British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry


Circumstances in Connection with the SS Californian

It is here necessary to consider the circumstances relating to the s.s. "Californian."

On the 14th of April, the s.s. "Californian" of the Leyland line, Mr. Stanley Lord, Master, was on her passage from London, which port she left on April 5th, to Boston, U.S., were she subsequently arrived on April 19th. She was a vessel of 6,223 tons gross and 4,038 net. Her full speed was 12 1/2 to 13 knots. She had a passenger certificate, but was not carrying any passengers at the time. She belonged to the International Mercantile Marine Company, the owners of the "Titanic."

At 7.30 p.m., ship's time, on 14th April, a wireless message was sent from this ship to the "Antillian." (Evans, 8941, 8943)

"To Captain, 'Antillian,' 6.30 p.m., apparent ship's time, lat. 42° 3' N., long. 49° 9' W. Three large bergs, 5 miles to southward of us. Regards. - Lord."

The message was intercepted by the "Titanic," and when the Marconi operator (Evans) of the "Californian" offered this ice report to the Marconi operator of the "Titanic," shortly after 7.30 p.m., the latter replied, "It is all right. I heard you sending it to the 'Antillian,' and I have got it." (8972) (Lord, 6710)

The "Californian" proceeded on her course S. 89° W. true until 10.20 p.m. ship's time, when she was obliged to stop and reverse engines because she was running into field ice, which stretched as far as could then be seen to the northward and southward.

The Master told the Court that he made her position at that time to be 42° 5' N., 57° 7' W. (6704) This position is recorded in the log book, which was written up from the scrap log book by the Chief Officer. The scrap log is destroyed. It is a position about 19 miles N. by E. of the position of the "Titanic" when she foundered, and is said to have been fixed by dead reckoning and verified by observations. I am satisfied that this position is not accurate. The Master "twisted her head" to E.N.E. by the compass and she remained approximately stationary until 5.15 a.m. on the following morning. The ship was slowly swinging round to starboard during the night. (6713) (Groves, 8249)

At about 11 p.m. a steamer's light was seen approaching from the eastward. The Master went to Evans' room and asked, "What ships he had." The latter replied: "I think the 'Titanic' is near us. I have got her." (Evans, 8962, 8988) The Master said: "You had better advise the 'Titanic' we are stopped and surrounded by ice." This Evans did, calling up the "Titanic" and sending: "We are stopped and surrounded by ice." (8993) The "Titanic" replied: "Keep out." The "Titanic" was in communication with Cape Race, which station was then sending messages to her. (8994) The reason why the "Titanic" answered, "Keep out," (9004) was that her Marconi operator could not hear what Cape Race was saying, as from her proximity, the message from the "Californian" was much stronger than any message being taken in by the "Titanic" from Cape Race, which was much further off. (9022) Evans heard the "Titanic" continuing to communicate with Cape Race up to the time he turned in at 11.30 p.m.

The Master of the "Californian" states that when observing the approaching steamer as she got nearer, he saw more lights, a few deck lights, and also her green side light. He considered that at 11 o'clock she was approximately six or seven miles away, and at some time between 11 and 11.30, he first saw her green light, she was then about 5 miles off. (Lord, 6761) He noticed then about 11.30 she stopped. In his opinion this steamer was of about the same size as the "Californian"; a medium-sized steamer, "something like ourselves." (6752)

From the evidence of Mr. Groves, third officer of the "Californian," who was the officer of the first watch, it would appear that the Master was not actually on the bridge when the steamer was sighted.

Mr. Groves made out two masthead lights; the steamer was changing her bearing slowly as she got closer, (Groves, 8147) and as she approached he went to the chart room and reported this to the Master; he added, "she is evidently a passenger steamer." (8174) In fact, Mr. Groves never appears to have had any doubt on this subject: In answer to a question during his examination, "Had she much light?" he said, "Yes, a lot of light. There was absolutely no doubt of her being a passenger steamer, at least in my mind." (8178)

Gill, the assistant donkeyman of the "Californian," who was on deck at midnight said, referring to this steamer: "It could not have been anything but a passenger boat, she was to large." (Gill, 18136)

By the evidence Mr. Groves, the Master, in reply to his report, said: "Call her up on the Morse lamp, and see if you can get any answer." This he proceeded to do. The Master came up and joined him on the bridge and remarked: "That does not look like a passenger steamer." (Groves, 8197) Mr. Groves replied "It is, sir. When she stopped, her lights seemed to go out, and I suppose they have been put out for the night." (8203) Mr. Groves states that these lights went out at 11.40, and remembers that time because "one bell was struck to call the middle watch." (8217) The Master did not join him on the bridge until shortly afterwards, and consequently after the steamer had stopped.

In his examination Mr. Groves admitted that if this steamer's head was turning to port after she stopped, it might account for the diminution of lights, by many of them being shut out. Her steaming lights were still visible and also her port side light. (8228)

The Captain only remained upon the bridge for a few minutes. (8241) In his evidence he stated that Mr. Groves had made no observations to him about the steamer's deck lights going out. (Lord, 6866) Mr. Groves' Morse signalling appears to have been ineffectual (although at one moment he thought he was being answered), and he gave it up. He remained on the bridge until relieved by Mr. Stone, the second officer, just after midnight. In turning the "Californian" over to him, he pointed out the steamer and said: "she has been stopped since 11.40; she is a passenger steamer. At about the moment she stopped she put her lights out." (Stone, 7810) When Mr. Groves was in the witness-box the following questions were put to him by me: -

"Speaking as an experienced seaman and knowing what you do know now, do you think that steamer that you know was throwing up rockets, and that you say was a passenger steamer, was the 'Titanic'? - Do I think it? Yes? - From what I have heard subsequently? Yes? - Most decidedly I do, but I do not put myself as being an experienced man. But that is your opinion as far as your experience goes? - Yes, it is, my Lord."

(Groves, 8441)

Mr. Stone states that the Master, who was also up (but apparently not on the bridge), pointed out the steamer to him with instructions to tell him if her bearings altered or if she got any closer; he also stated that Mr. Groves had called her up on the Morse lamp and had received no reply. (Stone, 7815)

Mr. Stone had with him during the middle watch an apprentice named Gibson, whose attention was first drawn to the steamer's lights at about 12.20 a.m. (Gibson, 7424) He could see a masthead light, her red light (with glasses) and a "glare of white lights on her after deck." He first thought her masthead light was flickering and next thought it was a Morse light, "calling us up." (7443) He replied, but could not get into communication, and finally came to the conclusion that it was, as he had first supposed, the masthead light flickering. Some time after 12.30 a.m., Gill, the donkeyman, states that he saw two rockets fired from the ship which he had been observing, (Gill, 18156-61) and about 1.10 a.m., Mr. Stone reported to the Captain by voice pipe, they he had seen five white rockets from the direction of the steamer. (Stone, 7870) He states that the Master answered, "Are they Company's signals?" and that he replied, "I do not know, but they appear to me to be white rockets." The Master told him to "go on Morsing," and, when he received any information, to send the apprentice down to him with it. (7879) Gibson states that Mr. Stone informed him that he had reported to the Master, and that the Master had said the steamer was to be called up by Morse light. (Gibson, 7479) This witness thinks the time was 12.55; he at once proceeded again to call the steamer up by Morse. He got no reply, but the vessel fired three more white rockets; these rockets were also seen by Mr. Stone.

Both Mr. Stone and the apprentice kept the steamer under observation, looking at her from time to time with their glasses. Between 1 o'clock and 1.40 some conversation passed between them. Mr. Stone remarked to Gibson: "Look at her now, she looks very queer out of water, her lights look queer." (7515) He also is said by Gibson to have remarked, "A ship is not going to fire rockets at sea for nothing;" (7529) and admits himself that he may possibly have used that expression. (Stone, 7894)

Mr. Stone states that he saw the last of the rockets fired at about 1.40, and after watching the steamer for some twenty minutes more he sent Gibson down to the Master.

"I told Gibson to go down to the Master, and be sure to wake him, and tell him that altogether we had seen eight of these white lights like white rockets in the direction of this other steamer; that this steamer was disappearing in the southwest, that we had called her up repeatedly on the Morse lamp and received no information whatsoever."

Gibson states that he went down to the chart room and told the Master; that the Master asked him if all the rockets were white, and also asked him the time. (Gibson, 7553) Gibson stated that at this time the Master was awake. It was five minutes past two, and Gibson returned to the bridge to Mr. Stone and reported. They both continued to keep the ship under observation until she disappeared. Mr. Stone describes this as "A gradual disappearing of all her lights, which would be perfectly natural with a ship steaming away from us."

At about 2.40 a.m. Mr. Stone again called up the Master by voice pipe and told him that the ship from which he had seen the rockets come had disappeared bearing SW. 1/2 W., (Stone, 7976) the last he had seen of the light; and the Master again asked him if he was certain there was no colour in the lights. "I again assured him they were all white, just white rockets." (7999) There is considerable discrepancy between the evidence of Mr. Stone and that of the Master. The latter states that he went to the voice pipe at about 1.15, but was told then of a white rocket (not five white rockets). (Lord, 6790) Moreover, between 1.30 and 4.30, when he was called by the chief officer (Mr. Stewart), he had no recollection of anything being reported to him at all, although he remembered Gibson opening and closing the chart room door. (6859)

Mr. Stewart relieved Mr. Stone at 4 a.m. (Stewart, 8571) The latter told him he had seen a ship four or five miles off when he went on deck at 12 o'clock, and 1 o'clock he had seen some white rockets, and that the moment the ship started firing them she started to steam away. (8582) Just at this time (about 4 a.m.) a steamer came into sight with two white masthead lights and a few lights amidships. He asked Mr. Stone whether he thought this was the steamer which had fired rockets, and Mr. Stone said he did not think it was. At 4.30 he called the Master and informed him that Mr. Stone had told him he had seen rockets in the middle watch. (8615) The Master said, "Yes, I know, he has been telling me." (8619) The Master came at once on to the bridge, and apparently took the fresh steamer for the one which had fired rockets, (8632) and said, "She looks all right; she is not making any signals now." This mistake was not corrected. He, however, had the wireless operator called.

At about 6 a.m. Captain Lord heard from the "Virginian" that the "'Titanic' had struck a berg, passengers in boats, ship sinking"; and he at once started through the field ice at full speed for the position given. (Lord, 7002)

Captain Lord stated that about 7.30 a.m. he passed the "Mount Temple," (7014) stopped, and that she was in the vicinity of the position given him as where the "Titanic" had collided (lat. 41° 46' N.; long. 50° 14' W.). (7026) He saw no wreckage there, but did later on near the "Carpathia," which ship he closed soon afterwards, and he stated that the position where he subsequently left this wreckage was 41° 33' N.; 50° 1' W. It is said in the evidence of Mr. Stewart that the position of the "Californian" was verified by stellar observations at 7.30 p.m. on the Sunday evening, and that he verified the Captain's position given when the ship stopped (42° 5' N.; 50° 7' W.) as accurate on the next day. The position in which the wreckage was said to have been seen on the Monday morning was verified by sights taken on that morning.

All the officers are stated to have taken sights, and Mr. Stewart in his evidence remarks that they all agreed. (Stewart, 8820) If it is admitted that these positions were correct, then it follows that the "Titanic's" position as given by that ship when making the C.Q.D. signal was approximately S. 16° W. (true), 19 miles from the "Californian"; and further that the position in which the "Californian" was stopped during the night, was thirty miles away from where the wreckage was seen by her in the morning, or that the wreckage had drifted 11 miles in a little more than five hours.

There are contradictions and inconsistencies in the story as told by the different witnesses. But the truth of the matter is plain. (7020) The "Titanic" collided with the berg 11.40. The vessel seen by the "Californian" stopped at this time. The rockets sent up from the "Titanic" were distress signals. The "Californian" saw distress signals. The number sent up by the "Titanic" was about eight. The "Californian" saw eight. The time over which the rockets from the "Titanic" were sent up was from about 12.45 to 1.45 o'clock. It was about this time that the "Californian" saw the rockets. At 2.40 Mr. Stone called to the Master that the ship from which he'd seen the rockets had disappeared.

At 2.20 a.m. the "Titanic" had foundered. It was suggested that the rockets seen by the "Californian" were from some other ship, not the "Titanic." But no other ship to fit this theory has ever been heard of.

These circumstances convince me that the ship seen by the "Californian" was the "Titanic," and if so, according to Captain Lord, the two vessels were about five miles apart at the time of the disaster. The evidence from the "Titanic" corroborates this estimate, but I am advised that the distance was probably greater, though not more than eight to ten miles. The ice by which the "Californian" was surrounded was loose ice extending for a distance of not more than two or three miles in the direction of the "Titanic." The night was clear and the sea was smooth. When she first saw the rockets the "Californian" could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the "Titanic." Had she done so she might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost.