Lord Mersey’s private journal reveals notes of the mistakes he believed led to the sinking of the ship
The contents of a private journal written by the judge who oversaw the inquiry into the Titanic disaster is to be revealed for the first time in a forthcoming documentary.
British jurist and politician, John Charles Bigham, 1st Viscount Mersey, was charged with investigating the sinking in 1912 that claimed 1,500 lives.
His diary, which detail his reasons for why the passenger liner sank, is being made public after more than a century on a Sky History programme on tomorrow night.
Lord Mersey’s notes suggest it was a combination of factors which led to the tragedy, including how the ship was travelling to fast, how the crew ignored repeated ice warnings and watertight doors were left open as it sank.
He also noted how there were not enough lifeboats – they could only hold half of the 2240 passengers – and lifeboat drills had been cancelled.
Craig Sopin, a lawyer and collector of Titanic memorabilia from Philadelphia said: ‘It is amazing to see some of Lord Mersey’s journal after all this time.
‘Through the journal we get to see inside Lord Mersey’s mind and some people have said this is one of the best documentaries about the Titanic ever made as we get to see exactly what he was thinking.’
Lord Mersey’s family has decided to unveil his private diary (pictured on the documentary_ after more than a century
In the journal, he writes how a crucial lifeboat drill was cancelled, and he commented ‘this unusual.’
He stated the Titanic was travelling at full speed in an icy environment and he mentions, ‘excessive speed’ and ‘no reduction of speed.’
He continues by writing that two vessels informed them of ‘icebergs, growlers and flows’ along with the drawing of diagrams, adding that the temperatures were falling, writing ‘this indicated ice.’
He says an ice warning came through at 2pm and was handed to Bruce Ismay, chair of the White Star, who put it in his pocket instead of making it public.
The iceberg was eventually spotted at 11.39pm by the crow’s nest lookout, who rang the alarm bell.
The journal contains notes of the mistakes he believed led to the sinking of the ship in April 1912
Among his notes he writes ‘ no reduction of speed, stating ‘the Titanic was travelling at full speed despite the ice warnings
But as the boat was travelling at 26mph there was not enough time to turn it around.
The Titanic struck into the 60ft high iceberg shortly afterwards.
The watertight doors were closed to wall off the flooded areas, but Mersey noted that some of them were then manually opened by crew to move water hoses and pumps and then ‘left open.’
Lord Mersey recorded the fact the Titanic stopped after it hit the iceberg, but then continued moving forward at half speed for another 20 miles, which increased the amount of water coming in.
About an hour after the collision the first lifeboat was lowered, with an order for the boats to be filled with women and children first but according to Mersey’s notes they ‘didn’t fill the lifeboats to capacity.’
Additionally he recorded that in one of the lifeboats 61 out of the 68 passengers were men, including chairman Bruce Ismay.
He has also included drawings of diagrams writing that two vessels warned of ‘icebergs, growlers and flows’
Lord Mersey noted there were not enough lifeboats for the 2240 passengers of the Titanic
Lord Mersey adds the Titanic (pictured) had not enough life boats for the 2240 passengers and a crucial lifeboat drill had been cancelled
At 2.20am the bow of the boat submerged and it split in two and sank. Out of the hundreds who fell into the water, only 40 were pulled out and survived. Lastly he mentions that only two lifeboats turned back to help.
The British Board of Trade’s inquiry into the tragedy took place between May 2 and July 3.
The inquiry took testimony from both passengers and crew of the Titanic, crew members of Leyland Line’s Californian, Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia and other experts.
It was the longest and most detailed court of inquiry in British history up to that time.
Prior to the British inquiry the US Senate’s inquiry had taken place on 19 April, a day after the Titanic arrived in New York, held by Senator William Alden Smith.
It concluded that those involved had followed standard practice and the disaster was an act of God.
Lord Mersey’s final report on July 30, 1912 concluded that the regulations on the number of lifeboats were out of date and inadequate, Captain Smith had ignored the ice warnings, and the lifeboats had not been properly filled.
He noted the ‘extremely high speed oftwenty-two knots ‘which was maintained following numerous ice warnings’ as a factor that led to the disaster.
Neither inquiry’s findings listed negligence by IMM or the White Star Line as a factor.
Lord Mersey was appointed commissioner to inquire into the loss of the Titanic in 1912
John Charles Bigham, 1st Viscount of Mersey, who oversaw inquiry into Titanic disaster
John Charles Bigham, 1st Viscount Mersey was born on 7 August 1895 in Liverpool.
He was a British jurist and politician.
He was elected as a Liberal Unionist in 1895.
In October 1897, he was named a judge to the Queen’s Bench
He was appointed commissioner to inquire into the loss of the Titanic in 1912.
His leadership drew criticism that he was protecting the interests of the board of trade and the major shipping lines than revealing the underlying causes of the disaster.
The following year he presided over the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.
He also headed the inquiries into the sinking ofthe Empress of Ireland held in Canada in 1914 and the Falaba and RMS Lusitania in 1915.
He was raised in the peerage from baron to viscount in 1916.
He died in 1929 at Littlehampton in Sussex, aged 89
The contents will be unveiled on Sky History’s TV show Titanic’s Lost Evidence on January 5, as part of Laurence Fishburne’s History’s Greatest Mysteries series.
For decades historians have sought to unseal his personal documents, believing his sealed opinions and judgments were part of a conspiracy to hide the truth about the tragedy.
Now after 108 years, his family have decided to reveal the secret diary, offering the fascinating insight into Lord Mersey’s real thoughts about the disaster.
The programme sees experts examining Mersey’s drawings and observations for the first time and reconstructing the Titanic’s journey in light of the new evidence.
Mr Sopin added: ‘He writes about the speed of the Titanic and that it was going too fast, and the fact there was no lifeboat drill.
‘We can see all the things he questioned and found unusual and his reaction to everything.’
‘It was a combination of things that caused the disaster. There was the speed of the ship; also Lord Mersey took great issue with the fact Ismay put an ice warning in his pocket; and also the crew were ill prepared due to no lifeboat drill.
‘Also the fact that some of the watertight doors were opened and not closed again. There was a lot of negligence made and mistakes due to a culture of ignorance.’
He said the outcome would have been totally different if an inquiry had been held today.
He added: ‘We would have put the blame on everyone, Captain Smith, the White Star and there would also have been civil suits.
‘It was only because of the culture and laws at the time that the White Star was able to continue operating.’
THE TITANIC DISASTER TIMELINE
Ned Parfett, the ‘Titanic paperboy’, outside of the White Star Line offices in London
April 10, 1912 (12:00):
The Titanic sets sail from Southampton to New York, calling at Cherbourg and Cork en route.
April 14 (09:00–22.30, ship’s time):
Marconi Company radio officers on the Titanic received a total of six warnings of ice in the vicinity, not all of which were passed on to the crew.
April 14 (23:39):
Lookout Frederick Fleet, in the crow’s nest, spots an iceberg dead ahead of the ship. Turning to port, the vessel managed to avoid a direct collision, but suffered a ‘glancing blow’ instead.
April 15 (00:05):
Captain Edward Smith orders abandon ship and has radio operators issue distress signals.
April 15 (02:05):
The Titanic’s final lifeboat is launched. Ten minutes later, the liner’s angle in the water increased rapidly, ultimately reaching over 30 degrees, as water reached previously unflooded parts of the ship through deck hatches.
April 15 (02:20):
The Titanic finally disappeared beneath the waves, some two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg.
- Sky History’s TV show Titanic’s Lost Evidence will air on January 5 at 9pm