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The Californian:

The Harrison Correspondence

The following is a verbatim transcript of the correspondence exchanged between George Behe and Leslie Harrison from Nov. 27, 1994 through March 2, 1995.

Nov. 27, 1994

Dear Mr. Harrison,

I hope you'll forgive me for intruding upon your privacy. My name is George Behe and I am very interested in the part the Californian played in the Titanic disaster.

I just received a note from our friend Walter Lord in which he enclosed a photocopy of your proposed "itinerary" of the Californian on the morning of the disaster. I find your reasoning to be very interesting. However, there are several unclear points about the Californian controversy that I thought you might welcome the opportunity to address.

We both know that the Mt. Temple's Captain Moore testified that he sighted the Californian steaming WESTWARD through the icefield at about 6 a.m. a mere half-dozen miles north of the disaster site. I would be interested to know why your book, "A Titanic Myth," fails to present that fact to its readers. More puzzling, however, is your article in the South African Titanic Society's "The Titanic Chronicler," Vol. 4, No. 8, which states that the Mt. Temple's first sighting of the Californian did not occur until 8 a.m. (with Californian steaming SOUTH at the time.)

Also, none of your published accounts mention the fact that, at 6:25 a.m. (Californian time) the Californian's wireless operator notified the Virginian's Captain Gambell that Californian could already see Carpathia picking up lifeboats.

Although your book "A Titanic Myth" (pp.442-3) acknowledges that Californian's Third Officer Groves was called to the bridge at 6:40 a.m., it somehow fails to present the crucial fact that Groves could clearly see the Carpathia to the EAST when he reached the Californian's bridge at 6:50 a.m. (Indeed, the fact that Carpathia was due east of the Californian at that time means that Californian had already reached the latitude of the disaster site by 6:50 a.m.) Your book, however, claims that Californian did not sight the Carpathia until much later - at around 7:30 a.m. (By the way, we can be certain that Groves' timepiece was correct because he testified that he adjusted it to ship's time before sighting the so-called "mystery ship" the night before. As odd as it might seem, we do not know for certain if any other Californian officers even HAD timepieces with which to keep accurate time that night; Groves is the only officer who testified to having had a chronometer on his person.)

It seems clear that every independent witness who was able to testify about the Californian's activities that night gave information that put the lie to Captain Lord's version of events. Since you have researched the Californian affair for many years, I have no doubt that you are well aware of the accuracy of the facts as I have outlined them above. It occurs to me, however, that you might welcome this opportunity to explain the odd discrepancies between your own published Californian articles and the information contained in various primary sources.

If you wish to write to me and address the above points that I have raised, I will look forward to reading your response. In the meantime, I'd like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and express the wish that 1995 will be a happy and prosperous New Year for you.


(signed) George Behe

15 December 1994

Dear Mr.Behe,

With reference to your letter of 27 November, you have the unique distinction of being the first of at least 29,500 readers of my book "A Titanic Myth" to accuse me of deliberately suppressing evidence detrimental to the late Captain Lord's case. Incidentally, the above total is based on sales of 2,500 copies of the book and some 27,000 individual borrowings from British public libraries, and assumes only one reader per copy.

I began to write the book in 1976 against a background of some sixteen years of public debate with opponents of Captain Lord, carried out in the press and on radio and television. From this experience, I knew that my overriding priority must be to ensure that no critic would be able to accuse me of ommitting significant evidence damaging to Captain Lord's case. My apparent success in that endeavor is demonstrated to my mind by the fact that it has taken eighteen years for such a critic, namely you, to emerge.

A second governing factor was for me to try to emulate Captain Lord's own absolute integrity and scrupulous regard for the truth. As an example of this, I would direct to your attention my recording, in several places, Captain Lord's impression, held to the end of his days, that he had seen a green sidelight (contrary to Stone and Groves' evidence that only a red light could be seen) from the ship sighted from the Californian (see particularly page 237 of the second edition of "A Titanic Myth.") Although I well knew that this could not be so, I never made the slightest attempt to influence Captain Lord to reconsider such a potentially damaging impression. I enclose a note ("Walter Lord and the Californian Incident") relevant to this point.

It would have helped me in drafting a complete reply to your criticisms had you provided me with a sketch illustrating your own conclusions as to the Californian's position and movements from dawn until 9 a.m. on 15 April 1912. I enclose a chart showing key positions in the area in question which I hope you will use for that purpose. Distances on the chart can be measured by reference to the latitude gradations, one minute being the equivalent of a nautical mile. I look forward to your response to this request.

You also do not precisely confirm the nature of the proposed "itinerary" of the Californian provided for you by Walter Lord. Should it be as enclosed, please accept my assurance that it is not restricted to the Californian's hypothetical "Itinerary", but is merely an assumption based on what might apply to any ship initially lying eight miles distant from the sinking Titanic. To this schedule I have added reminders of the actual nature of the appalling charge levelled against Captain Lord, and of the fact that it is now known that the position being broadcast from the Titanic was actually some fourteen miles in error.

At this stage, it was my original intention to try to deal, item by item, with the questions you put to me, but this intention has been nullified by my reconsideration of your breath-taking assertion that 'it seems that every independent witness who was able to testify about the Californian's activities that night gave information that put the lie to Captain Lord's version of events.' That 'version of events' he actually recorded in the form of an affidavit dated 25 June 1959. This is reproduced in the book, "The Ship That Stood Still" (pages 348-354), or a copy should be available to you in the files of the Titanic Historical Society, of which I understand you are a Vice-President.

I enclose for your information a copy of a letter addressed to me in October 1959 by Captain C. V. Groves, who in April 1912 was serving as Third Officer in the Californian. You will observe that it covers the return to me of 'The Statement of Captain Stanley Lord', which was in fact a copy of Lord's affidavit. It had been sent to Captain Groves for his consideration and comment. In the event, he accepted it without demur. Is it too much for me to hope that you will do the same?

Yours truly,

(signed) Leslie Harrison

Addenda to the Above Letter

(1) The Californian "itinerary."

This is Harrison's estimate of how long it would have taken Californian to reach the sinking Titanic and rescue ALL of her passengers if Californian had indeed been only eight miles from the disaster site. Harrison concludes: "The Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m.; consequently, to comply with Lord Mesey's claim that Captain Lord could have saved 'many if not all' of those who died, he would have had to initiate the rescue operation not later than midnight, that is, 25 minutes before the Titanic transmitted her first radio distress call and fired the first of about eight socket signals 'in lieu of guns.' The obvious impracticability of the above grossly optimistic schedule is self evident."

[Note: Harrison's above calculations are based on his unlikely premise that every person on board the Titanic would be transferred directly to the Californian by walking across a gangway stretched between the two ships. The present author will refrain from commenting on this fascinating scenario.]

Third Officer Groves' letter.

October 20th, 1959

Dear Mr. Harrison,

I was glad to see you when you called on me a fortnight ago and I enjoyed our talk more than I thought was possible. I now send you the following papers which you lent me.

Statement of Captain Stanley Lord. Two copies.



The "Californian" incident.

Extract from M.M.S.A. Reporter.

I also enclose copies of the seventh and eighth reports of the "Titanic" proceedings which you said you would like to see. I am in no hurry for their retuern but I should like to have them back in due course.

Parts of your papers I found to be very interesting and there are two points concerning which I hold strong views. The first is the question of the sobriety of Captain Lord. Although I was with him for only some three months it is quite long enough to know whether or not a man is of temperate habits. I never saw him take a drink or heard of him desiring one and he was thoroughly abstemious, always.

The next point concerns Lord Mersey. There is absolutely no question whatever that he did not influence me at the Enquiry in any way and I cannot see any grounds for anyone asserting that he did so. Young as I was at the time I am perfectly sure nobody would have attempted to do so. Apart from the people who questioned me in the witness box the only person whom I spoke to connected with the proceedings was Raymond Asquith and it was a purely social conversation. These two points have astonished me.

I hope the parcel of papers arrives safely.

Yours sincerely,

(signed) Charles V. Groves

[Author's note: We will have more to say about Groves' letter presently.]

December 24, 1994

Dear Mr. Harrison,

I received your interesting letter of Dec. 15 and would like to make a few comments regarding it.

First of all, although it is true I am a vice president of the Titanic Historical Society, I am writing to you in an individual capacity.

I was interested to read about the number of sales and library borrowings of your book, which you suggest represents the number of readers who agree with your book's premise. Judging from my own experience, however, it is safe to say that not one Titanic "buff" in a thousand has also taken the time to read the primary evidence contained in the two government inquiries into the Titanic disaster. In effect, this means that practically none of your readers are QUALIFIED to offer any criticism of your work. (As Ed Kamuda of the THS will tell you, most Titanic buffs do not do any independent research themselves, but prefer to absorb information in a "pre-digested" form by reading the work of others.)

You state that my letter accused you of "deliberately suppressing evidence detrimental to the late Captain Lord's case." I have re-read the text of my letter and can find no such accusation contained in it. However, I can state with complete accuracy that you were very SELECTIVE in deciding which primary evidence to present in your book, "A Titanic Myth." Whether this selectiveness was unconscious or not I am not qualified to say - I can only point out that it took place. (Your book's omission of the crucial facts outlined in my original letter bears witness to that fact.)

Indeed, the sole purpose of my original letter was to give you an opportunity to correct your original oversight by addressing the evidence offered by Captain Moore, Captain Gambell and Third Officer Groves. To be frank, however, it did not surprise me that you decided not to address the above information in your reply to my letter. Your continued insistence that Captain Lord was being truthful means just one thing: that you are consequently accusing Captain Moore, Captain Gambell and Third Officer Groves of lying about their knowledge of the Californian's actions. (Indeed, your book suggests that Groves got "carried away" while testifying at the British Inquiry - thus implying that he was not telling the truth about his observations and conversations on the night of the disaster.)

Your implication that Captain Moore, Captain Gambell and Third Officer Groves were all lying about the Californian is a very dubious position upon which to base your defense of Captain Lord, but you are certainly free to do so if you wish. Unless you can explain why the above three officers felt a sudden and uncontrollable urge to be untruthful, however, your position is not an enviable one.

By the way, whether or not the Californian could have reached the Titanic in time to rescue anyone is immaterial. Even the Olympic, which was over 400 miles away, TRIED to reach the disaster site. Olympic's officers seem to have been of a different caliber than the men who were on the Californian's bridge that night.

Yours sincerely,

(signed) George Behe

6 January 1995

Dear Mr. Behe,

With reference to your letter of 24 December, I do not agree that the number of 'library borrowings of [my] book...represents the number of readers who agree with [the] book's premise.' I do consider it reasonable, however, to assume that they provide a very wide field from which those who disagree might well register their objections.

I cannot accept your assertion that no one is qualified to criticise my work unless he or she has studied the evidence contained in the voluminous records of the proceedings of the British and United States inquiries into the Titanic disaster.

So far as my 'suppression of evidence detrimental to the late Captain Lord's case' is concerned, surely any decision of mine to be 'selective' in deciding what to omit was necessarily a 'deliberate' act.

In pointing out three instances of what you claim are my 'selective' omissions, did it not occur to you that you were also being 'selective' in putting forward these three instances, the extreme significance of which is apparently only appreciated by you?

I was fortunate enough to have the privilege and inestimable value of being able to assess Captain Lord's character over a period of some four years, and it was to me that he entrusted the care of all his contemporary papers relating to his unwitting involvement in the Titanic affair (now lodged with the Merseyside Maritime Museum). Against this background, I unreservedly accept his version of the events of the events of the morning of 15 April 1912, as confirmed in his consistent evidence given on oath at the British and United States inquiries, and in his sworn affidavit of 23 June 1959 - an affidavit accepted without question in writing by Captain C. V. Groves, one-time third officer of the Californian, on 20 October 1959.

Yours truly,

(signed) Leslie Harrison

January 12, 1995

Dear Mr. Harrison,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my letter of December 24, 1994.

Your assumption that the library borrowings of your book represent a wide field of readers (among whom are potential critics of your work) would be an accurate assumption under ordinary circumstances. You must admit, however, that you could only expect to receive meaningful criticism from a reader who is familiar with the total body of raw evidence as presented at the Titanic inquiries. Any reader lacking such familiarity with the raw evidence has no way of knowing if crucial facts that do not fit the author's pet premise have been elbowed aside in the author's zeal to prove his case.

A historian is responsible for upholding a sacred trust with the reading public. Readers ordinarily assume that a historian has presented ALL of the evidence necessary to provide a reasonable solution to the historical mystery in question. Any evidence that does not fit in with the historian's premise must be satisfactorily explained by him (or must at least be brought to his readers' attention) before the historian's premise can be considered viable. The failure of a historian to inform his readers of the existence of such "non-fitting evidence" is not in keeping with accepted historical procedure.

Your admission that you deliberately chose to omit from your book certain key evidence against Captain Lord is disturbing.

On the face of it, you might seem justified in suggesting that my spotlighting your omission of key testimony by Captain Moore, Captain Gambell and Third Officer Groves is a demonstration of my own selectivity. However, the above examples are just three instances among many in which key information was either omitted from your book entirely or else presented in a way calculated to support Captain Lord's case.

A single example: Both Captain Lord and Third Officer Groves specifically testified that the "mystery ship" they were observing approached from the EAST, yet - despite this incontrovertible fact - your book claims that the "mystery ship" approached from the SOUTHWEST; complicated rationalizing about the "mystery ship's" red and green sidelights cannot disguise the fact that your claim is in direct opposition to the facts. Demonstrable inaccuracies like this one do nothing to inspire confidence in the reliability of any chronicle attempting to prove Captain Lord's innocence.

You state that "the extreme significance" of the evidence given by Captain Moore, Captain Gambell and Third Officer Groves is "apparently only appreciated by [me]." I assure you that you are mistaken. Thus far you are the only person who has failed to grasp the significance of the above information. Everyone else to whom I have shown the above evidence has been struck by its extreme importance as well as dumbfounded by your own omission of that same data from your writings. "Why haven't I ever seen this information in Lordite literature?" is the usual question I am asked. The only reasonable reply seems to be that, if a Lordite author were to present his readers with the key testimony of Moore, Gambell and Groves, he would simultaneously be driving the last nail into Captain Lord's coffin.

In the event that you truly do not grasp the significance of the above evidence, you might have a reasonable excuse for having omitted that evidence from your book. However, you have admitted that your deletion of that key evidence was deliberate, which - for historians - may, unfortunately, cast things in a different light.

You make much of the reliability of the affidavit that Captain Lord prepared in 1959. Although your heart is in the right place, I fear that you are too trusting. Police detectives know how unreliable (and dissimilar) eyewitness testimony can become when there is a long interval between the crime in question and the recording of pertinent eyewitness testimony. Captain Lord's 1959 affidavit was prepared half-a-century after the events in question; at best, it can only be regarded as anecdotal evidence whose reliability is open to question. (A similar case: The Lordites roundly condemn as unreliable the 1959 recollection of Carpathia's Second Officer James Bisset that, at 6 a.m., he observed the Californian just ten miles north of the disaster site. Is there any reason we should regard Captain Lord's 1959 affidavit as being more reliable than Sir James Bisset's 1959 autobiography?)

Although your own loyalty to Captain Lord and your belief in his sterling character are praiseworthy, these feelings cannot play any meaningful role in your defense of Lord's actions. Many con men (after being arrested) are described by their victims as having been "the nicest guy in the world," "the most reliable guy I know," etc. etc. Nobody can ever truly know what is in another man's heart. It is quite possible that - after an interval of fifty years - Captain Lord had completely and utterly convinced himself that he had been wronged in 1912. His sincerity in 1959 would be evident to everyone - but the historical truth of his contentions is another thing entirely.

Incidentally, your letter stated that Captain C. V. Groves accepted Captain Lord's 1959 affidavit "without question" when you sent it to him. From my reading of Groves' letter (a photocopy of which you sent me), a more accurate statement would be that Groves accepted Lord's affidavit "without comment." Groves said nothing at all about the believability of Lord's affidavit.

The other papers you sent to Groves for his perusal seem to have contained the suggestion that Lord Mersey "influenced" Groves during his testimony at the British Inquiry. Did you make such a suggestion because you were trying to find a reason why Groves' testimony was at such variance with that of Captain Lord? Why not assume that it was GROVES who was telling the truth, and that you should actually be wondering why LORD's testimony differed so drastically from that of Groves?

When Groves denied that Lord Mersey influenced him, you seem to have concluded that you were left with only two alternatives: (1) Your book could suggest that Groves enjoyed being in the public eye and got "carried away" during his testimony at the inquiry (which would nicely explain the diffeences between Groves' testimony and that of Lord.) (2) Your book could omit any mention of Groves' most damning testimony against Captain Lord (which would eliminate any possibility of your readers even SUSPECTING that much of Groves' testimony was RADICALLY different from Lord's.) Your book "A Titanic Myth" utilized both techniques, apparently to minimize the adverse effect that Groves' testimony would have on the defense of Captain Lord.

If an American historian were to use similar selectivity in deciding which evidence to utilize in his own book, he could undoubtedly make a good case that John Wilkes Booth did not assassinate Abraham Lincoln. All the "historian" would have to do is:

Do you maintain that a reader should have confidence in the historical value of such a book about the Lincoln assassination? I would hope not. And yet your own writings claim that the "mystery ship" approached the Californian from the southwest, they omit evidence that shows the Californian to have been close to the disaster site at 6 a.m., and, in one instance (your South African article), Captain Moore's version of events has been altered (how? why?) so that it seems to conform with Captain Lord's version of events.

If an anti-Lordite author were to use the above techniques in a book condemning Captain Lord, you would undoubtedly consider that book to be a travesty of justice and would painstakingly point out its shortcomings to other historians. Surely, then, you can understand why a Lordite book using the same techniques cannot be regarded by historians as being an objective and trustworthy account of the Californian incident.

As the years go by, an ever-increasing number of historians will be comparing your book's claims with the unvarnished evidence given at the Titanic inquiries. I assure you that the good names of Captain Moore, Captain Gambell and Third Officer Groves will not remain in the disrepute to which your writings have consigned them.

Thanks again for writing - your letters have been very illuminating.

Sincerely yours,

(signed) George Behe

26 January 1995

Dear Mr. Behe,

I regret that I am unable to reply meaningfully to your letter of 12 January (not received here until 24 January) until I have before me your comments on the two papers enclosed with my letter to you of 15 December last, which have apparently been overlooked by you. These raised the following vital issues:

For your convenience when replying, I enclose a further two copies of the relevant papers.

Yours truly,

(signed) Leslie Harrison

February 6, 1995

Dear Mr. Harrison,

Your letter of January 26 has been received, and I was disappointed that you again declined to address the points I have raised in my last several letters. Quite frankly, I am puzzled by your insistence on knowing the details of my own opinion regarding the Californian's movements (especially since my own opinions have no bearing on what you have already written about the Californian incident.) However, in order to satisfy your curiosity I am enclosing two sheets that will answer your questions.

As you know, the original purpose of this correspondence was to offer you the opportunity to explain why your writings defending Captain Lord have never addressed the most damning testimony against Lord. Now that I have answered your own questions, I hope you will answer the many questions I have already raised concerning your defense of Captain Lord. For the sake of convenience, I will outline them again here.

[Author's note: at this point the author listed a dozen questions about the Californian incident that he hoped Leslie Harrison would address in detail. The questions themselves will be presented momentarily.]

Since I have answered the questions you posed to me in your letter of January 26, I hope that you will now be willing to address the crucial questions I have outlined above. It will be essential for you to clarify your position on these issues before we can have any meaningful and constructive discussion of the Californian incident. I hope that your interest in strengthening Captain Lord's case will induce you to express your views on the above evidence.

Yours truly,

(signed) George Behe

This concludes the verbatim transcript of the correspondence.

It was never the intention of the present author to be drawn into a protracted debate with Leslie Harrison concerning the Californian controversy; instead, it was hoped that Harrison would simply respond to the questions posed in the author's original letter. It was only Leslie Harrison's reluctance to address those questions that caused the above correspondence to continue as long as it did, and the present author was beginning to despair that Harrison would ever discuss his reasons for omitting so much crucial evidence from his book.

On March 2, 1995 Leslie Harrison finally responded to the above-mentioned list of questions, but the present author was sorely disappointed by the brevity of Harrison's replies. For the most part Harrison simply noted the specific inquiry testimony that he felt provided the answer to each question. It is truly regrettable, though, that Harrison did not feel inclined (or able?) to explain why he considers Captain Moore's, Captain Gambell's and Third Officer Groves' evidence to be unreliable. (Harrison did say that he has never called the above gentlemen liars, but he didn't elaborate on what he DOES consider them to be: mistaken? delusional? insane?)

Leslie Harrison's unwillingness to reveal why he regards the testimony of the above three gentlemen to be unreliable is very disappointing, but it isn't really a mystery: Harrison dismisses their testimony simply because it DIFFERS from Captain Lord's testimony. Indeed - as will be seen from several of Harrison's own comments - Harrison dismisses the reliability of anyone whose version of events does not agree with that of Captain Lord.

Be that as it may, Leslie Harrison's replies to the author's questions are very revealing and do much to explain Harrison's motivation for keeping his readers unaware of the key evidence against Captain Lord.

Let's take a close look at why Leslie Harrison chose to omit such a great body of evidence from his book "A Titanic Myth."

The Leyland liner Californian

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