What Was Boxhall Doing


Dec 4, 2000
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Fourth Officer Boxhall said he was walking forward on the starboard side about opposite to Captain Smith's quarters when the iceberg incident took place. I have grave doubts about this portion of his story, although I will admit that much of the following is speculation...

Boxhall was on bridge watch with Murdoch and Moody. At 11:40 pm, he had every reason to be on the bridge and not sauntering the officer's prominade. In my book I speculate that he may have been coming from the lavatory. Or, he could have visited his room. But there is intriguing evidence Boxhall was actually on the bridge during the whole iceberg affair despite his claims to the contrary.

Greaser Scott said that the "stop" order for the engines came down SIMULTANEOUSLY on both the regular engine order telegraph and on the backup "emergency" telegraph. Since these two instruments were widely separated on the bridge, it was not possible for one man to have operated both at the same time. Four hands would have been required to send orders simultaneously on both sets of telegraphs. Four hands requires a minimum of two people.

Sixth Officer Moody was not one of those people. He was in the wheelhouse where he could talk on the telephone to the lookouts. With critical information coming down from the crow's nest, it is doubtful that he left this position during the maneuvering around the ice. Moody was, in effect, part of the "circuit" between the lookouts and Murdoch.

My supposition is that Boxhall was on the bridge at the time of the final iceberg warning. Most likely, he and Murdoch were in the starboard bridge wing. At the alarm, Murdoch issued his famous "hard astarboard" helm order and raced to the center of the bridge. Boxhall may have remained in or near the starboard wing shelter. When Murdoch decided to order "all stop" on the engines, he would have used the telegraphs just to the port of the auxiliary steering wheel. Boxhall likely repeated Murdoch's orders on the telegraph instrument closest to the starboard bridge wing, accounting for the simultaneous telegraph orders.

After the sinking...Boxhall would not have wanted to explain how something the size of an iceberg was overlooked until the fatal moment. By removing himself from the bridge with a "little white lie," Boxhall would have eliminated the necessity of answering questions about what happened during the moments immediately prior to the accident. And, by claiming that he was walking forward just outside the captain's cabin, he placed himself after the accident at exactly the same spot as he would have been if he had operated the starboard telegraphs -- just at the starboard entrance of the enclosed bridge.

Perhaps Lightoller wasn't the only officer to use a whitewash brush during the hearings.

Comments?

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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Mr. Brown,

That is very intriging but if I recall rightly Mr. Hitchens testified that only he, Perkins, Moody and Murdoch were on the bridge that night and he said nothing of Boxhall. But what you say does make a lot of sense. I will have to smoke the pipe and do some reading.

Erik
 

Dave Gittins

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Just to add to the fun, I have a recording made by Boxhall years later in which he says he was having a cup of tea in his cabin at the time.

Any more wild ideas?
 

Pat Cook

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Just my opinion here but if we're speculating, we have to bring in Quartermaster Alfred Olliver into the mix. He would be, at least in my opinion, as equal a candidate for the 'extra pair of hands' as Boxhall.

Also, consider - Olliver, by his own account entering the bridge as the collision occurred, goes on to make no mention of Boxhall even being there, while he mentions the Captain, Murdoch, Moody and Hichens by name.

If we are to speculate that Boxhall might've 'fudged' the facts a bit, why not Olliver who, by his own account again, was literally on the scene?

Just a thought.

Best regards,
Cook
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo there, Dave -

Yes, I've heard that recording too :)

I've often wondered if Boxhall might have already been ill with a cold - one which would later develop into the pleurisy that made him so ill at the inquiries after exposure in the lifeboats.

Inger
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Regarding Olliver -- he was coming from the port side and his view of Boxhall may have been blocked by the wheelhouse.

Also, although I did not mention it in my first post, I think (can't prove) that Boxhall went into the starboard bridge wing after issuing the engine orders to watch the iceberg go past. Although he flat stated to the U.S. hearings that he did not see the berg, he described it in great detail a few questions later in his testimony. If he were in the stbd bridge wing at the time of the incident, he would not likely have been seen by Olliver.

Also, Olliver's description of the position of the ice relative to the ship indicates his viewing position was likely through the captain's bridge from outside on the port side. (Follow that complicated description?) He saw the berg "way up astern," which required a position somewhat aft of the others and well to port... which is exactly where he would have been if he were walking back from the standard compass platform via the prominade on the port side.

Actually, I have not been able to find any "holes" in Olliver's testimony that appear to be anything more serious than the failings of human memory. At this point, he seems the most honest (in terms of his testimony) of those who survived from the bridge watch.

As for Boxhall's health...well, I'm no doctor. However, at sea you are either well enough for duty or you are not. He was well enough to assist in navigating with Captain Smith an hour or so prior to the accident. And, he did not seem seriously ill while commanding a lifeboat.

If Boxhall had been enjoying tea in his room at 11:30 pm, that would indicate something about the discipline among the officers under Captain Smith. However, despite his other failings, I doubt that Smith would have allowed an officer to depart the bridge for a "spot o' tea" during his assigned watch.

Still no "smoking gun" proof, but I believe the circumstantial evidence puts Boxhall on the bridge, operating the engine order telegraphs, during the iceberg incident.

-- David G. Brown
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Dave (Brown) has an interesting theory. Actually, it's buttressed by Dave Gittins' comment that Boxhall says on a tape that he was drinking tea in his room - - because that's inconsistent with other accounts that have him just outside, heading into the bridge. An inconsistency like that calls all accounts into question.

Personally, I prefer the old fashioned account that has Fleet and Lee in the crow's nest, and Murdoch, Hichens, and Moody at the helm.

This fits with the PTSD theory I've propounded elsewhere, that all of the guys on the bridge (and most directly responsible for the collision) either died in the sinking, committed suicide, or suffered severe PTSD. Murdoch died, or committed suicide. Moody had a chance to leave, didn't take it, and died. Lee purportedly drank away his life. Fleet committed suicide, and Hichens' life story is something else altogether (drinking, attempts at suicide, attempts to kill others, etc.).

The PTSD seems also more prounounced among the Collapible B survivors, i.e., Thayer committed suicide, John Collins ended up in an asylum, Lightoller purportedly suffered some incident while sitting in cold tub water after a tennis match.

Concededly, the evidence isn't that strong. But it would be very interesting if we could note some trends in the mental suffering, as opposed to just accepting it, randomly.

Sorry to be leading a bit off the point of this thread, but in any event, so far I have nothing on Boxhall or Oliver. So, I prefer to leave them out of it.
 

Inger Sheil

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Boxhall and the tea story isn't quite inconsistent - what Dave and I didn't make clear from our comments above is that Boxhall in his account said that he had finished the tea in his cabin and then left for the bridge - it was while he was returning that the collision occured (which fits in with his inquiry testimony).

Pleurisy as severe as Boxhall was apparently suffering from (he was still recovering at the time of the British Inquiry) doesn't blow up out of nothing. Possibly it *did* have its origins in his exposure in the lifeboats, but I'm inclined to believe that exposure in the lifeboats caused what was a pre-existing respiratory tract infection to turn into something more serious.

He may well have been borderline beforehand - regardless of whether he had a case of the snuffies or not, he would have been put to work during the evacuation.

Don't know about you lot, but I've done the job with a cold (and was packed off from work on Friday because my colleagues got sick of the sound of me croaking on the phone and coughing up chunks of phlegm). Given that there was no relief for the juniors with their 4 on/ 4 off schedule, I think it's possible that Boxhall was permitted to go to his cabin on the understanding he return before the change of watch - which would explain why he was walking back at about 11.40.

Inger
 
Dec 4, 2000
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I still doubt that Boxhall was ever in his cabin. While shaving (a wonderful time for rumination) this morning two thoughts occurred to me.

First, based on the layout of Titanic, Boxhall would have been walking outside Captain Smith's quarters if he were crossing the ship to or from the center bridge to the starboard bridge wing. In making that walk, the Fourth Officer would have crossed before the forward-facing window of the captain's navigation room. Boxhall's story could be "true" if viewed in that context. I've noticed several other occasions where the surviving crew may have slightly twisted their renditions of events to put them in a favorable light. This would have protected them from telling outright lies.

However, putting Boxhall on the bridge (sniffles or not) solves in large part the lookout question. With Boxhall present, there are four men peering into the darkness ahead of the ship: the two lookouts, Boxhall and Murdoch. That would explain Murdoch's comfort level with the lookout situation during the watch.

Murdoch's rapid response to the "iceberg right ahead" warning may have been the result of the discussion he had been having with Boxhall immediately prior. If the two men were in the starboard bridge wing, they were likely discussing the situation around the ship. Perhaps Murdoch had already decided to turn left (starboard helm in 1912) prior to the final warning. Admittedly this is pretty thin speculation, but it does put events in an interesting light...and it fits the known facts.

As an aside, I doubt that Murdoch would have allowed Boxhall off the bridge considering the ice situation around the ship at 11:30 to 11:40 pm. If the fourth officer had been too sick for duty, Murdoch probably would have called Third Officer Pitman on duty early rather than be deprived of an officer's eyes. This, of course, does not preclude Boxhall leaving the bridge momentarily for the lavatory, which is possibility that fits his testimony.

Regarding Jan's post-traumatic stress, that seems to affect people most who have a sense of failure arising from the event. Boxhall acquitted himself well that night, at least in his eyes. He never doubted his final position and he did well in the lifeboats. Of course, none of us were privy to those thoughts in Boxhall's head each night as he drifted off to sleep.

-- David G. Brown
 

Inger Sheil

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All possible, David - but equally possible is that Boxhall was telling the truth in the only version that (to my knowledge) he ever gave as to where he was prior to arriving on the bridge in the immediate aftermath of the collision,and which dovetails neatly with his inquiry evidence.

If Boxhall was ill, what were his senior officers to do? Evidence I have in the form of a letter written by one of the juniors before leaving Southampton is that they were exhausted - the letter writer says that he had had only had four hours broken sleep over a period of days prior to sailing. Pitman could not stand watch indefinetly. The alternative was to send Boxhall to his cabin to take a few minutes off and have a cup of tea (perhaps the same timespan as he could have gone to the lavatory in - if you're willing to concede that, why not concede that his senior officers might have allowed a sick man a few minutes to have a cup of tea before resuming his duties?), then bring him back to finish his watch. After all, the night was clear and they could expect to sight bergs in advance, slow down, notify the Captain and call Boxhall. I know we differ on this score, but I do not believe any bergs had yet been sighted - indeed, Boxhall's absence from the Bridge mitigates against this idea.

I don't think we can disregard the only statement that has come to light from Boxhall himself as to where he was immediately prior to the collision.

~ Inger
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Dave,

We've scratched the surface on this before in other correspondence, but I'm not yet willing to abandon the idea that Moody might have been standing by a telegraph when things started to happen. In mid-ocean, Moody's place was on the outer navigating bridge, not inside the wheelhouse. This would be more so if Boxhall was off the bridge, about on rounds.

Boxhall may indeed have engaged in a white lie, but that might be because he didn't want to be found in his cabin (while on watch) when the bells started ringing. His cabin is the only officer cabin (besides the Captain's) on the starboard side of the Officer's Quarters...I wonder if the smaller top vent window to his stateroom was left open (quick, everybody...break out your wreck photos!)...maybe he actually heard the bells from inside his cabin (or the Officer's Smoking Room).

The reason why I think Moody may have been the one by the emergency telegraph is because I also feel that Murdoch saw the iceberg just prior to or at the same time as the lookouts. Murdoch orders the helm over, the lookouts' bell rings thrice, both officers ring down the engine orders, Moody takes a few steps into the wheelhouse where he watches Hitchens turn the wheel and repeats the order back to Murdoch. The phone rings and Moody answers with a calm "Thank you." The ship's head has already commenced moving while Fleet is still at the phone, because of the actions taken earlier. Boxhall, who heard the activity on the bridge carried aft by the ship's own wind, hurries onto the bridge either just before or just after Smith shows up (who heard the bells from either the Captain's Plot or Nav Room). Olliver arrives on the port side of the bridge, and makes out as much detail as he can in the almost total darkness of the bridge.

At least, that's my theory IMAIO (in my artifically inflated opinion).

Parks
 

Cal Haines

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Hi Guys,

With all this discussion about both telegraphs being operated at once, you are relying heavily on Scott's testimony. Let's look at it again:


Quote:

(5520. Attorney-General) ... You were standing by the door. Just tell us before you felt anything at all, did you see anything done?
(Scott) No.
You felt something; what was it?
I felt a shock and I thought it was something in the main engine room which had gone wrong.
We know it was about 11.40?
Yes, about 20 minutes to 12.
Did you notice the two telegraphs in the engine room?
Yes; four telegraphs rang.
Were there four telegraphs?
She got four telegraphs, two emergency ones.
Two emergency?
Yes, and two for the main engine.
What did you notice?
I noticed "Stop" first.
To which telegraph did that come?
On the main engines.

British Inquiry, Day 6, Scott




Note that here Scott says that the main engine-order telegraphs rang first (at least that is my interpretation). Scott's attention was attracted to the reciprocating engine room by the shock of the collision, then he heard/saw the telegraphs. Barrett and Beauchamp both testify that "Stop" was sent to the boiler rooms before the collision; that order comes from the starting platform. Therefore, some communication from the bridge was received by the starting platform before the collision. Dillon, who was in the reciprocating engine room, testified that the telegraphs rang before the collision. This suggests to me that Scott missed the first order received by the starting platform.


Quote:

...
(5534. Attorney-General) Or are there any (telegraphs) in your room?
(Scott) No, there are none in the turbine room at all, Sir, all in the main engine room.
Was the telegraph signal that came the emergency or the ordinary telegraph?
That is to the main engine room. It is different. They ring the two on the main engine room, and then they ring two others just afterwards, the emergency ones.
Did you hear the two?
All four went.
Did you hear the two ordinary ones ring first?
No, they all four rang together.
What did they ring?
"Stop."
Was that before or after the shock?
After the shock.
What was the next thing?
Then the watertight doors went.




If you choose to take this literally, you have to believe
  1. that "together" means "simultaneously"
  2. that all four telegraph dials are aligned so that they can be seen from the door to the turbine engine room (which would probably make them hard to see from the controls of the engines themselves),
  3. that at a distance of 35 feet or so Scott can simultaneously perceive the motion of four pointers not much bigger than the hands of an ordinary wall clock,
  4. that none of the objects in between, including ladders and structural columns, interfered with his view,
  5. that his earlier statement that the order came first "On the main engines" was incorrect[/li]
Given Scott's testimony in general and the specific places where he differs from other witnesses, I think it is pretty risky to run too far with fine details drawn from his testimony, particularly when it is used in direct conflict with Boxhall's testimony. If Boxhall had been on the bridge, why wouldn't he have said so? The terrifying instant when one realizes that a collision is about to occur is the kind of image that one carries to their grave; it's unlikely that he would have forgotten what he was doing when he first perceived danger! If you are going to lie about something, it's usually because you see some benefit coming from the lie. What advantage would there be for Boxhall to lie about being on the bridge? I could see why he might lie about being on the bridge if he were improperly absent, but not the other way around. If, in fact, two sets of hands pulled telegraph levers, I think that one could make a much better case that the other set of hands belonged to Captain Smith.

I have re-read Olliver and I certainly don't get any suggestion that he was on the port side of the bridge, as David concludes. His testimony contains no specific references to the side of the ship that he was on. When asked about the iceberg, Olliver says it was abaft (that is aft of) not abeam (alongside of) the bridge when he first saw it and he says:

Quote:

The iceberg was about the height of the boat deck; if anything, just a little higher. It was almost alongside of the boat, sir. The top did not touch the side of the boat, but it was almost alongside of the boat.

American Inquiry, Day 7, Olliver




That sounds to me like he is referring to the lifeboats, probably the emergency cutter that was kept swung out just aft of the starboard bridge wing. Hard to see that kind of detail from the port side of the bridge. As Olliver walked forward the wind screen at the front of the deck house would block his view of an object the height of the boat deck railing until the object was almost alongside, regardless of which side Olliver was on. He does not have time to cross the bridge before the iceberg disappears aft.

Cal
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Cal,

You're right about one thing...one cannot prove that the telegraphs rang simultaneously based solely on Scott's testimony. Since there is no corroboration for Scott's account (and Hitchens' or Boxhall's lack of describing two different sets of telegraph ringing cannot be considered corroboration), all this is pure speculation. However, one point I wanted to make was that one cannot assume that Moody was standing in the wheelhouse when everything started to happen...it wasn't his normal station.

Somebody mentioned that Moody was in the wheelhouse because Titanic was passing a number of icebergs from 11pm onwards. George Behe talks about calls (voice and telephone) that Fleet made to the bridge before the collision (also of Fleet's alleged accusation that no one on the bridge answered the telephone from 11.15pm until 11.40pm). The most glaring thing I find missing in this are the bells...the lookout would ring one bell for an obstacle or vessel to port, two for one to starboard and three for one dead ahead. Fleet obviously used the latter when he spotted the iceberg that Titanic would run into, just as normal procedure demanded, so it's reasonable that he would have rung down a warning bell, even if an iceberg was to the side of Titanic's track. The final three bells caught Boxhall's, Olliver's and Hitchens' attention, and I would wager Smith's, too. Why weren't bells heard earlier? Maybe they were, but no surviving witness (which includes Fleet, Lee, Hitchens, Olliver, Boxhall, or even Podesta) mentions them in testimony. Without those bells raising an alert, I don't see any reason for Moody to take a station in the wheelhouse.

Concerning Olliver...you're right. He doesn't indicate in his testimony which side of the ship he approached the bridge on. When I tried to figure out why I had thought it was the port side, I remembered an unusual source. When playing the Cyberflix game, 'Titanic,' I always used the forward port-side ladder when climbing down off the raised roof over the 1st Class Lounge. When visualising Olliver's route from the compass platform to the bridge, that's the image that came to mind and it obviously influenced my thinking. LOL! Next thing you know, I'll be using Cameron's movie as a reference. :)

Parks
 

George Behe

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Parks wrote:

>Concerning Olliver...you're right. He doesn't >indicate in his testimony which side of the ship >he
>approached the bridge on. When I tried to figure >out why I had thought it was the port side, I
>remembered an unusual source.

Hi, Parks!

Without being able to document my belief, I've always shared your impression that Olliver entered the bridge from the port side; I picture him as rounding the corner and looking straight across the width of the bridge to see the tip of the berg passing alongside the stbd. emergency boat. (I suspect the berg would have been illuminated slightly by light leaking from portholes along the ship's starboard side.)

I wish Olliver had been just a bit more specific in his testimony. :)

All my best,

George
 

Pat Cook

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Since I was the one who brought up Olliver in the first place I thought I should point out that I was, in no way, saying that he was hiding anything or that his testimony was anything other than what it appears. I simply thought that if Boxhall's credibility was called into question (Boxhall I should admit is one of my 'favorites') then we should look at all the 'players' that evening.

Also, while I don't dispute any testimony, I believe any later accounts by Boxhall (I believe this is mentioned above) should be weighed in the same balance as, say, Lightoller's account. And we all know his book had the ship sinking at the time when it hit the berg and on the wrong day as well.

And for what it's worth, I, too, always pictured Olliver on the port side but nothing to back this up with.

It all comes down to survivors Olliver, Hichens and Boxhall for this crucial sequence. And I, personally, have ALWAYS had problems with Hichens.
JMHO there.

Best regards all around,
Cook
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The major reason that I started this thread was to arrive at just the point we have reached: UNCERTAINTY. The number of provable facts in the Titanic affair is insufficient to know exactly what happened or why. What was Boxhall doing? Only he knew for sure, the rest of us have opinions and it is obvious that we are never going to agree about which of these opinions is correct.

-----------------------------------------

So, with apologies to Werner Heisenberg, I'm proposing the "Titanic Uncertainty Principles."

1. Except for the fact that the ship sank as the result of an incident involving ice, nothing can be known with absolute certainty about the Titanic disaster. This is the real attraction of the story -- we can argue and form opinions all day, but never resolve our knowledge beyond a fuzzy picture.

2. The appearance of certainty is inversely proportional to the number of eyewitnesses to the event. No two people ever agree about exactly what took place in a robbery, auto accident, or ship sinking. The more witnesses, the greater this disagreement, hence the increased uncertainty.

2A. Restated, the testimony of a single witness provides a false appearance of certainty due to the lack of contrary evidence. Single eyewitness statements appear more accurate only because there is no opposing argument.

3. As the certainty of data surrounding a specific detail increases, there is no decrease in the general uncertainty of the larger picture. We may learn the brand of tobacco used by a member of the crew at the instant of the accident, but this tells nothing about how or why the tragedy took place.

4. When the number of Titanic experts in a discussion doubles, the uncertainty increases by the cube. Adding more opinions only muddies the waters.

-------------------------------------------

I suppose those of us who study the Titanic are in the position of the college professor. He studied more and more about smaller and smaller details of his area of expertise. Eventually, he knew everything there was to know about nothing.

The fun (and sometimes excitement) of Titanic lies not in the absolute, but in the chase of ideas and theories. We are involved in what amounts to a huge mind game only loosly based in reality. Each of us is equally capable of forming hypothesis which may or may not be correct. The fun is in lauching those hypotheses against criticism to see which can survive. Parks Stephenson has taught me more about my ideas by his critical assessments than I could ever have learned on my own.

In the end, we have to face one simple fact: the world doesn't need to know any more about Titanic than it already knows. We are chasing our theories for our own entertainment, not the betterment of society.

Too often, we take this Titanic game too seriously. As a result, entirely too many threads on this site have deteriorated into the equivalent of schoolyard name calling. Let's get real. The fun of Titanic is not in the winning of arguments, but in the exchange of ideas.

-- David G. Brown
 

Tracy Smith

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Thanks for your post, David. I agree completely.
happy.gif
 
Jan 8, 2001
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David,

That was brilliantly and elonquently put! The mystery of Titanic and being able to discuss and reason through the various mysteries are what makes her so intellectually stimulating to all of us!

Michael.
 

Inger Sheil

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:) Agreeing to disagree is something I can do, David - and I've certainly enjoyed the different ideas tossed around in this thread regarding where/what Boxhall was doing. Certainty may elude us on this as on so many issues, but it is interesting as an academic exercise to discuss it. I also take your point on the accumulation of minutiae (do I dare to admit here that I do know what type of tobacco Harold Lowe smoked?), and the seductiveness of focusing on the trivia, which can become an end of itself. You're right - knowing the exact mechanics of the disaster will not make us finer people or the world a better place. We can understand the era, the event, and the individuals better, but few of us will take any real 'lessons' away from it, and fewer still outside this field will care :)

All the best,

~ Inger
 

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