TIP | Limitation of Liability Hearings | Deposition of Captain Charles Johnston.

Limitation of Liability Hearings


In the matter of the petition
of the Oceanic Steam Navigation
Company, Limited, for limitation
of its liability as owner of the
S. S. Titanic.

Washington , D. C., Thursday, April 8, 1915.

Deposition of Charles E. Johnston, taken pursuant to notice before George W. Reik, Notary Public, at the office of G. Thomas Dunlop, Esq., Evans Building, Washington, D.C. April 8, 1915, at 2:30 o'clock p. m.


Hunt, Hill & Betts, by Mr. Francis H. Kinnicutt,
representing the claimant, H. Benjamin Howard.

Burlingham, Montgomery & Beecher, by Mr. B. W. Wells,
for the petitioner.

It is stipulated that the deposition may be taken by a stenographer, signing, filing and certification waived, stenographer's fees taxable in lieu of notary's fees, copy to be served on the proctor's for petitioner.

CAPTAIN CHARLES E JOHNSTON, produced as a witness, on behalf of the claimant, having been first duly sworn was examined and testified as follows:


Q. Captain, will you give your full name and residence?
- Charles E. Johnston, residing at 1418 Madison Street, Northwest , Washington , D. C.

Q. Is that your permanent residence?
- That is my permanent residence, yes.

Q. Will you kindly state what has been your experience at sea?
- I had four years as a cadet at the United States Naval Academy, 1883 to 1887; two years at sea, 1887 to 1889 in the Navy. I entered the Revenue Cutter service in 1891, and have been on sea-going vessels from that time until last August practically all the time, with the exception of from 1898 to 1901, when I was doing shore duty.

Q. When you were in the Navy, what was your position on the different vessels on which you served?
- Midshipman, so-called; then called naval cadet, now called midshipman.

Q. Have you a master's certificate?
- No. The Government officers did not have master's certificates.

Q. Since 1891, when you went into the United States Revenue Cutter service, state what positions you have held on various vessels?
- Third Lieutenant on the revenue cutters "Corwin" and "Rush" on the Pacific coast, and on the cutter "Andrew Johnson", stationed on the Great Lakes . Also on the revenue cutter " Winona " stationed on the sounds of North Carolina , and afterwards at Key West , and still later, same vessel, Mobile , Alabama .

Q. Did you always have the same rank?
- Third Lieutenant so far; promoted to Second Lieutenant while I was on the " Winona ". From there I went to Galveston, Texas, on the revenue cutter "Galveston", then back to the Great Lakes on the cutter "Andrew Johnson" as Second Lieutenant; revenue cutter "Gresham", Great Lakes, Second Lieutenant; revenue cutter "Morrill", Wilmington, North Carolina, Second Lieutenant; Revenue Cutter "Dexter" at New York, Second Lieutenant; revenue cutter "McCullough", San Francisco, Second Lieutenant; revenue cutter "Thetis", San Francisco, Second Lieutenant; promoted there to First Lieutenant. Revenue cutter "Perry", Astoria, Oregon, First Lieutenant; revenue cutter "Mackinaw", Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan as lieutenant in command two seasons; revenue cutter "Winona", Mobile, Alabama, First Lieutenant; revenue cutter "Acushnet", 1908, as First Lieutenant in command; promoted on that vessel to Captain; in command of the "Acushnet" for two years and five months.

Q. Where was she doing service?
- At New Bedford , Massachusetts .

Q. And off the coast?
- Certainly. That was simply the headquarters. The coast of Massachusetts generally. Transferred from there in 1911 to the revenue cutter "Seneca", and in command of that vessel for a little over three years. Left that command in August, 1914. That was my last sea service.

Q. State what experience you had, in the course of your experience at sea, with reference o icebergs?
- Icebergs I have seen on the west coast in small quantities, from Cross Sound, Alaska, which is about 150 miles north of Sitka, and in that general vicinity. Also in northern Bering Sea, and in the Arctic Ocean from Point Barrow to the Bering Straits, and across the Bering Straits for about 60 miles o the coast of Siberia. That is all on the west coast. Then, on the east coast ---

Q. Let me interrupt you there. Did you see a large number of icebergs the waters you have mentioned?
- Very few icebergs in those waters, and no large bergs at all. The ice on the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean is, as a rule, what we call floe ice, and has very few bergs in it, and no large bergs. The last two seasons, the seasons of 1913 and 1914, I was in command of the revenue cutter "Seneca", which went out on the so called ice patrol off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland; and, in addition, last year we had, from February to April, what was called ice observations, different from the ice patrol, and after the first of July, and until about the first week of August, 1914, we had further ice observations off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Q Briefly, what is the ice patrol of which you speak?
- The ice patrol is a patrol kept up by two vessels of the revenue cutter service, now called the Coast Guard, for the purpose of locating the southern, southeastern and southwestern limits of ice in the vicinity of the transatlantic lanes between European ports and New York and Boston .

Q. Any further duties in that service? You said "locating".
- Locating and notifying vessels by radio, and notifying the Hydrographic Office of the Navy once a day at least as to the location of ice that is dangerous to navigation along those lanes.

Q. What do you understand is the purpose of notifying the transatlantic liners as to the location of the icebergs?
- My understanding is, so that they may govern their movements in order to keep out of danger.

Q. Tell me, in a general way, how many icebergs you saw in these two years in which you were engaged in the ice patrol?
- In the ice patrol I saw 23 icebergs in the season of 1914, and 13 icebergs in the patrol of 1913.

Q. Did you see them under various weather conditions?
- Under all kinds of weather conditions, such as you get on the Grand Banks .

Q. At different times of the day?
- Different times of the day, yes.

Q. And night?
- And night.

Q. And on starlight nights as well as cloudy and moonlight nights?
- Yes.

Q. State, also, what you saw of icebergs on what you have described as ice observations.
- On the ice observations we went from St. Johns , Newfoundland , in July, in a general northeastern direction for about 200 miles without seeing any ice. Then we struck the ice in large quantities, and for about a week we were in ice constantly, and part of the time during fog, and part of the time during clear weather, and on the 13th of July I got as far as I could go into the ice without running great danger of smashing my vessel, and it then being foggy, I stopped entirely and awaited clear weather. Men the weather lighted up, the fog lifted, I could count, with the naked eye, 18 icebergs in our immediate vicinity, and by looking around with the binoculars, there was no direction I could look in without seeing an iceberg.

Q. Did you continue to see bergs at intervals after that during this ice observation?
- We continued seeing bergs until we got down to within 60 miles of St. Johns , Newfoundland .

Q. During what period of time?
- That was about three days.

Q. That was the second trip, as I understand?
- That was the last trip of last year.

Q. Do I understand you to say that you went on two distinct trips for the purpose of ice observation?
- I was on two distinct tours.

Q. Observation; I am not talking about ice patrol.
- I was on two distinct tours of ice observation. The first tour was from the 19th of February until the first of April. That included three cruises.

Q. What region was that?
- The Grand Banks .

Q. What could you say about the amount of ice you saw then?
- Not many bergs; a great deal of field ice and so-called slob ice, but not many bergs.

Q. Did you also see this under different conditions with reference to the time of the day and weather conditions?
- Yes.

Q. Have you seen icebergs in clear weather at night?
- Yes.

Q. Will you kindly tell me what observations you have made as to the color of icebergs in the North Atlantic Ocean in the daytime?
- Almost entirely white, a sort of a marble white. There are at times streaks of black, which is almost always dirt. I have made observation of that, gone over and got samples of it, and it is dirt. That is in certain veins of the berg.

Q. How do these veins of dirt affect the appearance of the icebergs as a whole with reference to color?
- Not at all. They are still white. Then there are also blue veins of solid ice that run through the bergs in some instances, but they are so small as to be negligible as far as the general effect of the color goes.

Q. Do you know what icebergs are constituted of?
- Not of my own observation. I do know from a study of the physics of icebergs. I say, I have never seen an iceberg form.

Q. Do you know what they consist of at those times them you have seen, nearby in the Atlantic Ocean ?
- Oh, yes. They consist of ice then.

Q. So far as you know, partially or altogether?
- Altogether of ice.

Q. Why does the ice look white?
- I could not tell you.

Q. Of course, we are all aware that, some ice is not white.
- I cannot tell you further than from research.

Q. I will ask you this. Have you formed any opinion, from your researches, as to why the ice looks white?
- Yes, sir.

Mr. Wells:
I object to any answer along that line as being incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial. I think the witness should say what be knows about the color of the ice, and how it looked.

Mr. Kinnicutt:
Just answer the question.
- The icebergs are of glacial origin. The glaciers are formed by the precipitation of snow on the mountains, particularly along Greenland , and as snow on snow keeps falling from season to season, there is a great weight of the upper snow

upon the lower snow, and that is packed until it becomes practically ice. But it differs from true ice in being white, while true ice, in large quantities, is blue. At times a heavy rainfall in certain season of the year will wash a gutter through certain parts of these glaciers, and then cold weather comes on and those water gutters are frozen. That is true ice. As these glaciers come down to the sea and break off in the form of icebergs, there will be these streaks of the blue ice in the white ice, showing where the water has invaded the snow.

Q. Have you mace any observations as to what happens to icebergs with reference to the effect that the warm water of the Gulf Stream has upon icebergs?
- Yes, sir.

Q. More particularly with reference to their melting and changing the conformation thereof?
- Yes.

Q. State what you have observed.
- When an iceberg comes in contact with the warm water of the Gulf Stream , or any other warm water, the heat of the water comes in contact with a very much larger surface than the air does, the large percentage of the surface of an iceberg being under water. The consequence is that the underwater body of the berg is melted very rapidly, while the above-water body of the berg is melting very slowly, and consequently frequently there will be a change of the center of gravity of the berg, and it topples over.

Q. In the months of April and May, in cases where there m are bergs in the Gulf stream how often does this happen?
- I have observed a berg topple over as frequently as once an hour.

Q. Have you seen it, actually turn over?
- Actually seen it turn over as frequently as once an hour.

Q. State what you observed as to the appearance or color of that part of the berg which has been under water, but which, after the turning, is above water?
- It is cleaner and whiter than before, than the surface previously seen.

Q. In all your experience with ice in the Atlantic Ocean , state whether you have ever seen a black or dark-looking iceberg?
- I never have.

Q. You are speaking of the appearance of it in the daytime?
- In the daytime, yes.

Q. Take an iceberg at night, on a starlight night, with no moonlight in the sky, when you see that berg outlined against the sky, describe how it looks with reference to color.
- As you first make it out, which should be in the general vicinity of one mile, it appears to be dark.

Q. Are you speaking of how it looks with glasses, now?
- On a very bright night you could probably see it without glasses; a man with good eyesight should be able to see it without glasses at a distance of about a mile; that is, on a very bright night. Then, as you approach it, it begins, perhaps, at a quarter of a mile from the ship, to take on a lightish hue, first very faint, and getting lighter and lighter the nearer you approach it, and when you get say an eighth of a mile or 200 yards from it, it is perfectly white.

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