A Holy Grail The Missing Depositions by Senan Molony


Dec 12, 1999
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This is an interesting aspect of the disaster . . . closeting the surviving crew members on board a ship, and getting their stories before releasing them ashore. I think it's very characteristic of a company's strategy of damage control. Notably, it was the White Star Line's lawyers conducting the depositions, not the Board of Trade's. How did the lawyers do it? Did they actually question each of those guys, individually? It must have been a monumental effort. Certainly, the experience was intimidating for the Titanic's crew. I wonder if any were expressly told to keep their mouths shut, or whether depositions were used subsequently to impeach witnesses at the Inquiry. Too bad that few of the deposition transcripts have survived. Can the text of the surviving depositions be posted on ET?
 

Paul Lee

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Once again, another excellent article by Senan. However, I seem to recall that depositions taken from the Californian crew were stored in Liverpool, before being destroyed in WW2.

Cheers

Paul

 

Paul Rogers

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Hello Jan. Firstly, I'd like very much to put past disagreements behind us and start afresh. I'd also like to comment on a few of your observations and I look forward to reading your replies.
This is an interesting aspect of the disaster...
I agree absolutely! I'd also agree with Paul that Senan's article was very well written.
I think it's very characteristic of a company's strategy of damage control.
A company's strategy? Meaning every companies' strategy? A tad unfair, possibly, to other corporations both then and now!

What's more, the "strategy" seems to have been put in place by the Board of Trade rather than WSL, who tried very hard to distance themselves from this action. It would appear that the taking of the depositions in this way, rather than being "damage control", ran the very great risk of generating a large amount of bad publicity for WSL. Re. this point, Senan quotes the Times article of 29th April as follows:
For this extraordinary state of affairs the White Star Company were anxious that it be understood that they were not responsible. This was impressed upon me with reiterated insistence by Mr Frank Phillips, the local agent of the White Star Line. “We have made the arrangements,” he said, “but it is at the request of the Board of Trade and by their orders. [My emphasis.] So far as we are concerned, we should be glad to let representatives of the Press go on board the ship, but the instructions are that no-one is to communicate with the men until their depositions have been taken.” This statement was confirmed by Mr Harold Sanderson, one of the managers of the company in Liverpool, and the representatives of the Board of Trade. [my emphasis.]
Jan, you then go on to say the following:
Certainly, the experience was intimidating for the Titanic's crew.
I'd agree that some may well have found the experience intimidating. However, the impression I got from the Times article is that most found it simply irritating! (The wording in the article was: "unexpected and unpopular.") Would you agree that "intimidating" is a very emotionally-loaded word to use when describing the feelings of the whole crew?
I wonder if any were expressly told to keep their mouths shut, or whether depositions were used subsequently to impeach witnesses at the Inquiry.
I wonder too!
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I also find myself wondering if any of the crew were expressly told to tell the whole truth as they saw it, both in their depositions and in person (should they be called to testify at the Inquiry) notwithstanding any potential bad publicity for WSL that might have been generated by their evidence. We may never know either way!

Regards,
Paul.
 

George Behe

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Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Paul and Jan!

>I wonder if any were expressly told to keep their >mouths shut,

For what it's worth, the IMM Ship's Rules and Uniform Regulations stated: "If it can be avoided, no declaration should be made before a Receiver of Wreck until instructions have been obtained."

It looks like IMM at least had the *intention* of exerting control over its employees' public statements if they could possibly manage to bring that about.

All my best,

George
 

Inger Sheil

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Very interesting article! I've mentioned this 'Holy Grail' here on the board in the past (and I think I even used the term 'Holy Grail'), and have discussed it with Senan a couple of times - I have a copy of Lowe's deposition, and Senan has asked me to include it in its entirety as an appendix in the Lowe bio.

There are a few accounts that I would dearly love to read from crewman who landed at Plymouth and who made interesting comments to the press, but who were never called to the inquiry. The shooting question that Molony raises is one of them - some of the crew in Plymouth made very interesting remarks indeed (a few of which I've passed on to Bill Wormstedt for inclusion on his site).
 
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OFF TOPIC I KNOW SO I DON'T NEED ANY POSTS FROM *MODERATORS* THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

My RMS Titanic 'Holy Grail' experience was motoring to Godalming, Surrey on Saturday 10th, February, 1996 and seeing the Jack Philips Memorial in the enclosed park and gardens.

I finally got to go home...
 

Inger Sheil

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Will do, Bill. His family have also allowed me to copy another affidavit dating to 1913 that he gave (presumably for the subsequent legal procedures, although it doesn't indicate the purpose on the document), although this is less detailed than the 1912 deposition he gave for the BOT.

Jonathan, perhaps a few less of the caps please? It's the net equivalent of shouting
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I've also been to Godalming a few times and have had a tremendous time on each occasion. I'd already been down there for a quick visit, but having Jemma Hyder - who knows the place and people well - giving the guided tour was a great experience. Perhaps you might want to say something in the Jack Philips threads, however.
 
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An interesting and thought provoking article, which is true to Senan's form. I hope those depositions turn up somewhere, but I think it's going to take quite a bit of digging around to do that if any of these documents still survive.

I suspect that these people had quite a bit to say, but which Lord Mersey didn't want to hear. George Pelham's evidence about the break up of the ship for example. If Bill Wormstedt's article is any indication the Mersey court seemed particularly anxious to avoid dealing with that one.

I wonder what else they were anxious to avoid dealing with?
 

Paul Lee

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Presumably people have written to the families of the survivors asking if they still possess such depositions? Maybe mentioning that they are worth large sums of money may hasten their search
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Cheers

Paul

 
Dec 12, 1999
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Hi Paul,

Yes, I think companies generally strategize over damage control. All the time. But, in the context of a disaster where 1,500 men, women and children are horrifically lost, OSNC's damage control strategy likely went into high gear. Where I think that I disagree with other members is that I believe that OSNC's overall strategy was more like a cover up . . . and it was well-planned out, thoughtfully prepared, and constructed right down to the most minute details. Others see WSL's management as just ordinary men, plodding along, suffering in shock, and taking it a day at a time. But the action of isolating and questioning the crew aboard Lapland shows that someone had gotten the house in order. I don't underestimate guys like Sanderson, Ismay or the others, for a minute. To me, they are cold, calculating men, seemingly impervious to emotion, guided by financial principles, and always fearing the loss of their investments. The disaster made them into pawns of a sort of economic loss paranoia. Fear took hold, and a cover up mentality flourished. Anyway, regarding the depositions themselves, I think "intimidating" is an appropriate description, because having done hundreds of depositions myself, I see first hand that people are very intimidated by them.
 

Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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I don't know if this is the same thing or not, but in "Titanic Voices" (page 217 of the 1994 edition), there is "Proof of evidence given to the Wreck Commissionaire by George Thomas Macdonald Symons of 6 Moreland Road, Southampton states: (etc)"

Symons name does not appear in the list of deposed witnesses in Senan's list, but it seems to be the same thing.

Perhaps it is time to get Brian Ticehurst of the BTS and see if they are willing to contact the Soton papers and see if any survivor's relatives have copies of such testimony. I would be willing to do this, but I don't want to tread on the BTS toes
happy.gif


Cheers

Paul

 

Brian Meister

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Hello All,

As much as I would love to think that these
depositions are lying out there waiting to
be found, (and they might just be) I have
interviewed dozens of family members of the
crew and none of them have had any of this
material in their possession. I was very
surprised to hear of the Pelham and Snow
statements when Senan discussed them with
me those many months ago. I have had my ideas
about where these documents could be stored
and have contacted several locations in the
search. I believe that this will not be as
easy as putting an ad in the Soton paper,
as it has also been my experience that many
people don't even know they are related,
much less have anything from the Titanic
period. Even as I type these words, I think
of the value of these depositions, but worry
as with many Titanic items put up for auction,
whether if in private hands, they will ever
see the light of day for researchers to read
and digest. Where are the Snow and Pelham
statements, for example? Full disclosure
would mean diminishing the realized price at
auction and lessen the value for those
chosen few who can afford to buy and sell
them. Remember, not only does discovery
solve the mystery, it changes the topic
forever.
 

Paul Rogers

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Hi Jan.
Others see WSL's management as just ordinary men, plodding along, suffering in shock, and taking it a day at a time. But the action of isolating and questioning the crew aboard Lapland shows that someone had gotten the house in order.
Mmm. You may be right. It appears however from the Times article that it was the Board of Trade that was responsible for the crew isolation rather than WSL. Do you believe that the BoT and WSL were working together on this exercise despite public statements to the contrary, and given the bad publicity generated for WSL by the enforced crew isolation?

Personally, I believe the BoT was the "party" with the ability and the motivation to create a cover-up. After all, they had effectively declared Titanic as ready in every respect to go to sea despite the insufficiency of lifeboats, and this was probably the issue that caused the greatest public outcry. My feeling is that the WSL management were indeed: "...just ordinary men, plodding along, suffering in shock, and taking it a day at a time" whereas it was the BoT and, indirectly, the Government that could have planned and executed a cover-up. But then I could easily be wrong!
Anyway, regarding the depositions themselves, I think "intimidating" is an appropriate description, because having done hundreds of depositions myself, I see first hand that people are very intimidated by them.
Fair 'nuff. I will certainly bow to your experience on this matter.

Regards,
Paul.
 
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Corporate affairs are always murky when investigated. And depositions must always be intimidating for the reason that one will be held accountable to one's views at a given time, whether or not one had full knowledge of a situation. But as long as an economy (the West's) is dependant upon shareholder value, this will apply. It's all wrong, but I don't know what the answer is.
 

Philip Hind

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In case anyone's looking for it the article has been taken down just temporarily while I sort something out. Sorry for any inconvenience.
 
Dec 12, 1999
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My feeling is that the WSL management were indeed: "...just ordinary men, plodding along, suffering in shock, and taking it a day at a time" whereas it was the BoT and, indirectly, the Government that could have planned and executed a cover-up.

Probably both were engaged in a cover up. Anyway, I have to give them credit, on board Lapland, there were no women pulling collared naked men on a dog leash, or no such photos have surfaced to my knowledge. So I'll agree with you and give WSL the benefit of the doubt.
 

Inger Sheil

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I hope those depositions turn up somewhere, but I think it's going to take quite a bit of digging around to do that if any of these documents still survive.
Brian mentioned dozens of families he's interviewed, and I suspect Brian's experience is the norm - most of these documents have long since gone by the wayside, as the families haven't preserved copies of the depositions. However, as Sen's article indicates (and my own experience with the Lowe papers suggests), a few crewmen did preserve their own copies of the affidavits. Some of these have even come up for auction - Pitman's did, for example, as well as those Sen has noted. So there may be a few more out there.

Whether the motherlode will be located is another question - I had a shoofty around for it and haven't found it, as evidently Sen has and goodness knows how many other researchers. But never say never - perhaps they are lurking somewhere, uncatalogued, but waiting for an intrepid researcher to locate them....
 
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One would hope that they would be boxed up somewhere at the PRO office in Kew, just waiting for somebody to find them and catalogue the lot, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it to happen. I have to agree with Jan that both White Star and the government at the time were engaged in a cover up. This seems to be the norm with events like this.

White Star certainly didn't want to admit that their navigation practices needed a little updating and revision, the BOT didn't like having theier noses rubbed in the fact that their lifeboat regulations needed updating, and I don't think either of them ever wanted to admit that the ship broke up, though I'll bet they knew it. Lord Mersey included. FWIW, I think the depositions were "disappeared" because they were inconvenient. Some things you just don't advertise if you have a potentially hostile nation (Germany!) watching you from across the channel who would love to know that a ship made of your best "battleship steel" had just broken up on the way down.

It's embarrassing!
 

Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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Doesn't the PRO document pack "Titanic: The Official Story 14-15 April 1912" contain one of the statements/depositions?

Thanks

Paul

 

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