Latest Californian Theory: Captain Stanley Lord Hated People


Two issues split the Titanic camp into warring factions: salvage and the Californian issue. The latter issue involves the role of Captain Stanley Lord of the SS California. On the night Titanic went down in 1912, his ship was in the vicinity. Due to the ice on the ocean, he had decided to shut down and wait till morning to proceed. His wireless operator had gone to bed and while rockets were spotted he did not believe it was a distress signal. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Captain Lord came under fire for failing to act. It was something that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

The two camps, the Lordites (pro-Lord) and the anti-Lordites (against Lord) have very different perspectives on the role of Captain Lord. The Lordites argue that the enquiries were hasty and a rush to judgment. The anti-Lordites argue the enquiries got it right, that Lord failed to act when the rockets were sighted.  Now comes a new book that will likely reignite the debate. Daniel Allen Butler’s The Other Side of Night, according to the Scotsman makes a startling claim that Captain Lord was a sociopath. According to the article, Butler had commissioned a series of clinical psychologists to examine Lord’s sworn testimony as well as reports of his actions both before and after the tragedy.

“White rockets meant that somebody, somewhere, was about to die, yet Lord choose to ignore them. What has remained unexplained for more than nine decades is why Lord would so callously choose to disregard such a plea for help. “The answer, which lies in medical science, is that Stanley Lord was a man without conscience: he was a sociopath.”

The article notes that there were allegations that the officers under Lord were coerced to testify to support his position and that the ship’s log, which would have proved the exact location of the California, disappeared. And Butler argues Lord’s story changed over time while others stayed the same. Add to allegations he falisified entries in the logbook and the fact he expressed no sympathy for the victims over the years lends credence, Butler argues, that Lord was a sociopathic personality.

Well that is surely going to get those who support Lord fuming and dashing to their keyboards to type out responses. As for the book, I have not read it so I cannot say whether it is good, bad, or just okay. However relying on psychologists to render an opinion about a historical person is dubious. There was a trend in history many years ago to apply the techniques of psychology to historical figures. The problem is that you do not have the person right there so that you can make a proper clinical analysis. In the case of historical figures you have to rely on what was written about them or what they wrote about themselves. Certainly you can gain insights but it is far from a proper analysis or even a diagnosis. Without the person right there it is difficult to render a truly objective opinion as to what the true mental state was.