British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 29

Final Arguments, cont.

Mr. Holmes:
My Lord, in addressing you on behalf of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild and the Officers of the "Titanic" and the relatives of the deceased Officers, with the exception of the Master, I hope that I shall be able by my brevity to maintain the character for considerateness that you were good enough to give me last week.

So far as the general character of the Officers is concerned, I think your Lordship and the Court will be satisfied that it is of the very highest nature. They were men in whom their employers, through long experience, had placed every confidence; they were men, as Captain Bartlett described them, the pick of the service; with the exception of two of them, they all held extra masters' certificates, which is the highest rank to which they can attain in their profession, and I shall ask you, on the evidence as a whole, to come to the conclusion that they behaved themselves in an emergency of a terrible nature, an emergency whose nature they must have realised far more than the other people on board, in a manner worthy of the best traditions of the British Mercantile Marine and of the pluck and resourcefulness of British seamen.

The Attorney-General, in his opening said, and the questions bear it out, that there is no question, at all events, so far as the surviving Officers are concerned, which would call upon your Lordship to deal with any certificates in this case; but there have been some suggestions made - not serious ones, but which I think are capable of perfectly good explanation, to the detriment of the Officers.

Now the first one is in connection with the lowering of the boats, which we have already heard something about this morning. It is quite true that a large number of the boats were lowered without their full complement of passengers, and there are, I think, three explanations, any one of which alone is sufficient to justify the course that was adopted; but all three taken together are an ample justification. The first one was that given by Mr. Lightoller, that he thought there was a danger of the boats buckling. According to the evidence of the constructors and builders that turns out to have been a mistaken apprehension on his part, but I do submit that it was a perfectly natural mistake for anyone to make. You have boats 30 feet long suspended by falls from the extreme ends, with a heavy weight of 60 to 65 people, and the certainty is that none of those Officers had ever before had to lower a boat full of people, and I do not suppose there are a dozen Officers in the merchant service who have ever had practical experience of lowering a boat from a ship's side full of people. There is, further, ample evidence that a large number of people refused to go into the boats. And not only is there the case of wives who refused to leave their husbands, but, at all events, one-third class steward who informed us that he had conducted large numbers on to the deck said that, as he came up with the parties, there were large numbers returning, some of them, I think he said, even going back to their bunks.

The Commissioner:
Just give me that reference.

Mr. Holmes:
It is at page 209, Question 9924. It starts with a repetition of the previous question: "(Q.) Pass the women and children up to the boat deck? - (A.) Yes, those that were willing to go to the boat deck were shown the way. Some were not willing to go to the boat deck, and stayed behind. Some of them went to the boat deck, and found it rather cold, and saw the boats being lowered away, and thought themselves more secure on the ship, and consequently returned to their cabin."

The Commissioner:
That, I expect, refers to women.

Mr. Holmes:
"(Q.) You say they thought themselves more secure on the ship. Did you hear any of them say so. - (A.) Yes, I heard two or three say they preferred to remain on the ship than be tossed about on the water like a cockleshell."

The Commissioner:
Very well.

Mr. Holmes:
To counteract that it has been suggested that the passengers should all have been informed that within a very short time the ship was going to the bottom. I suggest to your Lordship that is a consideration which is almost ridiculous. There would inevitably have been a panic of the most terrible nature. The probability is that not one of those boats would have been lowered into the water at all and there would have been people falling overboard or the boats might have been capsized before ever they reached the water. As it is, we have had Mr. Lowe's evidence that he had to fire his revolver on one occasion to keep the people back from the boat, and one other man did say that there were people hanging on to the falls, which made it desirable to get the boats out in a hurry.

The third justification for the lowering of the boats without their full complement was the anxiety to get them waterborne and to fill up afterwards from the gangway doors. That has been referred to by Mr. Scanlan in his address, and I will just refer again to one question in Mr. Lightoller's evidence, Question 14230, at page 323. Mr. Scanlan asked him: "But it did occur to both of you? - (A.) It came to both our minds, and naturally anyone familiar with the ship, any seaman, anyone attached to the ship, would know at once that was the best means of putting the people into the boat - by the gangway doors." Again, on page 332, at Question 14491, he said, in answer to your Lordship: "(The Commissioner.) There are two or three other matters about the boats I should like to ask a question on. (To the Witness.) I want to know whether you knew that those boats were not intended to be lowered full of people. Did you know that? - (A.) We have no instructions to that effect, my Lord, but I knew that it was not practicable to lower them full of people. (Q.) Had you any reason to suppose that they were weaker than they should have been? - (A.) No. I have not had much experience with these Engelhardt collapsible boats. (Q.) I am not talking about collapsible boats merely, but the lifeboats? - (A.) I should not think they were capable of being lowered full of people. They may be. I have never seen them full of people, but if they are only supposed to carry 65 people, afloat, it hardly seems feasible that they would carry 65 people when suspended at each end. It does not seem seamanlike to fill a boat chock full of people when it is only suspended at each end. It is to guard principally against accidents in lowering. That must be taken into consideration a very great deal - the fact that you have to lower a boat from a great height and get her safely into the water. It is of more importance to get the boat into the water than it is to actually fill her at the boat deck, because it is no use filling her if you are going to lose those people before you get her down; it is far better to save a few and safely. (Mr. Scanlan.) Do you think you could have filled the boat still more in the water? - (A.) Undoubtedly.(Q.) If your organisation had been complete? - (A.) I do not see the organisation would have prevented the ship sinking. (Q.) I know it would not? - (A.) It was that that prevented us putting the people in." Then there is a remark by your Lordship. "What occurs to me about that, Mr. Scanlan, is this, that the order was, and I suppose quite a proper order, that women and children were to go first. Now it appears to me that you might have great difficulty indeed in putting the women and children down a rope ladder hanging from these gangway doors. That might be a very difficult thing to do."

The Commissioner:
In point or fact, not a single person was put into the boats from the gangway doors.

Mr. Holmes:
I am coming to that, my Lord, in a moment. The plan adopted was that all the women in sight on every occasion were got into the boats, and then the boats were lowered away. That is borne out to a great extent by the boat list. If you look at the numbers of passengers in the boats which were not full, they were practically all women. In a few cases there are two or three, or, I think, as many as half a dozen male passengers, in those boats which were not full. The intention was to get the men in through the gangway doors. Orders were given to that effect, and the men who received the orders presumably went away to carry them out, but they never came back to report. And in point of fact, there was no time for the Officers to go from the boat deck to the gangway doors to complete the work which they intended the boats to do. Mr. Lightoller himself had not finished the getting away of the collapsible boats before he was absolutely washed into the water himself, and ran a very near risk of drowning.

Boat No. 1, which had only 12 people in it, perhaps calls for a little more particular comment, and the explanation of that, I think, is found in Mr. Lowe's evidence at page 368, Question 15896.

The Commissioner:
That has been explained, you know. That boat was directed to stand by the ship.

Mr. Holmes:
Yes, my Lord.

The Commissioner:
Apparently it was not contemplated that it would go away with only 12 people in it.

Mr. Holmes:
No, my Lord. Perhaps I may refer your Lordship to two sentences: "I do not know how many there were. I took everybody that was there: that is all I know." Then at Question 15900: "(Q.) You did not, for instance, send over to the port side to find if there were any women or children? - (A.) No, because I wanted to get the boats away. I did not have any time to waste. (Q.) And you did not send down to any of the lower decks? - (A.) There was nobody on the next deck. I stopped the boat there and asked them to look. (Q.) Or on any of the lower decks? - (A.) I do not know about that. I stopped the lowering of the boat at A deck, and told the men to have a look there, and they saw nobody." And then he gave the order to stand by the ship. That is all I have to submit to your Lordship on the question of the boats not being properly filled with their proper complement.

Further, I cannot call it a charge, but a suggestion was made that the Officers ought to have known the capacity of these boats as far as the number of persons they would carry. Mr. Scanlan raised that point on Friday in his address, but it does not seem to me to be a very serious one. A boat may by a computation on a scale be said to be sufficient for a certain number of people, but it does not necessarily follow that it will hold that number of persons, and in any case it is impossible at a time of crisis of this kind for one Officer at a boat 30 feet long being lowered in as great a hurry as possible to count every person that gets into that boat. Even when the boats were in the water, the Officers have told us that they had difficulty in finding out exactly the number of their passengers; they counted heads as long as they could, but they were so crowded together in some cases that it was impossible to get any accurate number.

The Commissioner:
And in truth they were thinking about other matters.

Mr. Holmes:
And they were thinking about other matters. On that I think I might refer to Rule No. 3 of these Life-Saving Appliances Rules which provides for the capacity of these boats. It arrives at the holding capacity by dividing the cubic capacity by 10 in the case of boats of the A section and by 8 in the case of B section. You have heard the evidence of Captain Young and of Captain Clarke as to the tests which have been made with boats for finding out whether that divisor 10 or 8 was the proper one. I should like to remind your Lordship of a report that was received by Captain Young from the people to whom he entrusted this work of making experiments. He said at page 644: "The first report was received from the London Principal Officer on August 25th, and related to two boats that had been tested - (A.) A section A boat, calculated accommodation for 66 passengers. This boat, when fully loaded, was overcrowded and top-heavy, and could not have gone outside the dock gate. It would have been well loaded with 10 men less." That is one of the first experiments, my Lord. "(b.) A section D boat of similar dimensions, to carry 82 persons. The test showed that even if such a number could have been put into the boat it would have been unsafe."

The Commissioner:
Who is it making that report?

Mr. Holmes:
Captain Clarke.

The Commissioner:
It is not Captain Clarke who signs the letter.

Mr. Holmes:
I think Captain Young was reading from a document when he gave his evidence.

The Commissioner:
I want to know whose letter it was he was reading from. Is not it Captain Young's own letter?

The Attorney-General:
I have not the passage here, but my impression is this was what was referred to as the memorandum of the report of Captain Young, which was made before the letter of the 3rd of April appointing the reference.

Mr. Holmes:
I am obliged.

The Commissioner:
And Captain Young is the gentleman who thinks the form of the lifeboats is not at present satisfactory?

The Attorney-General:
Yes, I said "appointing the reference," but I did not mean that. I was speaking of the letter of 1912, not of the letter of 1911 - directed on the 4th April and written on the 16th April.

The Commissioner:
Am I not right in saying that it is Captain Young who thought the form of the lifeboats was a matter that ought to be enquired into?

The Attorney-General:
Certainly, my Lord.

The Commissioner:
And he is practically saying the same thing in his letter.

Mr. Holmes:
This is the result of practical tests which he has made for the Board of Trade.

The Commissioner:
Yes, he says, "I have had one of the boats tested. I find that it is very crowded with sixty" - or whatever the number is - "and that it is tender."

Mr. Holmes:
Then we had Captain Clarke, who gave evidence himself, and on page 640 he referred to this matter in answer to questions which I put to him, and also in answer to your Lordship. Your Lordship will recollect he was a little reluctant to say that the present Board of Trade Regulations and the present system was not quite as it should be, but when your Lordship pressed him he said this. Your Lordship asked: "Do you think the method employed at present is right?" and he said, "No."

The Commissioner:
Who was it said they were right notwithstanding this experience?

Mr. Holmes:
Sir Alfred Chalmers suggested that everything was correct.

The Commissioner:
He has retired, I think?

Mr. Holmes:
Yes, my Lord. Then at Question 24147 Captain Clarke is asked: "Is it your idea that the divisor should be 12? - (A.) Instead of 10, yes. (Q.) And that, you say, is the idea which the Board of Trade are considering adopting? - (A.) Yes, I based that on this, that the Board have given very much attention to the question of these lifeboats long before the 'Titanic' disaster, and I formed that opinion. (Q.) That is why I ask you. - (A.) The Board have gone into this question very fully - long before the 'Titanic' disaster. (Q.) And worked out upon that computation, the boats would be considered fit to hold less people than now? - (A.) Undoubtedly, and probably that will be made law." Perhaps if your Lordship can see your way to add a recommendation it would make that "probably" into a certainty.

I think the only other suggestion which has been made against the Officers is that they did not know their own boats. I must admit that they did not, because they have said so in their evidence, but it is absolutely immaterial.

The Commissioner:
It is a small matter.

Mr. Holmes:
Yes, my Lord; and I submit that it is absolutely immaterial, because it is impossible for an Officer to remain at his own boat. You can conceive a state of circumstances in which the six boats to which the six Officers were allotted would be the six boats first ready to be got into the water, and then the rest of the passengers would be left to their own resources. All these matters are matters in which the Officers had to exercise a discretion, I submit, and I ask your Lordship to say in your finding that they exercised their discretion wisely.

I know that in the case of deceased Officers your Lordship will err very much on the side of leniency, but it is much more important, if I may say so, to the surviving Officers that their characters, which have hitherto been without any blemish whatever, should not be tarnished with any suggestion that they did anything in the course of this disaster which reflects upon their character as Officers of the British mercantile marine. So much for the general conduct of the Officers in this disaster.

There are one or two other matters relating more to the deceased Officers which will undoubtedly have to be dealt with by the White Star Line insofar as they affect the question of suggested negligence, and I do not propose to say a word to your Lordship about that, because it is better to leave it to be dealt with by the proper parties.

I next want to direct your Lordship's attention to Question 4: "Was the 'Titanic' sufficiently and efficiently Officered and manned? Were the watches of the Officers and crew usual and proper?" I am afraid that the watches of the Officers were usual, but I am going to suggest to your Lordship that they were not proper. You will remember what the system was: The Chief Officer, the First Officer and Second Officer - those first three Officers - were on the three-watch system; that is to say, four hours on watch and eight hours off duty; the other five Officers were on the two-watch system - four hours on and four hours off continuously. That does not mean that they got four hours' sleep. It is four hours from the time that they are first entitled to leave the bridge to the time at which they have to be back ready to take up their duties on watch; and it is not fair either to the Officers or to the travelling public that they should be expected to perform the duties they have to perform with such short stretches of sleep. It was admitted in examination, I think by Captain Bartlett, that those Officers might be called upon at any time to make abstruse calculations, they may have to take bearings and do other things which require the very clearest mind possible, at the bidding of the Officer in charge of the watch. I do, therefore, suggest that your Lordship should answer this question as far as regards the propriety of the watches of the Junior Officers, in the negative. Captain Bartlett, of course, is the Marine Superintendent of the White Star Line, and perhaps he has reached such a height in his profession that he has forgotten the days when he was a Junior Officer.

The Commissioner:
Any way, he survived them.

Mr. Holmes:
He survived them. But he refused to admit even that they would be better equipped in any way for their duties if they had longer stretches of sleep. I do not make this request to your Lordship, as your Lordship has rather suggested when other similar suggestions have been made throughout the Enquiry, in order that a few more members of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild may obtain berths on ships. If I may say so, the Imperial Merchant Service Guild have no difficulty in obtaining berths for all their members whenever they want them.

While on this point, there is a point connected with it under the twenty-sixth question dealing with the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, Section 92, and that is the standard which is laid down by the present law for the number of Officers and engineers required for our ships. It is a most important point, because it is obviously - and Sir Walter Howell admitted it at once - an improper thing that a ship like the "Titanic" should be allowed to go to sea with a complement of two Officers in addition to the Captain. That is all that is required by this Section. Of course, it is not the complement that is provided by responsible shipowners; but there is a minimum laid down by that Section, and if there is to be any scale at all, I submit that it must be a proper one.

The Commissioner:
What is the Section?

Mr. Holmes:
Section 92, Sub-section (1.)(c.) Sir Walter Howell admitted that at once, and with the same breath he said he would hesitate to say that it was wise to legislate, because he objects to lay down a minimum, finding that the minimum is generally adopted as the maximum. He seemed to forget that the minimum is already laid down by the Section, and what I am suggesting is that the minimum should be increased or that there shall be a number of minima, a scale, if I may say so, in a similar way to the scale for boat accommodation, rising with the tonnage and size of the ship. It is certainly of no use having any regulation upon the point at all unless the regulation is complete.

I next want to deal quite shortly with the question of survey of the ships. The Board of Trade is in the habit of appointing an Engineer Surveyor to be an engineer and ship Surveyor; that is to say, he does the whole of the surveying of a ship both from the point of view of the engines, the hull and the equipments. In the case of the "Titanic" it was Mr. Carruthers who did that. I have not a word of complaint to make against Mr. Carruthers as an engineer. The complaint I am making is that the Board of Trade system is to put the wrong man to do the work, or to put a man to do work for which he is not really by his training qualified. The appointment is made by the Assistant Secretary, Sir Walter Howell, and he said that he relies, before making the appointment, on the fact that the applicant has satisfied the Principal Ship Surveyor, Mr. Archer, of his capabilities. Mr. Archer, when asked, admitted that he puts them through no test whatever as nautical men. They have an examination as engineers. They have six months' training, for a probationary period, he said, as shipwrights, which would seem to me to be very insufficient. All he could tell us was that they accompanied a senior Officer in his work.

The Attorney-General:
I am sorry to intervene, but I am very anxious to know what it is we have to deal with. I have found a little difficulty in following my friend's argument on the last two points and its bearing on the Enquiry before you. Of course, if it was a general Enquiry into the administration by the Board of Trade under the Merchant Shipping Acts. I agree it would be relevant, and, as to what amending Statutes would be necessary, it would be relevant, but, so far as I have understood the evidence, it is not suggested that by reason of either of the two points, upon which my friend is now relying, there was any loss of life or that there was any increased risk to the vessel, and if your Lordship would bear in mind Question 26, it is limited to the Merchant Shipping Acts and the administration of the Acts and the Rules, so far as the consideration thereof is material to this casualty. The difficulty I find in dealing with it is that I thought that was the view your Lordship took at an earlier stage. My friend's last two points are opening up very much wider considerations, which would necessitate, or at least certainly would have led to, some further evidence to explain what was done. I thought what we were doing here was merely enquiring into the administration of the Acts so far as they related to this casualty. I am anxious to know. I do not want to stop anything which your Lordship thinks ought properly to be enquired into or dealt with by you, but I am anxious to know how far we are to go with this, and whether we are to enquire, or whether your Lordship proposes to deal in answer to that question, with all the matters that are raised relative to the administration by the Board of Trade of these Acts.

Mr. Holmes:
My Lord, I do not suggest for one moment that there was any loss of life through any failure in the survey by the Board of Trade Surveyors.

The Attorney-General:
That is the difficulty, you see.

Mr. Holmes:
In making the remarks, I was exercising what I considered to be my right of commenting upon the evidence which has been clearly brought out in cross-examination, and in answer to questions put by me - questions which were allowed by your Lordship, and in connection with which in one or two cases, I think, your Lordship even assisted me by putting further questions.

The Commissioner:
I am afraid you must not rely too much on my having allowed the questions to be put.

The Attorney-General:
I am not suggesting that the questions would not be quite useful, but not on this Enquiry.

The Commissioner:
Mr. Holmes, you suggest that two Officers in addition to the Captain are not enough.

Mr. Holmes:
Yes.

The Commissioner:
How does that matter arise under Question 26?

The Attorney-General:
That is what I do not follow.

Mr. Holmes:
I did not understand that this was the question the learned Attorney-General was objecting to; I thought it was on the question of the survey.

The Attorney-General:
Both.

The Commissioner:
He said this and the last one or two. How does that come within the object of our Enquiry?

Mr. Holmes:
I am afraid I cannot say it is particularly connected with the "Titanic" except so far as these Survey Reports have been put in, which contain, my Lord -

The Commissioner:
I know; it may be an important thing to consider these points, but I do not think it is for us to consider them or to make recommendations about them.

Mr. Holmes:
May I refer, my Lord, to both the Report of the Survey of an Emigrant Ship and the Declaration for the Passengers' Certificate which were made by Mr. Carruthers. In each of these cases there is a Table. It contains a list of masters and Officers, and the only names that appear upon that are the Master, the first mate, the second mate, the first engineer and the second engineer, and then it contains a statement that the certificates of the masters, mates, and engineers are such as are required.


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