A Very Deceiving Night: Too near for wireless

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Captain Lord gave more detail about this approaching ship in 1961, in the following transcript of a recorded interview with Leslie Harrison:

‘I don’t know if either he or I, I think I did draw his attention to a small light approaching on the port quarter. And he saw it of course, and we looked for a while, and I said, ‘well there’s nothing in sight that I know of, only the Titanic.’ He said, ‘Well that looks like a passenger ship.’ I said, ‘to me it doesn’t look like any passenger ship. There’s not enough lights, and there’s not speed enough on her.’ So anyhow I said I would go down and ask wireless.

Went down, got hold of wireless, asked him what he had, he said, ‘I’ve only got the Titanic.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘There’s a ship out here, and he came out of the door of his room, with the ’phones on his head, and I said, ‘There’s the only ship going,’ and he said, ‘That’s not any Titanic ship, she’s not lights and not going fast enough.’ [inaudible. Probably: ‘Those were his very words.’]

Q266. You had seen this ship for quite a long time… from somewhere shortly after half past ten, until when you went to lie down in the chart room?

Lord: That’s right. Yes.

Q267. And in your opinion, what sort of a ship was she?

Lord: She was a moderately big, passenger steamer probably. But nothing like the Titanic or any large White Star or Cunard liner. She might have had a few passengers aboard, but she wasn’t steaming like a big ship.

Then I went on the bridge again, to the third officer. And this ship was coming along. I said, ‘Wireless said he’d only got the Titanic.’ I said, ‘that’s not the Titanic,’ and he said, ‘Oh that looks like a passenger ship to me.’ But I said, ‘She doesn’t to me. I shall go along and see Sparks.’ I went along. He came to the door. The open door, with the things on his head, and I pointed out the ship. I said, ‘There’s a steamer coming along, what (ships) have you got?’
He said, ‘I’ve only got the
Titanic.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘that’s not her.’ ‘No, I’m sure it’s not. Not big enough or fast enough for the Titanic.’

Q297. And she stopped there. Somewhere about half past eleven. How close would she be?

Lord: She stopped. Well, I suppose, I said she was about five miles, didn’t I?

Q298. And you couldn’t, or could you, have been mistaken about the largest ship in the world?

Lord: I’m positive it wasn’t the largest ship in the world, or a large passenger steamer at all.

The 883 feet long Titanic, 10 miles away, steaming along at 22 knots, had therefore looked like a ship about the same size as the 447 feet long Californian, 5 miles away, and steaming along at 11 knots.

But the real tragedy of the mistaken identity of the nearby ship was that it caused Captain Lord on the nearby Californian to come to the incorrect conclusion that the ship they were watching did not have any wireless:

Captain Stanley Lord, Captain of the Californian, at the British Inquiry:

  1. What reason have you for thinking that this steamer, a steamer which you say was, at all events, as big as your own, had not got wireless?
    – At 11 o’clock when I saw her the operator told me he had not got anything only the “Titanic.” I remarked then, “That is not the ‘Titanic,” judging from its size and the number of lights about it.
  2. This steamer had been in sight, the one that fired the rocket, when we sent the last message to the “Titanic,” and I was certain that the steamer was not the “Titanic”, and the operator said he had not any other steamers, so I drew my conclusion that she had not got any wireless.

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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