Thursday, 13 July 2017


I wish to digress a moment from the Waratah and suggest a theory for the mystery ship seen by some on the sinking Titanic and from the bridge of the Californian. A candidate cargo steamer, roughly the size of the Californian, could have been the Lindenfels (Hamburg Line - black funnel with (cross-like) 'device' in the words of Captain Moore of the Mount Temple). She would have been at the site of the Titanic disaster en route from the Azores to Boston within the right window frame (Paul Lee, The Titanic and the Indifferent Stranger). 

This could have been the cargo steamer seen by Captain Lord of the Californian, who stated that at about 10.55 pm, 14 April, he observed a steamer approaching from the east and southward (about 5 miles) of the stopped Californian (42 5 N, 50 7 W). Evans, the wireless operator confirmed that only Titanic was in the vicinity and Captain Lord made the most important observation of the entire mystery, this was NOT the Titanic, but a cargo steamer much the same size as the Californian (see images below). 

Lord later noticed the green side light, one masthead light and a few deck lights and the steamer sensibly did the same as he, stopping due to an 'impenetrable' line of ice to the west (running roughly north/south) and, as observed by his officer/s, putting her lights out, which Titanic never did until almost the end. This was not, nor ever could have been, the Titanic, although times roughly coincided with 11.30 - 11.40 when Titanic struck an iceberg significantly further to the southeast. 

This unidentified steamer did not answer Morse signals from the Californian and Evans was not asked to attempt to call her up because prior to the steamer's arrival, Evans reported that only Titanic was in the vicinity - by deduction, the newcomer did not carry wireless or operator had retired for the night. 

Why would the Lindenfels have ignored polite Morse signals? The Germans and English were not on the best of terms at this point in history. In stopping, the unidentified steamer, much like the Californian, probably swung round (engines reversing) to show her red side light which was noted by officers on duty on the bridge around midnight and thereafter. 

Captain Lord always maintained that he was at least 19.5 miles (but this could have been as near as 15 miles) from the site of the Titanic disaster which would, theoretically, have placed the unknown steamer, Lindenfels?, between 14.5 and 10 miles from the disaster. 

Between 12.45 am and 1.15 am officers on Titanic started firing distress rockets. At some time during this period, Boxhall noticed (and confirmed his sighting with Captain Smith - 41 deg. 46 min. N., 50 deg. 14 min. W) that a steamer could be seen approaching from the 'north' (by this time Titanic had swung her bow round to the 'north' - head on head), initially a masthead light and then side lights, both green and red, as the steamer drew nearer. 

More or less the same time, Stone on Californian noticed the first of the rockets in the vicinity of the mystery steamer, but seemingly from a distance much further to the south - only reaching half mast height of the unknown steamer and no detonations heard. This juxtaposition would confound Stone for the rest of his watch, not able to understand why the unidentified steamer moved off initially to the southeast and then bearing southwestward. A steamer in distress would not sail away from help and ignore Morse signals. 

Likewise did the mystery steamer ignore the Morse signals and distress rockets from Titanic and as Boxhall observed, its bearing altered as it drew nearer finally turning and steaming away from Titanic into the southwest, showing her stern light. 

Let's say that this was the Lindenfels, a deeply laden cargo steamer witnessing the worst maritime disaster in modern history. Crew would certainly have been aware of the gravity of the situation, realising that the largest steamer afloat would probably be carrying in the region of 3000 souls. How on earth could the Lindenfels be expected to save this number and not upset her own delicately trimmed lading condition? 

Also, Titanic was thought to be unsinkable and unlikely to go down even though she was sending up rockets and putting women and children off in boats. It seems logical that the Lindenfels would steam towards the disaster to gain a better knowledge of what was unfolding but when close enough and the true extent of the catastrophe revealed, the appallingly difficult decision made to steam away to the southwest and the bottom of the field of ice that was blocking both their and the Californian's passage. 

In order to avoid censure, or triggering an international incident on the scale of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, the Lindenfels might have tracked northward along the western margin of the ice field and then come about to intersect the course of the Mount Temple which, between 4 and 6 am, reached the margin of the ice field (there can be no other explanation for the steamer with the black funnel coming from such a bizarre direction). 

This would give the all important impression that the Lindenfels could never have been in the vicinity of the disaster. The rest is history and one must give pause to appreciate the gravity of mistaking the significance of the rockets seen by Stone on the Californian. None of it made sense and if it had, there is no doubt in my mind, that he would have roused Captain Lord and insisted that the master come to the bridge to observe for himself and decide the best course of action. 

The mystery ship on the other hand, whether it be the Lindenfels or not, steamed out of controversy, allowing all the negative publicity to fall upon the Californian. It has been postulated by many learned commentators that had Californian set off for the disaster site after observing the first rockets, dodging ice in darkness along the way, she could not have arrived there any sooner than the Carpathia. 

These are just thoughts and speculation. I suppose we shall never know the full truth of what happened that dreadful April night in the mid-Atlantic.

 Launched, 1906; built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd; 5699 gross tons; 3677 net tons; 421.9 ft. length; 55.3 ft. beam; 20.3 ft. depth; powered by quadruple expansion engine making 11 knots. Owners: Deutsche Dampfs Ges "Hansa", Bremen.


Californian, built by Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Dundee, Scotland, launched 1901. 


Tonnage:6,223 gross, 4,038 net
Length:447 ft (136 m) LOA
Beam:53 ft (16 m)
Speed:12.0 knots (22.2 km/h; 13.8 mph)
Crew:55 Officers and crew

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