TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Titanic And The Californian
Californian, launched in Dundee in 1901, was designed first and foremost as a cotton carrying ship. But while she was under construction, her owners, the Leyland Line, were taken over by the I.M.M., the same people who would eventually take-over the White Star Line. It was at this point that alterations were ordered, to give Californian a wider range of duties, and her superstructure was modified to accommodate nineteen staterooms, beautifully furnished, though nowhere near Titanic's incredible luxury of course.
Captain Stanley Lord had been her master since 1911, and with a crew of 55, they had set sail on 5th April for Boston from Liverpool, her company's home port. By 6.30pm, Sunday, 14th April, three large icebergs were spotted, and Lord ordered the radio operator, Cyril Evans to send a message to Antillian, which was in the vicinity.
By 10.15pm, the Californian had come to a stop for the night after spotting more ice, and, as Lord made his way to his cabin at about 10.30pm, he noticed a light, which he pointed out to Californian's Third Officer Charles Groves.
Lord was back on the bridge by 10.50pm, perhaps the mysterious light he had earlier noticed had been troubling him. Whatever the reason, he asked Evans if he knew of any ships in the vicinity. "Only Titanic," replied Evans. "That's not Titanic. She's closer to us in size," replied Captain Lord. "You'd better contact Titanic anyway and let her know we're stopped in ice." Evans duly despatched the message.
By 11.30pm, Lord noticed that the other vessel's green starboard light could be seen, and estimated her position at some 5 miles away. Californian tried to make contact with the mystery ship by Morse lamp, but there was no reply.
At midnight, the watch changed, and Second Officer Herbert Stone was asked by Lord to keep an eye on the unknown vessel, before he retired to the chart room. Stone kept watch on the vessel, he too estimating her to be about five miles away, and also tried to contact using the Morse lamp, but again to no avail.
At about the same time, one of Californian's firemen, Ernest Gill, had come up onto the deck, to catch some fresh air as his shift had just finished. In Gill's own words he saw 'a very large steamer, about 10 miles away. I watched her for a full minute. She was going at full speed.' Gill then retired for the night, and went to his bunk, but he couldn't help thinking about what he had seen, and couldn't sleep. He got up again, and was back on the deck for about 12.30am, staring in the direction he had last seen the ship. He had only been there a short while when he saw a white rocket, "about 10 miles away on the starboard side. I thought it must be a shooting star. In 7 or 8 minutes I distinctly saw a second rocket, in the same place. It was not my business to notify the bridge or the look-outs. I turned in immediately after."
Cyril Evans too had called it a day, but in haste to retire, he forget to set the automatically operated detector, so he would not receive any of the warnings or distress calls that might need acting upon.
Up on the Californian's bridge, Stone also saw a flash of light at about 12.45am. But, as fate would have it, because he had already observed a couple of (genuine) shooting stars that night, he took no action. In the next 30 minutes, he would also observe 3 more lights, all identical, and white in colour. It must have been playing on Stone's mind, because at 1.45am, he whistled down the speaking tube to the Captain's cabin, in order to advise him on the lights he had witnessed. The drowsy Captain asked Stone if they were company signals, to which Stone said that he didn't know. Without leaving the chart room to see for himself, Captain Lord ordered Stone to continue trying to contact the ship by Morse light, which he did. Again, there was no response.
By 2am, the other vessel had begun, or at least appeared, to steam away. Stone despatched apprentice James Gibson to inform the Captain. "Are you sure there were no colours in them," queried Lord. Gibson confirmed that there were not. At 4.30am, Lord was roused from his slumber by Chief Officer George Stewart. Upon the Captain's arrival on the bridge, Lord noticed some clear water, and at 5.15am, the engines were on 'Stand By', ready to continue the voyage to Boston.
Just as the crew were preparing to get under way, George Stewart noticed a ship with a yellow funnel, and, believing it to be the vessel that Stone had told him had been firing rockets in the night, he told Lord it may need assistance. Lord had Evans woken, in order to contact the ship with the radio. Evans turned his set on, and despatched a 'CQ'; all stations answer. Evans was staggered to hear almost immediately from the Frankfurt the gut-wrenching news that Titanic had sunk during the night. He took the message to Captain Lord, who, upon reading it, ordered the ship under-way at full speed to the site of the sinking, which he believed to be about about 19 miles away. Slowed down initially by the ever-present ice, Californian came across the Carpathia at 8.30am. Captain Lord offered to take aboard some of Titanic's survivors, but Carpathia's Captain Rostron refused, deciding to depart immediately for New York. As Carpathia headed off for New York, Californian vainly searched the area for any more survivors.
There were none.