How accurate were the findings of Lord Mersey?

Jim Currie

Apr 16, 2008
Funchal. Madeira
Humphrey Appleby? Who Me? :rolleyes:

The Inquiry was held at the behest of the BoT. It was to discover the cause of the disaster and to learn lessons from it . The BoT were also the body who made the lifeboat regulations therefore they, of all people, knew very well that the lifeboat capacity was insufficient for a disaster of that magnitude. However, lifeboat capacity was judged to be sufficient due to the then belief that ships were almost unsinkable.

My point here is that in his capacity as President, he sat there making notes. The very first note he would make after writing the name Captain George A Bartlett would have been Master Mariner. If he had been on the ball as they say, he would not have had to ask that question of Butler Aspinal; he merely had to look at h is notes.

Lord Mersey presided over a Court of Inquiry. In reality, when questioning members of the crew of Californian, he sat as would a judge in a Criminal Court. His treatment of 2nd officer Stone was nothing short of disgraceful.

7852. (The Commissioner.) Now try to be frank?
[question mark?]...... - A: - I am.
7853. If you try, you will succeed.
7854. Do you mean to say you did not think for yourself? I thought you told us just now that you did think....- [No Answer.]

The Commissioner's remit was not to brow-beat that young officer. His job was to discover why, if the men on Californian saw rockets that night, their boss did not start up engines and ride to the rescue. In fact, Lord Mersey chose to base his Californian findings on the evidence of 2 men who did not actually see the rockets. In doing so, he completely failed to interview the essential member of Californian's crew.. the lookout who was on duty between midnight and 2 am that morning. Had he done so, and had the vessel near to Californian been Titanic, then he would also have been able to tie that man's evidence in with the evidence of the lookouts on duty on board the sinking Titanic because the latter could not have f ailed to see the stationary Californian..
I believe that the men of Californian were railroaded. Either that, or Lord Mersey was the most incompetent person ever to preside over such a court.

Jim C.
Dec 4, 2000
Jim -- the two conclusions you present in the above post do not rule each other out. Both can be true simultaneously...and probably are.

-- David G. Brown

James Leen

Feb 23, 2016
A couple of further thoughts on my Lord Mersey.

A lot of times Judges seem out of touch or, indeed half asleep, but you have to remember that it's their job to ensure complete clarity - which is why you have these out of touch old farts in the Daily Mail interrupting trials with requests of "who's [insert famous sport star/singer/model/etc]?"

They may seem completely unqualifed for juror let alone presiding officer, but it's part of the job to make sure everything is in context.

Which brings me to the Californian. Yes, Lord was railroaded - the most junior officer on the Californian was accorded far more gravitas - "a man of your experience" - than officers who had been sailing for 20 plus years.

But on the other hand Fred Fleet was not only given sympathy, he was probably lucky not to be hit with a contempt charge.

So I think Mersey was, on balance, very fair and thorough. And I don't think Isaacs would have ley anything pass either.

Jim Currie

Apr 16, 2008
Funchal. Madeira
I suspect you are a law graduate or something like that James. I too understand very clearly the part played by a judge in a court of law.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the legal credentials of Mersey and Isaacs were impeccable. However, neither of them was there to judge. Their remit was to carefully question with sensitivity, all witnesses to the disaster and by doing so, gather as much direct and indirect evidence as possible. This would be assessed by their assisting 'experts'. These would, in turn, analyse it and thereafter report back to them. It was their skills as interrogators that were needed, not an iterpretation of the law.

Initially, he was required to find answers to 26 questions posed by The BoT. Not one of these mentioned Californian by name

The directions given to Lord Mersey as to the conduct of individuals were very clear. I quote:

""When the examination of the Witnesses produced by the Board of Trade has been concluded, the Board of Trade shall state in open Court the questions in reference to the casualty, and the conduct of the certified Officers or other persons connected therewith upon the opinion of the Court is desired."

In Mersey's final report, he finds the ship guilty of a misdemeanour, not her captain.

BY insinuation, Lord Mersey publicly accused Captain Lord of what was believed by all seafarers and the public in general, to be a heinous crime. Yet in doing so, he fell short of his next duty. This was, that if he believed such a crime had been committed; at a future date he would ensure that Lord was brought to justice with the full force of the law. This begs the question: Why did he not do that?

Jim C.

Rob Lawes

Jun 13, 2012
As part of looking into details for a post in this thread I've been looking at the huge difference in testimony between Leading Stoker Barrett and Fireman Beauchamp. I came across this quite remarkable exchange between Lord Mersey and Mr Scanlan.

834. (Mr. Scanlan.) You have told his Lordship that a stoker was in charge of this lifeboat?
- Yes.

835. Have you ever heard of a stoker being in charge of a lifeboat in the arrangements of any company you have travelled with before?
- No.

The Commissioner:
I do not quite know what you are driving at, Mr. Scanlan. Nothing went wrong in this boat, and it seems to have been launched in a very reasonable time.

Mr. Scanlan:
What I am trying to get at, my Lord, is that in ordinary circumstances the proper thing is to have an experienced sailor in charge of a lifeboat, and not a stoker.

The Commissioner:
I daresay, but these were not ordinary circumstances; they had to do their best.

Now I do not see a problem with Mr Scanlan's line of questioning. He is quite right in so much that each boat should have been properly manned and equipped. The fact that something didn't go wrong is neither here nor there. It's the fact that the loading of boats was outside the usual routine that should have been expected if the correct emergency procedures were followed. The sinking of a vessel is never 'ordinary circumstances' that much is true but the procedure to be followed by a well drilled and experienced crew should be ordinary in nature. I.E. it should be a natural act that when an emergency is declared each man knows where he should be and what he should be doing. Now it's clear from the testimony of Beauchamp and others that this wasn't the case and that a number of companies had a lax attitude when it came to lifeboat drills and procedures however, this is what Mr Scanlan is trying to determine and he is cut off from going down that line by Lord Mersey.

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