The Unnamed Pilot of the Titanic

John Murphy

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Aug 14, 2005
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Thank you very much for taking such an interest in this, I look forward to new revelations that will please the whole family, I'm sure. There were many other pilots in the family. My grandfather had several Bristol pilots in his family and my grandmother's nephew was a pilot in Plymouth. His son now works on nuclear submarines.
It looks like Granny was onto something. She was very specific about the fact that he had "turned" both the Olympic and the Titanic, which suggests it came into the harbour through the heads and was turned in the relatively tight space of the outer harbour. Obviously it would not have made it as far as Cork, which even modern ferries cannot reach.

many thanks
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Certainly a turn was involved, as the liners picked up and dropped off their pilots at the same location - the Daunt lightship. The anchorage was about 2 miles offshore from the entrance to the Harbour at Roche's Point.
 
Nov 27, 2005
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E.E. O'Donnell's book "The Last Days of The Titanic which has Father Browne's picture and story in it quotes Father Browne as saying the "special pilot" was John Whelan. (p. 97)
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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As I pointed out long ago, a correction in the same book gives the pilot's name as John Cotter. It's towards the bottom of the Dedication page.
 

John Murphy

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Aug 14, 2005
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I have recently met up with my uncle after many years and we discussed the Titanic. He has done a considerable amount of research on the subject and contacted a retired pilot, David Aherne, in Cobh who confirmed that John Whelan was the Pilot of the Titanic. He had salvaged all the White Star records when the pilots office was relocated. There was another pilot active at the time (possible this was John Cotter) who was a little accident prone, having previously scraped the bottom of the Olympic. John Whelan knew every inch of the harbour. During the early 20th century there had been moves to close Cork harbour becuase of a number of groundings, but John Whelan was allowed to take the Olympic all over the harbour in order to demonstrate that it was safe. This is the evidence he gave to a Royal Commission that resulted in the harbour staying open. Whelan was formerly captain of the White Star liner Celtic and was a good friend of Captain Smith. Although another pilot was rostered to turn the Titanic Smith insisted that his friend John Whelan did the job because he trusted him.
It is conceivable to me that more than one pilot was aboard the Titanic. The oldest and most experienced pilot in charge, his successor observing for future visits and another pilot from Liverpool also observing in case he ever needed to handle the ship. this is only my theory and conjecture but it makes perfect sense to me. White Star would not have wanted to take any chances with its brand new flag ship.
I have pointed this group out to my uncle and he may choose to enter the debate.

regards

John Murphy
 

John White

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Aug 14, 2005
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Hemingford Grey, HUNTINGDON UK
CAPTAIN JOHN WHELAN


My Great Grandfather on my mother’s side. Possibly of Nordic origin. He was a master mariner and served as a ship’s captain for the White Star line. His wife died leaving him with a son and four daughters to care for. He decided to retire from the sea to devote his time to bringing up his girls.

After retiring from the White Star Line John Whelan was retained by the company as special pilot in Cork harbour. The largest ship at that time was the "OLYMPIC", sister ship to the "TITANIC". Another pilot put the future of the harbour in jeopardy by scraping the bottom of the Olympic on the harbour bed. Captain Whelan, who was a personal friend of the Olympic’s master Captain Smith, was, on the ship’s next call at Cork, allowed to take the great ship to every conceivable corner of the harbour as a demonstration of the harbour’s suitability for large ships.

John Whelan was the pilot of the "TITANIC" on her only call at Queenstown (Cobh). This was confirmed for me by David Aherne, a retired harbour pilot. When the pilot office moved to a new site at the far end of Connolly Street, in 1973, many of the old pilot office records were burned. David managed to save some of the papers, which were somewhat water damaged in the attempt.

Entries in the pilot’s Pay Book, 11 Nov 1905 to 9 Dec 1905, show that John Whelan was listed as No. 17 and was paid £2.17.0 per week. This was in addition to his payment from the White Star line as a retained special pilot and any pension he might have received.

The vessel of which he spoke most was his favourite, the "CELTIC". He was her master for some years. All White Star’s vessels names ended in "IC". The Celtic later ran aground just outside Cork harbour. No passengers were lost, in fact they remained aboard for breakfast whilst arrangements were made for their disembarkation. Three of the salvage crew later lost their lives in the salvage operation. They were apparently overcome by fumes from the apples they were trying to salvage.

John Whelan lies buried some ten miles from the wreck of his beloved ship, the "CELTIC".
 
Nov 17, 2006
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Hello John

If you are interested I have a photo of your great grandfather John Whelan, in my opinion on what I was told by my aunt, on looking at the photograph, there is no doubt in my mind that he was the man for the job, I was also told that he was of nordic descent. p.s. they also lived in no. 17 connelly street next door to David Aherne, my mum used to play with his daughters when they were kids.
cheers
kal
 

Mark Baber

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Dec 29, 2000
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Hello, Karl---

If you click on his name, you'll see that John White hasn't visited this message board since he posted his message in August of last year, so it's doubtful he'll see or respond to yours.
 
Nov 17, 2006
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I believe that my great grandfather Captain John Whelan did pilot the titanic into deeper waters. After all why would any father lie to his daughters over such a claim, a lie they would have to live with? I think not

Kal
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>After all why would any father lie to his daughters over such a claim, a lie they would have to live with?<<

Why would anybody tell tall tales that they would have to live with? The fact is that oftentimes, people do and they're not especially bothered by that. Sometimes it's harmless fun to impress the kiddies, sometimes to gain some 15 minutes of fame, and sometimes, (Like the countless people who claimed over the years to be Titanic survivors but who were not.) just because they can.

With respect to anyone's sensetivities here, it's what the primary sources such as official logs and registries say which make or break a particular claim like this, not family folklore.
 
Nov 17, 2006
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You can't believe everything you read this is true. As for kidding about I don't believe there was any joke involved. An honorable responsible man does not play Peter and the wolf over such a sensitive issue. The local people of Cobh born and bred knew the truth , not the media saturation of the time in relation to what should have been the greatest ocean liner in the world, prestige came with privilege, I am sure your methodical rationality prevails in the face of someone elses fact of reason.
god bless you
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>As for kidding about I don't believe there was any joke involved. An honorable responsible man does not play Peter and the wolf over such a sensitive issue.<<

That would assume that there was some sort of melevolant intent and in this instance, I know of no evidence that this would be the case.

>>An honorable responsible man does not play Peter and the wolf over such a sensitive issue. <<

Honourable and responsible people tell tall tales all the time and not with melicious intent either. Often as not, it's just having some fun, as in when a sailor tells a "sea story."

>>I am sure your methodical rationality prevails in the face of someone elses fact of reason. <<

"Fact of reason" has nothing to do with it and simply reasoning things out is in no way any assurance that the "facts" you arrive at really are facts. What I'm speaking to above are primary sources such as official port records and logs which would either verify or refute the claim. Common folklore just doesn't get you there.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Naturally oral sources need to be checked against whatever contemporary records are extant (just as these can do with cross reference checking wherever possible), but I wouldn't go so far as to dismiss them as 'common folklore', Mike - there is a difference when the provenance is known. An historian can tell you that oral accounts can still be primary sources, depending on how close to the event they are recorded.

Karl, I don't think Mike intended any offense - he's just expressing a conservative position on oral sources that is common to Titanic researchers. Often we've found that family traditions, while not necessarily intended to deceive (and reported by people of impeccable honesty), can become confused over time for a variety of reasons. This is why sources - written or otherwise - often (not always) have more value than those recorded long after the event.

Oral history can and does have a place in research. The discussion about John Whelan has proved very interesting, and I'd be intrigued to hear more about him and his involvement with White Star.

Senan Molony has done some interesting work in checking into other aspects of how Queenstown/Cobh shipping operations were conducted, including looking into traditions connected with James McGiffen that were reported by his family in good faith. He might have come across more information concerning Whelan.
 
May 3, 2005
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Henry Evans ? ...hmmm.....I wonder if they lifted that name for the curious incident in "Titanic "(1953) about "The flag from the old Star of Madagascar" that was sent to Captain Smith from "Captain Henry Evans of Benbecula in the Hebrides" ....."Hmmm....I thought he was dead !" - ( From Brian Aherne's impersonation of Captain Smith) ;-)
 
Jun 4, 2007
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To all who are interested in John Cotter, Harbor Pilot for Queenstown: My name is Peter Gauthier and I am the Great, Great Grandson of said John Cotter. Specifically, one of his daughters Maggie or Margaret, who my mother is named for, was my Great Grandmother. My family knew that John was a harbor pilot for Cobh (Queenstown) for some time but never knew until my mother visited Cobh in the 90's that he had lead the Titanic out that morning. I am a bit of a history buff and since no one seems to have any authentic photos of John Cotter, I am offering our family photo for your consideration. This has been in our family for many years and was taken in Boston when he came to visit his daughters. He had two sons, John and William. William is shown in the photograph (top row, center) and very coincidentally, while doing some research on the ship William had supposedly gone down on, The Ship Jason, I came across an actual photograph of the wreck at an antique dealer in Massachusetts, which now hangs appropriately next to the family portrait. His other son, John, was said to have "disappeared" to Australia. On the back of the photograph lists the names of John Cotter's daughters, their husbands and their children. I am descended from Maggie on the far right who's husband, John Stanton, was absent at the time of the photo. I hope this photograph of John Cotter is of use to all those who are interested in the history of this tragedy. If you would like a higher resolution, please email me at norton30@verizon.net

regards, Peter Gauthier
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John White

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Aug 14, 2005
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Mark Baber is quite right that I have not visited the site since my one and only contribution. My mother was well aware of the goings on in Queenstown in 1912, having been born there in 1902. She was well read and educated and had no reason to be anything but honest and true. As my nephew has correctly stated, I have a page taken from the Cork Harbour Pilots' pay records. I have put it in a safe place which, you might know, I cannot remember. I will try to find it again. Another point I should like to make is that the spelling of the name Whelan as listed in the paybook is incorrect, which my mother always pointed out to me. The correct spelling should be' WHEALAN'. It should be remembered that in those days peoples names were often written down as they sounded, historical records would confirm this sort of thing. A search of the burial records in Cobh should clear this matter up, or maybe the records of deaths in the St. Coleman's Cathedral. But it is possible that they misheard his mane. It is certainly not worth people accusing other of lying or even being economical with the truth. It is not what my family are in to.
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Irene Mehigan

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Jun 24, 2008
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Hi everyone,
My grandfather was a member of the crew on both the tenders America and Ireland. I have a photo of him at the helm of one of the tenders together with someone I assume is the captain. Has anyone heard the name Eugene Mehegan in this connection. I believe he appears in a photograph in the book A Night to Remember by Walter Lord.
 

ryan

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Nov 8, 2011
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According to my family records, my grandfather's uncle, Henry Evans, was indeed the guest pilot for the Titanic. Henry was a second generation pilot and chief pilot for White Star Lines at Liverpool and later at Southampton. It is said that Henry piloted the Titanic from Southampton to Queenstown where he then disembarked and caught a lift back to Liverpool. It has also been passed down that Henry and Edward Smith served as apprentice seamen together.

Of course, records of these activities are scarce, so I only have my grandfathers letters where he recorded some of his and his uncle's conversation to go by.
 

Jon Morgan

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Aug 3, 2013
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Elaine,

I am in the process of trying to find someone who can authenticate a piece of Titanic letterhead that originated either from your great grandfather, Henry, or your grandfather, William. I don't know if it is an original, or reproduction, but it looks identical to, and has the proper size and orientation of an original. I tried to e-mail you at the address posted, but it bounced back. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Jon

Bill Evans letter 2 (side 2) 001.jpg