The Inquiry

At almost the same moment that Carpathia docked at 9:35pm on 18 April, United States Senator William Alden Smith arrived at Pier 54. A member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, he had been appointed by his fellow Senators to chair a sub-committee to investigate Titanic's loss. Senator Smith had achieved his appointment by introducing a resolution he had framed himself to initiate the investigation.

Arriving too late to meet the incoming Carpathia as she came up the bay. Smith boarded at the pier and was directed to the surgeon's cabin, where Bruce Ismay awaited an appropriate moment to disembark. The Senator conferred for almost  half an hour with Ismay. Then after pausing briefly to observe Titanic's third class passengers being examined by immigration authorities. Smith left the ship. At the pier's entrance he stopped to tell newspaper reporters he foresaw no difficulties or obstacles raised by White Star Line or British authorities which would impede his investigation.
Source: Wikipedia

Full copies of the Titanc inquiry can be found at the Titanic Inquiry Project

The hearing occupied seventeen days between 19 April and 25 May. At first in New York, then in Washington, and then back in New York, the sub-committee examined 82 witnesses on various phases of the disaster. Among those testifying were British subjects or residents, and 29 citizens or residents of the United States. Testimony of twelve witnesses concerned telegraphic and wireless traffic.The remainder of the 'Titanic sub-committee' of the Committee on Commerce had been selected more for political balance than maritime expertise. Its members included six senators: George C Perkins, California; Jonathan Bourne, JR, Oregon; Theodore Burton, Ohio; Furnifold M Simmons, North Carolina; Francis G Newlands, Nevada; and Duncan U Fletcher, Florida.

Hastily assembled with no member having any comprehensive knowledge of ships or shipping, the sub-committee plodded through witness after witness. Sometimes its questions - almost all of them posed by Senator Smith - were piercing and analytical; at other times they were needless and indeed heedless of a witness's emotions or (as in Harold Bride's case) physical well-being.

Senator Smith had a personal agenda. He was a vehement opponent of the Morgan interests - the very  J P Morgan whose International Mercantile Marine owned the White Star Line, Titanic's operator. But throughout the hearing Smith maintained an air of objectivity which made the summary of his findings acceptable to many.

Smith hoped to obtain for his American constituency recompense, or at least the right to sue, through establishing a knowledge of negligence by Titanic's owners and operators. If Ismay was concealing such knowledge the IMM could be sued under the provisions of the Harter Act. A response to the 1898 La Bourgogne disaster, the law stated that if a company owning a steamship had privity of negligence aboard, the individual passengers or their surviving kin could sue the company for damages. Though Titanic had been a British ship she had been owned by an American trust indictable under the Harter Act.

An interesting point as to why the boats left Titanic half-filled was developed by the fifth officer Lowe: officers in charge of loading the lifeboats were not confident that the boats, filled to their rated 'sea capacity' would reach the water without breaking in two during the lowering from the weight of passengers. What officers did think - wrongly as it turned out - was that the half filled boats would stand by to pick up survivors through lower gangway doors or those who had jumped into the water. The hypothetical 'lowering capacity' was ignored, of course, during the lowering of the last several boats.

Edward Wilding, Naval architect for Harland and Wolff, testified at the subsequent British inquiry that Titanic's boats had been test-lowered at the yard, carrying the equivalent weight of a full complement of passengers. The est - actually of the new Welin davits - and its results were not made known to the Titanic's officers.

Reactions of the British press to the conduct of Senator Smith hearings were starting to become known in America. Newspapers derided the hearings 'validity ad the qualifications of the sub-committee's members. Senator Smith dismissed the criticism as based on inaccuracies and half-truthful data British reporters had transmitted by cable to their home offices.

The spirit of the American inquiry, the querulous British reaction and the investigation's function are contained in a New York Herald editorial :

'Nothing has been more sympathetic, more gentle in its highest sense than the conduct of the inquiry by the Senate committee, and yet self-complacent moguls in England call this impertinent ... This country intends to find out why so many American lives were wasted by the incompetency of British seamen, and why women and children were sent to their deaths while so may British crew have been saved.'

Having failed to establish responsibilities under the Harter Act's provisions, Senator Smith was now, it appears, trying to establish a moral responsibility on which judgements might be based.

Thursday, 25 April was spent interrogating 23 of Titanic's crew. The men were heard separately by individual subcommittee members. Smith himself interviewing Hains, Hemming and Evans at 10pm to wrap up the day's activity.

Three members of the California's crew testified before the Senators On 26 April: her master, Captain Stanley Lord; wireless operator Cyril Evans; and a crewman described variously as 'deck hand', 'donkeyman', and 'assistant engineer' - although his name appears on the crew list as a fireman - Ernest Gill.

Titanic's crew and officers were permitted to depart on 29 April and Bruce Ismay on 30 April.

The remaining days wrapped up loose ends.

On 18 May, Captain John J Knapp of the United States Hydrographic Office testified. He proved with charts and authority-laden testimony that the ship seen by Titanic could have been no other than the Californian and the ship seen by the Californian (the steamer which, in the eyes of Captain Lord and several officers, was a small vessel about five miles away) could not possibly have been any other than Titanic.

Travelling to New York, on 25 May, Senator Smith visited Olympic at her pier, interviewed her captain, Herbert J Haddock, and visited the engine room and stokehold, where stoker Fredrick Barrett had been standing when the iceberg pierced Titanic's hull. Senator Smith returned to Washington to prepare his report to the full United States Senate.

The report summarised the sub-committee's investigations, interviews and interrogations. After establishing Titanic's ownership and the structure of IMM White Star's parent company, the report went on to describe the ship, sea trials, Board of Trade certification and the composition of her passenger list. The ship's voyage prior to striking ice was described in detail including weather conditions, speed, and ice warnings received by Titanic. paragraphs were followed by summaries of vessels in the vicinity of the sinking.

Captain Lord, master of the Californian was soundly condemned for his apparent negligence in failing to respond to what were apparently distress signals from Titanic. In the reports's most strongly worded section, Senator Smith set the tone for the years of controversy which followed.

The Titanic's lifeboat capacities, their loading and lowering, and conduct of crew and passengers while afloat were summarised, as were the commendable actions taken by Captain Rostron as he drove the Carpathia through ice to rescue survivors.

More than two pages of the report described discrepancies in wireless and telegraphic services possibility of censorship by Captain Rostron was dismissed, as was nay nefarious reason for the delay of Ismay's 15 April message. However Carpathia's wireless operator and the surviving operator from Titanic were rebuked for making arrangements to sell stories of their experiences.

A summary of recommendations, while brief, contained suggestions for changes in structure and lifeboat capacity for vessels licence to carry passengers from American ports, and further recommended that all foreign flags vessel be similarly modified or lose their passenger licence. Adequate manning of boats and boat drills for passengers were recommended. The necessity for regulations of radiotelegraphy was strongly states, including 24-hour manning of equipment, action against amateurs' interference, reliable auxiliary power sources, and maintenance of all messages' secrecy.

It also contained a suggestion that the firing of rockets or Roman candles on the high sea for any other purpose than as a distress signal be stopped. Two exhibits augmented the summary: An alphabetical list of Titanic's crew and a similar passenger list, separated by class. Each indicated 'saved' or 'lost' for each entry.

The report was ninteen pages long and exhibits occupied another 44 pages. It was ordered to be printed on 28 May 1912, only three days after the final depositions had been obtained, and summarised. 1,145 pages of testimony and affidavits.