Why did Hichens ask - "Who was on the bridge?"



Quartermaster Hichens was on duty when he was given the order to turn the helm by Murdoch and Moody just before the collision took place, yet he apparently did not know which officers were on duty at the time and was heard calling out to the other lifeboats and asking the occupants if they knew.

Does this suggest that no helm orders were given before the collision?

Major Peuchen heard Hichens say:

Major Peuchen
"He was the man at the wheel, and he was calling out to the other boats wanting to know what officer was on duty at that time. He did not seem to know which officer, at the time of the sighting of the iceberg, was on duty."

"The quartermaster was asking them who was on the bridge and they were calling over, and they did not know which officer was on the bridge, and the quartermaster called out to another boat, to the quartermaster or whoever was in charge of the other boat."
Q - Another lifeboat?
A - Yes, sir.
Q - From your boat?
A - Yes, sir; they were not far off.
Q - What did he say?
A - I did not catch the answer.
Q - No; I mean what did the quartermaster say?
A - He said, "You know what officer was on duty on the bridge at the time we struck." So far as I could gather, the officer was in command of the other boat. He did not know; he might not have been on duty.
Q - And the lookout in the crow's nest did not seem to know?
A - No.

Hichens was in the same lifeboat with lookout Frederick Fleet and Major Peuchen and according to the Major the two men had some conversation together. Fleet then spoke to the Major and told him that nobody had answered the phone. Does this support the idea that no helm orders were given before the collision and that Moody did not enter the wheelhouse until after the collision?

Hichens saw Captain Smith, Murdoch, Boxhall, and Olliver after the collision, and if nobody had answered the phone then possibly Moody did not enter the wheelhouse until after the collision as well. Would this have led to some confusion and explain why Hichens asked the survivors in the lifeboats who was on duty at the time because he saw so many officers on the bridge all at once?

Quartermaster Olliver said he entered the bridge after the collision and saw Moody in the wheelhouse and he said this is when he heard "hard a-port". Does this explain why Fleet had told Peuchen that nobody had answered the phone because Moody did not enter the wheelhouse until after the collision?

Any ideas why Hichens did not know who was on duty and why he was asking the other lifeboats before rescue at come? Such an odd place and time to ask the other survivors. Could it not wait until they reached the Carpathia?

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Sometimes there's smoke, but no gun. In my opinion, Maj. Peuchen's evidence is perfectly true, but misleading. Titanic was a new ship with a crew comprised of sailors and officers from numerous other ships. It is probable that Hichens did not know any of the officers' names or how to connect them to the correct individuals. Anyone who has taken a new job knows the first task is to learn the names of all the new co-workers.

One thing the quartermaster did know, however, was that a Board of Trade investigation would follow the sinking as surely as dawn follows dark. The simplest explanation for his actions was that he was preparing for that eventuality. He wanted to know who had been giving him orders. First, just to be able to use the correct name and not look a fool for misidentifying the officer of the deck. And, second, he would have wanted to speak to that officer about what took place prior to being put in the witness box. In these sorts of affairs it is critical everyone in the crew tells the same basic story.

My personal experience is that government inquiries are not intended to find the causes of accidents, but to fix blame for them on the person least able to defend himself. It was much the same in Hichens day, I'm sure. Maybe worse because of the rigid class structure in post-Edwardian England.

-- David G. Brown


Thanks. To quote Lightoller's book:

"In Washington it was of little consequence, but in London it was very necessary to keep one's hand on the whitewash brush. Sharp questions that needed careful answers if one was to avoid a pitfall, carefully and subtly dug, leading to a pinning down of blame on to someone's luckless shoulders."

Hichens must have been aware of the previous Inquiry concerning the Olympic and Hawke collision and I wonder if the crew on the Titanic had discussed this or thought about it heavily after the Titanic sank knowing that blame would be pointed, as Lightoller said - "on to someone's luckless shoulders". I just find it remarkable that Hichens would ask the survivors in the other lifeboats before they were even picked up by the Carpathia. Was his state of mind greatly affected by the disaster and not thinking straight?

The Major said Hichens could see - "a buoy out there of some kind, and he called out to the next boat, which was within hearing, asking if he knew if there was any buoy around there. This struck me as being perfectly absurd, and showed me the man did not know anything about navigating, expecting to see a buoy in the middle of the Atlantic."

The survivors had just witnessed a terrible sea disaster and would have been on everyone's minds, and worrying if rescue would come at all, and yet Hichens was calling out to the lifeboats and asking them if there was a buoy nearby and if they knew who was on duty at the time of the collision. Was he stunned by the events and not able to think straight? Perhaps he was worried that the officers might blame him and the moment he stepped aboard the Carpathia he would be recognized and arrested?

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Was he stunned by the events and not able to think straight?
Nobody could answer that except Hichens. But getting information about what was said by a second person is also not very reliable. Sometimes a single word is left out in translation which changes the meaning of what was really heard. For example, Hichens had to know that the OOW was Murdoch since it was he who had called upon him at 10:45. He probably knew it was Moody in the wheelhouse while he was at the wheel. What he may not have known is who was the other officers that came onto the bridge at the time of collision. We know Boxhall came onto the bridge soon after the ship struck, and we also know that Wilde must have shown up not that long after Smith had arrived since he went forward onto the forecastle to check for damage there while Boxhall went below decks.

Perhaps the question he called out was:
"DO you know what OTHER OFFICERS WERE on duty on the bridge at the time we struck?"
or perhaps it was:
"DO you know IF ANY OTHER OFFICER WAS on duty on the bridge at the time we struck?"

Both changes the meaning of the entire question that was asked.

As to what Fleet told Peuchen, again the question is what did the major really hear as opposed to what he thought he heard. According to the major, Fleet told him that "he rang three bells, and then he signaled to the bridge." Then the major added when asked if Fleet told him anything else about the events, "The only [other] thing he said was that he did not get any reply from the bridge." We know from Fleet, Lee and Hichens that Moody answered the phone and said a simple, "Thank you." Maybe Fleet expected something more over the phone such as a confirmation of what he said was seen ahead? We know that others in the boat also heard Fleet say something about those events and interpreted the striking of the bell three times as three separate warning signals.