Almerian. The Ship That Wasn't There?

At 2,984 GRT and 351.5 feet LBP, Almerian was one of the Leyland Line's smaller ships.  Her triple expansion engine of 284 Nominal Horsepower gave her a service speed of less than 12 knots.  In 1912, her master was Captain R Thomas.

At 10-00am on 4 April, she sailed from Mobile AL, with a cargo of cotton and lumber for Liverpool.  She reached Liverpool on 25 April.  (There is a discrepancy between the Mobile press and Lloyd's index, which gives the sailing date as 3 April.)

On 9 May 1912. Almerian sailed from Liverpool for Barbados.  Californian was then at sea, en route from Boston to Liverpool.

On 14 May 1912, Captain Lord told Lord Mersey's court that he had sighted an unidentified two-masted ship with a pink and black funnel close to Mount Temple on the morning of 15 April.  The funnel colours were those of the Leyland Line, but Lord did not mention this, or name the ship.  Lord had not mentioned this ship at Senator Smith's inquiry.  Between arriving at Liverpool on 11 May and appearing in Lord Mersey's court on 14 May, Lord had visited the Leyland Line's Liverpool office and spoken to its Marine Superintendent, Captain Fry.  (Lord's 1959 affidavit.  Arrival time from The Times shipping reports).

According to Leslie Harrison, secretary of the Mercantile Marine Services Association, and Captain Lord's best-known apologist, at some unspecified time Lord was shown a report from an unidentified person on Almerian.  (See A Titanic Myth, pages 132-133).  This stated that Almerian had been close to Mount Temple on the morning of 15 April 1912 and gave an account of her movements.  It was claimed that Almerian sighted Californian steaming southward on the western side of the icefield that separated her from Carpathia on the morning of 15 April.  As it gives neither the time nor the position of this encounter, it adds nothing to evidence given as early as 26 April 1912 at the US inquiry, other than a dubious account of Almerian meeting Mount Temple.   It might be conjectured that this report was obtained during Lord's visit to Liverpool.

In February 2006, Titanic researcher, Dr Paul Lee, obtained and made public a typed transcript (126kb) of what proved to be a copy of a hand-written document.  It forms part of material assembled by Captain Lord on or about 21 May 1912.  Its text reveals that the report allegedly was written by Almerian's master.  It includes navigational details not mentioned in Harrison's book.  It is un-signed.  In March 2006, Dr Lee made public a hand-written version (318kb) of the document.  This was obviously written by Captain Lord and is presumably the copy referred to by Leslie Harrison on page 133 of A Titanic Myth.  A note on part two of the document (298kb) shows that it was used by Leslie Harrison in 1964, while preparing his petition to the Board of Trade of 1965.  We are no closer to the report allegedly made by Captain Thomas.  (Reproductions of documents courtesy of Dr Paul Lee.)

On the strength of the report, Captain Lord identified Almerian as the two-masted ship seen near Mount Temple by himself, Captain Rostron and others.  This was in spite of Captain Moore's statement that the small steamer that accompanied Mount Temple to the edge of the icefield had a black funnel with a white band containing a badge.  Almerian of course had a salmon pink funnel with a black top, the colours of the Leyland Line.  Lord's story added to the confusion, for nobody had noticed two two-masted steamers, with different coloured funnels, near Mount Temple.  Few appear to have even noticed the discrepancy in the evidence. Those who did, including the author, apparently mentally dismissed it as another minor oddity in the Titanic story.

Almerian was a slow ship, rated at less then 12 knots by Lloyd's Register.  Her arrival and departure dates are consistent with a speed of less than 10 knots.  She could have reached the area of the wreck by 15 April, but there was no reason for her to do so.  From Mobile, she would probably have steered a course to clear the Florida Peninsula, and steamed northward along the Florida coast until clear of the Bahamas.  She would then have steered towards the 'corner' for eastbound ships at 41°N 47° W, before commencing a great circle course for Britain.  At no time does this course pass close to the wreck site, the nearest point on it being more than 80 miles distant.

Alternatively, Almerian's master may have attempted to steer a great circle course from a point north of Fort Lauderdale FL to the Lizard on the English coast.  This course passes over the Grand Banks, far north of the Titanic wreck.  It is hard to see why Almerian should have risked the ice in this region, of which her master would have been aware in general terms.

It is submitted that there appears to be no reason for Almerian to be near the scene of the disaster on 15 April 1912.

In a letter dated 7 June 1912, the Leyland Line advised the Board of Trade that only two of its ships, namely Californian and Antillian, had been in the area of the wreck on 15 April.  On 28 June 1912, with the report in Lord's possession, Lord's counsel, Robertson Dunlop, did not mention Almerian in his address to Mersey's court, in spite of his efforts to identify the so-called 'third ship' and his access to Leyland records.  Whether this was done to conceal a guilty secret, or because the Leyland Line truthfully denied its ship's presence, is an open question.  Perhaps Dunlop simply did not ask the Leyland Line about the pink-funnelled ship seen by Lord though, as Leyland's usual lawyer, he should have been familiar with its funnel colours.

The weaknesses of the report are mainly found in the navigational data revealed by Dr Lee and judiciously omitted by Leslie Harrison.  It is claimed that at about 0300hrs on 15 April Almerian met with a ship, later identified as Mount Temple.  This occurred in 41°20'N, 50°24'W, a position that is more than 20 miles from any point on Mount Temple's track.  Almerian then steamed north along the meridian of 50°24'W, eventually turning east in 41°48'N and clearing the icefield.  On the way, she passed within 6 - 6½ miles of Carpathia.

In 1912, this account would have seemed reasonable, given the general acceptance of the accuracy of Titanic's CQD position and especially its longitude, 50°14'W.  If Carpathia picked up boats at the CQD position, she would be readily seen by a ship passing in 50°24'W.  Californian, steaming south, would be met more or less head on, as described in the report.

We now know that the longitude of the CQD position is incorrect and that Carpathia picked up lifeboats while east of 50°W.   She would have been invisible to a ship in 50°24'W.  It seems possible that the navigational details were concocted to fit the CQD position.  The report agrees with evidence from the US inquiry and, other than the dubious claim of sighting Mount Temple, contains nothing that was not mentioned therein.  It does not agree with facts found in modern times.

[ image: Almerian course.]
As can be seen, Almerian's claimed course passes about seven miles west of the CQD position.  It misses the wreck site by more than twice that distance.  At no time of the night is it near Mount Temple.

Though Captain Lord possessed the report by 21 May 1912, he may have realised that it was of no value, as he made no mention of it in his letters to his Member of Parliament and the Board of Trade.  Nevertheless, he identified the two-masted ship as Almerian to the end, and mentioned her in his 1959 affidavit.  Interestingly, the report is not included in The Californian Incident, a collection of documents compiled by Leslie Harrison in 1962.  Perhaps he also found it unconvincing.

In January 1913, Captain John d'Arcy Morton, nautical advisor to the MMSA, published Pushed Under the Wheels of Juggernaut in the MMSA's journal.  This defence of Captain Lord mentioned Almerian in passing, without navigational details.  This shows that at least part of the story was known to somebody other than Captain Lord.  The article was included in The Californian Incident.

Given the letter from the Leyland Line, the absence of a report signed by Captain Thomas and the unlikely navigation, the authorship and authenticity of the report must be suspect.  The author suggests that on the morning of 15 April Captain Lord noticed the two-masted ship seen near Mount Temple.  He took little notice of it, as he was searching for a way through the icefield that separated him from Carpathia.  On his arrival in England, a sympathiser gave him the Almerian story.  Lord then decided that the two-masted ship he saw must have been Almerian.

We are left with the ship seen by Captain Moore, which remains unidentified to this day, in spite of the efforts of British and American authorities to trace her.  Whatever her name, she played no part in the drama, for she came up from the south-west with Mount Temple and arrived on the scene long after Titanic sank.