Mystery Ship made simple


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No doubt Senan's new article is designed to raise hackles. After all he's a professional writer who knows what effect he's trying to achieve. Rarely have I read something so patronising! From the title to the final line, theories are presented as cold, hard facts with no caveats about uncertainty or supposition. For those interested in a balanced view, I recommend Dave Gittins' website. In the light of the information there, Senan's article falls apart. None of Lord's longitudes are "indisputable" as there were no stellar measurements made that evening. In particular 50°7' W is slightly to the *west* of the icefield.

I would suggest that arguing that Titanic didn't see Californian is specious, facile and irrelevant. After all, whose rockets does Senan think Californian saw?

Paul
 
On a more calm note:

Mr. Molony, what of the SECOND ship that the Californian saw that night, shortly after the first ship firing rockets vanished, one that also was firing rockets and was very brightly lit up to boot? She was beyond doubt the Carpathia, and if the Californian had been as far north as Captain Lord swore she was, how do you account for them seeing the Carpathia?

Best regards,

Richard
 
Paul:

Your first two sentences in your opening post said it all; as a professional writer, he knows how to get your goat. It only works when you aren't alert to the game that's being played. You obviously steered clear!

Dave Billnitzer
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Senan is a professional writer, but - knowing both the man and his work very well - I can assure Paul that Senan is not trying to 'raise hackles' or be patronising. I read his tone very differently. Having debated Californian issues at length with him, in an often very animated manner, I have found him very passionate about the subject but also willing to acknowledge the validity of my position on the subject.

I've asked Senan point blank in the past as to whether he believes that the Californian did see the Titanic rockets that night. He has told me that he believes this is the case, and his response to how the Californian's officers and Captain responded, why they responded as they did and how is one of the more interesting aspects of Senan's theories and interpretations on the subject.

I don't believe that 'arguing that Titanic didn't see Californian is specious, facile and irrelevant' (and that particular string of adjectives isn't conducive to conducting a constructive discussion in this oft-volatile controversy). While I disagree with Senan on many of his ideas on the Californian, he has raised some interesting points regarding this and forced me to reconsider some of my own formerly very strongly held views on whether the mystery ship seen from the Titanic was the Californian. While I don't believe that the theoretical presance of another ship means that the Californian's officers were any less culpable for failing to either recognise or respond appropriately to the unfolding situation, I believe our focus on the Californian should not cause us to ignore the potential culpabilityof others.

As I've stated before, the vehemance of the rhetoric on this subject - the ad hominems, denigration of the protagonists (both historical and those still fighting the battle), and the tactics used by both sides - have caused me to steer clear of the subject. Senan in particular has fallen victim to some serious sledging. But, although he and I have very different views on the issue, I can offer an example of how he has approached the Californian debate.

Recently, while Senan was reviewing the draft MS for my own work, he came across a specific statement I attributed to Harold Lowe regarding the vessel seen from the Titanic. He challenged my attribution of this viewpoint to Lowe, and pointed out that the statement appeared no where in Lowe's testimony at either inquiry. Unfortunately Senan didn't have the chapter notes in front of him in which my source was referenced: an unpublished affidavit from Lowe that elaborated on the Fifth Officer's observations of the other vessel. I transcribed and sent all the relative material to Senan, who acknowledged that I was correct in my statement of what Lowe said that he had seen.

Some of this material was helpful to Lord's case, some of it was unhelpful. Senan suggested to me that I publish the statement in its entirety as an appendix, as he thought it an important contribution to the debate, regardless of whether it was helpful or harmful to the Californian's defenders.

I don't know if you've ever had the opportunity to meet Senan, Paul, but if you do I think you would very much enjoy discussing the Californian controversy with him, even if you find yourselves in disagreement on every point. I've hashed it out with him in pubs, living rooms, over his family dining table and during the small a.m. hours of Titanic conventions, and have never failed to enjoy it, even when we utterly differed.

Richard, Senan doesn't frequent this forum. You may need to address any queries or comments you have to make to him off-board.
 
Hi Inger,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Senan. After all, most of us can only form an impression of him through his writing. However,

> I don't believe that 'arguing that Titanic didn't see Californian is specious, facile
> and irrelevant' (and that particular string of adjectives isn't conducive to conducting a
> constructive discussion in this oft-volatile controversy)

I agree entirely! I lifted that string of adjectives directly from Senan's article. This is how he describes the argument that adding other ships does not subtract Californian. It was this, and other, confrontational writing in his article that annoyed me. As you say, it does not make for reasoned debate.

Cheers

Paul
 

Paul Lee

Member
I found Senan's arguments to be essentially what Leslie Harrison argued in his book, and in an article for a maritime magazine, the title of which evades me at present.

He argued that, given the noon sighting, and the seeming coorobation of the sighting of the three icebergs, it would have been inmpossible for the OOW or the lookouts to have missed a deviation to port to enable a 10 mile difference between the Californian and the Titanic. On the face of it, I thought this was a good argument...but now I think otherwise! :)

Paul

 
Something tells me I need to steer clear of this new piece just to avoid getting my own hackles raised, which is usually pretty easy to accomplish!
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For me, the crux of the issue always boils itself down to Captain Lord's curious conduct afterwards regarding the statements he took from Stone and Gibson, and then the lies he told the press in Boston. It's when people go out of their way to ignore those points (like Ed Kamuda in a documentary that I think was the McCallum narrated one the other night on History Channel) that my hackles *really* get raised on the Californian issue.
 

Inger Sheil

Member
It was this, and other, confrontational writing in his article that annoyed me. As you say, it does not make for reasoned debate.
Ayup, Paul - I should have made it clear in my response that I wasn't condoning Senan's more provocative phrasing, even if I don't think the tone was intended to be patronising...I'm accustomed to and quite comfortable with his more strongly worded arguments, but my own preference (particularly in this area) and phrasing is for a more neutral, cautious phrasing. Of course, I could be wrong and Senan was taking a deliberately stronger stance (I haven't discussed the article with him, so do not know what his intentions were - I can only speak of my own personal impressions of the article and my familiarity with the writer).

I feel that it is as non-constructive to suggest that '...argument that the adding of other ships does not subtract the Californian is specious, facile, and worst of all, irrelevant' as it is to state that '...arguing that Titanic didn't see Californian is specious, facile and irrelevant' (although I recognise that you were writing in response to the article's phrasing and that such would possibly not be your ordinary mode of discourse in this subject).

It is without doubt a polemical piece, as much (most?) of the writing is on this subject - as such, many of our impressions of the authorial style are going to be coloured by our own position on the subject. No doubt to the Californian's defenders what is 'provocative' to others is 'decisive' or 'emphatic' to those already on-side. Although I'm not on the same side of the fence as Senan on this issue, I took no offence at the title. I don't happen to agree with it - I don't particularly think that much (if anything) about the 'mystery ship' can be made 'simple' - but it seems to me to be a characteristic of both sides that they insist that simple logic and evidence, plus the application of Occam's Razor, makes their position the simple and obvious truth. I find some of Reade's chapter headings problematical (even if I'm a Reade enthusiast), but they don't particularly bother me either.
 
Ayup, Inger! (Is there Yorkshire blood in your family?)

You're exactly right, I was writing in response to the article's phrasing. My intention was to draw attention to what I felt was an extreme (and patronising) statement. I *always* forget how intended inferences can be missed and how many more unintended ones can be drawn in online forums. It certainly wouldn't be my usual style, I don't think my active vocabulary stretches as far as to include "specious" most of the time!

I seem to recall that you have praised Senan in the past for presenting both sides of the argument and letting the reader make up their own minds. I have to say that in this instance he's failed. Perhaps he was having a bad week? :)

Cheers

Paul
 
Paul:

There are two more examples (page 4) where the article fails to present both sides of the argument:

"Of course, the Mystery Ship was seen only an hour *after* the collision..."

Untrue. The Mystery Ship was sighted close to midnight, or shortly after. The exact time is unknown, but certainly it was seen by the time the boats were being swung out.

"The Mystery Ship was seen to be *approaching," whereas the Californian was stopped..."

Only partially true. Some observers inferred that she was approaching; others stated she was stationary all night.


Dave Billnitzer
 

Inger Sheil

Member
LoL! No Yorkshire blood as far as I know, Paul, but I've also been compared to a Maine fisherman (although apparently that should be 'ayah') or a Mid-West American farmer.

Sen, like many other authors on the subject (both pro and con re the Californian's culpability) will present material from both sides of the fence although clearly advocating one particular interpretation. In some cases this goes so far as selective quotation - In the instance I referred to above with the Lowe affidavit, one of the few (if only) researchers to have access to the document was Reade...and Reade quoted only a helpful fragment, even going so far as to lop off a statement mid-sentance to extract the portion useful to his argument. This paper, however, read to me like a short piece advocating a particular interpretation. Rather than go into the arguments, differences and nuances of eyewitness reports, he has presented a particular interpretation of the evidence, with emphasis on what supports his arguments.

Are you planning on being at the BTS Convention this year? If so, find Senan holding court in the foyer at 4 am, and bring up this subject...have a drink in hand and enjoy the discussion! It can get animated...props presenting different arguments are useful as well (an empty pint glass doubles well as the Titanic, and a handy salt shaker for the Californian). The arguments illustrated thus are not necessarily to scale
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Regards,

Inger
 
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