How accurate were the findings of Lord Mersey?

Jim Currie

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While researching an entirely different thread, I came across an item in the transcripts of the evidence given by Captain George A. Bartlett, Marine Superintendent of the WSL. it occurred on Day 21 of the UK Inquiry:

You get a very good feel for the competence of Lord Mersey during the interrogation of this very experienced seaman.

First, in the presence of the Commissioner he gives the following information:

"21531. Do you hold a Master's certificate? A: - Yes.

21532. And are you also a commander in the Royal Naval Reserve? A: - Yes.

21533. I believe you are a Marine superintendent of the White Star Line? A; - That is so.

21534. I believe you have held that position since January, 1912? A: - Yes.

21535. Were you for 30 years before that at sea? A: - Yes.

21536. And I think, of those 30 years, for 18 years you were with the White Star Line? A: - That is right.

Keep in mind that this man was giving evidence in front of there man who was to make the final report on exactly what happened that night. Was Lord Mersey asleep at the time? I ask this because shortly after that last spate of questions, comes this exchange:

"Mr. Butler Aspinall: Your Lordship sees his position; he is the Chief Marine superintendent of the Line.

The Commissioner: Yes, I know, but what are the points?

Mr. Butler Aspinall: What I was directing his attention to were points which form the subject matter of some of the questions; for instance, Manning, drill, boats; and the next question I was going to ask him is this: Have you since this disaster, in view of your position in the Line and in view of your practical experience as a seaman, considered the desirability of increasing the number of boats to be fitted.

Mr. Butler Aspinall: Your Lordship sees his position; he is the Chief Marine superintendent of the Line.

The Commissioner: Yes, I know, but what are the points?

Mr. Butler Aspinall: What I was directing his attention to were points which form the subject matter of some of the questions; for instance, Manning, drill, boats; and the next question I was going to ask him is this: Have you since this disaster, in view of your position in the Line and in view of your practical experience as a seaman, considered the desirability of increasing the number of boats to be fitted.

The Commissioner:[I] Has this gentleman ever been to sea?[/I]"

Was Lord Mersey asleep? What was he on? More important, if he missed that very important fact, how many other bits and pieces of important evidence did the man miss?


Jim C.
 
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Jim --

We're both waiting...and waiting...and waiting for someone to take up this thread. Perhaps it simply requires too much knowledge. Why don't you change to debating how Rose got through a boiler room without so much as a smudge on her white dress? There seems more interest in trivial nonsense than the real events.

-- David G. Brown
 

Jim Currie

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Perhaps!

However, the idea was meant to be a wake- up call directed at the flat-earth people. To get them to once more carefully read the evidence that made them take the findings of the Senate and the Commissioner, aided and abetted by the US and UK press corp, as absolute gospel In particular, that part of the evidence that led them to publicly declare that the vessel seen on Titanic's port by Boxhall et al was the SS Californian

It does not require any special skills to read the transcripts of the evidence very carefully. To note the lines of questioning. To absorb exactly the same evidence as had the interrogators. Then to use a bit of imagination and try to understand why these people manipulated and distorted 2 + 5 to make it = 4.

Ah well! "When you add to truth, you subtract from it"

Cheers to you and yours,

Jim C.
 

Bruce Harwood

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Can't remember where I read it, but Lord Mersey seems to have become known as the 'go to' guy for whitewash inquiries. Two years later he pulled Canadian Pacific out of the mud after the Empress of Ireland sank by exonerating Captain Kendall of blame for losing his ship. I believe there is some controversy about his role in the Lusitania inquiry as well. Can anyone corroborate?
 

Jim Currie

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>>Was Lord Mersey asleep? <<

No, just not paying attention to questions that he was not particularly interested in at the time.



That's what I'm getting at Sam.

Excluding bed-testers or dream experiment volunteers; Like all of us, Mersey wasn't paid to sleep during working hours. He was paid to pay attention to ALL details and make his report based on them. He was not paid to be selective about what he listened to, what he believed or to contradict witnesses; that's called manipulation and leading!
The outcome of his lack of attention at particular times led to him making his ridiculously safe conclusion regarding the cause of the accident. In all marine accidents, it is essential to establish the CAUSE of the accident to the exclusion of any other causes. Mersey did just that but he padded his report out with contributing factors. I quote:

" REPORT OF THE COURT.
The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons appearing in the annex hereto, that the loss of the said ship was due to collision with an iceberg, brought about by the excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated."

If Mersey selectively paid attention to the evidence then he could not have done his job properly and the "cause and effect" quoted above is simply gobbledegook wrapped in waffle.

Jim C.
 

Bruce Harwood

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Does anyone else remember the BBC series Yes Minister, and Yes Prime Minister? I think Lord Mersey would have been described there ironically as "sound" and "well able to reach the proper conclusions" by Sir Humphrey Appleby, the civil service veteran. It didn't matter what evidence was put before him, he could be relied on to reach conclusions that protected the interests of the great and good. And he did it admirably. BTW, both series are still available in DVD, and are funny and informative at the same time.
 

Jim Currie

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Absolutely,Bruce!

A Brilliant programme! Well above the programme standards being pumped-out on the Box" these days. Perhaps too intelligently challenging for the modern-day viewer?

Unfortunately there as a conflict of interest at that time. The BoT called for the Inquiry. They were not answerable to the Government of the day but to the Privy Council. People forget that in 1912, the world was in the run-up to the First World War. That and a Press Corps who treated truth as an alien concept, ensured that the worlds would get a politically correct outcome. Add to that, the growing thirst for the Penny Dreadful.

I rest my case!

Jim C.
 
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Bruce- I remember, quite well, the Yes Minister series. Additionally, a book was published with the same title which I still have in my library- Sub-titled "The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister". Through laughter, a great deal of accurate observation and pertinent revelation about the way the British are governed are dissected. A blurb coming with the book contained quotes and analysis from the following: Milton Friedman-Hilariously funny- but also a thoroughly Swiftian and highly realistic exposure of how an arrogant and self-righteous bureaucracy pulls the wool over the eyes of elected officials. Also quoted - Margaret Thatcher- It's closely observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power has given me hours of pure joy. American TV has never come close in it's attempts to do this subject justice. The humor, here, comes when the attempts are parodied for their execution rather than for the content. A bit off the subject, I have thoroughly enjoyed other British TV imports depicting humor with a very distinctive flavor, including, among others, Good Neighbors and To the Manor born.
 

Rob Lawes

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It's an interesting one Jim.

One thing I would say, and I believe you have years of experience in maritime accident investigation, but I would suggest contributing factors are an important part of any inquiry. I understand what you have written about establishing a single cause and agree with that. I would interpret the contributing factors to be those that occurred which if they had not would still not have prevented the accident but had a direct influence on the way the accident played out. A good example of this is the need of the report to comment on the loading, launching and handling of Lifeboats. This did not cause the accident but did have an effect on the numbers saved.

As for Lord Mersey, It's interesting to note that unlike the more general US inquiry he was handed a set of 26 questions to be answered by the Board of Trade. Why was this? Well I think the biggest clue can be found in the speech from Senator William Smith:

"We shall leave to the honest judgment of England its painstaking chastisement of the British Board of Trade, to whose laxity of regulation and hasty inspection the world is largely indebted for this awful fatality"

When we look at the questions submitted by the Board of Trade for Lord Mersey's commission to answer we find:

" Before leaving Queenstown on or about 11th April last did the "Titanic" comply with the requirements of the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894-1906, and the rules and regulations made thereunder with regard to the safety and otherwise of "passenger steamers" and "emigrant ships"?"

So basically saying, as was the case with the UK MP's expenses scandal, were they following the rules at the time and not the more appropriate, "were they following the rules and were these rules appropriate?"

There is however a bland question tagged as question 26 which states: The Court is invited to report upon the Rules and Regulations made under the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 -1906, and the administration of those Acts and of such Rules and Regulations, so far as the consideration thereof is material to this casualty, and to make any recommendations or suggestions that it may think fit, having regard to the circumstances of the casualty, with a view to promoting the safety of vessels and persons at sea.

Note here how the question limits the comments on the regulations by the Board of Trade to those 'so far as the consideration thereof is material to this casualty' or in other words don't look at anything you consider part of the wider maritime rules and regulations.

By bringing forward these questions, Lord Mersey's mind will have already been set upon the areas of research and inquiry he would wish to take possibly accounting for some of his lapses in concentration. I think it is clear that the actions in part of Lord Mersey and the British Wreck Commission were to limit the amount of damage to Great Britain's prestige as the foremost maritime nation.

One area that has always bugged me is the absolute and damming assurance given by both enquiries in their belief that Captain Lord's position given for the Californian on the night of the disaster was wrong and yet there isn't even the slightest hint of doubt over Boxhall's distress position even though we know he corrected this to eventually arrive at the famous 41'46N 50'14W and we know for absolute certainty that this position is wrong because we know the position of the wreck.

Regards

Rob.
 

Alex F

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One area that has always bugged me is the absolute and damming assurance given by both enquiries in their belief that Captain Lord's position given for the Californian on the night of the disaster was wrong and yet there isn't even the slightest hint of doubt over Boxhall's distress position even though we know he corrected this to eventually arrive at the famous 41'46N 50'14W and we know for absolute certainty that this position is wrong because we know the position of the wreck.

Regards

Rob.
The position might be right. The map might be wrong. The clock might be wrong. Who said the clocks were run correctly?
 

Jim Currie

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Hello there Rob!

Good response and exactly what I was hoping for. I can see you have put your 'thinking-cap' on. Perhaps others will see that there is a great deal of 'meat' on this bone which needs chewing-over.

I'll answer your post in bits as time allows:

As you probably know, the question of inadequacy of lifeboat numbers and manning was raised by the Wreck Commissioner. His report on the matter clearly shows that he believed the Board of Trade had been negligent and had delayed in implementing recommendations by their own Surveyors.
He questioned Sir Alfred Chalmers, who had served under the Board of Trade as Nautical Advisor and who, at the time of being questioned, was retired. That Knight of The Realm concluded his evidence by stating" I think that any State Department should hold its hand before it steps in to make a hard-and-fast scale for that particular type of shipping. I considered that that scale fitted all sizes of ships that were then afloat, and I did not consider it necessary to increase it, and that was my advice to Sir Walter Howell."

Lord Mersey's opinion of the above was I appreciate this explanation, and I think there is much force in it. At the same time, it seems to me that it does not justify the delay" By saying that he condemned the inaction of the BoT but stopped short of publicly condemning them.

In a nutshell: On the 18th February, 1911, 14 months before the disaster and before even Olympic sailed on her maiden voyage, the BoT asked their principal Surveyors at Glasgow, Liverpool and London to give their opinions as to what should be done about lifeboats for the ever increasing ship-sizes. All three recommended an immediate, substantial upgrade to lifeboat capacity. The Board agreed. Consequently, their opinions, together with the Board's concurrence was passed to the Board's marine Advisory Committee for their consideration, That Committee reported back as follows:

" MERCHANT SHIPPING ADVISORY COMMITTEE.

4th July, 1911.

MERCHANT SHIPPING ADVISORY COMMITTEE.

4th July, 1911.

SIR,

We have the honour to report that your letter of the 4th April with reference to the minimum number of lifeboats to be carried on vessels of 10,000 tons gross tonnage and upwards, and your letter of the 17th May on the subject of the depth of lifeboats, have been very carefully considered by the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee, and that it was unanimously decided at a meeting held on the 29th ultimo to adopt the report of a Sub-Committee which was specially appointed to inquire into these questions.

A copy of the report is accordingly forwarded herewith, and the Committee desire us to suggest for the consideration of the Board of Trade, that effect should be given to the recommendations contained in it.

We are, etc.,

(Signed) NORMAN HILL, Chairman.
(Signed) R. W. MATTHEW, Secretary.


Note the use of the word effect and not consideration. These guys wanted change then. Also note the date.. One year and 10 days BEFORE the disaster.

Obviously the BoT had that advice in good time but did not act on it. Equally obviously Lord Mersey was protecting the then Chairman of the Board of Trade who was The Earl Buxton.
At no time did Lord Mersey condemn the BoT for "fiddling while Rome Burned"[/I It should be remembered that Class was a big player in those days. Mersey was probably protecting his own. How often did he do that during the Titanic Inquiry?

Digging makes a fertile field produce. This fertile field needs turning over.:rolleyes:


Jim C.
 

Rob Lawes

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The position might be right. The map might be wrong. The clock might be wrong. Who said the clocks were run correctly?
But surely this is Jim's point Alex? Any Inquiry worth its money should establish these facts. We could say that no one who survived the sinking knew more about the navigation of Titanic on that night as did Joseph Boxhall. By his own admission he spent time that evening in the chart room working on fixes and navigation. He is not asked a single question on how he came about the sinking position. It was surely a requirement of the inquiry to establish that the ship was being correctly navigated and yet we have to leave it to modern discussion to try and establish ships time, if there had been a whole or partial clock change, how the initial CQD position was so far out and gow Boxhalls was only slightly better.

We have the advantage of knowing the precise position of the wreck so we know how far apart Boxhalls position and the sinking were. The board of inquiry did have a similar clue though. The position given by Boxhall and the position at which Carpathia picked up the lifeboats. Yet no one on the inquiry team thought to ask how these tiny boats, some being oared by ladies, managed to row many miles, at night and putting so much distance between the signalled sinking point and any potential rescue.

Like I said, these are fundamental questions that were never asked and yet, despite not one of the Californian's bridge officers disagreeing with their ships calculated position, their Lordships pronounce it must be wrong.
 

Bruce Harwood

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Which brings me back to my contention that Lord Mersey was a master of deliberate oversight. There were very simple questions that he could have asked, that should have been obvious to any enquiring mind. But he didn't. With reference to the Empress of Ireland disaster, he could have asked Captain Kendall why he didn't order closure of the watertight doors before the collision, despite this being company policy when a state of danger became apparent. One simple question could have led to an entirely different conclusion, which would have been very costly to Canadian Pacific. To my mind, and I'm sure to others at the time, it should have been obvious. This pattern was established at the Titanic enquiry. (It is worth noting that Kendall never had a major command again, and I suspect it was because the company was quite aware of his failure that night.)
 

Alex F

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Like I said, these are fundamental questions that were never asked and yet, despite not one of the Californian's bridge officers disagreeing with their ships calculated position, their Lordships pronounce it must be wrong.
Once again.

One area that has always bugged me is the absolute [and damming assurance given by both enquiries in their belief that Captain Lord's position given for the Californian on the night of the disaster was wrong and yet there isn't even the slightest hint of doubt over Boxhall's distress position even though we know he corrected this to eventually arrive at the famous 41'46N 50'14W and we know for absolute] certainty that this position is wrong because we know the position of the wreck.

Regards

Rob.
Rob, what bugged me… is your absolute certainty. Sleep of the mind.

Was Lord Mersey asleep?

there isn't even the slightest hint of doubt over Boxhall's distress position even though we know he corrected this to eventually arrive at the famous 41'46N 50'14W and we know for absolute certainty that this position is wrong because we know ...
Nobody is disagreeing with it.

Like I said, these are fundamental questions that were never asked and yet, despite not one of the Californian's bridge officers disagreeing with their ships calculated position, their Lordships pronounce it must be wrong.
It must be wrong.

BR
Alex
 

Rob Lawes

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Picking up on this thread again, I've been thinking about the wider global context that may have affected the minds of those involved at the top end of the inquiry. I think it shouldn't be underestimated about how Britain saw its role in the world in 1912. Given that we were locked into an nautical arms race with Germany building ever more powerful capital ships there was already a sense that the era of Pax Brittanica was drawing to a conclusion. On top of this, the American 'Great White Fleet' had only a few years previously completed a 2 year global deployment which effectively announced that there was a new maritime power in town. Further, the Hamburg America line launched a new ship in 1912 that in terms of size alone was set to take the crown from the Cunards and the White Stars. Given that Britain's global position was founded on its sea power, any direct threat to this would be a blow of the severest kind. The American's got their inquiry in first and directly attacked the regulations of the Board of Trade. Anything that Lord Mersey could have done to take the sting out of these attacks and reduce the wider implications that may suggest Britain as a maritime power was no longer untouchable, would have met the approval of those in Government.
 

Rob Lawes

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A little further thought overnight made me think about what we can conclusively say the inquiry got wrong and other areas in which they failed to answer important questions. We then have to try and identify the reasons behind those on a case by case basis, which may take a little more time.

For example:

Wrong:

The inquiry was wrong when it said the Titanic sank in position 41'46N 50.14W (we know the actual wreck site)
The inquiry was wrong when it said that the Titanic did not break in two (again, we know this from the wreck site)

Conflicting:

The inquiry failed to follow up on the conflicting information between a number of witnesses (Fireman Beauchamp and Barrett for example)

There are other examples of course. These questions are important as an incorrect distress position could indicate poor navigation on behalf of the crew, a break up of the ship could indicate an inherent structural weakness in the design and, in the case of Beauchamp and Barrett's testimony, they point to hugely different flow rates for Boiler Room 6 which again, has an effect on the flooding dynamics.

I would argue that these are important questions that any inquiry would wish to resolve before publishing their findings.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Rob.

I agree with all that you wrote, but to me there was even more gross culpability on both sides of the Atlantic.

As you rightly point out, the distress position was out by 12 miles. i.e. 12 miles too far ahead and to the west. Granted the wise men on 1912 did not have the knowledge we have today regarding where the ship actually sank. However that is absolutely no excuse.

All Marine experts on both sides of the Atlantic had the following information:
Titanic needed to travel a total of 1673 miles from Her departure point in Ireland until she reached the turning point of The Corner.
By Noon on April 14, she had a further 124 miles to go until she turned at said Corner
If the patent log was anywhere near accurate, it should have registered about 273 miles at the time of impact and certainly not the 260 miles reported by QM Rowe who read it seconds after impact.

The forgoing information alone should have raised very serious questions.

Then we have the evidence of Captain Rostron of the Carpathia. He is reported as declaring that the distress position was 'splendid'. That man lied or was ordered to lie. He also buried or was ordered to bury the truth about the distress position. Here's why.
Carpathia left the place where she picked up the last survivors at about 9 am ln April 15. Three hours later, her officers would have obtained an excellent Noon position. There is no way on God's green earth that these men did not find something very seriously wrong with the Dead Reckoning (estimated) position that they used to calculate the Noon position. Anyone who has ever calculated Noon sights will confirm this.

Two experienced masters; Lord of Californian aand Moore of the Mount Temple were completely ignored when they expressed the opinion that Titanic sank further to the east than where Boxhall said she was when she stopped.

On the USA side, Captain Knapp USN had all the ship reports of ice in the area. These showed that there was a north south ice barrier, the east side of which was 9 miles east of Titanic's distress position. Yet, the charts he produced showed the ice barrier bent to the westward thus placing the distress position to the east of the ice.
The good captain and his highly experienced men would spot that in a New York minute. Were they pressured into bending the facts?

JIm C.
 

B-rad

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unfortunately the distress coordinates being wrong was well known at the time. An example is presented in the "The Expositor and Current Anecdotes, Volume 13", (from 1906-1913), which reads:

GAVE WRONG POSITION

Charles Walters, a San Francisco newspaper man, who was a passenger on the Russian steamer Birma, told about the efforts of that vessel to reach the Titanic. He says that the Titanic gave her position wrongly.

The only apparent explanation of this pending an official statement of the facts is that she was hampered by fog in locating her position, which was ascertained by dead reckoning.

The Titanic gave her position as latitude 41.44 north, longitude 50.14 west, but her true position was different. When the Birma reached the position which had been given, she found immediately that it must be wrong, for although she passed several enormous bergs, it was obvious that none of them could have injured the Titanic because to the northeastward lay enormous floes which extended for miles.
 

James Leen

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Howdy,

I think Mersey, on balance, was quite fair and thorough.

Yes he gave too much credence to Boxhall's position - which he decided was correct and consequently damned Lord - and yes he did seem to attach extra import to some witness statements, again damning Lord.

But he was quite thorough in looking at lifeboat capacity, the biggest irony being that the California had twice the lifeboat capacity of its passengers.

As to the exchange in the OP, I think that Mr Currie has been a bit disingenuous - not unlike a certain Humphrey Appleby.:D

The Has this gentleman ever been to sea? retort followed not only some definition of lifeboats, rafts and rules etc. but I think we may assume that Mersey was writing things down, so perhaps not quite seeming to be au fait with the situation.

I think this can be demonstrated by changing the emphasis with bold.


So Mr. Butler Aspinall: Your Lordship sees his position; he is the Chief Marine superintendent of the Line.

The Commissioner: Yes, I know, but what are the points?

Mr. Butler Aspinall: What I was directing his attention to were points which form the subject matter of some of the questions; for instance, Manning, drill, boats; and the next question I was going to ask him is this: Have you since this disaster, in view of your position in the Line and in view of your practical experience as a seaman, considered the desirability of increasing the number of boats to be fitted.

The Commissioner: Has this gentleman ever been to sea?

And then of course we had:-

Mr. Butler Aspinall:
Yes, he holds a Master's certificate, he said.

The Commissioner:
Quite right; I beg your pardon. Very well, now will you ask him the question.

So I would give Mersey the benefit of doubt here.