Charles C Burlingham White Star Line's Attorney

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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I would like to know if anyone has any information on the attorney who appeared on behalf of the White Star Line at the U.S. Senate hearings? What Law Firm was he with? Did he defend the company in any subsequent trial? Was he directly connected with J.P. Morgan? I read somewhere that, incredibly, the White Star Line was determined not to be negligent in the Titanic disaster . . . can this be true? Did Burlingham have anything to do with such a verdict? I'm very curious, and any information would be helpful. Thanks.
 
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Christopher C. Butler (Ccb2000)

Guest
I heard the same thing about White Star line being "innocent" in the disaster but I hope I am mistaken.
 

Mike Herbold

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Feb 13, 2001
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Joe:
I don't seem Burlingham listed as a witness, and can't find his name mentioned in my copy of the "Titanic Disaster Hearings" by Tom Koontz or in "The Titanic, End of a Dream" by Wyn Craig Wade. Where did you find his name?
Mike
 

Mike Herbold

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Feb 13, 2001
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Joe:
Ooops. I didn't look far enough. In Eaton & Haas' "Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy" they even have some pictures of Burlingham. He was with the "prestigious New York law firm of Burlingham, Montgomery, and Beecher." Chapter 19 of TT&T, "Limitation of Liability" goes into a lot of detail about the liability hearings in 1915. Either Burlingham was a great attorney or there were no Larry H. Parker's to look out for the Titanic relatives in those days, because White Star got off dirt cheap. Nowadays all the Titanic relatives would probably end up being millionaires.
Mike
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Mike,
Thanks for the information. So far, I've found out that this White Star Line attorney is "Charles Culp Burlingham," and that Harvard University may have some of his papers in its Library. The search continues.
 

Mike Herbold

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Feb 13, 2001
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Joe:
While you're out doing attorney research, here's more to look for. TT&T goes on to say that "Most claimants were represented by the law firm of Hunt, Hill and Betts; other claimants were represented by attorneys from four other firms; finally there were several claimants represented by individual attornies." I'll photocopy this chapter tomorrow and mail it to you.
Mike
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Mike:
I received a list of the documents on collection with Harvard University. I'm really surprised that no one on ET has heard of Burlingham. I'm surprised I've heard nothing of Burlingham. He's the quintessenial New York-Washington, D.C., political insider. In Harvard's files, there are letters from Presidents, including Eisenhower, Taft, Roosevelt, letters from Secretaries of States, such as Dean Acheson, Mayor LaGuardia, and others. He must have been Clark Clifford's mentor. Apparently, he was even involved somehow in the Sacco-Vanzetti thing, back in the 1920s. Unfortunately, most of the stuff in Harvard's files, if not all of it, postdates the Titanic disaster. I'm going to check with Columbia University, too.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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I have obtained a little more information about Burlingham and the liability issues in the American Titanic litigation. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that Titanic's owner, the Oceanic Steamship Navigation Company, was entitled to petition for limited liability under American law even though Titanic was a British steamship. The opinion is published at 34 S.Ct. 738 (1913), entitled Oceanic Steamship, et al. v. Mellor, et al. Holmes ruled, of course, in favor of the Titanic's owners. The opinion is still cited today as "The Titanic" opinion; in fact, I saw a 1990 opinion which cited it. Under American law, the owner's liability is limited to the salvage value of the ship plus freight revenue. In Titanic's case, this amounted to a pittance value of the lifeboats and miscellaneous other assets, approximately $100,000. Under British law, if that would have been applied, liability would be pegged to 8 pounds per thousand tons for property and 15 pounds per thousand pounds for loss of life. For a 47,000 ton ship, this would be a maximum of 705,000 British pounds, for loss of life, and approximately 350,000 pounds for loss of property, a total of approximately 1,000,000 pounds. Does anyone know the value of British pounds vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar in 1912? Thus, the British laws were more beneficial to recovery for claimants, who I understand filed claims which totalled approximately $16,000,000. I understand many claimants filed in Great Britain. I'm not sure if the petition for limited liability would apply, though, if the Oceanic Steamship Navigation Co. itself had been negligent somehow, in the manufacturer and preparation of the ship for passengers, as opposed to the Captain or First Officer having been negligent. The shortage of lifeboats would not have necessarily been negligent, because the provision was consistent with the Board of Trade's requirements. I would think principal Bruce Ismay's actions in coaching Captain Smith to go fast, despite the ice warnings, might be grounds to deny limited liability. In any event, according to my research, attorney Burlingham settled the case for $600,000. He didn't want to, but the White Star Line was losing "prestige" over it, so they settled. He said if he had known the war was coming he wouldn't have settled it.

Burlingham died at age 101. He was born in 1858, and remembered the New York draft riots during the Civil War, where some people were lynched. He says he remembers the black funeral drapings he saw in New York around the time of President Lincoln's assasination.

He was chums with Holmes, President Taft, Felix Frankfurter, and Benjamin Cardozo, and a host of famous lawyers, including Choate (first name escapes me). However, he really seems to have disliked Louis Brandeis.
 

Lou Kerr

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Feb 6, 2010
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Hi Joe,

Thanks for the very interesting posting. You've done well preparing and presenting this information. To answer your question about the exchange rate in 1912, I see it most often quoted at $4.80 to $5.00 US to 1 pound.

Keep up the good work,

Lou Kerr
Cincinnati OH USA
 
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Tom Rayel

Guest
Speaking of the limitation of liability hearings, does anyone know where it is possible to obtain transcripts or copies of the 1915 portions of the case? The National Archives building on Vareck St. in New York has all the copies of the 1913 portion of the case, but nothing dealing with the proceedings following the pause caused by the Supreme Court ruling (Oceanic Steamship, et al. v. Mellor, et al). The hearings resumed in June, 1915, but I have been unable to locate any transcripts of this part of the case, in which Mrs. Futrelle, Eugene Daly, Mellors, and Jack Thayer testified. If anyone has any information regarding this portion of the case, or where copies can be obtained, please let me know. I know several other researchers who have tried to find these files for a long time, without success. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance.
Best regards,
Tom
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Tom -
According to the National Archives Description, they are supposed to have textual records of the case from 10/14/1912 to 05/23/1918. It must be there, because Eaton and Haas make reference to the records of Captain Turner of the Lusitania's testimony, in 1915, in the litigation, as from the "National Archives." You've apparently already checked at the New York address but I'll give you the information anyway. The control no. is NRAN-21-SDNY-55(279). The contact is NARA's Northeast Region in New York, at 201 Varick Street, NY, NY 10014-4811 (212) 337 1300, fax: 212-337-1306.
Let me know how it goes for you. Take care, Joe
 
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Tom Rayel

Guest
Dear Joe,
Thank you very much for your help. Yes, that is definately the address that I checked at, without result. I talked with two different archivists through the mail, and then over the phone, and neither were able to turn anything up. They said that the material relating to the 1915 portion of the case just wasn't there with the rest of it, or anything that is part of the case after the 1913 portion. I suspect that they are mistaken, or looked in the wrong place, but that is what they told me. If anyone here knows anyone who actually has any part of the 1915 proceedings, please let me know, I would be very grateful for more help. I know a few other people who cannot find the 1915 material either. Thanks,
Tom
 
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lawrence larry goldhirsch

Guest
I wrote to the librarian of congress who, in turn, had some underlings research the possibility that the missing transcripts were sent to congress in 1920 when statutes were enacted concerning death on the high seas; all with no luck. it seems they are lost forever.
 

James Smith

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Dec 5, 2001
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The New York Times recently reviewed a biography of Burlingham entitled "CCB: The Life and Century of Charles C. Burlingham". The author is George Martin and the publisher is Hill and Wang.

--Jim