A Very Deceiving Night: When she stopped her lights seemed to go out

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That Californian was indeed off Titanic’s port bow and therefore northwest of Titanic’s wreck site is confirmed by Californian’s Second Officer, Charles Victor Groves, who was watching the Titanic from the Californian at the time of the collision, when she made her starboard (right) turn immediately after her collision, at 10.40pm:

  1. Did you continue to see the masthead lights?
    – Yes.
  2. Did you see any navigation lights – sidelights?
    – I saw the red port light.
  3. (The Commissioner.) When did you see that?
    – As soon as her deck lights disappeared from my view.

Groves is describing Titanic’s deck lights appearing to disappear as her bow is presented to Californian instead of her broadside, which was showing the starboard light before Titanic’s turn:

Lord STL 268: When this man was coming along he was showing his green light on our starboard side, before midnight.

The fact that Groves continued to see Titanic’s masthead light, shows that Titanic did not get to North through a 270⁰ turn to Port  (which would have shut in Titanic’s masthead light to Californian while Titanic was heading southward), but through a 90⁰ turn to Starboard.

That Titanic is then facing northwards and therefore presenting her Port bow to Californian is also confirmed by Gibson, who notes that Titanic’s lights were behind and to the right of her masthead light:

  1. Was the glare of light which you saw on the afterpart of this vessel forward or aft of the masthead light?
    – Abaft the masthead light.
  2. So that you would be seeing her starboard side?
    – No, her port side.
  3. The glare of light which you say was aft, was aft of the masthead lights?
    – Yes.
  4. Was that to your left or your right as you were looking at her?
    – To the right.
  5. Do you mean the masthead light was to the right?
    – No, the masthead light was to the left.

The fact that the Californian was off Titanic’s port bow after Titanic had come to a stop, meant that Titanic therefore presented only her port bow towards the Californian after her collision:

tim maltin a very deceiving night ebook 01

Titanic leaving Southampton on her maiden voyage at 12.15am on Wednesday 10th April 1912

© Science Photo Library

…and not her full broadside, which would have been much more distinctive:

tim maltin a very deceiving night ebook 01

Postcard of Titanic at Cherbourg, 8pm Wednesday 10th April 1912. This artist’s impression shows more lights than were in fact visible on Titanic at night.

© Author’s Private Collection

Furthermore, as well as many of her stateroom, cabin and public room lights being put out due to passengers going to bed, we know that Titanic’s bow would have appeared particularly dark that night, because earlier in the evening First Officer Murdoch, in charge on the bridge of Titanic at the time of the collision, had ordered lamp trimmer Samuel Hemming to make sure it was as dark as possible in order to give Titanic’s watch officers and lookouts the best chance of spotting icebergs from the bridge and crow’s nest, respectively:

17704 Do you remember reporting to Mr. Murdoch, the First Officer, that all the lights had been placed? – Yes.
17705 About what time was that? – I think about a quarter past 7.
17706 Do you remember what he said to you after that? – Yes.
17707 What did he say? – I was walking off the bridge, and he called me back, and he said: “Hemming, when you go forward, get the fore scuttle hatch closed, there is a glow left from that, as we are in the vicinity of ice, and I want everything dark before the bridge.”
17708 Where is the fore scuttle hatch? – On the forecastle head.
17709 Did you carry out those orders? – I closed it myself.

All of these factors tended to make Titanic look very unlike the Titanic, from the Californian, and this is proved in the following conversation between Groves on the Californian – who saw Titanic approaching near the Californian before her collision – and Captain Lord, who only joined him on the bridge moments after Titanic’s collision, when she was then heading more towards the Californian:

Groves: 8197. – When he came up on the bridge he said to me, “That does not look like a passenger steamer.” I said, “It is, Sir. When she stopped her lights seemed to go out, and I suppose they have been put out for the night.”

  1. (The Commissioner.) You said something about the lights of the ship going out. When did they go out?
    – At 11.40
  2. Was the Captain standing with you?
    – No, my Lord.
  3. At that time?
    – No, my Lord.
  4. Had he gone away?
    – He had not been on the bridge again since about 10.35.

Ironically, had Captain Lord returned to the bridge a moment earlier, he would possibly have recognized her as being the Titanic.

I hope by blogging chapters from my book, A Very Deceiving Night, it will contribute to the ongoing discussions regarding the atmospheric conditions on the night of the tragedy and the true causes of the disaster. At the moment, the book is only available as an e-book. If you wish to purchase it then you can do so in Amazon Kindle format here and other formats, including Apple, Kobo and Nook, here. Thank you.

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