Mystery ship article

Paul Lee

Hi all,
Here is a very rough draft of an article that I am writing, hopefully with a view to sending it to a magazine for publication. Hope you enjoy - and please feel free to add to it (no flames though please!)


It is generally felt by most historians, researchers and mariners that the tales
and legends associated with the RMS Titanic were exhausted long ago and that
nothing new can be said.

However, a few mysteries do remain. Attempts to solve them have so far, defied
researcher's hopes. One of these mysteries is the identity of several ships seen
near the disaster site. Whilst a large flotilla of vessels did steam towards the
stricken liner (Carpathia, Mount Temple, Virginian, Birma etc.), or stay immobile,
watching the nights events unfold (Californian), a few of the vessels are unknown.
We know of them only by the testimony of people on the scene.

Two of these ships were seen by Captain Moore, master of the Mount Temple,
a vessel of 6661 tons, carrying over 1000 immigrants bound for St. John's, New Brunswick.
At 12.30am on April 15th, 1912, she was at position 41 degrees 25 North, 51 degrees
15 West (or 51 41 W according to a memorandum). Upon hearing Titanic's plea
for assistance, Moore had the ship turned around and follow a course of N65E (True)
towards the initial CQD position of 41 44 N, 50 24 W; a distance of 49 miles. At a speed
of 11.5 knots, it would take over 4 hours to get there. He doubled his lookouts
and set off. By 3am, the Mount Temple was encountering ice, and at 3.25am,
whilst still about 14 miles away from the distress location, Moore stopped his vessel
on account of the thickness of the ice, proceeding later on at a very slow speed.

Before he stopped, shortly after 3am, Moore had seen a green light (that of a schooner
travelling at a few knots, he thought), between him and his intended location. The Mount Temple's

head was turned 2 points to
port (to go "Green to Green") and the engines stopped,
and then the other green light went out. The "schooner"
was about a mile or a mile and a half away, Moore thought, in the direction that
he was heading for; he even reported hearing the foghorn on the other ship.

It has been suggested that the green light might have been one of the flares lit by
Fourth Officer Boxhall of the Titanic, now drifting in a lifeboat. However, knowing that
the wreck site is some 13 miles east of the "official" CQD position (41 46 N, 50 14 W),
it means that the distance between him and the Mount Temple would have been over
20 miles away - well beyond the range of visibility.

It is at this time that another ship, with slightly more in the way of identification, was noted by Moore.
After turning to port, he noticed another ship - a tramp steamer on his port
bow, going in the same direction as the Mount Temple. As Moore's ship
proceeded, the other ship gradually passed her bows until she was on Moore's
starboard side. The other ship was 4-5000 tons, perhaps a foreign ship (because
"she did not show her ensign"). Moore attempted to signal the other ship with
no luck, and noticed that the other ship was following him, perhaps looking
for passage through an increasingly thick ice field, which he encountered at about
5am that morning.

The other ship had a black funnel with a device in a white band near the top.

Finally, at 4.30am, the Mount Temple was at the Titanic's distress location.
He could immediately see that it was wrong, as there were no other ships
apart from the tramp, and certainly no bodies or wreckage. From sun sights
and from his sighting of the rescue ship Carpathia later that morning,
Moore estimated that the Titanic had actually sunk about 8 miles to the
Eastward of her reported position. She certainly could not have steamed
through the huge ice field, 5-6 miles in width, dotted with hundreds
of massive icebergs, and stretching north and south as far as he and his officers could see.

Shortly after 6.00am, Moore noticed the infamous Californian to the north, steaming
southward towards him. Third Officer Groves of the Californian noticed the Tramp too
at about 7.00am,
ahead of him at this time and a little on his port bow, but could make out no details because the

other ship was head-on to him. He noticed the black funnel and that she was "small" ,
being considerably smaller than the Californian (at 6223 tons).

Finally, Moore saw another ship, the Birma at 8.00am steaming very fast. Initially
mistaking her yellow funnel and mast for Olympic, Titanic's sister, he steered towards

This other stranger was visible to Moore until after 9am.

By mid morning, when other ships, such
as the Frankfurt and the Birma had arrived at the wreck site, the stranger was
nowhere to be seen.

An attempt was made to ascertain the identity of this black funnelled ship during
the British Board of Trade Inquiry; one inspector going so far as to surreptiously
use a penknife.
scrape the paint off the funnel of a ship he suspected had recently been repainted.
An attempt at a solution was made by suggesting the SS Saturnia, a ship whose funnel
matches the colour scheme of the mystery ship. The identification is based information
provided by two passengers bound for Glasgow aboard the ship, who state that the
ship was only 5 miles away from the Titanic and stopped on account of the ice.
However, her master, Captain Taylor, proved that the ship was actually 350 miles
west of the wreck site at the time of the disaster. No other credible possibilities have
been suggested.

Other possible mystery ships lie to the east of the icefield, the side that the Carpathia
was approaching from, and the side in which the Californian lay stopped for the night.

At 12.30am, the Carpathia started her dash to the north-west. By 3.00am, she noticed
green flares in the distance - flares fired by Boxhall. At the same time, Captain
Rostron noticed the red port light of a ship 2 points off this starboard bow. To reassure
Titanic's passengers that help was on the way, he ordered rockets and Cunard
company signals to be fired. At this time, somewhere to the north of the
wreck site, the Californian noticed rockets right on the horizon, at "such a distance that if it had

been much further I should have seen no light at all," as Second Officer Stone said later.

Gibson, standing beside him, saw nothing of the ship firing these rockets either.

It has been suggested that the Californian, heading roughly west saw Carpathia's rockets (which is

plausible) and the Carpathia saw the Californian's red sidelight; however, it seems highly unlikely
that the red light could be seen over such a distance, unseen by two witnesses on the flying
bridge of the Californian. If the Californian was only ten miles north of the Titanic, it meant
that the distance between the two ships would be about 21 miles - well beyond the range
of visibility of the two ships. Also, although most witnesses on the Titanic reported seeing the lights
of a ship off the port bow (that is, to the North), one witness did report seeing a red and a white
light on the starboard beam - roughly in the direction that the Carpathia saw "her" red lights.

In the aftermath of the sinking, Captain Rostron noticed two ships to the north of the
rescue operation. Both had one funnel; one having four masts, and one having two masts.
Although, at the time, he stated that neither of these was the Californian, he later changed
his mind. I am not sure that the other ship has ever been adequately identified. Also, as
day broke (4.00am), the officers on the Californian saw a one funneled, four masted
ship "with lots of lights amidships" to the south - in the direction where a ship had been
seen firing rockets (The Titanic?). Chief Officer Stewart didn't identify her, but noted that
the funnel was yellow - the same as the Mount Temple's. This ship has never been
identified either, although it may have been the Carpathia, the rising sun making the funnel
colour appear brighter than it was (Cunard funnels being red and black).

Whatever the other ship's names, and their purpose, it is highly doubtful that they could have
played any part in the rescue operation; however, their identities are still unknown and
deserving of further research to perhaps close the book on these navigational mysteries;
after all, regardless of what they could or could not have done, they were witnesses and
might have seen something unknown to the present day.
Hi Paul,

A very good article! I have always been fascinated by the possibility of a 'mystery ship' or ships being on the scene. It would be great, if some day the identity of even some of these 'mystery' ships came to light, in particular the schooner seen by the MT, as it seems to have been seen coming from the direction of where the Titanic has sank, and not long after it sank too. It's possible that they could have been witnesses to the whole event!

You mentioned the MT stopping due to ice shortly after 3am. I seem to recall reading that a ship (the Almerian I think) came across another ship stopped by ice, on the west side of the ice field, about 40 minutes after the Titanic had sank. When they tried to contact her using a morse lamp, the only reply that they could make out was the letters "OUNT", which makes you wonder if the Mount Temple may have reached the western side of the ice-field, earlier than they actually claimed that they did.

All the Best,
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Paul Lee

Hi John,
Glad you liked it! I've put reference to the Almerian in a revised version, but I am not too sure if she was ever really there or not - Mount Temple didn't see her! If you're interested, have a look at Dave Gittins excellent website!

With best wishes



Paul Lee

Darn! Wouldn't you know it - the Maritime Museum of Newfoundland, a huge depository of shipping records DOESN'T have the Almerian's 1912 logbooks - onl the crew muster sheets!




Inger Sheil

What were you looking for in her log, Paul? You probably already know this, but the 'Official Logs' (the bulk of the logs archived in Newfoundland) are not concerned with navigational matters - they contain information regarding things such as incidents involving crew and passengers (births, deaths, injuries etc), crew substitions, port entry and exit, loading stats etc. There would not be any record of the vessel's movements that night in the 'Official Log', or anything she may have seen. The other data - course changes, ships signalled, weather, etc etc would go into a different log, most of which have not been preserved.

Have you checked Kew for the Alermain's official log? A handful are stored there, as well as other locations (e.g. the Liverpool Record Office) around the UK. At least you can rule out Greenwich - the voyage didn't terminate in a year ending in 05!

Paul Lee

One of my main problems is that I don't know how high the rockets sent up the Carpathia reached. I know she fired company signals, which didn't exceed 150 feet, but I can't recall anyone saying how high her rockets went.

One crude way of working out if they were low lying (150-200 feet) or high (600-800 feet) would be to compare survivor's testimony as to how long it took between the Carpathia's rockets being seen and her mast lights. I know Reade asked Beesley some time-related questions but I can't remember the full details at the moment.



Paul, they obviously went 600 to 800 feet. From the bangs they made, we know they were socket signals. Therefore they met Board of Trade specifications for that type of signal.

I've got the feeling that Roman candles only went about 80 feet but I'll have to dig up a source.

As Carpathia only fired signals after the boats were sighted, the steaming lights and the signals would have appeared at much the same time.

One of my posts seems to have gone astray. In it, I suggested that blue balls would not be visible at any great distance. As I recall, a modern red flare is only good for about 10 miles. Also, not many Roman candles were fired, possibly only two or three. Carpathia was with the boats too soon.

Paul Lee

Heres another diagram I was going to put into my article:


I'm not sure now why I didn't put the drift affecting the hypothetical other ship!
Hi Paul: Just a minor point. Did you mean to say say "Titanic heading NE at 1.00am" or "Titanic heading NW at 1.00am?" Arrow and words show different things.


Paul Lee

Hi Sam,
(btw, sorry for not replying to your email - I have a backlog and will get round to it soon!) I've corrected the image on the article.

Best wishes


Paul or Dave Gittins:

Is there any documentation for QM Rowe's account of the other light off the Titanic's starboard quarter; the one that Capt Smith said was actually a planet? Or does that come only from Walter Lord's interviews with him?

Dave, I know on your website you referred to Rowe's grandson's account, but from the account as you describe it on your website:

"... To complicate the story, I was told privately by Rowe’s grandson that he maintained that the light he saw came from a ship sailing away from Titanic and that it was right on the horizon..."

was this specifically in reference to the light / planet / starboard quarter story? Or just generally in regards to a light (ie, could this refer to the same light to the north for which Rowe gave detailed testimony)? Any further details on the grandson's recollections?

Dave Billnitzer