Prior to sinking of Titanic, Stanley Lord was a well regarded ship master. He had started out at age 13 and by 29 given command by the Leyland Line. Considering that most ship masters had to wait till near fifty years of age for a command, it tells you he was considered extraordinary. Some even say that by 1912 he was more experienced that most of Titanic’s officers (Captain Smith excluded of course). But at the end of both American and British inquiries, the conclusion was that he could have done more. Discrepancies in the respective ship positions could not be reconciled resulting in doubts about Lord and his officers. While neither inquiry recommended any legal action be taken against him, the damage to his reputation had been done. He asked for a hearing to bring witnesses and submit evidence before the Board of Trade. He was denied.
Though the Leyland Line had supported him (and provided evidence that his reported position was backed up with wireless messages)he was asked to resign. Fortunately the owner of the Nitrate Producers Steamship Co, John Natta, was sympathetic and offered him command of a ship. He would work for them from 1913-1927 when failing eyesight forced his retirement. From then on he disappeared from public view until the 1950’s. First the publication of A Night To Remember in 1955 rekindled interest in Titanic and depicted Lord in a very unsympathetic life. The 1958 movie of the same name did the same. He sought assistance from Mercantile Marine Service Association(MMSA) and its general secretary, Leslie Harrison took up his case.
Lord though passed away in 1962 at age 84 not knowing if Harrison’s efforts would result in anything. Harrison’s two petitions for a new hearing were twice rejected by the Board of Trade. Harrison’s book A Titanic Myth lays forth the case for Lord’s defense he was never able to give.
Titanic was found in 1985 and its position showed that Titanic fourth officer Boxhall had miscalculated the ships SOS position by 13 nautical miles. This was significant since both inquiries discounted any discrepancy of Titanic’s position and held that Californian’s position was in error. Eventually the U.K. Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) was asked to reappraise the role of SS Californian in sinking of Titanic. The report was issued in 1992. While those undertaking the report differed on whether Titanic was seen by Californian, they were unanimous that Lord’s failure to take action when rockets were sighted was wrong. While rockets had other uses than distress, it ought to have been investigated with the ship’s wireless operator awakened to find out what was going on. Why this was not done remains unknown.
There is a natural tendency to reject the signals of disaster and to hope that all is well despite the evidence of one’s own eyes and senses, Of course, Mr Stone should have gone down himself to the Master when there was no proper response from him, but the impression one gets of Captain Lord is that, far from being slack as has sometimes been suggested, he was in fact something of a martinet, and the young officer may have feared to leave the Bridge (normally a grave dereliction of duty) even though under the circumstances it would have been safe and right to do so. One can readily imagine Mr Stone on the Bridge, knowing in his heart what ought to be done (he is recorded as saying to Mr Gibson that “a ship doesn’t fire rockets for nothing”) but trying to persuade himself
that there was no real cause for alarm – and desperately wishing it was four o’clock and the Mate was there. I sympathise with Mr Stone, but it must be said that he was seriously at fault. (FN#1)
Note the use of the word “martinet” to describe Captain Lord. That word is not used much these days but instructive on what people of his day thought of him (and today when they read what others said about him). To call someone a martinet is to describe someone who demands strict adherence to rules and doles out punishment for those who fail to follow them. And Lord was strict on following the rules and you did not break them for any reason lightly.
However the report also notes that had Lord done all the right things, the outcome would likely have been the same. The error in navigation would have been found but the time lost doing this would result in Californian not arriving until Titanic sank. The report concludes:
I do not think any reasonably probable action by Captain Lord could have led to a different outcome of the tragedy. This of course does not alter the fact that the attempt should have been made.(FN#2)
It is a partial vindication for Lord. It absolves him of providing a false position of California nat both hearings. It does not absolve him or his officers of doing nothing. While the outcome might have been the same, at least attempting to investigate the rockets (by waking the wireless operator and finding out who was sending them up and why)was preferable to either being indifferent or unconcerned that people may be at peril on the high seas.
FN#1:MAIB Report: Reappraisal of Evidence
Relating to SS CALIFORNIAN,page 17.
FN#2: IBID, page 18
Stanley Lord Encyclopedia Titanica
Stanley Lord (Wikipedia)
Reappraisal of Evidence Relating to SS “CALIFORNIAN”(Marine Accident Investigation Branch , UK, 1992)