British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 16

Testimony of Joseph B. Ismay

Examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.

18224. Mr. Ismay, are you a member of the firm of Ismay, Imrie and Company; they are the managers of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, Limited?
- Yes.

18225. And that Company was the owner of the "Titanic"?
- Yes.

18226. You are also, I think, Managing director of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, Limited?
- Yes.

18227. I do not want to go in elaborate detail into the constitution of the Company or the American company, but I must ask you just one or two questions so that my Lord may understand how this matter stands. It is a little complicated. But apparently the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, Limited, is an English company, is it not?
- Yes.

18228. With its registered office at Liverpool?
- With its registered office at Liverpool.

18229. And the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company owns all the White Star Line steamers?
- Yes, the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company is the legal name of the Company.

18230. That is the Company, and it owns the vessels which are generally spoken of as the White Star Line?
- Yes.

18231. The White Star Line runs from New York to Liverpool, does it?
- Yes.

18232. And New York to Southampton?
- Yes, and to many other ports as well.

18233. And also from Liverpool to Australia?
- Yes.

18234. And from Liverpool to New Zealand?
- Yes, and to Canada.

18235. I was going to ask about that - and also the mediterranean?
- Yes.

18236. And from Boston to the mediterranean?
- Yes.

18237. And from Montreal to Liverpool?
- Yes.

18238. Then there is the mississippi and Dominion Line. Has that anything to do with the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company?
- No.

18239. That is another?
- It is a separate company altogether.

18240. That is another company controlled by what I may call for convenience, the American Shipping Trust?
- Yes.

18241. Is the International Mercantile marine Company the name of the American company?
- Yes.

18242. What one speaks of for convenience as the American Shipping Trust?
- Yes.

18243. I do not mean to suggest that it is a Trust - there is some objection, I believe, in America to calling it a Trust, but I only want to get the fact so that we may see where we are about it. That is the American company?
- Yes.

18244. Is the share capital of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company held by the American combination?
- Yes.

18245. That I have referred to for convenience to save a long name as the American Trust. Are the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company's shares a most important branch of the American Company's assets?
- Yes.

18246. I think it represents very nearly half the total tonnage controlled by the American Trust?
- Very nearly.

18247. Then the American Trust also controls the mississippi and Dominion Line, does it not?
- Yes.

18248. It runs from Montreal to Liverpool?
- And from Avonmouth to Canada.

18249. Then there is the British North Atlantic?
- Yes.

18250. Does that also run from Liverpool to Canada?
- Yes.

18251. Is that also an English company the shares of which are held by the American Trust?
- Yes.

18252. Then I think there is also the Atlantic Transport Company, is there not?
- Yes.

18253. And are the shares held in the same way by the American Trust?
- Yes.

18254. The Atlantic Transport Company is an English registered company?
- Yes.

18255. And that also runs from London to New York?
- From London to New York and from the Continent to Baltimore and between London and Philadelphia also.

18256. I think, with the exception of some American lines, and one other which I am about to call attention to, the Leyland Line, that represents substantially the shipping controlled by the American Trust, does it not?
- There is the American Line and the Red Star Line.

18257. I said with the exception of the American Lines?
- Yes.

18258. There is one other Company which I must refer to, because it will interest my Lord in reference to this Enquiry; the American Shipping Trust also controls the Leyland Line, does it not?
- It holds a controlling interest in the Leyland Line.

18259. (The Attorney-General.) My Lord, the Leyland Line, you will remember, would be the owners of the "Californian," that is the point of it. (To the witness.) And you have mentioned the Red Star, which was an American Line, which is also owned by the American Trust?
- Yes, the American Line running between Southampton and New York.

18260. (The Commissioner.) How many lines of steamers does the American Trust control?
- Do you mean how many companies, My Lord, or how many different lines?

18261. I mean how many companies altogether - British companies?
- Five, I think it is.

18262. How many American companies does it control?
- Two.

18263. Then the American company holds substantially, though not completely, all the share capital in these different companies?
- Yes, with the exception of the Leyland Line.

18264. You told me they had a controlling interest?
- Yes, there is a controlling interest in the Leyland Line.

The Attorney-General:
In the Leyland Line it is only a controlling interest, as I understand.

The Commissioner:
That is to say, they hold the majority of the shares.

18265. (The Attorney-General.) That is it, My Lord. (To the witness.) Does the tonnage of these vessels owned or controlled by the American Trust in the way you have described represent about a million tons altogether?
- I think it is rather less than a million tons, but very nearly a million tons.

18266. In round figures it is a million tons?
- Yes, in round figures it is a million tons.

18267. But the White Star Line and these other vessels which are owned originally by British companies still run under the British flag, do they not?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
They are registered, I suppose?

The Attorney-General:
They are registered as belonging to the English company. The only point of that is, that it is not the Company but the shares of the Company that are held by the trust.

The Commissioner:
Although these ships, including the "Titanic," are registered under the British flag, they are in fact American property?

The Witness:
A certain amount of the stock in the International Maritime Company is held in this country, but to what extent I have not the slightest idea.

18268. But the American company, as I understand, is an American company constituted according to the laws of America.

The Attorney-General:
Your Lordship is perfectly right in the questions you have put, with this qualification, that a number of the shares in the American company are held by persons in this country who I suppose were the original owners of shares in the various English companies.

The Witness:
Very likely so.

18269. (The Commissioner.) Some of the shares may be owned by Frenchmen, I suppose?
- Certainly.

18270. I should like you to tell me what is the object of an American company managing its affairs through the English Laws affecting English companies; why do they do it?
- I am afraid I cannot answer that question, My Lord.

18271. I should think you ought to know. You know that in substance the "Titanic" was an American-owned ship?
- That is true.

18272. In substance, and I want to know why an American company should manage its ships, or why it registers its ships under english management or under the English flag?
- Those ships could not be registered under the American flag.

18273. Why not?
- Because the ships are built, I suppose, in this country.

18274. Then according to the laws of America can no ship that is not American-built be registered there?
- No; you cannot register a foreign ship; you cannot get the American flag for a foreign-built ship. She must be built in the country.

18275. Now, will you tell me where the business of this American company is transacted; is it in New York, or in London, or Liverpool, or in Southampton?
- I am president of the American company, and it is worked in Liverpool; we have a committee in London, a British committee.

18276. And there are no American gentlemen on the board?
- In America, yes; there is a Board of Directors in America. The Chairman of the board of Directors is an American, and there are a great many Americans on the board, and English people.

18277. (The Attorney-General.) I suppose it works out in this way, that the shares are held by the English company, and the ship is registered in consequence as a British ship?
- Yes.

18278. Then the shares in the company which owns the ship are the shares which are held by the American Trust?
- That is true.

18279. Now, I want you just to tell me about the building of the "Olympic" and the "Titanic," two sister vessels. I am not going to ask you the details of the construction, I am going to keep that for skilled Witnesses, and those who have had more to do with it and who know - but generally speaking, first of all, have you any financial interest by way of shareholding or otherwise in the firm of Harland and Wolff?
- Absolutely none.

18280. Or any of those which take an active part in the management of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company?
- I do not quite follow you there. For instance, Lord Pirrie, who is a Director of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, is also a Director of Harland and Wolff, but he is the only gentleman that has an interest in both the Company and the shipbuilding yard.

18281. That is what I thought. Now one other general question with regard to the construction of vessels by Harland and Wolff; are they constructed under contract at a lump sum in the ordinary course, or are they constructed at cost price plus a percentage?
- Cost price, plus a percentage. We build no ships by contract at all.

18282. So that what it amounts to, if I follow you correctly, is, that there is no limit placed by you upon the cost of the vessel?
- Absolutely none. All we ask them to do is to produce us the very finest ship they possibly can; the question of money has never been considered at all.

18283. Do you give your orders for the construction of a vessel in writing?
- Yes.

18284. Then substantially it is as you say?
- We simply pass a letter between us. Messrs. Harland and Wolff would write us a letter, and we would confirm it.

18285. To the effect that you are to pay them a certain commission or percentage upon the cost price?
- Yes, that is referred to in the letter.

18286. And is that the system practically upon which Messrs. Harland and Wolff have constructed your steamers for the White Star Line?
- Yes, practically the whole fleet has been built upon those terms.

18287. And the "Olympic" and "Titanic" were both built upon those terms?
- Exactly.

18288. The plans would be drawn and submitted, of course, to you or your company?
- Yes, and discussed between us and then settled on.

18289. Will you give me approximately what the cost of the "Titanic" was?
- A million and a half sterling.

18290. Now you were on board the "Titanic" on this voyage?
- I was.

18291. You sailed in her as a passenger?
- I did.

18292. You joined her first, I think, at Southampton?
- Yes.

18293. Then you went to Cherbourg, and from Cherbourg to queenstown?
- Yes.

18294. As we know, she left Queenstown on the 11th April?
- Yes.

18295. She carried mails as well as passengers?
- Yes.

18296. That was under contract which you had with the British Government?
- Yes.

18297. That contract is, of course, in writing?
- Yes.

18298. Can you produce it?
- I have not got it here, but it can be produced.

18299. I am not asking you for it at the present moment, but you will produce it for inspection either by the Court or by anyone who is interested in the Enquiry represented here who thinks it may be of value?
- Yes.

18300. I only want to ask you one question with reference to it. Under that contract are you bound to keep up a certain rate of speed?
- No.

18301. What I wanted to know was whether there was any such condition in the contract that your vessels must be constructed to steam at 20 knots or anything of that kind?
- That I am not quite clear about. There is some reference in the contract. I think we are allowed to run a ship with mails even at 18 knots.

18302. I think you said in America 16, but we will look at the contract and see how that is?
- It is down in writing.

18303. But the substance of it is that you are not bound to proceed at any rate at anything like the speed at which your vessels can go?
- No, there is no penalty for not making a certain speed; in other words, we get paid a lump sum.

18304. Now, on Sunday, the 14th April, do you remember dining in the evening?
- I do.

18305. With the Doctor?
- Yes.

18306. On this very fateful day?
- Yes.

18307. Did the Captain dine with you?
- He did not.

18308. (The Attorney-General.) My Lord, you appreciate why I ask that?
- The Doctor dined with me; there was nobody else at our table.

18309. But the Captain was in the restaurant dining, I think, with somebody else?
- Yes, I believe he was; in fact, I know he was.

18310. At all events, you say he was not dining with you that evening?
- No, I never spoke to him at all; I had nothing to do with him at all.

18311. You were a passenger on the vessel, but I suppose you travelled as a passenger because of your interest in the vessel and in the company which owned it?
- Naturally I was interested in the ship.

18312. I mean, you had nothing to do in New York; you travelled because you wanted to make the first passage on the "Titanic"?
- Partly; but I can always find something to do.

18313. I mean to say, you were not travelling in the "Titanic" because you wanted to go to New York, but because you wanted to travel upon the maiden trip of the "Titanic"?
- Yes.

18314. Because in your capacity as managing director or as President of the American Trust you desired also to see how the vessel behaved, I suppose?
- Naturally.

18315. And to see whether anything occurred in the course of the voyage which would lead to suggestions from you or from anybody?
- We were building another new ship, and we naturally wanted to see how we could improve on our existing ships.

18316. That was the real object of your travelling on the "Titanic"?
- And to observe the ship.

18317. What I want to put to you is that you were not there as an ordinary passenger?
- So far as the navigation of the ship was concerned, yes.

18318. That I will ask you some questions later on about. I am not suggesting that you controlled the navigation, but what I suggest to you is that it would not be right to describe you as really travelling on that ship as an ordinary passenger, because of the interest you had in the "Titanic," and because of your natural watchfulness as to the behaviour of the "Titanic" on her first voyage?
- I looked upon myself simply as an ordinary passenger.

18319. You have told us in what capacity you were travelling across the Atlantic?
- Yes.

18320. (The Commissioner.) Did you pay your fare?
- No, I did not.

18321. (The Attorney-General.) You recognise, do you not, that my Lord's question is one which rather disposes of the ordinary passenger theory, does it not; however, I will not press it?
- I think if I had crossed on any other ship going across the Atlantic, I should have travelled exactly on the same terms.

18322. (The Commissioner.) If you had travelled in a Cunarder you would not have paid?
- No.

18323. (The Attorney-General.) Now I think we understand what you mean when you say you were travelling as a passenger. Now on this day, on the 14th, did you get information from the Captain of ice reports?
- The Captain handed me a Marconi message which he had received from the "Baltic" on the Sunday.

18324. He handed you the actual message as it was delivered to him from the "Baltic"?
- Yes.

18325. Do you remember at what time it was?
- I think it was just before lunch.

18326. On the Sunday?
- Yes, on the Sunday.

The Attorney-General:
Your Lordship remembers the message from the "Baltic." I am going to hand up to you a little later a document which gives the messages in their proper order of dates, but this is the one I am referring to now - I will read it. It is sent at 11.52 a.m. to Captain Smith, "Titanic": "Have had moderate, variable winds and clear, fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer 'Athenai' reports passing icebergs and large quantity of field ice today in latitude 41.51 N., longitude 49.52 W." If your Lordship will take this list you will see how convenient it is (Handing up a copy.) We will have some more printed to hand up to the assessors.

The Commissioner:
Yes, it would be very convenient for all my colleagues to have a copy of this before them.

The Attorney-General:
Yes; we have got them printed. Strictly speaking, of course, we shall have to prove these, and they will be proved. If your Lordship will look at page 2, or, perhaps, it would be better if you will look at page 1 first to see how this is compiled. First of all, you have the copies of messages received by the "Titanic" between midnight of the 11th April, 1912, up to the 14th of April, 10.25 New York time, when her distress signals were first received. That is what I said we would have done before we adjourned. If your Lordship will look at page 2 you will see the message of the "Baltic" in the middle. It is referred to as the message book No. 77. You see it is to "Captain Smith, 'Titanic.'" You have it, no doubt.

The Commissioner:

The Attorney-General:
That is the one which contains a further reference after the figure which I just gave you, "Greek steamer 'Athenai' reports passing icebergs and large quantity of field ice today in latitude 41.51 N., longitude 49.52 W. Last night we spoke German Oil Tank 'Deutschland,' Stettin to Philadelphia. Not under control. Short of coal, latitude 40.42 N., longitude 55.11." Now if your Lordship would like to complete this whilst you have got it before you, you will find, if you turn to the bottom of page 4 of the same document, the answer, "Time received 12.55 p.m. To Commander of 'Baltic.' Thanks for your message and good wishes. Had fine weather since leaving - Smith." Your Lordship will recollect that both these messages are said to be New York time. According to the description we have got here of the message sent and the message received, that is according to the evidence you have already got from the marconi Company, New York time.

The Commissioner:
I have got it marked in my own note that the message was sent out by the "Baltic" at 3.19.

The Attorney-General:
I think that is too late. You say, sent out by the "Baltic."

The Commissioner:

The Attorney-General:
That would be too late; it must be rather before two, anything from one to before two.

The Commissioner:
Two o'clock. Your opening was not quite in accordance with what we know today.

The Attorney-General:
The statement in the affidavit, I agree, is not quite the same as we have now got it.

The Commissioner:
There is a substantial difference.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, we know the facts now.

The Commissioner:
I rather gathered from the Solicitor-General's examination that the difference was of no consequence, but it seems to me to make a substantial difference. There was only one message from the "Baltic."

The Attorney-General:
That is all as far as we know, and we have been examining into it because of what was said originally by the Captain of the "Baltic" upon affidavit, upon which the statement was made if your Lordship remembers.

The Commissioner:
However, this is the printed message in this document.

18327. (The Attorney-General.) Yes, that is quite right. I rather think my learned friend did say something with regard to it. He agreed that it made a difference, of course, because it did not agree with the statement in the affidavit, and we mentioned that we would enquire into it, and we have got it now. Of course, there is the message, and, as you will appreciate, we attribute very great importance to that particular message; we think it is of very great importance. (To the witness.) Now what I want to understand from you is this - that message was handed to you by Captain Smith, you say?
- Yes.

18328. Handed to you because you were the managing director of the company?
- I do not know; it was a matter of information.

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