In Brad's article he points to night watchman Johnstone's answer about rowing back to the ship while in #2:
3511. Did you row back at all towards the wreck? - Well, the boatswain told us to keep a star and keep looking at this star and not to lose it, and keep within the vicinity of it.
and took this literally to mean that Nichols gave them that order before #2 was launched. From the context of the questioning it is clear that Johnstone was really talking about Boxhall, who took charge of #2, and was something they were told to do while in the boat. Johnstone was a steward, not a seaman. He certainly would not have much, if any, interaction with the deck crew or engineers. His reference to "boatswain" was to the person who was at the rudder of the boat. That would be Boxhall. Johnstone didn't know Boxhall's name or any of the officers by name. He even said so.
I have read that article about Nichols by Brad Payne quite a few times and now almost have a built-in feeling about it. I strongly feel that in light Johnstone's overall testimony and the manner in which he spoke about Boxhall (albeit not actually naming him), I respectfully disagree with you that the steward actually meant the Fourth Officer when he mentioned the 'Boatswain'. I believe Brad was right in thinking that it was Boatswain Nichols who gave Johnstone that 'star tip' near Lifeboat #2; I also think that Brad needlessly doubted himself afterwards because the timeframes supposedly did not match. I think they do
match but before we go into why I think so, I would like to look at the men involved.
Alfred Nichols was a larger than life Australian who came to settle in the UK while in his 20s and so would almost certainly still have had at least part of his 'Oz' accent by the time he sailed as the Titanic
's Boatswain. That accent and his burly physique meant that Nichols had a presence and would have left an impression on most people he sailed with. James Johnstone might only have been a steward but like Nichols, had served on board the Olympic;
but far more importantly IMO, both men were on board during the Titanic's delivery trip from Belfast to Southampton
. That would have given the Scottish steward more than enough opportunity to be aware of the big Australian Boatswain, even if the two men had not sat across a table with a deck of cards.
I would like to pick out a few relevant excerpts from Johnstone's testimony at the British Inquiry, the only one where he was called-in as a witness. 3430. Were the crew mustering there at the boats?
- I think Mr. Wilde asked, "What boat do you belong to" I said, "No. 2." I am sure he had the list because he said, "That is right." He said, "Can you pull" I said, "Certainly." He said, "Stand by the falls." 3448. Was anybody else in the boat then?
- There was no one else then. Then the women and children got into it. 3449. Who put them in?
- The Chief Officer. As we can see, Johnstone was clearly able to identify Chief Officer Wilde by both his name and rank and so even though he was 'only' a steward, he knew an officer when he saw one. And we know that Wilde was largely the man in charge of Lifeboat #2.
About Boxhall, Johnstone said: 3440. Was any Officer there?
- An Officer got into the boat afterwards. This man handed me a lamp out of the boat. I saw a lamp standing on the deck. It was ready-lit. I said, "It will be all right for us," so I stowed it in there.
3473. Was there an Officer in the boat?
3474. Who was he?
- I do not know his name; I should know him if I saw him.
3475. The Fourth Officer, was it not?
- I think it would be him.
3519. Was there any suggestion by anybody that you should go back in the boat?
- Yes; the Officer asked a question as to going back, but at that time we were just close to an iceberg, and the ladies said, "No," I think; they thought it was dangerous
Again, although Johnstone did not name Boxhall as the man in charge of his boat, he referred to him as the "Officer" several times in his testimony, including in 3519 which was about going back to pick up more people out of the water. Therefore there is no reason IMO to think that Johnstone would have called Boxhall as the 'boatswain' only a few minutes earlier in 3511. In fact, elsewhere in his testimony stated that at various times a sailor or a 'girl' was in charge of the tiller of Lifeboat #2 and the Officer
instructed the latter about what to do.
So, I feel that Johnstone's response to Question 3511 has to be viewed in the right perspective. I think the response there in past tense
, in which case it takes a rather different meaning. 3511. Did you row back at all towards the wreck? - Well, the boatswain (had) told us to keep a star and keep looking at this star and not to lose it, and keep within the vicinity of it
I think that it was
Boatswain Nichols who had given Johnstone that star tip but I do not believe that it happened just before Lifeboat #2 was finally lowered at 01:45am but around 15 minutes earlier
. That would have allowed Nichols to give Johnstone the star tip and then (probably on Smith's orders) to go across to the starboard side aft, soon to be seen and remembered by Leading Fireman Barrett on A-deck just as Lifeboat #13 about to be lowered.
Lightoller's stories are riddled with more than a few inconsistencies, and everything he said, especially later in life, has to be carefully screened
I would be the first one to agree to that sentiment but in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Lightoller did actually testify
about sending Nichols on that errand about opening gangway doors and so there is a good chance that it was the truth - at least for the most part. From what Lightoller said, it seems like he gave that order to the boatswain around 01:05am and the latter left immediately to carry it out. IMO, for the boatswain to muster about 6 men, take them below, check the wisdom of opening a gangway door on either the E-deck or D-deck, decide not to leave any open, return to the boat deck and disperse the men to other tasks would have taken the best part of 20 minutes. Only then could he have reported back and to do so he would have naturally gone to the spot where he received the order in the first place, the port side forward. But by then Lightoller would have been out of sight completing loading of Lifeboat #12 and given the darkness, size of the ship and intervening crowds in between, the two men would not have seen each other. Nichols would have reported to Smith, who was probably present when Lightoller had given the original order earlier.
While Nichols had been below decks with his men, Lifeboat #2 was briefly unattended while Captain Smith and the senior officers were away at the firearms meeting. We know that several stokers and other crew members got into the already swung out lifeboat, only to be ordered out by Captain Smith when he returned. Smith and then Wilde after the latter returned after supervising lowering of the port aft lifeboats started reloading Lifeboat #2 with passengers, and it would have been about then that Nichols returned from below to report. If the boatswain saw that Johnstone was one of the crew to go in Lifeboat #2, he could have given the steward the 'star tip' then - just after 01:30 am. That would have allowed Nichols to go to the starboard side aft (possibly on orders of Smith or Wilde), later to be seen by Leading Fireman Barrett on A-deck just as Lifeboat #13 was about to be lowered. Meanwhile, if Smith and Wilde had decided to get Boxhall - who was still firing rockets - to take charge of Lifeboat #2, it would explain why the Fourth Officer never saw Nichols in that area and also why #2 was not lowered till 01:45am.
After he lowered Lifeboat #12 at 01:30am, the easiest route for Lightoller to take to get to Lifeboat #4 (avoiding going through the crowds on the boat deck) on A-deck would have been down the stairs past the deck chair storage area and moving forward. If he indeed took that route, it could explain why he did not see Nichols then or later.