Binoculars locker key up for auction next month

Not open for further replies.
Item in the Scotsman (many other UK newspapers as well)

Interesting point about the 'hazing' in the lenses that would have made the binoulars useless on the night.

[Moderator's notes: 1. This post was originally posted in a separate topic, but has been moved to the one discussing the same subject. 2. The title of this thread has been revised to better reflect what is being discussed. JDT]
The binoculars probably wouldn't have been all that useful during the day, at least for scanning and searching, much less in the brutal conditions faced by Fleet and Lee. Having stood many a lookout in some pretty cruddy conditions, I learned very quickly to never use them except for identifying a target after I spotted it.

I suppose this particular legend will never really die, but it's still a bogus issue, and they knew that much in 1912.
Interesting point about the 'hazing' in the lenses that would have made the binoulars useless on the night.

You are probably referring to Dave Brown's comments in the above article regarding the binoculars. He doesn't mention "hazing," but does say that "1912 British binoculars did not have coated lenses and would have worsened vision in low light."

Mike is exactly right about how binoculars are used by watchmen. The idea that the ship could have avoided the iceberg if only they had been looking for it with binoculars is a false one, yet it continues to be repeated in various media despite the many attempts by those who know better to quash it!

The article refers to "...the binoculars locker in the nest" but Fleet reported that there were NO glasses not that the glasses were locked up. Lightoller when questioned confirmed that "it was reported" that there were NO glasses saying NOTHING about a missing key when asked to provide an explanation as to why none were available.

It's correct to say the Titanic COULD have been saved had glasses been available. Who's to say that the look out men wouldn't have occasionally scanned the horizon, possibly spotting the berg a fraction sooner than they did.
>>It's correct to say the Titanic COULD have been saved had glasses been available.<<

The consensus of expert opinion in 1912 said otherwise, and some of this came from Captains with ice navigation experience.

As one who has both training and experience as a lookout at sea, it's a consensus that I agree with. Scanning with binoculars is not the easiest thing to do, and while this may go counter to so-called "Common Sense" the practical reality is that if you're glued to the things, you actually increase your chances of missing something. This is true even with the most experienced lookouts who, in any event, tend to rely on the naked eye to search for a threat. The binoculars only come into play after you've seen something and need to identify what it is.
The article is way off the beam.

There was no 'binoculars locker' in the nest. There was a container that could be used for anything the lookouts liked, such as spare clothes.

There were no binoculars for the lookouts. During the run to Southampton, Blair saw fit to lend the lookouts the second officer's binoculars. I suggest he did this because the Irish Sea is full of traffic and there are lights to be found and identified.

The lookouts remembered that the glasses were marked 'Second officer' and also that they were a zoom type.

In Southampton, the glasses were returned to a locker in Blair's cabin, which was later taken over by Lightoller. Lightoller evidently was able to get the glasses for his own use. He saw no reason to lend them to the lookouts.

The article is the usual media beat-up.
FLEET — Four and a half years look out experience with first hand knowledge of the rare conditions that existed that night which even experience officer’s like Lightoller had not encountered before:

Q. Suppose you had had glasses. Could you have seen this black object at a greater distance?

“we could have seen it a bit sooner”

HOGG — 13 years experience at sea with first hand knowledge of conditions on the night

“If we had had the glasses we might have seen the berg before”

LEE — 15/16 years at sea with first hand knowledge of conditions on the night

Q. Have you found them (the glasses) of any use?

A. “they are better than ordinary eyesight”

Q. Are they (the binoculars) of use at night?

A “certainly, night glasses”

Based on these first hand observations it’s reasonable to assume that glasses would have enhanced their vision, otherwise why have ‘night’ glasses at all? I don’t think anyone would suggest that the presence of glasses WOULD have saved the ship but there presence COULD have, if used. The converse argument is that they COULD NOT have saved the ship and I cannot see how anyone could be confident enough to say that.

When set against the opinion of those ‘on the front line’ I would be very wary of ‘expert opinion’, especially from old sea captains who hadn’t been on look out duty for many years when glasses, if even used then, would have been more primitive.

As for the glasses themselves FLEET states that on the Oceanic there was “one pair in the nest” and HOGG states “I have always had night glasses in the White Star Boats”. So why were there no look out glasses supplied on the Titanic? Was this a simple WSL oversight?

HOGG confirmed that the glasses BLAIR lent them were locked away in the second officer’s quarters. He did this personally when they reached Southampton and the keys (note the pleural) were then passed to able seaman WELLER.

The fact that Lightoller, on taking over the second officer’s quarters from Blair, was able to gain access to the glasses (otherwise I’m sure he’d have mentioned in testimony that he could not gain access to his own glasses when quizzed on the issue) indicates that this singular key up for auction is a red herring.

And David Brown, quoted as a Titanic Historian states “ …and I don’t think they’d have locked them up” when HOGG testified that he had done just that!! No wonder the story is misleading.
Steve-- You should know better than to believe everything you read in the newspaper. Although reporter Tim Cornwell did a good job of presenting both sides, he combined a couple of my statements into a misleading one. This was done under the tyranny of space in newspaper columns.

I said something to the effect that although I doubted they would normally lock up the lookout's binoculars during a voyage, the box could easily have been broken and there was a joiner on board to fix it. My point being that if the binoculars were locked away, it would have been simple enough to get them without doing permanent damage to the ship.

As to the value of 1912-era binoculars, none of us here can say. We have all had experience with modern, coated optics which work much better at night. British optics of the time did not. "Night glasses" had larger objective lenses than those typically used in daylight, but the amount of light reaching the eye was still less than using modern optics.

The problem with binoculars is two-fold. First is angle of view. You are restricted to only a few degrees of arc, with the rest of the horizon completely out of view. This means that if you do not by chance happen upon an unsuspected danger, you probably won't see it at all.

The second is that binoculars focus light into the center of the eye where color reception lies. However, the best way to see something in the dark is to use the surrounding area of the retina which contains the more light-sensitive black & white receptors. This is why lookouts are trained to look slightly above the horizon with their unaided eyes to first acquire knowledge of dangers. Binoculars are used to make positive identification of what has been spotted with the unaided eye.

The quotes by the lookouts about binoculars have to be taken with a large dose of salt. Fleet and Lee were in a vulnerable situation. It would have been possible for the whole affair to have been laid on their shoulders--even criminal convictions. They needed to raise every possible "fire wall" against this sort of attack on their performance. And, sailors are a tight lot when one of their number is in danger from authority. No, I don't believe anyone lied under oath. Rather, I believe their answers pertained more to the identification aspect of "seeing" than to the perception of dangers.

Knowledge of night vision was (and is) well-known by officers, including "old sea captains." Steve and everyone here should know that the officer of the watch, and the captain, are jointly responsible for keeping lookout using "all means available." In 1912, this meant their own eyes, ears, nose, and maybe even feet. Today, if you have radar, 2-way radio, even GPS, you must use these means as well. I don't know any officers who don't keep their lookout techniques sharp--and that's doubly true of shipmasters.

The job of the lookout is simply to call attention to potential dangers and to give their relative bearing. On Titanic, the obvious standard procedure was for lookouts to only locate and report potential dangers. This was why they were told in routine situations to use strokes on the bell rather than call on the telephone. It was impossible for them to signal the difference between an iceberg and a staysail schooner with only bell strokes. That being the case, there was little need for binoculars.

My for-what-its-worth opinion is that the lookouts did not have binoculars because the officers did not think binoculars were important in the crow's nest.

It has been suggested that the lookouts had binoculars on the trip to Southampton because the need might have arisen for them to do some identification of objects. Possibly true. We can't be sure, however, because nobody asked about this during the inquiries.

One thing Steve said that is very true concerns the place in history of the key. Even if it is the key to the box in which Blair locked the binoculars, it is still impossible to say this key "caused" the accident. We can never know. It is impossible to go back in time and put binoculars in the nest to see what changes.

-- David G. Brown
Andrew--beware that you are dealing here with people who have spent more time researching the facts behind Titanic than every house on every continent has collectively spent auctioning memorabilia. The sum of time expended on the ship and its sinking by the members of this forum totals in the millions of hours. They are not kind to any less robust approach to the subject.

As an auctioneer, you know that having a key in your hand says nothing about the history of that object. For that you rely on its provenance. I am certain care was taken to make sure that the object is authentic and the provenance provides an unbroken chain of custody from David Blair on the day he left Titanic and every day from then until now.

Nobody is seriously attacking that the key came from Blair, or how it was obtained for auction. What raises objections are claims that this key may have in any way caused the ship's accident. Such unprovable claims are little more than ballyhoo and circus barking. That may be OK in the public press. However, when you come to this forum you must be prepared to find lots of evidence running counter to your claims that Titanic sank because of the key now up for auction.

As to your objection to the key being called a "red herring," doth you protest too much? What information do you have that you do not wish to divulge? If the key is everything claimed, it is ludicrous to think than a single post amounting to nothing more than chatter among friends could possibly do any harm.

However, as Hollywood knows, controversy often does wonders when it comes to promoting items for sale. Certainly, you are above making threats just for that purpose, but I want to show that ad hominem attacks cut both ways.

Claims which cannot be substantiated about the powers of souvenirs do great harm both to serious historians and to the auctioning of such baubles. The value of items at auction is directly proportional to the belief buyers have in the veracity of their provenances. History is only valuable when it is based on facts and truth.

--David G. Brown
I am not above apologies. So to you David; sincere apologies for casting a slur on your Titanic reputation. Your warning about not taking quotes at face value is well heeded.

As for Alan Aldridge I have no doubt that he is a world class auctioneer but my comment, if read carefully, does not allude to his profession. My expression “so called Titanic expert” is a view I formed based on his comment that weight of evidence in testimony, not to mention logic, clearly does not support. If he does not wish to invite or accept criticism he should not make dubious statements to the nation

Take a look again Mr Aldridge at the actual words spoken in testimony. FLEET, when asked, stated that the glasses were kept “in a bag”. He didn’t say a locker which would have implied there was a lockable mechanism. It was the Attorney - General who introduced the word ‘locker’ to FLEET who simply answered in the affirmative, to my mind just confirming that there was a special place in the nest to keep them. As far as I can tell the other look outs questioned all used the word ‘box’ not locker suggesting there was no key.

LEE in his testimony stated “no, nothing in it” when asked to confirm there was nothing in the box. How did he know that Mr Aldridge if Blair had the key to this ‘locker’ in his pocket? Why did the look out men go asking for ‘glasses’ and not simply ask for the ‘key’ to this locker? If there were glasses in this box why did Blair have to lend them his? We know Blair’s glasses were locked away in his quarters and were almost certainly used by Lightoller on the bridge so what glasses were ‘locked away’ in the crows nest? You see it doesn’t stack up.

Perhaps you can provide the evidence that linked this key, the authenticity of which is not in doubt, to the box, sorry ‘locker’, in the crows nest. After all I doubt if a man with a re-known reputation would make a comment to the nation without reliable evidence. What made Alan Aldridge "believe" this particular key operated a locker in the nest? Don’t tell me that the only evidence you have is based on one word the Attorney — General said.

Now if Alan Aldridge is a Titanic ‘expert’ perhaps he would like to contribute to this forum and demonstrate that expertise. Once I see the evidence I will gladly apologise but until such time I stand by my view.

Ps I am not an expert and so these comments are for the forum to debate and is not a factual account that I would dare put out to the nation.
>>Four and a half years look out experience with first hand knowledge of the rare conditions that existed that night which even experience officer’s like Lightoller had not encountered before:<<

And who, as one of the guys on watch at the time of the accident, had every reason to get "creative" with the facts.

Steve, I have direct experience with this sort of thing under both adverse conditions and also in broad daylight on a clear calm day with unlimited visibility while serving on a warship's Low Visibilty lookout team and a Snoopy Team. A lot of...for want of a better term...Armchair Admirals have never done this for a living. I have, and the lessons I learned come by way of actual training and experience.

David Brown has covered the ground very well on the shortcomings and problems with binoculars but he wasn't the first to do it. A number of experienced skippers beat him to it by 95 years, and in sworn testimony. Unlike Fleet or Lee, they had no vested interest in the outcome of any inquiry, and didn't have to worry about the possibility of some sort of legal sanction if pinned with "The Blame." Fleet and Lee did have that possibility to consider.

That's not to say that either one lied in this case, but that didn't mean that they couldn't take certain liberties with the facts in an attempt to misdirect and mislead. People facing lawyers who have no knowladge of their trade, but the power to threaten their ability to make a living tend to do that.

Binoculars are not the panacea or cure all that some would believe and they never were. I learned early on to never use them for searching for anything. It's just to easy to miss something that way. Binoculars come into play to identify something after you've located it.
To be fair to the look outs none as far as I can tell claimed that with glasses they WOULD have spotted the berg sooner. They use the words MIGHT have or COULD have in response to questions put to them. Which in my view is more factually correct than saying 'NO we wouldn't have picked it up sooner'.

Scanning with glasses, especially at night, is of course pointless, but it's possible that they MAY have taken the odd peer through glasses into the dead ahead distance to try and pick up any silhouettes against the starry horizon or to check out the haze that Lee reported. Unlikely maybe but it shouldn't be discounted out of hand.
>>any silhouettes against the starry horizon or to check out the haze that Lee reported.<<

Any silhouettes against the starry horizon at the elevation the crows nest was above the water would have been on the order of about 12 miles away. The iceberg wasn't seen until just befor the accident. Scanning for an inky black mass in an inky black ocean with not even so much as a wave to give a hint of what's there is about as useful as trying to look for a small blob of ink in a room painted black with the lights turned out save for a few specks glowing dimly through some pinholes.

In any event, if the lookouts or anyone else on the bridge had seen a haze as they claimed, that in itself should have been taken as a warning. Captain Smith was known to have left orders that he be notified if any such was observed. That his officers did nothing of the kind indicates they either never observed any such thing or that they failed to carry out their orders.

That the lookouts failed to report any such thing tells me that they either had no instructions to do so (They were known to have orders to look out for low lying pack ice and bergy bits) or that there was no haze to report.

Timothy Trower

Former Member
Would it be possible to see a photo of the other side of the key fob? On the Aldridge website I could only find a photo of the side that reads "Crows Nest Telephone Key".
>> about as useful as trying to look for a small blob of ink in a room painted black with the lights turned out save for a few specks glowing dimly through some pinholes. <<

If it was that dark they wouldn't have seen the berg at all. The fact that they saw it prior to collision indicates there was light, however dim, reflecting off it. Lets assume the berg came into view and was visible with the naked eye at say 800 yds.

If the berg was reflecting light at 800 yds it was reflecting the same amount of light at say 1000yds. Insufficient light to be picked up by the naked eye but viewed through glasses the magnification would possibly bring the berg into view.

That said there may not have been enough light to form an image but who knows for certain?

I'm not saying the look outs would have peered into the dark had they had the glasses because any enhancement to the naked eye was limited, but the possibility existed.
Not open for further replies.