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Titanic insurance claim form for auction in Wiltshire reports 'slight jar' from 'small iceberg'

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: April 12, 2014

  • The critical insurance document submitted after the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912

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Whether it is blaming the satnav or not noticing a huge iceberg that could sink the Titanic, it seems everyone is guilty of a little bit of creativity when it comes to telling the insurance firm what happened.

For now, the most famous insurance claim form of the 20th century – the one written by the most senior officer to survive the Titanic disaster – is being put up for sale in Wiltshire next week, and it reveals the kind of creative blame minimisation insurance firms are now very familiar with.

A day after arriving on dry land, second officer Charles Lightoller had the unenviable task of telling the liner's insurers just what happened that fateful night in April 1912 in the North Atlantic.

And while a massive public inquiry would eventually uncover a tale of missed warnings and a less-than-alert nightwatch in the hours after the Titanic went down, Lightoller's first task appears to be – according to Titanic expert and auctioneer Andrew Aldridge – to play down just how culpable the crew were.

He describes how he merely felt a "slight jar" when the huge liner hit what he insisted was just a "small low-lying iceberg", in what Mr Aldridge said was an attempt to avoid the insurers accusing the ship's crew of negligence.

The strategy worked. The insurers paid out £3 million within 30 days, which was crucially before a major inquiry revealed the catalogue of mishaps that led to the sinking.

The four-page form, sent by Lightoller on behalf of the White Star Line to their insurers, is up for sale at Aldridge's auction house in Devizes, Wiltshire, next Saturday. Mr Aldridge expects the document to fetch more than £12,000.

"This document, prepared for insurance purposes, includes an interesting and sometimes curious account of the disaster," he said. "It is fascinating that the officers would seem to minimise their encounter with the rather large and ominous iceberg by describing it as a 'small, low-lying iceberg'. This could possibly have been an attempt to downplay the size of the iceberg due to the question of liability and who was to blame for the sinking."

The unpublished insurance claim was certified and signed by the Titanic's second, third, fourth and fifth officers on April 19, 1912.

"All went well until about 11.45pm of April 14, 1912, when in latitude 41-46 North, longitude 50-14 West, the ship came into collision with an iceberg," it states.

"The ship swung to port, but struck a 'growler', or small low-lying iceberg, with the bluff of her starboard bow, making a comparatively slight jar with a grinding sound.

"On examination it was found water was coming into several compartments; all hands were called on deck, the boats were ordered to be cleared, and subsequently filled with women and children.

"At 2.20am April 15 the Titanic sunk, going down bow first in very nearly the same position when struck."

The insurance settlement was paid within 30 days of the sinking.

"To our knowledge, this important document is without equal as we have been unable to locate any prior sale record of such an original account for an insurance claim," Mr Aldridge added.

The lot is one of 200 Titanic collectables included in the auction, which is to commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the loss of the ship.

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