The Californian Incident

Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian

The Californian was a Lealand Liner cargo ship, commanded by Stanley Lord, that was westbound enroute Liverpool to Boston. At 7:30 p.m.on April 14, they sent an ice warning to the Titanic, "Three large icebergs five miles to south ward of us, 42.3 N, 49.9 W." Temperature 39 degrees. This was not the only time they heard from the California that night. At about 10:30 p.m. the Californian had stopped for the night on account of ice. They were waiting for daylight to continue. Captain Lord advised the wireless operator, Cyril Evans, to warn the Titanic of the ice. It was now 11:00 p.m. Evans broke in on the Titanic and in return got the response, "Shut up, I am busy, I am working Cape Race." Jack Phillips was busy sending a back log of passenger messages. This was just 40 minutes before the fatal collision with the iceberg.

At about 11:00 p.m. Third Officer Charles Grove who had taken over the watch on the bridge noted a ship to the southeast. At about 11:40 p.m. it looked like it had turned out its lights. Captain Lord had also seen the ship from a deck below. He thought it was a freighter. This was about 11:45 p.m. Captain Lord was on the bridge with Grove and he still thought the ship was other than a passenger liner. He advised the crew to call her up by morse lamp. To this they got no response. Captain Lord told the officers "I will go lie down a bit", then left the bridge.

The Californian's lights were also spotted from the decks of the Titanic. Several officers including Fourth Officer Boxhall, Quartermaster Rowe, Second Officer Lightoller and Captain Smith saw the lights. Some of the officers estimated the distance to be as close as 5 to 6 miles away, as stated by Fourth Officer Boxhall at the British Enquiry. Some of the lightboats were instructed to row for the unidentified light. Quartermaster Rowe attempted contact via the morse lamp. Like the Californian's attempt he got no response. At 12:45, Captain Smith ordered the distress rockets fired at 5 minute intervals. He was expecting to get a response from the unidentified ship, he got none.

At Midnight turned the watch on the bridge over to Second Officer Herbert Stone. Apprentice James Gibson joined Stone on the bridge for the watch. They were advised to let Captain Lord know of any changes with the ship in the distance. At about 12:45 they saw a white flash in the sky in the area of the ship they were watching. Stone thought she had fired a rocket. He called Lord on the speaking tube. He asked Stone if maybe they were company signals, Stone did not know and told Lord they were white. Lord told him to continue attempting contact with the morse lamp.

Eight rockets in all were seen by Stone and Gibson that morning. One even through binoculars by Gibson. He thought the ship "looked very queer out of the water, her lights look queer." At about 2:15 they could no longer see the ship. Captain Lord was advised of the eight rockets and that the ship "had gone out of sight to the southwest." He asked if there was any color to the rockets and was told "they were all white."

At 4:00 Chief Officer Stewart took over the watch on the bridge. Stone told him of the events of the morning. Stewart scanned the horizon and spotted the Carpathia. Stewart asks Stone if this was the ship firing rockets, it was not.

At about 5:20 Stewart wakes up the wireless operator Evans. By 5:30 they were advised by the Frankfort and Mount Temple that the Titanic had sunk after striking an iceberg. The Virginian confirmed the story giving Evans the longitude and latitude of the Titanic's last known location. Captain Lord realizes they are only 19 miles away.

The Californian zigzags through the heavy ice and arrives in the area of the sinking at 8:30 just as the Carpathia picks up the last survivors in lifeboat 12. They search the area until 11:20, finding nothing, and continue on to Boston.

The Californians log made no mention of any rockets being spotted that morning.

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