US Inquiry - Lightoller, "It was of Little Consequence"


Former Member
2nd officer Lightoller answered around 1,500 questions at the US Inquiry. He said "In Washington it was of little consequence". Did he mean his answers fell on deaf ears or was it in his opinion a waste of time? He also said their ".....only achievement was to make our seamen, quartermasters, and petty officers look utterly ridiculous. It was only with the greatest difficultly I was able to bring peace into the camp...." Is this why Ismay tried to hold the Cedric and why the surviving crew were hurriedly shipped out of New York aboard the Lapland because they knew the US Inquiry just wanted to humiliate them? Was the American Inquiry basically just a propaganda tool to sell millions of newspapers at the expense of the shipping company's reputation by asking questions of no consequence? Is that what Lightoller was referring to? His opinion of the British Inquiry was much worse. He answered over 1,600 questions in England and said it was a "whitewash" and described himself as a "legal doormat".

Do you believe there should have been a third enquiry? One that was independent from the influence of the press in America and the pressures of the Board of Trade in England?

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This was likely Lightoller's hint that both inquiries were flawed or warped in such a way

William Randolph Hearst deliberately dirty / tampered with Ismay saving his life making him out to be a villain in the American Newspapers.

Given how officers testimony is inaccurate or contradicts each other testimony, makes it likely White Star and / or themselves agreed to lie so not face any trouble / hamper their careers in later life. Lightoller did admit to lying to Murdoch wife about a death on the Bridge only to say otherwise decades later*.

During both Inquiries only 3 3rd Class Survivors were inrerviewed despite the high death rate.

Both Inquires were themed around mini scandals not necessary to the actual sinking like Lifeboat 1 or Bruce Ismay survival.

The BOT (conveniently) never mention the lack of lifeboats as their own-doing and even made a statement saying they would't be enough time to use them anyway.

Lord was asked as a witness to come to the Inquiries and was then blamed without any knowledge of it and first without a lawyer.

In terms of a 3rd Inquiry, This would have been a great idea provided we could prevent anything mentioned above from happening. Also where could it take place?

*whoever it was, that's for another forum, But personally believe it wasn't Murdoch.
Lightoller may have meant that the US inquiry had no power over the officers' certificates. At the time, there was quite an argument over whether the US had any right to hold an inquiry. The US Senate had the right to inquire into anything on which it had power to legislate. It certainly had the power to legislate on the safety of ships entering US ports and that was how it came to hold the inquiry. The British ambassador suggested that Britain try to stop it, but he was over-ruled by London.

It's not true that the Board of Trade never mentioned how the lack of boats came about. Lord Mersey heard the full story and recorded it. He listed many documents showing what had happened and ended with---

This finishes the history of the action of the Board of Trade in relation to the provision of boat accommodation on emigrant ships. The outstanding circumstance in it is the omission, during so many years, to revise the rules of 1894, and this, I think, was blameable, notwithstanding the excuse or explanation put forward by Sir Alfred Chalmers. I am, however, doubtful whether even if the Rules had been revised, the change would have been such as to have required boat accommodation which would have increased the number of lives saved. Having regard to the recommendations of the Advisory Committee, the Board of Trade would probably not have felt justified in making Rules which would have required more boat accommodation than that with which the “Titanic” was actually provided; and it is not to be forgotten that the “Titanic” boat accommodation was utilised to less than two-thirds of its capacity. These considerations, however, afford no excuse for the delay of the Board of Trade.
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It would have been very challenging, reputation devastating and cost prohibitive to obtain a third and independent inquiry. When we compare the Courts findings, it becomes quite evident that Mersey planned political whitewash agenda was skillfully achieved. On behalf of The Flag, reputations were saved. Admired tycoon John Pierpont Morgan was fortunate that he could shelter his assets behind the flag, just like shipowners do today. If it wouldn’t have been the case, part of his fortune, the White Star Line, would have sink in the bank account of the shipwreck victims. Capt. Smith memory might not have been so glorious either. Here are a few mutual selected findings that illustrate a whitewash agenda;

American Inquiry findings:

Fourth. The failure to supply the proper officers with binoculars was unquestionably an act of negligence, especially as I gather from the testimony, that a demand had been made by the proper officers for them, and the demand had been refused.

Fifth. There was not the proper attention paid to the wireless messages that the ship received. This appears to me to have been an inexcusable act of negligence.

Sixth. The speed of the vessel was not lowered as it should have been when notice was received that she was in a dangerous zone. My own judgment therefore is that there was negligence in this case and that the disaster was attributable to the want of due care upon the part of the company and those in charge of the ship.

Second. There ought to be a remedial statute providing that a civil action for personal damages against the owners of the ship could be brought in either the Federal or State courts, and the limited liability statutes of the United States should be repealed.

Fourth. There ought to be a statute providing for a sufficient number of lifeboats and for the adequate equipment of ships with wireless telegraph. There is no doubt about our right to pass such a statute, even as to foreign ships, because we have full authority to say that foreign ships shall not enter or leave our ports unless they are properly supplied in this particular, and even our statutes now are supposed to furnish that remedy.

Fifth. The doctrine of "knowledge or privity of the owner" should be swept from the statute book, and should not be necessary in order to hold the owners to a full responsibility to prove that the negligence occurred with the privity or knowledge of the owners. There is no reason why owners of ships should not be responsible for the negligence of the crew in the same way that railroad corporations are held responsible for the negligence of their employees.

British Inquiry findings:

6. That the provision of lifeboat and raft accommodation on board such ships should be based on the number of persons intended to be carried in the ship and not upon tonnage.

18. That every man taking a look-out in such ships should undergo a site test at reasonable intervals.

20. That all such ships there should be an installation of wireless telegraphy, and that such installation should be worked with a sufficient number of trained operators to secure a continuous service by night and day.

21. That instruction should begin in all Steamship Companies' Regulations that when ice is reported in or near the track the ship should proceed in the dark hours at a moderate speed or alter her course so as to go well clear of the danger zone.
It was possible to hold more powerful alternative inquiry in Britain. Lord Mersey's court was the usual form of inquiry into serious marine accidents, but he only had the powers of a magistrates court.

The most powerful form of inquiry available was a Royal Commission. A Royal Commission has the power to compel witnesses to give evidence that may be incriminating, under pain of imprisonment. I have never seen that anybody proposed a Royal Commission. They were not very common in those days.

An alternative that was proposed in parliament was a parliamentary committee of inquiry. This can be very powerful, but by choosing the right members the government can make sure it gets the results it wants. The government decided not to go that way.
Is someone already read the book " The Final Board of Inquiry - A Cold Case of Investigation Into the Loss of RMS Titanic" by Commander Richard R. Paton (USCGR - retired) ? In fact, it looks like the Titanic was a US Ship, registered in UK with a British crew. This book could be find free on the web, in PDF. There's some of your information Dave that the author talk about. It's interesting. For the Royal Commissions, every time there was a shipwreck they did it. Lord Mersey was a commissionner every time, like for the Lusitania and the Empress of Ireland (1914). There's a little while, I discovered that they even did a Royal Commission for an incident which happened with the Empress of Ireland few years before she sank in the St-Lawrence, but I didn't read it further, but eventually, I will. Thanks!
Sorry, Lili, but you don't understand what a Royal Commission is.

What were held in the cases you mention were Wreck Commissioner's inquiries, with less power than a Royal Commission.

A Royal Commission is held only in the most serious cases. You can read about them here.

Royal Commission - Wikipedia
A Royal Commission wouldn’t have permitted a Flag origin and ownership whitewash as in the Titanic or Empress of Ireland occurrences. But an Inquiry conducted by a henchman as Mersey would certainly made planned political agenda skillfully achieved. Both Inquiries conclusions were biased to preserve the Flag from the views of the facts but recommendations were proficiently addressed to calm the show and give the appearance that such inquiries were not held in vain. Clever.