British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 15

Testimony of Harold t. Cottam

Examined by the SOLICITOR-GENERAL.

The Commissioner:
Is this still upon the messages?

The Solicitor-General:
This is the marconi operator on the "Carpathia."

The Commissioner:
Oh, yes.

17053. (The Solicitor-General - To the witness.) Were you the marconi operator on board the s.s. "Carpathia"?
- I was.

17054. Is that a steamer of the Cunard Line?
- Yes.

17055. And on the "Carpathia" were you the only operator or had you someone with you?
- I was the only one.

17056. I think you had taken up your duties on the "Carpathia" last February had you not?
- Yes, about February 10th or 11th, I cannot remember when.

17057. And had been doing the work as a Marconi operator on it from that time up to April the 14th or 15th?
- Yes.

17058. Which way was she bound at the time you heard of the accident?
- She was bound east from New York to Gibraltar.

The Solicitor-General:
We have been supplied by the marconi Company with a print showing the procès-verbal of this gentleman's communications with the "Titanic." They are arranged in order of time and it is convenient to have them in that form. It is the same document that I handed up yesterday, the letter of the 7th May.

The Commissioner:
I have it.

17059. (The Solicitor-General.) I have some other copies and I will hand them up to your Lordship's assessors. (Handing copies to the Court and to Witness.) (To the witness.) Have you before you now the procès-verbal for the material time?
- Yes.

17060. I see that procès-verbal of yours contains the entries in order of time up to the time when you heard of the disaster and then, I think, your procès-verbal breaks off?
- Yes.

17061. I suppose, owing to the emergency you could not keep a regular record?
- No.

17062. (The Solicitor-General.) Your Lordship appreciates that everything in this printed document which is after the time that the disaster is known to the "Carpathia" has been reconstituted since. It is not an actual copy of the document. (To the witness.) Will you tell us when it was that your ship first got into touch with the "Titanic" on the 14th April. Will you look at page 3 of the print?
- 5.10 p.m.

17063. That is New York time?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
One hour and 50 minutes later, ship's time?

The Solicitor-General:
It varies from hour to hour, but substantially it is that.

The Commissioner:
It is about two hours.

The Solicitor-General:
Yes, one gets it substantially if one says 7 o'clock. (To the witness.) Your entry is "Trs. with steamship 'Titanic' bound west." We were told yesterday about the trs, are they time rushes?
- Yes.

17064. And does that show that you were then first getting into communication with the "Titanic"?
- Exactly, the first communication.

17065. What is the meaning of your entry following that "one s message received." What is an S message?
- An S is an ordinary public message from the public on the "Titanic' - from a passenger on the "Titanic."

17066. You mean a member of the public?
- Yes, from a passenger on the "Titanic" to one on ours.

The Solicitor-General:
I have it here; it is merely a private message from one passenger to another.

The Commissioner:
You need not trouble about that.

17067. (The Solicitor-General.) Your next entry is "5.30 p.m. signals exchanged with the 'Titanic' at frequent intervals until 9.45 p.m." Would those signals be merely to keep in touch or would they involve the sending of private messages?
- Merely to keep in touch.

17068. I see you record at 10 "Good night" to the "Mount Temple" and then at 11.20 p.m. you got your first entry about the disaster?
- Yes, that is what I stated in New York, but I found since it was 10.35 I got the first signals.

17069. It was earlier than that, was it?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
Just have that explained.

17070. (The Solicitor-General.) I will. (To the witness.) Will you tell us how you know that?
- By a chit of paper which I scribbled out at the time.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I understood this was a copy of the procès-verbal?

The Commissioner:

The Solicitor-General:
I do not think Sir Robert perhaps heard what I did interpose to explain, and what the witness said that as soon as the disaster happened, and from that time forward he did not keep his procès-verbal and therefore it had been reconstituted by the marconi Company from that point.

The Commissioner:
Oh, but I understood that up to and inclusive of this message which you are reading it was part of the procès-verbal , but after they first heard of the disaster then the procès-verbal stops.

17071. (The Solicitor-General - To the witness.) How is it?
- Right up to the time of the disaster, right up to the time I heard the first signal from them the procès-verbal was never touched.

17072. (The Commissioner.) Did you enter in that procès-verbal the important telegram telling you of the calamity?
- No, My Lord, I did not.

17073. You did not?
- No.

17074. (The Solicitor-General.) You have the document before you?
- Yes.

The Solicitor-General:
Let me see it. (The same was handed.)

The Commissioner:
Then the procès-verbal is of no value.

Sir Robert Finlay:
This is merely from recollection afterwards.

17075. (The Commissioner - To the witness.) Your procès-verbal does not relate at all to the disaster?
- No.

The Solicitor-General:
If you will look, you will see the last two entries in ordinary writing are the entries of 5.30 p.m. and 10 p.m.; the very last entry is 10 p.m. and then in a different writing and with a different pencil there has been something added "'Titanic' disaster; apparently too busy to keep entries," or something of that sort.

The Commissioner:
What does P.V. mean?

The Solicitor-General:
P.V. is procès-verbal

The Commissioner:
"Apparently too busy to keep procès-verbal going." Will you allow me to ask him a question, or would you rather put it yourself?

The Solicitor-General:
I would very much sooner you did, My Lord.

17076. (The Commissioner - To the witness.) Just look at this document and tell me whether the last entry with the hour opposite to it, 10 p.m., is in your writing (Handing document to the witness.)?
- It is, My Lord.

17077. Now, that is subsequent to the disaster, is it not?
- Yes.

17078. And, therefore, you did write something on your procès-verbal which happened subsequent to the disaster?
- Yes.

17079. Now will you read what it is?
- Subsequent to the disaster?

17080. Yes, after the disaster.
- No, I did not write anything after the entry at 10 p.m.

The Commissioner:
The entry at 10 p.m. would probably be after the disaster.

17081. (The Solicitor-General.) Yes, My Lord; but not after he had heard of it. That is the point. (To the witness.) At the time when you wrote down that entry, 10 p.m., had you on your ship heard of the disaster?
- I had not.

The Commissioner:
I do not understand that; 10 p.m. means midnight.

The Solicitor-General:
It does not follow the "Carpathia" picked up the first message sent out into the air. She picked up the first message calling for help later than her hour of 10 p.m.

The Commissioner:
When did she pick it up?

The Solicitor-General:
That is it.

The Witness:
10.35 p.m., New York time.

17082. (The Commissioner.) Then will you read to me what me what 10 p.m. says?
- 10 p.m. is "Good night to the 'Mount Temple'; his signals very weak."

17083. The "Mount Temple" was getting out of range, I suppose?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
I do not understand this, Sir John. The "Titanic" was well within range at this time; in fact, she had been within range for quite a long time.

The Solicitor-General:

17084. (The Commissioner - To the witness.) If she was well within range and did dispatch a Marconigram to you immediately after the collision - I do not know whether she did or not - you would have heard it at once I suppose?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
So that if you did not hear it, as you say, until 10.35, which would be about half-past 12 ship's time, it must have been because the "Titanic" did not dispatch a message to you?

The Solicitor-General:
May I suggest your Lordship should look at one piece of evidence to check it. If your Lordship will look at page 211 you will find there the evidence of a Witness named Durrant. Just to remind your Lordship, you will remember he was Marconi operator on the "Mount Temple," and we called him because he had kept the receiver to his ear and had noted down what he had overheard through this critical period, this ship having turned and going to the rescue. If your Lordship will remember what we did with him was, we took his procès-verbal , and asked him to read out the entries in order of time, correcting the time all the way through by adding one hour 55 minutes to the New York time. Now if your Lordship will look at Question 9451 I asked him: "Tell us the ship's time when you first got a message as to the 'Titanic' being in distress? - (A.) 12.11 a.m." Your Lordship appreciates this is one hour 55 minutes on from New York time. Then if you read down five or six answers, the bottom question on the page first brings in the name of the "Carpathia." It is Question 9458. "That would be 21 minutes after midnight? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) What was it you heard then? - (A.) I have got down here 'Titanic' still calling C.Q.D.; is answered by the 'Carpathia"' that is this operator. And that your Lordship sees is recorded by the "Mount Temple" operator durrant as having occurred 21 minutes after midnight, ship's time, which would be the same thing.

The Commissioner:
Yes, about the same thing.

17085. (The Solicitor-General.) Yes, about the same thing as we are speaking of now. (To the witness.) You had no one to help you on board the "Carpathia"? You cannot work all the 24 hours. What were you doing or preparing to do about 11 o'clock that night?
- Well just previous to having received the signal I was taking the long-distance news from Cape Cod.

17086. That is news that is being sent to the ship from the mainland?
- Yes.

17087. Were you going on working, or were you going to bed?
- I was going to turn in directly afterwards.

17088. (The Commissioner.) What happens to the instrument when you turn in? Is there any one there to gather up messages that may come?
- No, My Lord, nobody at all.

17089. And I suppose you sleep eight hours, or something like that out of the 24?
- About eight, yes.

17090. That is supposed to be the regulation. So that for one-third of the time there is, so to speak, no operator on the ship?
- No, My Lord.

17090a. (The Solicitor-General.) This was between 11 and 12. I think you said you were preparing to turn in?
- I was.

17091. I want you to tell us two or three things about it. You gave evidence in America about it. Had you begun to take your clothes off?
- I had taken my coat off.

17092. And you were in course of going to bed?
- Yes. I should have been turning in in about 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour.

17093. And had you still got the receiver in your hand or by your side?
- No, it was on my head.

17094. Were you waiting for something?
- Well, I was waiting for a confirmation of a previous communication I had had with the "Parisian."

17095. (The Commissioner.) You always have the receiver on your head, have not you?
- Not always.

17096. Do not you sit with it on your head?
- The greater part of the time we do, yes.

17097. (The Solicitor-General.) You do not go to bed with it, I presume?
- No.

17098. You were waiting for a confirmation of some message you had sent?
- Yes, I was.

17099. Where were you expecting it to come from?
- From the "Parisian."

17100. As soon as you got that confirmation, had you intended to turn in?
- Yes.

17101. And while you were waiting with your coat off, preparing to go to bed and expecting this confirmation, did you hear a message from the "Titanic"?
- Well, no, not just then.

17102. Explain it?
- After I had waited a long enough time to get this confirmation, I wrote out the chit of the previous communications during the day and reported them to the bridge. After reporting them I returned to the cabin, and I sat down, and I asked the "Titanic" if he was aware there was a batch of messages coming through from Cape Cod for him, and his only answer was, "Struck a berg; come at once."

17103. Now tell us, as nearly as you can, it is only a recollection, I understand - what it was which the "Titanic" said to you?
- She said, "Come at once; we have struck a berg," and sent his position, and then he sent C.Q.D.

The Solicitor-General:
Your Lordship sees that just corresponds to what was overheard: "Struck iceberg, come to our assistance. Sends the position."

The Commissioner:

17104. (The Solicitor-General - To the witness.) You heard that, and what did you do? What was your reply; what did you do?
- I confirmed it before reporting it to the bridge.

17105. Does that mean you got it repeated?
- No, I did not get it repeated. I asked him if he intended me to go straight away to the bridge and get the ship turned round immediately, and he said, "Yes, quick."

17106. Did you go to the bridge?
- Straight away, yes.

17107. You reported it to your Captain?
- To the Officer on watch first, and, from him, to the Captain.

17108. Then what was done about the "Carpathia"?
- She was turned round immediately.

17109. And made for the position?
- And headed for the position, yes.

17110. Then you, I suppose, would go back to the marconi room, to your instrument?
- Yes, I did; I went right away.

17111. Up to this time had you sent the "Titanic" any news of where you were?
- No, not up to then. I went straight away back to the cabin and sent our position.

17112. Who gave you your position?
- The Captain gave me our position.

17113. Then you were in a position to tell the "Titanic" where you were?
- Yes.

17114. And did you tell her that you were coming to her assistance?
- I did.

17115. Just look at this print we have before us. We understand it is not an actual copy of your procès-verbal We have: "11.30 p.m. Course altered, proceeding to the scene of the disaster." Is that an estimate?
- Yes, that is a rough estimate, because I made no P.V. of that at all.

17116. Just let us follow what you did after that. Your ship is turned round and making for her. Did you endeavour to keep in touch with the "Titanic"?
- I did the whole time.

17117. The whole time?
- Yes.

17118. Could you overhear what the "Titanic" was trying to say to other ships?
- I was helping the "Titanic" to communicate.

17119. Would you explain that?
- Well, the "Titanic" told me when I had sent the position, he said he could not read signals because of the escape of steam and the air through the expansion joint, so I helped him with the communications.

17120. Will you repeat that?
- He could not read the incoming signals on account of the escape of steam and the air from the expansion joint; the water rushing into the hollow of the ship was driving the air through the expansion joint.

17121. The expansion joint is a joint that runs across the deck?
- Yes, right across the deck just outside the cabin.

17122. Outside where he would be?
- Yes.

17123. You would very likely know; would you expect, then, that a great escape of steam, blowing off steam, or a great rush of air, would interfere, in your experience, with messages?
- Certainly; it would not be the noise only; it would be the trembling of the ship.

17123a. (The Commissioner.) But mainly the noise?
- Mainly the noise, yes, My Lord.

17124. (The Solicitor-General.) And he told you he could not read the messages coming to him clearly?
- He said he could not read them well.

17125. What did you do?
- I simply stood by. First of all, when I got back he was in communication with the "Frankfurt"; when I came back from the bridge and sent my position he was in communication with the "Frankfurt."

17126. You heard that?
- Yes, I heard that.

17127. (The Solicitor-General.) Now, My Lord, I will just put the thing I have on page 212. I have a record here of something he said to the "Frankfurt." (To the witness.) Tell me if this is what you remember. It is at Question 9470: "'Titanic' gives position and asks, 'Are you coming to our assistance?' 'Frankfurt' replies, 'What is the matter with you?' 'Titanic' says, 'We have struck an iceberg and sinking. Please tell Captain to come;' and the 'Frankfurt' replied, 'O.K. Will tell the bridge right away.' Then the 'Titanic' said, 'O.K., yes, quick.'" That is a record taken down by your colleague on the "Mount Temple"?
- Yes.

17128. Does that bring to your mind what you heard?
- It does to a certain extent, but it was some 20 minutes afterwards.

17129. It was later than that, was it?
- When the "Titanic" first sent her position the "Frankfurt" operator got up apparently and he came back in twenty minutes and asked what was the matter.

17130. You mean there was an interval of time?
- Yes, there was.

17131. Could you hear what passed between the "Titanic" and the "Frankfurt" then?
- I did not hear it all because I was running backwards and forwards from the bridge reporting the whole time.

17132. Tell us what you did hear?
- After that the communications ceased from what I could hear.

17133. (The Commissioner.) What time would that be? That would be close on the foundering?
- Oh, no, My Lord.

17134. What time would it be?
- I should say about 10.45 New York time. I could not be certain about times at all.

17135. That would be half-an-hour before the foundering.

17136. (The Solicitor-General.) About that. (To the witness.) You have told us what you know about the "Frankfurt." Now tell us this. Do you remember assisting in communications with the "Olympic"?
- I did.

17137. Was that before or after the "Frankfurt" incident?
- After; some time after.

17138. Tell us what you recollect about the communications with the "Olympic"?
- First of all I heard the "Olympic" calling the "Titanic" - a Master's service message, and as the "Titanic" did not reply I came to the conclusion that he was not reading the signals at all, so I asked the "Titanic" if he was aware that the "Olympic" was calling him with a message, and he said he was not, so I said: "Go ahead and call." He called and afterwards got in communication with the "Olympic."

17139. So you really got the "Titanic" to get into communication with the "Olympic"?
- Yes.

The Solicitor-General:
There is a reference to that, My Lord, in Durrant's evidence.

The Commissioner:
I see it - "'Titanic' says weather clear and calm, engine room getting flooded."

17140. (The Solicitor-General.) That is it. (To the witness.) Did you hear the message about the engine room that the "Titanic" sent to the "Olympic"?
- He sent it to me.

17141. He sent it to you, too. What was the message he sent to you?
- He said: "Come as quickly as possible, old man, the engine room is filling up to the boilers."

17142. (The Commissioner.) "Engine room is filling up to the boilers"?
- Yes.

17143. (The Solicitor-General.) In order to fix the time one has to have reference to Durrant's evidence that he was noting the time by the clock. At Question 9508 I say: "Then six minutes after that, at 1.27 - what was it you heard at 1.27? - (A.) - 'Titanic' calling C.Q.D., says engine room flooded.'" That does apparently give ship's time for it. Did you hear any message from the "Titanic" about people being put into the boats?
- No, there was none to that effect at all.

17144. Did you hear any message from the "Titanic" asking that other people should get their boats ready?
- No, there was none.

17145. And after the message to the "Olympic," which you heard, and the message to you about the engine room getting flooded, did communications continue between you and the "Titanic"?
- That was the last I heard of the "Titanic," that message. At 11.55 New York time, that was.

17146. You can fix that time?
- Yes, 11.55 New York time.

The Commissioner:
What is the meaning of: "Twelve -twenty a.m. Signals very broken" and "12.28 a.m.
- 'Titanic' calls C.Q.D. His signals blurred and end abruptly."

17147. (The Solicitor-General.) Can you help us about this?
- I think that is false. The signals were good right away to the end.

The Commissioner:
Then where does this information come from which has been made up somewhere?

The Solicitor-General:
I am just inquiring from Mr. Turnbull about it. One wants to understand. Mr. Turnbull tells me that this procès-verbal , the second part of it, when times come, is accurate as regards times, but it is built up from the records of various ships. As your Lordship was told yesterday, the procès-verbals all go into the office, and they have pieced together the entries of different ships, so as to give us a chronological statement.

The Commissioner:
This paper is incorrectly headed "Procès-verbal of the s.s. 'Carpathia.'"

The Solicitor-General:
It is, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
It is a mixture.

The Solicitor-General:
Yes; it is none the worse for that, only it is not accurately described as the "procès-verbal of the 'Carpathia.'" I will take one instance which strikes one. Take: "12.28 am. - 'Titanic' calls 'C.Q.D.' His signals blurred and end abruptly." I have in my hand the procès-verbal of the "Virginian," and the "Virginian" gentleman apparently kept it right through this time. He did not break off like Mr. Cottam. Here, I see, "12.27" -

Continued >