Stanley Lord

Stanley Lord (13 September 1877 - 24 January 1962) was captain of the SS Californian, a ship that was in the vicinity of the RMS Titanic the night it sank on 15 April 1912.

Early life

Lord was born on 13 September 1877 in Bolton, Lancashire, England. He began his training at sea when he was thirteen, aboard the barque Naiad, in March 1891. He later obtained his Second Mate’s Certificate of competency and served as Second Officer in the barque Lurlei.

In February 1901, at the age of 23, Lord obtained his Master's Certificate, and three months later, obtained his Extra Master’s Certificate. He entered the service of the West India and Pacific Steam Navigation Company in 1897. The company was taken over by the Leyland Line in 1900, but Lord continued service with the new company, and was awarded his first command in 1906.

Lord was given full command of the SS Californian in 1911......

Before the disaster

On the night of 14 April 1912, as the Californian approached a large ice field, Captain Lord decided to stop around 10:21 PM and wait out the night. Before turning in for the night, he ordered his sole wireless operator, Cyril Evans, to warn other ships in the area about the ice. When reaching the Titanic, Evans tapped out "I say old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice." The Californian was so close to the Titanic that the message was very loud in the ears of Titanic First Wireless Operator Jack Phillips, who angrily replied "Shut up! Shut up! I am busy. I am working Cape Race." Earlier in the day the wireless equipment aboard the Titanic had broken down and Phillips, along with Second Wireless Operator Harold Bride, had spent the better part of the day trying to repair it. Now they were swamped with outgoing messages that had piled up during the day. Phillips was exhausted after such a long day. Evans listened in for a while longer as Phillips sent routine traffic through the Cape Race relaying station before finally turning in for bed after a very long day at around 11:30 PM.

During the night

Over the course of the night, various officers and seamen on the deck of Californian witnessed white rockets being fired into the air over a strange ship off in the distance, totaling eight in all. Captain Lord was awakened several times and asked about the rockets to which he replied that they may be "company rockets", to help ships identify themselves to liners of the same company. What is unclear is why Lord simply assumed this as there were no other ships in sight that night.

Meanwhile on the Titanic, after the collision, they had also spotted the lights of a ship in the distance and Fourth Officer Boxhall and Quartermaster Rowe tried in vain to contact the strange ship by Morse lamp. Observers on the deck of the Californian saw these signals and tried to signal back. However, the only person aboard the Californian with a good understanding of Morse was asleep. Not able to understand the garbled messages coming from the strange ship, Captain Edward John Smith eventually concluded that signals were merely the masthead flickering and not signals at all. Throughout the night, no one on board the Californian attempted to wake their wireless operator and ask him to contact the ship to ask why they were firing rockets and trying to signal them until 5:30 AM. By then it was too late. When the Titanic slipped below the water, the sudden disappearance of lights was interpreted by the Californian crew that she had simply steamed on her way.

Search and recovery

Monday morning, Captain Lord was notified by the Frankfurt that the Titanic had gone down early that morning. At 8:30 that morning, the Californian pulled up alongside the Carpathia and stayed behind to search for additional bodies after the Carpathia steamed towards New York.

Lord's testimony

The following is from Captain Lord's testimony in the US Inquiry on 26 April:

When I came off the bridge, at half past 10, I pointed out to the officer that I thought I saw a light coming along, and it was a most peculiar light, and we had been making mistakes all along with the stars, thinking they were signals. We could not distinguish where the sky ended and where the water commenced. You understand, it was a flat calm. He said he thought it was a star, and I did not say anything more. I went down below. I was talking with the engineer about keeping the steam ready, and we saw these signals coming along, and I said "There is a steamer passing. Let us go to the wireless and see what the news is." But on our way down I met the operator coming, and I said, "Do you know anything?" He said, "The Titanic."

So, then, I gave him instructions to let the Titanic know. I said, "This is not the Titanic; there is no doubt about it." She came and lay at half past 11, alongside of us until, I suppose, a quarter past, within 4 miles of us. We could see everything on her quite distinctly, see her lights. We signaled her, at half past 11, with the Morse lamp. She did not take the slightest notice of it. That was between half past 11 and 20 minutes to 12. We signaled her again at 10 minutes past 12, half past 12, a quarter to 1 o'clock. We have a very powerful Morse lamp. I suppose you can see that about 10 miles, and she was about 4 miles off, and she did not take the slightest notice of it. When the second officer came on the bridge, at 12 o'clock ,or 10 minutes past 12, I told him to watch that steamer, which was stopped, and I pointed out the ice to him; told him we were surrounded by ice; to watch the steamer that she did not get any closer to her. At 20 minutes to 1 I whistled up the speaking tube and asked him if she was getting any nearer. He said, "No; she is not taking any notice of us." So, I said "I will go and lie down a bit." At a quarter past he said, "I think she has fired a rocket." He said, "She did not answer the Morse lamp and she has commenced to go away from us." I said, "Call her up and let me know at once what her name is. So, he put the whistle back, and, apparently, he was calling. I could hear him ticking over my head. Then l went to sleep.


Lord resigned from the Leyland Line in August of the same year. Some reports say he was dismissed. Although he had not been tried or convicted of any offence, he was still viewed as a pariah. The events of that fateful night would haunt him for the rest of his life and he would spend his remaining days fighting for his exoneration.

In 1913, Captain Lord was hired by the Nitrate Producers Steamship Co. where he remained until July 1928, resigning for health reasons. In 1955, following the release of Walter Lord's (no relation) book A Night to Remember and the subsequent film of the same name, Stanley Lord was incensed at his portrayal in the movie and decided now was the time to speak up. In 1958 he contacted the Mercantile Marine Service Association in Liverpool and said "I am Lord of the Californian and I have come to clear my name." The association's general secretary, Mr. Leslie Harrison took up the case for him and petitioned the Board of Trade on his behalf. The petition was rejected in 1965 and followed by a second petition in 1968 which was also rejected.

The discovery of the remains of the Titanic on the sea bed, in 1985, provided evidence which dispelled some of the prejudiced assessments of Captain Lord's culpability. The position of the wreck makes it indisputable that the S.O.S position given by the Titanic's officers, after the collision, was very inaccurate. (The error in position amounted to about 13 miles.) At both of the Titanic enquiries, in 1912, there was a conflict of evidence about the true position of the Titanic when it sank. The conclusions of the 1912 enquiries discounted the evidence of uncertainty about the Titanic's position. At the time, it was assumed that the position which Captain Lord had given, for his ship, was incorrect and that he was actually much closer to the Titanic than he claimed to be. The real location of the Titanic wreck confirms that those enquiry conclusions were wrong and the balance of probability is that Stanley Lord gave a genuine account of the circumstances, however the entries in the Californian's scrap log referring to the night in question had been removed, impilying he destroyed evidence.

A re-appraissal by the UK Government, instigated informally in 1988 and published in 1992 by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) held two polarised opinions of the case, which significantly devalued its impact. Among its conclusions were that the Titanic's rockets had been seen, and should have been investigated. The remainder of the report discusses the opinions of its two authors as to whether the Titanic and the Californian were ever in sight of each other.

Captain Lord died on 24 January 1962, aged 84, almost half a century after the sinking of the Titanic. He is buried in Wallasey cemetery, Merseyside.


  • Lee, Paul The Indifferent Stranger electronic book, 2008

Further reading

External links

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