British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 32

Final Arguments, cont.

Sir Robert Finlay:
No.

The Commissioner:
That is what he says.

Sir Robert Finlay:
That is so. That is manifestly so, because if you hit the iceberg end on it does not matter if there is a projecting spike.

The Commissioner:
It is not worthwhile discussing it. Have we got anything to do with it? We are all agreed that Murdoch was quite right in doing what he did.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes, and it would have been grossly wrong if he had not given the order.

The Commissioner:
Yes.

Sir Robert Finlay:
And the extraordinary thing is, my Lord - and this completes the sum of remarkable circumstances which attended this accident - that they almost avoided it altogether. It was only the third extraordinary circumstance of there being at the corner, just as they were clearing this iceberg, a projecting spike which caught the starboard bow and proceeded to rip it up for six compartments, which caused this deplorable catastrophe.

The Commissioner:
I do not know that it was ripped up continuously. It seems to me, from my view of the evidence as to the character of the injuries to the ship, that there were several separate holes.

Sir Robert Finlay:
That is Mr. Wilding's view, my Lord. It is clear from Mr. Wilding's evidence that in his view it was not a rip up such as would be made by a knife put into a space between the lid of a box and the box itself - a ripping up continuously - but that it was a series of stabs.

The Commissioner:
It is pointed out to me that it is rather difficult to understand that. It may have been one projecting piece of the berg which struck the ship and then ran along the side, but which did not open the side at each part of the lining as it went along to the same extent. It opened it differently as it went along, that is to say the plates bulged back inwards and broke or cracked or became unrivetted in different places.

Sir Robert Finlay:
That is so, my Lord. Certainty is impossible, because the vessel is now two miles deep at the bottom of the Atlantic. We can only say what is probable, and I confess, if I may tell my own mind, that I do not feel quite satisfied that one can be sure it was done by a succession of stabs.

The Commissioner:
It is rather difficult to know how a succession of stabs could be delivered by the berg.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Mr. Wilding's view is - and on a point of this kind one would pay the greatest attention possible to Mr. Wilding's opinion; he has been of so much service in this case - his opinion is that the first stab was when the starboard bow struck under the waterline; then that the vessel sheared off a little, swinging round, and then another stab is delivered in the next compartment, and so on. At any rate, Mr. Wilding, although he does not think it the most probable theory, thinks it is not at all impossible that the ice, having penetrated on the starboard bow, ran along continuously ripping the thing up until it got to No. 6 compartment, when there was no further wounding. Certainty is perfectly impossible in the matter.

The Commissioner:
It is merely speculation.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes, and it does not really affect the case. The only observation I was making was that there was a most extraordinary combination of circumstances here, because your Lordship remembers how the one look-out man said to the other: "That is a narrow shave." He thought they had escaped it; it seemed that they had; and the effect was so slight that instead of there being a tremendous shock as there would have been if they had gone full tilt into the iceberg all that the people heard was a grating noise as if it was running along gravel.

The Commissioner:
It was a noise that terrified the Captain; I am sure of that.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes, and some of the passengers were wakened up by it.

The Commissioner:
It woke him up.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It woke up the Captain, but some of the passengers described how they simply turned round and went to sleep again. The Captain was not asleep; he was in the chart room.

The Commissioner:
It brought him out of his cabin.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It brought him out of the chart room. And that, my Lord, leads me to call your Lordship's attention to the fact that Captain Smith was close at hand and ready.

The Commissioner:
So I understand. Can you tell me how far exactly the door of the Captain's room was from the bridge?

Sir Robert Finlay:
I cannot give you it in yards. It is absolutely close.

The Commissioner:
I know, but "absolutely close" is rather indefinite.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It is a few yards, or a few feet. Your Lordship will remember going from the bridge into the Captain's chart room when you visited the "Olympic." I have no doubt then your Lordship walked from the bridge into this room.

The Commissioner:
I did, but unfortunately I do not remember these things. The Captain was dressed, I think, was not he?

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes, the Captain was dressed. I am going to show that presently by the evidence.

The Commissioner:
And I should like to know. Was he is in his sitting-room?

Sir Robert Finlay:
No. The expression used, I think, is "the Captain's chart room." I take it that it was the navigation room, which is immediately forward of the Captain's sitting-room.

The Commissioner:
I think it means the place marked as the navigation room.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I think so, my Lord.

The Commissioner:
It is practically on the bridge.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It is, my Lord; it is really on the bridge. It is under cover. If your Lordship will look at this larger plan it shows it more clearly, and it shows the chart table, which is in the navigation room. (The plan was handed to his Lordship.)

The Commissioner:
If he was sitting in that room I suppose he would be sitting with a bright light.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It depends, my Lord. Of course, if he were looking at the chart or anything of that kind he would, but a man may go in there simply to rest.

The Commissioner:
Do we really know anything about the light in his room at the time that he came out?

Sir Robert Finlay:
I do not think we do; there is no evidence about it. All I mean is this, that a man may be resting in his room dressed and ready to go out, and yet have turned down the light because it is a great relief to the eyes to have the light down.

The Commissioner:
But there is no evidence about it.

Sir Robert Finlay:
There is no evidence about it one way or the other.

The Commissioner:
Because, you know, if he came out of the bright glare of an electric light on to the dark bridge, it would take him some time - we know by our own experience - to get the eye accustomed to the change from light to darkness.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It would, undoubtedly. However, I do not think anything turns upon that, because what had happened had happened when he came out.

The Commissioner:
But it may be a point that he should not have been away from the bridge in these circumstances, so that he could not the moment he came on to the bridge realise what was taking place.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Of course, in the first place, we do not know that the light was on. It may or it may not have been. In the second place, there was absolutely no circumstances of danger, so far as was known. He left word, "If the slightest haze comes on, call me," and he was sitting close at hand. Under those circumstances I submit that it could not be said -

The Commissioner:
There is always that conversation which Mr. Lightoller remembers with such distinctness.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I submit that does not come to very much, my Lord. Would your Lordship kindly look at Mr. Boxhall's evidence with regard to this on page 376. Mr. Boxhall was on duty from 8 to 12. "16923. Was there any message during the time you were on duty, from 8 to 12, received by any of the Officers on the bridge? - (A.) Not to my knowledge. (Q.) You know of none. Was Captain Smith on and off the bridge during your watch? - (A.) Frequently. (Q.) At what intervals did he come on the bridge? - (A.) The first time that I remember seeing Captain Smith was somewhere in the vicinity of 9 o'clock, but from 9 o'clock to the time of the collision, Captain Smith was around there the whole of the time; I was talking to him on one or two occasions. (Q.) Were you talking to him on the bridge? - (A.) Sometimes in the Officers' chart room and sometimes at his chart room door." The Officers' chart room is just on the other side of the vessel, your Lordship will recollect. "16927. What were you talking about? - (A.) I was discussing some stellar bearings I had had. I was also standing at his chart room door while he pricked off the 7.30 stellar position of the ship. (Q.) Was anything ever said by the Captain about any such message as that that the 'Mesaba' sent? - (A.) No, none whatever." He was recalled really to negative the "Mesaba" message being received, so that it is quite plain that the Captain was close at hand. He was close at hand, and was going on to the bridge. Then on page 334 in the evidence of the same Witness, Mr. Boxhall (what I have already read was Mr. Boxhall's evidence when he was recalled) you will see Question 15352: "Did you see anything done with regard to the watertight doors? - (A.) I saw Mr. Murdoch closing them then, pulling the lever." That is the lever on the bridge. "15353: And did the Captain then come out on to the bridge? - (A.) The Captain was alongside of me when I turned round. (Q.) Did you hear him say something to the First Officer? - (A.) Yes, he asked him what he had struck. (Q.) What conversation took place between them? - (A.) The First Officer said, 'An iceberg, sir. I hard-a-starboarded and reversed the engines, and I was going to hard a-port round it but she was too close. I could not do any more. I have closed the watertight doors.' The Commander asked him if he had rung the warning bell, and he said 'Yes.' (Q.) Did the Captain and the First Officer go to the starboard side of the bridge to see if they could see the iceberg? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) Did you see it yourself? - (A.) I was not too sure of seeing it. I had just come out of the light, and my eyes were not accustomed to the darkness." Then he left the deck and went down. So that your Lordship sees that those two passages prove conclusively that the Captain was close at hand. He was going on to the bridge out of the room which really forms part and parcel of the bridge, and was backwards and forwards.

The Commissioner:
I think the light would be turned up in his room; I should think so.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It may have been. It must have been turned up when he was pricking off the stellar bearings.

The Commissioner:
That is what occurred to me. I am told that was at 10 o'clock.

Sir Robert Finlay:
That is so, my Lord. Very often a man turns down the light if there is nothing that he wants to do, merely as a relief to the eyes. It may or may not have been; there is no evidence to the point one way or the other. Then there is one other passage which shows how ready the Captain was to come out. That you will find at page 38, Question 1025, in the evidence of Hichens. Hichens is asked what happened after the collision: "1025. Tell us what you heard in the way of command? - (A.) Just about a minute, I suppose, after the collision, the Captain rushed out of the room and asked Mr. Murdoch what was that, and he said, "An iceberg, sir;" and he said, "Close the watertight door." (The Commissioner.) Wait a minute. A minute after the collision Captain Smith - (The Attorney-General.) Came out of his room on to the bridge, do you mean? - (A.) Yes, Sir. He passed through the wheelhouse on to the bridge. (Q.) He rushed out of his room through the wheelhouse on to the bridge? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) And asked Murdoch, "What is that?" - (A.) Yes." So that it is quite clear that Captain Smith was not lying down; he was not asleep; he was ready, and he came out at once dressed. And your Lordship remembers that Mr. Murdoch, who was left in charge on the bridge, was an Officer of very long experience. He had an extra-Master's certificate; he had been on the "Olympic," and he was a man that the Captain was perfectly justified in leaving in charge. There were no special circumstances of danger. On the contrary, the Captain had said, "If the least haze comes on fetch me at once."

Then your Lordship recollects that an entry had been made in the night order book with regard to the ice, and that the messages had been stuck up in the chart room in the usual way. Will your Lordship look at page 308, Question 13700, in the middle of the second column. The Witness, Mr. Lightoller, asks if he may say one fact that he had just remembered: "13700. Do? - (A.) Speaking about the Commander, with reference to ice, of course, there was a footnote on the night order book with regard to ice. The actual wording I cannot remember, but it is always customary. Naturally every Commander in the night order book issues his orders for the night, and the footnote had reference to keeping a sharp look-out for ice. That is initialled by every Officer. (Q.) Who was it that took the ship over from you at 10 o'clock? - (A.) Mr. Murdoch. (Q.) Mr. Murdoch, the First Officer."

Then, my Lord, I need not go through the evidence which is clear and explicit as to the fact that special caution was given to the Officers on the bridge and to the look-out men to be on a sharp look-out for ice, icebergs and growlers. I submit that everything was done, by the light of things as they were then known, that prudence could suggest.

Now, may I return to a point which I have already touched upon to some extent, and that is as to what the Captain did in another respect - changing his course, that is to say, leaving the track by continuing to the Southward. May I ask your Lordship for this purpose to glance again at the large chart which I handed up showing the ice that had been reported. I ask your Lordship to look at this for the purpose of showing the position of the ice which had been reported to the Officers; secondly, for the purpose of showing that the ice which had been reported did not strike the "Titanic"; that the "Titanic" successfully avoided that ice owing to the course that the Captain took; and, in the third place, that the alteration in course which the Captain made was a most proper alteration to make, under the circumstances, for the reasons which I shall submit to your Lordship. A good many questions were asked as to why there were no special instructions given by the White Star Company, or by any Company indeed, to the Officers with regard to ice. I think the answer was that which was indicated by your Lordship more than once, when this class of question was put: "What special instructions can you give?" There were special instructions with regard to the field ice on the Northern route - the Canadian route, as it is called - not going into field ice.

The Commissioner:
At all.

Sir Robert Finlay:
At all. That is a very special matter incidental to that route. If the ice continues to go further South, as it has been doing of late, it may be necessary to issue a similar notice with regard to field ice on tracks which hitherto have been absolutely immune from it. But we are face to face - and Captain Smith on the "Titanic" has had the first bitter experience of it - with a new state of things - the ice encroaching a great deal further to the South than has hitherto been the case. No special instructions could be given, as your Lordship pointed out, except that it is a matter that must be left to the Captain. He is told to make the safety of the ship and the passengers the first concern, and it must be left to his judgment what is to be done in any particular case. Now, my submission to your Lordship is that the alteration of course which he made was an eminently judicious one, and that, as a matter of fact, he did avoid the ice which had been reported, and that the iceberg which struck him must have been other ice which had not been reported at all. What he did was to continue on the track past the corner; he turned 10 miles further.

The Commissioner:
There is a little discrepancy between your chart and the course you have marked on it, and the chart as my colleagues have marked it, working back from the point of collision.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I hope it is not very serious.

The Commissioner:
I do not think it is very serious; there is a little discrepancy.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I do not think a slight discrepancy one way or the other will affect the argument.

The Commissioner:
I do not think it does.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Might I know what it is, my Lord, for the sake of complete accuracy?

The Commissioner:
The difference is this: We have assumed that the ship went to the corner, and then, instead of turning the corner, continued on the same course. You have assumed that the ship never went to the corner at all, but got to the Northward of it.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I think, my Lord, the evidence bears that out.

The Commissioner:
Which?

Sir Robert Finlay:
Our view.

The Commissioner:
I thought there was no evidence about it.

Sir Robert Finlay:
We have had evidence, my Lord, that the course was South 62 deg. West, true, and that is what we have taken. It deviates a little to the North of the track.

The Commissioner:
I think we all agree that for the purpose of this case it makes no difference.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes. What he did was this: he ran that further to the South - he ran on some 10 miles to the inner South-Westerly direction beyond the track, crossing it, and then he made his corner where he turned in a Westerly direction 10 miles further to the South. At 5.50 p.m. the "Titanic" made her corner. Till he turned the corner his course had been S. 62 W. true. Then, on turning the corner his course was from 5.50 onwards, S. 86 W. true. Now that took him on a course which was to the South of the course of the ordinary track, varying in distance. Its greater distance is to the East.

The Commissioner:
That would be a difference of nearly 10 miles.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Nearly 10 miles.

The Commissioner:
And then you are gradually getting nearer to the marked course.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I think your Lordship is right.

The Commissioner:
Or is it eight miles?

Sir Robert Finlay:
It is more like eight miles, I think.

The Commissioner:
Let us get it right. I am told it is only 4 miles.

Sir Robert Finlay:
4 miles, I am told, is quite right. Then it diminishes at the other end to something between 1 and 2, I think, at the time of the disaster - that she was less than 2 miles South of the track.

The Commissioner:
That is important, because hitherto I have thought that at the time of the disaster she was about 4 miles South of the indicated ice. I see now what it is. She was about, possibly, 2 miles South of the course, but she was about 4 miles South of the indicated ice.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes, of the position; that is so my Lord. That is to say, she had passed 4 miles to the South of the position indicated for the "Baltic" ice; and a good deal more, of course, to the South of the position indicated for the "Caronia" ice, which was up on 42.

The Commissioner:
The "Caronia" and the "Californian."

Sir Robert Finlay:
The "Caronia" and the "Californian." If the Captain of the "Californian" is right in saying that his position was 42.5 N. Lat.; by the time the "Titanic" had reached the spot of the collision, she was far to the Westward of the situation of either the "Californian" ice or the "Baltic" ice.

The Commissioner:
The "Californian" ice was a good deal further off; more like 30 miles.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Quite that, I think rather more. If my memory serves me rightly she was 17 miles to the West of the "Baltic" ice, and it would be still more in the case of the "Californian."

The Commissioner:
Then she was 40 miles to the West of the "Californian" ice.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I had guessed it roughly at about 30 miles; I may have underestimated it, but still it is a very long way. I am told it is 50 miles. Mr. Raeburn has taken it off, and he says 50 miles is correct. Your Lordship appreciates the importance of that fact because it demonstrates that as far as the "Californian" ice is concerned, and so far as the "Baltic" ice is concerned, the "Titanic" had avoided it. For what is absolutely certain is that, under the conditions that existed at this spot, neither the "Baltic" ice nor the "Californian" ice could have drifted in a Westerly direction. The drift of the ice would vary according to the depth it went below the water. In the case of field ice or bergs which were not so bulky as to reach down through the 50 fathoms or a little more of the Gulf Stream which runs in a North-East direction, in the case of ice which did not reach down through that stream to that cold Labrador Current below, which is running Southward, the drift would be Easterly, or, to put it exact, E.N.E.

The Commissioner:
That seems to show that she had succeeded in avoiding both the "Baltic's" ice and the "Californian's" ice.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes.

The Commissioner:
She passed out of the danger of it.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It proves it, my Lord; it was neither of those that struck the "Titanic." Now, with regard to the "Caronia" ice, I say it is clear that she had also escaped the "Caronia" ice, and that these bergs belonged to other ice altogether, which had never been reported. For this reason: The "Caronia" ice would consist partly of icebergs, according to the message.

The Commissioner:
Will you repeat the "Caronia" message.

Sir Robert Finlay:
If your Lordship pleases; I will have the exact terms looked up.

The Commissioner:
Just tell me, Sir Robert, so far as you remember it.

Sir Robert Finlay:
It was: "Ice reported, icebergs, pack ice and field ice in lat. N. 42 to long. 49 to 41." That is the effect of it. I will give the exact terms in a moment.

The Commissioner:
That is sufficient; go on with your observations.

Sir Robert Finlay:
But there is this very important circumstance to be added - that that report from Westbound steamers was of ice on the 12th, and that makes all the difference; so that from the time when that ice was in that locality according to these reports, to the time of the collision, there was an interval of certainly not less than 48 hours, and probably something more, because these vessels had reported to the "Caronia" ice in the locality I have mentioned on the 12th April. That may have been any time between the early morning of the 12th April, which would be the Friday, and midnight on the Friday. So that you have got a minimum period of 48 hours down to the time of the disaster and very probably a good many hours more. Now what we have to consider is what the effect of the evidence as to the movement of ice is on the position that the "Caronia" ice would have reached by the time of the disaster at 11.50 on Sunday, the 14th. The ice reported was partly field ice and partly icebergs. So far as the field ice is concerned, so far as the icebergs are concerned that were not of great bulk so as to reach down through the Gulf Stream, the same observation holds good that I made a few minutes ago with regard to the other reports of ice.

The Commissioner:
That reached down to the Labrador Stream?

Sir Robert Finlay:
Exactly, my Lord. So far as the ice was field ice or comparatively small bergs, it would be under the influence only of the Gulf Stream, and it would go in an Easterly direction. It would not go where the "Titanic" was at all. So far as the ice reported by the "Caronia" consisted of bergs going through the Gulf Stream into the Labrador Current below, it would take a Southerly or South-Easterly direction under the combined influence of the Gulf Stream on the upper part of the submerged berg and the influence of the Labrador Current on the lower part of the berg. It would go in a South-Easterly direction. Your Lordship has it from the passages which I read from the "United States Pilot" very recently - I am afraid it was the day before yesterday - which will be in your Lordship's recollection, that the strength of the Gulf Stream varies. It is less at the margin and more in the middle. I speak subject to correction by the experienced gentlemen by whom your Lordship is assisted, but two or three knots may be put as the strength of the Gulf Stream. The Labrador Current varies considerably. The "United States Pilot" puts one knot as a common strength for the Labrador Current. Your Lordship sees that by altering his course to the Southward, going further South than the track, Captain Smith increased the interval between himself and any field ice or bergs which did not reach down to the Labrador Current, and which would be drifting Eastward. He was further to the South and he gave them a wider berth. On the other hand, he did not go further to the South for this reason. He would know that the bergs that got down through the Gulf Stream into the Labrador Current would be drifting in a South-Easterly direction; and if he had gone further South during the 48 or 60 hours that the "Caronia" ice had had to drift before midnight on Sunday, the 14th, he would have impinged in all probability upon that "Caronia" ice. And here comes in the importance of the observation which Mr. Rostron made very concisely. An iceberg is a moving object. You treat an iceberg - I am amplifying what he said - as you treat another vessel which you come across in a course which crosses yours. You do not, because you are heading for a vessel some distance off at 6 p.m., change your course, because you know that while you are heading on for the spot where she is, when you see her she will have passed on further. Or if you had a vessel which was crossing your bows or from starboard to port in that direction, if you starboarded to that vessel you would, by the time you reached the line on which she was, come into collision with her. You hold on and go under her stern, because you know that while you are approaching the spot where you saw her she will have shifted her position further to the South-East. Of course, we speak in ignorance, necessary ignorance, of what passed through Captain Smith's mind; but I submit it is an eminently reasonable consideration that may have influenced him in choosing this track, that by going so far to the South as he did he gave the field ice and the small bergs, which could only drift Eastward, a wider berth, and by not going further to the South, he avoided impinging upon the big bergs which would have drifted South-East under the influence of the Labrador Current.

The Commissioner:
That is to say, he went, as you may express it, under the stern of those icebergs?

Sir Robert Finlay:
Exactly. Take the drift of the icebergs - the field ice and the small bergs are out of the question altogether. It is clear that it could not have been the field ice or the small bergs of the "Caronia" ice that caused the disaster; that is beyond all question, because they would go away Eastward. Now, as regards the big bergs, I say they would have gone to the Southward of the course which he chose, because he avoided going so far to the South as possible to impinge upon them at the rate at which they would have travelled.

The Commissioner:
Then the effect of your arguments is this, that he had either designedly or by a lucky chance so arranged his course as to avoid all the ice of which he had received notice, if he had received only those three Marconigrams.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes.

The Commissioner:
Now, can you tell me this: can you indicate to me which was probably the ice that he did encounter? Was it the "Mesaba" ice?

Sir Robert Finlay:
It may have been.

The Commissioner:
It is perhaps not of any significance to enquire, but still I should like to know. Was there any ice in any of the telegrams which this might have been? Perhaps you have not thought of that.


Continued >