The Titanic Disaster, Due to Excessive Speed

Connaught Telegraph

Lord Mersey, the specially appointed Commissioner of Wrecks to enquire into the loss of the White Star Liner Titanic, on Tuesday delivered the finding of the Court.

The attendance at the London-Scottish Hall, Westminster, where the inquiry has been held and where judgement was delivered was not a large one, and save for Counsel, Pressmen, and others specially interested, the general public was represented by less than a hundred persons, most of whom were fashionably attired ladies.

His Lordship read from a lengthy printed document almost the first notable sentence of which was that "The loss of the ship was brought about by the excessive speed at which she was navigated."

The report contains an elaborate and most minute description of the ship, a lengthy account of the disaster a description of the damage to the ship, and of its gradual and final effect with observations thereon.

In its detailed replies, to the questions put before it, the Court finds that the Titanic before leaving Queensotwn did comply with the requirements of the merchant Shipping Acts and the rules and regulations made thereon for the safety of passenger steamers, and that she was properly officered and manned. She was supplied with proper charts and the watches of the officers and crews were properly kept. No special instructions were given the captain when she left beyond the general instructions supplied by the Company which were safe, proper, and adequate, generally speaking; but, having regard to subsequent events, they would have been better if a reference had been made to the course to be adopted in the event of reaching the ice region. The track kept by the vessel was that decided on as the outcome of many years' experience of the normal movement of ice. They were reasonably safe tracks for the time of the year provided of course, that great caution and vigilance when crossing the ice region were observed.

The disproportion between the number of passengers saved in first, second, and third classes is due to various causes, among which the differences in the position of the quarters, and the fact that many of the third class passengers were foreigners are, perhaps, the most important.

Of the Irish emigrants in the third class a large proportion was saved. The disproportion between was certainly not due to any discrimination by the officers or crew in assisting the passengers to the boats. With regard to the question of what the captain ought to have done in the circumstances of the weather conditions and why he pursued, the course he did, the Court says - It was shown that the practice of liners for the quarter of a century had been to keep the course in clear weather to maintain the speed, and trust to a sharp look-out to enable them to avoid danger; but the event had proved the practice to be bad. Its root is probably to be found in competition and in the desire of the public for quick passages, rather than in the judgment of navigators. In these circumstances I am not able to blame Captain Smith. The evidence shows that he was not trying to make a record passage, or, indeed, an exceptionally quick passage. He was not trying to please anybody, but was, exercising his own discretion.

"He made a mistake, a very grievous mistake, but one in which in face of the practice, and of past experience, negligence cannot be said to have had any part, and in the absence of negligence, it is, in my opinion, impossible to fix Captain Smith with blame. It is, however, to be hoped that the last has been heard of the practice and that for the future it will be abandoned for what we now know to be more prudent and wiser measures."

The provision of lifeboat and raft accommodation on board should be based on the number of persons intended to be carried in the ship and not upon tonnage. The accommodation in this respect should be sufficient for all persons on board with, however the qualification that in special cases, where in the opinion of the Board of Trade such provision was impracticable, the requirements might be modified as the Board of Trade thought right. The Board of Trade should have power to direct that one or more of the boats should be fitted with some form of mechanical propulsion; all boats should carry lamps and pyrotechnic lights for the purposes of signaling and should be provided with compasses and provisions, and should be very distinctly marked to indicate the number of adult persons each boat would carry. The Board of Trade inspection of boats and life-saving appliances should be of a more searching character than hitherto.

The concluding recommendation was; That (unless already done) steps should be taken to call an International Conference to consider, and as far as possible to agree upon a common line of conduct in respect of (a) the sub-division of ships; (b) the provisions and working of life-saving appliances: (c) the installation of wireless telegraphy, and the method of working the same: (d) the reduction of speed, or the alteration of course, in the vicinity of ice and (e) the use of searchlights.

All the Commissioners concurred with the judgement and recommendations. The reading of the judgment occupied two hours and a half. Mr. Scanlan, M.P., raised the question of costs.

Lord Mersey said he assumed those who represented the different interests were entitled to costs from somebody. The question was who was the somebody?

The Attorney General said this was a very special case, and he thought it should be treated in a special manner. The view he took on behalf of the Board of Trade - and it was distinctly understood that it was not to be regarded as a precedent - was that the Board should pay such costs as his Lordship considered right should, be paid. In this particular inquiry it was, of course, desirable that there should be some representation before the Court other than that of the Board of Trade. What he suggested meant that the costs would come out of public funds. His Lordship then indicated the gentlemen whom he thought would be entitled to costs, and the attorney General concurred.

It was then arranged that the legal gentlemen should see Lord Mersey privately on the matter.

Related Biographies:

Edward John Smith


Delia Mahoney

Comment and discuss

  1. Taco43 said:

    "The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag state policies. All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his ultimate responsibility." However... "the desire of the public for quick passages, rather than in the judgment of navigators..." means that it was the passengers' fault that the Titanic sunk. The White... Read full post

Leave your comment


Encyclopedia Titanica (2003) The Titanic Disaster, Due to Excessive Speed (Connaught Telegraph, Saturday 3rd August 1912, ref: #1985, published 29 November 2003, generated 15th April 2021 06:34:17 PM); URL :