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“He Kept Bravely On, With Nothing to Guide Him”: David Blair, Titanic’s Lost Officer

"He Kept Bravely On, With Nothing to Guide Him": David Blair, Titanic's Lost Officer

In the course of his civil and military service to the Crown, David Blair was awarded a King’s Gallantry Medal, a British Empire Medal, a Royal Navy Reserve Decoration, the French Cross of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and the Officer of the Order of the British Empire Award, bestowed upon him by King George V and signed by Prince Edward.

And yet, David Blair is only remembered as That Guy Who Took That Important Key.

That Guy Who Forgot the Binoculars.

The Man Who Sank Titanic.

And that, dear reader, is horse excrement.

David Blair had originally been assigned as Second Officer on Titanic, and until April 4, that was the circumstance under which the crew operated. This arrangement was in place from the start, and was in operation during Titanic’s sea trials on April 2, 1912.

RMS Titanic docked in Belfast. It is believed that one of the figures standing on the bow is then-Second Officer David Blair.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (Copyright expiration, re: in excess of 70 years after author's death)

The assignments of Titanic’s top officer ranks were as follows:

And yet, whether by White Star’s will or at the behest of Captain Smith himself, Henry Wilde was suddenly lined up to take over as Titanic’s Chief Officer. It’s generally understood that the reasoning was because Mr. Wilde was already Chief on Titanic’s elder sister, Olympic. Since it was temporarily berthed, it seemed like Wilde’s experience could be better used on Titanic’s maiden voyage.

Interestingly, Henry Wilde, although aware of the so-called reshuffle as early as March 30, did not receive a proper telegram until April 9, 5 days after Blair’s notice of reassignment.

Charles Lightoller, who was David’s mate, addressed it in his writings, which were published in 1935.

The ruling lights of the White Star Line thought it would be a good plan to send the Chief Officer of the Olympic [Henry Wilde], just for the one voyage, as Chief Officer of the Titanic, to help, with his experience of her sister ship. This doubtful policy threw both [William] Murdoch and me out of our stride; and, apart from the disappointment of having to step back in our rank, caused quite a little confusion Murdoch from Chief, took over my duties as First I stepped back on Blair's toes, as Second, and picked up the many threads of his job, whilst he - luckily for him as it turned out - was left behind.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935. As cited (in part) in "Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage", by High Brewster, 2012.

So Murdoch and Lightoller were each demoted, and David was pushed off the roster entirely.

He wrote a postcard home to his daughter on April 4, 1912, expressing his disappointment at the decision.

“4th, Southampton

Arrived on 'Titanic' from Belfast today. Am afraid I shall have to step out to make room for [the] Chief Officer of the Olympic who was going in command but so many ships laid up he will have to wait. Hope eventually to get back to this ship...
Been home all day and down on board tonight on watch.
This is a magnificent ship, I feel very disappointed I am not to make the first voyage.”

The word “very” was underlined. 

It would seem that David stuck around Southampton to witness Titanic’s departure. It has since been confirmed by facial construction experts and David’s family that the gentleman in black walking along the dock is, in fact, David Blair.

Knowing that, one can’t help but see dejection in his stance.

RMS Titanic docked in Southampton. The man in black walking toward the camera has been identified as Former Second Officer David Blair.


But many people seem to believe that David Blair’s removal from the crew had disastrous consequences. Because when David disembarked, he accidentally took something that should have remained on board.

It was a tiny iron key, with an oval-shaped brass tag that read “Crow’s Nest Telephone Key.”

In the locker opened by that key were David Blair’s looking glasses. And it is speculated that, because the key that David Blair took was of course missing from the ship, that Titanic’s lookouts were without binoculars.

To spot things like icebergs in the distance.

The speculation about the impact of the lost binoculars is not novel—in fact, began in the Senate Inquiry immediately after the disaster. Lookout George Hogg attested to binoculars being on board during Second Officer Blair’s tenure, but that they became unavailable for use before leaving Southampton.

17494. Do you remember when the "Titanic" was leaving Belfast - you signed on the "Titanic" as look-out man, we know - were a pair of glasses given you?

- Yes.

17495. For the crow's-nest?

- Yes.

17496. Who gave them to you, do you remember?

- Mr. Blair, the acting Second Officer then.

17501. When you left the ship at Southampton, what did you do with those glasses?

- Mr. Blair was in the crow's-nest and gave me his glasses, and told me to lock them up in his cabin and to return him the keys.

17503. As far as you were concerned, the glasses, you were told, were to be locked up in the cabin of the second Officer?

- I locked them up.

17504. And they were locked up. When the ship left Queenstown were there any glasses in the crow's-nest?

- There were none when we left Southampton.

George went on to testify that newly appointed Second Officer Lightoller seemed none too bothered by their absence.

17507. Did you ask for them at all after you left Queenstown?

- After I left Queenstown.

17508. You personally asked for them?

- I personally asked.

17509. Whom did you ask?

- Mr. Lightoller.

17510. Will you tell us what you said to him, quite shortly, about it?

- I said, "Where is our look-out glasses, Sir?" He made some reply, I did not exactly catch it. "Get them later," or something like that.

17511. At any rate, you did not get any?

- I did not get any.

But, despite the sensationalism regarding David Blair’s supposedly fatal moment of forgetfulness, Lightoller’s response to Hogg was neither damning nor surprising. Lightoller would not be troubled by the lack of binoculars because he had his own pair on board with him.

Moreover, the White Star Line was anecdotally the only line of vessels to even provide binoculars to lookouts, as it was unnecessary for spotting endangering objects and was therefore completely against industry practice. And George Hogg’s testimony immediately following, as well as those of his colleagues, attest to as much. Notable captains experienced in disaster, such as Captain Walter Lord of the SS Californian and Ernest Shackleton, were of the same opinion.

17513. Have you had experience of glasses; have you used them much?

- Never before; only in the White Star Line.

17514. But had you used them before you were on this voyage?

- On another ship.

17515. Of the White Star Line?

- In the "Adriatic."

17516. You had never had them in any ship you have been on except in the "Adriatic," which was another ship of the White Star Line you had sailed in?

- No other ship except the White Star.

17517. Did you find them of use?

- Well, I believe in my own eyesight.


17522. What it comes to, if I understand that, is you pick it up with your eyesight, and then if you want to see as well as you can what it is you would use the glasses?

- That is what they are handy for, Sir.

17523. But not for picking up things, you mean?

- No, I pick up things with my own eyesight.

And it was understood that George Hogg’s testimony was accurate—binoculars were never intended to spot distant objects. Just to ascertain details.

Additionally, Senator Smith, who conducted the American Inquiry, was in no way familiar with this fact because he was not a mariner in the slightest—a fact that deeply vexed multiple surviving officers who he interrogated, including Second Officer Lightoller and Fifth Officer Harold Lowe.

So, when contemplated within the context of contemporary maritime practice, David Blair’s mistake resulted in nothing more than a perplexity.

Summarily: David Blair did not “doom” Titanic at all.

The RMS Majestic (left) and RMS Olympic, docked in Southampton.


In July of 1912, aboard the RMS Majestic, David was reunited with his friend and Titanic colleague, Charles Lightoller. In a repetition of Titanic’s original assignments, Lightoller was First Officer; Blair, Second.

In 1913, following a stint on the Teutonic during which David had been promoted to First Officer, he returned to the Majestic with his newly acquired superior rank, which he maintained for four months.

But fate was determined to intervene on behalf of The Man Who Doomed Titanic.

On the morning of May 6, 1913, a trimmer (id est, a fireman) chose to attempt suicide by jumping overboard. He was only 27 years old.

David was laying down in his cabin when he heard the cries of alarm. He hastily dressed in his uniform and ran up on deck.

As the fog lifted the officer saw Keoun [the man who jumped ship], apparently very weak, bobbing up and down on the swell, and without a moment's hesitation he dived from the rail of the promenade deck into the water.

David Blair, without a thought as to his own person, swan-dove 40 feet down into 44-degree water, his sight obscured by ocean fog.

According to the New York Tribune's report, the fireman was crazed with heat and recently bereaved. "Keoun lost his wife a month ago, and brooded over her death.  Worry, augmented by the heat of the fire room, affected his mind temporarily, and on Tuesday he ran up to the main deck and jumped."


Passengers Cheer David Blair, Who Risked Life in Fog to Save Fireman
Women Weep as Gallant Sailor and Man for Whom He Jumped Are Helped Over Side


Everybody on board except Blair himself, wanted to tell about the rescue yesterday, and  Captain Kelk said he felt mighty proud of his chief officer.


Mr. Blair, who had been roused from sleep by the cry of "Man overboard!" pulled his trousers over his pajamas and grasping his binoculars rushed forward to a place on the promenade deck just under the bridge.  He never took his eyes from the sea until he shouted to the skipper that he saw the helpless fireman.

The passengers said Blair made a perfect dive.  When he came to the surface he looked to the bridge, and seeing Kelk pointing in the direction of the fireman, got his bearings and struck out for the man he could not then see.

Once he got a glimpse of the unconscious Keoun as the  fireman was tossed up on a wave, and from that tie until he himself was rescued Blair saw nothing but sea and mist.

Thought of Fireman First

He kept bravely on, with nothing to guide him, until the lifeboat came by in search of the fireman.  Those in the boat called to Blair to climb in, but he shouted: "I'm all right.  Get that fireman first.  He should be somewhere about here."

David was celebrated as a hero for this act. But the accolades were short-lived.

On September 8, 1914, on board the RMS Oceanic—and acting as Second Officer alongside First Officer Lightoller once again—David was acting as navigator as the monstrous liner crept in between mainland Scotland the Faroe Islands.

And she ran aground on a reef renowned for its treachery, called the Shaalds of Foula. Fortunately, all souls were saved and the Oceanic was left to her fate.

RMS Oceanic docked in New York, circa 1903. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


On September 29, a gale turned Oceanic over to the sea. Once visible from shore, local islanders awoke to discover that she had utterly vanished.

David Blair shouldered the blame at the subsequent court martial. Lightoller, however, disagreed entirely with this.

The Oceanic was really far too big for that patrol and in consequence it was not long before she crashed on to one of the many outlying reefs and was lost. The fog was as thick as the proverbial hedge when she ripped up on the rocks; and in all fairness one could not lay the blame on the navigator—my old shipmate of many years, Davy Blair—trying as he was to work that great vessel amongst islands and mostly unknown currents.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935.

But Lightoller had a bit of frivolity planned for them both, while his dear, unlucky friend was in town for the court martial: they were to patrol the coastline disguised as fishermen for the Royal Navy.

Davy Blair, my old Oceanic pal, and I volunteered for a job that we had got wind of in the Flag Lieutenant’s office. The main qualification for the men who were to get it, we were told, was that they should be “Hard Cases.” Well, Davy and I had both done the Western Ocean, and knew it in its worst moods these many years… We were accepted… A visit down sailor town soon completed the outfit, blue jersey, smock, rough serge pants, heavy weather cap, and seaboots, making us the imitation of a perfect fisherman.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935.

David Blair’s subsequent Naval service during the First World War garnered him a number of the afore-stated accolades from the British and French governments. In 1918, he was promoted by the Crown to Lietenant Commander.

In 1923, David was employed as the Commanding Officer on the schooner St. George, leading an immense scientific expedition on a Pacific tour, including the Isthmus of Panama and many of the islands, including the Galapagos.

The steam yacht St. George, docked in Sydney Harbor, Australia, circa 1982. Courtesy of the Australian national Maritime Museum, from the William Hall Collection.


David Blair passed away at 80 years old on January 10, 1955. 

Do note that, despite occasional false reports, that David Blair was NOT killed in action in 1917 in a U-Boat encounter during  the First World War. This is nothing but irresponsible and lazy reporting. The lost soldier in question was David Blair Chalmers, an Assistant Steward in the Mercantile Marines, aged 26, from Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2007, the infamous key to the crow’s nest sold at auction for £90,000.


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“Titanic Behaved Splendidly”: Titanic’s Sea Trials

"Titanic Behaved Splendidly": Titanic's Sea Trials

Titanic’s sea trials—when the ship’s many safety features were tested in real time—were scheduled to begin on Sunday, April 1, 1912, but poor weather conditions and a detrimental northwesterly wind caused the trials to be postponed to Monday morning.

Aboard were just over 40 crewmembers. They were compensated an extra five shillings for the delay.

Captain Edward J. Smith.


The roster of officers reporting to Captain Smith for sea trials were as follows.

Chief Officer William McMaster Murdoch

First Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller

Second Officer David Blair

Third Officer Herbert John Pitman

Fourth Officer Joseph Groves Boxhall

Fifth Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe

Sixth Officer James Pell Moody

The four junior officers received telegrams from the White Star marine superintendent to report to the Liverpool offices at 9am on March 26th, to pick up their trains tickets for their trip to Belfast.

They arrived around noon the next day on March 27th and reported on board to Chief Officer Murdoch. Notably, in his deposition later, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe attested to a March 29th arrival.

Fifth Officer Lowe and Sixth Officer Moody were instructed to inspect the totality of starboard-side lifeboats, including the collapsibles. Together, they conducted an inventory of life-saving materials such as oars, sail riggings, and tarp; he also recalled that he noted one empty "bread tank" in each of the lifeboats but none in the collapsible boats, nor emergency lanterns in any of the boats at all.

Captain Edward J. Smith boarded on April 1st, and with him came an officer arrangement that upended the ship's commanding hierarchy. At the last minute, he announced his intention to bring on Henry Tingle Wilde as Chief Officer.

So William Murdoch and Charles Lightoller were both demoted to First and Second Officers, respectively.David Blair was dismissed from command altogether, which safeguarded the remaining junior officers from a reshuffle themselves.

Titanic Chief Officer Henry Tingle Wilde in Royal Naval dress.


When Former-Second Officer Blair disembarked in Southampton, he disembarked with his keys... including the key to the locker for the Crow’s Nest. This secure cabinet is where implements were housed for the lookouts.

Including binoculars.

George Hogg, a surviving lookout on Titanic, testified to the Senate regarding David Blair's actions as he was set to depart at Southampton, having been dismissed from his duties.

Mr. Blair was in the crow's-nest and gave me his glasses, and told me to lock them up in his cabin and to return him the keys... I locked [the binoculars] up... There were none when we left Southampton.

It is sometimes implied that Blair did this nefariously as some Shakespearean act of revenge due to his dismissal, but in reality, it was industry practice to lock up the binoculars when a ship was docked.

Other accounts state that David Blair took the binoculars with him because they were his own personal pair.

Regardless, Now-Second Officer Lightoller could not provide the lookouts with binoculars. He didn’t think too much of it, as there were other glasses on board somewhere and the lookouts could spot without them, being at such a height as the lookouts were, so he promised to pick up a new pair in New York City.

And that was that.

Charles H. Lightoller, who was demoted to Second Officer on Titanic.


Titanic was the second sibling in a set of triplets; her elder sister, Olympic, underwent her sea trials beginning on May 29, 1911, and ran for two days. They were not without difficulties.

According to Tom McCluskie, a historian for Harland & Wolff, “The extensive sea trials found that there was a number of problems. Chief architect Thomas Andrews himself wrote in his design notebook that Olympic’s hull was observed to “pant.”

As McCluskie describes it, “[Panting] means the hull—instead of being rigidly straight—is going in and out. Now it’s not a vast movement, it’s not going out three, four feet and coming in; it’s a matter only of inches. But really, it shouldn’t do that on a calm sea.”

This discovery led architect Thomas Andrews to implement changes to his nearly identical work-in-progress, Titanic. Per McCluskie, Andrews “made reference to it on the shell drawing which he modified for Titanic to include extra stiffening.”

Sister ships Olympic (close to dock) and Titanic. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Despite these changes and the flaws in Olympic that incited them, Titanic only undertook a single day of sea trials.

J. Bruce Ismay, White Star’s chairman, could not attend, nor could Lord William Pirrie owing to a bout of pneumonia. So he sent his nephew, Thomas Andrews—conveniently the ship’s lead designer—in his stead.

Around 6 a.m., Harland & Wolff’s own tug boat, called Hercules because he was mighty strong, arrived and cast the first line aboard Titanic as it slept in its berth. The four tugs assisting Hercules, which were owned by the Alexandra Towing Co.—and named Huskisson, Horby, Herald, and Herculaneum—moved into their positions, and at Hercules’s whistle, the H-Team pulled Titanic to the center of the River Lagan.

Titanic on her way to sea trials accompanied by her fleet of tugs. Courtesy of U.S. N.A.R.A.


The behemoth liner eased her way down the river toward Belfast Lough, escorted by the five tugs. Around noontime, and about two miles off Carrickfergus, the herd of vessels slowed to a stop, and the tugs all dropped their ropes and pulled away.

Boilers were lit one by one, and smoke began to bloom from Titanic’s three functional funnels (the fourth was false, for aesthetical purpose).

Captain Smith ordered the blue-and-white burgee, which is more commonly recognized as a triangular mariner’s flag. This type of burgee, known as Signal Flag A, announced that its ship was undergoing sea trials.

As the water churned at her stern and her dapper burgee clapped above her, Captain Smith ordered a three-blast sounding of Titanic’s horn and her trial-run officially began. As Titanic took its first metaphorical steps, the officials and officers on-board took lunch in the First Class Dining Room to compare notes.

Rear view of Titanic being pulled toward Belfast Lough. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Titanic was revved up to nearly 20 knots, then drifted to a stop. Isolated turn maneuvers, such as rudder-only and propeller-only, were performed. The ship’s wheel was ordered “hard over” while Titanic was traversing a straight path, creating a circular path with a diameter of approximately 3,850 yards.

More stopping tests followed, including running right toward a buoy at full speed.

She then traveled about 40 miles toward the Irish Sea, turned about to head back to Belfast Lough, and performed some twisty-turns to port and starboard along the way, and got back home in the evening time.

One more test was then advised by Francis Carruthers, the ship surveyor sent by the British Board of Trade: Anchor up, and anchor down.

Carruthers found Titanic’s performance satisfactory and issued the mandatory certificate to Thomas Andrew and his deputy, Edward Wilding. The ship was officially good for one year to the day.

With the sea trials done and dusted, the crew on board resumed their daily operations. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe set aside some time to write back to his wife, Nellie. He helped himself to a spare menu card from the day, April 2nd, and scrawled on its back along the bottom edge: "first meal ever served on board" and posted it to Nellie.

R.M.S. "Titanic."

April 2, 1912.

Hors D'Ouvre Varies


Consomme Mirrette

Cream of Chicken



Roast Chicken

Spring Lamb, Mint Sauce

Braised Ham & Spinach

Green Peas                                Cauliflower

Bovin & Boiled Potatoes

Golden Plover on Toast


Pudding Sans Souci

Peaches Imperial


Dessert                          Coffee

Later, sworn under oath before the American inquiry of Titanic's sinking, Harold Lowe testified that Titanic did not even reach her full potential for speed during the sea trials. He stated that he believed that she could "easily do 24 or 25 knots,” instead of the 20 knots achieved that day.

Furthermore, in his deposition sworn before the British Consulate General in May of 1912, Harold Lowe attested that "on the trials the Titanic behaved splendidly and manoeuvred very well."

Titanic being pulled toward Belfast Lough. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Titanic departed Belfast for Southampton at approximately 8:00pm that evening. She encountered fog in the wee hours of April 3rd, though it dissipated by noon.

And shortly after midnight, on April 4th, another tugboat gang of classical gods and guys—this time Hercules, Neptune, Ajax, Hector, and Vulcan of the Red Funnel line—drew Titanic into Berth 44 at Southampton, where she was "docked by moonlight," per Sixth Officer James Moody.

Titanic would spend the Easter weekend there, waiting for her maiden voyage to begin. James Moody wrote to his older sister Margaret that, at 8:00am on the morning of April 4th, Titanic's crew “hoisted a huge rainbow of flags right over the ship, 220 flags [altogether and] 9 feet apart” to salute the Southampton

There was less than a week to go.

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