British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry
Testimony of Frederick Fleet
Examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.
17216. Frederick Fleet, you have been in the employ of the White Star Company for some seven years, have you?
17217. And you went on the trial trip of the "Titanic," did you not?
17218. As look-out man?
17219. And then you signed articles at Southampton as look-out man?
17220. And went this voyage that ended so disastrously?
17221. Before you went on the "Titanic," had you been look-out man for a number of years on the "Oceanic"?
17222. That was also in the North Atlantic service?
17223. How many years?
- About four years.
17224. Had your eyes been tested by the Board of Trade?
17225. You have gone through an examination?
17226. And got a certificate?
- I had one, but I lost it.
17227. Lost it?
- In the "Titanic."
17228. But, at any rate, you had got it before you went this voyage in the "Titanic"?
17229. Your watch as look-out man, I think, was from 4 to 6 and 10 to 12?
17230. Is that 4 to 6 in the day?
- And night.
17231. And 10 to 12 in the day and night?
17232. Your mate, I think, was Lee?
17233. (The Attorney-General.) Lee has been examined, and you will find his evidence at page 72. (To the witness.) And it was your duty to relieve Jewell. You did relieve him that night?
- Yes, and Symons.
17234. Jewell was the first witness called. Jewell and Symons were the two?
17235. When you relieved Jewell and Symons on Sunday, 14th April, at 10 o'clock you went to the crow's-nest?
17236. Was any word passed to you when you relieved them?
17237. Tell us what it was?
- They told us to keep a sharp look out for small ice and growlers.
17238. Did they say whether they had had any orders to do that?
- Yes, they said they had had orders from the bridge.
17239. They got the orders from the bridge?
- Yes, and passed it on to us.
17240. They had had orders to do that whilst they were on the watch and then they gave the word to you when you were going to take up the duties of look-out men?
17241. Then you remained in the crow's-nest with your mate Lee, and the other two left?
17242. Did both of them say anything to you about this, or only one?
- One, Symons.
17243. Did Lee say anything to you about it?
17244. Up to that time had you heard anything at all about ice?
17245. Now at the time you went into the crow's-nest, which would be at 10 o'clock on that night, was the sky clear?
17246. The sea we know was very calm?
- The sea calm.
17247. The stars shining?
17248. Could you clearly see the horizon?
- The first part of the watch we could.
17249. The first part of the watch you could?
17250. After the first part of the watch what was the change if any?
- A sort of slight haze.
17251. A slight haze?
17252. Was the haze on the waterline?
17253. It prevented you from seeing the horizon clearly?
- It was nothing to talk about.
17254. It was nothing much, apparently?
17255. Was this haze ahead of you?
17256. Was it only ahead, did you notice?
- Well, it was only about 2 points on each side.
17257. When you saw this haze did it continue right up to the time of your striking the berg?
17258. Can you give us any idea how long it was before you struck the berg that you noticed the haze?
- No, I could not.
17259. Can you tell us about how long you had been on duty before you noticed the haze?
- I could not say. I had no watch.
17260. I want you to give us some idea. You came on duty at 10 o'clock. We know that the berg was struck at about 11.40. That gives us an hour and 40 minutes, during which time you were in the crow's-nest all the time. That is right, is it not?
You say the first part of the watch it was clear and then there came this change which you have described. I want you to give some idea of when it was you noticed the change - when it got to a haze.
17261. (The Commissioner.) We do not want you to guess, you know; if you cannot tell us you must not guess.
Well, I daresay it was somewhere near seven bells.
17262. (The Attorney-General.) Somewhere near seven bells, which would be half-past 11?
17263. Did you say anything to your mate about it?
- Well, I told him there was a slight haze coming.
17264. Is that Lee?
17265. At the time that you noticed the haze was there anything in sight?
17266. Did it interfere with your sight ahead of you?
17267. Could you see as well ahead and as far ahead after you noticed the haze as you could before?
- It did not affect us, the haze.
17268. It did not affect you?
- No, we could see just as well.
17269. You did not report it then, I gather from that?
17270. You did not say anything about it to the bridge?
17271. (The Attorney-General.) I think it is necessary to direct your Lordship's attention to question 2408 at page 73 of Lee's evidence. I have asked him his story in detail, but I think it is necessary to put it to him now. I will read it. (To the witness.) Just listen to this, Fleet. This is a question put to your mate and I will read you his answer. "Did you notice this haze which you said extended on the horizon when you first came on the look-out or did it come later?
- (A.) It was not so distinct then - not to be noticed. You did not really notice it then - not on going on watch, but we had all our work cut out to pierce through it just after we started. My mate" - that is you - "happened to pass the remark to me. He said 'Well if we can see through that we will be lucky.' That was when we began to notice there was a haze on the water. There was nothing in sight"?
- Well, I never said that.
17272. You never said it?
I may tell you, Mr. Attorney, I am not at all disposed to give credit to that man's evidence on that point. It is quite inconsistent with all the other evidence.
I thought it right to call your Lordship's attention to it, and put it to the witness. I put the conversation to him, and he has given his answer, and there it rests. Your Lordship has to determine which you accept. I gather from what your Lordship said just now - I want to be clear that I am right - that his evidence with regard to the haze as interfering with his sight is the matter which you say is not satisfactory.
Yes, I will tell you at once. My impression is this, that the man was trying to make an excuse for not seeing the iceberg, and he thought he could make it out by creating a thick haze.
There is some other evidence, but I will direct attention to it later, when we come to deal with it. I am not sure, but my impression is that up to this moment we have no evidence of anybody who was watching, except these two men; I mean there is no Officer who has been able to give evidence as to this, no Officer was actually looking or watching at the time.
Or seeing. Of course, I mean who have been called before you. I am speaking of evidence. The only evidence we have got of persons who were actually looking out is the evidence of Lee and this Witness.
We have evidence of the state of the sky before the accident and after the accident.
Sir Robert Finlay:
And Mr. Boxhall, I think, was on the bridge.
I mean the evidence before and after the accident is that the sky was perfectly clear, and therefore if the evidence of the haze is to be accepted, it must have been some extraordinary natural phenomenon - something that sprang up quite suddenly, and then vanished.
However, this Witness denies he said it.
It is all in a very small compass, the evidence with regard to this, and certainly Lee's evidence is the strongest about the haze. I do not think any Witness goes as far.
It was so thick that you would have great trouble, as he said, cutting through it.
Yes, I think that is the only evidence to that effect.
17273. (The Commissioner - To the witness.) I understand you to say that whatever it was, it made no difference to the look-out?
- Yes, My Lord.
17274. (The Attorney-General.) Who was it first saw the berg? Was it you or Lee?
- Well, I do not know.
17275. Well, which of you gave the signal?
- I did.
You were looking ahead. Will you tell my Lord what it was - what you saw?
This is the three bell signal.
17276. (The Attorney-General.) Yes, we are coming to it, the three bell signal, something ahead. (To the witness.) Now describe to my Lord what it was you saw?
- Well a black object.
17277. A black object. Was it high above the water or low?
- High above the water.
17278. What did you do?
- I struck three bells.
17279. Was it right ahead of you, or on the port or starboard bow?
- Right ahead.
17280. You struck three bells immediately, I suppose?
- Yes, as soon as I saw it.
17281. What did you do next?
- I went to the telephone.
17282. Was that on the starboard side of the crow's-nest?
17283. You went to the telephone, and -?
- Rang them up on the bridge.
17284. Did you get an answer?
17285. Did you say anything to them at once, or did they answer you before you told them?
- I asked them were they there, and they said yes.
- Then they said, "What do you see?" I said, "Iceberg right ahead.' They said, "Thank you."
17287. Then you dropped the telephone, did you?
17288. What did you do next?
- I kept the look-out again.
17289. You were approaching the berg meanwhile?
17290. Are you able to give us the distance, or about the distance, the berg was from your ship when you first saw it?
17291. And except for what happened you have nothing to guide you as to the time either, have you?
17292. We must get it from the events. Did you notice any change in the heading of your vessel after you gave this report?
- After I rang them up on the 'phone and looked over the nest she was going to port.
17293. You were looking over the nest. Were you still on the starboard side of the nest?
- No; my place is on the port, but I went to starboard to telephone.
17294. Did you remain there when you dropped the telephone, or did you go back to your own place?
- I went back to my own place again.
17295. It would be on the port side of the crow's-nest?
- On the port side.
17296. You saw her head turn to port, I think I understood you to say?
Was the vessel still turning to port when she struck the berg, can you tell us?
(After a pause.)
17297. (The Commissioner.) Do not say you can if you cannot?
- She went to port all right, and the berg hit her on the starboard bow.
17298. (The Attorney-General.) She went to port. Do you mean she had a slight turn to port?
- Well, going to port.
17299. She was still going to port when the berg struck her?
- On the starboard bow.
17300. When you saw the vessel strike you felt it, did you; could you see it?
17301. What did you see when that happened? Your vessel, as I understand you, was going to port. Then you say she struck an iceberg. Tell us what you saw. You were in the crow's-nest, watching it were you not?
17302. Did you see any ice come on the deck?
- Yes, some on the forecastle head and some on the well deck.
17303. Could you tell how high, at all, the berg was?
- No, I could not.
17304. You could not tell us in feet, of course, or measurement in that way, but can you give us any idea; was it as high as you were?
- Just a little bit higher than the forecastle head.
17305. (The Commissioner.) Now someone can tell me how high from the water was the forecastle head?
- I do not know.
No, you cannot; but someone can.
About 40 to 50 feet, I think.
Sir Robert Finlay:
About 55 feet, My Lord.
17306. (The Commissioner - To the witness.) This berg that you struck must have been higher than the forecastle head because ice fell from it on to the forecastle head and on to the well deck, so I suppose it must have been higher than the forecastle head. That would be so, would it not?
17307. Now, how much above the forecastle head did this berg stand, about. Can you show me in this room, I mean. If you cannot, do not try?
- No, I do not know.
It is far better to say you do not know.
17308. (The Attorney-General - To the witness.) You will tell me if you can?
- I cannot say; I do not know.
17309. Was it as high as you were on the crow's-nest?
- No, it was not.
17310. Not as high as that?
17311. But above the forecastle head?
Sir Robert Finlay:
Mr. Wilding has just verified it again, and finds it was 55 feet above the waterline.
I think the crow's-nest is about 40 feet above the deck.
Sir Robert Finlay:
Above the forecastle, yes.
One can form some impression of the height.
In the crow's-nest you know he would be looking down upon this when it struck, and not looking up to it. He said that the berg was not as high as the crow's-nest.
Yes, he is quite clear about that. What I have got from him is: It was not as high as the crow's-nest, but it was higher than the forecastle head, and that is about as much as we could expect to get.
It may have been standing about 75 feet above the surface of the water.
17312. (The Attorney-General.) Yes, that is probably as near as we should ever get to it. (To the witness.) You say the berg passed, did you?
17313. As you were looking over to the starboard side of the ship?
17314. Could you give us some idea of what it looked like when it came. Was it a great big mass that passed you, or was it a small mass that you could see?
- Well, a great big mass.
17315. Do you mean like a great block?
17316. When you saw it first could you form an idea of what height it was?
17317. Well, it looked smaller, presumably?
17318. Then did you remain on the crow's-nest?
17319. Until eight bells?
- Till eight bells went.
17320. At eight bells, in the ordinary course, you were relieved?
17321. I think then Hogg and Evans relieved you. Now, will you tell me, supposing there had been a haze, would it be your duty to report it at all to the bridge?
- I have never reported haze yet.
17322. They would be on the bridge, you mean, and see it for themselves; is that what you mean?
17323. Did you have any conversation with your mate, Lee, after you struck?
- Well, I told him I thought it was a narrow shave - after we had hit it, after we had hit the ice.
17324. (The Commissioner.) It was a little more than a shave?
- That was only my idea.
17325. (The Attorney-General.) You thought it was not anything very serious?
- No, it was such a slight noise; that is why I said it.
17326. You thought it was nearly serious, but not quite?
17327. (The Attorney-General.) I do not propose to take him right through the story of what happened with regard to the boats. We have heard enough, I submit, about that. (To the witness.) You were eventually saved in boat No. 6?
17328. (The Attorney-General.) Your Lordship will remember we have had some evidence about that from the Quartermaster, Hichens, but your Lordship shall have all that in the digest we are making for your Lordship. It is the one in which Major Peuchen was also. There is only one thing I would ask. (To the witness.) Do you remember how many women there were in the boat, in boat No. 6?
- About 23 or 24.
17329. (The Commissioner.) And how many altogether, including the crew?
- Well, about 28 or 29; there was only me and Hichens of the crew.
[TIP NOTE: There were no questions numbered 17330 to 17339 in the original British Transcript.]
17340. Twenty-four women. Were there any men passengers?
- Two - one first and one-third, and two crew.
17341. And that was the whole boatload?
That does not quite agree with the evidence of Hichens, the Quartermaster. That you will find at page 43.
Will you tell me the effect?
He says this at Question 1106: "How many people did you take on board? - (A.) 42, all told." He said there was one seaman besides himself, and 40 passengers, and of that 40 all were women except one man and one boy. That is his evidence, and he went through it in some detail. The passenger was Major Peuchen, your Lordship will remember.
Yes; if that witness is right, this Witness is probably making a mistake about the number of women.
I think so.
I am not making any mistake at all.
17342. You are not?
- I am not.
17343. Did you count them?
- I did.
17344. Very well. How many were there?
- I said 24 women. I know what I am talking about.
Well, I should hope so. Do not be angry about it. We are not making any attack upon you; we are only calling attention to the evidence.
Do not take offence. No one intends to annoy you.
No one is casting an imputation upon you.
We only want you to state the truth, that is all.
Well, I am telling the truth.
I am sure you are doing your best.
17345. (The Attorney-General - To the witness.) Perhaps you can tell us this. Did you count the women there were?
- I was in the boat when they were passed in.
17346. And you were in the boat, I suppose, when Major Peuchen got in?
There is no doubt at all - we have not had the figures proved, but I suppose there is no doubt at all - about the numbers that were saved ultimately?
They were all saved on board the "Carpathia"?
That is right.
And there is no doubt about the numbers the "Carpathia" took?
17347. (The Attorney-General.) No. (To the witness.) Perhaps you can tell me this: Were there any more women on the boat deck at the time your boat was lowered?
- Well, I cannot say; I think there were.
17348. There were some?
- But they would not come in.
17349. Did you hear them asked to come in; did you hear them told to get into the boat?
- Yes; Mr. Lightoller asked if there were any more women.
17350. There were women there, you think?
- I think there were; I am not quite sure, though.
17351. But they would not get into the boat?
17352. At any rate, none came forward to get into the boat?
17353. As I understand, you were there passing them into the boat?
17354. When none came forward the order was given to lower away. Is that right?
17355. Did you notice when you got into the boat and were in the boat before daybreak, any icebergs?
- It was only at daybreak we noticed them.
17356. At daybreak you saw a good deal, did you not?
- And fields of ice.
17358. All round you?
17359. If I understand you aright, whilst you were in the boat, from the time you were in the boat till daybreak, you did not notice any icebergs. Is that right?
- That is right.
17360. And when day broke you saw them all round you?
Well, that is not unimportant.
17361. (The Attorney-General.) I am not quite sure that I understand. You said just now, in answer to a question that I put to you that you saw ice all round when the day broke?
- At daybreak.
17362. So that you had passed it, but had not seen it. Is that what you mean? You had been going through some ice?
- Oh, I do not know. I am only just telling you when we were in the boat.
17363. That is what I am asking about, in the boat; you got into the boat, and you pulled away for some time?
- Towards a light; we got ordered to We got an order from Mr. Lightoller to pull for a light which was on the port bow.
17364. You did pull towards it?
- We tried to get up to it.
17365. But you could not?