The SS Californian and Dundee: Scotland's Forgotten Leviathan (Paper)

Recently I've been looking at the Leyland line and wondering about the layout and design of the Californian. Having looked at a list of ships built for the line I was wondering if she had any sisters. It would seem unusual for a shipping line to build one ship in isolation.

Having looked at the build list for the Leyland line it does appear the Californian was built as one off unlike other ships in the Leyland fleet. From the mid 1890's it appears that almost all Leyland line ships were built in pairs (or more).

In 1900 around the time the order for Californian was submitted, the Leyland line merged with, and took over the routes and ships of the West India and Pacific line. This saw a significant increase in Leyland line shipping into the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans.

The first passage in Harlands article talks about Californian having been built for the Leyland lines Eastern trade which makes me believe that she was built for Leyland Mediterranean service. After Leylands merger with WI and P however, the Med service was dropped and all of the ships involved were transferred to the Ellerman Line. This took place in 1902 just as the Californian was coming in to service.

What I did discover is that Leyland also ordered two other 6000 ton 12kt ships around this time from R and W Hawthorn, Leslie and Co on the Tyne. The two ships, Colonian (1901) and Kingstonian (1902) have a striking resemblance to Californian and broadly match in size, dimensions and Gross tonnage with the only exception that the two Tyne built ships have space for 350 steerage class passengers as well as 60 1st class.

Could these two ships be half sisters of the Californian??




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It is feasible they were related in some capacity as the Californian and Colonian according to news reports did work in tandem on the Portland-Marine service for some years. However most Leyland Line ships were built under a similar design (all accommodation amidship with masts / derricks both forward and aft).

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(Above): Londonderry Sentinel, February 25th 1902, Page 7

Also if your interested in deckplans, You can buy a digital copy / general plan of the deckplans from Dundee City Archives.
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Also if your interested in deckplans, You can buy a digital copy / general plan of them from Dundee City Archives.

It was more about confirmation of the location of the wireless cabin. I wondered if Leyland placed orders for more than one ship of the same design with another dockyard as it is reasonably unusual for ships to be ordered in isolation however in the case of Californian it does seem that she was ordered as a one off. I'd definitely speculate the initial design, funding and intended role changed between 1899 and 1902.
Behind the chap second from the left on the starboard side of the wheelhouse just aft of the ladder down from the flying bridge?

Of so, I'd bet there would be a door in exactly the same position on the port side to enable someone to walk from port to starboard through the back of the wheelhouse.
Is this it on the Port Side?
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I can't tell from the Dundee photo if there was a Starboard-side door frame or if it's just a shadow from the stairs next to it?
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Thank you Rob for correcting me on Port and Starboard. I don't know what I was thinking! :confused:o_O
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Harland, you have your port and starboard mixed up.

The top picture shows the port side with the pointy end of the ship to the left.

The bottom picture is taken from the stbd side, toward the bow and looking toward the stern showing part of the starboard side of the bridge.

I agree with you that the top picture shows a door to the wheelhouse on the port side therefore, there definitely looks to be one on both sides.


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Hi both Rob and Harland!

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply.

Looking very carefully at the plans, the wheelhouse below the flying bridge was a very narrow room (in depth ie front to back). It ended at the rear before the 'wings' of the flying bridge extended outwards either side.

So Rob's door is too far back and may be the cross passageway behind the chart room and captains cabin as modeled when built, though it also seems a tad too far forward!

Harland's enhanced exploded view of the port side looks like a door, but if the plans are correct is too far back and would be a door into a void that was a sunlight shaft from the flying bridge down to the passenger dining room.

So we have doors that look like doors, but not quite in the right position by my reckoning.

There is some evidence in Reade (TSTSS) from a sketch on p.87 of the revised layout of the chart room and captains cabin that the door to the (then) unused wheelhouse was via an internal door from the chart room. I say 'some evidence' because the sketch is inaccurate in some material respects, omitting the sunlight shafts from the flying bridge down to the passenger dining room on the port side, and the mail room and pursers cabin on the starboard side, below the promenade/boat deck where the smoking room and chart room and captains cabin were located.

The following may perhaps be for another thread but we know at the British Inquiry some of The Californian witnesses got a bit muddled. Groves got his port and starboard mixed up which he later corrected. Gibson's timings are also muddled when he gave evidence of the rockets seen from the Carpathia, and way off his 18th April statement.

There was not the slightest reason for Gibson to enter the unused wheelhouse on the 15th April.

If there was an internal door from the unused wheelhouse into the chart room, Gibson might have taken this route, if possible, as opposed to Groves' Venetian door off the cross passageway to the chart room.

Alternatively, Gibson made a slip up in his evidence and instead of stating he reported to Captain Lord in the chart room at 2.05am by the "wheel house clock", he meant instead the chart room clock in full view of him with the electric lights on in the chart room where he was reporting to Captain Lord at the time.

If the only door to the chart room in 1912 to the unused wheelhouse was via the chart room, and Gibson took the same route as Groves to report to Captain Lord, it makes no sense whatsoever for Gibson to then go past the chart room clock and ignore it, to go into the dark wheelhouse to check the time!

Harland might like to post the Harrison and Reade sketches of the captains cabin and chart room and unused wheelhouse from Reade and Harrison. I don't think I can find a way of posting them on here, though I have them on my computer.


I should add that Julian took these photos from the books and sent to me via Email a while back, And that as stated above are not 100% accurate and were drawn by Harrison and Reade during the making and publication of their books back in the 1960s -1990s.

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If my memory is correct, the two photos (above) is from Leslie Harrison's Book "A Titanic Myth" and this photo (below) is from Leslie Read's Book "The Ship That Stood Still". [I will change it via "Edit" if it's incorrect.]
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I should also add that the top photo the Smoking Room (by Harrison) is incorrect as the door into the Smoking room was to the right of the stairs instead of their being seating and the bottom photo (by Reade) shows the alleyway being longer than the width of the Captain's quarters and the Wheelhouse lacking it's curved edge and skylight into the Dinning Saloon below [If that makes sense].
Off topic, but out of curiosity, aren't you able to just drag the images into the text box?

Back to Topic!
Hi Harland!

Many thanks for posting the above.

I am not very good with computers! (What is a 'text box'?!)

You can see how from the above 3 pics and the original plans we have how things can get get confusing! None of the sketches correlate exactly, especially with the door to the chart room and the ventilation [sunlight] shafts from the flying bridge through the next deck below (the chart room and captains cabin) on the far port and starboard sides to the below passenger dining room on the port side, and on the starboard side to the pursers cabin and mail room (where I think we both agree the Marconi Rooms ended up in 1911).

Captain Lord described his accommodation as very poor (pokey) in the 1961 taped transcript interviews.

Groves, in perhaps a flight of fancy, stated to Walter Lord in the late 1950s it was better than on the Olympic if my memory is correct; and that was definitely fancy on Groves' part when in his 70's.

Harrison also describes the chart room clock being visible from the glazed roof above from the flying bridge. But he does not show the glazed roof to same in the correct position.

What is abundantly clear is that the chart room and captains cabin as built and later altered was boxed in on each side by ventilation/ sunlight shafts to below the promenade/boat deck, and the front of the chart room and captains cabin was obscured by the narrow wheelhouse forward. To the rear of the chart room and captains cabin was a transverse passageway with Groves' Venetian door, and on the otherside to the rear of this passageway, a passenger smoking room on the promenade/boat deck, which also had a large stairway to the main deck below.

I am attempting to interpret all of the above with no expertise in respect of boat/ship drawings or layout of how things would or ought to have been in 1912 on a Leyland Line ship.


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I've blown the picture up a fair amount and believe that within the red circle is windw that, using the drawings above must provide some natural light into the chartroom. Therefore that door must be further aft as Julian has suggested.

...(where I think we both agree the Marconi Rooms ended up in 1911).

Off topic to the Wheelhouse door discussion, but as a update to the Californian's Career Timeline, I went to the Guildhall in London last Thursday and did some causal checking of records, and found that Californian was at Wallsend From between October 9th - 12th and subsequently was never docked for an extended period after that so she was very probably installed and refitted there (, another account below states she was in wireless contact with Lusitania in December so that backs up this assumption).

The October 12th Edition of Lloyd's Weekly Shipping Index (Page 41) stated:
"Californian Br 4038 Bremen Oct 7 Tyne Ar Oct 9 In Pt Oct 10"

The October 19th Edition of Lloyd's Weekly Shipping Index (Page 41) stated:

"Californian Br 4038 Tyne Oct 12 Brunswick PD Lizard Oct 15"

The December 7th Edition of Lloyd's Weekly Shipping Index (Page 41) stated:
"Californian Br 4038 Liverpool Nov 29 New York In Wrlss Com Lusitania"
PS: By Text Box, I mean the thing we all type our responses in. When I drag a image on it, It often says "drop files here to upload". But `I'm using an Apple so maybe it appears different? :confused:

Back to Topic (and something we understand)!

I've blown the picture up a fair amount and believe that within the red circle is windw that, using the drawings above must provide some natural light into the chartroom. Therefore that door must be further aft as Julian has suggested.

View attachment 43973

We cam see a open door in this photo looking forward from the end of the Promenade Deck (between the two men on the left) but this might be the corridor / alleyway between the Smoking Room and Chart Room.
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Hi Harland,

Re the above pic you have referenced I totally agree this is the door to the transverse passageway/corridor/alleyway between the chart room (and captains cabin) forward, and the passenger smoking lounge.

The unused wheelhouse in 1912 ended before the wings of the flying bridge started.

Great to hear of your further research last week!


I've blown the picture up a fair amount and believe that within the red circle is windw that, using the drawings above must provide some natural light into the chartroom

Hi Rob,

I do hope Harland might post his own drawings of the layout on The Californian, as all might become clearer.

According to lots of evidence, the captains cabin and chart room had no windows at all apart from glazed roof apertures that extended into the deck of the flying bridge.

However, both you and Harland have shown in pics there were port windows on the sides of the promenade deck where Captain Lord's quarters were, and the chart room. Harland has shown an enlarged pic of the port side at this point, and we know for sure this side had a sunlight/ventilation shaft here from the flying bridge deck down to the passenger dining room.

Captain Lord was quite clear in the 1961 taped recorded interview transcripts he had no windows in his cabin or the chart room, apart from the roof lights I have mentioned, and that the wheel house forward was unused in 1912.