Would Captain Smith hear the three bells from his cabin?

Rich Hayden

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Jul 17, 2014
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We know he was in his quarters at the time the ship struck the iceberg. If he'd been awake, would he have heard Fleet ringing the three 'gongs' via the bell in the crow's nest? We know others did, like Quartermaster Olliver who was between the compass platform and the bridge.

On a clear, quiet night, with no double glazing, the three bells were surely audible in Smith's cabin?
 
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Sadly, it's been a long time since bells were cast from proper bronze metal and with the correct wall thickness and shape. I doubt that many younger members (i.e. post WW-II) have actually head the rich tone of a properly made bell. Nor are they familiar with the carrying capacity of their mellow tones.

From Boxhall's words we find the good captain was indeed very much awake and working at his private chart table located just off the wheelhouse. The fourth officer said he routinely carried ice messages to Smith and that the captain plotted them on a chart. The master's chart room had widows forward and looking to starboard which should have allowed the sound of the lookout's bell to penetrate.

I suspect the underlying question in Rich's post (above) is whether or not Smith should have taken immediate and direct action upon hearing the lookouts' bell. The answer is, "no, not necessarily." Three strikes on the crow's nest bell simply conveyed that the men on lookout had spotted something of note directly ahead of the ship. Three strikes did not (nor would not today) necessarily imply an emergency situation. The sounds simply indicate the lookouts have spotted something out there. It was and remains up to the officer of the watch, Murdoch in Titanic's case, to determine the nature of the situation and whether or not to call the captain on deck.

Gongs and bells are two different sound devices. A bell is cast in a bell shape. Gongs are most often disk-shape devices stamped out of metal with a totally different sound. Large ships at anchor rapidly ring a bell forward and similarly rapidly ring a gong aft to indicate their length.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Aaron_2016

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We know he was in his quarters at the time the ship struck the iceberg. If he'd been awake, would he have heard Fleet ringing the three 'gongs' via the bell in the crow's nest? We know others did, like Quartermaster Olliver who was between the compass platform and the bridge.

On a clear, quiet night, with no double glazing, the three bells were surely audible in Smith's cabin?
2nd officer Lightoller was on duty until 10pm and he told the Inquiry what the Captain had said to him - He said - "If it becomes at all doubtful let me know at once; I will be just inside." He was referring to the Captain's navigational chart room.

Quartermaster Hichens told the US Inquiry -
"I heard the telegraph ring, sir. The skipper came rushing out of his room, and asked, "What is that?" Mr. Murdoch said, "An iceberg." He said, "Close the emergency doors."

Note that he heard Captain Smith say "What is that?" which means the vibration was still taking place when he rushed out. This tells us he immediately reacted to the collision and was "just inside" and rushed out of the navigating room and continued to feel the collision taking place.



chartroom2a.png




4th officer Boxhall heard the bell ring and just a matter of 10 seconds later he felt the collision. He said the captain arrived on the bridge at the same time as him. I believe this tells us that the emergency orders between the bell ringing and the collision must have taken place within 10 seconds.


Here is Boxhall's location. He said he heard the bell ring when he was just outside the officer's door and he proceeded to the bridge. He then felt the collision as he was passing the captain's sitting room.


bridgeb1a.png


This would mean the order 'hard a-starboard' and the telephone ringing, and the reversing of the engines, and the hard 2 point turn are all fictional for the benefit of showing that they did everything possible to avoid the collision, when in reality they had no chance whatever to do anything to avoid the iceberg once the bell rang. Boxhall did not even have time enough to walk to the bridge. I believe Captain Smith did not rush out until he heard the telegraph ring 'Stop' and felt the collision occur at the same time. This startled him and he immediatly opened the door of the navigation room and asked Murdoch "What is that?" I believe nothing else took place immediately prior to that, because Captain Smith's absense (despite being so close) shows that there was nothing unusual happening on the bridge until Murdoch rushed over to the telegraph and rang 'Stop engines'.

Quartermaster spoke to reporters before he testified at the Inquiry. His original account here matches very closely to his official testimony, however in his first account he does not mention any helm orders at all. The crash simply took place and the skipper rushed out. This matches Boxhall's short walk towards the bridge.

Hichen's first account.

Hichens2.png

Hichens3a.png



Since he was the helmsman at the time of the collision, it is bizarre that he failed to mention any helm orders before the collision to that reporter. Frankly it should have been the most important thing he would remember, and yet he does not mention any helm orders. A rapid hard turn would cause the ship to heel over but there are no accounts from any of the survivors who felt the ship heel over before the collision. 4th officer Boxhall said the collision did not break his step as he approached the bridge. He certainly would have felt the hard turn and this would have caused him to stumble as he approached the bridge, yet he felt nothing. Hichen's appeared to read out a pre-written statement at the Inquiry. We don't know why he did this, and who wrote it. He testified that the other Quartermaster (Olliver) was standing next to him when the alleged order 'hard a-starboard' was given, but Quartermaster Olliver testified that he did not hear that order and that he wasn't even on the bridge before the collision. You can easily tell that there is something fishy about the official story of the collision.

Two ships that were in and around the vicinity were the Californian and the Parisian. The wireless operator on the Parisian said their lookouts kept ringing the bell and making mistakes because the stars were very bright on the horizon. The Captain of the Californian had the same trouble. He said - "I was sometimes mistaking the stars low down on the horizon for steamer’s lights."

We can only guess that the Titanic's lookouts did the same and they were too ashamed to admit to their mistakes. Much like the boy who cried wolf, the Titanic's officers may have heard the bell ring and treated it as another false report and did not take it seriously. Then again, the ringing of the bell does not represent danger. It simply means there is something there. The officers would then train their binoculars on the object and identify what it is. There were reports of a dense haze directly ahead of the ship. This would make their job much more difficult. It is unknown if the haze or the possible false reports had played a major role in the disaster.

The surviving officers did not want to show any signs of negligence. Perhaps they were under orders, or they wanted to be loyal to the company, but this was possibly their top priority at the Inquiry i.e. protect the company at all costs. The last thing the company needed was to be found guilty of negligence, no matter how small. e.g. The steam ship Mesaba sent a very important ice warning to the Titanic. Their operator confirmed that the Titanic did receive the warning, yet 2nd officer Lightoller denied all knowlege of the ice warning and he stated that the Titanic's wireless operator had accidentally put the ice warning under a paper weight and forgot about it. The Titanic story sounds very much like 'pass the parcel' when it came to blaming someone. I believe the famous term 'Every Man for Himself' had one meaning on the doomed ship, and another meaning during the official Inquiry.


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Mar 22, 2003
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Note that he heard Captain Smith say "What is that?" which means the vibration was still taking place when he rushed out. This tells us he immediately reacted to the collision and was "just inside" and rushed out of the navigating room and continued to feel the collision taking place.
Nonsense Aaron.

1025. Tell us what you heard in the way of command? - Just about a minute, I suppose, after the collision, the Captain rushed out of his room and asked Mr. Murdoch what was that, and he said, “An iceberg, Sir,” and he said, “Close the watertight door.”
The Commissioner: Wait a minute. A minute after the collision, Captain Smith -
1026. (The Attorney-General.) Came out of his room on to the bridge do you mean? - Yes, Sir; he passed through the wheelhouse on to the bridge.
1027. He rushed out of his room through the wheelhouse on to the bridge? - Yes.
1028. And asked Murdoch, “What is that?” - Yes.
1029. And Murdoch said, “An iceberg.” Is that right? - Yes.
1030. Mr. Murdoch said “An iceberg,” and then? - The Captain immediately gave him orders to close the watertight doors. He said, “They are already closed.” He immediately then sent for the carpenter to sound the ship.

The closing of the WTDs take about 1/2 minute alone.
 
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Aaron_2016

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Nonsense Aaron.

1025. Tell us what you heard in the way of command? - Just about a minute, I suppose, after the collision, the Captain rushed out of his room and asked Mr. Murdoch what was that, and he said, “An iceberg, Sir,” and he said, “Close the watertight door.”
The Commissioner: Wait a minute. A minute after the collision, Captain Smith -
1026. (The Attorney-General.) Came out of his room on to the bridge do you mean? - Yes, Sir; he passed through the wheelhouse on to the bridge.
1027. He rushed out of his room through the wheelhouse on to the bridge? - Yes.
1028. And asked Murdoch, “What is that?” - Yes.
1029. And Murdoch said, “An iceberg.” Is that right? - Yes.
1030. Mr. Murdoch said “An iceberg,” and then? - The Captain immediately gave him orders to close the watertight doors. He said, “They are already closed.” He immediately then sent for the carpenter to sound the ship.

The closing of the WTDs take about 1/2 minute alone.
It is not nonesense. You are quoting the British Inquiry testimony. Hichens also testified in America when the facts were more fresh in his mind, and over there he said:

"The skipper came rushing out of his room, Captain Smith, and asked, "What is that?" Mr. Murdoch said, "An iceberg." He said, "Close the emergency doors."

When Hichens later testified in Britain he confirmed that it was is and not was.


UK Inquiry
Q - He rushed out of his room through the wheelhouse on to the bridge?
A - Yes.
Q - And asked Murdoch, “What is that?”
A - Yes.

So I can only gather that he did say "What is that?" and since Boxhall felt the collision when he was passing the captain's room and entered the bridge a matter of 5-10 seconds later then they both would have felt the collision as it was still taking place because the vibration was described by a number of survivors as long and estimated to be 20 seconds long. Which is why Hichens overheard the Captain say "What is that?" i.e. What is that trembling I can feel, and what is that noise I can hear?


In Britain he was asked:

Q - Did you see anything done with regard to the watertight doors?
A - I saw Mr. Murdoch closing them then, pulling the lever.
Q - And did the Captain then come out on to the bridge?
A - The Captain was alongside of me when I turned round.


In America Boxhall was asked:

Q - Did you proceed to the bridge?
A - Yes, sir.
Q - Whom did you find there?
A - I found the sixth officer and the first officer and the captain.
Q - The sixth officer, the first officer and the captain?
A - Yes, sir.
Q - All on the bridge together?
A - Yes, sir

"We all walked out to the corner of the bridge then to look at the iceberg."
Q - The captain?
A - The captain, first officer, and myself.


Since Boxhall felt the collision as he walked passed the Captain's room and continued towards the bridge and found the captain already there, we can easily determine that the captain immediately rushed out just as Boxhall got there and the captain said "What is that?"


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Julian Atkins

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Sep 23, 2017
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4th officer Boxhall heard the bell ring and just a matter of 10 seconds later he felt the collision. He said the captain arrived on the bridge at the same time as him. I believe this tells us that the emergency orders between the bell ringing and the collision must have taken place within 10 seconds.


Here is Boxhall's location. He said he heard the bell ring when he was just outside the officer's door and he proceeded to the bridge. He then felt the collision as he was passing the captain's sitting room.
And in 1962 Boxhall described in a BBC radio interview being in his cabin having a cup of tea!

Sadly, it's been a long time since bells were cast from proper bronze metal and with the correct wall thickness and shape. I doubt that many younger members (i.e. post WW-II) have actually head the rich tone of a properly made bell. Nor are they familiar with the carrying capacity of their mellow tones.
Hi David,

I am a bit of bellringing 'geek' plus having rung many 'peals' and even have my name on a big 'tenor' bell cast at Taylors Foundry in Loughborough UK as part of a ring of 12 Church bells..

For bells rung for change ringing as in the UK, the various harmonics and over tones are carefully regulated.

However, for a warning bell, all you need is the 'strike note' being loud and clear! A simple alarm bell, as used in WW2 in the UK, was very effective!

Just a small irrelevant point, for those of us in the UK who ring 'rings' of Church bells.

Cheers,

Julian
 
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