Monday, September 5, 2011



On September 22, 2010, the newspaper, London Telegraph, published an interview with an author, Louise Patten, who claimed to know the real truth about why Titanic struck the iceberg. Patten, the granddaughter of Titanic’s Second Officer Charles Lightoller, revealed a secret told to her by her grandmother. In her interview, Patten says Lightoller told his wife that he lied during both inquiries into the disaster, that striking the iceberg was actually caused by a “blunder” by Hichens.

In 1912, ship steering was changing from the Tiller system (sail) to the Rudder system (steam), and the two systems were the complete opposite of one another. Under the Tiller system (used on Titanic) “Hard a-Starboard” meant to turn the wheel to the left. Under the Rudder system, to turn it right. (Seamanship in the Age of Sail by John Harland) The steersman (Hichens) supposedly panicked and did the wrong thing.

Lightoller, the most senior officer to survive the sinking, told no one except his wife, who later told her daughter and granddaughter, and they kept this secret so as not to damage his, or the White Star Line’s, reputation. Patten revealed it in a book, GOOD AS GOLD, a novel she published in 2010, just in time for the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking. And conveniently at the very time of her newspaper interview.

In fact there was no “blunder.” Overseen by Officer James Moody, who stood behind him, Hichens turned the wheel correctly and the ship turned to port in front of the iceberg. Turning the ship the wrong way would have meant it would either crash head-on into the berg or pass it on its port side. Yet the gaping holes were on the starboard side of the ship. Ms. Patten explains that by saying the “blunder” was “corrected” almost immediately, but by then it was too late to avoid the collision.

Except to sailors (even those with small boats), the tiller system is confusing, and Ms. Patten may be excused for not understanding. However, it’s one thing to rewrite history in a novel, and another to report it to a newspaper as if it were true. Perhaps Lightoller did tell that story to his wife, and she, her daughter and granddaughter all kept the secret. But, meanwhile, all, except Ms. Patten, have died.

Furthermore, the records show that Charles Lightoller wasn’t even on the bridge during those crucial moments, and Patten, with her book, is far from an unbiased source. Ms. Sally Nilsson, the great-granddaughter of Robert Hichens, (who, after the collision, was assigned to Lifeboat #6 and therefore survived) has written a book about Hichens’ life to be released by The History Press in November, 2011. (May be pre-ordered on Amazon.)

In her remarks to the Telegraph, Ms. Patten also alleged that Bruce Ismay persuaded Captain Smith to continue sailing after the crash and they did so for ten more minutes, thereby causing more water to enter the ship and hasten its demise.

This contradicts everything I’ve read, particularly official inquiry accounts from the testimony by crew and passengers, which state that the captain came on deck “just seconds after the impact,” that he inquired if the watertight doors had been closed (they had). He ordered, “All stop,” and Murdoch rang the message to the engine room. Smith then asked Officer Boxhall to inspect the ship, and after that, a carpenter rushed up to the bridge stating that water was coming in. Chief Officer Wilde appeared next, saying the situation was serious, and Smith asked that Thomas Andrews, the architect, be asked to come up. It was only then that Bruce Ismay appeared, “wearing carpet slippers and a suit over pajamas” and Smith informed him the ship was damaged.

No testimony from the official records says Ismay told Smith to keep sailing. His family has rejected the idea that he would have done so and resent the slur that he was responsible for so many deaths. Testimony from the official inquiries states that the ship never moved forward under its own power after striking the iceberg, and there’s no report the engines started up again.

As for why Titanic struck the iceberg, there seems to be plenty of blame to go around. But why did so few passengers survive? I’ll cover that next week. Meanwhile, what do you think about this report by Ms. Patten. Did she make it up to sell copies of her new book? Would you do that?


  1. I wouldn't lie to sell a book. It just seems unethical to lie.

  2. Ewww! I wouldn't lie about historical facts. The people involved might be dead, but their families are still here and that's hurtful...

    I was writing a short story about a shipwreck once and I was researching the Edmond Fitzgerald. In the end, I opted to use an older wreck because I didn't want to dredge up any unpleasant memories for families.

    Great blog!

    Lisa :)

  3. Lynn: Thanks for the comment. I agree it seems unethical.

    Lisa: Thanks for your comment about sticking with the truth. Glad you enjoyed the blog.


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