British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 15

Testimony of Frederick Fleet, cont.

17366. It was a white light, was it not. Then, when you were pulling towards that light you did not see any ice. Is that right?
- That is right.

17367. But when the day did break you found that there was ice, if I understand you aright?
- All round us.

17368. Not only in front of you, but all round?
- All round the horizon like.

17369. (The Commissioner.) And icebergs?
- Yes.

17370. (The Attorney-General.) Icebergs and field ice. There is only one other question I want to put to you; When you were in the "Oceanic" and employed there as the look-out, did you have glasses?
- Yes.

17371. Glasses provided for you in the crow's-nest?
- Yes; every trip.

17372. Were they kept in the crow's-nest?
- No; at the end of the voyage we took them back to the second Officer.

17373. But whilst on the voyage they were kept somewhere in the crow's-nest?
- Yes, in a bag.

17374. Did you ask for glasses?
- I did not, but Symons did.

17375. You had better tell us what he said?
- He said there were none aboard for us, intended for us.

17376. There was a locker there for glasses, was not there?
- Yes, in the nest.

Examined by Mr. SCANLAN.

17377. I understand you had glasses in the crow's-nest during the journey from Belfast to Southampton?
- Yes.

17378. Were those glasses marked in any special way?
- It had on one side of it, "Second Officer," and on the other, s.s. "Titanic."

17379. Were those taken from you at Southampton?
- Yes.

17380. Will you tell me how long have you been of the rank of look-out; how long you have held that position?
- About four years. All the time I was in the "Oceanic."

17381. The only boats on which you have been a look-out man are the "Oceanic" and the "Titanic"?
- Yes, that is all.

17382. Is it your evidence that on every trip on the "Oceanic" you had glasses?
- Every trip.

17383. Now, I want you to go back for a moment to the appearance of this iceberg when you first saw it. When you first saw it, did it appear as a very small object?
- A small object.

In giving evidence in America as to this -

17384. (The Commissioner.) Did you call it a small object?
- I said it was the size of a small table.

Mr. Scanlan:
He gave a description of it in America, which I am anxious to bring to your Lordship's notice.

The Commissioner:
Quite right.

Mr. Scanlan:
I will read to you the evidence which you gave in America, and you can just tell me if it is correct?

Sir Robert Finlay:
What day?

17385. (Mr. Scanlan.) It is the 24th April: - "(Senator Burton.) You say when you first saw that iceberg that it was about the size of these two tables"?
- That is right; that is the way I put it.

The Commissioner:
We have not got the tables here.

17386. (Mr. Scanlan.) We have plenty of tables, My Lord. (To the witness.) When Senator Burton was asking you that question, were there two small tables in the room?
- The two tables were in the room, which I mentioned to him.

17387. Were the two tables in the room any bigger than those (Pointing.)?
- I do not know.

17388. At all events, is it correct to say when you first saw this iceberg it appeared to be very small. Is that so?
- [No Answer.]

The Commissioner:
Did he give any answer to the question?

Mr. Scanlan:
I do not think he has, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Very well, I am quite satisfied to leave it where it is.

The Attorney-General:
There was an eloquent look - I do not know whether your Lordship caught that.

The Commissioner:
What was the look? What was it, Mr. Scanlan?

Mr. Scanlan:
This is the question -

The Commissioner:
Yes, I heard the question; I heard no answer, and I am now told that, in place of an answer, there was an eloquent look. Did you see the eloquent look?

17389. (Mr. Scanlan.) I did not, My Lord. I have not as good an eye as the Attorney-General. (To the witness.) If it is not troubling you too much, Mr. Fleet, would you tell his Lordship this; when you first saw the iceberg, the first sight of it you caught at the distance you were from it, did it appear as a very small object?
- Yes.

17390. Was this a good night for seeing; would you describe it as a clear night, or a night in which it was difficult to see?
- It was not difficult at all.

One of the Officers who was on the bridge up till 10 o'clock, said this. He was asked this question: "Then you both realised at the time, that since it was a flat calm it would be more difficult to see the ice? - (A.) As far as the case of the berg was concerned, yes, it would be more difficult; naturally you would not see the water breaking on it if there were no wind." Was it an ordinary clear night, or did you experience some difficulty as look-out man?

The Commissioner:
He has just said he experienced no difficulty. He has told us so several times, you know.

17391. (Mr. Scanlan.) Yes, My Lord. (To the witness.) Could you see water breaking on the iceberg when you noticed it?
- No.

17392. I think you said when you were being examined that you said to your mate Lee that there was a slight haze coming?
- Yes.

17393. I want to make this perfectly clear. Is it your evidence that there was a haze that night?
- No, there was not. I said there was a slight haze.

Could you recall now how long you had observed the haze before -

The Commissioner:
He told us once that he could not.

Mr. Scanlan:
He was asked, I think, how long after he came on the watch.

The Commissioner:
He was asked by the Attorney-General, and he told us that he could not; and as I myself have very grave doubts about there being a haze at all, I can understand his having a difficulty in saying how long before the collision it was that he saw it.

Mr. Scanlan:
As your Lordship made that observation in reference to the haze, I thought I might refer your Lordship to the evidence of Mr. Symons, at page 268.

The Commissioner:
By all means.

17394. (Mr. Scanlan.) The question was asked by Mr. Laing, at Question 11983. (To the witness.) You know George Symons; you know Symons was also a look-out man?
- Yes.

He was asked: "While you were on the look-out up to 10 o'clock, what sort of a night was it? - (A.) Pretty clear, Sir; a fine night, rather hazy; if anything, a little hazy on the horizon, but nothing to speak of."

The Commissioner:
Then the next question.

17395. (Mr. Scanlan.) "Would you describe it as a very clear night? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) With stars? - (A.) Yes." Do you agree with this description of the night - "fine night, rather hazy; if anything a little hazy on the horizon."

The Witness:
Not when I went on the look-out; it was not hazy.

17396. But when the haze did come was it like that?
- A slight haze.

17397. And did it extend right round the horizon?
- No.

17398. It did not extend all round?
- No.

17399. Was it right in front of you?
- Right in front.

17400. (The Commissioner.) I understand you to say two points on each bow?
- Two points on each bow; that is in front.

17401. (Mr. Scanlan.) Do you think if you had had glasses you could have seen the iceberg sooner?
- Certainly.

17402. How much sooner do you think you could have seen it?
- In time for the ship to get out of the way.

17403. So that it is your view that if you had had glasses it would have made all the difference between safety and disaster?
- Yes.

17404. (The Commissioner.) Would it depend upon whether you had the glasses up to your eyes, or not? I suppose having the glasses in the box would not have been any good to you?
- When I have to keep a sharp look-out I have the glasses in my hand, if there are any there, till my watch is finished.

17405. Glasses in your hand will not help you to see anything unless you had them up to your eyes?
- I put the glasses before my eyes. I pick things out on the horizon with the glasses.

Mr. Scanlan:
Is it your experience on vessels where you have had glasses that the glasses enabled you to pick out objects more quickly than you would have done with the naked eye?

The Commissioner:
No doubt; that is his evidence, at all events.

17406. (Mr. Scanlan.) You were told when you went on watch that you had to keep a sharp look-out. In these circumstances, if there had been glasses in the crow's-nest would you have used them?
- Yes.

17407. Constantly?
- Yes.

17408. After all, you are the man who discovered the iceberg?
- Yes.

17409. (The Commissioner.) Did you know at the time you went into the crow's-nest, which was at 10 o'clock that night, that there were no glasses in the box or bag? Did you know that?
- I knew that as soon as we left Southampton.

17410. And you knew it when you went into the crow's-nest at 10 o'clock the night of the 14th April?
- Yes.

17411. You also knew that you were to keep a look-out for ice; who told you that?
- Symons.

17412. Did you say at the time, "But we have got no glasses"?
- No, I did not; he knew we had none.

17413. Do not you think, if it was necessary to have glasses in order to do what you were told to do, to keep a sharp look-out, you should go to the bridge or telephone to the bridge and say, "I am told to keep a sharp look-out, and I have not got any glasses"?
- They would know that.

17414. But did not you call their attention to it?
- No. I did not.

17415. (Mr. Scanlan.) On that point did you report or did one of your mates report in Southampton that there were no glasses in the crow's-nest?
- Symons went up, and asked Mr. Lightoller.

The Commissioner:
I know that; I have heard that already.

17416. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) Were you told when this report was made on the absence of glasses that there were none intended for the look-out?
- Yes, they told us that, or told Symons that, and he told us.

17417. Was that what was conveyed to you?
- Yes.

17418. Then you had to accept that as the provision of the ship?
- That is it.

17419. If you had complained would you have got yourself into trouble with your superior Officers?
- No, I should have been told the same, I suppose.

17420. Have your eyes been tested?
- I got tested at Washington in the marine Hospital lately, while I have been at Washington.

17421. That is since the accident?
- Yes.

17422. (The Commissioner.) Were your eyes all right?
- Yes.

The Attorney-General:
I think they were tested before.

17423. (The Commissioner.) But you have had your eyes tested since the accident?
- Yes.

17424. And they have been found all right?
- Yes.

17425. (Mr. Scanlan.) When were your eyes tested before the accident?
- I do not know; it may have been a couple of years or a year.

17426. When were they tested, and where?
- Southampton, by the Board of Trade.

17427. When this test was made by the Board of Trade, was it made by a doctor?
- Oh, I do not know; it got done by the Board of Trade; I do not know who it was through.

The Commissioner:
I should have thought that any person who knew how to do it could easily test eyesight. I daresay you know how it is done?

Mr. Scanlan:
There is some importance attaching to this, because there is a Rule of the Board of Trade about this.

The Commissioner:
What is it?

Mr. Scanlan:
I understand that a test is supposed to be made, but I am told it is not invariably carried out, and I am instructed to direct your Lordship’s attention to it in connection with the Rules, and I thought it would be a convenient part of the examination to do so.

The Commissioner:

17428. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) Now I want to ask you this question. Before you left the “Titanic” did you observe the lights of any ship in your neighbourhood?
- Well, there was a light on the port bow.

17429. Did you see this light on the port bow before you left the crow’s -nest?
- No, it must have been about 1 o’clock.

Did you observe it before you left the “Titanic”?

17430. (The Commissioner.) He says he saw it at 1 o’clock. (To the witness.) When did you leave the “Titanic” - at what time?
- I think I got into the water in the boat about 1 o’clock.

17431. And it was about that time that you saw this light?
- Or just a little before it - about that time.

17432. (Mr. Scanlan.) Will you describe to my Lord the kind of light it was?
- A white light.

17433. (The Commissioner.) What did you think it was?
- I had no idea; I just saw a light, that is all.

17434. You did not know whether it was a masthead light or a stern light, or what it was?
- No.

17435. Did you know it was the light of some ship?
- Yes.

17436. (Mr. Scanlan.) During this last watch of yours on the “Titanic” from 10 to 12, did you hear at any time from the bridge, or get any advice from the bridge about the look-out you were to keep?
- No.

17437. Or about ice being expected?
- No. The only order we got was from Symons, to keep a sharp look-out.

17438. The only order you got was an order which had been passed along to you by the look-out men whom you relieved?
- That is all.

Examined by Mr. COTTER.

17439. In your four years’ experience on the “Oceanic” did you ever see ice at any time?
- No.

17440. You could form no judgment how far you could see an iceberg?
- No.

Examined by Sir ROBERT FINLAY.

17441. You have been asked as to what Symons said about the night. Will you listen to this question. It follows after the one which was read to you. It is on page 268, Question 11987. It is about the glasses. This is the question put to Symons about the glasses: “If you were on the look-out on a fine clear night, would you rather trust to the eye than a binocular to pick up anything? - (A.) Yes; you use your own eyes as regards the picking up anything, but you want the glasses then to make certain of that object.” Do you agree to that?
- Yes.

17442. That is right: For picking up anything would you trust to the eyes, and then having picked it up -?
- You look with glasses to make sure.

17443. Then as regards picking up an iceberg or anything else, you would pick it up with the naked eye at first?
- That is all we had to do that night - use our eyes.

17444. Yes, but do not you see -?
- I see what you mean.

17445. Do you agree with this. This is what Symons says: “You use your own eyes as regards the picking up anything, but you want the glasses then to make certain of that object.” Do you agree with that?
- Yes.

17446. On the White Star Line I think they have special look-out men?
- Special?

17447. Yes?
- I do not know.

17448. You were one of them, were you not?
- Yes.

17449. You signed on as a look-out man?
- Yes, I signed on as a look-out man.

17450. I mean that is your work?
- Yes.

17451. That is the practice on the White Star Line, is it not?
- Yes, that is it.

17452. To have special look-out men. Do you know whether it is the practice on other lines?
- I do not know; it is the only company I have been on the look-out.

The Attorney-General:
They sign on as look-out men.

17453. (Sir Robert Finlay.) Yes, for that purpose. (To the witness.) Now, with regard to this light which you saw when you put off from the ship, had you any doubt that that was a ship’s light?
- I could not tell what it was; it might have been a sailing ship or it might have been a steamer.

17454. (The Commissioner.) Was it a ship’s light?
- Yes.

17455. (Sir Robert Finlay.) You are quite clear about that?
- Yes.

17456. You were rowing towards it?
- Yes.

How came the two men to get into your boat?

The Commissioner:
(To the witness) Two men passengers were in your boat, you know.

17457. (Sir Robert Finlay.) How came they to get in?
- One man we found out afterwards was underneath the thwarts. The major got into the boat as we were in line with the square ports; he came down the life -line.

17458. We have heard that Major Peuchen was ordered in by Mr. Lightoller?
- Yes.

17459. And he came down in the way you have described?
- Yes.

17460. Were any women left behind who were willing to go?
- I could not say.

17461. Were there any women on deck when you left?
- I think there were.

17462. Were they willing to go into the boat?
- I could not say. Mr. Lightoller sang out for more women and none seemed to come.

17463. None came?
- None came.

17464. You did not leave behind any women who wanted to get into the boat I suppose?
- [No Answer.]

17465. I understood you to say some time ago the women on the deck refused to get in?
- I did not say refused.

17466. Well I thought you did?
- Did you?

Would not get in. What. did you say to it? I want to understand.

The Commissioner:
As far as I am concerned you need not trouble him with any more questions.

17467. (Sir Robert Finlay.) I am obliged to your Lordship. (To the witness.) Now just one or two questions with regard to the iceberg. Did you describe it when you gave evidence in the United States, on the other side of the water, as a black mass when you saw it?
- Yes.

17468. And did you say that you estimated that it was 50 or 60 feet above the water?
- Did I say that? No, I said it was little higher than the forecastle head when he asked me that.

17469. I will just read you what you said on 23rd April, at page 16, about it. “I reported an iceberg right ahead, a black mass.” Is that right?
- Yes, that is right.

17470. And then on page 18 - this is also on the 23rd April - this question is put to you: “How large did it get to be finally when it struck the ship”? - that is the iceberg. “(A.) When we were alongside it was a little bit higher than the forecastle head. (Q.) The forecastle head is how high above the waterline? - (A.) Fifty feet, I should say. (Q.) About fifty feet? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) So that this black mass, when it finally struck the boat, turned out to be about fifty feet above the water? - (A.) About fifty or sixty. (Q.) Fifty or sixty feet above the water? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) And when you first saw it it looked no larger than these two tables? - (A.) No, Sir.” Was that about the height, as far as you can judge?
- [No Answer.]

The Commissioner:
I think we can form our own opinion as to the height of it; obviously it must have been above the forecastle head because ice fell from it on to the forecastle.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes, My Lord.

The Attorney-General:
Higher than the forecastle, and lower than the crow’s -nest.

17471. (Sir Robert Finlay.) As your Lordship points out, it must have been higher than 55 feet; how much higher we do not know. (To the witness.) Did you notice where the blow was struck, where the “Titanic” was struck? You said on the starboard bow?
- Just before the foremast.

The Commissioner:
That means just in front, on the starboard side of the crow’s -nest?

17472. (Sir Robert Finlay.) Yes, My Lord, exactly. (To the witness.) Did the “Titanic” answer the helm, going to port, while you were still at the telephone?
- I do not know.

17473. Well, just let me recall to your memory what you appear to have said in America. On the 23rd April, at page 18, you are asked this: “Do you know whether her engines were reversed?” That is the “Titanic’s” engines. You say, “Well, she started to go to port while I was at the telephone. (Q.) She started to go to port? - (A.) Yes; the wheel was put to starboard. (Q.) How do you know that? - (A.) My mate saw it and told me. He told me he could see the bow coming round.” Is that right, that the ship was going round to port while you were still at the telephone?
- Yes.

17474. And then the same thing on the 24th April, page 3, “Did you notice how quickly they turned the course of the boat after you sounded the gongs? - No, Sir; they did not do it until I went to the telephone. While I was at the telephone the ship started to move.” That means to answer her helm to answer the starboard helm and turn to port?
- Yes.

17475. There is only one other matter. Do you remember any conversation with Mr. Lightoller about the look-out and seeing the berg. Just let me read you what Mr. Lightoller said. It is page 343, My Lord. Mr. Lightoller is asked this at Question 14884: “Did you have any talk with Fleet, the look-out man? - (A.) On the “Carpathia”? (Q.) Yes? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) He has not been called yet, but you might tell us what he said? - (A.) I asked him what he knew about the accident, and induced him to explain the circumstances. He went on to say that he had seen the iceberg so far ahead. I particularly wanted to know how long after he struck the bell the ship’s head moved, and he informed me that practically at the same time that he struck the bell he noticed the ship’s head moving under the helm. (Q.) That is what you told us before? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) Did he tell you anything else? - (A.) With regard to distance? (Q.) No, with regard to weather or conditions? - (A.) Oh, yes. He said it was clear. (Q.) That is really what I wanted to know.- (A.) Oh, yes. (Q.) Did he say anything about haze? - (A.) No, he never said anything about haze. (Q.) He never complained about haze, or anything of that sort? - (A.) No.” Is that right?
- Well, I am not going to tell him my business. It is my place in Court to say that, not to him.

17476. (The Commissioner.) You really do not understand. That gentleman is not trying to get round you at all?
- But some of them are, though.

The Commissioner:
They are not, indeed. I can see you think most of us are, but we are not. We only want to get from you your own story. We want nothing else.

17477. (Sir Robert Finlay.) You know Mr. Lightoller?
- Certainly I do.

17478. Did you have any conversation with him?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
That is all we want to know.

Mr. Harbinson:
There are a couple of questions suggested by Sir Robert Finlay’s examination I should like to put.

Examined by Mr. HARBINSON.

17479. Did I understand rightly that when you left the boat deck there were some women left behind on the boat deck?
- [No Answer.]

The Witness:
(After a pause.) Is there any more likes to have a go at me?

The Commissioner:
Well, I rather sympathise with him. Do you want to ask him anything more?

The Attorney-General:
Oh, no.

The Witness:
A good job, too.

17480. (The Commissioner.) I am much obliged to you. I think you have given your evidence very well, although you seem to distrust us all.

The Witness:
Thank you.

(The Witness withdrew.)