Alfred Olliver


Feb 14, 2011
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I was reading my US Senate Titanic Hearings book, and was left most impressed with the testimony of Quartemaster Alfred Oliver. Seems he entered the bridge from the port side just as the wheel was being turned hard to starboard. At that very moment, i suspect officer Boxhall was appraoching the bridge on the starboard side, and was abreast of Captain Smith's quarters. What was frustrating about Olivers testomy was he semed so willing to provide details, but those moronic senators seemed unwilling to dig deeper.

One interesting revelation made by Oliver was when the order was given to lower the watertight doors, there wasnt any gizmo that lit up, as depicted in the film. Oliver's account is superb- checki it out!

Regards

tarn Stephanos
 

Chris Dohany

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Jan 8, 2001
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:::What was frustrating about Olivers testomy was he semed so willing to provide details, but those moronic senators seemed unwilling to dig deeper:::

I feel the same, Tarn. It is also aggravating with the Board of Trade Inquiry when a witness would start to go into their own personal story, only to be halted by "Do not get into that, we've heard it all before..." Imagine what tid-bits of information could have been garnered had they been allowed to speak.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Tarn,

Olliver's testimony is intriguing. Even more intriguing is that he was not called as a witness in London.

Reading carefully through his testimony, I tend to believe that he came forward on the starboard side, along with Boxhall. His description of the iceberg is a little too detailed to have seen it across the width of a dark bridge at night.

The location of Titanic's watertight door switch is a mystery. Olympic's was in the officer's chart room...Mersey saw it there during his tour. Pitman, however, said that Titanic's was on the navigating bridge, close by the wheel. Olliver's testimony would seem to support this. I'm still looking to verify the physical location of the switch. And no, there was no WTD tell-tale board as was depicted in the film.

Parks
 

John M. Feeney

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Sep 20, 2000
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It is also aggravating with the Board of Trade Inquiry when a witness would start to go into their own personal story, only to be halted by "Do not get into that, we've heard it all before..." Imagine what tid-bits of information could have been garnered had they been allowed to speak.

Chris: Thanks for providing that balance. I'm touchy about "slams" on the Senate Inquiry myself, partly because my initial pre-conceptions about Senator Smith and the U.S Inquiry (from Walter Lord, et al.) were pretty much shattered by Wyn Wade's book, and subsequently by my own readings in the U.S. Inquiry. Much of the negative imagery, it would seem, came from the largely politically-based lambasting Smith was subjected to by the British Press. But for operating on a shoestring while attending to other full-time duties, all under intense international pressure -- including some apparently orchestrated by Ismay -- those Senators did a pretty darn good job, and left us with some highly significant testimony that can't be found elsewhere.

Frankly, I reject the notion of "moronic senators" entirely! (Sorry, Tarn, but I think you're "out to lunch" on this one.) This wasn't a Board of Trade Inquiry into the technical whys and wherefores, but an inquest into the tragic death of American and other citizens with an eye towards culpability and restitution.

Were it NOT for those "moronic senators", we would have virtually NO passenger testimony whatsoever. (The Mersey Inquiry invited only the Duff-Gordons.) Nor would we have the depth of free-flow insights often provided only in the U.S. Inquiry.

What you pointed out, Chris, is something I've often observed and commented on myself. If only I had a dollar for every time I encountered an intriguing line of questioning that arose but was quickly stifled in the Mersey Commission proceedings! If there's a weakness in that Inquiry, it's in the fact that the questioning was frequently SO directed that potentially meaningful information (to us, at least) was often squelched simply because it wasn't on the agenda.

Both Inquiries are vitally important, and they are truly complementary! Some things covered well in the U.S. Hearings were not even brought up in the British Inquiry, and vice versa. Had there *been* no Senate Investigation, I think we'd all be a LOT poorer in our knowledge today.

Just my two cents worth of indignant soapboxing. ;^)

Cheers,
John
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Can anyone speculate on why Olliver was never examined in London?

I can speculate but can provide no definitive answers. This is a puzzle that I've grappled with for a while, but it doesn't appear that the answer can easily be found. How do you find evidence pertaining to why a witness wasn't called?

Parks
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Olliver was not examined by "moronic senators". He was examined privately by Senator Burton, one of the members of the committee who knew something about the shipping industry.

The US inquiry is much loved by Titanic enthusiasts thanks to Senator Smith's habit of asking about everything under the sun, whether it was relevant to the resolution that set up his committee or not. The British court stuck far more carefully to the questions put before it and so only a few personal tales crept into it, notably Joughin's tale of his escape and the Duff-Gordon affair.

I fancy that Olliver was not called in Britain because the court was not as interested in details as many of us are. The ship had hit a berg and sunk and the precise order of events on the bridge was not very important. In 1912 they could hardly have imagined that in the 21st century people would be arguing over who went in which boat and what colour the tiles in the dining saloon were.

De minimus non curat lex
 
Mar 3, 1998
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In 1912 they could hardly have imagined that in the 21st century people would be arguing over who went in which boat and what colour the tiles in the dining saloon were.

Well, thank goodness they firmly established without room for rebuttal that the boat sank; otherwise, we might still be arguing over that.

Parks
 
Feb 14, 2011
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I must defend to some extent my description of Sen. Smith and Perkins as being moronic- though I confess, I could have used a less negative term. My problem with the Senators was their apparent ignorance at the most elementary aspects of seamenship, and a good deal of time was wasted trying to determine the difference between an officer and the lower ranks. I have read my American Inquiry many times- I prefer it to the British one, due to the number of earnest accounts by the passengers. But I really feel the Senators, though well meaning, did not demonstrate the highest degree of intellegence. Much of the ridicule Sen. Smith drew from the press- he deserved. Another problem seems to be the Senators would ask the same questions over at nausium, and would not always listen to the answers. Examples of this can be found in Lowe's testimony....

Thanks and regards

Tarn Stephanos

Boston MA
 
Sep 5, 2001
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"Much of the ridicule Sen. Smith drew from the press - he deserved."

Bear in mind that most of this criticism appeared in British newspapers.

His most famous "gaffe" occurred when Smith asked Lightoller if any crew or passengers took refuge in watertight compartments before the ship sank. British press perceived this as the ultimate example of Sen. Smith's ignorance. However, a rebuttal can be found in Wyn Wade's book:

"Of course, I have known for many years that a watertight compartment is not intended as an asylum for passengers, because this same captain, who went down with the Titanic, showed me over his ship on one of my voyages and I am quite familiar with the uses of the watertight compartment. But that these sorrowing people might receive some official reply as to whether that would be possible or not, I took chances of arousing the humor of a people - not generally accustomed to much humor - by asking that question. I assume all responsibility for it."

Smith was not as "moronic" as some think.

Nathan Robison
 

John M. Feeney

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Sep 20, 2000
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But I really feel the Senators, though well meaning, did not demonstrate the highest degree of intellegence.

Hi, Tarn: Without belaboring the point, I'd have to say that your own previous comments indicate a lack of prior *knowledge* on the part of some of the senators, not of intelligence. And whether Smith and Co. were seamen or not is really beside the point as regards their purpose. Nevertheless, they did enlist the services of naval men, Captain Knapp included, to enlighten them on some of the finer points.

As for the repetitiveness of Smith's interrogations, that really had very little to do with his knowledge base, according to Wade's research. Smith was noted for utilizing this exact technique in various investigations, including some involving the railroads -- an area in which he had some expertise through personal experience. (I don't mind the repetition myself, particularly when it reveals an eroding of what at first appeared to be "hard" facts.) Repetition and resumption of prior lines of inquiry are actually fairly common judicial techniques, though I don't doubt that they would annoy the bejeebers out of some witnesses. But their very intention is to tease out any fabrications along the way. (And hey, they weren't doing it for *our* benefit.)

As Leslie Reade points out, Smith had a "built-in repeater". And it often worked to his advantage. Not being a seaman myself, I find the Senators' own initial ignorance on some maritime matters refreshingly educational. (But that's just my perspective.)

Cheers,
John
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Again Tarn picks on a poor target. Senator George Perkins was a former seaman and a current ship owner.

At least some of Smith's poor questioning was due to sheer weariness. For instance, at one point he gets an officer on Carpathia mixed up with one on Titanic. He worked long hours by day and at night he read up on seamanship using material supplied by Captain Knapp. Lord Mersey had the luxury of knocking off at about 4-00 p.m. and going home to dinner.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
Hmmmmmm...Dave, John and Nathan pretty much covered the ground here. While Senator Smith may not have been a mariner, he certainly did call on the input of those who were. His repetitive style of questioning is a very typical trial lawyers tactic and a smart attorney can use this to his/her advantage in ferreting out inconsistancies.

And while some of his questions may have seemed moronic, bear in mind that they were questions being asked by some of his constituants, some of whom had lost loved ones in the disaster. An elected official can ill afford to blow off those people whom he represents, so the questions came out. If memory serves, Wade covered that ground as well.

While Senator Smith and company were far from perfect, they got the memories and accounts of survivors while they were freshest.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Feb 7, 2005
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I'm reviving this old thread to ask about its namesake, QM Alfred Olliver. What happened to him after Titanic? I see from his ET biography that he may have continued to work for White Star, but in a land-based capacity. Do we know anything more about him? To anyone's knowledge, was he ever interviewed by anyone about Titanic after the inquiries?

Denise
 

MANDYMGY

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Jun 14, 2012
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I'm thrilled to advise that, after 78 years in an unmarked grave, QM Alfred Olliver has been honoured.

A beautiful granite headstone featuring the White Star pennant has been unveiled this week on the grave of Alfred and his wife Amelia, in St Saviour's Churchyard in Jersey, Channel Islands. Alfred was born in St Ouen in Jersey in 1884 and died in St Saviour in 1934. He escaped Titanic in lifeboat 5, saving the boat from being swamped and the lives of it's 45 occupants by realising at the last moment that the bung was not in and frantically scrambling under the skirts of the first class ladies to correct the situation before it entered the water.

Alfred gave evidence at the American enquiry and confirmed that he had seen a 'blue' iceberg brush past the bridge (perhaps a fascinating clue as to why the lookouts did not spot it until it was too late). Alfred suffered what would now be known as post traumatic stress disorder and never went back to sea after the disaster. It is fitting that, in Titanic's centenary year, this proud Jerseyman's actions have been acknowledged and his life commemorated.
 
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