Lightoller the Christian Scientist


Neil McRae

Patrick Stenson's EXCELLENT Lightoller biography makes frequent references to him being a Christian Scientist. However I don't believe the book ever delved to deep into the details of this religion. It does mention that truly orthodox Christian Scientists do not drink although Lightoller himself bent this rule on occasion. Can anyone tell me anything else?

Pat Cook

Hi Neil,

While I can't tell you much more about Christian Science, I CAN tell you that Lawrence Beesley also was a Christian Scientist and a teacher of it's principals. In fact, when he left Dulwich in 1909, it is written in their registry that he left to "become a Christian Scientist healer".

The founder of the religion was Mary Baker Eddy, whose work "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" became their guidebook, if I may call it that. (This book, by the way, was one of the two - the other being the Bible - that Lawrence stuffed in his jacket pockets when he left his cabin) The group is tremendously well documented and, in fact, you can go into almost any of their 'reading rooms' and find a complete library, hardbound if I'm not mistaken, on all their writings in the Christian Science Journals and Sentinels. In searching out material on Beesley I actually found not only two other articles written by him but his addess in 1911, and other dates, and in some cases his phone number! And, I'm sure you know, Lightoller also wrote at least one article for their Journal - about the sinking of the Titanic.

Hope this is of some help.

Best regards,

Judson Ruhl

When the Christian Science Monitor reported to the world the news of the sinking Titanic, it had been publishing a little less than 4 years. This fledgling newspaper was created at the direction of Mary Baker Eddy, then in her eighty-eighth year, having prior to that, written and published her major work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures with many revisions, founded a Metaphysical College, built a church called The First Church of Christ Scientist, in Boston, established a publishing society that produced the weekly Sentinel and the monthly Journal.
It's likely that both Charles Lightoller and Lawrence Beesley belonged to that church, and probably a local Branch Church.
For more on the First Church of Christ Scientist please visit the website:

It's also likely that neither man knew of the other's presence on the ship, but both were fortified by their study of Christian Science and their belief that God is a..."Present help in trouble".
Both of their accounts portray thoughtful people who listened for God's voice, then acted. C.H. Lightoller's testimony was printed in the Christian Science Journal in 1912, and later reprinted in the Christian Science Monitor which may be accessed by the following links:
Mr. Beesley also wrote a testimony that was printed in the Christian Science Sentinel,(vol.16, Pp.314), in which he reports his experiences in the lifeboat, and how everything that he had lost on the ship was restored, thus rescuing him from being impoverished in a strange country. I don't have a link to this testimony, but I have a copy, and will send it on to anyone who requests it.
I'm including some other links that might be interesting as well: (scroll down a bit on this page)



I became fascinated by Lightoller's experience during the sinking of the Titanic, from a shortened version of his experience (link below) in the Dec 8th 1997 CS Sentinel and then even more so as I discovered what an amazing life he had had (including two other sinkings and his rescue of stranded soldiers from the Dunkirk beaches) from Patrick Stenson's brilliant biography of Lightoller, Titanic Voyager I used to post here fairly regularly, but life got busy and I stopped coming here. Today I was sent an invitation to come back, so had a little look and I found this thread, which for some reason I must have missed back when I was active.

Anyway, since then, all content from the Christian Science periodicals have been transcribed and put online and I thought it may interest members to read Lightoller's own account. (I find it amusing that he felt he needed to spare the sensibilities of readers by not mentioning it was a gun he went back to get.) ;)

The shortened 1997 version:
The night the Titanic sank

And this was the lead article, of that week's edition, if anyone wants to dig deeper:
Safe travel: a Titanic or an ark experience?

Lightoller's original letter:
It is difficult to tell of the experience...

There is also an account by Lightoller of his third shipwreck, at the end of WW1, which I will put in the next post.


Well, I have now found 3 more accounts by Lights (as he was known) in past issues of the Christian Science Sentinel (a weekly publication.) As this thread is titled, Lightoller the Christian Scientist I feel that to anyone researching the man, this could all be interesting material. Here they are in chronological order:

September 8, 1917 Lights’ description of his struggles as the only officer not drinking or smoking.
I should like to give this testimony to the healing power...

August 31, 1918 His third sinking Extracts from Letters

Aug 28, 1920 Includes descriptions of sailing through mine fields (once in thick fog)
In adopting Christian Science one is bringing into his...

There is also Lawrence Beesley's account, but that should go on the appropriate pages and I wrote an article for a magazine at the airline I worked for, but which closed down at least 15 years ago, all about Lightoller's life. I don't want to break any copyright, so will try to find out if it wold be OK to upload the file here.
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Hello I'm back again, having re-read my article written in 1998 and have discovered that I made a mistake - Lightoller actually survived 4 shipwreck, not 3, plus several other hairy experiences!

Here is an extract from my article, Lightoller and Me, from Contact Magazine 1998:

What a story! It makes Indiana Jones seem tame - and it all actually happened. They say fact is stranger than fiction. I've realised that here is a sadly forgotten hero and character.

His career spanned the ages of 13 to 72 and included both World Wars. He lived at a time when life was hard and dangerous (especially at sea) and he had such a fascinating and adventurous life that he deserves a whole television series to himself. Born in 1874 he first went to sea as an apprentice at the age of 13 on a clipper and survived indescribable hardship. It was 6 months before they saw land. Food was starvation rations of salted pork and horse meat which were rock hard and rotten, and mouldy biscuits crawling with weavels. He was covered with sores and the rats would eat the rotten skin from the bottom of his feet while he slept!

It was the little boys who were sent up the 200 ft masts to struggle with the sails in all weathers and many of them were blown out to sea or dashed on the deck below. He learnt determination and the overcoming of fear early in his career.

At the age of 15 he survived his first shipwreck and was marooned on a desert island with no vegetation and only putrid water and had a remarkable rescue.

By the age of 21 (when he made the change from sail to steam) he had had several more adventures, including surviving a cargo of burning coal and a cyclone. Later, he nearly drowned in treacherous surf and then had a bad attack of malaria on the journey home.

Feeling that he'd had enough of the sea after all that, he joined the gold rush to the Klondike in mid-winter. Having failed to even reach the gold fields and driven back by poverty and starvation he then tried his hand as a cowboy. Finally deciding to return to the only profession he knew, he "rode the (suspension) rods" on the trains to get to Montreal, then got back to Liverpool as a cattleman on board ship (a smelly and noisy job).

Rejoining the merchant navy, he found himself in another unwelcome cattle ship but eventually managed to join the prestigious White Star Line. A succession of ships and promotion followed, including a ship-board romance that resulted in his marriage to an Australian girl, Sylvia.

Shortly after this, a leaflet carelessly thrown into his pocket on the streets of New York led him to take up the study of Christian Science. He had long had the feeling that "someone up there" was looking after him and he found in this very practical branch of Christianity the answers he had been looking for.

He rose up through the officer ranks at the White Star line and finally was given the position of First Officer (later changed to Second) on the Titanic.

The rest of that story, as they say, is history.

That terrible ordeal however was neither the first nor the last of Lightoller's challenges. During the First World War, only 2 years after Titanic, he was on another White Star Liner, the Oceanic (requisitioned as a naval vessel) when it was grounded on rocks at Scarpa Flow and sunk. (Up till then, most of Lightoller's misfortunes had been the result of a wrong decision by the captain. On the Oceanic, they had two skippers - one merchant and the other Royal Navy and they didn't get on and gave contradictory orders with disasterous results!)

'Lights' next found himself on the first converted "aircraft carrier" the Campania - the only problem being that the hastily erected flying deck was too short for take-off and all planes ended up in the North Sea. Consequently, the little Shorts 184 seaplanes were lowered into the choppy water (with Lightoller as a very reluctant airborne observer of the Dover Patrol) for a hair-raising take-off which more often than not found an increasingly irritated 'Lights' swimming for his life yet again! He ended up being the very first observer ever to spot enemy ships from the air, but his wireless message was not received and they lost their position and only just made it back as the engine spluttered on empty!

'Lights' was relieved to get away from his short flying career when at Christmas 1915 he was given command of a torpedo boat. Lightoller was a popular skipper - he got to know all his men and always ran a disciplined, efficient yet cheerful ship. In July 1916 he had a close encounter with a Zeppelin and earned himself a Distinguished Service Cross.

Next came shipwreck number 4 while Lightoller was captain of a destroyer, the Falcon, which sunk after an accident in the fog (unfortunately when he was using it to move house and lost every stick of his and Sylvia's furniture!)

The next ship was a larger destroyer Garry. 'Lights' was now commander of a squadron of four destroyers, guarding the North Sea convoys from U-boat attack. During one spell he escorted six consecutive convoys averaging 40 ships each with only one loss. Thus the nickname "Lucky Lights". It was however, one loss too many for Herbert Lightoller and in July 1918 he rammed and destroyed a U-Boat then limped home with Garry practically in two-halves, earning himself another medal.

When the First World War ended, it soon became clear that any previous officer of the Titanic was never going to find promotion with the White Star Line and 'Lights' left merchant shipping for good.

Next followed an assortment of new experiences - importing Canadian furs, British political correspondent to The Christian Science Monitor, chicken farming and turning their home into a guesthouse. In 1929 he realised a life's ambition when he bought and converted a motor yacht which he named Sundowner.

Just before the Second World War started, and he was in his mid-60's, he was sent on a top-secret reconnaissance mission to photograph and sketch the German coastline. Sylvia would sit up on Sundowner's deck knitting or reading a book while 'Lights' was busily working hidden below. Apart from one hairy moment, they accomplished their mission without incident and if Britain had decided to attack Germany from the sea they would have used Lightoller's plans and photographs.

On June 1st 1940 he set out with his eldest son Roger and a young seascout to rescue as many stranded soldiers as he could from Dunkirk. Under heavy fire all the way and back, being dive-bombed by enemy aircraft and dodging mines, he succeeded in saving the lives of 127 men in a boat he'd previously only managed to squeeze 21 in before.. That the Sundowner came back without even a scratch can only be attributed to his deep faith and trust in God.

I would love to see his life made into a TV series or a movie!