As the Atlantic began to claim the lives of 1500 people and the unsinkable Irish build masterpiece of ship building, possibly the most despicable crime of the sea took place.
Ever since the Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic over 100 years ago, there has been debate over who was to blame. As the Titanic began to sink, the crew noticed the lights of another ship in the distance, possibly 10 Miles away. Whilst the 2223 passengers and crew scrambled for the 20 lifeboats, the crew of the Titanic signalled to the to the ship and fired a number of rockets into the sky. The Titanic wireless operator tried to signal the ship using Morse code. But got no response. The ship did not come to help. Instead it turned away, leaving over 1500 people to die.
The identity of the ship has been one of the greatest mysteries of the long and tragic story of the Titanic.
Who was in charge of the mystery ship?
It was determined by the British commission and US Senate commission in 1912 that the ship was a cargo vessel, the “SS California” Captained by Stanley Lord. Captain Lord was described by the commission as a coward who ignored the distress rockets to avoid a risky nighttime rescue in an icy sea.
Captain Lord was asleep in is chart room the night the Titanic sank. He went to his grave in 1962 still claiming innocence and claiming that his ship was not the vessel seen by the Titanic that night. Before his death, Captain Lord said that he wished he had left his bed to inspect the situation from the bridge that night. Instead, "there will always be this stigma".
Supporters of Captain Lord argue that the vessel the California and Titanic saw that night was the “Sampson”. The “Sampson” was a ship seal-hunting vessel, which was illegally operating in the area. It is argued that the distress rockets fired from the titanic were mistaken for rockets being fired from an US Coast Guard ship. When they saw this, they fled.
In any event, history and many Hollywood films will tell you that Captain Lord was the Captain portrayed as the “monster” who slept while 1500 people drowned. He is still known as the captain who “disregarded the dictates of humanity, international usage and the requirements of law” (US senate Committee 1912).
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Walter Lord did have his supporters however. Possible none so much as Leslie Harrison who published a number of books on the subject, most in defense of Captain Lord. Harrison would arguably have more evidence than anyone else about the Titanic-California mystery.
Leslie Harrison first met Captain Stanley Lord in 1958 shortly after the cinema release of the Titanic disaster film “A Night to Remember”. Harrison was at the time a clerk at the Sea Union in Liverpool, England. Stanley Lord walked into the office and announced who he was. He explained that the new film based on the novel by Author Walter Lord, portrayed him poorly and dramatised the charges against him.
Over the next decades, Harrison had many interviews with the Ship Captain. He accumulated hours of tape recorded interviews, many documents and statements from witnesses.
There may never be an end to the debate about what ship it was on the Horizon that night. However, Harrison clearly believes that Captain Lord was made the scape goat of the incident and has been portrayed unfairly.