Tag Archives: SS California

Whatever Happened To….Lord of Titanic?

Public Domain
Public Domain

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)

15 April in Titanic History

15 April

2:20 a.m.: Titanic sinks with over 1,500 souls lost.

0400: Carpathia arrives and begins recovery operations of lifeboats.  Dawn reveals large icefield and some bergs 200 feet tall.

0730: Californian arrives but only finds Mount Temple. Sights Carpathia.

0830: Carpathia and California alongside. Carpathia requests she continue search for survivors. Californian only finds debris. Carpathia departs for New York.

10:40-11:20: Californian gives up search and departs. Discrepancy between log and Third Officer Groves makes time approximate.

Sources: Walter Lord, A Night To Remember & The Night Lives On, Stephen Cameron, Titanic: Belfast’s Own

New Book: The Titanic and the Indifferent Stranger

This seems to be the year of Stanley Lord as we have another book CaptainStanleyLordexamining his culpability that tragic night in 1912. The Titanic and the Indifferent Stranger written by Paul Lee is now out in an expanded paperback edition. According to the press release, the book is a 440 page detailed anaylsis that follows the controversy from its roots all the way through the books published for and against Stanley Lord, and the internal deliberations of the British government.

“The Titanic and the Indifferent Stranger” is a 440 page detailed analysis of the case, chronologically following the controversy from initial press reports of the mysterious ship seen from the Titanic’s bows, to the pronouncements made in later years by authors keen to promote their books and opinions over their rivals. Assisting in Dr. Lee’s conclusions is the first printing of the internal deliberations of the UK Government as the campaigns to clear Captain Lord’s name in 1965, 1968 and the early 1990s were ignited by Lord’s friends. The bequeathed papers of Captain Lord’s foe and namesake Walter Lord, and the Captain’s ardent supporter Leslie Harrison have been scoured and provide a rich source of information on the tactics employed on both sides of the argument – culminating in a legal bid to suppress a book critical of the Californian and its crew.

A review by Paul Rogers on the electronic edition at Encyclopedia Titanica gives it high marks. “Lee’s book is, quite simply, the most comprehensive presentation of evidence in relation to Captain Lord and his infamous ship that I have read to date. Rather than relying on footnotes and references, Lee presents, within the text itself, the full transcripts from the American and British Inquiries that relate to the Californian and the other ships implicated in the Titanic disaster. There is no bias whatsoever that I could perceive and Lee treats all those involved with scrupulous fairness.”

I have no doubt that both sides of the debate (the Lordites and Anti-Lordites) will be making their own appraisals known of Lee’s work in the near future (if they have not all ready done so by now).

Signed copies of the book are available from the author’s site at http://www.paullee.com/book_details.php or you can buy it at amazon.co.uk.

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.