any of the boats had their covers stripped, or had you to begin it?
- None, with the exception of the emergency boats.

13805. Those were the two which we have heard of which were kept swung out?
- Yes.

13806. And did you get hands to help you in that work?
- Yes, I commenced myself, and then as the hands turned up, I told them off to the boats.

13807. Which side did you begin, and what was the order?
- I began on the port side with the port forward boat. That would be No. 4.

13808. That would be the one immediately abaft of the emergency boat?
- Yes.

13809. Just tell us the order of things, will you?
- I commenced stripping off No. 4; then two or three turned up; I told them off to No. 4 boat and stood off then myself and directed the men as they came up on deck, passing around the boat deck, round the various boats, and seeing that the men were evenly distributed around both the port and starboard.

13810. Do you mean evenly distributed as between the different boats?
- Exactly.

13811. Had you any means of knowing what boat a particular seaman would be attached to if he did not know; have you any means of telling him?
- Well, I did not think it advisable, taking into consideration the row going on with the steam to make any inquiries. I could only direct them by motions of the hand. They could not hear what I said.

13812. So that you parcelled them out as best you could?
- Exactly.

13813. Did you go to boats in the afterend as well?
- Yes.

13814. On the port side?
- Both sides.

13815. Then you went the whole circuit of the boat deck?
- Yes.

13816. Carrying out this order?
- Yes.

13817. And was each of the boat covers stripped in order all the way round?
- All the boats, as far as I can remember, were under way. I remember directing one of the Junior Officers to look after the after section of boats.

13818. What length of time would this operation of uncovering all these boats take?
- You mean, given the crew?

13819. You were engaged on this work. I want to realise how long you were engaged on it?
- Well, I really could not say what time the after boats were finished uncovering. Knowing that the third Officer was there in charge I did not bother so much about that as the forward ones, and about the time I had finished seeing the men distributed round the deck, and the boat covers well under way and everything going smoothly, I then enquired of the Chief Officer whether we should carry on and swing out.

13820. And what did Mr. Wilde say about that - what were the orders?
- I am under the impression that Mr. Wilde said "No," or "Wait," something to that effect, and meeting the Commander, I asked him, and he said, ""Yes, swing out."

13821. And did you get that done?
- Yes, on the port side. I did not go to the starboard side again.

13822. Up to the time of swinging out the boats which had been stripped, at any rate, on the port side, what about the passengers?
- I had met a few passengers on deck, not many.

13823. Had you heard any general orders given about getting them?
- No, I could not hear any.

13824. Was the steam still blowing off all this time?
- Still blowing off, yes.

13825. Up to this time had you noticed whether the ship had got any list?
- Not to my knowledge; no list whatever so far as I know.

13826. Up to this time had you noticed whether she showed a tendency to drop by the head?
- No.

13827. She was on an even keel so far as you know?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
Now, you say "at this time." I do not quite know what time.

The Solicitor-General:
I was stopping; I had meant to stop at the time he ceased to swing out boats on the port side, which is, as I understand, after stripping all the boat covers.

The Commissioner:
I understand about the course of events at this time; I want to know by the clock.

13828. (The Solicitor-General.) I did, too, My Lord. (To the witness.) Could you help us and give us some estimate as to how long this would have taken from the time that you came out. You see, you have said you think half-an-hour elapsed after the collision before you came out and realised the seriousness of it, and then, of course, you undertook those duties, and you have described them. Could you give us an estimate how long would have elapsed from the time you came out on deck and started this work to the time the boats were swung out on the port side?
- I should like you to understand quite clearly about the boat covers. I had not seen all the boat covers actually off. We were taking the boats in rotation, but from the time we commenced to strip No. 4 boat cover until the time when we swung them out I should judge would be probably at most 15 or 20 minutes.

13829. So far you are confining yourself to No. 4?
- Exactly.

13830. And during that time had the stripping of the covers of the other boats been going on?
- That was being continued at the same time. Of course, there were the falls to coil down.

13831. You took No. 4. Was the swinging out of No. 4 earlier than the swinging out of the other boats on the port side?
- Yes, as it happened. You see the men coming up the staircase on the forepart would naturally come to No. 4, and No. 4 was got under way first and would be completed first.

13832. Did you go on your way down the port side getting it done?
- Yes.

13833. Taking the swinging out of the last boat that you saw to on the port side, how much later would that be?
- That was very late on.

13834. (The Commissioner.) That is what I want to know?
- Well, you see, if I may give it to you in the order that I was working, I swung out No. 4 with the intention of loading all the boats from A deck, the next deck below the boat deck. I lowered No. 4 down to A deck, and gave orders for the women and children to go down to A deck to be loaded through the windows. My reason for loading the boats through the windows from A deck was that there was a coaling wire, a very strong wire running along A deck, and I thought it would be very useful to trice the boat to in case the ship got a slight list or anything; but as I was going down the ladder after giving the order, someone sung out and said the windows were up. I countermanded the order and told the people to come back on the boat deck and instructed two or three, I think they were stewards, to find the handles and lower the windows. That left No. 4 boat hanging at A deck, so then I went on to No. 6.

13835. And was No. 6 still on the boat deck?
- Yes. Then I proceeded to put out No. 6 and lower away. Previous to this, I may say I had had orders from the Commander to fill the boats with women and children, put women and children into the boats and lower away.

13836. Of course, the model we have there shows the starboard side, but the arrangement is the same for this purpose, I think, and one sees that if one took the boat immediately abaft the emergency boat, and lowered it to A deck, it would in that model come against the closed-in side?
- Yes.

13837. With the windows in it?
- Yes.

13838. And your idea was that those windows should be opened and the people should get from the windows into the boat from A deck?
- Exactly.

13839. Then that plan was not, in fact, carried out?
- No, not on the port side.

13840. For the reason you have explained?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
I am still without the information I want.

13841. (The Solicitor-General.) I realise that, and I will come back to it. (To the witness.) No. 4 would take some time. Then what was the next boat, so far as you are concerned, which was filled with women and children?
- No. 6.

13842. And the next one?
- As far as I remember, No. 8.

13843. That exhausts the boats, which are forward, on the port side?
- Yes.

13844. Then did you see to the loading of any others on the port side?
- I went forward - the last lifeboat for me to load on the port side was No. 4 from A deck.

13845. It got as far as that?
- Yes, and it remained there.

13846. Now what I want to know is this - making the best estimate you can, can you give us some help as regards the time - either the time which had elapsed, or the time by the clock when the lowering away of No. 4 actually took place, putting it into the water?
- Would it be of any assistance, if I gave you the time that the collapsible boat, the actual last boat, got away on the port side?

The Commissioner:
Well, it might.

The Witness:
I can remember that distinctly - lowering it only about 10 feet.

13847. I will tell you what I want, and then perhaps you will be able to answer. You said that after the boats on the port side had been lowered the ship had no list, either to port or starboard, and that she was not down by the head. Now, I want to know at what time you observed that?

The Solicitor-General:
What I understand him to say was that the boats were swung out before he had noticed it. I did not understand him to say that they were lowered.

The Commissioner:
I understand him to say that it was quite a long time.

The Solicitor-General:

The Commissioner:
I do not care whether they were lowered. At what time was it you noticed this ship had no list, and that it was not down by the head?
- When I came on deck and commenced uncovering the boats.

The Commissioner:
I understood you were speaking of a much later period.

13848. (The Solicitor-General - To the witness.) I was asking about a later period?
- I am sorry.

13849. When you came out on deck, having been aroused, the ship was on an even keel?
- Yes.

13850. You had heard that the water was out up to F deck?
- Yes.

13851. But you did not notice any list?
- No.

13852. How long did that state of things continue? When was it you did first notice either a list or that she was down by the head?
- Very shortly, afterwards I noticed she was down by the head, when I was by No. 6 boat. When I left No. 4 and went to No. 6 she was distinctly down by the head, and I think it was while working at that boat it was noticed that she had a pretty heavy list to port.

13853. (The Commissioner.) This must have been within a quarter of an hour from your coming on the boat deck?
- No, My Lord, it would take us a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes to get No. 4 uncovered and the falls out.

13854. But when you did get No. 4 out you noticed this list, I understand?
- No, My Lord, I think I said at No. 6.

13855. Then how long would it take you to get No. 4 and No. 6 uncovered?
- Well, it would take us from 15 minutes to 20 minutes to uncover No. 4; then to coil the falls down, then to swing out and lower it down to A deck would take another six or seven minutes at least. Then I gave an order to go down to the lower deck which I countermanded; perhaps two or three minutes might have elapsed there. Then I went to No. 6 about that time.

13856. How long were you working at No. 6?
- I really could not say, My Lord. I went to No. 6 then, as far as I remember.

13857. At what point of these events did you notice that the ship had begun to be down by the head or to have a list?
- It was when I was at No. 6 boat, My Lord.

13858. As I understand, that would be about half-an-hour after you had come on deck?
- I think it is longer than that.

13859. Well, let us say three quarters of an hour?
- Yes, perhaps three quarters of an hour.

13860. You had been half-an-hour in your bunk before you came on deck at all?
- I said approximately half-an-hour.

13861. So this would be an hour or an hour and a quarter after the collision. And was it then for the first time you noticed the vessel had a list?
- At whatever time that was, My Lord. However, it works out it was about when I was at boat No. 6.

13862. (The Solicitor-General.) What you had been doing in the interval was, you had been getting No. 4 unstripped; you had been getting her swung out, her falls cleared and let down as far as the a deck, and there you had ascertained that it was not possible to open the windows and get the people through?
- Not immediately, and therefore rather than delay I did not go on with it.

13863. That is what happened?
- Yes.

13864. Then turning your attention to No. 6 you then noticed the ship had got a list?
- Yes, I think it was No. 6.

13865. (The Commissioner.) And it was a list to port?
- Yes.

13866. Did you ever notice a list to starboard?
- No.

13867. Was there a list to starboard?
- Not that I am aware of, and I think I should have noticed it in lowering the boat. I may say that my notice was called to this list - I perhaps might not have noticed it; it was not very great - by Mr. Wilde calling out "All passengers over to the starboard side." That was an endeavour to give her a righting movement, and it was then I noticed that the ship had a list. It would have been far more noticeable on the starboard side than on the port.

13868. (The Solicitor-General.) Did you hear that order given when you were dealing with boat No. 6?
- Yes.

13869. Now by that time you were dealing with boat No. 6, were there a number of passengers, Men, women and children, on the boat deck?
- Yes.

13870. And at that time when you were dealing with No. 6 had any order been given about their getting into the boats?
- Yes.

13871. Who gave it, and when was it given?
- The Captain gave it to me.

13872. What was the order?
- After I had swung out No. 4 boat I asked the Chief Officer should we put the women and children in, and he said "No." I left the men to go ahead with their work and found the Commander, or I met him and I asked him should we put the women and children in, and the Commander said "Yes, put the women and children in and lower away." That was the last order I received on the ship.

13873. Was that, as you understood it, a general order for the boats?
- Yes, a general order.

13874. Again, I should like to have the time fixed. Is that after these events you have described about boat No. 4?
- No; previous to any swinging out, when No. 4 was almost uncovered; in fact, the canvas cover was off. They were taking the falls out and I think they were in the act of taking the strong back out, and the next movement to be executed would be swinging the boat out. So before any delay had occurred I asked the Commander, as I say, should we lower away.

13875. That means, should you put people into the boat, I suppose?
- Yes. We had had orders to swing out, so the boat was in the process of being swung out.

13876. Now, we can take No. 6. You say you went to that?
- Yes.

13877. You saw that boat filled, did you?
- Yes.

13878. It was filled under your supervision?
- Yes.

13879. Now, tell us about the way in which it was done and the orders given as to who should get into it?
- As a matter of fact, I put them in myself. There were no orders. I stood with one foot on the seat just inside the gunwale of the boat, and the other foot on the ship's deck, and the women merely held out their wrist, their hand, and I took them by the wrist and hooked their arm underneath my arm.

13880. You have not told us anything yet about the preference being given to women?
- The order had been received from the Commander.

The Commissioner:
He has told us about the order given by the Captain.

13881. (The Solicitor-General.) I see. (To the witness.) And that is the order you carried out?
- Yes.

13882. And then was No. 6 lowered away?
- No. 6 was lowered away.

13883. Was boat No. 6 filled?
- It was filled with a reasonable regard to safety. I did not count the people going in.

13884. But you exercised your judgment about it?
- Yes.

13885. It was filled as much as you thought was safe in the circumstances?
- Yes.

13886. In your judgment is it possible to fill these lifeboats when they are hanging as full as you might fill them when they are water borne?
- Most certainly not.

13887. (The Commissioner.) Is that due to the weak construction of the lifeboats or to the insufficiency of the falls?
- A brand new fall, I daresay, would have lowered the boats down and carried the weight, but it would hardly be considered a seamanlike proceeding as far as the sailor side of it goes, but I certainly should not think that the lifeboats would carry it without some structural damage being done - buckling, or something like that.

13888. And had you those considerations in mind in deciding how many people should go in the boat?
- Yes.

13888a. (The Solicitor-General.) The convenient thing, My Lord, is just to refer your Lordship to the evidence of Poingdestre. It is at page 83. It fits together here. Perhaps I may read a few questions, and Mr. Lightoller will hear them. It is Question 2958. He is asked, "Do you know how it comes that there were not more than 42 put into this boat?" That is boat No. 6?
- Yes.

13889. And he says, "Well, the reason is that the falls would not carry any more. (Q.) You mean somebody was frightened of the falls? - (A.) Yes, the second Officer, Mr. Lightoller." Did you say anything aloud about it?
- No.

13890. It is merely a conclusion the man came to?
- Yes, I daresay, a seamanlike conclusion.

13891. You agree as many people were put into it as, in your judgment, was safe when it was in that position?
- Yes.

13892. We are told about 40 or 42?
- Yes, about that.

13893. Then did you give the order to lower away?
- Yes.

13894. Did you give any further order to that boat, No. 6, as to what it was to do or where it was to go?
- Not that I remember. I knew there was, if I may mention it, this light on the port bow about two points; I had already been calling many of the passengers' attention to it, pointing it out to them and saying there was a ship over there, that probably it was a sailing ship as she did not appear to come any closer, and that at daylight very likely a breeze would spring up and she would come in and pick us up out of the boats, and generally reassuring them by pointing out the light; but whether I told them to pull towards the light I really could not say. I might have done and I might not.

13895. Here is a boat with only 42 people in it, and when it is water-borne everybody agrees it would safely carry more then?
- Yes.

13896. Did you give any orders with the object of getting more people into it when it was in the water?
- Yes, I see what you are alluding to now, the gangway doors. I had already sent the boatswain and 6 men or told the boatswain to go down below and take some men with him and open the gangway doors with the intention of sending the boats to the gangway doors to be filled up. So with those considerations in mind I certainly should not have sent the boats away.

13897. That is what I meant. Did you give any order or direction to the man in charge of boat No. 6 that he was to keep near or was to go to the gangway doors?
- Not that I remember. The boats would naturally remain within hail.

13898. You do not recollect whether you gave any actual order to the man in charge?
- No.

13899. It is just as well to read this question and answer. This man Poingdestre was asked, "Did Mr. Lightoller give you any orders as to what to do with the boat?"; and the answer was, "He gave me orders before the boat was lowered what to do. (Q.) What orders did he give you? - (A.) To lay off and stand by close to the ship"?
- Perhaps I did; I daresay.

13900. Now let us pursue the two things you have mentioned. You say you gave those orders to the boatswain to go down with some men and open the gangway doors?
- Yes.

13901. Will you point out on the starboard side where they are?
- There are gangway doors one on each side there. (Pointing on the model.)

13902. About where you are pointing now?
- Yes, there are two doors one above and one below on the starboard side, but there is only one on E deck on the port side. The other gangway doors are here.

13903. In the afterpart?
- Yes.

13903a. What deck do those gangway doors open from?
- E deck.

13904. Were your orders general, or did they refer to one set of gangway doors in particular?
- General.

13905. Did the boatswain go off after receiving the orders?
- As far as I know, he went down.

The Commissioner:
Have we heard anything up to this time of these gangway doors.

The Solicitor-General:
I am not aware of having heard it, My Lord. There has been a suggestion made by a Witness, I think, that it was so, but I do not think there has been any evidence about it. There was a suggestion, I know.

The Commissioner:
To open those doors?

13906. (The Solicitor-General.) Yes. (To the witness.) Can you help us when it was that you gave this order to the boatswain? I mean, can you give it us by reference to boats. Was it before you had lowered No. 4 to the a deck or after?
- I think it was after and whilst I was working at No. 6 boat.

13907. If the boat was down by the head, the opening of those doors on E deck in the forward part of the ship would open her very close to the water, would it not?
- Yes.

13908. When you gave the order, had you got in mind that the ship was tending to go down by the head, or had not you yet noticed it?
- I cannot say that I had noticed it particularly.

13909. Of course, you know now the water was rising up to E deck?
- Yes, of course it was.

13910. Did the boatswain execute those orders?
- That I could not say. He merely said "Aye, aye, sir," and went off.

13911. Did not you see him again?
- Never.

13912. And did not you ever have any report as to whether he had executed the order?
- No.

13913. I had better just put it. As far as you know, were any of those gangway doors open at any time?
- That I could not say. I do not think it likely, because it is most probable the boats lying off the ship would have noticed the gangway doors, had they succeeded in opening them.

13914. You say you gave that order, as far as you recollect, when you were dealing with that boat No. 6?
- Yes, boat No. 6.

The Commissioner:
I have the reference now. It is in the evidence of Jewell on page 18, Questions 131 and 132.

The Solicitor-General:
Yes, My Lord: "What were the orders about - what was she to do?" He speaks of Mr. Murdoch giving orders. "He" - that is, Mr. Murdoch - "told us to stand by the gangway."

The Commissioner:
He says this door is open continually. He goes on to say this. The question is put to him - I do not know who was examining him.

The Solicitor-General:
I was I think, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
"Amidships, and the answer is yes. (Q.) Where the gangway would be if she were in port, I suppose? - (A.) Yes, that is right." If this Witness is right, he does not seem to know where the gangway was.

Sir Robert Finlay:
In the next question he points it out.

The Solicitor-General:
Your Lordship asked him to go to the model.

The Commissioner:
"Just go to the model again and show me where about on that model the waterline was, and where the gangway was, so that I may know where the boat was," and then he indicates. "There is one door there, and there is the waterline right along here. There are several gangway doors in the side; there is one about there somewhere, and one about there." That, of course, tells me nothing, and I do not remember where he pointed. I am told that he pointed further abaft the point indicated by Mr. Lightoller.

The Solicitor-General:
I see Mr. Wilding here; no doubt he will tell us where, in fact, they are, if your Lordship would like it now.

13915. (The Commissioner.) It occurred to me that Mr. Lightoller was right, because I see the rows of portholes?
- (The witness.) There are the gangway doors here. (Pointing on the model.)

The Commissioner:
If you look you will see the row of portholes is interrupted.

The Solicitor-General:
Yes. Is that the place where you are pointing now, Mr. Wilding?

Mr. Wilding:
Yes, there is a door marked there.

The Commissioner:
Is it marked there on the model?
- (Mr. Wilding.) Yes, My Lord, here. (Pointing on the model.)

13916. (The Solicitor-General.) As a matter of accuracy, is that open on to the floor of E deck or d deck?
- E deck.

13917. (Sir Robert Finlay.) I am told there is also a gangway on D deck forward?
- On the starboard side.

The Commissioner:
On D deck.

Sir Robert Finlay:

The Solicitor-General:
One above and one below.

Sir Robert Finlay:
That is on the starboard side forward.

13918. (The Commissioner.) It appears to me that you would be very unlikely to order the forward gangway door to be opened. You might get the head so deep in the water that she might ship water through that gangway door?
- Of course, My Lord, I did not take that into consideration at that time; there was not time to take all these particulars into mind. In the first place, at this time I did not think the ship was going down.

13919. I remember what you said yesterday as to what you were told when you were in your bunk that the water was up to F deck; you knew that it was a very serious state of things?
- Yes, I knew it was serious.

13920. And I suppose you realised - I do not know whether you did - but I suppose you realised that the ship was taking in more and more water as you were attending to these boats?
- Yes, My Lord, and yet I did not think at that time that the ship was going down.

13921. (The Solicitor-General.) Just to get boat No. 6 right. The Quartermaster, whose name was Hichens, was in that No. 6 boat. Your Lordship will find a reference to him at page 43; he confirms exactly, of course, what Mr. Lightoller is saying. It is Question 1089, "Who ordered you to another boat? - (A.) Mr. Lightoller. (Q.) And to what boat"? - (A.) No. 6 boat. (Q.) Is that a lifeboat on the port side? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) It would be the third on the port side from forward, would it not?" and he says it was the second or third boat to be lowered on the port side. (To the witness.) I understand from you it was the second because you had lowered boat No. 4 to A deck?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
What question is it?

13922. (The Solicitor-General.) I was looking at Question 1089. He says it was the second or third boat, and it appears it was really the second. "(1096.) She had only been swung out ready? - (A.) That is all. (Q.) And then what happened - who was giving orders then? - (A.) Mr. Lightoller was in charge of the port side. (Q.) Did you hear any order given? - (A.) Yes, I heard the captain say 'Women and children first.'" "(Q.) 1106. How many people did you take on board? - (A.) 42, all told." (To the witness.) I think a gentleman named Major Peuchen was one of them?
- Yes.

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