What if Henry Wilde didn't become the chief officer?

As we all know, Henry Wilde became the chief officer of the Titanic just days before the Titanic left Southampton, which caused William Murdoch and Charles Lightoller to become demoted from their officer ranks, and David Blair had to leave the ship, taking the keys to the binoculars with him, which inevitably forced the lookouts to use their own eyes to spot the iceberg when it would be too late for the Titanic to successfully steer away from.

But what if Henry Wilde didn't become the TItanic's chief officer? What if David Blair wasn't forced to leave the ship?
In my opinion, the answer seems simple. Had Wilde not been selected for the ship's chief officer, Murdoch and Lightoller wouldn't have been demoted, and Blair wouldn't have left the ship. As a result, the crew would have had the keys to the binoculars, and the lookouts would have easily spotted the iceberg in time, which would have prevented the sinking of the Titanic.

Thomas Krom

Hello Mr. Horning,

There are several issues with the accusation of negligence being leveled at Blair regarding the binoculars. To quote the talented historian Dan Parkes from his pages regarding former second officer David Blair:


1. Crows Nest Key - not for Binoculars

Firstly the key seen at auction clearly reads "Crows Nest Key" and in Hogg's testimony he clearly says that the binoculars were locked up in the Second Officer's cabin - not the Crow's Nest.

Aldridge however stated at the auction that the keys were "used on the crows nest, or the binoculars locker also on the crows nest, mentioned by lookout, Fleet, in his official enquiry evidence." But where is the evidence of a "binoculars locker also on the crows nest"?

Actually, Lookout Frederick Fleet stated at the US Inquiry "They said there was none intended for us." If they were sitting in a locker would Fleet have said there were "none" aboard? Also Fleet gave further details based on the Oceanic and that they were not kept in the Crow's Nest, at the British Inquiry::

When you were in the "Oceanic" and employed there as the look-out, did you have glasses?
- Yes.
17371. Glasses provided for you in the crow's-nest?
- Yes; every trip.
17372. Were they kept in the crow's-nest?

- No; at the end of the voyage we took them back to the second Officer. 17373. But whilst on the voyage they were kept somewhere in the crow's-nest?
- Yes, in a bag.

And later...

17409. (The Commissioner.) Did you know at the time you went into the crow's-nest, which was at 10 o'clock that night, that there were no glasses in the box or bag? Did you know that?
- I knew that as soon as we left Southampton.

Charles Bartlett, Marine Superintendent of the White Star Line, testified at the British Inquiry, that the small "box" in the port corner was not just for binocolars:

21715. (Mr. Scanlan.) Why have you a bag or a box in the crow’s nest to hold binoculars if you do not think they are required?
-That was not always for binoculars; that was for anything the men used in the look-out.
21716. It was not always for binoculars, but it was for anything a man might use on the look-out, you say?
21717. What do you mean by that?
-His muffler, his clothes, and his oilskin coat and that sort of thing. There is generally a canvas bag put up there.

It must also be noted that there was undoubtedly more than one set of keys aboard the ship.

Curiously, the Daily Mail would later print a photograph on the 15th of March 2018 showing "the keys before they were restored for auction. Pictured is a label which clearly reads 'binocular box.' " But the issue with this photograph is that the keys bear little resemblance to those from Blair that went up for auction.


The Daily Mail printed a photograph in 2018 of the keys allegedly 'before they were restored for auction' showing a label which reads 'binocular box. However these keys bear no resemblance to Blair's actual keys sold at auction.

So we can conclude that binoculars were not locked in the Crows Nest.

2. Lightoller had binoculars

Lightoller who took over Blair's cabin as Second Officer, never mentions not being able to open a locker in his cabin. Also neglected in any media discussion is the fact that there were binoculars on the bridge - so Titanic indeed did have a pair of "glasses". However Lightoller did not deem them of use to the lookouts. During the British Inquiry, Lightoller noted that they had binoculars on the bridge "a pair for each senior officer...and the Commander, and one pair for the bridge, commonly termed pilot glasses."

Fleet even admitted to knowing this:

Senator SMITH. Do you know whether the officer on the bridge had glasses?
Mr. FLEET. Yes, sir.
Senator SMITH. Did you see him using them?
Mr. FLEET. Yes, sir.


Binoculars recovered from the Titanic wreck. Some sources, such as the Shutterstock library, claim they were recovered from the Crows Nest.

3. Bincoulars not used to sight objects

Frederick Fleet famously said at the US Inquiry when asked about glasses:

Senator SMITH. Suppose you had had glasses such as you had on the Oceanic, or such as you had between Belfast and Southampton, could you have seen this black object a greater distance?
Mr. FLEET. We could have seen it a bit sooner.
Senator SMITH. How much sooner?
Mr. FLEET. Well, enough to get out of the way.


Lookout Frederick Fleet actually admitted that they
would only use binoculars after spotting an object:
"then we would have the glasses to make sure".

This is what the media repeated in the case of Blair's keys. However the more important part of his testimony that is not mentioned is the following:

Senator BURTON. Suppose you had those glasses; would you have them to your eyes most of the time, using them?
Mr. FLEET. No; no.
Senator BURTON. What part of the time?
Mr. FLEET. If we fancied we saw anything on the horizon, then we would have the glasses to make sure.

At the British Inquiry Fleet was also pushed on this matter and eventually stated:

Sir ROBERT FINLAY. Do you agree with this. This is what Symons says: “You use your own eyes as regards the picking up anything, but you want the glasses then to make certain of that object.” Do you agree with that?
Fleet - Yes.

The other lookouts also agreed:

Do you mean you believe in your own eyesight better than you do in the glasses?
– George Hogg (B17518)

As a rule, do I understand you prefer to trust your naked eye to begin with?
Well, yes, you trust your naked eye.
– George Symons (B11994)

This was not just Fleet and Hogg's opinion, but confirmed in other testimony during the inquiries:

Do you think it is desirable to have them?
No, I do not.
Captain Richard Jones, Master, S.S. Canada (B23712)

We have never had them.
Captain Frederick Passow, Master, S.S. St. Paul (B21877)

I would never think of giving a man in the lookout a pair of glasses.
Captain Stanley Lord, Master, S.S. Californian (U. S. Day 8)

I have never believed in them.
Captain Benjamin Steele, Marine Superintendent at Southampton for the White Star Line (B21975)

“Did not believe in any look-out man having any glasses at all.”
Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton

They are a source of danger, Sir. They spoil the look-out.
21847. How is that?
The look-out man when he sees a light if he has glasses is more liable to look at it and see what kind of a ship it is. That is the officer’s business. The look-out man’s business is to look out for other lights.
Captain Bertram Hayes, Master of the White Star Line’s Adriatic

Second Officer Lightoller when he was asked if binoculars would not have helped the lookouts identify what they saw as an iceberg sooner, replied: “He might be able to identify it, but we do not wish him to identify it. All we want him to do is to strike the bells.” (B14293)

According to legal expert Gary Slapper, Blair's "forgetfulness wasn’t a material reason for the disaster" as there were other intervening causes. (Gary Slapper, September 5, 2007, "The Law Explored: the law of causation". The Times, London).

From all of this we can conclude that Blair has been unfairly blamed for taking that which could have allegedly "saved" Titanic. Firstly, it does not seem the key would have opened anything that would contain binoculars as they were not kept in the crow's nest. Titanic already had binoculars onboard anyway, and even if the lookouts had a pair of "glasses" they still would have firstly used their naked eye to spot an object before confirming its identity. So Blair's key has little-to-no bearing on the tragedy."

I hope this clears the misconception out of the way. For the complete article I recommend reading this page:
Titanic's Officers - RMS Titanic - Second Officer Blair

Yours sincerely,

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There were several sets of same keys aboard. So the key for the box claim is nothing more than nonsense.
Aside from that binoculars were used to identify an object and not search the horizon.
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Even when I was at sea lookouts didn't have binoculars - Thomas Krom's post is entirely correct all these years after the disaster.
The lookout(s) were there to spot objects that were not necessarily observable from the bridge, and on modern ships the lookout stands on the bridge wings.
He would notify the watch officer with "Ship 2 points off starboard bow, Sir" and it was the officer's job to pick it up with either the Mk1 eyeball or a pair of glasses. He would then decide whether any action was to be taken, whilst the lookout continued to sweep the horizon.
Lookouts were chosen for their at times phenomenal eyesight - I've known them to pick up something that the officer cannot see even with binoculars!
Nothing has changed nowadays apart from possibly an over-reliance on electronic wizardry, but the Mk1 eyeball is still better than even that.
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