Captain Lord 1961 Interviews Transcript

Transcript of a recorded conversation between Leslie Harrison and Captain Stanley Lord, held at 13 Kirkway, Wallasey, [Lord’s Merseyside home] in February 1961 [6-8.30pm], and a further discussion recorded on 19 August 1961.

Part 1 : Q1-Q71

Q1. Now Captain Lord, you were in command of the Leyland liner Californian nearly fifty years ago, when she stopped because of ice in mid-Atlantic, apparently somewhere near where the Titanic sank.

   There was a ship near you until about two-thirty in the morning, and at the subsequent inquiry, Lord Mersey said this in his findings, and this is from the report:
   ‘These circumstances convince me that the ship seen by the Californian was the Titanic, and if so, according to Captain Lord, the two vessels were about five miles apart at the time of the disaster. The evidence from the Titanic corroborates this estimate, but I am advised that the distance was probably  greater, though not more than eight to ten miles. The ice by which the Californian was surrounded was loose ice extending for a distance of not more than two or three miles in the direction of the Titanic. The night was clear and the sea was smooth. When she first saw the rockets, the Californian could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the Titanic. Had she done so, she might have saved many, if not all, of the lives that were lost.’
   Now those were Lord Mersey’s findings. Have you ever accepted them as being correct?

Lord: Have I accepted them?

Q2. Yes.

Lord: No, not by any means.

Q3. The key thing was this ship that was close to you. Could you, with your experience, have mistaken a ship like the Titanic, the largest ship in the world, wasn’t she, at that time, could you have confused her with a smaller one, at about five miles range?

Lord: Not [in] the slightest. I couldn’t possibly be mistaken. As she was approaching, I told the officer on the bridge, I said, ‘that’s not any Titanic.’ And later I saw the wireless operator, when he told me, as he was, that Titanic was the only ship in sight [sic], when that ship was approaching, I said ‘that is not any Titanic.’ He said. ‘No, that’s not a passenger ship.’

[Clock strikes]

Q4. Yes. So your experience was quite extensive at that time. You had an Extra Master’s certificate, and you had been in command for six years?

Lord: 29, 30 – when was it?

Q5. 1912.

Lord: 1912? I got command in nineteen hundred and six.

Q6. How old were you?

Lord: 29.

Q7. So you were 35 [in 1912] and you had had - ?

Lord: I had six years’ command.

Q8. And nearly 20 years’ sea experience?

Lord: Well I went to sea in ninety… eighteen-ninety… let me see. 1891...

Q9. What effect did Lord Mersey’s finding have on your career?

Lord: Well it meant that I lost my position in the Leyland line. But fortunately I have friends who got me quite as good a job as I had lost.

Q10. You were asked to resign?

Lord: I was asked to resign, strongly against the [Liverpool] managing director’s wish. Because he had already promised me that I should go back in the Californian as Master, but he said the matter had been taken clear out of his hands. And he had no say in it whatever.
Q11. That would be the directors?

Lord: That would be the managing… the Liverpool manager. I don’t think he was director, I suppose he would be…

Q12. No, the decision would be taken by the directors?

Lord: In London. Yes.

Q13. And he would have to do what he was told?

Lord: He had to do what he was told.

Q14. And the Liverpool management were in your favour?

Lord: Strongly. As shown by the reference they’d given me.

Q15. Did they give any other indications of their support for you?

Lord: Not.. only what I heard privately. It wasn’t public. It was in correspondence that I had, which I was given access to, told me what was in it [the reference], and the managing director said that if he were the sole shareholder in any steamer he would willingly have given me command of her.

Q16. And the next job that you took came your way how? the next appointment that you took?

Lord: It was with Lawther Latta & company.

Q17. And how did you get in touch?

Lord: Through a great friend of mine in Brunswick, Georgia, Mr Frank Strachan. A shipping man.

Q18. What was he?

Lord: Well you’d describe – his father was a shipmaster who settled in South Carolina, left the sea, the Captain of a tramp steamer, and settled there in Savannah [Georgia], and his son drifted back  he had an office there, ship’s agent, and this Frank Strachan, the eldest son, settled in Brunswick, and that’s where I first met him.

Q19. What was his job?

Lord: Ship’s agent.

Q20. To the Leyland line?

Lord: And to any company that wanted an agent.

Q21. And he took a big interest in –

Lord: Oh a great interest. He wrote to Lawther Latta, to Mr Frank – to Mr, Sir John Latta as he was then, a private letter telling him – Latta told me this – that he thought I’d been pretty harshly treated. And if he [Latta] could do anything for me, he [Strachan] would much appreciate it.
   Latta told me this. Well he just showed me this letter.

Q22. And Latta offered you an appointment?

Lord: He asked me to come down to see him, and I went down to see him. He told me that Frank Strachan had given me a very good character [reference] in every possible way as a shipmaster, and after hearing all this he would have a ship vacant for a Master in a week or two, and he would let me know. And I had a letter from his afterwards, appointing me to this ship. To the different salary that I would be getting and would I accept it? I promptly wrote back and did accept it.
   And I joined the Anglo-Saxon in January. I think it was January. 1913.  

Q23. And you got on well?

Lord: Splendidly. There was no shipmaster ever treated any better. Nowhere.

Q24. What other senior Masters were in the company at the time?

Lord: Oh, there was one old fellow, he was killed afterwards in his… shelled, and blown off the bridge [Frederick Parslow in the Anglo-Californian, February 1915]. Do you want me to give his name?

Q25. No, I was wondering – I think you got the offer of new ships very quickly, didn’t you?

Lord: Very quickly, and I had the – I was appointed, I was given this new ship then, the Anglo-Chilean and I was practically one of the junior Masters, but I was given the largest ship Latta had, and told that I was to come north and look after the building of her. The fitting out of her, and all that.

Q26. That was the middle of the first world war?

Lord: First world war, and I was ashore about three or four months.

Q27. That was good leave for those days?

Lord: Yes, and then I left in her bound for Alexandria, loaded in London with ship’s stores, army stores, and got their safely. After being chased [by a submarine]. I saw another ship sunk.

Q28. Your own wartime career was uneventful in terms that you didn’t lose any ships?

Lord: Didn’t lose any ships. Didn’t lose any lives.

Q29. And how long did you stay with Latta’s?

Lord: Fourteen years.

Q30. Until you retired?

Lord: Then I retired on medical advice [1927]. Fourteen of my happiest years at sea. I was shown every consideration and kindness by the senior member of the firm.

Q31. And it was, as firms go, notoriously tough?

Lord: He was considered a very hard employer. Didn’t treat me as such. And I never heard of anything whilst I was there, everybody seemed to be happy and contented.

Q32. It’s nearly 33 years ago, then, since –

Lord: I left there in ’27.

Q33. And for nearly fifty years, you have had this appalling burden of being publicly branded as the man who left over a thousand people drown before your eyes?

Lord: Yes.

Q34. Now how have you managed to live with that really awful charge?

Lord: Well, I knew it wasn’t true. And a good many people didn’t – men like Sir John Latta wouldn’t have wanted me as the man in command of one of his ships if he’d thought for one moment that was true.
   He didn’t think it was true, and the man who recommended me to him, Frank Strachan, he certainly didn’t think it was true. And the owners of the ship [Californian] in Liverpool, the management there, never thought for one moment it was true.

Q35. And that helped you to –

Lord: Helped me to carry on. I never was molested or bothered in any way at all when I was at sea. Never asked me anything about it.

Q36. What efforts were made to get the findings changed?

Lord: Well, the Mercantile Marine Services Association wrote down to London, pointing out all these defects in Mersey’s decision, and asked for a further inquiry.
   And they wrote back, officially, to say that Captain Lord was never censured in any way, and therefore there was no necessity for an appeal.

Q37. And officially they kept on with that, did they? They [MMSA] plugged on with the approach on your behalf?

Lord: They would never have another inquiry.

Q38. And I think that you yourself also made approaches to the Board of Trade and to Members of Parliament?

Lord: Well, I saw two… yes, I saw the Member of Parliament down there, I forget his name now…  [Alfred Henry Gill, Labour MP for Bolton]

Q39. Local man?

Lord: No, Bolton man. Where I hail from. Forget his name, but he couldn’t do anything. He said he’d approach them, but he couldn’t do anything. He could’t break Mersey’s decision.

Q40. And there was in the summing up, by counsel, wasn’t Rufus Isaacs at the time for the Board of Trade? [sic – forthcoming comment actually by Robert Finlay for the White Star Line] Well, he made a reference to you and said, I think these are his words, ‘Perhaps it would not be wise to speculate on the reasons which prevented the Captain of the Californian from coming out of the chart room at 1.15 in the morning when he was called by the second officer.’ Now -

Lord: What the insinuation there meant – liquor?

Q41. We can only take, I think, what the reasonable man would have viewed of it. What have you always thought of it?

Lord: I always thought it, well that naturally it leads you to think that I was under the influence of drink.

Q42. Did you resent it?

Lord: Never have been [drunk] in my life. Never had a drink of liquor aboard a ship in my life.

Q43. Did you do anything about that?

Lord: No, what could you do?

Q44. Or write to –  Isaacs?

Lord: No. I never wrote to anyone, that man. I told them all about it. I never bothered to, any more. He wasn’t friendly, and neither was Mersey, to start with.

Q45. This was at the inquiry?

Lord: At the inquiry.

Q46. Were you represented there, officially?

Lord: By Mr [C. Roberston] Dunlop.

Q47. Was he your representative?

Lord: No, he was the owners’ representative. He told me that.

Q48. When did you, or how often, did you meet him?

Lord: Well, I only met him on the day of the inquiry. I came home that night, back to Liverpool that night.

Q49. You attended as a witness?

Lord: As a witness.

Q50. And you never had it pointed out to you that you could be a party?

Lord: No. Never. Not by anyone. Mr Dunlop told me he was representing the owners of the ship.

Q51. And how long were you at the inquiry?

Lord: Well, I got there in the morning, and the inquiry was held during the day, and then in the afternoon Dunlop asked Lord Mersey if the members of the crew could go. The ship was sailing the next day, so… and he said ‘Yes.’ And we left that night, all of us.

Q52. I think the inquiry lasted about a month?

Lord: Ah yes, but I don’t know what they do nowadays.

Q53. And the Californian’s crew occupied about two days?

Lord: Well no, I think it was only about one day. We all left that same day. There was myself, there was Stewart, Stone, Groves and the wireless operator [Evans]. And he got through with us that first day.

Q54. Now that, er, you only met Dunlop on that day, when you were going into court –

Lord: That’s all.

Q55. And you had no opportunity of discussing with him your –

Lord: No discussions with him whatever.

Q56. And after you had returned home, no-one ever said to you, ‘this inquiry is taking a bad turn from your point of view; come down to London and let’s discuss it’?

Lord: No, never asked to go to London and meet. Never asked to offer any further information.

Q57. You just attended as a witness.

Lord: As a witness. The officers of the ship did also. As witnesses.

Q58. And after that, everything was in the hands of a man whom you hadn’t instructed on the question at all?

Lord: True. Dunlop.

Q59. Did you know that Dunlop, when he opened his final address to the court, apologised for not having been in the court as often as he should have been?

Lord: No.

Q60. That does appear in the findings [transcript].

Lord: He wasn’t in the court, evidently, during the whole of the case, which he ought to have been.

Q61. And had you known that, you might have done something about it?

Lord: What could we do? He was there for the owners, but he told me he was representing the Leyland line, and as far as I was concerned, he’d got nothing at all, and if you ask me, I don’t think he asked many questions whatever.

Q62. And the Mercantile Marine Services Association, during the course of the rest of the inquiry didn’t draw this point to your attention, or difficulty you were getting into?

Lord: No. I went to see them when I came back from London, told them what had happened and saw the secretary. Eventually they wrote one or two letters, pointing out the - how I had been treated very harshly, no opportunity of a further inquiry, which was refused.

Q63. Did you go to anyone else in Liverpool about it, before the findings came out?

Lord: Did I?

Q64. Approach anyone?

Lord: Yes, I approached [Capt. J.D.] MacNab.

Q65. Who’s he?

Lord: The former chief examiner – master - officer in Liverpool.

Q66. He would be a Board of Trade –

Lord: Yes.

Q67. And what of he?

Lord: Well he wrote and told me, that as far as I was concerned, he didn’t think for one minute that I was in any way to blame. And he didn’t think the Californian was. I have his letter.

Q68. It’s fifty years ago now, isn’t it, that this happened, in fact it’s fifty years ago next April I think. You’ve got a very clear recollection of everything that happened?

Lord: I have.

Q69. Is it something you’ve thought over a lot, or have you re-read the papers very much?

Lord: No, I haven’t re-read the papers at all. I have what I wrote at the time, and the evidence that I gave is there still.

Q70. And so far as that night is concerned, in summary, your navigation was being done in what you would call the normal way?

Lord: In the normal way and in perfect conditions. The position was obtained at noon… 

Q71. That would be a sun?

Lord: Sun observation by three officers and myself. And the second officer took a, a dead-reckoning latitude and worked out the longitude about four o’clock in the afternoon, and gave it to me. It agreed by dead reckoning [clock strikes].

   The chief officer took the latitude by star about seven, between seven and eight that evening, and said that it agreed with dead reckoning. And we sent out our position at five, when we passed those three icebergs, giving our position. We sent our position out at noon, after observing, and broadcast it. And when we stopped that evening we sent out our position again, telling exactly where we stopped. [Clock has struck five]. Which all agreed with our preceding… I’ll wait ‘til the clock stops.    

Related Biographies:

Stanley Lord

Relates to Ship:



* Transcript by Senan Molony. Copyright free.
This material may be freely used in accordance with fair use and due attribution.
Original rights released by the content copyright holders, the daughters of Leslie Harrison; Captain Lord having no successors, heirs or assigns in the material.
Copies of the February 1961 tapes were passed in life by Harrison to Rob Kamps, with next generation CDs produced by Paul Slish. The August 1961 recording obtained by Senan Molony from the Merseyside Maritime Museum on certified production of written full rights release.


Senan Molony

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