Captain Lord and the Court


Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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I’d like to clear up a few points about Captain Lord and the court. I hope I’ll be excused for not quoting chapter and verse, as I’ve not got time to look up every reference. Everything is in the inquiry transcripts and the Board of Trade files.

The American inquiry of course had no power to prosecute Lord. Even it’s power to make him testify was shaky, as will be found in British Embassy correspondence. It can also be argued the Senator Smith considerably exceeded the terms of the Senate resolution that established his committee but the British decided not to make a diplomatic fuss over it. Nevertheless, Captain Lord willingly gave evidence in the US. He might have been surprised at how strongly Senator Smith condemned him, as the evidence given in America is quite thin. Neither Stone, Stewart nor Gibson testified but Smith admitted hearsay evidence from Cyril Evans and Gill’s dodgy affidavit.

In Britain Lord Mersey had full power to call him but Mersey and Sir Rufus Isaacs agreed that Mersey’s court had no power to try Lord for anything he may or may not have done. This was because he was not directly involved in the accident, as he would have been had Californian collided with Titanic. His evidence was relevant to question 24, which asked, “What was the cause of the loss of the Titanic, and of the loss of life which thereby ensued or occurred?” Arguably, Lord’s alleged failure to render assistance had added to the loss of life. He was also asked to give evidence about the radio side of the affair and other minor matters. His lawyer, Robertson Dunlop, never intervened to stop Lord answering. Lord thus gave answers that would have been incriminating had he been on trial. Mersey made it clear during later legal discussion that Lord could have refused to answer.

As a result of evidence relating to Californian, question 24 had an extra section added. “(b) What vessels had the opportunity of rendering assistance to the Titanic and, if any, how was it that assistance did not reach the Titanic before the S.S. Carpathia arrived?” Mersey concluded that Lord had failed to render assistance when in a position to do so and greatly exaggerated the help he might have given, as we know.

Consideration was given to prosecuting Lord under the Maritime Conventions Act of 1911 or the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. I know of no thought being given to prosecuting Herbert Stone. Opinion within the Board of Trade was divided. The Nautical Adviser, Captain Young, favoured prosecution but the lawyers advised against it. One considered a conviction was unlikely on the evidence. It was also considered that Lord could not receive a fair trial in view of the evidence given publicly in both inquiries. Some felt that he had been punished enough by the bad publicity he received. My personal opinion is that there was a feeling that enough bad British seamanship had been advertised already and it was time to quieten things down. The President of the Board of Trade therefore decided not to prosecute. (The President was the political head of the Board of Trade and sat in Parliament, a point not always understood).

Lord was therefore left in a position where he had a very public black mark against him but he could not get his “day in court”. He could not appeal against a conviction that he did not have. Such a position is not unique. In a recent local case a known criminal was stated by the Coroner to be very probably the murderer of the deceased but the police were not able to assemble enough evidence to prosecute successfully. (They got him on other charges and he’s in jail). After some attempts to reopen the case and a particularly scurrilous attack on Captain Moore of Mount Temple, Lord let the matter drop until after the production of the film A Night to Remember but did not succeed in having his case reopened during his lifetime.

The point to note about Lord’s defence of his inaction is that he did not plead that he did not take action because it would endanger his ship. His story was always that no distress signals were seen. Therefore none were mentioned in the log and no action was required. He admitted to being told of one rocket, which did not in itself constitute a distress signal. He put the blame on Stone, who would have told him if distress signals were seen. He denied hearing from Stone about the other rockets and denied hearing from Gibson, except for hearing him open and close the chartroom door. He said that had he known of the emergency he would have attempted to assist, though it would have been dangerous.

The reasons for Lord’s defence are pure speculation. Was he really so tired that the messages from Stone via voice pipe failed to register, even though he had to get up from the chartroom settee and go to his cabin to answer them? Did Gibson’s message also fail to register? Or did Lord realise after the event that he had been told of distress signals and had not attempted to assist when in a position to do, for reasons known only to himself? (Incomprehension? Caution? Timidity?) Surely he realised by the afternoon of April 15th that he had been on the same side of the icefield as Titanic and could have cleared the ice by steering east then heading cautiously south. If that came out in court his position would be bad. He may therefore have decided to devise a story in which he did not know that assistance was needed. That might have seemed safer than claiming that he could not safely do what Captain Rostron had so boldly done.
 
G

Gavin Murphy

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Excellent comments Dave.

Lord could not appeal, not only because there was nothing to appeal from, but because he had no standing. He was merely a scapegoat......opps......witness.

G
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Dave,

Great perspective. Why do you think the matter always centres on Lord? Even if the powers-that-be decided that Lord's punishment was enough, what about the matter of a Second Officer that couldn't recognise distress signals when he saw them? What about a Chief Officer's duplicity in potentially falsifying the ship's log?

Your scenario concerning Lord is incomplete (lacking Lord's motivation, which may very well be "unknowable"), but as far as you've taken it, it makes sense. But unfortunately, it still leaves open the questions about the rest of the officers involved. It takes more than just a napping Lord to cause the entire watch to stay by and do nothing while a ship is calling for aid in the distance. Or for the officers' stories to remain essentially the same throughout the years. This is in no way a rebuke or a slight against you; rather, it's just my frustration with the whole Californian affair.

Parks
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Dave: Wow. After that, I think I'll have a cigarette!

Well done, sir. :)

... what about the matter of a Second Officer that couldn't recognise distress signals when he saw them?

Parks: Judging from Dave's observation that no one even considered bringing charges against Stone, I'd have to think that -- as hedgey as Stone was on the stand -- the inquisitors and subsequently the BOT simply didn't believe that he *hadn't* informed Lord sufficiently of the distress signals. (After all, Stone, Gibson, and even Evans were all at odds with Lord's version of the story, and they *all* said he'd been informed -- 3 times, even!)

Cheers,
John
 
Mar 3, 1998
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John,

I'd have to think that -- as
hedgey as Stone was on the stand -- the inquisitors and subsequently the BOT simply didn't believe that he *hadn't* informed Lord sufficiently of the distress signals.

So because Stone was a difficult witness, the matter was dropped? John, you were the one who reiterated Inger's post on the Maritime Conventions Act and quoted Handbill No. 310 from Reade, which includes a description of the penalties for failing to respond to a distress signal, so I have to question whether or not I have interpreted your latest post correctly. The same legal and moral imperative that you imposed on Lord also applies to the watch officer, Stone, and by association Chief Stewart, maybe even Gibson. I can't imagine the prosecutors saying that the witnesses are so difficult that they would just let them off, depending on a bad reputation/stigma to substitute for justice. Is that what you're saying?

Parks
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Judging from Dave's observation that no one even considered bringing charges against Stone, I'd have to think that -- as hedgey as Stone was on the stand -- the inquisitors and subsequently the BOT simply didn't believe that he *hadn't* informed Lord sufficiently of the distress signals.

Parks: No, I meant that as "EVEN as hedgey as Stone was ...". (Sorry. I can see that could be mistaken for something different.)

My only point in including that comment was simply to acknowledge Stone's incredible evasiveness on the stand. Having said that, it does seems pretty obvious that -- *regardless* of this -- the Inquest believed that Stone *had* sufficiently fulfilled his obligation and that the captain *had* been duly notified. Otherwise, why *wouldn't* the Board of Trade consider pressing charges against Stone?

(Since the investigators were able to actually observe Stone's mannerisms as he testified -- something we can't do -- I can only assume that perhaps they interpreted his general evasiveness as stemming from *loyalty* to the captain.)

Regards,
John
 

Dave Gittins

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Like, Parks, I wonder what was happening on Californian’s bridge. Superficially, it’s quite simple. Stone saw what he was trained to recognise as distress signals. He should have summoned Lord by Gibson, voice pipe, or even in person. Leaving the bridge was not strictly correct but Groves did exactly that earlier without Lord objecting, presumably because the ship was not steaming along.

If he got no response he should have tried again. Lord pointed out in his letter to the Board of Trade dated August 10th 1912 that “it was sufficient indication to anyone that I had not realised the message, by the fact that I still remained below.” In other words, he expected Stone to use his head. (Whether we can accept Lord’s story is another can of sea snakes!)

The more I look at the affair, the more I see it as the kind of muddle that occurs in any organisation. We all know the sort of thing. Everybody leaves things to everybody else and in the end something important is not done. A typical case can be seen in a factory or store. Security is everybody’s business but nobody reports the unidentified man who wanders in as if he had very right to be there and something is stolen. A British student pilot had suspicions about one of the September 11th hijackers who trained with her but she was just another student and said nothing. People are like that. Maybe Stone, Gibson and Lord were guilty of no more than being human.

In passing, I wonder about the quality of the officers’ training in those days. Groves mentioned in court that not only had he never seen a distress rocket fired, he’d never even seen an unused rocket. He knew Californian had some somewhere!

As to Lord and Stone not being prosecuted, the British had just sunk the biggest ship in the world and caused the deaths of around 1,500 people. I don't think the President of the Board of Trade was in the mood to expose any more bad British seamanship. National pride had managed to turn Captain Smith into a hero but it's hard to see how this could have been done for Lord.
 
Dec 12, 1999
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My personal opinion is that there was a feeling that enough bad British seamanship had been advertised already and it was time to quieten things down.

If they had charged Lord, wouldn't there have been a trial, and wouldn't Lord have had to call witnesses, like Bruce Ismay, and others, to show that the loss of life was not his fault, and that fault lies with the others involved? I think he would have done that. Do you think anyone wanted that to happen? I don't think so.
 

George Behe

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Hi, Dave!

>Maybe Stone, Gibson and Lord were guilty of no
> more than being human.

I completely agree with your assessment. I also submit that Lord and Stone -- being human -- also did their best to cover their own behinds after they finally realized what had occurred within sight of the Californian that night.

All my best,

George
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Maybe Stone, Gibson and Lord were guilty of no more than being human.

This is one statement that I cannot agree with. The kind of mistakes made by Stone, Gibson and possibly Lord are unacceptable for deck officers. They can go be human in some other line of work. It is quite possible that had they acted as their profession demanded, some lives might have been saved. Mistakes by by mariners (or pilots, for that matter) are not as easily forgiven as those made elsewhere.

As to Lord and Stone not being prosecuted, the British had just sunk the biggest ship in the world and caused the deaths of around 1,500 people. I don't think the President of the Board of Trade was in the mood to expose any more bad British seamanship.

British pride didn't stop the 1915 (wartime, even) liability hearings from happening. More damning testimony was entered into evidence there; e.g., the now-famous claim that Ismay pressed Smith for more speed.

Again, I'm left with the impression that either we're missing something, or that something has been deleted from the historical record.

Parks
 

Tracy Smith

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Again, I'm left with the impression that either we're missing something, or that something has been deleted from the historical record.

I agree completely. I've always felt this way. There are so many things that don't add up, which points to missing pieces in my book, especially considering how spotless the rest of Lord's career was.
 

Dave Gittins

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Parks, when I said "guilty of no more than being human" I meant in it in a general sense. I quite realise that at sea the law is not concerned with psychological reasons for somebody stuffing up. Stone's alleged domineering father or Gibson's nymphomaniac girlfriend are no concern of a court.

As a certain Master Mariner once told me after I pulled a nautical clanger, "If you were a professional the court would call it only an error of judgement but you'd still lose your ticket."

Before everybody goes at me, I invented the girlfriend!
 

Dave Gittins

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On the civil claims, the British establishment could not stop them being brought to court. That was the right of the plaintiffs. The establishment could decide not to prosecute Lord or Stone and it did. It's all there in the Board of Trade files. Given conflicting advice from his civil servants, the President of the Board of Trade decided to take no action. Politicians are like that!
 
Sep 20, 2000
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I'm left with the impression that either we're missing something, or that something has been deleted from the historical record.

Parks: You mean *other than* the sighting of the rockets and all the other significant observances of that night? -- from the Californian's log.

What would you think was deleted from the historical record, and HOW? (Do you have access to a copy of Reade to refer to for those aftermath discussions? There's a whole chapter on why Lord wasn't prosecuted.)

I'm inclined to think politics had a lot to do with it myself. The Board of Trade had quite a bit of egg on its own face from those obsolete safety regulations requiring a *maximum* of 16 (18?) lifeboats for "ships 10,000 tons and over" -- written when "and over" wasn't likely to be by much!

John
 
Mar 3, 1998
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What would you think was deleted from the historical record, and HOW?

I'm not hinting at conspiracy, just suggesting that we're missing something somehow. The easy question first: "How?" Answer: I don't know.

Now for the harder question: "What?" Well, if I knew what was missing, I could be more detailed with my questions. :) However, some of what we're talking about here is just not to be found in the historical record. Examples: What was Stone really seeing, or thought he was seeing? What was the exact nature of Stone's/Gibson's reports to Lord? Likewise, what were the political deals made, if such were, that kept the Californian officers from losing their licenses? What were the reasons that convinced the powers-that-were to not proceed with a prosecution of the principals? I am aware of most, if not all, of the speculation from Reade to Feeney, but I'd like to hear it directly from Lord, Stone, Mersey & Co.

These are just examples. Obviously, there have to be more. I'm not saying that any of it was written into the record, then spirited away by the great defenders of the Empire, but the fact is that those very vital clues to the whole affair are not in the historical record. We are then left with speculation, which varies depending on the personal bias of the speculator.

I hate very much to say it, but the reasons behind the inaction of the Californian officers may remain an "unknowable" forever. Which means I'll never be satisfied. Which will drive me to drink. Well, maybe an extra beer at night before logging on to E-T. :)

Parks
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Parks: OK. Then I assume you actually meant "omitted", not "deleted" (from the historical record).

What were the reasons that convinced the powers-that-were to not proceed with a prosecution of the principals? I am aware of most, if not all, of the speculation from Reade to Feeney, but I'd like to hear it directly from Lord, Stone, Mersey & Co.

I wasn't suggesting you seek out mere speculation. I asked if you had access to Reade, because the actual *correspondence* of various members of the BOT is contained therein -- information you can't obtain from the Inquiries. (As Dave Gittins already pointed out, any criminal prosecution was ultimately the Board of Trade's call, not Mersey & Co.'s.) Perhaps that's the link you're missing. And Reade's sources are clearly identified in most cases; so if you wanted to explore this independently, you'd have an excellent guide map.

I assume you've read Reade. But do you have access to a copy for reference to those particulars? (Also, the only further reliable information you're liable to find on Stone is there.)

Myself, I try never to speculate without clearly labeling it as such. (As does Reade, for the most part.)

John
 

Dave Gittins

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Naturally in these cases not everything is written down, so we may be missing out on private discussions between say, Sydney Buxton and Herbert Asquith. The written evidence is quite detailed and shows how it was decided not to prosecute. There was no need to make political deals. For those not familiar with the British government, Buxton was a member of the governing Liberal Party. They had the numbers in Parliament, so they handled things as they pleased. The opposition actually called for various actions on Titanic, including an all-part committee of inquiry instead of Mersey's court. However, the government had the numbers and did as it liked. Buxton's position was quite unlike that of an American Secretary of State who gets into a jam and has to handle both Houses and the President.
 
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