Californian's cargo


Nov 30, 2000
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What kind of cargo was the Californian carrying? I read something about it being "general cargo", but what made up that "general" cargo?
Thanks, as always, in advance for anyone who can be of help.

Richard K.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I don't think I've ever seen anything specific on that. General cargo would likely be a catch all statement for a wide variety of things they could be contracted to carry such as textiles, machine parts, lumber, wine, books, furniture...whatever.

It may be too much to hope for but perhaps somebody may have a copy of the manifest. (Bill or Eric Sauder perhaps?)

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Dec 4, 2000
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I have seen in a couple of places that Californian was in ballast and was not carrying cargo that night. However, I've never see proof of that.

-- David G. Brown
 

Senan Molony

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Jan 30, 2004
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I have seen a list of her cargo, and believe I have it somewhere, along with her sign-on lists. Workhorses of the Leyland Line were not in the habit of crossing the Atlantic empty.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Senan--
The purpose of my post was an attempt to draw out exactly what you posted. I have doubted the sources that say Californian was empty, but have seen no proof one way or the other. What, if anything, was in the ship's hold probably makes little differenc, but it is a curiosity. Hope you can find the manifest.

--David G. Brown
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Gill said that he could not smoke below decks because of the cargo. So she certainly was not empty.

Legend has it that ships used to report, "Have just sighted four masts and a funnel. Presumed Leyland liner." They had a name for loading to the Plimsoll Line.
 

Norman Olsen

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Apr 15, 2006
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I've seen where the Californian had no passengers that trip, but no mention of cargo. But I'm certain the ship wouldn't even be steaming without cargo and/or passengers. Shipping companies go out of business just steaming with no reason. Norm
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Hi Norman, while it doesn't go into specifics, I would have to presume (A dangerous passtime, I know.) that at least some of the cargo was volitile enough that the only place the crew could smoke was on the weather decks. If you check out Earnest Gill's testimony on day 8 of the U.S. Senate Inquiry, you'll see in his appended affidavit the following quote;

"I turned in, but could not sleep. In half an hour I turned out, thinking to smoke a cigarette. Because of the cargo, I could not smoke 'tween decks, so I went on deck again."

It's not unknown for merchent vessels to travel without cargo, but for the reasons you just mentioned, shipping lines don't make a habit of it. They'ed go broke if they did.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Dec 2, 2000
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While reading Violet Jessops memoirs, in the notes, John Maxtone-Graham mentioned that the Californian was carrying a cargo of lumber. I was wondering if anyone can confirm this.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Steve Santini

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Nov 29, 2000
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Hi,
Just my two cents;... but it seems quite logical that if the vessel were carting a load of lumber (which is indeed combustible), crew members, such as Gill, may have indeed have been prohibited from smoking between decks. Regards, Steve Santini.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Lumber to North America? What kind? Timber has always gone the other way--to Europe. Not to say that "carrying coals to Newcastle" hasn't been done, just that it's not usually the case.

Smoking restrictions usually imply a more dangerous cargo that gives of either flammable or explosive fumes...like alcohol (spirits or industrial), gasoline, etc.

Of course, the cargo could have been rare unobtainium which is extremely light for its strength, but can be dulled by exposure to niccotine in high quantities.

We're all guessing and that does little (if any) good. Does anyone have access to the ship's clearance papers. They would solve the problem in a heartbeat.

-- David G. Brown
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Mike: All I've seen previously on this (in Reade) was a "mixed cargo". Not much help, admittedly.

But here's another thought. Need this restriction be *specifically* related to the Boston voyage's cargo? Or could it simply be a standing, general order -- Captain's rules? Leyland Line policy?

Prior to that first Boston run, Californian's U.S. port of call was New Orleans, and its freight -- out of the U.S., at least -- typically cotton. Not exactly the type of shipment you'd want to start a'smoldering, so perhaps precedent had as much to do with this as anything else. Also, unless I miss my guess, any "mixed goods" of a fragile nature would at that time likely be packed in excelsior -- ultra-fine wood shavings that are *highly* flammable. (This stuff was also used to insulate houses -- prior to the advent of fiberglass -- until it was banned due to the inherent fire hazard.)

I still think it's worthwhile digging for what the cargo actually was. But if the smoking restriction was a *generalized* one, would the official log reflect this?

Cheers,
John
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>But here's another thought. Need this restriction be *specifically* related to the Boston voyage's cargo? Or could it simply be a standing, general order -- Captain's rules? Leyland Line policy?<<

This is very possible John. Flammable cargo and packing is quite a fire hazard and we sailors hate fires. You either get barbequed or end up playing tag with the sharks if one gets going and you can't put it out. Unfortunately, Gill's affidavit isn't all that illuminating in this regard. The impression I had when I read it was that this was a touch out of the ordinary. maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Somehow, I doubt lumber alone would have been that much of a concern, but add in things like what you described and maybe barrels of alcohol, and and you potentially have quite a problem on your hands.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Here's a thought. What if Californian was carrying some sort of cargo that was highly flammable or perhaps explosive, that was also of some sort of secret shipment? What if it had been known that Californian was carrying nitroglycerin through ice ladened waters? How would that change things? Would we want the gas truck to go to the rescue of people caught in a fire? Would we want a ship filled with nitro to race to the rescue of a sinking ship only a few miles away that may hit an iceberg and knock them both out of the water. Hey, just a thought here.

But even worse, they may have had a whole ship load of Irish Whiskey or Scotch ( a case of Guiness) on board! They all would have gone up!
Maureen.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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The Leyland Line were 'common carriers' which meant the Californian would have been carrying literally hundreds of 'parcels' of general cargo [just about everything ever traded] on hundreds of bills of lading; all collated on a 'ship's report outward/inward' otherwise known as the 'manifest'. Copies of this document would be lodged inter alia with the custom house at London and Boston and should be in either archive.

Walter Lord in his sensation-seeking "Night to Remember" facetiously described the cargo as 'straw hats', opportunistically fixing upon some minutiae in the manifest in order to denigrate Capt Lord thereby.

Gill's affidavit, re the cargo, is very highly suspect and I will be addressing this at length in some more appropriate section - when I get round to it!
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Noel: I'll be all ears, believe me. If Californian, as has been previously stated, was carrying a mixed cargo, it stands to reason that the packing material itself had a good chance of being highly flammable.

Keep in mind, too, that Gill's principal claim was that they were not allowed to smoke "tween decks" (because of the cargo). That's not exactly a recitation of the manifest, nor did he ever precisely elaborate on that statement. Whether the smoking prohibition was voyage-specific or just a general rule aboard Californian (or perhaps, *all* Leyland liners, from what you've said) is by no means clear to me.

Walter Lord -- "sensation-seeking"? ? Methinks me hears the rattling of Lordite chains here! ;^)

And are you quite sure that "straw hats" reference intended "to denigrate" poor Captain Lord is in "A Night to Remember"? I tried to locate that via the Index, and couldn't find it all. Could you perhaps point me to it? (I have both the Illustrated Edition and the recent mass-market paperback, so a page reference to either will do.)

Much obliged. ("Veritas", eh? "Nihil novum sub solum.")

Regards,
John Feeney
 
J

John Meeks

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Just been browsing through these postings.

Could Maureen, possibly, have a point?

I totally agree with David questioning the concept of transporting railway sleepers (..or ties!) from Britain to N. America! Kinda makes the mind boggle, doesn't it!

On the other hand, such a cargo would be absolutely soaked in creosote - and could justify severe smoking restrictions if posted in the manifest. It would certainly 'shut up' a questioning crew.

My father told me once that he procured in Japan for his skipper, a few examples of a rather exotic breed of poultry for the "Old Man's" Hampshire farm. He entered them on the manifest as "Poultry".

Had no trouble with H.M. Customs at all in the U.K.!

You never know! (Are we inventing a "conspiracy theory" here?)

Regards,

John M
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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John (M.Feeney)

For better or worse I've separately posted a rant on Gill's affidavit.

As for packaging - a 1912 general cargo would have come in cases, crates, skids, bales, bags, drums, casks. Later would come cartons, fiberite drums, multiwall paper sacks. Contents notwithstanding, not anything overtly flammable.

I don't have a copy of "Night to Remember" to hand but I doubt 'straw hats' was indexed.

As for sensationalism - it was this book that started all that 'unsinkable' garbage. As I recall, Lord labours it no less than seven times in the text - and of course it escaped into the film (and every subsequent bloody remake).

Hitherto, I challenge you to find an instance, in fact or fiction, other than that obscure and highly-qualified reference to the closing of the Olympic's W/T doors in "The Shipbuilder" of 1911
(yes, I do know Ismay said it at the inquiry!)

Lordite? I'll happily plead guilty to being an anti-Lordite - WALTER, that is!
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Noel:

No, I actually meant packing material -- straw, excelsior, etc. -- all those lovely 1912 NON-synthetic substabces used to brace potentially breakable contents within those containers. As far as I know, all such early 20th century "padding" materials were natural products that were generally highly flammable. Excelsior was once used as cheap housing insulation -- it does have decent thermal insulation properties. But it's notoriously flammable, and was ultimately banned for all such uses in the U.S.

Of course, many cargo items themselves were potential fire hazards. Thus, my guess that a smoking prohibition might easily have been a general one.

Regarding "straw hats", give me a little credit here, Noel. I searched all references to "Californian" in ANTR, and could find no actual indications of her cargo. That Index seems fairly thorough -- every little mention of Californian was included. Hence my question. Are you perhaps thinking of "The Night Lives On"?

I really don't think Walter Lord was in any way responsible for the inception of the "unsinkable" myth. He was simply reporting historical beliefs. To the contrary, that illusion seems to have been cultivated -- albeit circuitously indirectly -- by the shipping lines and Press of the day.

But I'll be more than happy to do some digging -- Quid pro quo -- for some contemporary examples of that belief if you can provide me with a page reference for that "straw hats".

Regards,
John Feeney
 

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