Davy Blair: Particularly engaging Particulars of Engagement

Sam Brannigan

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Feb 24, 2007
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Hello all,

I've just noticed something quite interesting regarding Titanic's second officer who never was...

In Stephen Cameron's "Titanic:Belfast's Own" (p.58), there is a copy of the crew's particulars of engagement. This document contains the signatures of the crewmen from the captain down, their age, the date they signed on duty on the Titanic at Belfast and the capacity they would be working in.
The thing that caught my eye was the column titled: "Ship in which he last served and year of discharge therefrom"
Captain Haddock states his year of discharge from the Oceanic as 1912 (naturally) and this is followed by a whole load of dittos from the likes of Fleet and Murdoch.
David Blair however gave his year of discharge from the Teutonic as 1911, meaning that he had at least three months away from the sea before taking up the post of Second Officer aboard the Titanic.
Does anyone (ie Inger!) have any idea what he was up to during this time - that "1911" sticks out like a sore thumb.
I also find it interesting that he was promoted from the Teutonic to a senior position on the Titanic's maiden voyage, considering that the Teutonic by 1912 had become a "third rate" steamer in White Star's fleet. Why didn't they promote from the Celtic, Baltic or Adriatic?
This, along with the fact that he seems to have been away from the sea for a while may explain why Wilde was moved from the Olympic and Davy disappeared from the Titanic.
Any thoughts?!

Regards

Sam
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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G'day Sam -

Can't shed too much light on this, but I don't think it was too anomolous. Both Boxhall and Lightoller had been off since early in Jan 1912. Lowe signed off the Belgic at the end of Feb., but he'd done back to back voyages down to Oz with only a few days back in Liverpool. Some of the officers, like Lowe, worked pretty much without lengthy breaks. Lightoller, however, writes about how he worked long enough to acquire enough money to kick about ashore for a while - returning to sea when the money ran out (don't know if he continued this when he joined the WSL!).

Interesting idea you have there on the dynamics of promotion, but I suspect Blair was quite rightfully earmarked for promotion and was not removed due to second thoughts on the part of WSL officialdom. He'd served on the crack Oceanic, and would go on to serve in a senior position on the Majestic after he was bumped off the Titanic. Blair's a fascinating figure - while most are familiar with his role in the grounding of the Oceanic during WWI, fewer know that he went on to be decorated for heroic actions during the course of the war. He also has an interesting pre-Titanic history - other than Lowe, he was the only Titanic officer to serve as an AB (after gaining his 2nd mate's certificate and while he was trying to find a ship to take him on as an officer).

All the best,

Ing
 

Sam Brannigan

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Feb 24, 2007
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Hi Ing!

Thanks for the reply. Do you think that Davy's history adds up to Whites Star's final demotion for him?
While I am aware that each deck officer had significantly different duties and responsibilities, I find it odd that Lowe (even as fifth officer) was placed on the Titanic for his first tour of duty on the Atlantic run, rather than on one of the lesser liners of the fleet. Can you shed any light on this one?
Also, it would be nice to know how White Star allocated their senior officers throughout the fleet following the construction of the Olympic class liners.
It is curious that within a matter of days the two most senior captains of the line commanded the Titanic. Even today with travel by air between England and Ireland making things much easier it would be strange to see such a move, but in 1912 it is even more bizarre.
Haddock signed on to the Titanic on March 25th and Smith took her out for trials on April 2nd - what were White Star playing at? Was Smith exercising his muscle as the commodore of the line?
The Olympic passed the Titanic on her way to Plymouth on April 3rd, so who was in command of her and why? Surely Smith or Haddock should have been?

Well done to me for the all time record for digressing from an original thread within the shortest amount of posts!!

Regards

Sam
 

Mark Baber

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Haddock signed on to the Titanic on March 25th and Smith took her out for trials on April 2nd - what were White Star playing at?

I don't know that anyone was "playing" at anything, Sam, other than some unremarkable personnel deployment. Haddock left New York, in command of Oceanic, on 9 March; I don't know the exact arrival date in Southampton, but it was around 17 March or so, I would imagine. Relinquishing command of Oceanic, he signed on as Titanic's master on 25 March to oversee the crew that began assembling in Belfast the following day. Smith, who had commanded the maiden voyages of the last three White Star express steamers---Baltic in 1904, Adriatic in 1907 and Olympic in 1911---was slated as Titanic's commander, but he was still at sea. Olympic arrived in Southampton on 30 March; Smith then went to Belfast, signing on on 1 April and Haddock returned to Southampton and took over Olympic for her 3 April New York departure. This kept Smith, White Star's highest paid commander, in a revenue-generating position for the greatest possible amount of time. The alternative would have been for someone else to take Olympic's 13 March departure for New York---and, if that someone was Haddock, for yet someone else then to take Oceanic's 29 February sailing---and for Smith to sit at home for two weeks or so, being paid to do nothing. The Haddock/Smith situation probably just fit into White Star's sailing schedule with the least amount of disruption of command of all the possible alternatives.

Was Smith exercising his muscle as the commodore of the line?

Smith wasn't commodore, at least not officially. See the excellent analysis on Parks Stephenson's web site, http://titanic.marconigraph.com/faqs2.html, with which I concur.

The Olympic passed the Titanic on her way to Plymouth on April 3rd

Did she? I haven't studied the two ships' movements on 3 April to any degree at all, so tell me if I'm missing something here.

Plymouth was an eastbound call only, not a westbound one. That being the case, when Olympic left Southampton on 3 April, she would have headed headed across the Channel to Cherbourg, not west toward Plymouth. Titanic left Belfast the night of 2 April, docking at Southampton just after midnight on 4 April, quite a few hours after Olympic had left. Would Olympic, on her way from Southampton to Cherboug and then Queenstown, really have "passed" Titanic, on her way from Belfast to Southampton, some time that day, and if so, at what distance?

In any event, Smith was on Titanic and Haddock on Olympic.

Sources: The New York Times, various dates in 1904, 1907, 1911 and 1912; Cameron's Titanic: Belfast's Own; Eaton and Haas' Titanic: A Journey Through Time; Haws' Merchant Fleets; Bonsor's North Atlantic Seaway.

MAB
 

Sam Brannigan

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Feb 24, 2007
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Hi Mark,

Thanks for putting me right on a few points. Of course the Olympic was westbound ( Ken Marschall's superb painting printed in the "illustrated history" gives it away) so Plymouth doesn't come into it. I am aware that the two ships contacted each other in the channel at some stage, but I must say that I am not aware whether Ken's painting is just an idealised scene or if the ships were really that close to each other.
Also, you are correct in your assessment of Park's analysis - very interesting reason for White Star to discontinue the rank of commodore.
I can understand White Star's need to keep Smith at sea from the reasons you outlined, but I still find it strange that the captain earmarked for his role on the Olympic had to take time out in Belfast to oversee the signing on of the crew - couldn't a more "junior" captain have handled the job.
Also, if Smith signed on on April 1st, then Haddock had very little time to return to Southampton and prepare for Olympic's April 3rd departure - even though his officers (such as Wilde) would have been very capable of provisioning the ship and organising the turnaround, her new master would have had barely a few hours to get used to her before taking her out.
When the Olympic first went into service, all her officers were comparitive "novices", but surely White Star should have used the opportunity to call on the experience gained by these men when the Titanic entered service.
Yet they removed Wilde and Murdoch and left a master on the bridge with a few hours experience. It just never ceases to fascinate me.

Regards

Sam
 

Mark Baber

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I still find it strange that the captain earmarked for his role on the Olympic had to take time out in Belfast

To play devil's advocate (since I'm not familiar with exactly what thought processes went into this decision), what better way was there for Haddock to familiarize himself with Olympic than by spending almost a week on her virtually identical sister without the added responsibilities that would surface when passengers began to board.

It just never ceases to fascinate me.

Add this to the mix of Haddock/Smith considerations. Titanic was the sixth "biggest and best" express liner White Star had deployed since 1900, and the fourth in a row that Smith had taken on her maiden voyage. The last White Star commander before Smith to be given that honor (with Cedric in 1903) was Haddock. Does Smith's four-in-a-row after Haddock's one-and-only mean that the pecking order changed for some reason in the interim, or is there some other reason?

MAB
 

Mark Baber

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To go back to the very beginning of this thread and what Blair had been doing in the months before Titanic, his entries in White Star's officer book have him as second officer on Teutonic from the end of November 1911 until 5 February 1912. He's then listed as second officer of Majestic I (which was then laid up) until 26 March 1912, when he joined Titanic.

After Titanic's sinking and before the war began, he was assigned as second officer on Majestic, Teutonic (first officer for a month in 1913) and Oceanic II. After the war he served as Haverford's chief for almost two years, from June 1919 to February 1921, when he resigned from White Star.