DETENTION FOR THE TAKING OF EVIDENCE
A strange welcome awaited the surviving members of the crew of the Titanic on their arrival at Plymouth today. Instead of a popular demonstration of sympathy and benevolence they were met with a shower of legal forms, and found themselves virtually prisoners on the dock premises, prevented from direct communication with any one except Board of Trade and White Star Line officials. Such a reception can hardly have been what they expected, and, judging from incidents which came under one’s notice, was as unpopular among the men as it was unanticipated. For this extraordinary state of affairs the White Star Company were anxious that it should be understood that they were not responsible. This was impressed upon me with reiterated insistence by Mr Frank Phillips, the local agent of the White Star Line. “We have made the arrangements”, he said, “but it is at the request of the Board of Trade and by their orders. So far as we are concerned we should be glad to let representatives of the Press go on board the ship, but the instructions are that no one is to communicate with them until their depositions have been taken”. This statement was confirmed by Mr Harold Sanderson, one of the managers of the company in Liverpool.
The measures taken to enforce the order were of a most elaborate nature and were in the main successful. The vessel by which the survivors travelled from New York was the Lapland, of the Red Star Line. In addition to her ordinary passengers she had on board 167 of the Titanic’s crew - all, in fact, except those who had been detained in the United States for the purposes of the Senate inquiry. Twenty of their number were women - stewards and restaurant attendants. It was announced last night that tenders would leave the Great Western Dock at 6 o’clock this morning to meet her and bring off the passengers, mails and specie. It was nearly 7 o’clock when the tenders actually put out into the Sound. Three of the large vessels which the Great Western Company keep for this work were employed, one being intended for the ordinary passengers and the second for the and mails, as is usual when the traffic is of more than a nominal character. The third tender was evidently intended for the shipwrecked crew, with whom the process of segregation was to begin as soon as port was reached.
Among those who embarked in the tenders were Mr Harold Wolferstan, solicitor at Plymouth to the Board of Trade, Mr Furniss, of the firm of Hill, Dickinson and Co., Liverpool, solicitors to the White Star Company, and Mr Woolven, the local Receiver of Wrecks. Others present at the dock were Mr Sanderson, Mr E.C.Grenfell, of Morgan, Grenfell and Co., Liverpool, a director of the White Star Company, and Mr John Bartholomew, victualling superintendent to the company at Southampton. Mr Phillips went out as usual to superintend the landing of the ordinary passengers. Besides these persons and others having actual business at the docks no one was allowed to enter the premises. The gates were guarded by the railway company’s own police, and in addition some members of the borough police were on duty inside, although their presence was not obtrusive.
About 8 o’clock the Lapland cast anchor in Cawsand Bay. Up to this time the principal spectators of the scene had been journalists and a small crowd of dock labourers. Others gradually accumulated until along the water front and on the Hoe was a crowd of persons trying to make out with glasses what was passing on board the liner and the boats attendant upon her. At length the tenders cast off. Two of them, carrying the ordinary passengers end the mail, came towards the dock, and the third, which contained the survivors of the wreck, went slowly eastward outside the breakwater and did not attempt to enter the Sound until the first of the three was in the dock. After the passengers had disembarked and left in a special train for London and the mail tender had been discharged, all the dock labourers who had been engaged were paid off and escorted outside the gates and the dock was once more left to those whose business gave them the right of entry. In the meantime the tender with the crew on board cruised about the Sound, killing time. Around the dock gates was a pathetic group of people who had friends and relatives among the crew or had lost those dear to them and waited in the hope that the survivors could tell them something of their last hours. These, unlike the casual spectators, kept their places and spent most of their weary hours of waiting in silence.
LANDING OF THE CREW
Noon had struck before the tender at last received the signal that all was in readiness for her, and was allowed to enter the dock. There was some cheering from the now largely augmented crowd as she came round the end of the wharf and proceeded to her station. Her deck was crowded with men, among whom the comparatively small number of women were conspicuous from their position in the fore part of the boat. All were well dressed, thanks to the generosity of people of America who had supplied them with outfits of clothing, and all carried small bundles of other necessaries which came from the same generous source.
As they left the ship they were directed by a cordon of police to the waiting rooms near the entrance to the dock, where quarters had been provided for them. The third class waiting room was converted partly into a dining room, and the fourth into a dormitory for the ordinary members of the crew. The stewards and stewardesses had the second class waiting room as a dining room. As soon as the party had assembled a meal was served. A few of them, apparently natives of the district, going to a window overlooking the road and leading to the dock gates, were instantly seen and recognized by those who had spent hours waiting for a sight of relatives or friends. A few hurried greetings were exchanged. “Hullo, Jack!” “Ah Bill, how are you?” was the reply, end then, in a quieter tone, “Poor Tom has gone”. Anything like conversation, and especially confidential communication, was impossible in such circumstances, and the opportunity was brief, for the window was quickly closed and the men hurried away to dinner. If those who spoke had apparently little to say at the moment, it was because their hearts were too full for words.
While the men were having dinner preparations were being completed in another room for taking the statements of each one of them. It was explained that it is the business of the Receiver of Wrecks to obtain a statement from any person who may be able to throw light on the disaster, and that the Board of Trade possesses power to detain members of a crew until their statements as to a wreck are recorded. Every member of the crew, on entering the tender, was served with notice under the Merchant Shipping Act, that his or her statement would be required. This is not necessarily a subpoena, but the serving of the notice gives the right of detention until the Receiver of Wrecks allows the person served to depart. In order to save time it was arranged to take the statements of six persons simultaneously. The intention was that the Inquiry Commission should be in possession of a proof of the evidence which each of the survivors is able to give, and that they should each decide which of them shall be called as witnesses.
It was announced that as soon as each man had signed the statement he had made be would be at liberty to leave the dock on parole, but he would be bound to return and sleep at the quarters provided for him. Then, when the business was completed, a specia1 train would be chartered to convey the crew to Southampton, where they would be paid off. It was also announced that; immediately before the journey to Southampton, a sum of £300, which had been telegraphed from America for the crew, would be distributed among them.
UNION OFFICIALS IN THE TENDER
As events turned out, the arrangements made by the Board of Trade and the White Star Company were not carried out in their entirety.
Among the many who came to Plymouth to welcome the shipwrecked men were two of the officials of the British Seafarers’ Union, who had come into some prominence during the last few days in connection with the strike on board the Olympic. These were Mr T.Lewis, the president, and Mr A.Cannon, the secretary. They explained that they had been deputed to come from Southampton to welcome the men, many of whom are members of the Union, and also to see that their liberty and rights of citizenship were respected. On arriving on Saturday they applied for permits to go out to the Lapland on board the tender, but they were refused, the White Star officials saying to them as they had said to the journalists that no passes at all would be issued to unofficial persons. Mr Lewis and Mr Cannon telegraphed this message to the Board of Trade, asking for an official statement as to the position of the men, and while waiting for a reply went out into the Sound in a sailing boat with the object of getting into communication with the men as they came ashore on the tender. In this they were successful. Speaking to the sailors and firemen from the boat, they said that they had been refused permission to board the tender, or even to go into the dock, and they advised the men to demand the presence of the representatives of the Union. The men immediately fell in with the suggestion, and declared that unless Mr Lewis and Mr Cannon came on board they would refuse to say anything at all. After some little time those in charge of the tender decided to take the two trade union officials aboard and did so.
Mr Lewis and Mr Cannon had a consultation with Mr Woolven, the Receiver of Wrecks, and explained that they were anxious that the men should not be detained longer than necessary, and that while they invited inquiry, and would facilitate it to the utmost of their power, they wanted the men to go home as speedily as possible. As the result of this conference, it was decided that the examination of the 50 or 60 seamen and firemen should be proceeded with as quickly as possible, and that they should leave for Southampton at 8 o’clock the evening. It is understood that the union is paying the men’s fares, a special train being provided. The remaining members of the crew, including the stewards and stewardesses, remain until tomorrow. It was also arranged that where necessary the wives and families of the crew should be informed by telegraph of the arrangement.
Another point which attracted the attention of the union officials was the presence of a body of police in the dock, and the Chief Constable of Plymouth, Mr Sowerby, was asked if these precautions meant that the men would be under arrest. Mr Sowerby assured them that this was not the case, and that the presence of the police must not be taken to imply it. The reply of the Board of Trade to the telegram sent earlier the day confirmed this view. It was worded as follows:-
“Crew of Titanic from Lapland are not in any sense detained at Plymouth against their wish. They are only invited to remain on the premises provided so that statements may be taken from them to avoid delay and to settle who shall be called to evidence on the inquiry. They are free to leave when they like, only hope for their co-operation making depositions – Solicitor, Board of Trade”.
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(1912) SURVIVORS OF THE CREW AT PLYMOUTH The Times (ref: #5570, accessed 26th June 2017 07:01:12 AM) URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/survivors-crew-at-plymouth.html
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Added to Encyclopedia Titanica Wednesday 4th July 2007, last updated Sunday 2nd April 2017.