The Californian Incident
This booklet, addressing one of the most enduring enigmas since the incredible night the Titanic went down, is available for printing and download, as a supplement to the book, Farewell. Titanic. It is made available for research and citation.
During the historic (and historically tragic) 2001 expedition, I inscribed Styrofoam cups and subjected them, in a chamber outside the crew compartment, to the pressures at a depth of 2.5 miles, as we explored the bow and stern sections of the Titanic. The coffee cups were compressed smaller than shot glasses. They were created for charitable causes. Any reader who contributes five dollars or more to any of the following three causes will be entered in a lottery to receive one of the cups. All three are organizations that direct all donations received to the people meant to be helped:
Proof of donation (please make sure checking acct. numbers and other such information are stricken) can be forwarded through Wiley (publisher of Farewell, Titanic), or through my literary agent or lecture agent.
The Californian Incident
SPANGLES, SIDE LIGHTS, AND MYSTERY SHIPS
From quartermaster George Rowe’s point of view, atop the Titanic‘s after-bridge, the night promised to be cold and uneventful even after a close encounter with what he at first t hought to be a near-miss with a windjammer with its sails set, but which turned out to be an iceberg passing by on the starboard side, at twenty minutes before midnight, April 14, 1912. He did not think about it again even after the ship came to a stop, started up again, stopped again. Not until he observed lifeboats being lowered over the side of his ship did Lowe phone the Bridge, where an irritated voice on the other end of the line asked who and where he was, then asked him to bring a heavy crate of emergency signal rockets from the after-Bridge to the Bridge.
As he reached the forward boat deck, a loud voice called out for the distress rockets to be brought forth immediately.
“Right here!” Rowe announced, hauling the large, heavy box. He realized now that it was Captain Smith who had picked up the phone, only to be asked if he knew why lifeboats were being swung out. The possibility of serving his quartermaster crow for breakfast for sounding so oblivious an hour into the disaster did not seem to be on the captain’s mind.
“I want you to fire one of those rockets every five or six minutes,” Smith said, pointing toward the lights of a ship drifting several miles away. Morse signals had evidently failed to get the stranger’s attention. Smith”s last great hope was that brilliant white spangles from the rockets — the universal signal for distress at sea – would bring the other vessel to their rescue.
The first rocket burst a hundred feet or more above Titanic‘s decks, about 12:45AM. At this time, mystery writer Jacques Futrelle arrived on the port side. When passengers asked Second Officer Charles Lightoller, “Why are you getting the boats out?” he had assured them, and himself, that the launchings were merely a precaution.
“Very likely you’ll all be taken aboard the Titanic again at daylight,” Lightoller insisted. “Or, at worst, you’ll all be taken on board that other ship.”
Every time the Titanic shifted in the current, bringing the lights of the other ship alternately out of and into view, Lightoller pointed the stranger out to the passengers. He was sure that even if the mystery ship’s crew failed to have anyone listening on a wireless receiver to the SOS call of the most powerful Marconi apparatus on the sea, the distress rockets would bring them to Titanic‘s side. After all, everyone knew what distress rockets meant.
“We could all see her lights quite plainly,” Lightoller would tell history, “[but] she seemed not to pay the slightest heed to either our wireless calls or to the distress signals we were firing. Here again we were up against it.”
Practically the very last chance the Titanic had was a warning from the Californian, almost directly ahead, during the last half-hour before impact, and surrounded by ice. It was not merely a lone iceberg in the Titanic‘s path; it was an entire field of them. Telegraphist Jack Phillips had cut the Californian‘s Marconi operator off, and he neither took the message of warning nor passed it along to the Titanic‘s Bridge. The Californian was, at that moment, so close to the Titanic, and its signal so loud, that the headphones blasted Phillips’ ears, painfully. Phillips ordered the other ship to shut up. The Californian‘s Marconi operator — near exhaustion in the first place and obeying the Titanic‘s order to “Shut up,” in the second place — shut down his wireless apparatus, and went to sleep. The Titanic was then only minutes from making its acquaintance with the iceberg.
Nearly three hours later, the Titanic had disappeared and in its place was a circle of death in which more than a thousand people struggled in the water, clambering over pieces of floating wreckage and over each other. The commander of the boat in which fashion reporter Edith Russell departed, did not want to move Boat 11 near the people screaming in the water. Edith Russell knew they were already close enough to have felt the waves from Titanic‘s break-up. The crewmen in command of number 11 asked the women and children to cheer as loudly as they could when the first screams reached them — to cheer back at the dark spot where Titanic had been.
“Those cheers that you hear,” one of them lied, “mean that they have all gotten into lifeboats and are saved.”
In later years, Edith would look back with disbelief on how she and the others fell for it — “that we actually cheered” — believing that the shout in the night was one of thanksgiving.
Instead of rowing toward the swimmers, the crew rowed toward the light of a possible rescue ship that throughout the crisis had remained more or less stationary on the horizon. Boat 11 rowed a half mile, or more, away from Titanic; but Edith would recall that the more vigorously they rowed toward the light, the further away it seemed.
Quartermaster Bright was anxious to get out of Boat D, into one of the more vacant (in fact, half-empty) lifeboats, and attempt some sort of rescue. His opportunity would not come until Fifth Officer Lowe arrived alongside in Boat 14; but by then it would be too late. The men aboard D were uncooperative, and seemed more interested in pulling away toward the mast-light of another vessel — which Bright believed to be the light of a fishing schooner, about four or five miles away.
In Boat 16, stewardess Violet Jessop noticed that they were weighed down by so many passengers that it was not possible to make very much progress, either toward the swimmers or in the direction of a silent mystery ship’s lights. Master of Arms Bailey told his passengers to row toward the lights.
For a while, after able seaman John Buley saw the stern break away from the boiler rooms and coal bunkers, and watched the after-part of the Titanic settle down again on an even keel, he and almost everyone else in Boat 10 had held onto the hope that, “The after-part would float altogether.”
Buley’s next best hope was the mystery steamer whose lights he had seen clearly from the Boat Deck, but which from sea-level showed only her mast lights. Buley was certain the steamer had been close enough to see Titanic‘s rockets and even her deck lights. He had told passengers crowding nervously around the last lifeboats not to worry, pointing out the lights of their rescuer — which he now supposed had luckily prevented a panic-driven rush on most of the lifeboats, while unluckily reinforcing a sense of complacency that contributed to many of the boats being sent down only half full. The apparition on the horizon was curiously life-sustaining and, at the same time, deadly.
Eventually, even the stranger’s mast lights disappeared; but by then, no other boats were rowing toward the lights. The loss of that last hope, and the sudden sense of profound loneliness on the sea, was, Buley believed, what finally brought at least four of the port side boats together.
By 3:20AM, an hour after Titanic‘s submerging stern section stopped the pocket watches of everyone who was cast into the water, Boats D, 4, 10, and 12 were converging.
Standing in the broken and half-flooded Boat A, passenger Olaus Abelseth was trying to stay warm by flexing his muscles and swinging his arms. A man reached out from behind and placed an arm around Olaus” neck and across his chest in an apparent attempt to keep himself from dropping into the boat’s nearly knee-deep pool of lethally cold water. Olaus allowed the man to hang on for a few minutes but decided it was getting difficult enough to stand up on his own without trying to bear the weight of two people. He did not know that the man holding onto him had died, until he attempted to pry the arm loose and discovered that it had actually frozen in position and had to be all but broken to be set free.
About this time, on the Bridge of the rescue ship Carpathia, Captain Arthur Rostron had observed the first of the green Roman candle signals lit by Fourth Officer Boxhall. The green light appeared suddenly, straight ahead, as Rostron steamed at 17.5 knots toward Titanic‘s last reported position.
Rostron held out some small hope that the green company signal meant the White Star Liner itself was still afloat; but as he approached the scene, peering through binoculars, he realized that he was viewing signal flares from a lifeboat, and that the Titanic was gone.
About 3:00AM, Carpathia had called out to Titanic, advising her to stay alert for Carpathia‘s own rocket signals… “if you are there.”
The logs of all ships listening in, recorded, “No reply.”
At 4:00AM, the Carpathia altered course to avoid star-eclipsing icebergs that had loomed in its path. Captain Rostron began firing signal rockets — which immediately communicated to survivors in the boats that they were not doomed to become castaways and help was very near.
In Boat A, Olaus Abelseth tried to keep a half-frozen man from New Jersey focused on the approaching lights. “Brace up!” Olaus said. “We can see a ship now.”
He took one of the man’s hands and raised it in the air and held him up by a shoulder, propping him up out of the water.
“Who are you?” the man said. “Let me be.”
Olaus himself was weakening, unable to hold the man up for very much longer. Letting him slide down into the freezing water washing over the boat’s seats would be the end of him, so Olaus pulled one of the many pieces of wood floating nearby out of the sea and tried to use it to support the man like the back of a chair; but after only a few minutes, the man died.
Others in the lifeboats continued to insist that they had seen not just the Carpathia, but at least one other ship that had been standing frustratingly near, and yet too far away. For quartermaster George Rowe, the night had turned mysterious and adventurous enough without the additional complexity of phantom vessels that came and went or stood still. He was, without ever really understanding why, placed in the middle of controversies and conspiracy theories that would likely forever resist resolution.
Before he was ordered away in command of Boat C, Rowe had hauled his crate of distress rockets to the Bridge and had assisted Boxhall in firing at least eight of them. One of his last three rockets misfired and flared out much lower and brighter than the others, lighting up the Titanic‘s decks so brightly that the finer details of her profile and her foremast could doubtless be distinguished up to ten miles away — so brightly that the quartermaster thought, for a moment, that he was about to be burned by his own rocket.
Captain Smith had pointed out to Rowe, repeatedly, the lights of a steamship stopped in the north — which Smith clearly believed was either near or within the five-to-six mile radius at which a signal from the Morse Lamp on the Boat Deck could be clearly seen and read.
“Can you Morse?” Captain Smith had asked Rowe.
“A little,” Rowe replied, between rocket firings.
Smith directed Rowe to the Morse lamp and said, “Call that ship up and when she answers, tell her that we are the Titanic sinking — please have all your boats ready.”
Rowe never did receive a discernible reply. Between lamp Morsings and rocket firings, about 1:20AM, the quartermaster believed he had seen the single white mast light of another, much smaller vessel — also nearby.
The captain examined the light through binoculars, concluded that it must be a bright planet low on the horizon, and commented that the Carpathia was coming up fast from the south and would, with any hope, soon be arriving.
When he cast off from the Titanic in Boat C, Rowe began pulling for the solitary white light of the smaller and evidently approaching vessel — which he concluded was a sailing ship, a schooner. Of this, he was certain. Before daylight, “A wind sprung up,” he would tell investigator Burton, “and she sort of hauled off from us.”
The Titanic was gone by then, Rowe said. She had gone down “with a noise like an immense heap of gravel being tipped from a hamper.” He marked the moment of the sound and the disappearance at 2:20AM, two hours and forty minutes after he saw the iceberg.
In this same boat, the ship’s owner, Ismay, heard the final trump but did not look back. Rescue by one of the mysterious strangers in the dark had been his only hope of seeing everyone still aboard the Titanic brought home alive.
According to witness Lawrence Beesley, after picking up passengers from the Titanic‘s lifeboats, the Captain of the Carpathia turned toward New York, working his way slowly along the southern fringe of the ice field, which appeared to have expanded beyond the dimensions reported by Marconi traffic the previous day. Boxhall would report that he had never seen huge, flat slabs of ice stretching down across the Grand Banks region before. Beesley wondered, had they only known the extent of the slabs, or of their nearness, if it would have been possible for them to land people on the slabs from the boats and row back in empty lifeboats, with little fear of being swamped, to pick up those left swimming after the Titanic went down.
The field of flat slabs was quite near when the Carpathia turned west; and it seemed feasible to Beesley, to have made use of the floating islands during the sinking; but what he did not take into account was their drift southward during the night, to Carpathia‘s position. The steamship Californian had found its path westward completely blocked by the islands the night before, seven miles or more north of Carpathia and the Titanic‘s lifeboats.
The ice field stretched as far away north as Beesley could see — and in most places appeared to be ten or twelve miles wide, with occasional straits in between.
“It was an extraordinary sight,” he would recall, “to stand on deck and see the sea covered with solid ice — white and dazzling in the sun and dotted here and there with icebergs. We ran close up, only two or three hundred yards away, and steamed parallel to the flow, until it ended towards night and we saw to our infinite satisfaction the last of the icebergs and the field fading away astern.”
Along the way, Carpathia stopped her engines for a burial at sea. Four of those taken aboard had succumbed to hypothermia and died. The crew and many passengers stood on deck, heads bowed, while a service was read. No one remembered the words read, or the specific piece of music that accompanied the reading.
THE LOST LOG OF THE Californian
As Parks Stephenson glided over the Titanic‘s debris field in 2005, one item in particular seemed more poignant than the rest: A metal box with wooden side panels that had been dismantled and mostly metabolized by microbes and invertebrates, allowing Parks to look inside.
He saw rows of brass cylinders — each of them, he wrote in his report, “closely matches turn-of-the-century diagrams of rocket detonators in both size and shape.”
Each of the cylinders appeared to have been sealed against moisture during manufacture; and as the water pressure around them increased, they were crimped and crushed, in much the same manner as the tires of William Carter’s Renault Town Car were crushed.
Quartermaster Rowe and Fourth Officer Boxhall fired approximately eight rockets. Quartermaster Bright had told Senator Smith that he brought a second crate of rockets to the Bridge, and that the distress signals were being fired from both the starboard and port sides.
Satisfied that he really was peering into a box of signal rocket detonators, Parks found it difficult to determine, one way or the other, if a side of the box that was not open to examination contained an additional set of rockets. The side visible to him was densely packed, designed to hold a five-by-four array of rockets. Seventeen of the rockets were still clearly in place — “with three obviously missing,” Parks wrote.”
The night Rowe and Boxhall launched Titanic‘s rockets was certainly less dramatic, but no less historic, on the deck s of the nearby steamer Californian.
Indeed, when the producers of a popular 1990s t.v. series called Quantum Leap asked Walter Lord to co-script a Titanic episode, the historian commented that if he really could travel back in time to that night, he might not visit the Titanic at all but, rather, “would love to be a fly on the wall aboard the Californian.”
At the American Inquiry, Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian told Senator Smith he was not anywhere “near” the Titanic, and tried to place his ship “19 1/2 to 19 3/4 miles” north of the position at which Titanic struck the iceberg. Barely more than two weeks later, at the British Inquiry, Captain Lord would increase his radius from the Titanic disaster to thirty miles, or more. By 1956, the distance would be stretched to forty miles.
Apprentice Games Gibson testified that a mysterious ship that he and Second Officer Stone saw fire eight rockets before she disappeared shortly after 2:00AM, was only four to seven miles away from the Californian.
Though Gibson insisted — on account of not being able to see the many forward lights he believed the Titanic should have been displaying — that the mystery ship was not the Titanic but merely a tramp steamer, Chief Officer Stewart, Second Officer Stone, and Third Officer Groves would swear that they were close enough to discern such deck structures as the engine room skylight of a large ship whose aft lights gradually faded; close enough to see individual white stars in the rocket-bursts and for Fred Stewart to see that the rockets climbed barely if at all higher than the masthead lights; and close enough for Stone to observe that one of the last three rockets (just as reported by Rowe aboard the Titanic) appeared to have detonated prematurely and burned “much brighter than the others.”
Up to the point at which his crew started reporting strange lights hear the southern horizon, Captain Lord was, by comparison to those in charge of the Titanic, a paragon of preparedness in the vicinity of ice. At 6:30PM on Sunday April 14, he sighted three large icebergs five miles south of Californian‘s position, in the general direction of Titanic‘s track. Lord’s Marconi operator sent out the coordinates of the three icebergs and received acknowledgements from several ships. One of the return signals — “All right, we have it”” — came from the Titanic.
Stanley Lord, rather than run his ship’s engines up to their full speed of thirteen knots, plodded along at eleven knots, while he doubled the number of lookouts, placing one man on the prow and others on the lowest decks, near the water, where ice could be sighted further away along the horizon than from the Crow’s Nest.
The Californian had moved barely more than forty miles west from the sighting of the first three icebergs, until, about 10:20PM, the lookouts sighted a prairie of white field ice, stretching north and south under the starlight and standing generally three to eight feet above sea level. Californian radioed other ships that she was now stopped by ice, and gave her position. Titanic — which had been approaching from behind at twice Californian‘s speed (covering more than eighty miles in four hours, compared with Californian‘s forty-four) — telegraphed back that the Californian‘s operator should ‘stand by’ and ‘keep out’ because Titanic was busy sending passenger messages to Cape Race.
This exchange took place only minutes before third class passenger Neshan Krekorian looked out through his porthole, low along Titanic‘s starboard side, from nearly the same viewing angle at which Captain Lord had placed his lookouts, and saw the ice field’s sentinals eclipsing stars in the north. Krekorian, who had never seen icebergs before, thought them merely as interesting, and did not believe they presented any danger that the Titanic‘s officers of the watch were not already observing very closely, several decks higher (where the angle of view drew the star eclipsing icebergs below the black knife-edge of the horizon, rendering them black objects against black ocean, on a moonless night).
From this moment onward, history seemed to be sneaking up behind Captain Stanley Lord, its fangs glistening. By the time he reached the British Inquiry, Captain Lord (aided by the men under his command), was to become his own worst witness.
The ship’s log, presented to the committee by Captain Lord, would be conspicuous for its absence of the Marconi operator’s discovery, upon waking at 5:40AM, that the Titanic had struck an iceberg, or that the Carpathia had by then come into view and was picking up lifeboats. Just as conspicuously absent from the Californian‘s log, was any mention of rockets seen during the night — any mention at all, though a reason Captain Lord was called in for questioning was that his crew had spoken of seeing rockets, associated with a mysterious ship that had gradually assumed an odd angle and then disappeared, several miles away. Indeed, it would seem, according to the official log, that the Californian had experienced a prolonged period of what might be called, “missing time.”
The solicitor general asked Chief Officer George F. Stewart if, while stopped in ice, a ship was seen sending up what appeared to be distress rockets, would not such an event be expected to have been written down in the ship’s log?
“I do not know,” Stewart replied.
“Oh, yes you do,” the examiner insisted.
“Yes,”” Stewart admitted, “I daresay I should have entered it, but it was not [there for me, when I returned to duty], in the scrap log book.”
“That is not what I asked you. What I asked you was ‘apply your mind to it’ supposing you had been keeping the scrap log in those circumstances and you saw distress signals being sent up by a ship a few miles from you. Is that, or is not that, a thing you would enter in the log?”
“How do you account for it not being there?”
“I do not know, my lord,” the chief officer said.
“It was careless not to put it in, was it not?”
“Or forgetful,” Chief Officer Stewart tried to explain.
“Forgetful?” the examiner asked. “Do you think that a careful man is likely to forget the fact that distress signals have been going [up] from a neighboring steamer?”
“No, my lord.”
“Then do not talk to me about forgetfulness.”
When the examiner referred to the ship’s navigation, as recorded in the log, an inexplicable change of course appeared to have been made, seemingly with no purpose other than to place the Californian (in the log) at least thirty miles north of the Titanic.
The wireless reports of April 13 and 14, 1912, had put the ice field’s lower edge just below the latitude of 42 degrees north; so the Titanic, the Californian, and other ships had begun adjusting their course southward toward 41 degrees.
Californian‘s log also recorded the southward track: At noon, April 13, 1912, she was at 43 deg. 43 min. north. Twenty-four hours later, she was at 42 deg. 5 min. north, because, as Stewart acknowledged, the crew knew that ice was descending from the north, in a southerly direction.
Yet when the Californian stopped at the edge of the ice field ten hours later, according to the log, she had ceased moving south and remained at the same exact latitude: 42 deg., 5 min. north. This course would have required an actual change of heading, in which the ship ceased moving south toward the 41st parallel and angled her course to starboard.
The examiner wanted to know who wrote down the Californian‘s 10:20PM position for the night of April 14, 1912.
“The captain gave the position,” Stewart answered.
“The captain did that?”
“Yes,” said Stewart.
“Was there any reason that you know of why between noon on the 14th of April and the time when she stopped, she should have altered her course and ceased to go on more to the south?”
“No,” Stewart replied.
“There is no reason you know of?”
The commissioner wanted to understand if this line of questioning from the examiner was leading, now, to a suggestion that the ship’s log had been “doctored.”
The examiner clearly suspected this. Chief Officer Stewart had consistently made reference to a ‘scrap log’ — subsequently described as a first draft log (the actual, original ship’s log), transcribed into the captain’s final and official log. Third Officer Charles Victor Groves attempted to explain that the scrap log was a book, kept quite separate from the official log.
With specific regard to the Californian‘s strange coordinates and the “missing time” in the captain’s log, the examiner wanted to know, “Is the scrap log here?”
“No,” Groves said. “It is destroyed from time to time.” He then tried to account for the destruction by explaining that once every page of the ‘scrap book’ was filled with log entries, and once these were recorded in the captain’s official log, the scrap log was typically thrown away. In this case, Groves said, the original log book covering the night the Titanic sank was almost completely filled after the Californian reached its destination in Boston and then departed for Liverpool and the British Inquiry. It was thus completely finished to the very last page about half way across the Atlantic, and was then “thrown away.”
“Where was it thrown away?” the commissioner asked.
“I expect it went over the side.”
“Did you throw it over the side?”
“I did not,” Groves said.
“I don’t know.”
The commissioner seemed to have a very good idea, now, where the Californian had been that night, and what sort of game its officers were trying to play with him. The log was gone, and nothing could be proved under the standards of British law.
To make sure there was at least a clear record for futurity, of what Charles Victor Groves knew, the commissioner asked of him, and demanded an answer from him: “You would know this book was the book which contained the real record of the 14th of April?”
“Of course I know that,” Groves said.
“And by that time, of course, you, and others on your ship, knew quite well there was a very serious inquiry being made as to the position of your ship and what she was doing on the 14th of April?”
And the commissioner reminded the third officer that according to other testimony, there was much discussion as to whether the ship whose lights and rockets had been seen from the Californian was the Titanic, and whether the steamer seen from the Titanic was the Californian.
Charles Victor Groves expressed no uncertainty on this issue; and perhaps even a tad smugly, he added that, aboard the Californian, “That was a discussion amongst ourselves.”
Between the two light sources – Californian watching a steamer in the south, Titanic watching a steamer in the north – each a mystery to the other, confusions of every species seemed to have gained the upper hand. Like a gaggle of harpies and Furies, they held dominion over the actions of almost everyone who crossed their paths, that night.
Aboard Boat 8, Seaman Thomas Jones did not want to believe the Titanic could sink, even as he watched her tilt heavily to starboard, then even more heavily to port. He refused to believe it even as one whole end of her was levered up out of the sea. Jones had been lowered away with instructions to row toward the lights of another ship that appeared to be drifting within only a few miles, and then to unload his passengers and bring the stranger steaming to Titanic‘s side — “Just as a precaution,” he was told.
Thomas Jones believed what he was told – and what the officers told him was what he wanted to believe. So, he left under the distinct impression that the lifeboats were only being sent away until water was pumped clear from the forward compartments. Though he had been sitting inside the forecastle when suddenly the hull rumbled, “the same way as a ship going through a lot of loose ice,” and though he had heard the rush of water from below and seen a between-deck tarpaulin of the No. 1 cargo hatch being lifted by displaced air, he believed in compartmentalization and unsinkability. Confident, he rowed toward the light of the other ship, convinced that there was plenty of time to cover the intervening five or six miles, and that the Titanic could be left safely behind.
“I pulled for the light,” Jones testified to Senator Newlands. “And I found that I could not get near the light, and I stood by for a little while. I wanted to return to the [Titanic]; but the ladies were frightened, and I had to carry out the captain’s orders and pull for that light. [Even after the Titanic was gone], I pulled for about two hours and then it started to get toward daybreak, and we lost the light; and then all of a sudden we saw the Carpathia coming, and we turned right back and made for the Carpathia.”
In Boat 16, stewardess Violet Jessop had raged against the unbelievable negligence of the mystery ship in the north. Her rage came and went, then came again and stayed. She watched the lights of a steamship standing still through the night — of which she would one day write, “Nobody realized she had stopped her engines and telegraph [receiver].” Though Jessop would eventually be certain the ship could be none other than the Californian, her greatest rage would now and forever be reserved for the Board of Trade, and its pornographic failure, “to require a sufficient number of lifeboats for all.”
Like Seaman Jones, Quartermaster Arthur Bright had been instructed to row his boat toward the lights of a steamer; but he did not get very far, having been thwarted by what appeared to be a second set of mystery lights. Bright did not believe, later, that he had been rowing toward the lights of the steamship Californian at all. The quartermaster was certain that he had, for a time, been pulling toward the mast lights of a second, smaller vessel about five miles away – which he believed to be a fishing schooner and not a steamer.
Notwithstanding the lost hours (in the “official” log) and the lost actual log of the Californian, the ship’s officers spoke freely about what lights they saw and when they saw them – and in what sequence events seemed to unfold.
Third Officer Charles Victor Groves told his British examiners that as his ship, the Californian, lay to because an ice field blocked its path westward, another, larger vessel came up from the east. The third officer watched its forward mast light appear on the horizon at 11:10PM. Fifteen minutes later, at 11:25, a second mast light was revealed as the stranger, though she at first appeared to be steaming straight toward the Californian, turned out to be aimed a few miles further south. From this moment onward, separation between the two masts became more apparent.
When first sighted, Groves judged the ship to be about ten or twelve miles away, with a bearing angled so slightly to the south that for a while, as the deck lights first came into foreshortened view, her red port-side running light was visible (a further indication that the Californian had not been on a bearing thirty miles north of the Titanic‘s track, as claimed in the Californian‘s official log); but, rather, on a bearing almost directly in the Titanic‘s path.
The deck lights of the newcomer climbed over the horizon at 11:30PM, bearing toward Californian‘s position with such speed that Groves knocked on Captain Lord’s door, waking him, alerting him to the approach of a large passenger liner — its many, many deck lights bunched together by the oblique angle of approach.
“Can you make anything out of her lights?” Groves reported Captain Lord as saying.
“Yes,” Groves replied. ‘she is evidently a passenger steamer coming up on us.”
The captain mentioned that the only large passenger steamer that could possibly be approaching their position from the east was the Titanic. Lord then left his door closed, apparently content that the Titanic‘s officers and lookouts were sufficiently skilled as to remove from his mind any concerns that the liner would run over his well-lighted ship.
The liner had approached within five to seven miles, by Groves’ estimate, when, at 11:40PM, it seemed to shut out its lights as if something had blocked or shut them out from view — and then some of the lights appeared to come into view again, with the stranger seeming to stop and change orientation. Groves concluded that he had just witnessed the steamer turn hard to one side, in an attempt to avoid running into ice.
Captain Lord came briefly onto the Bridge and commented that the new arrival did not look to him like a passenger ship; but Groves insisted it was indeed a large ship, and explained that it had for some reason changed orientation and many of its lights could no longer be seen. The captain was unimpressed and returned to his couch in the chart room.
Examiner Rowlatt was particularly concerned about the moment given, for the shutting out of the lights — during the same moment Titanic would have been passing behind (from a Californian point of view) a light-blocking iceberg that stood between the liner’s starboard side and any ship watching from the north.
“What makes you fix the time 11:40 for her lights going out?” Rowlatt asked Groves.
“Because that’s the time we struck one bell to call the middle watch,” the third officer replied.
“Do you remember that bell was struck at that time?”
And history would record, with equal certainty, that bells had rung out from the Titanic‘s Crow’s nest at that time. Bells continued to ring out in the engine rooms and boiler rooms, as the liner changed orientation after the impact, steamed southwest at half speed for two or three minutes, and came to rest with additional, light-eclipsing icebergs drifting nearby.
LORD VS. LORD
According to his testimony, Captain Lord had observed the approaching ship about 11:00PM, shortly before he prepared his bedding in the chart room. Moving back and forth between the Bridge and the enclosure of the chart room, he took note of the visitor, several times.
The captain told examiners that he disagreed with Groves about the visitor’s port side red light being visible at any time. He insisted that only the green starboard running light had faced him as she approached (an observation consistent with the Titanic approaching Californian, at least during the minutes after the initial sighting, not from almost directly head-on, but from an angle further to the southeast). Lord denied that it was a large ship ablaze with many deck lights and insisted it could not possibly have been the Titanic, but, instead, a ship much smaller – not much larger, if any larger, than his own ship.
Stanley Lord agreed with Groves that the ship was about five miles away when it stopped. At Groves’ urging, he had examined the stranger himself, to arrive at this number.
Shortly after 12:30AM, the captain returned to his chart room and lay down. An hour had not yet passed when Second Officer Stone called through the speaking tube to inform Lord that the other ship had started launching white rockets.
At the British hearings, Captain Lord would put Herbert Stone in the unenviable position of having to agree with him that the other vessel, five miles away, was a relatively small craft — “the same as ourselves.” He was also expected to go along with Lord’s “theory” that a second mystery ship must have been on the horizon, aligned directly behind the nearer visitor, and firing rockets that only appeared to be coming from the small steamer.
The latter claim apparently became too much for Stone to abide: “I could not understand why,” he said, “if rockets came from a steamer beyond this one, when the [nearer] steamer altered her bearing [while drifting in the currents], the rockets should also alter their bearing.”
On May 14, 1912, one of the British examiners pressed Lord for more details about the rockets. He replied, “I did not know anything about these rockets until about 7 o’clock the next morning.”
“But you saw one rocket fired?”
“I heard of one rocket fired. I did not see it fired,” Lord corrected.
“That was before you went to the chart room?” the examiner asked.
“No,” Captain Lord corrected, again. “[That was] at a quarter past one,” he emphasized, in contradiction of the claim, just made, that he knew nothing about rockets being observed until about 7:00AM.
“I want the evidence put before me as clearly as possible,” the commissioner insisted — and he began to address the size of the ship that had stopped five or seven miles away in the south. The captain’s third officer, Charles Victor Groves, stated that he could distinctly see the lights of the two masts.
“I saw only one,” Captain Lord stated, with certainty.
This point of contention was of great importance, the attorney general explained, because the Titanic had two huge masts, each displaying a prominent electric light.
“When was it,” the attorney general asked Lord — “When was it, the third officer told you he had seen the two [mast] lights?”
“Before twelve o’clock,” the captain said. “At the time, I saw one; he saw two.” Captain Lord then tried to explain that he and Groves were not on the deck together and only discussed this the following day.
The attorney general assured the captain that his third officer would be called upon to verify this new explanation, and almost immediately Mr. Lord’s certainty began to waver. He complained, “It was so long ago,” and a month after the incident he was simply not clear on some of the details.
“Now,” the commissioner of the hearings said, “I want to know this: You had seen only one [mast light], and you and he [your third officer] were on the deck together, as I understand you?”
“Why did you ask him [the following day] how many [mast lights] there were?”
“Well,” Captain Lord said, “I was curious about this Titanic accident. I was trying to locate this ship that was supposed to be between us and the Titanic.” And the captain reiterated that there was “no doubt whatever” in his mind that the mystery ship possessed only one mast light.
The attorney general broke in again: “If he — [Mr. Groves] — did see two lights, it must have been the Titanic, must it not?”
Faithful to a pattern of automatic nay-saying of anything the other person said, the captain replied, “It does not follow.”
“Do you know any other vessel it could have been?”
The captain claimed that there could have been any number of vessels with two bright electric lights atop two widely separated masts. “Any amount,” Captain Lord emphasized.
“Which — I mean,” the commissioner pressed — “at this particular time and at this particular spot”: A ship that stopped at 11:40PM according to Groves, that fired the last of its rockets at 1:40AM, then disappeared at 2:20AM, according Captain Lord’s own crewman, Herbert Stone — and which, according to Captain Lord (as related to him by Stone), not only stopped at 11:40PM but briefly started up again, just as the Titanic had done… And yet, while reiterating how the other ship had started up again after stopping, and while Lord placed the strange visitor eight miles away from the Californian, the captain insisted with absolute certainty that the stranger could not possibly have been the Titanic.
The commissioner continued to press the paradox of Lord’s own testimony forward: “At this particular time… and at this particular spot, can you suggest any other vessel it could have been?”
“Well, I do not know,” Lord said.
“Carrying two [mast] lights?”
“That particular spot?” Captain Lord replied, and gave the matter some thought. Then, and in spite of his mention, on this same day and at this same hearing, of “that particular spot” being as few as five miles away from the stranger, and then nineteen miles away from the Titanic, the captain began moving the goal posts.
“The spot mentioned here,” Lord continued “as nineteen miles away, is not, in my opinion, where the Titanic hit the berg,”
“Within a radius of twenty miles of you?”
“No!” Lord said. “Thirty miles.”
In 1956, Captain Lord was still moving the goal posts. By the time historian Walter Lord published A Night to Remember, Stanley Lord (who was related to Walter Lord only by the coincidence of having the same last name), was placing his command forty miles from the Titanic.
Quite literally, the captain wanted the historian’s book burned, if not withdrawn by its publisher and kept from ever again seeing the light of day. By this time, Captain Lord had amassed a number of powerful allies (including the family of J. Bruce Ismay). Within a month of reaching the best seller lists, a smear campaign was launched, calling Walter Lord’s description of the Californian incident in particular a lie, and the book in general a pack of lies. Walter’s publisher, Holt, was threatened with a lawsuit, along with the era’s most poisonous fallacy, the sudden rise of the ad hominem argument.
During the mid-1950s, guilt by mere accusation or even the threat of accusation was often enough to cause great harm. A writer against racism could be called a communist; and all sorts of damning suspicions were raised in those days against any writer, actor, or media personality nearing age forty who, like Walter Lord, chose to remain unmarried. Smear campaigns were not taken lightly. The MacCarthy-esque witch hunt mentality all too easily and all too often killed careers and destroyed lives.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible emerged (as if by a miracle) from this same atmosphere in which broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow’s producers were intimidated into all but completely muzzling him.
Fortunately for Walter Lord, his defenders at Holt displayed more backbone than Murrow’s bosses. After conducting a detailed factual review of the 1912 Inquiries and of Walter Lord’s more than twenty years of correspondence and interviews with survivors of the Titanic — Holt’s president assigned an attorney to the historian and vowed to stand by him no matter what the threat. The publisher refused to pull A Night to Remember from production and held firm to its plans for a paperback edition — which would go to press as a corrected edition after Captain Stanley Lord was permitted to present his own evidence for review.
Walter Lord had no objections to a fact-based investigation, no matter how costly or time-consuming it might ultimately prove to be. His responsibility, as he saw it, was to do everything humanly possible to get the history recorded correctly.
And so it began: A battle that by mutual agreement was to be restricted to the arena of historical and scientific details, following the evidence wherever it might lead. When presented with his own testimony from 1912, Captain Lord withdrew his estimate of the Californian‘s location from a forty mile radius to within thirty miles of the Titanic. He soon thereafter conceded twenty miles, but stopped at twenty — “and no closer.”
By then, Walter had a letter from Captain Stanley Lord’s own third officer, dated July 17, 1955.
“I have never had the slightest doubt whatsoever,” Charles Victor Groves’ letter began, “that the ship which I saw on that evening in April 1912 whilst we were stopped in the ice, was indeed the Titanic.”
The publisher’s attorney handed Captain Lord’s side a copy.
“As a matter of fact,” Groves continued, “When I pointed her out to Captain Lord when he came [on]to the Bridge [and the ship was still approaching], he remarked, “That will be the Titanic on her maiden voyage.” Charles Groves further explained that the captain did not remain on the bridge to see the ship stop at 11:40PM because of the intense cold; so he had retreated to the warmth of his couch in the chart room.
“Probably the Titanic was no more than ten miles distant at the time under discussion,” Groves concluded. ‘she would certainly be no further.”
Groves himself was available, and willing to tell everything he knew.
Publically, Captain Lord would never concede that the Titanic was any nearer than twenty miles, with the singular exception of a map that would subsequently be produced by the captain’s supporters, placing the Titanic on the opposite side of the ice field. In this new map, the Californian was blocked by ice on the east side of the huge, north-to-south field, and the Titanic had penetrated all the way across nearly ten miles of pack ice and icebergs without hitting anything at all until it arrived almost free and safe on the west side. The field was then alleged to have shifted and blocked the two ships off from each other, about ten miles apart. The Titanic was marked as having sunk on the west side of the barrier, at 41degrees 46 minutes North, 50 degrees 14 minutes West — nearly a half degree of longitude westward from the actual location in which the Titanic sank, and deposited its wreckage.
“This map was full of authoritative squiggles including the positions of individual icebergs, making it look,” Walter Lord observed, “as though put together by the most knowledgeable geographers in the world.”
The map would be quickly picked up by the media, bearing such penned-in details as could only be resolved in photographs from U-2 spy-planes, or from still-on-the-drawing-board reconnaissance satellites — such details as were not even remotely feasible in 1912.
One detail, in particular, stood out: The Californian was placed beyond all possible blame, just over ten miles away on the far side of an impenetrable ice field, while the new “official” position of Titanic‘s sinking pointed the finger of blame at a ship on the west side of the ice field — the Mount Temple — penciled in, completely free of ice barricades and located only two or three miles away from the Titanic‘s new and labeled “official” coordinates (which were nearly 15 miles west of Titanic‘s actual wreck-site coordinates). Naturally, this claim was made more than two decades before the realities of physical evidence arising from the Ballard team’s pin-pointing of Titanic‘s stern section placed the sinking of the Titanic irrevocably on the Captain Lord’s (east) side of the ice field.
Another detail that stood out was the timing of the map’s production and release. Third Officer Groves, the one living crewmember who could contest the map’s claims, died on September 4, 1961. Stanley Lord’s growing circle of defenders released the map in 1962.
While Charles Groves was being overcome by ill health in 1961, Captain Stanley Lord gave interviews to Leslie Harrison and other supporters, aimed largely at sullying Groves’ reputation and removing all historical credibility from any correspondence that took place between his former officer of the watch and Walter Lord.
Just five years earlier, while Groves was alive and well and had communicated that he was willing to visit Holt’s offices in Manhattan and state again and for the record exactly what he recalled of the Californian incident, Captain Lord stepped backward from his vehement denials and conceded to Holt management, to the publisher’s attorney, and to Walter Lord that it was indeed the Titanic the Californian had seen — ten miles away.
In public, Captain Lord continued to insist that Walter Lord’s book contained lies about him. An argument that the entire book was a pile of lies briefly flared and died after one of Walter’s interviewees, an assistant to Charles Joughin named Walter Belford (one of the survivors who helped to trigger the formation of the Titanic Historical Society after he died and his extensive collection of Titanic memorabilia was thrown out by his land-lady), was revealed never to have been aboard the Titanic. Ad hominem, again; but the argument died the day Walter Lord deleted Belford from the text, and A Night to Remember remained in print. When Walter had re-asserted his intention to report history accurately, and offered to correct any factual inaccuracies that the captain, as a valuable firsthand eyewitness participant in history could point out, Captain Lord’s remaining objections boiled down to the sixth paragraph from the end of Chapter 9 — which contained the line, “[Captain] Lord then pulled on some clothes and climbed up to the Bridge.”
Captain Lord pointed out that he deeply resented any implication that he slept either partly clothed or in pajamas; and he insisted that the book be rewritten to reflect that he slept fully clothed, in his captain’s uniform.
When Walter crossed out the single, offending line for future editions, the controversy over the Californian seemed to have gone away — once and for all time, the historian believed.
Threats of a ruinous smear campaign also seemed to go away. Even though Stanley Lord and the Ismays had powerful friends — well, so did Walter. After World War II, he emerged as a veteran of the O.S.S. — which was presently evolving into the C.I.A. Along the way, Walter had become friends with future members of the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan administrations — including Stanley Resor, who would become Secretary of the Army under Richard Nixon, and who (along with Robert Kennedy) had been acquiring much of his recent political schooling on Senator Joe MacCarthy’s knee. There was also a certain amount of providence in the whole Lord of Holt vs. Lord of the Californian affair: The MacCarthy era was drawing to a mercifully fast close, and even Nixon was trying to distance himself from the increasingly unpopular MacCarthy black-listings.
“The providence of timing,” is how Walter’s friend, Ian, from their O.S.S. and MI-5 days, referred to his escape. Only one or two years earlier, Ian had observed, Walter could easily have been pushed into the crosshairs of the MacCarthyists. It was much safer, in the 1950s, to write fiction — just like Ian, who would soon be outlining a new children’s book titled, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, having already begun to make his literary mark with novels based a little bit on himself, and a little bit on others he had come to know, including the always gentlemanly Walter Lord and a Cambridge ornithologist named Bond— James Bond.
With A Night to Remember, Walter Lord had beat Ian Fleming to a movie deal — just barely.
“If I had a cannon, I’d have put a shell in her side,” Boxhall said of the ship that stood still while Titanic foundered.
Following Captain Lord’s admission that the ship Boxhall saw was indeed in the Californian‘s position, Producer Bill MacQuitty included the Californian incident in the script, hiring Walter Lord as a technical advisor.
Captain Stanley Lord, furious over the book’s survival and — worse — by its development into a movie, found powerful supporters in the family of J.Bruce Ismay. In 1912, the Ismay family was the majority owner of stock in the Californian‘s parent company, the Leyland Line. In the 1950s, the still-wealthy and influential Ismays had both motive and resources to launch disruptive attacks against the film’s production and to generate a perpetual cloud of confusion around the Californian story.
J. Bruce Ismay’s descendants tried repeatedly to halt the making of A Night to Remember, referring to Bill MacQuitty as a ghoul, “trying to profit on that disaster by making a film.” They characterized the book that told of J. Bruce Ismay stepping into Boat C while hundreds of passengers remained aboard as a profiteering “work of fiction.” The smear campaign failed. If anything, it seemed to make potential audiences more curious about a renewed swamp of controversy, a swamp of the Ismay family’s own creation.
Walter Lord, who was of a shy disposition and neither sought nor liked fame, drew only some small consolation from increased book sales, after the Ismays referred to him repeatedly and loudly as, “That horrible man.”
In September 1991, Walter Lord began advising fellow researchers that in order to finally understand exactly how close together or far apart the Californian and the Titanic really were, an analysis of who saw which lights from where, and when, was requisite.
Aboard the Californian, the ship that stopped in the south had mystified Second Officer Stone and Apprentice Gibson throughout their midnight to 4:00AM shift. About 12:20AM, the mystery ship — which Gibson estimated to be only four to seven miles away — appeared to be trying to signal the Californian with her Morse lamp. Gibson, who testified that he could distinguish the glare of lights on the afterdeck, tried to signal with his ship’s own ship’s Morse lamp but could not understand what the stranger was trying to say. He decided that the “Morse” signals from the stranger were an illusion, perhaps nothing more than the flicker of a mast light.
Only Charles Groves thought of trying to contact the other ship with the Californian‘s Marconi apparatus. Between approximately 12:15 and 12:20AM, Groves entered the Marconi Shack, found the operator asleep, and asked, “What ships have you got, Sparks?”
A groggy voice answered, “Only the Titanic.”
Groves put on headphones and listened for about a half minute; but heard no electronic Morse signals at all, so he put down the headphones and went to bed.
On the Titanic, Marconi Operator Harold Bride awoke about midnight. Even twenty minutes after feeling the ship tremble, his co-operator, Jack Philips, was busy relaying passenger messages through Cape Race. By 12:10AM, Bride was taking over the headphones and Philips was preparing to retire. About that time, Captain Smith entered the Marconi Shack and told the two operators to send out a distress call immediately. During a period of approximately three to five minutes, while the captain gave Bride and Phillips Titanic‘s coordinates and they discussed exactly what to send, the Titanic‘s Marconi apparatus remained silent.
In his July 17, 1955 letter to Walter Lord, Groves attributed the silence to his own failure to wind up to its maximum receiving power, the Californian‘s detector; but the silence in Groves” headset also happened to be very close to, or actually within, the three-to-five minute time frame during which the Titanic was sending no signals at all. By either the momentary weakness of the Californian‘s detector, or by tuning in during the few rare minutes of silence from the Titanic, Groves was standing in the center of yet another in the night’s seemingly boundless convergences of improbable events — any one of which, had it turned out differently, could have saved fifteen hundred lives. During those three-to-five minutes, Groves became, in his own right, one of history’s pivot points — one of history’s great “what-ifs.”
Signals of disaster did not begin filling the airwaves until Titanic sent its first CQD about 12:15AM. This was heard immediately by the Frankfurt, too far away to be of assistance.
Five minutes later, Apprentice Gibson was looking through binoculars at the strange ship to the south of the Californian. He noticed that the side running lights were shifting, in much the same manner that the Californian was shifting and in fact wagging in the current. The liner was now showing its red running light, on the port side — which was consistent with Bright’s observation, aboard the Titanic, that Rowe’s team had been using both the port and starboard Morse lamps in attempts to attract the attention of the ship in the north. As Gibson watched, unable to tell for certain whether or not the other ship was trying to signal him with a Morse lamp, he did notice that the red port light seemed to be tilted higher than it ought to have been, as if, during the initial stages of the drama, the other ship was listing heavily toward her starboard side.
Twenty-five minutes later, the ship fired the first of at least eight distress rockets, and at 1:20AM, Herbert Stone asked Apprentice Gibson to take another look through the binoculars and describe what he saw. Gibson thought that one end of the ship appeared to be higher than the other, as if one side of her were being raised out of the water.
Stone agreed that they were both witnessing the same anomaly.
She resembled a vessel rolling in a rough sea, changing the orientation of her lights — but they, and presumably the stranger, were in a region of dead calm. The sea was like a polished black granite mirror, reflecting the stars.
The rockets she was firing rained spangles of white stars — and Gibson later affirmed for Examiner Laing that, even as a young apprentice, even on that night, he knew white rockets to be a regulation distress signal.
Gibson believed, and mentioned to Stone, that the ship was, “in trouble of some sort.”
Stone replied, “A ship is not going to fire rockets at sea for nothing.”
Gibson, like Captain Lord, went to the British Inquiry denying that the distress signals came from the steamship Titanic; but instead, from an ordinary “tramp steamer” — Gibson’s implication being that it was much more socially acceptable to stand by and watch a Third Class steamer sink.
Stone was able to convince himself that the stranger was not really in distress, because his multiple reports to Captain Lord about a ship firing white rockets in the south and moving into strange angles did not evoke any sense of alarm — and Lord, resting in his chart room, believed his officers were merely watching the shifting perspective of a departing ship’s lights, and that the stranger happened to be firing company signals as it steamed away. Stone simply left Lord to judge, adhering to the principle that authority was to be obeyed (and if anything really did go seriously wrong, blamed), but authority was not to be questioned.
Ernest Gill had ascended from his post in the engine room to the Californian‘s deck, in time to see a rocket fly up from a very large steamer. He at first believed it to be one of the large German luxury liners, only about ten miles away. Gill decided that it was not his business to notify the officers of the Bridge, based on the generally accepted premise that authority was not to be interrupted by a boiler-feeder’s astute command of the crashingly obvious — for surely, Gill decided, they would already have seen the lights and the rockets, and would know what to do about them.
Stone and Gibson continued to keep watch, while the night visitor’s white aft lights rose higher out of the water. Then the red port light disappeared and the white lights slowly followed — vanishing utterly at 2:20AM, according to Stone.
For Walter Lord and Bill MacQuitty, never-ending questions would surround Stone’s and Gibson’s failure to tell their captain that they had at least some reason to believe they were watching a ship in distress — and why Captain Lord, once he heard of even a single white rocket being launched, never woke his Marconi operator and told him to find out who was firing rockets in a dangerous ice field and why.
Marine historian John Maxtone-Graham was a little gentler on Captain Lord than most, noting that many people, after working long shifts at sea and especially under such stressful conditions as ice field encounters, more or less “died” when finally they went to sleep.
Maxtone-Graham recalled Captain John King, master aboard the Royal Princess during the 1990s: “[He] suggested to me that, regardless of right or wrong in the case, he suspected that Captain Stanley Lord was more than anything that night, completely exhausted. As a fellow captain’s judgment, I feel it deserves respect.”
Seen from the Titanic‘s lifeboats, from the level of the sea’s surface, the mystery ship in the north seemed sometimes to disappear, because at distances of several miles, the curvature of the Earth itself intervened.
From high atop Titanic‘s Boat Deck, the lights of the other ship seemed so near that Captain Smith ordered the people in Boat 8 to row as fast as they could “to that steamer,” and bring it back with all of its boats ready. They obeyed; but the Countess Rothes noticed that as they rowed toward the steamer, its lights seemed to suddenly disappear.
To passenger Spencer Silverthorne, the other ship — which had appeared to be a cluster of stars on the horizon (distinguishable from the real stars because it drifted against them), was reduced to the light of a single mast once Boat 5 was lowered to the sea surface. Then it disappeared like a star eclipsed, behind a large, shadowy iceberg. The same phenomenon was noticed by the survivors in Edith Russell’s boat, number 11. “We could discern the outlines of great icebergs in the distance,” wrote Mrs. Paul Schabert.
“Toward morning,” Silverthorne told Walter Lord, “a wet, bitter breeze sprang up. The wind off the ice blew a biting spray that soaked us to the skin and almost froze our hands to the oars.”
The steamer in the north reappeared from behind a wall of ice about dawn. Silverthorne watched it moving westward amongst whole islands of ice. There were dozens of icebergs — dozens of them, floating with sheet ice along every point of the compass. Among the bergs, the single smokestack and four, relatively short and closely-spaced masts of the Californian were unmistakable.
The Californian was carrying a cargo of wood; so, when boiler room “donkeyman” Ernest Gill wanted to smoke a cigarette, Captain Lord’s safety regulations required that he climb up to the top deck. Gill reported that, at 11:56PM, sixteen minutes after the Titanic struck ice, he was on deck watching the lights of a very large steamer, about ten miles away. The ship was still there when he returned to the deck some forty-five minutes later, for another cigarette, about 12:40PM. Soon, he witnessed two white rockets shooting up and exploding.
Ernest Gill returned below deck and from this lower perspective, looked south again and could no longer see the other ship’s bright deck lights.
This could have resulted from the forward deck lights already having settled close to the horizon line (or behind it) by about 12:50AM, in which case a descent only two or three decks lower (from Gill’s perspective) could have placed the lights behind the horizon and out of view. Eclipsing icebergs could also have accounted for a shutting out of the deck lights in the south.
In either case, Gill came away with an insight — which he voiced to Senator Fletcher at the American Inquiry and which, decades later, would be voiced by Walter Lord to his fellow researchers. The boiler-feeding “donkeyman” believed that, having moved up and down the decks of the Californian, and having observed a change in the lights of a ship near the horizon, it became possible to guess, relative to the Californian, the latitude — and hence the distance — of the other ship.
Captain John Knapp, of the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office, put Gill’s idea through a test, three weeks later at the Senate hearings, and came to a conclusion that the Titanic was probably at a latitude within no more than sixteen miles of the Californian.
In 1991, Walter Lord realized that Ernest Gill, though maligned by Captain Stanley Lord and his supporters as “the donkeyman,” (with its obvious though mistaken cross-association with the word, “”jackass,” by newspaper-reading, non-nautical city people), and though called a liar by his commander for insisting he had seen a large passenger steamer only ten miles away in the south, had nonetheless been pointing a mathematical finger in the right direction, almost from Day One.
The same mathematical principle (or Gill theory) that pointed toward a survey of observations from the deck of the Californian, applied equally to the Titanic and her lifeboats:
From Edith Russell’s boat, Steward Charles Donald MacKay had seen the mystery ship’s white mast light in the north. When Boat 11 reached the water at 1:30AM, he could still see the mast light and its significantly lower red, port-side riding light and stern light. He rowed toward it until about 3:30AM, when a breeze sprang up and the visitor seemed to disappear.
Fourth Officer Boxhall, who noted that Titanic had probably drifted a half mile in the current, observed the other ship just a few miles ahead, after Titanic‘s bow rotated north, revealing the stranger straight ahead, through the windows of the Bridge.
‘she got close enough,’ Boxhall told Senator Smith — ‘close enough, as I thought to read our electronic Morse signal [lamps]; and I signaled to her: “Come at once, we are sinking.”‘ He estimated her distance at about five miles, and identified her clearly as an older model, multi-masted steamship — plainly showing her steaming lights and, even as Titanic‘s bow descended closer to the sea surface, she also showed her red side light.
Some members of the crew told Boxhall they were certain the other ship was trying to signal back to him with its own Morse lamp; but the distance seemed just great enough that no one could read what it was trying to say.
In his affidavit for the British Consulate in New York, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe noted that while he was assisting in the lowering of the starboard emergency boat (number 1, about 1:00AM), someone pointed out to him a ship visible along the port bow.
“I glanced in that direction,” Lowe wrote, “and saw a steamer showing her red [port side running] light about five miles to the northward of us.”
Like Boxhall, Lowe was certain that the other ship was near enough for the Titanic‘s Morse lamps to be seen; so between boat-lowerings and rocket firings he assisted by signaling from lamps on either side of the Bridge, depending on which side of the Titanic happened to be pivoting toward the stranger at any given moment.
Lowe could still see the red side-light after he lowered himself to sea level in Boat 14, about 1:30AM. An hour later, after he transferred passengers to other lifeboats and prepared to row in the direction of a floating section of Titanic‘s stairway, he still saw the same lights in the same northern position. But, as the Titanic had done, the stranger appeared to be pivoting — “because,” Lowe wrote, —shortly afterwards she seemed to alter position and open her green [starboard side running light].”
Then, minutes after showing her green starboard light to Lowe, all of mystery the ship’s lights seemed to wink out abruptly, in a manner consistent with eclipsing ice. Quartermaster Walter Wynn told Examiner Aspinall that when Sixth Officer Moody put him in command of Boat 9 and sent him down at 1:20AM, he saw the red port light and white steamer light in the north — which he estimated to be seven or eight miles away. Oddly, the lights seemed to wink out and then wink on again, in succession and in exactly the same positions over a fifteen minute period — off, then on again — as if something dark, taller and wider than the ship, had drifted between it and the lifeboat. This was, of course, consistent with an eclipse by one of the icebergs.
At the British Inquiry, Captain Lord (as naturally might be expected) had tried to place his ship as far as possible from the Titanic, insisting that he could never have been of any practical assistance, given the Californian‘s maximum cruising speed of fourteen knots.
Eyewitness accounts of the lights seen from the lifeboats, combined with the same mathematical reality that requires the towers of New York’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge to lean nearly two inches farther at the top to compensate for the Earth’s curvature (though each tower is exactly perpendicular with the ground), provides clues to the distance between the two ships.
The Californian‘s mast-mounted, white steamer light stood ninety to a hundred feet above the water and, to a person standing in a lifeboat, it would have been visible above the horizon out to a maximum radius of about fifteen miles. The Californian‘s red and green side lights were significantly lower than the mast lamp. Like the Morse lamps mounted atop the ship’s Bridge, they were close to but certainly no more than forty-five to fifty feet above the sea (depending, in part, on the weight of cargo) — so, they stood above the horizon out to a radius of approximately seven miles. If the occupants of a lifeboat saw the red or green riding lights, then their boat was located in a circle drawn about the witnesses with a radius of about seven miles, or half the length of Manhattan Island. Beyond this radius, the curvature of the Earth would have bulged the ocean above eye-level and eclipsed the riding lights.
Steward MacKay, Fifth Officer Lowe, and Quartermaster Wynn all observed the steamer’s running lights from sea level (each standing at a maximum eye level of about six feet); and all, by their own judgment, estimated the ship to have been within five to eight miles of the Titanic and her lifeboats.
Though the survivors often interpreted the same events differently — depending on their points of view, on their eyesight, and on their individual states of distress — the American and British Inquiries contain account after account describing the same mathematically unbreakable markers: In Edith Russell’s boat, Steward Ed Wheelton observed the lights of another steamer and, though number 11 was tightly packed with people, rowed toward it, keeping the mast light within sight until daybreak… From Collapsible D, crewman William Lucas saw the ship’s red port riding light. He estimated it to be eight or nine miles away because it was “right on the horizon” when he was “down in the water”… Steward James Johnson rowed Boat 2 toward the red port light and the white mast light of a steamer in the north. He thought it was eight to ten miles away; but it disappeared suddenly, during what was soon demonstrated (by an encounter with the ice itself) to be an ice eclipse. Continuing north, Johnson and his rowers were blocked by an iceberg directly ahead, rolling and making sloshing noises… From Boat 13, passenger Lawrence Beesley observed the white light and the red riding light. Like the witnesses in Boat 2, he watched it disappear. Beesley wrote also of a second vessel arriving on the scene, so much smaller than the Californian as to doubtless be lacking wireless apparatus. Quartermaster Bright saw it too, from Boat D. He was certain of a second visitor’s lights — a schooner’s mast lights. Her name and description and her actual distance from the Titanic unknown, she simply disappeared westward into the drifts of ice.
Captain Lord was quick to point an accusing finger at either the unknown schooner or a “tramp steamer” as the “real” ship observed from Titanic and her lifeboats — the real “ship that stood still.”
In a letter dated April 18, 1912, Apprentice James Gibson wrote, “Captain Lord, Dear Sir: In compliance with your wishes, I hereby make the following statement as to what we saw on the morning of April 15… [another ship] — I saw a white light flickering which I took to be a Morse light calling us up. I then went over to the keyboard [on the Bridge] and gave one long flash in answer.”
Gibson wrote that he could not distinguish a coherent reply, even after flashing the Californian‘s call sign. He determined that the “Morsing” from the stranger in the south was merely a light produced by the flicker of an oil-fueled lamp; and in his letter for Captain Lord he identified the stranger as a “tramp steamer,” most likely burning [flickering] oil lamps for light.
Several sentences further down, Gibson’s letter shifted from a compliant letter asserting that the stranger was definitely not the Titanic, to an objective description of what he saw and what he did, after the first five rockets were fired.
“I watched her for some time,” Gibson wrote, “and then went over [again] to the keyboard and called her up continuously for about three minutes. I then got the binoculars and had just got them focused on the vessel when I observed a white flash apparently on her deck, followed by a faint streak towards the sky which burst into white stars.”
Significantly, James Gibson saw the flash of the rocket-launch on the other ship’s deck. This was one of the last three rockets, about 1:20AM, with the Titanic‘s forward deck barely more than thirty feet above sea level. At least one more rocket was fired and, “shortly after that,” Gibson wrote, “I observed that her sidelight had disappeared.”
Taking these multiple, independently witnessed first-hand accounts seriously, the Titanic‘s lifeboats were near the edge of the seven mile radius drawn by the Californian‘s side lights; beyond the three-to-five mile radius at which reports from the Titanic‘s rockets would have been audible; beyond the five-to-six mile range at which signals from the Morse lamps would have been readable from each ship’s Bridge, yet within the five-to-eight mile range that many of Titanic‘s observers had estimated.
The other overwhelming reality of the night was the chronology of events involving ice, lights, and rockets as seen from the Californian.
About 11:10PM, while the Californian drifted at the eastern edge of the ice field, the forward mast light of a steamer appeared on the horizon, approaching from the east on a heading that seemed eventually to bring it five-to-ten miles south of the Californian — in the same heading as the Titanic.
Between 11:25 and 11:30PM the deck lights and the running lights became visible, though there was some slight disagreement between Captain Lord and Third Officer Groves about the color of the running lights: Lord saw green, Groves saw (at first) a red running light. The maximum distance at which the curvature of the Earth permitted the Boat Deck lights and riding lights of the Titanic to be seen from the approximately fifty foot height of the Californian‘s Bridge Deck was sixteen miles. The rise of the closely clustered and blazing Boat Deck lights over the curve of the Earth some fifteen or twenty minutes after the mast lights came over the horizon, permits a rough estimate of the approaching ship’s speed: a distance of 5.0 to 7.5 miles covered during the fifteen minutes between 11:10 and 11:25PM (meaning, a velocity of 20 to 30 knots), or — between 11:10 and 11:30PM — the same distance in twenty minutes (15 to 22.5 knots).
During the next ten to fifteen minutes (leading up to the 11:40PM impact), the steamer approached within five to seven miles, according to Groves’ estimate. If the visitor’s riding light and Boat Deck lights were first seen at a maximum distance (from the height of Californian‘s bridge) of sixteen miles — and if it stopped, say, ten miles away, it would have covered roughly six miles between 11:25 and 11:40PM (the moment Groves gave for the sudden shift as the vessel appeared to pass behind something dark that suddenly shut out its lights, followed by a change in orientation as it came to a stop). Groves probably brought the lower limit of the other steamer’s stopping distance (five to seven miles) about two miles too near; but slight errors of observation and timing (up to three miles and/or five minutes) bracket the approaching steamer’s velocity somewhere between eighteen and twenty-seven knots � centering on a figure almost twice that of all but a handful of the newest ships in 1912. The Titanic‘s reported velocity at the moment of impact was just over twenty-two knots.
Third Officer Groves stated that the other ship appeared to have turned to port, sharply, during and after its passage of the light-blocking object at 11:40PM – “trying to escape some ice,” he concluded. The ship’s lights had disappeared from view and then some of them, after many seconds, came back into view. The ship changed orientation as it re-appeared, as if it were moving again before stopping again with its stern facing north � just as the Titanic did, at just the same time.
Minutes after midnight, Groves handed the night watch over to Second Officer Herbert Stone and his apprentice, James Gibson — who promptly tried to call the stranger with a Morse lamp. At 12:10, Gibson thought he saw a flicker in reply; but the newcomer seemed just far enough away for the dots and dashes of light to be indistinguishable as actual coded letters of the alphabet. Gibson believed the stranger to be as near as five miles; but on a clear night such as this, the flashes would certainly have been distinguishable at that distance, so it was likely at least two miles further away. The flicker, though unreadable, was consistent with Gibson’s conclusion that the other ship was calling out with a Morse lamp � just as the Titanic had been doing, within this same time frame.
Gibson’s attempt to signal the stranger with the Californian‘s Morse lamp was a clear indicator that the officers of the Californian believed their mystery ship to be within the five or six mile radius at which they expected their signals to be coherent; and likewise, the officers of the Titanic believed — still within this same time frame — the same thing about their own Morse lamp and their own stranger on the horizon.
Stone and Gibson counted eight rockets — the minimum number that the Titanic fired, with one of the last three rockets clearly seen launching from the stranger’s deck, just ahead of 1:20 AM.
About 1:20AM, Stone watched the ship in the south fire her very last rocket. Shortly thereafter, her bright green side light disappeared below the horizon; then the rest of her lights began fading and disappearing — more and more of them, until she at last disappeared altogether, at 2:20AM — all just as the Titanic did, and in precisely the same time sequence.
Before the 2:20AM disappearance, and after the firing of the last rocket at 1:20AM, Stone and Gibson noticed that the mysterious ship in the south had skewed its rows of lights at an odd angle, leading Gibson to make the ominous remark, when he examined her through binoculars, ‘she looks to have a rather big side out of the water” — just as the Titanic would have appeared, between 1:20 and 2:10AM.
In Gibson’s April 18, 1912 affidavit on behalf of Captain Lord, his precise description of the deck of the slanting ship being illuminated by a rocket just before 1:20AM provided another indicatior of distance between the Bridge of the Californian and the Titanic‘s Bridge (the launch site of the rockets). The Bridge was standing approximately thirty feet from sea level during the launch of the last three rockets: After the Titanic‘s superstructure lost forty feet of altitude, the Bridge-to-Bridge sighting radius was reduced to between nine and twelve miles.
Distress rockets also sent out loud reports as they burst into spangles of white stars and (again) none of these were heard aboard the Californian, beyond their report radius of five miles. The other conspicuous sound in the south would have been the smashing together, twisting, and disintegration of steel struts and slabs at the junction of the Titanic break point, clearly louder than the rockets � probably out to a radius of about seven miles. Stone and Gibson heard none of this and, indeed, the Titanic appeared to them to have disappeared so silently that it was possible to argue, from a Californian point of view, and at the Californian‘s radius, that the rocket-firing stranger steamed away peacefully into the south.
The outer radius at which the breakup of Titanic would have been audible probably placed the Californian at least five miles away and, probably, seven or more miles away. Gibson’s sighting of a rocket launch lighting up the area around the Titanic‘s Bridge between 1:05 and 1:20AM brought the outer radius within a maximum of twelve miles, and possibly as few as nine. The Titanic‘s lifeboats (those in which witnesses clearly identified the side lights of a steamer and not a schooner), pulled the outermost radius within nine-to-twelve miles, to as few as seven miles.
The curve of the Earth abides without motive, and does not lie.
Shortly after 3:00AM, another visitor had approached Californian‘s position. Gibson watched her fire three white rockets. Stone identified the flashes as coming from a ship other than the one that had disappeared at 2:20AM. It rose gradually over the horizon, her mast light approaching from the south — just as Carpathia did.
Stone pointed the new arrival out to the chief officer, who stepped onto the Bridge to relieve him at 4:00AM. He told the officer about the rockets seen between 12:45 and 1:20AM, about the ship that disappeared and “the way she was bearing” before she disappeared.
The other man looked over the port beam and remarked, “There she is. There is that steamer. She is all right.”
“That is not the same steamer,” Stone insisted, and explained that the second set of rockets had come from a very different ship, located on a very different part of the horizon.
By as early as 12:35AM, Captain Rostron had been steaming toward the Titanic at Carpathia‘s top cruising speed of 17 knots. If the Titanic‘s rockets were detonating at approximately the height of her masts, they should have been visible, over the curve of the Earth, from the Bridge of an average ship at a radius of twenty or twenty-five miles. The last rocket was fired about 1:20AM. Rostron of the Carpathia reported seeing no rockets at all, meaning that he was still over the horizon, twenty miles or more from the Titanic, at 1:20AM.
An hour and twenty minutes later, at 2:40AM, Captain Rostron saw one of the green Roman candles that Fourth Officer Boxhall had been lighting at intervals in Boat 2. Rostron sighted Boxhall’s flare about the time the first iceberg loomed ahead of Carpathia and he was forced to alter course.
The same rules of distance and curvature that applied to sightings of the Californian‘s side lights from lifeboats, applied equally to sighting a flare in a lifeboat from CarpathiaTitanic sank. While delayed by having to maneuver around ice, Carpathia fired three rockets after 3:00AM, each rising about as high as Titanic‘s rockets. Their sighting by Stone and Gibson aboard the Californian meant that the Carpathia — though she was, at 3:00AM, further south than Boxhall and the Titanic‘s lifeboats — had already come within twenty to twenty-five miles of the Californian, with Titanic‘s lifeboats bracketed between them. At 3:00AM, Joseph Boxhall, and the site of Titanic‘s sinking only forty minutes earlier, lay irremovably within the twenty-to-twenty-five mile line drawn between the two ships, Carpathia and Californian.
MOUNT TEMPLE, SAMSON, AND THE BOOK OF NUMBERS
The Californian and the Carpathia were not the only ships moving or drifting within sight of the Titanic.
A third visitor in the night, described by Titanic survivor Lawrence Beesley, “was a small steamer — smaller than the Californian and also less than twenty miles away — and evidence for her presence that night seems too strong to be disregarded.”
Quartermaster Rowe had also observed a single, mast-mounted light belonging to a small vessel. Initially seen while he was firing rockets from Titanic‘s Boat Deck, it was at first easily mistaken for a planet on the horizon; but it had continued to move encouragingly nearer. After 2:00AM, Rowe believed the light to be approaching with sufficient speed that he ordered the people of Boat C to row toward it. The small sailing vessel — which the quartermaster identified as a schooner — appeared to be on a course that would bring it to them ahead of the idle steamer in the north. Sadly, the new stranger continued uninterrupted on her course, its crew seemingly completely unaware that they were in the vicinity of lifeboats. Slowly, and before the first signs of daylight broke over the horizon, a wind developed and the sailing ship took advantage of it. As Rowe lamented over the years — repeatedly: “[In the wind, it] sort of hauled off from us.”
To Quartermaster Bright, in Boat D, the third stranger was revealed by a single mast light. “It looked to me like a sailing ship — like a fishing boat,” Bright had told Senator Smith, the leader of the American examination into the disaster. Viewed by Bright from two vantage points (from a lifeboat and from the deck of the Titanic), the schooner was far enough toward or beyond the horizon that, “There were no lights [side lights or any other sort] to be seen along the hull of the ship.” Only the mast light stood clearly above the horizon.
Quartermaster Robert Hitchens (who had been at Titanic‘s wheel during the encounter with the iceberg) likewise observed the smaller vessel from his lifeboat, and moved a mile toward it. He told Senator Smith about, “going after this light — which we expected to be a cod-bunker, a schooner that comes out on the [Grand] Banks.”
Able Seaman Frank Osman was similarly certain of seeing the mast light of “a sailing vessel from the Banks.” The lights of her deck appeared to lie below the horizon, as seen from Titanic‘s Boat deck; and as he and Boxhall reached the water in command of Boat 2, and the distress rockets were fired, it seemed to Osman that ‘she sailed right away.”
If the observations of Beesley, Rowe, Bright, Hitchens and Osman bore currency, then a small, steam-assisted sailing vessel (sort of a coal and wind powered hybrid) — variously called a “cod-bunker” (or barque) and a “schooner” — was located in the waters on the eastern side of the ice field. If its mast light stood ninety-to a hundred feet above the water, then for it to be visible from a lifeboat, placed the sailing ship within a maximum radius of fifteen miles from the observer. According to Osman, only the mast light was visible. Even from the height of Titanic‘s Boat Deck (which during the early stage of the sinking towered seventy feet above the water), the sailing vessel’s deck lights were lost below Osman’s horizon line — as would be expected of a schooner (or barque) whose Bridge stood generally only twenty feet above the sea and whose side lights would not have been visible even from the pre-settling height of Titanic‘s forward Boat Deck, beyond a radius of about ten miles.
According to surviving accounts by the Arctic explorer Henrik Bergeton Naess, he was aboard a steam-and-sail driven barque that fit many requirements for identification of a second would-be savior, passing within ten to fifteen miles of the Titanic — close enough to see mast lights and rockets.
Naess was already well-known as an ice-pilot on sealing and fishing expeditions, and for the discovery of the Spitsbergen coal fields. In late 1911, Neass signed on as first officer with a fellow Arctic explorer, Captain Carl Johnan Ring, best known for his then-recent exploration of northwestern Greenland with a controversial geologist named Alfred Wegener (whose theory about deep-ocean volcanic spreading centers and continental drift were being received about as warmly as the April 14, 1865 performance of Our American Cousin).
Somewhere between late December 1911 and February 8, 1912, Ring and Naess set out on a sealing and fishing mission aboard the Samson, a three-masted sailing barque only 148 feet long but with a hull specifically designed for icy seas. Her Bridge and side lights stood just over twenty feet above sea level; the crow’s nest at fifty feet. The light atop the forward mast stood almost at ninety feet. The Samson carried no Marconi apparatus.
In 1962, police investigator David Eno began assembling a team of researchers, including NOAA Lieutenant Commander Craig McLean and people familiar with the sparse and slowly disintegrating records of Newfoundland and Icelandic fishing fleets of 1912.
Naess’ original letters regarding his exact whereabouts on the night of April 14 through the morning of April 15, 1912 were compressed into telescoped and often self-contradictory newspaper accounts in 1913. By 1939, the fifty-seven-year old Naess was either succumbing to an early stage dementia that was confusing him about details ranging from how many sealing boats the Samson carried through the difference between sailing to Cape Race (Newfoundland) and Cape Hatteras (North Carolina); or he was being misquoted by an interviewer, or his story was wrong.
Though Naess allegedly had a tendency to brag, Eno’s team discovered that in his homeland of Norway, he was remembered after his death in 1950 as, “The most accomplished pilot of his day” a man of substance and credibility.” He received the Royal Medal of Merit in gold, and was further decorated by both Norway and Sweden for his leading role in several Arctic rescue expeditions, including the 1928 rescue of survivors from the crashed airship Italia. Even if he were the sort of man prone to bragging (and in fact especially if this is taken to be the case), there would be no logical motive to sully his own reputation by placing himself within sight of the Titanic‘s distress rockets. At best, identifying the Samson with Osman’s other mysterious night visitor risked stepping into the shoes of the Californian‘s crew. At worst, he could become Captain Stanley Lord’s scapegoat.
And yet, despite all the logical reasons for Henrik Naess never saying it was so, Eno and McLean discovered that the explorer told his own children and grandchildren that he would forever regret, “not having a [Marconi device], so the Samson might have saved some of the fifteen hundred Titanic passengers and crew who died that night.”
Most of the uncertainty about the Samson’s location lingered around various mutations of memory (over the course of decades) with regard to Naess arrival dates at various ports — and even with regard to an inability to recall correctly the number of boats the Samson carried. In particular, there was the uncertainty of harbor records in Isafjordur, Iceland. The Samson was written into the books with berthing fees paid on April 6 and April 20, 1912. Certainly, this put the Samson (with a wind-assisted cruising speed of only a few miles per hour) nowhere near a newspaper reporter’s quotation of Naess, saying he reached port in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, within roughly one week of the Titanic‘s sinking. However, while the fee dates suggested a distance that could have been covered by a five knot ship from Iceland to the Titanic between April 6 and April 14, they were not consistent with a five day return voyage from the Titanic to Iceland, between April 15 and April 20 (which would have left the Samson approximately 300 miles short of its dock in Isafjordur, Iceland).
One consistent element of Naess’ own chronology, throughout the years, was that he did not return to Iceland until May of 1912.
David Eno’s group discovered documents memorializing the April 20 date as representing, not the day the Samson arrived at its berth, but the day the Norwegian Consul made an advance payment against the Samson’s harbor fees. The 1912 shipping list (of �fishers and sealers�) from Lloyds of London recorded the Samson arriving in Isafjordur on May 14 — which was consistent with the May arrival time given by Naess.
There was a part of the May 1912 tale, however, left out by the Arctic explorer; understandably so, given the long-remembered accounts of the various crimes committed ashore by Naess and his crew. Serendipitously, their bad behavior became an indelible time probe.
In 1991, David Eno visited an Icelandic nursing home, where two survivors of a May 1912 riot said they would never forget the Samson’s visit. For some reason — and during the time frame in which the Samson’s crew (lacking a wireless receiver aboard ship) first learned that the Titanic had foundered — the men became drunker and angrier than was usual for sailors.
Eno quoted the witnesses: “The crew of the ship had gone on a spree and almost wrecked the town. They’d accosted women on the street and even gone into people’s homes. And in the end a Citizens Protection League had been formed to round up the sailors, get them back on the [Samson], and force the ship out to sea. It was a highly memorable event in the town’s history.”
The combined sightings by Bright, Rowe, Hitchens, and Osman described a single mast light on a small sailing ship whose side lights were not visible. If this ship was the Samson or a barque-schooner of similar size — with a single mast light mounted ninety feet above the sea — the curvature of the earth put it within ten or fifteen miles of the Titanic and her lifeboats.
Henrik Naess was always consistent about what he saw from the Samson. Shortly after midnight, he sighted lights on the horizon — which he at first believed to be a pair of stars, but which were soon discernible as being, more likely, two mast lights of a single, large steamship. If these were in fact the Titanic‘s two mast lights, seen from a sailing ship’s Bridge that stood only two decks high, then the mast lights were anywhere between ten and twenty miles away, when they first appeared on the horizon. If the single mast light seen from Titanic‘s lifeboats indeed belonged to the Samson, then the lifeboats and the Samson were, at one point, between ten and fifteen miles apart.
Naess sent a seaman up to the Samson’s Crow’s Nest, which stood fifty feet above sea level. Using binoculars, the man verified that he could see the two electric mast lights of a ship. He reported no deck lights, and no side-lights � which, at a height of fifty feet, should have been visible within a radius of fourteen to sixteen miles (presuming there was not, during the minutes of observation, persistent ice-eclipsing of the visitor’s deck lights to a height of approximately 70 feet or more).
At midnight, the Samson had not yet traveled far enough west to actually be stopped by the ice field, like the Californian. Naess” latitude and longitude records of the night have not survived. The lights seen � and, next, the rockets � are what place him in the vicinity, and allow distances to be estimated: He was probably northeast of the Titanic, and possibly much further east than north � moving gradually north and westward of the lifeboats, either toward a strait-like passage through the ice field, or toward the field’s southern fringe.
Naess reported that he witnessed white flares over the stranger’s mast lights. From the Samson’s radius, no individual white spangles were visible within the white flares, nor was there, at any point, a sighting of the ship’s deck lights or side lights � all of which were plainly visible from the Californian.
The single-masted mystery ship with no deck lights showing over the horizon was seen from the lifeboats as being in motion, gliding slowly westward, just as the Samson did. The larger (and more clearly discernable) ship, seen in the north, from the Titanic, remained perfectly still, just as the Californian did.
Naess noticed that after the white flares appeared, the mast lights gradually fell below the horizon, as did the sinking Titanic‘s mast lights.
The view from the Samson was consistent with a location approximately fifteen miles away from the Titanic — which was also consistent with sightings from Titanic‘s lifeboats of a sailing ship, estimated at one point to have been no more than ten or fifteen miles away.
The Californian, under these same curve-of-the-Earth rules, was within seven to nine miles of the Titanic. The accounts from the bridges of the Samson and the Californian memorialize a much clearer and more detailed view from the Californian � which included deck lights and individual spangles in the distress rockets, meaning that Stanley Lord’s command was significantly nearer to the disaster.
Among a handful of captains in the vicinity who did not ignore the signals of disaster was James Moore of the Mount Temple — who, over an hour after the Titanic sank, encountered a schooner forging a path westward toward him, through the ice field. Moore’s time frame for the sighting was consistent with Osman’s, Rowe’s, Bright’s, and Hitchens’ description of a sailing vessel that, as a breeze began to strengthen into a driving wind, moved quickly westward and toward the ice field, more than an hour before Captain Moore encountered a mysterious sailing ship navigating westward through the ice — all just as the Samson did.
According to Naess of the Samson, he was concerned that the lights and the flares were signs of patrol ships in the area and that the flares (too distant for him to distinguish the white spangles of distress) were signals to be feared, as if someone were hunting him. Naess spoke of an urgency to leave the area quickly. Henrik Bergeton Naess (who by all accounts was an action-adventure addict) admitted that the Samson was carrying something illegal but claimed it was nothing more serious than illegitimately-acquired seal skins. 1912 was in fact a time when previously legal vices became increasingly illegal in America and the prices of such goods were increasing tremendously. In years to come, a young boy named Chet, a descendant of the legendary lawman Bat Masterson, would lose his father — also a lawman — to a gun battle against cocaine-runners. The boy, Chet Ballard, would grow up to become an engineer at the spear-point of the space race, and his son, Robert — also a pioneering engineer — would grow up to probe the sunless abyss beneath the Samson and the Mount Temple.
No one will ever know what the Samson was really transporting (possibly as one leg in a relay). The one certainty was that in those days Naess had no legitimate fears about patrol boats trying to track him down for anything related to seal skins and fish. The hold of the Samson likely contained something more profitable and less legal; but like the riot in Isafjordur, Naess did not speak about it.
Captain Moore crossed paths with the mystery schooner about three hours after he turned the Mount Temple around and began steaming toward the Titanic‘s distress calls. Moore reversed course about 12:30AM, after his Marconi operator heard the call from Phillips of the Titanic: “Come at once. Iceberg.” The airwaves were so alive with replies and updates on the Titanic‘s state of distress that after noting in his Communications Log, “Can’t hear me,” the Marconi operator did what was sensible and stayed out of the radio traffic, not wanting to jam messages from ships that might be nearer the Titanic.
At a maximum speed of almost twelve knots, Moore estimated that he should arrive at the Titanic about 4:30AM. Like Captain Lord of the Californian, he posted extra lookouts as he headed into the direction of the ice — including a man on the forecastle head — “so,” Moore told Senator Smith, “if the ice was low down [below the horizon, and blacked out against it], he could perhaps see it farther than we could on the Bridge.”
As Mount Temple started out, a slight navigational correction was received in the Marconi Shack, from the Titanic, accompanied by the word, ‘sinking.” The Cape Race receiving antenna and the Virginian also heard the calls from the Titanic, and kept a written record: At 12:38AM, the Mount Temple heard the Frankfurt giving its position, then the Olympic. Both ships were too far away, to judge from the Titanic‘s repeated calls for “immediate assistance.” And then— 1:20AM, “We are putting women off in the boats”— 1:35AM, “Engine room getting flooded”— 1:45AM, “Engine room full to boilers.” At this point, the Frankfurt called back and received no reply— 1:55AM, Cape Race to Virginian: “We have not heard Titanic for about half an hour. His power may be gone—— 2:00AM, Virginian reported a faint call from Titanic, at greatly reduced power, followed, about 2:10AM, by what appeared to be the older equivalent of the old SOS signal — CQD — with the message cutting off abruptly at “Q” accompanied by two V’s… 3:00AM, Carpathia sent its on-arrival message to Titanic: “If you are there, we are firing rockets.”
Captain Moore did not see Carpathia‘s rockets — which suggests that, at 3:00AM, he was at least twenty to twenty-five miles away from the Carpathia. However, one passenger aboard the Mount Temple did report seeing a rocket — which he later interpreted as being one of the Titanic‘s rockets, fired about 1:30AM, according to the Mount Temple‘s clocks. The hour-and-a-half discrepancy (consistent with the approximate time difference between New York time and Titanic time), probably arose because many of the public area clocks and passengers’ watches had already been reset prior to bed time, and prior to the Mount Temple‘s midnight about-face from west to east, for the destination time zone.
At or just after 3:00AM — Mount Temple and Titanic time — Captain Moore was likely just entering the twenty to twenty-five mile radius at which the flash of Carpathia‘s rockets became barely visible. Because icebergs were now very near, it was quite possible for one person along the 485 foot length of the Mount Temple to see a point of light on the horizon, while another located along a different part of the same ship saw it eclipsed by ice.
Captain Moore himself gave testimony suggesting that he was either slipping into or was already within a twenty-five mile radius of Carpathia at 3:25AM. That was when he found his eastward path increasingly blocked by ice, ultimately forcing him to stop. He estimated his own position as then being within fourteen miles of Titanic‘s coordinates.
3:25AM also marked Moore’s sighting of the schooner, approaching westward, from the general direction of the Titanic.
Beginning at 3:00AM, Captain Moore had encountered small icebergs. For just over twenty minutes the ice had remained navigable, just barely.
About twenty minutes before his path eastward became thoroughly blocked, Moore told Senator Smith, “I met the schooner — a schooner, or some [similar] small craft.”
It approached so quickly that Moore had to steer out of its way; and then the stranger either passed behind eclipsing ice or (for some unknown reason) put out its lights.
“The schooner was between you and the Titanic‘s position?” Senator Smith asked.
“Yes, sir,” Moore replied, adding that it came toward him from the southeast showing its green starboard light.
“Was he evidently coming from the direction in which the Titanic lay?”
“somewhere from there,” Moore said, emphasizing that the sailing ship could not have been more than a mile to a mile-and-a-half away when he first observed it. To judge from his own estimate of being fourteen miles from the Titanic, “I should say,” Captain Moore announced, that from the moment of first sighting, —the schooner, from the position of the Titanic, would be, perhaps, twelve-and-a-half to thirteen miles.
Captain Moore’s estimate was consistent with the ten-to-fifteen and fourteen-to-sixteen mile radii drawn by the combined observations of lights seen by Naess (of the Samson) and Bright, Rowe, Hitchens, and Osman (of the Titanic). The sailing vessel had passed north of the lifeboats and probably skirted the southern edge of the ice field by 3:00AM to 3:30AM. If this was the same schooner seen by Titanic‘s witnesses, then it placed the Mount Temple, about half past three o’clock on the morning of April 15, 1912, near the southern fringe of the ice field.
In a time before radar and sonar, Captain Moore had no way of knowing that, if only he had steered south instead of east, there was a chance of arriving at the Titanic‘s lifeboats a little after 4:30AM — which might have made a difference to two or three of the last people to be lowered frozen to death over the sides of Boat A and Boat B, or perhaps to any would-be survivors atop large, undiscovered sections of the Grand Stairway (one survivor actually was recovered from a floating stairway section by Lowe’s boat).
At the time Moore first observed the schooner, there was only enough wind for her to be making about two knots; but soon afterward, the same lashing gusts that froze Spencer Silverthorne’s hands to the oars made the schooner’s disappearance quite easy, and quite permanent.
Senator Smith pleaded for any clue — any clue at all to the identity of the schooner; but what he got instead was evidence that traffic around the ice field and the Titanic was a bit more complicated than he had guessed.
“What I am trying to get at is this,” the senator said. “One or two of the ship’s officers of the Titanic say that after the collision with the iceberg, they used Morse [lamp] signals and rockets for the purpose of attracting help, and that while they were using these rockets and displaying the Morse signals they saw lights ahead, or saw lights, that could not have been over five miles from the Titanic. What I am seeking to develop is the question of what light that was they saw.”
“Well,” Captain Moore said, “it [might] have been the light of the tramp steamer that was ahead of us, because when I turned, there was a steamer on my port bow.”
“Going in the same direction?”
“Almost in the same direction,” Moore said. The vessel, at one point, crossed the Mount Temple’s bow and seemed to be leading the way toward a safe passage through the ice. The new stranger appeared to have no wireless, and Captain Moore confirmed for the senator that it was definitely not the 6,223 ton Californian; for he estimated the steamer to be no larger than 4,000 to 5,000 tons.
Continuing eastward in search of a passage through the ice, both vessels eventually gave up. By then, Moore believed it possible that the field — five miles wide — had drifted over the Titanic‘s last position and that his ship had drifted with the field to that same position. As the sky began to brighten in the east, Moore searched for lifeboats and wreckage between the packs of ice but saw nothing except the small tramp steamer — which turned back and began following him away from the ice.
As daybreak approached, Moore’s Marconi operator received word that the Carpathia was about five or six miles east, picking up lifeboats on the far side of the ice field. Aside from the lifeboats, the Titanic had disappeared with scarcely a trace.
IT IS HALF-MASTED FOR DEATH, MY LORD
During his 1955-1956 fight to suppress any further publication of A Night to Remember — or at least to press for deletion of passages referring to the Californian — Captain Stanley Lord attempted to identify virtually every other ship that came anywhere near the Titanic as the steamer whose lights were “really” seen that night. The Mount Temple became a good target, because she was almost the same size as the Californian and, from a distance of several miles, one might easily be mistaken for the other.
In his June 11, 1912 censure of Captain Lord (and his crew) for failing to take even the simplest action of waking the Californian‘s Marconi operator when distress rockets were being detonated in plain sight, Sir R. Ellis Cunliffe pointed out that Stanley Lord’s argument about the Mount Temple allegedly drifting between the Californian and the Titanic from as early as 12:45AM (and then, with its Marconi receiver active and its officers and crew aware of the disaster unfolding, the Mount Temple allegedly deciding to ignore the Titanic, while becoming the ship really seen from the Californian), drove against common sense. If Captain Lord’s accusation were true, Cunliffe emphasized, this required that the Mount Temple’s Marconi operator and the captain conspired to fabricate their ship’s coordinates and the path taken toward Titanic from the west, and that their entire testimony at the American inquiry was a lie.
“If the Mount Temple could have [instead of the Titanic] been the ship which the Californian saw on the night of the disaster,” Sir Cunliffe wrote — not letting it escape anyone’s notice that both the Californian and Titanic were owned by the “Ismay Line” [White Star and Leyland] and that the Mount Temple was owned by a competitor — “I think the owners of the Leyland Line should have produced evidence to this effect. And if they have reason to suppose that the Captain of the Mount Temple has not told the truth, the owners could produce this evidence. The Leyland Company’s shares [including the Californian] are owned by the combine who own the greater number of the White Star Line shares — including the [Titanic] and they would be anxious to get at the truth.”
Noting that the Ismay combine seemed to have motive but scant opportunity to blame another line (which, naturally, diverted attention from the abuse of driving Titanic at excessive speed toward an ice field in the dark, about which Titanic had been warned – repeatedly), Sir Cunliffe emphasized that one qualified navigator and map-maker had already provided his investigators with a revealing chart from the Californian‘s point of view. The chart clearly verified the impossibility of the Mount Temple, at any time, being located between the Californian and the ship that was sending up rockets — for the map-maker had drawn the location of the Mount Temple westward of the Californian‘s position, on the far side of a virtually impenetrable ice field approximately five miles wide.
The map had been drawn in Boston, aboard the Californian, in April 1912 and in preparation for the American Inquiry; and the map-maker was none other than Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian.
At 3:00AM, about the time Captain Moore encountered the western fringe of the ice field, the Carpathia radioed its poignant message to the Titanic, heard and logged by the Mount Temple: “If you are there, we are firing rockets.”
On the Bridge of the Californian, Stone and Gibson saw three white rockets in the southern sky, between 3:20AM and 3:40AM — the same number of rockets Carpathia fired, within this same time frame. From the direction of the rockets, they watched the mast lights and then the colored navigation lights of a steamer climb above the horizon and come to a halt. The sighting of the ship’s side-lights lights placed the new arrival within a ten to twelve mile radius of the Californian‘s Bridge.
At 6:20AM, Second Officer James Biset of the Carpathia noticed that a four-masted steamer with one smokestack — which had been within sight since about 4:00AM — started its engines and began steaming away along the ice field’s eastern fringe, where it had been standing idle in the north since first sighted.
On the far side of the ice field, Captain Moore was now able to determine, in daylight, that the Carpathia was six miles east of him. He also saw the Californian, on a heading through a strait in the pack ice — which he estimated would bring the Leyland ship through to the field’s western rim, six miles to his north.
There seemed no logical reason why the Californian should be steaming away from the Carpathia and the lifeboats, on a curiously circuitous route.
Despite Captain Moore’s observation that the Californian was moving away from the position of the Titanic‘s lifeboats, at 6:30AM she was still near enough to produce evidence that she had spent the night within sight of Titanic‘s lifeboats. While maneuvering behind pack ice and small bergs, a clearing through the ice allowed Third Officer Charles Groves to see, by aid of binoculars, that Carpathia, the ship that came up from the south, was working at the site of the lifeboats.
“How far off was she?” asked Examiner Rowlatt.
“I would think she would be about five miles,” Groves said, “possibly more, possibly less; but about five.”
“Did you look at her with the glass [the binoculars]?” the examiner asked.
“Who asked you to do that? Anybody?”
The examiner wanted to know if, at five miles, Groves was able to discern any details; and the third officer described Carpathia‘s red-bodied, black-topped funnel. He said that, looking more closely, he could distinguish her house flag “and that it was flying at half mast.”
The commissioner broke in: ‘she had what [at] half-mast?”
“Her house flag,” Groves replied.
“What is that?”
“Her company’s flag.”
“Is there any significance to it’s being half-mast?” the commissioner asked.
“It is half-masted for death, my lord.”
Under further questioning, Groves described the Californian‘s circular path to the death scene — first with the Carpathia located to the south on the port side (meaning that Captain Lord was steaming west), then southward along the west side of the ice field. Captain Lord had already told Examiner Dunlop that he had begun steaming at 6:00AM; and Groves noted that at 6:30AM, before the Californian turned south, the captain was moving with such haste that Groves could feel the hull bumping against ice. During the southward leg of the circular route, Third Officer Groves was able to corroborate part of Captain Moore’s account: He observed, on the western side of the ice field, both the Mount Temple and the small, unidentified tramp steamer Moore had encountered. The journey of the Californian around the southern tip of the ice field, then eastward again to the Carpathia, ended, according to Groves, at 7:45AM.
A day earlier, Captain Lord claimed that the length of his journey (nearly two hours through “bergs and loose ice”), proved that he was thirty miles from the Titanic, her wreckage, and her lifeboats. And yet, nearly an hour-and-a-half before the Californian arrived — and less than a half hour before skirting westward into the ice field — Third Officer Groves was able to distinguish the color pattern of the Carpathia‘s smokestack, and its company flag at half-mast.
By the time Chief Officer George Stewart arrived on the Californian‘s Bridge, at 4:00AM, it was all so clearly too late. When Herbert Stone told him of the white rockets seen during the night, he immediately thought of distress signals, and of all the ice hazards, so plainly visible. The Marconi operator was awakened; and he learned at once that the Titanic had sunk.
Whatever was said between Captain Lord and his senior officers, between the waking of the Marconi operator and the approximately 6:00AM decision to steam westward into a passage through the ice (instead of steaming toward the Carpathia), has never been recorded and remains a mystery, and another example of “missing time” in the Californian‘s log.
Chief Officer George Stewart’s responses to the solicitor general of the British Inquiry speak to nearly two hours of missing history — and to an initial effort to avoid admitting what he knew that morning, and when he decided to stop knowing it.
“When you heard that [the Titanic had sunk],” the solicitor general said, “did it occur to you that the steamer that had been sending up distress rockets might have been the Titanic?”
“Not the steamer we saw,” Stewart replied, referring to the one he and Stone were watching at 4:00AM — the Carpathia — which had come up from the south, firing three rockets.
“That is not what I asked you,” the solicitor general said, irritated by the feeble attempt to divert his question toward the Carpathia. “I will put the question again, if I may. When you heard that the Titanic had sunk that night, did it not occur to you that [the] steamer which you heard had been sending up rockets, might have been the Titanic?”
The chief officer remained silent for a long time.
Finally, the commissioner broke in: “Now, come! Answer the question!”
“No,” said Stewart. “I did not think it could have been the Titanic.”
And so it was told: Two hours of missing time on the Californian‘s Bridge — the one place historian Walter Lord wanted to visit on April 15, 1912 if, in his lifetime, the realities of scientific achievement somehow caught up with the fiction of a favorite T.V. show, called, Quantum Leap.
He imagined that Captain Lord must have been pacing the Bridge simultaneously dazed and in panic. In such a state, if the Californian was, as daybreak approached, within seven-and-a-half or eight miles of the Carpathia and plainly within sight of a company flag at half-mast, the least likely path to choose was a bee-line to Carpathia‘s side. That way lay the first obvious question: “How did you not arrive sooner?”
The best that could be hoped for was to steam westward behind sheets and walls of ice before the morning became too revealingly bright and anyone aboard the Carpathia could identify Captain Lord’s ship.
After 7:00AM, the Californian appeared, safely and stealthily, to have navigated through a reasonably open strait and doubled back eastward, along the southern fringe of the ice field. Emerging nearly two miles south of the Carpathia, Lord headed north, seeming to blend in undetectably with other ships approaching the rescue area from the south. From that moment forward, the Californian‘s name should have disappeared, without any fuss at all, into forgotten history. Doubtless, Captain Lord wished it to turn out this way.
Unfortunately, a plan born in a condition of dazed panic was sure to leave behind a few dangling loose ends.
Captain Rostron of the Carpathia had seen the Californian in the north, apparently “hove to because of the ice.” The ship suddenly started its engines and disappeared west, into the ice. Then, about 8:00AM, Rostron saw what he first thought to be “another” ship coming up from the south — which turned out to be none other than the Californian.
The strange path Captain Lord had forged around the ice did not, by itself, raise suspicions. The beginning of Captain Lord’s trouble was in the signals he sent to the Carpathia with his Morse lamps, as if to explain away the first obvious question by announcing that his ship carried no working wireless apparatus and all the night had been trapped by ice with no means of communicating.
Rostron Morsed back with his own lamp, stating that all lifeboats were accounted for and he intended to turn back for New York (wanting to get the injured to proper hospital care as quickly as possible). He signaled the Californian to stay behind and continue searching — particularly for wreckage, even if the chances of survivors still floating on pieces of the Titanic appeared exceedingly small.
The seas were beginning to rise more angrily and Rostron knew that he was signaling Lord to take on a dangerous job. The safest maneuver was to get away from roving ice and strong swells without burning too much daylight; but Rostron was confident that Captain Lord would obey his Morse Lamp signals and stay the course.
The first loose string Captain Lord did not consider was the improbable circumstance that one of the Titanic‘s two Marconi operators would still be alive — and aboard the Carpathia.
Harold Bride knew that the Californian‘s Marconi apparatus had been perfectly operational the day before and that she had in fact been in direct contact with the Titanic until at least 11:00PM.
The second in a long succession of loose strings involved not only being sighted by the Mount Temple during the southward segment of his circular path to the Carpathia; but in being memorialized (in addition to Harold Bride’s account) in the Mount Temple‘s Marconi log as having a perfectly functional wireless apparatus. Indeed, the Mount Temple answered a request from the Californian to verify information about the Titanic, at about 5:15 AM, Titanic time: “I answer him and advise of Titanic and send him Titanic’s position,” the Marconi operator recorded.
The Mount Temple continued to record the Californian‘s signals almost to the point that she came within sight of the Carpathia (at which point, the Californian went curiously silent): 5:30AM, “Californian working Frankfurt. Frankfurt sends him the same [news about Titanic]”… 5:50AM, “Californian working Virginian“… 6:15AM, “Californian working Birma“… 7:10AM, “Signals [from] Californian. Wants my [Mount Temple] position. Send it. We are very close.“
Aboard the Californian, Charles Victor Groves must already have begun to nurture a festering guilt. In time, he came to bear much the same weight of guilt that First Officer Naess of the Samson would describe to his children — and to his children’s children.
On April 23, 1957, only days after the forty-fifth anniversary of the Californian‘s death watch, Groves wrote to Walter Lord, blaming himself for not listening a little longer to his ship’s Marconi apparatus, for not double-checking that it was wound to full power, — at which time the ether was being rent by calls of distress.” Speaking of himself in the third person, he concluded, “The fate of those [fifteen] hundred lost souls hinged on the fact that Mr. Groves failed.”
Just as the historian wished it were somehow possible to travel back in time and be a spectral observer aboard the Californian, Groves told Walter Lord he wished the sort of magic existed that would allow him to somehow communicate, back across the decades, with the young Third Officer Groves. Even through the course of two world wars, scarcely a night of his life had passed without that one magical wish — ever since the day he heard witnesses speak of how the officers of the Titanic had pointed north, and reassured passengers that the other ship, his ship, would soon come to their assistance.
All that was necessary to put right what once went wrong was one minute in 1912, if only magic wands and time machines were not fairy tales. Trapped in a real world nightmare, Groves found no absolution from failing to be more forceful with his captain — for allowing himself to be convinced that he really did not see what his eyes were showing him, for truly believing with so many others of his time that authority was to be obeyed, not questioned.
Groves remembered seeing the large passenger ship steaming rapidly toward the danger in the southwest, then veering suddenly to port at 11:40PM — with her deck lights going out in a manner that only much later did he associate with the steamer’s starboard hull passing along the far side of an iceberg, after which, some of the deck lights came back into view on the other side of the shadow. He did, however, come to the conclusion that he had just seen the Titanic come to a stop after swerving to avoid hitting ice.
The third officer had called Captain Lord to the Bridge and pointed the ship out to him — which had finally come to a complete stop, showing only its stern.
The skipper judged that Groves was mistaken: This was a much smaller ship than the one they had been watching less than a half hour earlier, and about which Captian Lord had said, “That will be the Titanic on her maiden voyage.”
And so, Charles Victor Groves stepped in line when his captain told him he should, and did not deviate. He ended his shift at midnight, actually convinced that the steamship Titanic could not be in distress.
Third Officer Groves stepped obediently into line a second time, after his skipper brought the Californian alongside Captain Rostron’s ship and exchanged signals by Morse lamp.
According to Groves, Captain Rostron had signaled to Captain Lord, “Carpathia returning to New York forthwith. Will Californian search vicinity for further possible survivors?”
The skipper of the Californian had answered that he would do so; but he did not, according to Third Officer Groves’ letters: “Carpathia then got under way by which time it was nine o’clock and less than twenty minutes later [Carpathia] disappeared from view, hidden by icebergs.”
The sea was covered with deck chairs, planks, and light wreckage. The Californian steamed close to a handful of empty lifeboats left behind by the Carpathia and after what Groves described as only a cursory investigation, Captain Lord ordered the Californian westward, toward Boston. For all anyone really knew, among the scattered planks, undiscovered pieces of the forward or after Grand stairways might still (like the section Officer Lowe had encountered in his lifeboat, with a survivor on the stairs) be floating up to ten or twelve feet out of the water, with people moving upon them, eclipsed like the Carpathia behind a prairie of roving pack ice and any of fifty large icebergs that were drifting south and eastward, overtaking Titanic‘s wreckage. The strengthening wind and the sheets of shifting water droplets would have further camouflaged stairway sections or other tall, wind-exposed islands of wreckage, crusting them in a veneer of ice.
Continuing to speak of himself in the third person, Groves wrote about his second failure to question authority when his eyes told him something was wrong: ‘scanning the sea with his binoculars, the third officer noticed a large ice flow a mile or so distant [and a floating object or ice plate] on which he saw figures moving and, drawing Captain Lord’s attention to it, remarked that they might be human beings. [The third officer] was told that they were seals. Californian now made one complete turn to starboard, followed by one to port and then resumed her passage to Boston.”
Unless the stairway section at which Lowe had made his rescue — along with other large pieces — followed the Gulf Stream past Iceland and into England and Scotland, such wreckage probably headed into the perpetual, clockwise purgatory around the Sargasso Sea, where wooden structures and lifejacket-clad bodies were unfailingly dismantled by mid-Atlantic wildlife.
The late Titanic explorer George Tulloch had seen the Californian‘s third officer as just one more example, in a human history all too tragically full of, “good, competent men who in a moment of weakness did not follow their instincts, who did not take the hard road, who did not challenge their bosses when they saw a horrible decision handed down from above.”
The lesson he hoped future generations would take from the Titanic and its artifacts was — not that an iceberg killed fifteen hundred people — but, rather, that each person needs to nurture a will to think of the other person first, and to take the more difficult of two roads.
“I think it’s very clear,” George Tulloch often said, “that being honest in this world and questioning authority is a dangerous occupation.” He believed it was as true in the age of nuclear submarines, solar-powered Mars rovers, and overpopulation, as it had been during the age of the steam engine on a far less dangerous Earth. Groves had looked out the window of the Bridge and knew, on two occasions, that what he saw did not feel right; but he looked upward along the chain of command, and looked away.
“And I guess that sometimes,” Tulloch said, “it’s easy to cross your fingers and hope nothing will go wrong, and usually it does not. Usually no one gets hurt — whereas, if you blow the whistle or refuse an order and you expect somebody to thank you, they’re not going to. Maybe you’ll save lives, maybe not; but you’ll certainly get punished for stepping out of line.”
And so, Third Officer Groves did not speak up, and he would ask, always, “What of those figures on the ice flow?” The third officer had told Walter Lord that he ceded, in silence, to his commander’s decision against steaming nearer the ice, near enough to see if the floating object he had pointed out to Captain Lord was really wreckage or only ice, and whether the dark figures upon it were people or seals. More than four decades later, Groves still wondered. If only he could wave a wand and in the very least go back and beg Stanley Lord to follow Rostron’s instructions and continue the search. If only he could go back and learn whether or not he had indeed witnessed additional survivors awaiting rescue. If only he could know, one way or the other, if he might have made a difference.
Third Officer Charles Victor Groves would never know.
He did not have a magic wand.
Sources and Notes
SPANGLES, SIDE LIGHTS, AND MYSTERY SHIPS
Quartermaster George Rowe and the firing of the first rockets, while Captain Smith called Rowe’s attention to a mystery ship, standing only a few miles away in the north, that could likely rescue the passengers: G. Rowe, letter to W. Lord, 1955, p1,2 [317-319]. L. Futrelle, interview, Boston Sunday Post, April 21, 1912 [L/P file, p129]. C.H. Lightoller, on the lights of the other ship: telediphone recording Nov. 1, 1936 (transcribed, March 23, 1956), p2-3 [p576-580, Lord/Pellegrino Communications File]; W. Lord, personal communications with Lightoller [p576]; C. Lightoller, British Inq., May 20, 1912, p222; May 21, 1912, p314, 322; Violet Jessop, letter to W. Lord, July 27, 1958, p2 [p535].
The last iceberg warning to the Titanic: Marconi operator Cyril Evans of the Californian, British Inquiry, May 15, 1912, p 202-203.
Edith Russell’s observations from Boat 11, and the mystery ship: E. (Rosenbaum) Russell, April 11, 1934, memoir with letter; with annotations added by Walter Lord, Feb. 11, 1987, (L/P Communications File, March 1978 – March 1988; E. Russell; p6,7).
Quartermaster Bright, and the the insistence of people on rowing toward the lights of the other ship: A.J. Bright, Amer. Inq.., April 25, 1912; p836, 838.
Stewardess Violet Jessop and the stranger’s lights: J. Maxtone-Graham, Violet Jessop: Titanic Survivor, Sheridan House, N.Y., 1977; p138. John Buley, Boat 10 and the mystery ship: (in) Amer. Inq.., April 25, 1912; p606, p609-611.
Olaus Abelseth’s experiences in a damaged lifeboat, and his hope about the secret savior on the horizon: O. Abelseth (in) P.K. Sebak, Titanic: 31 Norwegian Destinies, Genesis, Norway, 1998; p90; Amer. Inq.., May 3, 1912; p1939.
First sighting of Boxhall’s flares from the Bridge of the rescue ship Carpathia and records of Titanic’s dying signals: R. Rostron, Brit. Inq., June 21, 1912; p741; J. H. Moore, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p776-777. O. Abelseth (in Boat A): Affidavit, Amer. Inq.., May 3, 1912; p 1040-1041.
Further details from G. Rowe on the firing of rockets and Captain Smith’s interpretations of mystery lights: G. Rowe, Amer. Inq.., April 25, 1912, p525; letter to W. Lord, 1956, and annotations by W. Lord [L/P file; p317-321]. NOTE: Rowe reported that Captain Smith concluded that, in addition to the ship he was believed was near enough to be signaled by Morse lamp, a second, smaller bright light on the horizon must have been a planet and not the mast light of a passing schooner. Mars was the only bright candidate planet near the horizon in the night of Titanic’s sinking. However, Mars is normally coppery red (not white, as described by Rowe); and it is a redness that, much like sunlight, gets enhanced by passing through thick layers of air on the horizon. Rowe’s approximate time frame (roughly 1:20AM) is consistent with the setting of Mars at 12:54AM, at the Titanic’s location. The first distress rocket was launched about 12:45 AM, shortly before Rowe first noticed the light. However, Rowe departed in Boat C about 2:00AM, and steered toward what he believed at the time to be the light he had seen earlier (believed by him to be a schooner). This was an hour after Mars had set.
Lawrence Beesley’s observations: B. MacQuitty and W. Lord, personal communication, pre-expedition conference, 1996, Titanic VIII, [L/P file; p690, 692]. L. Beesley, National Maritime Museum doc. # LMQ/7/3B, published in N. Barratt, Last Voices from the Titanic, MacMillan, N.Y. 2010.
THE LOST LOG OF THE Californian
Park’s Stephenson’s discovery of a signal rocket crate in Titanic’s debris field; Quartermaster Bright and Fourth Officer Boxhall on the firing of rockets, to signal the mystery ship: P. Stephenson, “Titanic Wreck Observations 2005,” marconigraph.com/Titanic/dive/mgy, 2006; p5 of 6. A.J. Bright, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p832. G. Symons, Brit. Inq., May 17, 1912; p267 .
The Californian’s crew speaks: S. Lord, Amer. Inq.., April 26, 1912; p716. Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p159 [6822-6823], p170  Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p165 , p163, 157 [6707-6709]. W. Lord, personal communication, RE: S. Lord vs W. Lord and Holt (1956) [L/P file; p67-83; p99]. Apprentice James Gibson, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p171 , p172, 173 [7533, 7522], p176 [7728-7733], p179 [7924-7926]. H. Stone, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p179 . C. Groves, p186 , p192 [8453-8457]. G.F. Stewart, p199 .
On the efficiency of Capt. Stanley Lord, up to the point at which his crew began reporting rocket signals on the horizon: S. Lord, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p157 [6690-6699]. NOTE: In his report to the Marconi Company, dated April 27, 1912, surviving Titanic telegraphist Harold Bride wrote that, about this same time, he had received the Californian’s ice report, acknowledged it, and took it to the Bridge [L/P file, p337-338].
The ship’s log, presented by Captain Lord, was conspicuous for its “missing time” and discrepant navigational records: C.F. Evans, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p203 . G. Stewart; p197 [8728-8751], p195 [8596-8699]. G.F. Stewart, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p197 [8694-8708; 8721, 8733]. C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p193-194 [8507-8512; 8528-8541].
Between the two light sources, each a mystery to the other: T. Jones, Amer. Inq., April 19, 1912; p572, 569. A. Bright, Amer Inq., April 27, 1912, p836.
In Boat 16, Violet Jessop had raged against the mystery ship: V. Jessop, letter, July 27, 1958 [L/P file; p533-536].
Charles Victor Groves, while abiding by his captain’s story for his British examiners, is ineffective at explaining away the ship that approached the Californian and stopped amongst the ice, as the Titanic: C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p186 [8135, 8146, 8160-8166, 8170], 187 [8169, 8172, 8176, 8178-8181], p191 .
The large, brightly lit ship had approached within five to seven miles of the Californian before it stopped: C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p 190 , p193 [8489-8492], p188-189 [8285-8287].
LORD VS LORD
What Captain Lord testified to observing, of the stranger’s approach: S. Lord, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p157-158 [6717-6730, 6761, 6785-6790], p187 .
Further contesting that the other ship was the Titanic, against an increasingly irritated examiner: H. Stone, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p177 [7814, 7819], 179 [. S. Lord, p159; S. Lord. Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p159. C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq.; p187 . H. Stone; p179 , p180 [7071-7072].
Captain Lord, ‘still moving the goal posts,’ in his 1956 actions against Walter Lord and Holt: W. Lord, personal communication; Lord papers on the Californian incident, 1990, [L/P file; p67-83], W. Lord, April 19, 1999 [L/P file; p99].
By then, Walter Lord had a letter from Captain Stanley Lord’s own co-observer of the mystery ship: C. V. Groves, letter, July 17, 1955 [L/P file; p464-466].
Behind the scenes, Captain Lord concedes that it was indeed the Titanic he and Groves observed (but denies this, again, after Groves dies): W. Lord, Oct. 1990, letter and maps, [L/P file; p67-75; map, p 69, 70]. NOTE: The location of the Titanic’s stern section is 41deg. 43 min. 35 sec. North, 49 deg. 56 min. 80 sec. West. NOTE: Another detail that stood out was the timing of the map’s production; W. Lord, 1990 [L/P file; p67]. L. Harrison, S. Malony: Captain Lord 1961 interview transcript, and S. Lord’s claims about Groves’ “immaturity” (in) S. Malony’s article, “Groves’ Inappropriate Joke,” Encyclopedia Titanica, Sept 11, 2010.
Just five years earlier, while Groves was alive and well, Captain Lord told a different story, even during the ad hominem attack arising from Walter Lord’s Bedford incident: W. Lord, April 19, 1999, [L/P file, p99]. NOTE: The details of the Walter Bedford error are available on Line at the Titanic Historical Society website (merely type in search for Walter Belford, Walter Lord, Edward Kamuda). On surviving threats of a ruinous smear campaign from J.B. Ismay’s and S. Lord’s supporters: Sec. of the Army S. Resor (under Nixon) and W. Lord (on leadership), personal communication, Sept 13, 1993, [L/P file, p29]. On “The providence of timing,” according to W. Lord’s friend Ian, from Lord’s O.S.S. days in WWII: W. Lord, S. Resor, P. Helou, personal communication. NOTE: Ian Fleming, also a student of ornithology, tipped his hat to Bond by placing a bird sanctuary on the island fortress of Dr. No, in his 1958 novel.
Ismay in defense of Captain Stanley Lord’s ship (owned by the Ismay Line, like the Titanic), and attacks later attacks against Walter Lord and Bill macQuitty: J.B. Ismay, Amer. Inq.., April 29, 1912; p939. B. MacQuitty, W. Lord, 1996, pre-expedition conference, Titanic VIII, [L/P file; p691].
Walter Lord’s challenge, to wxamine what lights, exactly, were seen from ships and lifeboats, and to measure these observations against the curvature of the Earth: W. Lord, Sept 10, 1991, [L/P file; p87-89]. NOTE: Paul Quinn and C. Pellegrino received this advice and began cross-referencing eyewitness reports against the curvature of the Earth.
Observations aboard the Californian, of the ship that had stopped in the south: Gibson, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p171-172 (RE: upper aft portholes). Stone; p177.
Observations aboard the Titanic, of the ship in the north: G. Symons, Brit. Inq., May 17, 1912, p267 
Observations by Marconi operator Harold Bride, aboard the Titanic: H. Bride, report to Marconi Company, April 27, 1912; p3 [L/P; p339-340].
More observations by Charles Groves of the Californian: C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p189 [8271-8289]; C.V. Groves, letter to W. Lord, July 17, 1955 [L/P; p465].
Signals of disaster: Log of Signals reproduced on The RMS Titanic Radio Page (http://wwwhf.ro/).
12:20AM aboard the Californian: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p172 , p174 [7636-7641].
12:45AM aboard the Californian, sighting of first rocket fired by the ship in the south: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq., p175 [7667-7672], and observation of bright spangles raining from the rocket bursts: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq.; p176 [7759-7765]. What Gibson thought the rockets signified: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq.; p173 [7529-7539, 7545-7550].
Stone, aboard the Californian, as rockets detonated above the ship in the south: H. Stone, Brit. Inq.; p180 [7993-7994].
Ernst Gill of the Californian: E. Gill, Amer. Inq.., April 26, 1912; p710-711.
Stone and Gibson, during the Titanic death watch: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq.; p175 [7688-7695]. H. Stone; p180 [7071-7072].
For Walter Lord and Bill MacQuitty, the never-ending question: W. Lord, B. MacQuitty, Oct. 25, 1993 [L/P; p25].
John Maxtone-Graham was a little gentler on Captain Lord: J.M. Grahm, Violet Jessop, Titanic Survivor, Sheridan House, N.Y., 1997, p136.
From atop Titanic’s Boat Deck, the lights of the other ship in the north were plainly visible to passengers: M.S. White, Amer. Inq.., May 2, 1912; p1007-1008. Countess Rothes, letter, April 1912, [L/P file; p166-167]. S.V. Silverthorne, letter, July 14, 1955, [L/P file; p204-205. Shabert letter, written aboard Carpathia, April 18, 1912, [L/P file; p285-286].
Ernst Gill, obeying Californian’s rule of not smoking near the ship’s cargo of wood, went on deck and observed a mystery unfolding in the south: E. Gill, Amer. Inq.., April 26, 1912; p710-723.
Captain John Knapp, of the U.S. Navy Hydrographic office, put Gill’s idea through a test: J. Knapp, Amer. Inq.., May 18, 1912; p1118-1119.
The mystery lights, seen from Edith Russell’s boat: D MacKay, Brit. Inq., May 16, 1912; p238. And as observed by Boxhall: J. Boxhall, Amer. Inq.., April 20, 1912; p224-225, p236. Note: The Californian, too, must have been pivoting and drifting significantly; and doubtless the entire ice field was also moving slowly eastward. And Harold G. Lowe: Affidavit, British Consulate Office, May 1912 [L/P file; p413-420; 419]. Quartermaster Walter Wynn: Brit. Inq., May 20, 1912; p300 [13336-133351]. E. Wheelton, Amer. Inq.., April 25, 1912; p544. W. Lucas, Brit. Inq., May 7, 1912; p52 [1565-1587], p56 [1800-1807]. J. Johnson, Brit. Inq., May 8, 1912; p91 [3480-3486], p92 [3494-3496; 3503-3508], p94 [3520-3522]. L. Beesley (in) J. Winocour (editor) The Story of the Titanic as Told by its Survivors, Dover, N.Y. 1960; p65. A.J. Bright, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p836.
J. Gibson, in a letter dated April 18, 1912: J. Gibson, in L. Reade, The Ship that Stood Still, W.W. Norton, N.Y. 1993; p357.
A view from the Californian about 11:10PM, while stopped by ice and drifting: C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p186, [8135, 8143, 8160-8166]. S. Lord, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p157-158 [6717-6730]. C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq.; p186-187 [8146,8160-8166, 8169, 8178, 8222].
During the next ten to fifteen minutes, 11:10-11:25PM: C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq.; p187 .
Third Officer Grove’s conclusion about the ship in the south: C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq.; p187 , p188-189 , p193 [8489-8492].
Minutes after midnight, Groves handed over the night watch: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq.; p171 .
H. Stone’s testimony, from the Californian point of view: H. Stone, Brit. Inq.; p179 [7924-7925]. J. Gibson, (in) L. Reade, The Ship that Stood Still, W.W. Norton, N.Y., 1993, p357. G. Rowe, letter to W. Lord (1956), [L/P file, p317-320.].
About 1:20AM, Stone watched the ship in the south fire another rocket: H. Stone, Brit. Inq.; p179-180 [7940-7972].
Final observations (from the Californian), of the ship in the south, before its 2:20AM disappearance: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p174 [7650-7651].
Gibson’s April 18, 1912 affidavit on behalf of his Captain: J. Gibson (in) L. Reade, The Ship that Stood Still, W.W. Norton, N.Y., 1993, p357.
Shortly after 3:00AM, a second visitor had approached Californian’s position: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p173 [7573-3597]; Stone, p181 [8088-8021].
Stone pointed the new arrival out to the chief officer : H. Stone, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p181 [8017-8021].
Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, at 12:35AM: A. Rostron, Amer. Inq.., April 19, 1912, p21; and what Boxhall did, and observed: Amer. Inq.., April 19, 1912; p248; 250.
MOUNT TEMPLE, SAMSON, AND THE BOOK OF NUMBERS
A third visitor in the night, described by Lawrence Beesley: L. Beesley (in) J. Winocour (editor) The Story of the Titanic, Dover, N.Y., 1960; p65-66. Note: Beesley also described hearing, second-hand from Boxhall, of a red port light and more than one masthead light, suggesting that his account had blended the sightings of two ships into one.
Quartermaster Rowe had also observed a single-masted schooner: G. Rowe, letter to W. Lord, 1956 [L/P file; p319-321]. Amer. Inq.., April 25, 1912; p524.
Quartermaster Bright, in Boat D, witnessed the third stranger: A.J. Bright, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p836.
Frank Osman was similarly certain of seeing the mast light of a small sailing ship: F. Osman, Amer. Inq.., April 25, 1912; p538-539.
According to surviving accounts by the Arctic explorer Henrik Naess: P.K. Sebak, Titanic: 31 Norwegian Destinies, Genesis, Norway, 1998; p63.
In 1962, police investigator David Eno bagan assembling a detailed chronology of the Samson’s movements: K. Ringle, “The Ship That Passed in the Night,”” The Washington Post, June 30, 1991; p3-4 [L/P file (annotated with letters from W. Lord); p83-85].
Naess’ original letters regarding his exact whereabouts: (in) L. Reade, The Ship That Stood Still, W.W. Norton, N.Y., 1993;p296. NOTE: The compression of letters into newspaper stories with only excerpted parts of letters scattered through the article, was a notorious practice in 1913; and whole books, given out to traveling salesmen, were compressed from these very often cut-and-pasted pieces of distorted accounts. Actual letters, or accounts written for publication in newspapers and magazines entirely by a firsthand eyewitness participants, though sometimes self-serving (as in the case of Henry Sleeper Harper and other men sent into the lifeboats by Murdoch, who were subsequently pressured to explain their survival), are among the most reliable materials available. The British and American Inquiries are also an invaluable resource, though they require a little reading between the lines because they memorialize a lot of cover-your-butt behavior, especially on the part of Titanic’s and Californian’s owners. Still, even Mr. Gibson’s affidavit on behalf of Captain Lord, casually recorded vital information about the lights seen that night, along with a time sequence.
Further details about the Samson voyage: K. Ringle, The Washington Post, June 30, 1991; p3-4 [L/P; p83-85]. P.K. Sabek, Titanic: 33 Norwegian Destinies, Genesis, Norway, 1998; p170-172.
Henrik Naess was always consistent about the key details of April 14-15, 1912, even to his own regret: P.K. Sebak, Titanic: 31 Norwegian Destinies, Genesis, Norway, 1998; p81.
Mount Temple – among the handful of nearby Captains who did not ignore the signals of disaster, and what the Samson might really have been avoiding: J.H. Moore, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p759-760. P.K. Sebak, Titanic: 31 Norwegian Destinies, Genesis, Norway, 1998; p81. Chet Ballard (RE: his childhood and the death of his father), personal communication, taped interview, aboard the Research Vessel Melville, Expedition Argo-RISE, December 1985.
As the Mount Temple started out, with a slight navigational correction received from Titanic: J.H. Moore, Amer. Inq., April 27, 1912; p770-777 (RE: Carpathia rocket, p777). THS, “The Wireless Profile of a Disaster at sea,” The Titanic Commutator, Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1984; p13-15 (RE: Note relative clock settings).
At or after 3:00AM – Mount Temple and Titanic time: J.H. Moore, Amer Inq., April 27, 1912; p760, 763.
Captain Moore’s testimony about the randomness of passage through and around the ice, and the distance to Titanic’s lifeboats: J.H. Moore, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p761, 763. At the time Moore observed the mysterious schooner: J.H. Moore, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p763. Continuing eastward into the ice, Mount Temple and another vessel: J.H. Moore, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p765-767, 779. NOTE: Later (as in Amer. Inq.., p777), Captain Moore would suspect that the Titanic had given the wrong coordinates; for the more he thought about it, the less he believed that ships, lifeboats, and ice could drift across miles in the given time frame. Moore took a bearing of 50 deg. 9.5 min. west longitude and guessed from this that the Titanic had sunk 8 miles east of his location and the 5 mile wide ice field could not in fact be covering the place of the sinking. The Titanic’s stern was in fact resting on the bed of the Atlantic only 4.3 miles east of the position at which the Mount Temple became blocked by ice – meaning that the lifeboats had drifted considerably since the sinking, and so had the ice: The eastern side of the ice field (an approximately 0.7 mile-long fringe of it, if it was only five miles wide [5.0 – 4.3=0.7]), was, by now, directly over the Titanic wreck site.
IT IS HALF-MASTED FOR DEATH MY LORD
In his June 11, 1912 censure of Captain Lord (and his crew): Sir R.E. Cunliffe, doc [MT 9/920/6] M 31921, June 11, 1912; (in) L. Reade, The Ship That Stood Still, W.W. Norton, N.Y. 1993; p366-368.
What Stone and Gibson saw from the Bridge of the Californian: J. Gibson, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p173 [7575-7584, 7586-7591, 7506-7508]. H. Stone, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p181 [8008-8011]. A.H. Rostron, The Loss of the Titanic, 7 C’s Press (Titanic Historical Society), Springfield, MA , 1975; p9, 10. Note: Captain Rostron reported firing rockets every 15 minutes “to reassure Titanic” from 3:00AM until about 3:45AM and the first sighting of lifeboats.
6:20AM, Second Officer Biset of the Carpathia: J. Bisset, cited by W. Lord in letter to Capt. Barnett, Oct. 8, 1990; p1, parag. 3 [L/P; p76]. Mt. Temple, on the far side of the ice field: J.H. Moore, Amer. Inq.., April 27, 1912; p778, 779.
Captain Moore’s observation that the Californian was steaming away from the scene: C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq.; p190 [8329-8334]. Under further questioning, Groves described the Californian’s strange, circular path: C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p190 , p189 [ 8290, 8315], p190 [8339-8342; 8350-8352]. S. Lord, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p170 .
A day earlier, Captain Lord made a very different claim about the length of his journey, and the path taken: S. Lord, Brit. Inq., May 14, 1912; p170 [7378, 7385, 7399-7400].
What the Californian’s Chief Officer saw: G. Stewart, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p195 [8590-8593, 8694[, p196 [8653-8656].
Aboard the Californian after 7:00AM, April 15, 1912: S. Lord, Brit. Inq.; p170 [7399-7400].
On the strange path Captain Lord had forged, viewed from the Carpathia: A.H. Rostron, The Loss of the Titanic, 7C’s Press (THS), MA , 1975; p13.
Harold Bride knew that the Californian’s Marconi apparatus was not broken, as Captain Lord claimed: H. Bride, Amer. Inq., April 20, 1912; p142.
The second in a long series of loose strings: J.H. Moore, Amer. Inq., April 27, 1912; p782.
A Californian crewman’s regrets, penned days after the forty-fifth anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking: C.V. Groves, letter to W. Lord, April 23, 1957; p6 [L/P file; p481].
Walter Lord, if he could go back in time to that night, explains why he would skip the Titanic, and witness events on the Californian’s Bridge instead: W. Lord (personal communication about Groves’ regrets); RE letter, Groves to W. Lord, April 23, 1957; p5 [L/P file; p479]. Groves remembered seeing the large passenger ship: C.V. Groves, letters to W. Lord, July 27, 1957; p2-3 [L/P; p473-474], July 17, 1955 [L/P file; p465]. C.V. Groves, Brit. Inq., May 15, 1912; p193 [8489-8492], p188-189 . C.V. Groves on the signal, and instructions, from the Carpathia to the Californian: C. V. Groves, letter to W. Lord, April 23, 1957; p4 [L/P file; p477].
The late Titanic explorer George Tulloch, on Groves’ behavior: G. Tulloch, interview, March 25, 1991 [L/P file; p117-118; 122-123]. Personal communication, 1989-1997; expedition Titanic VIII (1996). And so, Third Officer Charles Groves did not speak up: C.V. Groves, letter to W. Lord, 1956; p4, 6 [L/P/ file; p477; 480-481].