British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 16

Testimony of Ernest Gill

Examined by Mr. ROWLATT.

The Attorney-General:
Your Lordship will remember this was the assistant donkeyman of the "Californian," with regard to whom some statement was made by the other Witnesses of the "Californian." The only point was he was referred to as a deserter at Boston. The suggestion at one time was that he had made a statement which was not true in America about the distress signals having been sent up, and there was a suggestion at one time made that in consequence of a story which he had put forward, which would not bear examination, he had deserted the vessel at Boston. It is no longer necessary to clear that up, because Mr. Gill's story, as told in America, has - I do not want to say more than this - been very much confirmed by the evidence which we have put before the Court of the various officers - your Lordship will remember we called a number of them - and also of Gibson, the apprentice; so that it is not necessary now to go into his story, whatever it may be, as your Lordship will see the substance of it is no longer in dispute, and he was fully justified in what he said in America. The Officers have now borne out the substance of his statement.

18129. (Mr. Rowlatt - To the witness.) Ernest Gill, is that your name?
- Yes.

18130. Were you second donkeyman on board the "Californian"?
- Yes.

18131. On April 14th?
- Yes.

18132. Do you remember her being stopped in the ice on that Sunday evening?
- Yes, I was on watch at the time.

18133. How long did you stay on watch?
- Four hours.

18134. When did your watch end?
- 8 to 12 - it finished at 12 o'clock.

18135. Before you went off watch did you see a steamer?
- Yes.

18136. Just tell us what you saw?
- I was coming along the deck to call my mate and looked over the starboard rail and saw a large steamer. It could not have been anything but a passenger boat - she was too large. I could see two rows of lights which I took to be porthole lights, and several groups of lights which I took to be saloon and deck lights. I knew it was a passenger boat. That is all I saw of the ship.

18137. How far off do you judge she was?
- She was a good distance off; I should say not more than 10 miles, and probably less.

18138. Did you notice whether she appeared to be moving?
- I did not stand to look at the ship, but I supposed she would be moving. I did not expect a ship to be lit up like she was and stationary, and nothing to stop her, because I could see the edge of the ice flow, the edge of the field of ice; it appeared to be 4 or 5 miles away.

18139. Could you see the edge?
- Yes.

18140. Between you and the ship?
- Yes, what appeared to be the edge.

18141. Then, I think, you turned in?
- Yes; I went and called my mate first.

18142. (The Commissioner.) I want to understand it. You saw this ship on your starboard side?
- Yes.

18143. You thought she was 10 miles away, or about that?
- She could not be more than that.

18144. And between you, the starboard side of your ship, and this large vessel which you saw, this passenger boat, could you see the edge of what you call the ice-field?
- Well, what appeared to be the edge, Sir. It was darker.

18145. What you took for the edge?
- Yes.

18146. And you thought that was five miles away?
- About that, yes.

18147. So that the ice that you were in - you were in the ice-field at this time?
- Yes.

18148. So that the ice that you were in extended for about five miles on your starboard side?
- About that.

18149. And in the direction of this steamer that you were looking at?
- Yes; the port side, too; there was ice on the port side.

The Commissioner:
Oh, yes, I understand that.

18150. (Mr. Rowlatt - To the witness.) You went and called your mate?
- Yes.

18151. Did you take him up on deck?
- No.

18152. You only talked to him about it?
- Yes.

18153. I do not think it is important to get what you said to him, but shortly after that did you go up on deck again?
- Yes.

18154. And smoked a cigarette?
- Yes.

18155. Did you see the steamer then?
- No, I could not see anything of the steamer at all. She had disappeared. She had either steamed away, or I do not know what she had done. She was not there.

18156. (The Commissioner.) What time was this?
- After one bell.

Mr. Rowlatt:
Between half-past 12 and 1.

The Commissioner:
I do not understand that.

18157. (Mr. Rowlatt.) Did you see anything in the direction where the steamer had been?
- I had pretty nearly finished my smoke and was looking around, and I saw what I took to be a falling star. It descended and then disappeared. That is how a star does fall. I did not pay any attention to that. A few minutes after, probably five minutes, I threw my cigarette away and looked over, and I could see from the water's edge - what appeared to be the water's edge - a great distance away, well, it was unmistakably a rocket; you could make no mistake about it. Whether it was a distress signal or a signal rocket I could not say, but it was a rocket.

18158. Now can you tell me whether that was in the same direction from you as the steamer had been that you had seen?
- It was slightly astern of where I had seen the steamer. The steamer was more than ahead of us, just on our quarter, as we say, and the light was more astern. It was more abeam of our ship.

18159. Do you know whether your ship was lying in the same position on both occasions?
- We were lying there.

18160. Stopped, I know, but do you know whether she had swung at all?
- I could not say; I do not suppose she would stop in the same position all the time; a current was running.

18161. Was the rocket in the same direction as what you thought to be a falling star?
- Yes, in the same direction.

18162. Did you watch for any more?
- I stayed for about 3 or 4 minutes after that, but it was extremely cold, and I was just dressed in a thin flannel suit and I did not care to stay any longer on deck. I went below.

18163. You did not see any more?
- No, no more.

18164. The next thing you know was the morning?
- Yes.

18165. What time were you called in the morning?
- Twenty to 7 - 6.40.

18166. Was the vessel under way then?
- Yes.

18167. You do not know how long she had been under way?
- No.

18168. You were told then to hurry up and assist in getting the boats ready, and so on?
- Yes, the Chief Engineer came.

18169. Were you out of the ice by then?
- Yes, we had cleared the ice. There were some large bergs in the vicinity, but no field ice; we were clear of that.

18170. Then we know you came up with the "Carpathia," and so on. I think you were served with a subpoena in America, were not you?
- Yes.

18171. And was that the reason why you did not get back to the "Californian" before she sailed?
- Yes.

18172. I think you came back by the "Cestrian," the next boat of the same company?
- Yes.

18173. You had no intention of deserting the "Californian"?
- Oh, not a bit, Sir.


18174. As I understand, you came on deck for a moment at midnight and then went to your cabin?
- At midnight? No.

18175. After you went off duty at midnight I understand you went forward to your cabin?
- Yes.

18176. And on your way forward you saw the lights that you have described?
- Yes.

18177. Then did you go to your cabin?
- Yes.

18178. And remain there for some time?
- Yes.

18179. While you were in your cabin did you hear the noise of ice?
- Yes.

18180. What kind of noise was it?
- A grinding noise.

18181. Grinding against your ship's side?
- Yes, I was as close to the ship's side as I am to you; it kept me awake; I could not sleep for it.

18182. Was it a noise of thick field ice?
- No, just a grinding, rubbing noise.

18183. Of field ice that was surrounding you?
- Yes. Supposing somebody was taking a barrel along the road where I was sleeping, and it scraped along the side - that was just the noise. It was not very loud, but just a grinding noise.

18184. Was it thick ice which was around you?
- No.

18185. The ice was sufficient to make a noise to prevent you from sleeping, apparently?
- Yes.

18166. And then you came on deck?
- Yes.

18187. To smoke a cigarette?
- Yes.

18188. And it was while you were smoking a cigarette that you saw what you took to be a rocket?
- Yes, I was certain of it.

18189. Did you mention the fact to anybody?
- Yes, to several people.

18190. At the time did you report this rocket to anyone?
- No, Sir.

18191. Was there anyone on the bridge?
- I could not say, there should be.

18192. Whether anybody else saw that rocket you at that time did not know?
- I do not see how they could help it. There is a look-out man and a Quartermaster, and there is the Officer of the watch. I do not see how they could help but see it.

18193. Did it occur to you that what you saw was something which you ought to report to the Officer who was in charge of your ship?
- No, I had no business to report it.

18194. And after you had finished your cigarette, you went down to your cabin and turned in and slept till you were called the next morning?
- Yes.

18195. You did not attach much importance at the time apparently to what you say you had seen?
- No, not any importance. It was a signal, and other people on the ship, the proper people would attend to that. It was nothing to do with me.

18196. And it was not till after you had heard of the loss of the "Titanic" that it occurred to you that this signal that you had seen might have been of some importance?
- Yes.

18197. And until then you did not mention this signal to anyone on board the ship, did you?
- I did not have the chance.

The Attorney-General:
I do not quite follow. Is it suggested that signals were not sent up?

18198. (Mr. Dunlop.) No, I am not suggesting that. (To the witness.) What I am suggesting is that neither you nor anyone who saw those signals attached at the time any importance to them?
- I do not know whether anybody else did who saw them, but I did not.

The Attorney-General:
What he said was, "It was nothing to do with me."

The Commissioner:
He is a donkeyman, working in the engine room.

18199. (Mr. Dunlop.) Yes; and I suppose interested in rendering assistance. (To the witness.) If there was any chance of earning salvage you, as a donkeyman, would be one of the persons interested?
- Yes, Sir; but that is not the question; we are not talking about salvage.

18200. (The Commissioner.) Have you ever benefited by a salvage action?
- No, Sir.

The Commissioner:
You are living in hopes, I suppose.

18201. (Mr. Dunlop.) You have not taken part in one?
- No.

18202. But I suppose, like all seamen, you are on the outlook to get a bit out of a salvage service if you can render assistance to a vessel in distress?
- In the first place, we have to render the assistance, and what is coming to us afterwards - well, we get it.

18203. When you were lying stationary that night in the ice did you appreciate that you were waiting there till daylight because it was dangerous to proceed through the ice?
- Yes.

18204. And when you went down to your room after 12.30 you thought, I suppose, that your vessel would not get under way until daylight?
- I did not give it a thought.

Examined by Sir ROBERT FINLAY.

18205. You saw the lights of this vessel, if I followed you rightly, on your starboard side?
- Yes, on the starboard side.

18206. When you first saw these lights on your starboard side you had two masthead lights?
- Yes.

18207. Not a sidelight?
- Not steaming lights, not red or green lights, but plenty of sidelights, if you call them sidelights; I mean for illumination.

18208. Was the vessel that carried these lights moving?
- Well, I did not stay long enough to see whether she was moving or in what direction she was going. She was there; she was a ship passing; and I had no interest in her, Merely that she was a ship. She was a big ship, I could see that at a glance; in fact, I did not think she was a British ship; I thought probably she would be a German boat, and I made that remark to my mate as I woke him up.

18209. You could not make out whether she was moving or not?
- No.

18210. (Mr. Dunlop.) There is one question I should have asked, if your Lordship will allow me. (To the witness.) When you saw the lights of this steamer, how was she heading with reference to you; was she heading in the same direction as you were at that time?
- That I could not say; I did not stay long enough to observe which way she was going. No doubt if I had stayed another minute I could have been sure of the direction.

18211. But you have, have you not, stated what the heading of this vessel was when you first saw her?
- Yes, but, of course, they said was she moving. I did not think the ship would be standing still with nothing to stop her.

18212. Have you ever stated that the vessel you saw was heading in the same direction as the "Californian"?
- Yes, I have made that remark.

18213. Is that right or wrong? Do you want to correct it?
- Well, I am not sure whether she was going in that direction or not. On second thoughts I cannot be sure.

18214. On second thoughts you appreciate now that if that other vessel was heading in the same direction as you were she was heading towards Europe?
- Well, I do not know.

18215. Do you think she was heading towards Europe or towards New York?
- I do not know about that. I am not a sailor. I do not know anything about the latitude or longitude. My compass is the steam gauge.

Re-examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.

18216. Have you been seen by the solicitors of the "Californian" since you have been home?
- How do you mean? Will you be more explicit?

18217. I am anxious to understand from you whether since you returned to this country you have made a statement to anybody?
- Yes.

18218. Was that the solicitor representing the owners of the "Californian"?
- No, a Board of Trade Official.

18219. To the Board of Trade?
- Yes, at the wrecks' Office.

18220. That, of course, we know; that is the deposition. Do you mean you have made no other statement?
- None whatever.

18221. And you have not been seen by anybody?
- No.

18222. I am not suggesting there is any harm in it; I only want to know the fact?
- No, I am telling you the truth; you asked me and I am telling you.

18223. You are perfectly right. You are justified in what you have said in America by what has transpired since. I am not going to ask questions, My Lord, in detail about it because your Lordship has the evidence of the "Californian" before you; but I want to say this, so that my friend, Mr. Dunlop, May understand the contention, that I disagree entirely with his observation that, according to the evidence, nobody paid any attention to these rockets. I have the evidence.

The Commissioner:
It is not in accordance with my recollection.

The Attorney-General:
Nor with mine. I only say it so that my friend may not think I am passing it because I admit the statement; I differ entirely from it.

(The Witness withdrew.)