SS Californian

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SS Californian

The SS Californian was a Leyland Line steamship that was in the vicinity of the RMS Titanic when it sank on April 15, 1912.


The Californian was a British steamship owned by the Leyland Line, which was part of J.P. Morgan's International Mercantile Marine Co. The ship was constructed by the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd. in Dundee, Scotland and was launched on November 26, 1901. Californian was 6,223 tons, 447 feet (136 m) long, 53 feet (16 m) at its beam, and had an average full speed of 12 knots (22km/h). The ship had a triple expansion steam engine which was powered by two doubled-ended boilers, and was primarily designed to transport cotton, but could also carry passengers.

The Californian had a capacity of 47 passengers and 55 crew members. After completing its sea trials on January 23, 1902, the Californian began its maiden voyage from Dundee on January 31 and arrived at New Orleans, USA on March 3.

Sinking of Titanic

Stanley Lord, who had commanded the Californian since 1911, was the master of the ship when it left London, England on April 5, 1912 on its way to Boston, USA. It was not carrying any passengers on the voyage.

On Sunday April 14, while traveling south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the Californian encountered a large ice field. At 10:21 p.m. Captain Lord decided to stop the ship and wait there for the night. 10:21 p.m. is the time according to Californian's clock, which was twelve minutes behind Titanic's clock. (All times mentioned are in Californian time.)

Earlier that day at 7:30 p.m., Californian's only wireless operator Cyril Evans reported three large icebergs in the area the White Star Line passenger ship Titanic was heading. Titanic's wireless operator Harold Bride intercepted the warning and delivered it to Titanic's bridge.

Slightly before 11:00 p.m., after the Californian had stopped, lights of another ship came into view on the horizon off Californian’s starboard side. To Lord, the ship looked like a tramp steamer, similar in size to the Californian. Third Officer Groves, who on deck with Lord, thought the lights made the ship look like a passenger liner. Captain Lord went to Cyril Evans and asked him what other ships were nearby. Evans said Titanic was the only one. Lord commented, "That isn't the Titanic, but to tell Titanic anyway that they were stopped by ice. Titanic’s other wireless operator, Jack Phillips was busy sending out passenger’s personal messages to the wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland at the time, and when Evans sent the message that they were stopped and surrounded by ice, the close proximity made Californian's signal loud in Phillip's headphones. Phillips couldn’t hear a message he was getting from Cape Race and sent back to Evans, “Shut up, Shut up, I’m working Cape Race.” Evans listened for a little while longer, and at 11:25 p.m. he turned off the wireless and went to bed. Fifteen minutes later Titanic hit an iceberg and the first CQD was sent out a half an hour later.

At 11:30 Lord asked Third Officer Groves to try to signal the ship on the horizon, which he estimated to be 5 miles (8 km) away and stopped, with a Morse lamp. The vessel never appeared to respond. Slightly after midnight Second Officer Herbert Stone took watch from Groves, while Lord went to rest in the chartroom. Stone also tried signaling the ship with the Morse lamp, but was without success. Around 12:45 a.m., April 15, Stone saw a white rocket appear over the ship in the horizon. First he thought it was a shooting star, until he saw another one. He saw five rockets by the time he told Captain Lord at 1:15 a.m. what he had seen. Lord asked if they were company signals, Stone said he didn’t know. Lord told Stone to tell him if anything about the ship changes and to keep signaling the ship with the Morse lamp. By 2:00 a.m. the ship appeared to be leaving the area. A few minutes later Crewman James Gibson informed Captain Lord that the ship had left and that eight white rockets were seen. Lord, who was partially asleep, asked whether they were sure of the color, Gibson said yes and left.

Lord woke up later that morning at 4:30 a.m. and went out on deck to decide how to proceed past the ice. At 5:15 a.m. Chief Officer George F. Stewart told Lord that he saw a ship, which would later be identified as the RMS Carpathia, firing rockets and was concerned that it might need assistance. Lord told Stewart to go wake Cyril Evans and ask him to inquire about the rockets. Stewart woke Evans who then turned on the wireless and found out that the Titanic had sank over night. Stewart took the news to Captain Lord who immediately calculated the distance between the two ships, estimated it was 19 1/2 miles (31 km) away and began steaming towards Titanic's last reported position. Californian arrived next to the Cunard Line steamship, RMS Carpathia around 8:30 a.m. The Carpathia was just finishing picking up the last of Titanic's survivors. After communication between the two ships, the Carpathia left the area leaving the Californian to search for any other survivors, but only finding scattered wreckage and empty lifeboats.


As word spread about the Titanic disaster and its great loss of life, many questions were asked about how a disaster like this could have happened and what could have been done to prevent it. Some of these questions related to how close the Californian actually was and if it could have saved many if not all of Titanic's passengers and crew. The United States Senate began an inquiry into the disaster on 19 April, the same day the Californian arrived in Boston.

Eight days later on 26 April, Captain Lord, Cyril Evans and crewman Ernest Gil testified in the American investigation. None of the officers who were on duty the night Titanic sank testified. The British Board of Trade investigation, which began on 2 May, would end up being more thorough. Beside the same crew members questioned in the American inquiry, the Board of Trade also questioned Charles Groves, James Gibson, George F. Stewart, and Herbert Stone.

Not all of the crew member's testimony matched each other. Most notably Captain Lord said he was never told that the mystery ship had disappeared, which contradicted James Gibson testimony who said he reported it and that Lord had acknowledged him.

Also during the inquiries, survivors of Titanic recalled seeing the lights of another ship that were spotted after Titanic had hit the iceberg. To Titanic's Fourth Officer Boxhall the ship appeared to be off the bow of Titanic, five miles (8 km) away and heading in Titanic's direction. Just like Californian's officers, Boxhall attempted signaling the ship with a Morse lamp, but received no response. He had Titanic's signal rockets brought to the bridge to try to signal the ship. He had them launched into periodically starting at around 12:50 a.m. until he left the ship in command of a lifeboat. The ship never seemed to respond. Titanic's Captain Edward Smith felt the ship was close enough he ordered the first lifeboats launched on the port side to row over to the ship, drop off the passengers and come back to Titanic for more. The lights of the ship were seen from the lifeboats throughout the night until morning. One lifeboat kept rowing towards the lights, but never seemed to get any closer.

Captain Lord testified he did not believe the ship that he had seen from the Californian could be Titanic. He said the ship he saw was too small to be Titanic, and that the Californian was too far from Titanic's position to see each other. C. Robertson Dunlop, who represented Californian's owners and officers at the British investigation, suggested several ships that did not have wireless on board that were thought to be in the area at the time, and could have been between the Californian and Titanic. However Crewman Ernest Gil said he thought the ship was big enough to be an ocean liner and Third Officer Groves said he believed it was a passenger ship because he said the ship was brightly illuminated, and that the deck lights appeared to go out around 11:40.

Both the American and British inquires found that the Californian must have been closer than 19 ½ miles (31 km) and that the ships the Californian and the Titanic saw were each other. Both inquires concluded that Captain Lord failed to provide proper assistance to Titanic and the British Inquiry concluded that had the Californian responded to the rockets and gone to Titanic's aid that the Californian "...might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost."

Numerous safety measures were enacted in the months and years after the disaster to prevent it from ever happening again. Twenty–nine nations ratified the Radio Act of 1912 which required 24–hour radio watch on all ships in case of an emergency. The first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea formed a treaty that also required 24–hour radio monitoring and standardized the use of distress rockets.

World War I

The Californian continued normal service until World War I when the British government took control of the ship. The ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in 9 November 1915, 61 miles (98 km) southwest of Cape Matapan, Greece with the loss of one life.


  • Eaton, John P. and Haas, Charles A. Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy (2nd ed.). W.W. Norton & Company, 1995
  • Lynch, Donald and Marschall, Ken. Titanic: An Illustrated History. Hyperion, 1995
  • Padfield, Peter. The Titanic and the Californian. The John Day Company, 1965