Lusitania

Limitation of Liability Hearings

Deposition of WILLIAM JOHN PIERPOINT

First Class Passenger - ss Lusitania


 


UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
Southern District of New York.

IN THE MATTER
of

The Petition of THE CUNARD STEAMSHIP COMPANY, LIMITED, as owner of the Steamship LUSITANIA, for limitation of its liability.


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DEPOSITION of WILLIAM JOHN PIERPOINT taken before R. V. WYNNE Esq., the Commissioner at the Law Institution, Chancery Lane, London, W.C.2, on Monday 18th June, 1917.

The Commissioner having duly administered the oath to CHARLES ALLAN HERSEE as Shorthand Writer, administered the usual oath of a witness to WILLIAM JOHN PIERPOINT.


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Examined by Mr. BUTLER ASPINALL.


Q. Were you a first class passenger on the "LUSITANIA" at the time of her loss?

- Yes.

Q. Had you had some knowledge of the sea before - not as a seaman?

- I was at sea several years before I joined the police.

Q. Where was your cabin?

- On the outward passage on A deck near to the type writers' room.

Q. Did you go out on the "Lusitania" on the voyage as immediately preceding the voyage on which she was lost?

- Yes.

Q. Then you can tell me something about that possibly; was there boat drill on the voyage out?

- Yes.

Q. When did that take place?

- I think it was about 11 o'clock in the morning usually.

Q. Was there fire drill as well?

- Yes.

Q. Was that part of the boat drill or was it distinct drill from the boat drill?

- I will not be certain about that. I was generally out on A deck walking up and down and I used to see them go through the boat drill each day. There was fire drill, I believe, as well but I cannot say very much about that.

Q. On the voyage back, the voyage on which the vessel was lost was there boat drill?

- Yes.

Q. On the day before the casualty the 6th, did you notice whether anything happened to your lifeboats?

- The day before I think they were all swung out.

Q. Where were you at the time the vessel was struck on the 7th?

- Getting my lunch in the upper saloon, just finishing it.

Q. Did you see the torpedo before it struck the vessel?

- I did.

Q. Was your attention called to it?

- Yes, a passenger shouted, "Look out". I looked through the port hole, through the glass of the port at least -- and saw the torpedo coming into the ship.

Q. Then did you hear the blow almost immediately afterwards?

- I heard the muffled explosion in front of the ship.

Q. Did the vessel keep upright after she was struck?

- No, she listed right away to starboard.

Q. What did the passengers do in the circumstances?

- A lot of them at once made for the grand companionway.

Q. Did the stewards do that which you would expect good stewards to do?

- Yes, they kept cool and I think one of the ship's officers, (I am not sure who it was) was there as well, I cannot say now which of them it was.

Q. Was there any panic?

- No. A lot of people were hurrying up the companion and I walked slowly to the companion. I thought it would not do to hurry and I shouted to them to keep calm. I said,“There is no danger, take your time”, and they did as they were told.

Q. Where did you go to?

- I went up the companion on to B. deck.

Q. Did you remain on B. deck?

- No, I went along B. deck making my way to my own room to get a life belt and then to go to my proper station.

Q. Where was that?

- That was on the starboard side near to the bridge.

Q. On which deck?

- On A deck.

Q. That is the boat deck?

- Yes, the boat deck.

Q. When you got to the starboard side were the officers and men at the boats dealing with them?

- They were.

Q. Did you notice what was happening to the boats on the port side?

- Yes, when I went along on the port side I saw some sailors about to launch, or try to launch a life boat one of the foreward life boats, I cannot say which, and I thought to myself they would have great difficulty in lowering them if they could lower them at all on account of the list. However I did not stop there; I thought my best place was at my proper station.

Q. Was the ships company as far as you could see doing their best to get the passengers away?

- They were.

Q. Did the ship keep her way or did she lose it?

- She was travelling pretty fast when she was struck and she kept the speed up or a fairly good speed for a little time afterwards.

Q. Did that make it easy for the people to deal with the boats?

- They dare not lower them; she was going too fast.

Q. Did you get away into a boat?

- Finally when she was sinking I jumped and got into the bow of a lifeboat that was full of passengers which I had helped to load.

Q. Where did you have to jump from?

- From the boat deck, in fact from the top of a collapsible boat I think that was there; I am not quite sure: at any rate I jumped and caught the bow of a lifeboat and climbed in and looked round and found that the deck had sunk 10 or 12 feet, she was sinking fast at this time and one of the crew shouted out and asked had anybody got a knife to cut the fall I suppose and before we could do anything the ship was on top of us and the davits pulled the boat over and threw every one of us into the water.

Q. Which way did the ship go?

- Rolling to starboard and sinking by the bow.

Q. As far as you could see did that fact cause a great deal of loss of life, the fact that she fell over on her side?

- I think with her sinking forward and rolling over at the same time it did not give them a chance of getting all the boats away that they might have done.

Q. Did you see whether there was ample number of lifebelts in the cabin and elsewhere?

- Yes, in the cabin I was in there were two, I was the only occupant and in many of the cabins I saw lifebelts at different times during the voyage and there was a picture in the cabin with instructions how to put them on and wear the Boddy lifebelts. As a matter of fact I read the instructions while the ship was alongside the landing stage before she started and I tried the belt on and according to the instructions I got to know how to wear it

Q. Tell me this, if you can; did you notice whether the portholes on the day in question were closed or open?

- I did not see any open and the portholes in the saloon were certainly shut because I looked through the glass of one myself at the torpedo; I am certain about that.


Cross examined by Mr Scanlan.


Q. You looked through a port hole in the dining saloon on the starboard side?

- Yes.

Q. When you speak of portholes being shut you only refer to those that came under your own observation?

- Yes.

Q. You could not speak to the other portholes on the other side not to any of the portholes on the port side?

- The portholes were all shut on the starboard side of the saloon.

Q. But with regard to the other portholes on the starboard side you could not say whether they were shut or not?

- You mean the bedroom portholes?

Q. Yes.

- No, not at that moment.

Q. Then you can say nothing at all with regard to the portholes on the port side?

- No, I cannot speak as to them.

Q. You do not re ember do you the number of the boat on the starboard side which you jumped into as you have told us?

- No, I could not tell you that. One lifeboat was smashed with the explosion and I could not say with certainty the number of the boat I jumped into; I was only in her a second and then I was thrown out; I had no time to look round.

Q. Was she the last boat to be lowered from the starboard side?

- At that end where I was, yes; I was forward you see and she was the last boat to be lowered from that end, the next one was a smashed lifeboat that nobody could
lower.

Q. You indicated to Mr. Butler Aspinall that after this particular boat had been lowered some difficulty was experienced with a fall or something like that and that a knife was called for?

- Yes.

Q. So that the releasing of the boat had not been completely effected then?

- No, they had not had time.

Q. In ordinary circumstances to release a lifeboat you do not require to cut anything?

- No, unless perhaps it is a bit of seasoning or yarn round the hook; sometimes they may fasten that and a cut of the knife would loosen it.

Q. I think you have given us some evidence as to your own seafaring experience?

- Yes.

Q. Do you know anything about lifeboats or the practice of lowering them into the water with davits?

- I used to go through boat drill many years ago.

Q. Is it not the case that if your davits and falls are in order you can lower your boat and the falls can be released automatically without cutting anything?

- Yes you unhook the block, that is if you have room and time; everything depends on that.

Q. The fact that something required to be cut indicated that there was something wrong with the fall.
A. No, there was nothing wrong with the fall; I am certain of that.

Q. What was the knife required for?

- I think somebody got excited and shouted out. If we had had another two or three seconds they could have cut the boat ends quite easily, but she was too close to the ship.

Q. Was the person who shouted for a knife a member of the boats' crew?

- I could not say for certain; I think he was; I think it was a fireman, but I will not swear to that.

Q. I think that is what you said in answering my learned friend?

- Yes, one of the boats' crew, I think.

Q. Have you any doubt whatever that what he required the knife for was to cut the fall?

- I think it was an unnecessary thing to ask for myself. I know if we had had a moment or two or a few seconds we could have got the boat loose. It was a very exciting moment just then. The ship was coming on top of us.

Q. Did you know what efforts had been made before that to liberate this particular fall?

- The boat was just finishing loading her passengers and they hardly had time to get the oars out and push her away.

Q. You cannot throw any more light on it than that?

- No.

Q. Had any of the collapsible boats from the starboard side been got into the water before you left?

- I could not say that; they were lowering the boats the other end of the ship but I was not concerned with them; I was busy at my end for the moment.

Q. You were near the forecastle end?

- The bridge end.

Q. In your immediate vicinity were the any collapsible boats lowered or put into the water?

- No, not just where I was.

Q. Was any attempt made to get those at collapsible boats loosened so that they could float off?

- Yes, I noticed in one collapsible boat the battens were all loose and she was ready for floating and it took them all their time to get these two boats afloat with people and then down she went. If they had had time to do it there was no doubt in the world they could have lowered all the collapsible boats; I am certain of that. It was a question of time.

Q. Do you know how long it takes to lower an open boat, with a crew practiced in boat drill?

- Only a moment or so; that is in fair weather with an even keel.

Q. On this occasion the weather was fair?

- Yes.

Q. You say that difficulty was experienced on account of the list the ship had taken?

- Yes, that was the trouble.

Q. How many minutes actually elapsed from the time the torpedo struck the ship until she sunk?

- When I afterwards pulled myself together after the sinking I looked at my watch and 18 minutes had elapsed. My watch stopped when I went under the water, some salt water got into the watch, and I noticed then that my watch as near as I could tell registered 18 minutes from the time the ship was struck until I went underneath.

Q. In your seafaring days were you a seaman?

- No, I was chief steward in the later time.

Q. You were in the stewards' department?

- Yes.

Q. Do you know that the "Lusitania" carried only about 40 able seamen?

- No, I do not know the number.

Q. Would you be surprised to hear that she only carried only 40 able seamen in a crew of over 700?

- No, I should not be surprised now; she had no yards or sails.

Q. On the voyage outwards I think you have told us that there had been boat drills?

- Yes.

Q. Did you know how many of the crew took part in those drills?

- No, I could not say the number, but a boats' crew every morning paraded at a signal; it was a buzzer, or a siren that blew and they ran to their stations and got the boat out already for lowering.

Q. That is one boats' crew out of the total compliment of the crew of the ship?

- Yes, each day.

Q. There was no lowering of a boat or anything like that?

- Yes, they would lower it a certain distance and then hoist it in again.

Q. Lower it into the water?

- No, not into the water, the ship was travelling; they would lower it down and bring it back again with the men in the boat.


Re-Examined by Mr. BUTLER ASPINALL.


Q. You have just told Mr. Scanlan that you were a chief steward for some time?

- Yes

Q. What is your present position?

- Superintendent of Police.

Q. As Superintendent of Police have you any special position?

- At the moment?

Q. Yes.

- I am now the Governor Of the Main Bridewell at Liverpool. At the time I was on the ship I was a detective inspector.

Q. I want you to explain to me what your present position is; what is the Main Bridewell?

- It is the Centre Collecting Station for all persons from all parts of the City.

Q. What city are you referring to?

- Liverpool.

Q. Speaking generally do you think that the crew in the way they dealt with the boats were efficient or inefficient?

- I think they were efficient.

Signed by the Witness after the
deposition had been read to him
and the alterations had been
made and initialed.
William John Pierpont [Sig.]
R. V. Wynne.