The Californian Incident A Reality Check


John M. Feeney

Hi, guys:

Some comments on the article. (There are others, but I don't want to get lengthy at this point.)
... Fifth Officer Lowe commanded the only boat to go back to the wreck site and he waited nearly an hour to do so.​
Here is a break down of the boats that went back to the wreck site after the cries had calmed down and it was assumed safe to return to look for survivors.​
Boat #4 Under the Command of Quartermaster Perkis went back and only picked up five from the water who where still alive. Two possibly three died during the night.​
Boat #14 Under the Command of Fifth Officer Lowe went back and picked up only three swimmers and one survivor who had climbed up onto a piece of wreckage.​
Taken as a whole, this section is simply historically incorrect. First, it sports the internal inconsistency of alleging that "Fifth Officer Lowe commanded the only boat to go back to the wreck site ..." then contradicting that singular assertion by bringing up Boat #4 (which indeed also went back).

Furthermore, that lumped categorization, "boats that went back to the wreck site after the cries had calmed down and it was assumed safe to return to look for survivors", is completely inaccurate as applied to Lifeboat 4. Officer Lowe, in Lifeboat 14, indeed waited for the cries to die down and the crowd to "thin out". Walter Perkis and company, in Lifeboat 4, did NOT wait. To the contrary, they only ceased fishing people out of the water when they could no longer hear further cries, according to Perkis' testimony. Ostensibly they pulled three men from the water very early on, then returned to retrieve five more right after the plunge. Afterwards they converged with the other boats of the "Lowe Flotilla", and all of this occurred *before* Officer Lowe returned to the wreck site.

Please! Let's not do the man an injustice by citing a standard mythology. Gracie's reproduced accounts from Lifeboat 14 in "The Truth about Titanic" make all of the above pretty evident.

Inger Sheil

Inger Sheil

I'm inclined to generally agree with you regarding #4's actions, John. I've seen some very pedantic arguments over whether #4 actually went 'back' or whether she was simply in reach of swimmers (just as Frederick Hoyt was able to make it to collapsible D), but it seems fairly evident that while some people were able to make it to #4 after she pulled away and asked in at least some instances to be pulled in, #4 also returned *after* the ship sank and rescued more men.

One of those picked up after the ship went down, Cunningham, said that he called out and swam to #4, and when asked if 4 came towards him replied 'I do not think so' (Am Inq p. 794).

Prentice, (the last man picked up?) makes it clear in the 1912 accounts he gave to British newspapers that the men in #4 had been proactive in finding and saving him.

As Hemming phrased it, when asked if the men they picked up after the sinking swam towards them or if the boat went to them, 'Both. They swam towards the boat, and we went back toward them.' (Am Inq, p. 668).

~ Inger

George Behe

Hi, John!

I think some of the inconsistencies in the article might be due to the difficulties faced by three different co-authors who are trying to meld their individual knowledge and viewpoints into a cohesive whole.

I do have a number of disagreements with the article (which the co-authors and I have already discussed at length), but I guess the disagreement which pretty much encompasses all of the others is the fact that the article presents a 'worst case scenario' for the likelihood that a nearby Californian could have rescued any of Titanic's passengers: i.e. it postulates the slowest possible start-up and stopping times for the Californian's dash to the sinking Titanic; it postulates the fewest number of Californian crewmen being expected to perform the maximum number of jobs (without taking skeleton crews and human ingenuity into account); it presents the difficulties of preparing and utilizing *all* of Californian's lifeboats in a rescue attempt -- when (say) two boats could probably have been prepared and launched rather quickly without undue difficulty; it repeatedly highlights the fact that it was impossible for the Californian to rescue *all* 1,500 swimmers (which I don't think anyone here will dispute, but which nevertheless fails to consider what *might* have been accomplished by, say, two Californian lifeboats manned by competent crews who -- like QM Perkis and Lowe -- were *intent* on saving lives that morning.

I know first hand how hard Erik, Mike and Tracy worked on their article (and, as I said a moment ago, the authors are already aware of my disagreements with some of their conclusions.) However, one thing which might be overlooked by the general reader is the fact that the authors give *serious* credence to the likelihood that Californian and Titanic were situated close enough to each other that morning for a serious rescue attempt to have been made. IMO, that is a very important point. (I know that at least one of the three co-authors agrees with me on that score -- while at least one other co-author strongly disagrees with me; again, though, this just highlights the difficulty faced by three different people who attempt to co-author an article which presents a smoothly-written, consistent viewpoint about *any* subject.

In any case, I'd like to congratulate Erik, Mike and Tracy on their new article, and I hope it will provide folks with a number of new topics for discussion here on the board. I'm looking forward to seeing Erik's and Mike's next article (which they are thinking about even as we speak.) :)

All my best,


Jan C. Nielsen

Thanks for the article, guys. What I found interesting was that a Leyland Line manager actually helped Captain Lord get another job. Previously, I had thought it was some union organization, or something like that which helped him. Leyland Line knew he got the shaft; further, I suspect that he kept his mouth shut about something or, at least, didn't publicly complain about Leyland Line's treatment of him. He dutifully did as was expected of him from management, and suffered for a time in his role as the proverbial sacrificial lamb. As a result, after the whole thing blew over, he got a job and wasn't totally washed up in his career as captain. Even captains know not to make waves.
Mark Chirnside

Mark Chirnside

Magnificent article. Captain Lord's career and life before and after were covered in detail and very interesting. There were many new facts and the article was well researched as well as being - as I know - well-thought-out.

Teri Lynn Milch

This thread interests me greatly. I wish to research this further and will need to obtain a copy of "The Truth about Titanic" as I do not have that particular book in my library.

The one greatest aspect about this Board is that it seeks to take apart the disaster piece by piece, and so far we've all done a super job of it, aside from the random differing opinions.

I too, have only read insofar that ONE boat, maybe two, went back for survivors after the cries died down but always thought that to be a bit of a shame considering there were many lifeboats floating in that sea. My hopes for more compassionate seamen might come alive, for good.

Congrats Erik Mike and Tracy.



David Gleicher

There would seem to be an important error in Table #1 of this article that renders its conclusions moot at best.

The calculation of how long it would take for the Californian to reach the Titanic based on speed and mileage is incorrect when the distance is 8 miles. Letting h stand for hours and m for miles (m/h is speed) then the equation for hours it would take is:

m divided m/h equals h

In the first calculation m is 19 and m/h is 13.5 and the equation yields a solution of 1.407 hours. In hours and minutes (since there is 60 minutes to an hour) this is equivalent to 1 hour and 24 minutes, which is what the table states.

In the second calculation however--which if one reads Reade it is clear is the apt one--where m is 8 and m/h is 13.5 the time taken is .59 hours. This is equal in minutes to 35 minutes. The table states 59 minutes, which is not true. Thus it would have taken the Californian 1 hour and 5 minutes to reach the Titanic, given the 30 minutes for clearing ice.

This difference of 24 minutes alters the basic argument that the authors make. It suggests according to the authors own assumption of 30 minutes to clear ice that if Lord had reacted as late as 1:15 the Californian would still have reached the Titanic by the time it sank.

Am I missing something here?

Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers

A fascinating article - thanks Michael, Erik and Tracy.

I have a question which is similar to David's above. It is based on the following passage in the article:


Below is a quotation from Stone himself asking what and when he gave Captain Lord the information.

7829:What did you communicate to him? I communicated that I had seen white
lights in the sky in the direction of this other steamer which I took to be
white rockets.

7830:What time did you give him (Captain Lord) that information?-Just about

This means that Lord did not receive word of the rockets until an hour and half after the accident. Which means that in order for them (Californian) to be of any effort they would have to get manned and ready and leave in the next 5 minutes.

Titanic took about 2 hours 40 minutes to sink, but Californian did not see the first rocket until almost 12:45 a.m. But again he wasn't told until 1:10am. That meant Captain Lord had only a little over 1 hour to have effected a rescue.

Capt. Lord was informed of the rockets at 1.10am - but was this also 1.10am "Titanic Time?" I seem to recall reading somewhere that the two ships were on different times. Any time difference between the two ships obviously has an impact on the article's conclusions regarding the chances of Californian effecting a rescue.

Can anyone enlighten me on this please? Thanks.

Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

First, on behalf of Erik and Tracy as well as myself, I would like to thank everyone thus far for their interest in the article we wrote...and also for the constructive peer review were getting here. As it was a collaberative effort, I'll be the first one to fess up that not everything was as consistant as perhaps it should have been. That's one of the problems of trying to harmonize the works of different people on the same subject of interest. It's entirely possible that we may be able to do further work on it, and I intend to take full advantage of whatever comments and insights anyone has to offer to make it better!

To some of the points raised;

John Feeney:I'll take the mea culpa on the lifeboats that went back to the rescue insofar as the contradiction goes. I had an opportunity to catch it, correct it, and I blew it. On the actual actions of Boat#4 under Perkis, my source was Don Lynche's "Titanic, An Illustrated History". I tried to second source it as best I could, but I found what was available to be a little muddy. If we do anything else, I'll certainly check Colonel Gracies account to fill in the additional details.

David Gleicher:In retrospect, I concur that we need to do some housecleaning on this one. Tracy contacted me last night to let me know that there is another party interested in putting our work in print. I'm not free to go into the details and it may come to nothing. However, if we can do anything else with this, we will give it our fullest attention.

General comments (My own); The Californian incident is one that tends to provoke some very strong reactions and diversions of opinion, and it's one of the very few controversies I've seen which actually destroys friendships among Titanic researchers. As passionately as arguements are put forward by both sides, it's almost as if some believe that if they make their points forcefully enough, we can force history to have a better outcome. Regretably, that's not going to happen. 89 years after the fact, what happened is a done deal. We can't alter the outcome, but what we can do is try to better understand what happened.

My position is that of one of Lord's critics, and Tracy's, as everyone knows...she's hardly kept it a that of one of Lord'ssupporters. I'm not sure where Erik stands on this. I suspect he's more of a middle of the road sort of chap. What we wanted to do was take a look at the whole thing and explore what realistically could have been accomplished.

The answer to that is, unfortunately, not as much as we might all wish to believe. I wish it were otherwise.

Could the Californian have gotten underway? Absolutely yes. Steam was kept up and the watch maintained for doing just that in case they were forced to do so.

Could the Californian have made it on scene befor the Titanic foundered? opinions differ sharply on that one and it seems no resolution is in sight. I think they could have...barely.

Would it have been a worthy effort to do so? Absolutely yes! Saving even a few additonal lives would certainly have been worthwhile. And even if Captain Lord;s suporters turn out to be right and the ship was just too far away, the effort alone would have spared Captain Lord some incredible grief.

Could they have improvised as they went along? Yes, they could have. Any rescue effort on the Californian's part would have been an all hands evolution, and I think that Lord would have manned the essential watches with skeleton crews. He would have had to in order to adaquately man up and launch even two boats.

Could they have saved most if not everybody on board the Titanic if they were as close as Lord's critics believe?

Nope. Not a chance. Some, yes, but not all. The problems with boat operations don't go away, especially when the resources available are little more then overgrown rowboats which was all either ship had available. It's a time and labour intensive operation and a dangerous one even under the best of conditions. Assuming they could have arrived befor the Titanic foundered, it would have been just in time to watch the ship sink. That alone rules out going anywhere near the sinking ship That leaves the boats to go fishing for frightened and paniked survivors in 28 degree water with a clock mercilessly ticking away. Further, the crews would have had to face the agonizing choice of deciding who to pick up and who to beat off. Who lives and who dies in other words.

The effort would have been complicated later on by the scores of corpses that the rescue craft would have had to work their way through to get at the few who would have remained alive. This was exactly the problem Boat#14 faced when trying to get at one man (Bath attendant Harold Phillmore) clinging to a piece of wreckage. It took half an hour to get to him.

I'm not going to try to minimise anyone's accountablity on this. There were a lot of mistakes made that night, and Captain Lord's as well as those of his officers have been the subject of valid debate for almost a century now. However, befor anyone get's too emotionally wrapped up in all of this, It would be wise to take into account the harsh realities they were facing.

Michael H. Standart
Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

Paul, thanks for pointing that out. I had that impression, but I couldn't find anything conclusive on the time difference if any. I'll have to investigate this one further. On the whole however, I don't think it would have made as signifigent a difference as we all might hope. To save most if not all would have taken hours and more vessels and better resources then the humble Californian alone had available. (See the real world examples we wrote near the end of the article for more on this unpleasant reality.)

Michael H. Standart

Erik Wood

To All,

I would like to second Mikes words. All three of us greatly appreicate both the opposing views and those that agree with us. This is our first article so it has been a learning expereince.

There are several housekeeping and editorial things that got missed that it think will get cleaned up eventually.

There seems to be some question as to what my stance is on the entire Californian incident. Well, as a Captain (but also a researcher) I feel that Captain Lord should have made some effort, any effort. Even if it resulted in him making the decision not to go anywhere. However, my main purpose for writing this article was to point out that several people who claim that "most or all" of Titanics passengers could have been saved have no idea how a Captains mind works nor do they understand the vast amount of things that needed to into Lords favor that night.

I think that we can all agree that some mistakes where made. Unfortunatly they come at the cost of some additional lives. As Mike said an effort that saved even one life would have been more then worth it. But as our article said those in the water were not Lords responsibility. They were Smiths. If Lord had lost his ship and some of his men it would have been his fault regardless of his intentions.

I think that there is very little doubt that if Lord had a complete understanding of the situation he would have attempted to aid Titanic.

To be honest I feel like a moron for the way I phrased the parts about lifeboats going back. It could have and should have been worded a lot better. I apologize for that.

Thank You for all of your words of wisdom from all. I know that all three of us are learning alot for your thoughts.

Tracy Smith

Tracy Smith

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read our article and to make comments on it. Your thoughts are most appreciated and all will be carefully considered.

Like Erik, I believe that Captain Lord would have undoubtedly made an effort to aid Titanic if he'd had a complete understanding of what was going on that night. And that's a key point with me. For various reasons, which I won't go into now, I don't think he did have a complete picture of the situation.

Jan: You might find it interesting that the managers and supervisory personnel from Leyland Line who dealt with Lord directly retained confidence in him, and it was their original intention to keep him ashore until things died down a bit, then give him back the Californian or another ship. At least this is what they told Captain Lord. Similarly, Leyland Line's Board of Directors, with the exception of Sir Miles Mattinson were seemingly prepared to go this route as well. But Mattinson, who was probably the most influential member of the board, and influential in shipping circles generally, had unequivocally stated that he would resign from the Board if Lord was retained. His influence was such that Lord had to go.

Frank Strachan, the man who helped Captain Lord get a new job, continued his friendship with him and did all he could to advance Lord's case. In 1914, when Captain Lord was visiting with him in Savannah, GA, he arranged for him to be interviewed by a Savannah newspaper, which published an article sympathetic to Lord.

Randy Bryan Bigham

Thanks to Tracy, Michael, and Erik!

Theirs is a very thought-provoking article; the perspective they take is both fresh and enlightening and the arguments are well versed and - dare I say it? - extraordinarily convincing. (I have never before agreed with a pro-Lord stance but this one I have to say has more weight and clarity than any other I've read)

I disagree with the authors' estimated timing of a rescue attempt, as I feel strongly that Californian could have made it to the wreck site before Titanic sank. Still I think that even in this eventuality, the rescue work would have been extremely confusing and sluggish, not to mention harrowingly dangerous, and so I wonder if, in the outcome, a very many lives could have been saved.

What I must admit to being disproportionately pleased to see here is the rather brave admission on the part of these experts that Captain Lord ought to have done more than he did. I myself think that is the real point to take away. For myself, I have never quarrelled over hypothetical scenarios as to what might and might not have been feasibly accomplished through a rescue effort by Californian. I have only believed that some plan of action should have been devised and attempted, whether greatly successful in the end or not. That all lives could have been saved by Californian when Titanic sank is indeed, as these authors are quite right to say, an absolutely improbable notion.

Even so, if Californian could have saved but a hundred lives or a few dozen or a handful or just a single life, then Captain Lord should have tried to do it. He was but a man of course and his failings speak to his humanity, not to any lack of ability or inherant evil. He was afterall in his own way a victim of the Titanic catastrophe and my heart goes out to him almost as much as to those who died that awful night.

These authors I know have put so much of themselves into this intelligent and courageous work and I want to congratulate them for an excellent job.

All my best,


John M. Feeney

Hi, guys!

Someone ran this by me in passing, and it made too much sense for me not to relay it. It's not my own original thought, but it's certainly a *highly* significant question.

If Captain Lord made the RIGHT "decision" in not going to Titanic's aid -- assuming for the moment that an actual decision *was* involved -- where does that leave Captain Rostron?

Being as he was ostensibly more than twice as far away, with no firsthand knowledge of the ice conditions at Titanic's latitude -- his own latitude was 36 miles south, and well clear of the ice region -- doesn't the overriding argument for "safety first" make Rostron out to be a bit of a maniac?

Virtually all the same worst-case scenarios envisioned in the article for Californian could also have occurred to Carpathia! The same *potential* dangers were present, especially since Californian was NOT blocked by any ice field between it and Titanic, just obstructed from further *westward* passage. And the Californian at least had some familiarity with the prevailing conditions, while Rostron and the Carpathia (a faster ship, no less) were steaming headlong into a complete unknown.

Pursuant to the safety of his *own* vessel and people, did Rostron then make the WRONG decision? Is there some way you can partially absolve Lord in this manner without automatically condemning Rostron as foolhardy by the same logic? How do you rectify these two polarities? It is a bit of a conundrum, don't you think?


David Billnitzer

I also commend the three authors on their combined and painstaking examinations of all the possible "what ifs" involved in a Californian rescue operation. For the record, I do agree that the investigations put it too strongly that she might have saved "many if not all" of Titanic's passengers. Generally I stay away from these kinds of discussions because they rely on so many variables and speculation, but the many imaginative scenarios and rationalizations did give me food for thought when taken one at a time. However, upon re-reading it, and especially this particular sentence at the article's head:

"Secondarily, this paper will set out reasons why Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian may have been correct in his decision not to go to the aid of Titanic that night."

I noted the phrase "may have been correct in his decision." That stayed with me the second time I read through it. And it brought two questions to my mind, neither of which I found answered in the article:

1) Does the corollary hold true then, that Rostron may have been *incorrect* in deciding to go Titanic's aid? After all, he took the opposite approach of Lord's; he sped in the dark straight into the icefield, and into a crisis situation whose details were unknown to him. He also had the same considerations of safety for his ship, crew and passengers: more so, he had hundreds of lives under his command; Lord had about 50.

2) The writers call it Lord's "decision" not to go; yet I don't suppose you meant it literally, did you? For him to make a decision implies that Lord *consciously thought through* the pros and cons of how to respond while he lay there on the chartroom sofa, at the time events were unfolding. To paraphrase another befuddled fellow who found himself in a difficult situation, and who also could not make up his mind:

"To go or not to go; that is the question...
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all..."

The question of Lord's 'decision not to go' may just be a matter of phrasing that wants clearing up. But if not, you are otherwise suggesting that Lord deliberately chose inaction over rescue, or at least, inaction in place of further and personal investigation.

As I say, I normally don't head into these kinds of speculative discussions (too many unknowns) but those two notions - Lord's actions contrasted with Rostron's and whether Lord "decided" not to go - struck me as wanting more exploration.

I would like to ask the authors, what do they think was going through Lord's mind while he lay there on the sofa?