Has anyone tried to properly verify the evidence against Californian?

Jim Currie

Apr 16, 2008
Funchal. Madeira
Consider the following extracts from the Wreck Commissioner's final report:

"At about 11 p.m. a steamer's light was seen approaching from the eastward. The Master went to Evans' room and asked, "What ships he had.

Navigators and seamen in 1912 did not speak vaguely about compass directions. Most of were raised in sailing ships and used to expressing direction by points and quarter points of the compass. As late as the 1950s, examination candidates were required to 'box' the compass (no violence involved). They had to be able to recite by name every point and quarter thereof for the entire 360 degrees of the compass. They were all able to steer by the stars if required. Captain Lord was no different. When he described something as being to the eastward, he meant East or almost East.

"The Master told the Court that he made her position at that time to be 42° 5' N., 57° 7' W. .....I am satisfied that this position is not accurate."

How on earth could he have been satisfied? How could anyone have demonstrated error in that position?

Then the grand finale...

"These circumstances convince me that the ship seen by the "Californian" was the "Titanic," and if so, according to Captain Lord, the two vessels were about five miles apart at the time of the disaster. The evidence from the "Titanic" corroborates this estimate, but I am advised that the distance was probably greater, though not more than eight to ten miles."

Here's a little sketch which he should have had constructed. It would have shown him how absurd that conclusion was.

light 2.jpg

The Commissioner continues:

The ice by which the "Californian" was surrounded was loose ice extending for a distance of not more than two or three miles in the direction of the "Titanic." The night was clear and the sea was smooth. When she first saw the rockets the "Californian" could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the "Titanic."

At the time this was rubbish was published, everyone thought Titanic was at 41-46'North, 50-14'West. If, as The Commissioner was persuaded to think, Californian was no more than 9 miles to the NW of Titanic, then she would have been on the west side of the pack ice at latitude 41-57.1'North, 50-21.7'W. She would have made over 12 knots from Noon that day and made good a course of about 265 True. Not only that, but she would have steered right through the pack ice and bergs before 10pm that night. If I take the last sketch and superimpose the position of the pack ice and the position of Mount Temple at 6am that morning and her course as she headed for the distress position. you can see just how ludicrous the condemnation of Californian was. Just keep in mind that it was given out more than 53 years before Titanic's wreck was found and that it was Captain Lord and the Captain of the Mount Temple who publicly declared that the distress position was wrong.

Lord's light.jpg

Jim C

light 2.jpg

Lord's light.jpg

James Leen

Feb 23, 2016
Hi Jim,

Better late than never and all that...

I've been going through the inquiries again and I think there's an overwhelming bias against Cap'n Lord. Now, leaving aside the old chestnuts of he should have done this, that and the other, the bias shown against Lord consciously didmisses his skill as both a sailor and a navigator. This reputational battering even extended so far that a rookie, an apprentice's testimony was given far greater credence than the Master's evidence.

As to the relative positions of the ships: I fully accept where Lord places the Californian. After all, it is a matter of record that Lord's estimate for the wreck site was rather close:

7039. I should like to understand from you, if you say that the position indicated to you was wrong, what do you say was the position?
- The position where I left the wreckage was 41º 33' N., 50° 1' W.

So "...I am satisfied that this position is not accurate." Well given how close Lord got the debris field is it too overwhelming to assume that he would be on the money with his estimate of where the Californian had been during the night to remember?

Perhaps some of the navigational experts would care to posit some thoughts? (And I hope so!).



Similar threads