The Titanic and The Mount Temple

- A Tale of Two Ships -

In November 2020, a perusal of my web access logs revealed a surprising 'spike' in the tally of people accessing my website, via searches for "mount temple" (or similiar queries). This was soon traced to a documentary that had been just been released in which the accusations that the steamship Mount Temple had abandoned the Titanic to her fate had been resurrected. Although long discredited, the charge that this ship had failed to help the stricken liner sometimes resurfaces.

A brief summary of the story is warranted. As the ailing Titanic lay sinking, the lights of another ship were seen not too far away. The morse lamp and distress rockets were used to try and summon help. The unresponsive stranger simply lay idle, oblivious to the dictates of human nature that one responds to signals of distress. Although some say that the other ship turned around and moved off, the consenses of opinion is that the other vessel sat by and did nothing, idly turning in the current.

Soon after her arrival in Canada, rumours arose that this ship was the Canadian Pacific Liner Mount Temple, which had set sail from Antwerp a few weeks previously. It was alledged by a variety of witnesses, none of whom would seemingly commit themselves to officialdom, that this ship had been close to the Titanic and had done nothing. Some even alledge that rockets had been seen going aloft.

Navigationally, this would seem ludicrous. I had dealt with the matter of the Mount Temple in a previous essay in late 2010, and had mentioned the matter in the second edition of my book on the Californian matter (the Californian being the most likely suspect for the "idle stranger" close to the Titanic).

Soon after the late 2020 broadcast I started work on this essay which would recapitulate the navigation details in the afore mentioned essay but in an easily accessible, graphical manner. I was always aware of words that Leslie Harrison wrote to me in 1989/90; he was the main advocate for the defence and the main proponent of the theory that Captain Lord of the Californian was innocent. He told me that he had long ago stopped debating the Californian matter but now expended his effort into reducing the case for Lord into the simplest forms possible. He thought that arguments devoid of complexity would help to convince people that his friend, the late Stanley Lord, was not guilty of the charges of negligence and of callously letting nearly 1500 people die.

What of the Mount Temple? Can a "simplified evidence" approach à la Harrison assist us? First, let us recap the story.

Captain James Henry Moore of the SS Mount Temple gave testimony at both the US Senate Inquiry and the British Inquiry and he told them that his ship was bound for St John, New Brunswick. She carried 1,461 passengers, all steerage and some 130 crewmembers. Interestingly, the bulkhead arrangement of his ship meant that each compartment was practically sealed; unlike the Titanic, with doorways and corridors punctuating the bulkheads, the Mount Temple's plans meant that you had to go up and over the solid bulkheads if you wanted to traverse from one compartement to another (with the exception of the lowest decks which had tunnels to allow ease of access by the engineering crew).

The majority of Moore's evidence discussed the actions of his ship and the wireless messages received and dispatched; he had steered his ship further south and west to avoid reported ice, before heading north west at a waypoint to take him to St John. At about 12.30am on April 15th, wireless operator John Durrant picked up the distress call from the Titanic and in a short space of time, the Mount Temple had turned to the north-east to effect a rescue. The distress location was some 49 miles distant. As an incentive, Moore even told his chief engineer to give the firemen "a tot of rum" as encouragement to work harder and thus extract as much speed as they could from the propulsion system.

A few hours later, the Mount Temple started to encounter ice when still some distance away and proceeded slowly on her course. When she got to the distress location, Moore could see that it was wrong as there was no wreckage or boats. Soon, he could see the Carpathia on the far side of a massive ice field, absorbed in her rescue mission. Moore had instructions from his company not to enter field ice "under any circumstances" which precluded him helping the Carpathia. After failing to find a safe route through the ice, the Mount Temple remained on the western side of the ice field before resuming her voyage to the north west, having received a message from the Carpathia saying that there was "No need to stand by him; nothing more can be done."

The above is a very brief summary of the Mount Temple's actions on the morning of April 15th. Incidentally, Captain Moore's assertion that the Titanic's distress position was wrong did not gain credence for many decades. Only the discovery of the Titanic's wreckage proved that he was right after all.

Can we reconstruct the Mount Temple's route? It is not as easy as would seem despite his testimony. At the US Inquiry, Moore said that he turned back towards the Titanic at 41o 25' N, 51o 15' W, but then corrected his longitude to 51o 41' N. He said that his course change to Canada occurred at 41o 15' N, 50o W.

At the British Inquiry, he puts his position upon receipt of the distress call at 41o 25'N, 51o 14' W, a small difference of 1 minute of longitude (1.39km or 0.86 statute miles; 0.75 nautical miles ) with his initial location as given in the US. He puts the turning point at 41o 20' N, 50o W. Which one is correct? Taking a course of S65W from the famous SOS location of 41o 46'N, 50o 14' W and a distance of 49 miles provides a starting point of 41o 25'N, 51o 14' W, which is what I have used. Since this coincides with the evidence at the British Inquiry, I have taken the turning point given then of 41o 20' N, 50o W. Given the nature of this study, the small distances involved do not make much difference to the thrust of this analysis as this essay is meant to be illustrative, a point which we shall discuss presently. This position is indicated by the red cross on the chart below. The Titanic's SOS location is denoted by the White Star flag marker.

What course did the Mount Temple take? This requires some conjecture. The ship evidently sailed to a point to the south west of Nova Scotia before heading to St John, which was located to the north east. Where this turning point was is not known to this author so an educated guess was made, hence the 12.30am position being close to the estimated route (in yellow on the chart) but not coincident with it. However, it is satisfyingly close enough for this analysis.

The nature of the ice field is also a point of much debate. I have assumed a north-west to south-east orientation for the main body, with a smaller leg to the south west. This leg was noted by the crew of the SS Birma on the morning of the 15th, and the SS Virginian had to steam around it. Furthermore, during the preceding day, both the SS Mesaba and the SS Trautenfels noted that they had to steam south-westerly along the southern edge during their westbound crossings. Unfortunately, there is a huge amount of conflicting data about the position and extent of the "leg". For this essay, the exact lay need not concern us. Obviously, the ice field is denoted by the simplistic white area.

Our discussion focusses on the gross movements of the two ships in the simulation - this is necessary as precise details which could fine-tune it are lacking; hence we can only talk in an illustrative and not absolute sense. For instance, I have assumed for simplicity that the Mount Temple was travelling at 11 knots and that she and the Titanic were keeping the same time.

It is apparent that, for the Mount Temple to be in the vicinity of the Titanic, she would have to steam north east at some point. When was this turn performed? Considering the distances and speeds involved, this indicates a turn at about 9.30pm; the turning point to New Brunswick would be approximately 7.30. The ice field "leg" shows that the Mount Temple could not have steamed north unless she were to meander around the perimeter of the southern edge of the ice which would obviously take much extra time.

What other assumptions are warranted? There are two, championed by the Californian proponents. The first one is that the Titanic when stopped was heading practically due west, the notion that she turned and headed north after the collision with the iceberg being an unpalatable one. Even though some, like 4th Officer Boxhall, said the ship stopped heading west, there is evidence that they were mistaken. But, in the eyes of the Lord proponents, an officer's word takes precedence over much more plebian observers.

The other assumption is that the "mystery ship" seen from the Titanic was about 5 miles away, 2 points off the port bow. She was first seen when the boats were being turned out (as per Lightoller, Boxhall, Buley etc.), so approximately 12-12.10am. Any later, and the boats would not actually be in the process of being turned out - they were ready to be loaded, and in the case of the starboard boats, were already filling. At any rate, it would be a quibble to argue over a few minutes here and there.

With these assumptions in place, what can we deduce?

Let us indulge the "Mount Temple is guilty" scenario with the javascript map simulation below. At about 7.30, the Mount Temple changes course to the north west, to take it to St John. And then, two hours later, the ship veers more than 90 degrees to starboard, a quite unaccountable navigation error; this new course is indicated by the red line. Obviously no-one on board notices this gross error in navigation; certainly not the Captain, nor even the officers or the quartermasters. The faint and occasional glimmerings of the Aurora Borealis and even the sight of the Northern Star, now on the port bow rather than on the starboard beam, does not seemingly alert the crew that they are drastically off course. For nearly 3 hours, the Mount Temple continues heading to the north east rather than the north west. During this time, no one apparently stops to check the compass.

It is now about 12.10am and the Mount Temple has stopped, probably because she has encountered the ice field. But rather than spend time re-computing her course and getting underway to her destination, she remains idle and does nothing. Perhaps the crew were so mesmerised by the lights of the large steamship to the east that resuming her journey is forgotten? Incompetence piled upon incompetence! Then, after some 40 minutes, the strange ship starts to fire off rockets...

It should not be necessary to point out that ships traversing the oceans had a schedule to keep. While a late arrival due to inclement weather would be accepted by the head offices of the shipping lines, a tardy transit caused by unwarranted gallivanting would not be tolerated. A captain would find himself disciplined, if not dismissed.

With this very simple logic in mind, can anyone really find the proposition, viz. that the Mount Temple was so far off course as to be within range of the Titanic, tenable? Indeed, it is astonishing that the very little brainpower necessary to convince one of the absurdity of this situation is rarely expended.

Even if it could be proven that the Mount Temple (or indeed any candidate miscreant, like the Saturnia, Campanello, Niagara, Samson etc.) was at fault it does not excuse the inactivity of the Californian; unfortunately a surfeit of badly researched books and TV shows demonstrates that one does not prove that Captain Lord was innocent by simply pointing the finger at any convenient target. They simply leave an unpleasant feeling that the reputation of people have been maligned, for whom not one iota of credible evidence exists that they acted in a disreputable fashion.

Like the discredited Olympic-Titanic "switch" fallacy, it is far easier for the layperson to trust that the author has been diligent and truthful in his research, and just accept it, rather than do their own verification of the facts - which takes considerable time, effort and, usually, expense. These "TV shows" and "books" therefore do us all a disservice ... and the promulgation of bogus research is not always successfully countered.

Talk of the Mount Temple et al., and not the neglectful Californian's duty, provides a temporary diversion from the true facts of the case and as such, is a competent irritant.

Since it can be proven quite ably, through simple navigation considerations as sketched out above, that the Mount Temple could not be the "mystery ship", does one really need to waste one's time considering the anecdotes of people who either repeated hearsay, weren't even on the ship, or wouldn't commit themselves to giving testimony or affidavits under oath? "No smoke without fire!" say those who insist that the Mount Temple must have been nearby. But we know that after every disaster, there are people who will falsely claim special knowledge, probably in an attempt to accentuate their ego. The Titanic story is no different - as Kyrila Scully's book "Titanic Imposters" shows (see this link); indeed, one of them (Luis Klein) had his bluff called and was summoned to the US Inquiry but conveniently vanished before he could feed his pack of lies to the investigative committee.

The main instigator of the Mount Temple fantasy seems to be a passenger named Dr.Quitzrau (though his name has various spelling variations). He was a steerage passenger but was upgraded when 3rd class became full. When he was seen on the Saloon Deck by a crew member and asked what class of ticket he held, he was ordered from it when he replied that he held a steerage ticket. It is highly likely that Quitzrau concocted the whole story as a means of revenge against the Mount Temple, and went around circulating the story to anyone who listened. Certainly, when the US Senate Inquiry heard of the story, an affidavit was obtained and this confirmed that Quitzrau had seen nothing at all and was just repeating the story. He was apparently very upset that he wasn't called to Washington DC to testify and complained to the vice-consul at Toronto. It was said that head of the Inquiry, Senator William Smith, "invited the doctor's useless affidavit as a matter of diplomatic tact" when the diplomatic staff contacted him. The Doctor's affidavit can be seen here and there are many obvious problems with it, the biggest one being that the Titanic was supposed to have been seen hours after she went to the bottom.

The red herring of the Mount Temple's supposed malfeasance is a spectre that simply needs to be exorcised once and for all from the Titanic story, and her captain and crew exonerated.

A few notes on the simulation: The icons for the Titanic and the Mount Temple are scaled with respect to each other; in reality, the ratio of their sizes was 882:485 and I have endeavoured to make the markers as visible as possible. The actual location of the ship is the centre point of the icons; unfortunately, this means that towards the end of the simulation, the icons overlap the ice field to a greater or lesser extent.

A new addition to the simulation are the visible ranges to the horizon. For the Mount Temple, the range from the boat deck is the pink circle, centred on the ship. The Titanic has two circles; the larger one, in blue is the distance that someone in the crow's nest could see. The green one is the range from the boat deck. When any of these circles touch, or intersect it means (theoretically, allowing for weather of course!) the ships can be seen by each other.

Time: 19.30

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