The Sinking of S.S. TITANIC : A Chronology

Titanic : Timeline of Events


Part 2

Nobody testified as to the method of resetting either the passenger or crew clocks. It is necessary to study the testimonies of survivors for clues as to the two different systems employed. One thing is certain: a “halfway” time reference was absolutely necessary for an orderly change of watch for the crew. The “midnight change” could not have been 12:00 o’clock in April 14th hours because this would not have allowed the Starboard Watch to serve any extra minutes. And, it could not have been at Civil Midnight (12:47 April 14th time) because, conversely, that would have forced the Starboard Watch to serve all of the extra minutes. We know from the testimonies that the extra time was to be split more-or-less equally between the watches.

Ship’s Bells

8-to-12 p.m. Watch


April 14 Civil Time

Crew Bridge Time












10:00 Becomes 9:36

None (Already Struck)














12:00 Becomes 11:13



00:17 (12:04)





Change of Watch
To Become


April 15

To Become
April 15













No time changes were made or bells struck after 7 bells due to preoccupation with the iceberg. Times in parentheses are civil hours, April 14.

Table A-3

The best confirmation of the accuracy of Table A-2 comes from Titanic’s surviving crew. None were terribly specific, but all gave the same impression: that the accident happened about 20 minutes before what they considered “midnight” and their change of watch.

Edward Buley (seaman): I was in the watch on deck, the Starboard Watch. At 12 o’clock we [were to be] relieved by the other watch. ( U.S. Inquiry)

Frank Osman (seaman):  I was waiting for one bell, which they strike, one bell, just before the quarter of the hour, before the four hours, when you get a call to relieve. ( U.S. Inquiry)

Likewise, the Port Watch expected to be called out about 5 minutes after impact, or 15 minutes before change of watch at Crew Midnight. Although he was not due on deck at midnight, lookout George Symons was roused out by the commotion and began dressing. He timed his arrival on deck by the bell which sounded to warn the Port Watch that it had only fifteen minutes before being on deck to relieve the Starboard Watch. Seaman George Moore corroborated the time when the crew was roused out.

George Symons (lookout): There was an order came to the forecastle door by the boatswain to “stand by, as you may be wanted at any moment.” By the time I got on deck it must have been about one bell, a quarter to twelve. ( U.S. Inquiry)

George Moore (seaman): Sunday night about a quarter to 12 I was on watch below and turned in.... About 10 minutes to 12 the boatswain came and piped all hands on the boat deck, and started to get out boats. ( U.S. Inquiry)

Although he slept through the accident, quartermaster Arthur Bright was quickly awakened by a member of the Starboard Watch as usual about 15 minutes before change of watch. Bright dressed and went aft to his duty station at the docking bridge on the poop.

Arthur Bright (quartermaster): At 8 o’clock I turned in. One of the watch on deck came and called me and told me that the ship had collided. I went out to the after end of the ship to relieve the man I should have relieved at 12 o’clock, a man by the name of Rowe. ( U.S. Inquiry)

Lookout George A. Hogg was also asleep upon impact. The commotion caused him to go on deck for a few minutes. When he returned below, his fellow lookout told him it was time to relieve the men on duty.

George A. Hogg (lookout): I waked up at 20 minutes to 12. I rushed up on deck...and I went below again. I asked the time, then, of my mate Evans, and he said, “It is quarter to 12. We will get dressed and get ready to go on lookout. I dressed myself, and we relieved the lookout at 12 o’clock, me and my mate Evans. ( U.S. Inquiry)

Seaman Frederick Clench was among those awakened by the impact (he claimed to be a very light sleeper). He went on deck to see the commotion, then went down below to smoke a pipe before going on duty.

Frederick Clench (seaman): I went on deck...and saw a lot of ice. I should say about 10 minutes...after I was awake...I went down below and put my Guernsey on, my round hat on, and after that I sat down on a stool having a smoke. Then, after I lighted the pipe, I heard the boatswain’s pipe call all hands out on deck. (U.S. Inquiry)

One of the details after the crew’s midnight change of watch was that the port watch would reset their clock back 23 minutes to April 15th time. “Midnight” for the change of watch thus became 11:37 p.m. for the port watch. If the passenger clocks had been retarded by 47 minutes earlier in the evening (which they were not per Lowe), the crew clocks would now have matched those used by the passengers. Twenty-three minutes later the port watch would have served its extra minutes and all of the ship’s clocks would have showed “midnight” again. Titanic would have begun civil date April 15. The need to reset the crew clocks a second time after the crew’s midnight change of watch was mentioned by boatswain’s mate Albert Haines when he established the time of the accident for the U.S. Senate inquiry.

Albert Haines (boatswain’s mate): I was standing by, down below. It being Sunday night, the men did not work. The men were in the mess room and I was outside. The right time, without putting the clock back, was 20 minutes to 12. (U.S. Inquiry, emphasis added.)

Historians favoring the one-setback system of timekeeping misinterpret Haines’ statement by claiming that no setback of crew clocks had yet occurred. In fact, the first 24 minutes of the crew clocks was for convenience only and was not “the” setback to official April 15th hours. Haines knew the crew clock would also go back again another 23 minutes at the “midnight” change of watch.

Two key members of the Starboard Watch, quartermasters Robert Hichens and George T. Rowe both stated they worked past midnight. Their statements have often been misinterpreted by historians unfamiliar with the time change system in Titanic

Quartermaster Hichens’ testimony that he was on duty until 12:23 a.m. is widely quoted as proof the accident happened on April 14th time. In fact, his statement proves otherwise. Sailors traditionally come on duty a minute or two before change of watch. It is unacceptable to come on duty late. Normal practice would have seen Hichens relief taking over a minute before crew “midnight.” Hichens was apparently relieved on time at Crew Midnight by his opposite number of the Port Watch. However, because the clocks showing April 14th time were not reset that night, they read 12:23 as the midnight change of watch started to occur. If anything, Hichens’ testimony proves clocks showing April 14 in civil time were not retarded that night. If they had been, Hichens would have noted 11:36 p.m. in April 15th hours.

Comparison Of Hichens/Rowe Times


April 14 PassengerTime

Rowe’s Timepiece (Crew Time)

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)

Impact on Berg

12:04 a.m.

11:40 p.m.

0302 hrs

Hichens Relieved

12:23 a.m.

11:59 p.m.

0321 hrs

Change of Watch

12:24 a.m.


0322 hrs

Lifeboat #7

12:49 a.m.

12:25 a.m.

0347 hrs

Table A-4

Rowe stated that he looked at his pocket timepiece to note the time of the accident as “20 minutes to 12.” He then went on to say, “I remained until 25 minutes after 12, when I saw a boat on the starboard beam. Rowe’s relief, quartermaster Bright, said he went on duty at the appointed midnight change of watch. The men then talked for some minutes about the iceberg before noting a lifeboat in the water. No boats were launched at 12:25 a.m. in April 14th hours. The launching of boat #7, the first to go down, took place about 45 to 50 minutes after impact on the iceberg at about 12:49 a.m. in April 14th time. Within reason, that launching would have been about “12:25” on Rowe’s watch. Since Rowe had the times of impact and the launching of the first boat correct, and since Bright relieved at midnight between those two events, it is obvious that Rowe’s timepiece was set to crew time retarded by 24 minutes from the clocks used by the passengers.


David G. Brown

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