Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is

Sep 20, 2000
I was scrutinizing Officer Groves' testimony lately when I recognized a peculiarity that instantly flashed me back to a portion of Lightoller's testimony and may explain why most (but not all) of the times cited by many of the watch officers and other "lookouts" can *only* be considered approximate.

Groves was asked, in reference to his 11:10 to 11:15 sighting of the approaching ship, when on the night of the 14th he'd last gotten a precise visual fix on the time:

8141. When had you last looked at the clock? - Ten-twenty-six - well, I had looked at my watch; we had no clock on the upper bridge. I set that at 6 o'clock by the ship's clock.

Later he cited several times which he could only certify as approximations.

Being the mere "landlubber" I am, I wondered why a Watch Officer who had a timepiece conveniently handy *usually* had to just estimate the timing of his observations (except for those instances where the ship's bell offered auditory confirmation). Not having a clock on an open bridge, as was the case on Californian, is perhaps understandable at several levels. But why no standard reference to the watch?

Then it occurred to me -- Lightoller's related bit of information [US 442]:

Senator PERKINS. The duty of the officer in charge of the bridge, the senior officer, is to see that she is steering the course that has been given, is it not?
Mr. LIGHTOLLER. The senior officers can not go inside of the wheelhouse to look at the compass after nighttime; they would be blinded. ...

To me this suggested, at least, that Groves may have had no means to *see* his watch -- especially on that dark, moonless night -- without jeopardizing his night vision. (And he was basically alone; Lord was in the chart room for most of that time, according to Groves.) So even striking a match for the purpose of checking the time would risk reversing the night vison acclimation needed for good observations in the only "ranking" pair of eyes that apparently had it. Since there was a nearby vessel in sight -- potentially a hazard that needed to be carefully observed (among other things) ...

What applied to Groves would apply equally to Stone later on, though obviously Stone could have occasionally employed Gibson as a time-keeper (when Gibson was actually *on* the bridge to have this task delegated to him.) Groves, however, was essentially alone.

(This same notion leads me to wonder how Stone could manage to take those implied continuous compass bearings on the nearby ship without impacting his night vision.)

Any thoughts on this? I know that *red* lights were later used on submarines for the specific reason that they don't impair night vision. But was this knowledge even available (or utilized in any way) in 1912?
Dec 2, 2000
Easley South Carolina
I don't know if red lights were used then, but the effects of dazzling light on night vision have been well understood for a very long time. It takes about 30 minutes for one's eyes to fully adjust. A fact I understand well from personal experience. Red lights are not just used on submarines either, but on surface warships as well.

In any event, I can recall a portion in the transcripts (I don't remember who or where.)where an officer testified to ordering a door closed down in the welldeck because the white light glowing from inside would blind the watch.

I don't know that Stone could have checked the compass constantly without affecting his night vision. I rather doubt it. It may well be that the dimmest possible light was used so it wouldn't take long to recover.

On the question of times, this could open up a rather messy can of worms. The problem was that there were no standardized timezones so clocks had to be reset based on observations of the local apparent noon. As this would differ depending on where a ship was on the ocean, local times between ships could vary wildly, even if they were in sight of one another, and often did. I don't think the Inquiries ever really solved the problem of who was where on their respective clocks. The results I've seen thus far looked pretty confused, if only because the investigating bodies never quite knew what they were doing.

Michael H. Standart
Sep 20, 2000
Well, regarding the ships' times per se, there's not much of a can of worms there to speak of. We know that Lord specified NYT+1:50 as the correct difference for his noon position, and he indicated 1:50 or 1:55 as the 11:00 pm time difference. We also have Cyril Evans' testimony, which consistently specifies 1:55 as the offset around that time. Harry Bride, on Titanic, said "about two hours", and that's the *extreme* for that ship. Even the erroneous adjustments done by Lightoller and Boxhall strongly indicate that Titanic time (UNadjusted after midnight) was NYT+1:56. Finally, Groves was certain that the ship he'd been observing stopped at 11:40 pm, because "one bell" had been rung at that time to summon the middle watch.

But any way you slice it, there's not much difference there to get excited about, even at the maximum. So rather than opening any can of worms here, I could conceivably see this thread closing a few. With only about 5 minutes tops (and possibly only a minute) of total time difference between the two ships -- during the same 90-minute window -- the additional valid observation that many of those times supplied by officers and lookouts were only as good as their estimator would actually tend to *close* the book, once and for all, on haggles about this "time difference" contention. (I would hope.)

By the way, it appears to me that the British Report settled on that "1:50" difference from New York time largely on the basis of the report of the Marconi Company. In that, the "12:27" a.m. PV entry of the Virginian would have played a decisive role in restricting the size of the possible offset. (As in, "It couldn't be much more, or the Titanic would have been signaling *after* she sank.")

But in accepting that Marconi table, the Mersey Commission disregarded the direct evidence from *both* ships that centered squarely on NYT+1:55. (I suppose, with both ships in conjunction either way, "it made very little difference" that there might be a 5-minute overall discrepancy.)

Incidentally, www.marconicalling.c om now has the graphic images of Virginian's PV. (The report to the Mersey Commission is out there too.) But whether that particular Virginian entry even *says* "12:27" is a mystery to me. It's 12:20-something, but beyond that ...
Sep 20, 2000
Here's that hatch-closing bit, from Lamp Trimmer Sam Hemming's testimony. There may be other references to this, too:

17704. Do you remember reporting to Mr. Murdoch, the First Officer, that all the lights had been placed? - Yes
17705. About what time was that? - I think about a quarter past.
17706. Do you remember what he said to you when you reported that? - Yes
17707. What did he say? - I was walking aft the bridge, and be called me back, and he said: “Hemming, when you go forward get the fore scuttle hatch closed, there is a glow left from that, as we are in the vicinity of ice, and I want everything dark before the bridge.”￾
17708. Where is the fore scuttle hatch? - On the forecastle-head.
17709. Did you carry out those orders? - I closed it myself.

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