Family's Titanic secret revealed
- 22 September 2010
- From the section Northern Ireland
Confusion about steering orders was responsible for the Titanic sinking, according to a relative of one of the ship's officers.
Novelist Louise Patten, granddaughter of Titanic's Second Officer Charles Lightoller, said an officer had steered into an iceberg instead of away.
The Belfast-built luxury liner sank in the Atlantic Ocean on her maiden voyage in April 1912 with the loss of 1,500 lives.
Mrs Patten said the tragedy had occurred during a period when shipping communications were in transition from sail to steam.
Two different systems were in operation at the time, Rudder Orders (used for steam ships) and Tiller Orders (used for sailing ships).
Crucially, Mrs Patten said, the two steering systems were the complete opposite of one another, so a command to turn 'hard a-starboard' meant turn the wheel right under one system and left under the other."
She said when the helmsman, who had been trained in sail, received the direction, he turned the vessel towards the iceberg with tragic results.
Mrs Patten has worked the story of the catastrophe into her latest novel, Good As Gold.
She said that while Charles Lightoller was not on watch at the time of the collision, a dramatic final meeting of the four senior officers took place in the first officer's cabin shortly before Titanic went down.
There, Lightoller heard not only about the fatal mistake, but also what happened next up on the bridge.
While the helmsman had made a straightforward error, what followed was a deliberate decision, she claimed.
Lightoller was the only survivor to know that after the iceberg was hit, Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic's owner, the White Star Line, persuaded Captain Smith to continue sailing.
The truth of what happened on that historic night was deliberately buried, she said.
Louise Patten's grandfather decided not to disclose what he knew and even kept his story from an official enquiry into the sinking.
"By his code of honour, he felt it was his duty to protect his employer - White Star Line - and its employees," Ms Patten said.
"It was made clear to him by those at the top that, if the company were found to be negligent, it would be bankrupted and every job would be lost.
"The enquiry had to be a whitewash. The only person he told the full story to was his beloved wife Sylvia, my grandmother."