British Investigation
British Investigation

REPUBLIC's Questions Left Unanswered?
German artist Willer Stoewer
rendered the sinking of Titanic
for the news media in 1912.

White Star Line Inquiry.

In the event of a collision of a Company vessel, White Star Line would have held an internal investigation.

In the event of a collision, stranding or other accident of a serious nature happening to one of the Company's steamers, necessitating the holding of an Enquiry by the Managers, witten notice of the same will be given to the Commander, who shall immediately on receipt of such notice hand in a letter tendering the resignation of his position in the Company's Services, which letter will be retained pending the result of the Enquiry.

White Star Line form letter, 6/4/14

And the British Government required a formal inquiry.

British Investigation.

Sealby Must Go On Trial For Loss Of Ship

Captain Sealby will be sent back to England in a few days, and there he will stand trial before the British Board of Trade. If he is exonerated his certificate will be returned to him. No one of the captain's friends is worrying over the result of the trial. ...

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 26, 09, 1:1

Sealby's License Suspended

Technically, Capt. Sealby is under suspension, his certificate as master being taken away from him pending investigation of the disaster, as a matter of form, though not a shadow of blame attaches to him in the opinion of marine men.

The captain will remain here for several days, perhaps a week, and then proceed to Liverpool, where he will be cited to appear before the Board of Trade for examination as to the cause of the sinking of the Republic. If, as a result of the examination, the Board of Trade exonerates the captain from responsibility for the collision, his license will at once be restored, but should they find him to blame the revocation will stand.

The White Star Line officials here were confident to-day that the Republic's commander will be held blameless.

N. Y. Evening Mail, January 26, 09, 1:6&7


It Is Revoked Pending a Decision as to
Responsibility - Passengers to Be Sent to
Boston, Whence They Will Sail on the

New York, Jan. 26 - A White Star line official said today that one result of the accident was the immediate revocation of the license of Captain Sealby of the Republic. Captain Sealby will remain in New York for several days, and then will proceed to Liverpool. There he will be cited to appear before the Board of Trade for examination as to the cause of the sinking of the Republic.
[Emphasis supplied.] If the Board of Trade exonerates the captain from responsibility for the collision his license will at once be restored, but should they find him to blame the revocation will stand. Captain Rospini of the steamer Florida today visited the office of the Italian consul general and the office of lawyers representing the agents of the Lloyd-Italiano line.

Boston Evening Transcript, January 26, 1909, 1:7.

Capt. Sealby will remain in New York several days, perhaps a week, and will then proceed, it was said, to Liverpool, where he will appear before the British Maritime Authorities for examination in the inquiry to establish the cause and fix the blame for the loss of the Republic. . . .
It was said yesterday that one result of the accident was the immediate revocation of Capt. Sealby's license as a master in the transatlantic passenger trade. Under the rules of the British Board of Trade, where vessels are lost, the masters' licenses are suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry that always follows.
[Emphasis supplied.] That does not mean that Capt. Sealby will of necessity lose his master's certificate. If he is found blameless his status in the merchant marine will be the same as before the accident.

NY Times, Jan. 27, 09, 2:4,5


Responsibility for the collision between the Republic and the Florida is to be placed ultimately by the courts of the United States through actions for damages. Lawyers of both the Italian and the White Star lines were busy all day yesterday preparing for the fight.
The first step to be taken by the White Star people is to be the filing of a libel against the steamship Florida. The owners of the latter vessel, in turn, will file a claim against the White Star line.
In the meantime the Board of Trade of England and the Admiralty Court of Italy will hold inquiries to determine whether the captain holding a license under their respective jurisdictions was to blame. If either is found culpable his license will be revoked.
Sealby Going to Liverpool
Pending this, both skippers are under suspension. Captain Sealby will return to Liverpool in a few days, where he will be cited to appear immediately before the Board of Trade for examination as to the cause of the collision.
Captain Angelo M. Ruspini, of the Florida, made his deposition yesterday before the Consul General for Italy, in the latter's office, at Lafayette and Spring streets. The testimony of every member of the crew of the Florida is to be similarly taken and then forwarded to Italy.

New York American, January 27, 1909, 2:2

The question as to which captain was to blame for the collision remained unsettled last night. The White Star people, after consultation with Captain Sealby, denied that the Republic was going so fast that a crash was inevitable, as the captain of the Florida declared. But they would not permit the captain to make any formal statement, saying that matter would be tried out before the British Board of Trade and the admiralty courts.

New York American, January 28, 1909, 3:1


There are numerous reasons why the collision between the White Star steamer "Republic" and the Italian Lloyd steamer "Florida" off Nantucket Light last Saturday morning, with the very dramatic incidents which followed, will long remain an episode of the largest interest in the history of the sea. In some of its particulars the episode merely repeats and illustrates previous experience. As to whether the disaster was in itself inevitable, that cannot well be known until after the forthcoming investigation by the marine authorities. [Emphasis supplied.] There will be, no doubt, the usual controversy as to how much it proves regarding the adequacy of bulkhead protection for large iron ships. That the marine underwriters, and the shipping fraternity as a whole, are greatly disappointed at the fatal wounding of this comparatively new and up-to-date vessel, goes without saying. It was common talk, while the "Republic" was still afloat, that the test was crucial. Perhaps it will be safest to say that the outcome proves the protection of vessels against the results of collision to have not yet been developed to the point which there is reason to hope it will eventually reach. But even granting this, it must be observed that the mere fact of the "Republic's" remaining afloat for more than forty-eight [actually 39] hours, after the mortal blow was received, shows a guaranty at least against the sudden and overwhelming destructive ocean accidents of a generation ago.

Commercial and Financial Chronicle, Jan. 30, 09, 261:2.

In the event of a collision at sea which resulted in the loss of life and the destruction and/or loss of property, the British Board of Trade and the Receiver of Wrecks were mandated by law to conduct an investigation, pursuant to the 517th Section of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, 57 and 58 Victoria, Cap. 60, which reads as follows:

517. - (1.) Where any ship, British or foreign, is or has been in distress on the coasts of the United Kingdom [or in the case of the distress of any British registered vessel], a receiver of wreck, or at the request of the Board of Trade a wreck commissioner or deputy approved by the Board, or, in the absence of the persons aforesaid, a justice of the peace, shall, as soon as conveniently may be, examine on oath (and they are hereby respectively empowered to administer the oath) any person belonging to the ship, or any other person who may be able to give any account thereof or of the cargo or stores thereof, as to the following matters; (that is to say,)
(a.) The name and description of the ship;
(b.) The name of the master and of the owners;
(c.) The names of the owners of the cargo;
(d.) The ports from and to which the ship was bound;
(e.) The occasion of the distress of the ship;
(f.) The services rendered; and
(g.) Such other matters or circumstances relating to the ship, or the cargo on board the same, as the person holding the examination thinks necessary.
(2.) The person holding the examination shall take the same down in writing, and shall send one copy thereof to the Board of Trade, and another to the secretary of Lloyd's in London, and the secretary shall place it in some conspicuous situation for inspection.
[Bold emphases supplied]
(3.) The person holding the examination shall, for the purposes thereof, have all the powers of a Board of Trade inspector under this Act.

It was this very law that was invoked for the British inquiry concerning the loss of Titanic in 1912. Like Titanic, the collision between the Republic and Florida resulted in the loss of a British ship, and the loss of life and property; the FLORIDA suffered extensive damage, three REPUBLIC passengers and three FLORIDA crew members died, several passengers and crew of both ships were injured, and the REPUBLIC along with all her cargo and baggage, were irretrievably lost. She was the largest and most technologically advanced vessel lost at sea in history to her time, and, as such, serious questions were raised regarding a ship's speed under adverse conditions, bulkhead construction, wireless telegraphy (monitoring, effectiveness and proximity of rescue vessels), and adequacy of lifeboats and lifesaving equipment. How could this "unsinkable"1 ship have been lost? Certainly these questions would have been addressed in the official inquiry concerning the Republic's loss. But, then, why was the TITANIC disaster three years later not averted?

It was asserted in the libel [the legal complaint filed by White Star line in the U.S. District Court proceeding] that the collision was due to no fault on the part of the captain, Sealby, of the Republic, but wholly the fault of the Florida, which, it is alleged, did not keep a proper course, had no sufficient lookout, did not give proper whistles, nor pay heed to the whistles of the Republic; that the Florida failed to indicate her changes of helm; that she was proceeding at an immoderate speed and did not stop or back her engines. The assertion was made that when the officers of the Republic first heard the whistles of the Florida in the fog the Republic's engines ran full speed astern and that her helm was hard aport.
Shortly afterward the Florida appeared broad off the Republic's port side tearing down at a high speed and threatening to strike the Republic at right angles a blow amidships.


"In the effort to escape the blow," declared the libel, "the master put the engines of the Republic ahead, but the Florida came on at a high rate of speed, apparently swinging under a starboard helm, and crashed head-on into the port side of the Republic, penetrating into the engine room."

Providence Journal, Jan. 29, 09, 6:1,2.

Florida's Statement.

The statement made by Richard & Co. follows:
"The circumstances of the collision between the Republic and the Florida were as follows:
The Florida had experienced fog at intervals for some hours before the collision and a dense fog existed at the time of the collision. The Florida had been proceeding at moderate speed, blowing her fog whistle frequently.
"The captain and chief officer were in charge of her navigation on the bridge and a quartermaster was at the wheel and the lookout was doubled on account of the fog.
"The Florida was proceeding slowly when the fog whistle of another steamer, which afterward proved to be the Republic, were heard by the officers and lookouts of the Florida off the starboard bow of the Italian steamer. Florida's Engine Reversed. "The engines of the Florida were reversed and two signals of three whistles each were blown, indicating that the engines were going astern. The collision nevertheless took place, the bow of the Florida striking the port side of the Republic somewhat aft of amidships, causing a serious damage to both steamers.
"When the Republic became visible in the fog she was crossing the bow of the Florida from starboard to port and running at a high rate of speed. The helm of the Florida was promptly put to starboard, hoping to swing the bow of the Italian steamer to starboard and to assist in avoiding the danger of collision. The other steamer was, however, running so fast the vessels collided.
"It was afterward ascertained that the steamer which collided with the Florida was the Republic of the White Star line.
"The collision occurred some distance southeast of Nantucket lightship about 5:45 a.m. Saturday, the 23d of January, 1909.

Washington Evening Star, Jan. 27, 09, 2:7.

Until more detailed reports are at hand as to the extent of the injury to the Republic, it is, of course, impossible to pass on a question of whether the loss of the ship would be due to any inadequacy in the design of her water-tight subdivisions or any defect in their construction or the operation of the water-tight doors. The latter seemed to have been promptly closed, and to have made it possible to keep the ship afloat long enough to save all hands. . . .

Newark [NJ] Evening News, Jan. 25, 09, 3:2.

Before going to bed some one had said something about the possibility of the ship's striking an iceberg, so that when the shock came my first thought was that we had struck a berg.

Republic Passenger
Dr. J. Arthur Lamb, Kalispell, Mont.
Washington Evening Star, Jan. 26, 09, 9:5.


As a passenger on this boat, which went to the assistance of the Republic, which was in collision with an Italian steamer, I made the following observations:-
First - The appliances for lowering lifeboats are out of date, very difficult to handle and inadequate in the event of emergencies.
Second - This steamer, for example, has certificate to take 426 first class passengers, 420 second class passengers, 1,195 third class passengers and 370 crew, making a total of 2,411 persons, but has only following accommodations for saving passengers and crew in case of wreck:-

14 lifeboats, 7,693 cubic feet, for ......... 766
4 lifeboats, 1,468 cubic feet, for .......... 182
8 collapsible boats, for .................... 424
     Total ................................. 1,372

Where are the remaining 1,039 to go in such a case?
Electric lighting, which was cut off at once on the Republic, left the ship in darkness. Ships should be compelled to have candles and matches in each stateroom, &c. Why did the White Star Company not send at once from nearest points some tugs to help transfer passengers instead of leaving it to be done by boats?
While everything came out all right, there could just as well have been a big loss of life due to delay in commencing operations transferring passengers.
Praise must be given to the officers and crew of the two White Star boats, but certainly lack of discipline existed; it also seems that there is a lack of able seamen; the crew seemed to consist of a great many landlubbers outside of the quartermasters and boatswains.
Passenger steamers should be compelled to install the latest appliances for handling boats. They charge as much fare as they please and should surround passengers with all known appliances for safety.



N.Y. Herald, Jan. 26, 09, 6:3.


General Manager of the Company
Points Out That Transfer
Was a Success.

When John H. Thomas, general manager of the operating service of the White Star line, was shown the letter written by S. C. Halberstadt, a passenger on the Baltic, and published in the HERALD yesterday morning, criticising the lifeboat facilities on the Baltic, his answer was:-
"Our arrangements comply fully with the United States government regulations prescribed by the Board of Supervising Inspectors. They have been frequently inspected and passed by the proper authorities, and, according to the inspectors, are modern, serviceable and efficient. That is all I care to say regarding the equipment on the Baltic."
In his letter Mr. Halberstadt made the assertion that only about one-half the maximum number of persons that the Baltic is permitted to carry can be accommodated at one time in the lifeboats supplied for the ship. "Where," asked the writer, "are the other 1,029 to go in case of an emergency?"
When asked in regard to this question, the White Star officer replied:-
"It is a well known fact that it is impossible for a steamship in passenger service to carry enough lifeboats to accommodate all hands at once. If this were done so much space would be utilized for lifeboats that there would be no room left for passengers on deck. The necessary number of boats would be carried at the cost of many of the present comforts of our patrons."
When asked about certain patent davits suggested by Mr. Halberstadt, Mr. Thomas answered that he was not familiar with any of these appliances, and therefore could not express an opinion on their efficiency. He added that the Cedric, of the White Star fleet, had been equipped with patent davits for the purposes of expedition in lowering lifeboats, and that since their installation these had been successfully used.
The reference to the appliances for lowering lifeboats on the Baltic as "out of date, difficult to handle and inadequate," in Mr. Halberstadt's letter, was pointed out to Mr. Thomas. He answered:-
"The United States regulations state that a lifeboat must be fitted with such davits that it can be cleared away in two minutes. Our arrangements comply."
When collapsible boats were suggested as a means of carrying enough lifeboats to accommodate all the passengers at once, Mr. Thomas said that he was not familiar with the reliability of their construction. He was asked what lessons he thought could be gleaned from the experience of the collision to improve the life saving devices on steamers. He concluded:-
"The fact that all those passengers were twice transferred without the loss of a single life is proof of the highest efficiency in lifeboat equipment and life saving devices, I believe. I don't know any improvement that could be made. I think the feat of a double transfer in the open ocean is testimony enough of the worth of our lifesaving arrangements."
Captain A. P. Lundin, manager of the Welin Patent Davit Company, said the davits in general use at present on ships require six and eight men to clear a lifeboat away under the most favorable conditions. He added that if the sea was rough and the ship was rolling the difficulties were increased, and that it took able seamen to launch a boat under these unfavorable conditions.
"If the ship has listed eight degrees," he added, "it is practically impossible to get a lifeboat clear, as the whole weight then has to be lifted."
The Welin patent davit is operated by a screw and crank. The lower end is not fixed, but works in a quadrant and two sets of steel teeth mesh. The whole is operated by a crank, and two men; one at each davit, can easily clear a boat away. In an emergency one man can perform the task.

N.Y. Herald, Jan. 27, 09, 4:3,4.

... When she started from New York on her fatal trip, she was considered to be practically unsinkable by collision. So numerous were her compartments, so staunchly were her subdividing bulkheads built, that any qualified expert would have confidently asserted that two of her compartments might be flooded without sending the ship to the bottom. And yet the 'Republic,' ... now lies in 250 feet of water. ...

If the loss of this noble ship leads, as in our opinion it should, to the creation of expert commissions to investigate the question of bulkhead construction, and draw up standard specifications for the same, the loss of the 'Republic' will be, after all, but a small price to pay for the restoration of that sense of security in transatlantic travel which the sinking of this thoroughly up-to-date ship has unquestionably shaken.

In serving as the direct means of the rescue of the thousands of souls concerned in this mishap, wireless telegraphy has added greatly to its prestige. It should be made compulsory by law upon every passenger steamer that travels the frequented routes of the Atlantic Ocean. ...


The Scientific American, February 6, 09

[Without a wireless after the collision] ...we might have lain out there for a week in that fog; a week at this time of the year means certain bad weather for some length of time; a few hours of heavy weather would probably have settled both ships; and with those 1,500 people driven from the ships to the boats - and let it be said that neither ship carried half enough boats or rafts for a full passenger list - it is a sure thing that between the sea and the frost it would not have been dozens but hundreds that would have been lost - possibly the entire 1,500. ... [Most commentators place the loss of life on Titanic at 1,500.]

The Sinking of the Republic, by James B. Connolly,
Collier's, February 6, 1909, 11 & 12

Where are the Records of the Required Inquiry?

Inquiries to Lloyd's and the Board of Trade (now the Department of Transport) requesting copies of all material relating to the REPUBLIC and her cargo have produced the following results:

In answer to your inquiry [of October 4, 1982] concerning the REPUBLIC, we regret that Lloyd's Marine Collection does not claims.

Lloyd's Keeper of Enquiry
Services, 20 October, 1982

[second request January 2, 1984] I enclose a photocopy of our reply to your letter Oct. 4, 1982. We have no further information on the REPUBLIC.

Lloyd's Keeper of Enquiry Services,
18 January, 1984

Unfortunately we have no trace of a report of an official inquiry into the loss of the SS REPUBLIC. Our library does hold all Board of Trade wreck reports, but it seems that none was carried out in connection with this vessel. ...

Helen Sparks, Assistant Librarian, 12/15/83

[When informed by MGB letter dated January 11, 1984, that an investigation into the collision is mentioned in the Board of Trade registers (MT 85) and indexes (MT 86) for 1909] Unfortunately there is still no trace of a Board of Trade inquiry into the loss of the S.S. Republic. I have checked the records in the Library, and the casualty section here have investigated for me. All I have found is an entry with brief details in the Board of Trade returns of shipping casualties for 1908-1909. ...

Helen Sparks, 2/8/84

[a request by the Titanic Historical Society, on MAG's behalf, to the Department of Transport] With regard to the White Star Liner REPUBLIC I can find no trace of a Board of Trade enquiry on the incident. Again I checked with our Casualty Section, they hold no records of this casualty either...

K. A. Lewis, 19 November 1984

[on his recent trip to the United Kingdom]

I also checked at the National Maritime Museum, the Public Record Office, the Southampton Maritime Museum and the Merseyside Maritime Museum without any great success, as you did. One thing I wanted to find, but could not, was a transcript of the court of inquiry into the loss of the REPUBLIC. (We have same for the TITANIC; it's 959 pages of incredible detail!) To your knowledge, was such an inquiry held? I would think there would be, as 1) there was the loss of the ship and 2) there was loss of life. If you can shed any light on this matter, I would be most grateful. The P. R. O. had the reports of the courts of inquiry for the ATLANTIC, TITANIC and NARONIC disasters, but REPUBLIC was conspicuous by its absence, as you have come to expect. ...

Charles Haas, President, Titanic Historical Society,
October 7, 1984

... I can still shed no light on the Board of Trade investigation. These were certainly not published in the British Sessional Papers which I have scoured. The index (Board of Trade Wreck Registers) numbers these inquiries but it seems they did not survive as the Public Records Office does not have them. ...

Gerald Panting, Chairman, Maritime History
Group, Memorial University of Newfoundland,
reply to a MAG inquiry, April 3, 1985

Additional research reflecting an official inquiry into the REPUBLIC's collision follows:

Ex-Capt. Sealby to Practice Law Here. Capt. Inman R. Sealby, who commanded the White Star liner Republic when she sank after the collision with the Florida in January, 1909, and who is now a law student at the University of Michigan, spend his Easter vacation in this city looking up old friends and shipmates. Mr. Sealby is President of the class of 1912. He said he would open an office in this city next Summer to practice admiralty law and hoped, if he lives to be a very old man, to take part in the trial of the suit over the collision between the Republic and the Florida. [Emphasis supplied.]

New York Times, Apr. 19, 1911, pg 6.

[the REPUBLIC's radio operator Jack Binns describing, posthumously, Captain Inman Sealby] He became our ideal after the ordeal of [the REPUBLIC's] disaster had been overcome. Here was a man who had risen to the height of his profession after a normal lifetime of work. Suddenly he found himself - through an accident of fate - unable to clear himself, because a web of legal weaving prevented the investigation that would give him that opportunity.

Under such circumstances most men would have spent the rest of their lives bemoaning their luck. Not Captain Sealby. Instead he went back to school and started life over again in a new profession.

There was a man!

Vineland Historical Magazine, Vol. XXVIII, page 50, 1943

The accident and subsequent events had been followed with the greatest interest by all the American newspapers, which had, so to speak, a collision on their doorsteps, and they brought out hourly editions as wireless news came to them from all sources. When we arrived in New York we were given a great welcome, with free theatre seats, dinners, tours, etc. - in fact, the New Yorkers could not do enough for us. We sailed for England on Friday, January 29.

There was no Board of Trade inquiry into the disaster. On reaching England several members of our crew were interviewed by the Receiver of Wrecks, but nothing further arose. The White Star Line sued the owners of the FLORIDA and later issued a writ on her. She was classed a single-ship company. After repairs by the New York Shiprepairing Company, the FLORIDA was put up for auction, and realized about £40,000.

Sea Breezes Magazine, Jan - June, 1950, Vol. IX,
Page 32, by Cmdr.Sydenham E. Stubbs,
REPUBLIC's Third Officer

On January 30, 1909, Captain Sealby, the officers and most of the crew of the Republic, and Jack Binns, Republic's Radio Operator, left New York for Liverpool aboard White Star Line's Baltic.



The larger part of the Republic's crew - 294 men - and four passengers sailed on the Baltic yesterday. Capt. Inman Sealby, Second Officer Williams and Jack Binns sailed. The crowd gave Capt. Sealby three cheers when he went aboard. They will all go before the British Board of Trade to testify in an inquiry into the loss of the Republic. [Emphasis supplied.]
The Baltic also took the affidavit of Capt. Fenlon, of the Standard Oil whaleback City of Everett, who was anxious to tow the sinking Republic for $20,000.

New York World, January 31, 1909, 3:7.

They arrived at Liverpool on February 8th.2 Captain Sealby spent close to a month in England, before returning to the United States. During that time, was the required Board of Trade investigation actually conducted? In an intimate letter dated February 23rd, 1909 - during Captain Sealby's presence in England - from Amy Bernardy (a close friend) to Captain Sealby, found within Captain Sealby's personal records, Miss Bernardy wrote:


Dear Captain "absolute",

How are you and what is the Board of Trade doing to you just now, and when are you coming to Rome for a few peaceful and cheerful weeks?
You see, we can stand lack of information about our friends when all is well with them, but we mind being cut out at other times. For we are

Faithfully yours
The "Rubber ball"

Inman Sealby Collection
Vineland Historical Society

Captain Sealby returned to New York from England on March 14, 1909, as a passenger aboard Atlantic Transport Line's (ATL's) Minnetonka.3 ATL was owned by International Mercantile Marine, who also owned White Star Line. He then turned his attention to law school and the study of admiralty law; he did not command another ship again until 1917.4

If the required investigation was held, the records of that investigation have never been made accessible to the public, and the witnesses (for certainly both the Republic's Third Officer and Marconi Operator would have been called as witnesses) were instructed to deny the official inquiry's very existence.

And, finally, the official explanation for the lack of a formal, public Inquiry, first in June 1909 on the floor of the House of Commons...

Wreck of Steamship “Republic” (Inquiry).

Mr. SUMMERBELL asked the reason why there has been no public inquiry into the wreck of the s.s. “Republic” early this year?

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Tennant) The “Republic” sank after collision with the Italian steamer “Florida” in American waters on 23rd January last.  Formal investigation was not ordered in this country, as the Board of Trade had no power to compel the attendance of witnesses from the Italian vessel, and any public inquiry that might have been held in their absence would necessarily have been of an ex parte character and possibly prejudicial to the interests of the English vessel.  Actions were entered in the United States District Court, and are, I am informed, still pending.  It was reported that the “Florida” had been arrested by a United States marshal and subsequently sold by auction.

HC Deb 30 June 1909 vol 7 cc379-80

The President of the Board of Trade in 1909, an up and coming politician responsible for making this decision, was Winston Churchill.

And in 1912, prompted by the loss of White Star Line's Titanic, the question was raised again.

Loss of the White Star Liner "Republic."

32. Mr. Douglas Hall asked whether a Board of Trade Inquiry was held into the loss of the White Star Liner "Republic," which foundered after collision in the Atlantic?
Mr. Buxton: The "Republic" sank after collision with the Italian steamer "Florida" in American waters on the 23rd January, 1909. No formal investigation was ordered into the case, as there was no power to compel the attendance of witnesses from the Italian vessel; and, in their absence, any public inquiry would have been of an ex parte character, and possibly prejudicial to the interests of the British vessel. Actions were entered in the United States District Courts.

Great Britain, House of Commons, Parliamentary Debates: Official Report
Vol. 40, Monday July 12, 1912, p. 747.

British law stated that an Inquiry "shall" be held, shall, as soon as conveniently may be, examine on oath (and they are hereby respectively empowered to administer the oath) any person belonging to the ship. There was NO requirement that witnesses of a non-British vessel give testimony. There did not exist within British Law an exception for circumstances such as the excuse cited by Mr. Buxton, then President of the Board of Trade, that an Inquiry need not be held where witnesses of one side can not be compelled to attend the Inquiry. It would seem that if one side did NOT attend, the prejudice would be against that side, and the benefit would be to the side attending. Certainly, many Inquiries were conducted pursuant to British law under similar circumstances, and even where entire ships had disappeared and there were NO witnesses of ANY vessel available to testify.

In the long history of British maritime commerce, the Royal Mail Steamship Republic is possibly the only vessel, the largest vessel in history to sink to her day, with the loss of all her cargo and six lives, a presumably "unsinkable vessel" - where the British Government did NOT hold an official inquiry. However, Mr. Buxton's response, that No formal investigation was ordered into the case ... doesn't clearly state that a formal Inquiry was not held. His response may be deliberately deceptive.

Possible Motive for Suppression of the Official Inquiry.

A review of all information does, indeed, suggest that the Republic was running at or near her rated service speed of 16 knots, given her departure from New York at 3:00 p.m., the time of collision at 5:40 a.m. and her reported position at the time of collision, and her final resting place. Sealby was, no doubt, at least following the general practice of Captains to keep their ships on time for the purpose of maintaining schedules for passengers, mail and other cargo delivery.

[Describing the 8,000 ton Eqypt's collision in 1922, in fog] It is well known that liners, especially mail-boats, are often obliged to steam fast in fog to keep up on their time-tables, but near Ushant [where the Egypt was lost] exceptional caution is called for and is generally used.

The Egypt's Gold, David Scott, Penguin Books, 1939, p. 268.

The Republic's last trip may have been particularly time sensitive. In a memorandum from Reah Frazer, Pay Director, U.S.N., General Storekeeper, United States Navy Yard, New York, he stated:

January 19, 1909.


1. The Steamship REPUBLIC, of the White Star Line, with refrigerated products, vegetables, etc., for the Atlantic Fleet is scheduled to sail from this port on January 22nd and is due to arrive at Gibraltar on February 2nd. The General Storekeeper has agreed with the agents of the White Star Line to have the CULGOA placed alongside of the REPUBLIC immediately after that vessel drops her anchor in the port named.
2. It is respectfully recommended that the Commander-in-Chief be advised to this effect in order that suitable directions may be given in sufficient time.
3. The REPUBLIC is to follow a fixed itinerary, and it calls for her departure from Naples after making several Mediterranean ports at a fixed date, on which 2,000 emigrants will board her for passage to the United States. It is, therefore, very important that there be no delay at Gibraltar.
[Emphasis supplied.] It is expected by the steamship agents that the discharge will not take longer than six or eight hours at most, and in order to forward the shipment by the REPUBLIC it is agreed that CULGOA should receive cargo as fast as it was delivered to her.

(signed) Reah Frazer, U.S.N.,
General Storekeeper.

NARA RG 143, File 105669.

But, in an earlier cablegram:


Naples, Italy,
January 16, 1909.

Navigation, Navy Department, Washington, D. C.

In reply to your cablegram of the fifteenth request provisions shipped as proposed CULGOA will await REPUBLIC Gibraltar.



NARA 143, File 105669.

Certainly, if the Russian government expected a gold shipment at Gibraltar, they, too, would have expected prompt delivery.

The Governments could not have chanced an open investigation. Identification of the cargo was required to be disclosed. In addition, Sealby knew what he was expected to do - to keep his ship on schedule and, no doubt, he knew the reasons as well. Numerous witnesses could not have been expected to hold to a politically motivated lie. And Sealby (although he probably would have done so) could not be expected to "fall on his sword" and support a position that would have been contrary to his own personal and professional interests - and with a secret that, in the setting of a formal public inquiry, would most probably be ultimately disclosed by someone else. It was more prudent to avoid the inquiry entirely (or to keep the Inquiry sealed), and to require those who had specific knowledge to keep the secrets of the Republic's cargos...

Captain Sealby and the Titanic.

Body Recovery from Titanic Disaster

Crew members of the cable ship MacKay Bennett
partake in the grim task of body (still in life-vest) recovery,
days after the Titanic disaster.

"There is no immediate danger," he cried, "but to be on the safe side, it is necessary for you to be transferred to the Florida. I expect you will be cool and not excited. Take your time in getting into the lifeboats. Remember! - women and children go first, then the First Cabin, and then the others. The crew will be the last to leave this vessel."

Captain Sealby's Order aboard Republic,
SOS To The Rescue, Karl Baarslag, Oxford University Press, New York, 1935, P. 24.
(This quotation appears originally in The New York Times, 27 January 1909.)

Captain Sealby, through a happenstance of fate, became not only a publicly proclaimed hero having been instrumental in the rescue of his passengers, but he, no doubt, was also an authority on the Republic-Florida collision, adverse sea-condition navigation practices, the use of wireless for distress at sea, ship abandonment and lifeboat loading/launching procedures, open-sea transfers of passengers, bulkhead and ship construction, White Star Line safety policies - and the reasons why his ship, Republic, ultimately foundered.

His knowledge and experience were never brought to bear on what were to become these obviously critical issues, obvious, if not after the loss of Republic, then certainly after the loss of Titanic.

After the loss of Titanic, Captain Sealby was quoted on several of these issues:


Commander of Ill Fated Liner Tells How Sea Giants Are Crushed by Floating Masses

ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 16.- Capt. Inman Sealby of the ill fated Republic of the White Star line, at the time it was rammed and sunk by the steamer Florida and who is now a senior law student at the University of Michigan, expressed no surprise on Tuesday that a steamer like the Titanic had gone to the bottom after having struck an iceberg. Capt. Sealby spent twenty-five years on the large steamers of the Atlantic before leaving to take up his studies here.
"The most dangerous thing that a large steamer has to contend with are icebergs," said the captain. "The reason for this is because they so closely resemble water.
"The reason boats like the Titanic should sink even though Mr. Franklin
[Vice President, International Mercantile Marine d/b/a White Star Line], says it could be half full of water and still float, is probably because the ship struck the iceberg a glancing blow and then later scraped alongside, breaking in most of the bulkheads. There is no danger of losing a large boat if it strikes headon. The most it could do in that case would be to cave in 50 or 100 feet of the bow.
"This has been an unusual winter in the north Atlantic and the ice commenced to come down early. There are in the Atlantic what is called north and south tracks. The steamers travel the northtrack until about April 15."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 16, 1912,

Sealby Believes the Titanic Received
A Glancing Blow.

ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 16. - ...

[Captain Sealby] believes that the Titanic did not strike the berg head on, as that would only have damaged her bow, and could not possibly have caused her to sink, he thinks. He said that a glancing blow was probably struck, the iceberg scrapping down one side and tearing holes through a large number of bulkheads.
... . "Things happen at sea that give no warning until the harm has come."
[said Captain Sealby] ...

New York Times, April 17, 1912, 6:4

[Captain Sealby said,] "The whole world, and especially the shipbuilding world, knows that none of the passenger steamers have been able to carry lifeboats enough to care for one-half of the passengers." Captain Sealby continued. "I believe that, by way of reducing the possibility of such tremendous disasters as that which overtook the Titanic, increased lifeboat facilities should be added to the passenger steamers, and that watertight bulkheads should be constructed as strong as the hull itself.
"I would recommend that steamship commanders be ordered to take the southern track and always travel slowly in fog, under penalty of dismissal.
[Emphasis supplied. An interesting remark attributed to Captain Sealby.5] ...
"The structural alterations and the carrying out of these requirements would mean additional cost to ship owners, and this cost would have to be met by the public. The question is, Does the public want it? The solution is up to the people themselves."

New York Times, April 22, 1912, 2:5

The Florida-Republic collision provided Captain Sealby with significant and unique experience regarding collisions at sea and all of the associated causes, policies and ramifications. The Florida rammed the Republic nearly head-on. Florida's bow caved-in about 30 feet, but she survived. Republic suffered her major damage from the initial impact and, most likely, would have survived if that had been the only damage she had sustained. However, Republic continued her forward momentum with Florida scraping for some distance alongside. The Republic sliding past a partially imbedded Florida combined with the qualities of Republic's hull-plating in near-freezing water (tensile strength and brittleness - Republic was built by Harland & Wolff, the same builders of Titanic), no doubt caused Florida to buckle hull-plating and pop rivets in Republic's hull and breach any bulkheads that were in her path beyond the initial collision area. This recipe for disaster was to be repeated with Titanic - the now well-analyzed glancing blow the Titanic sustained from the iceberg also caused her demise.

Captain Sealby, with his 25 years of experience in White Star Line, and his recent and unique experience in a collision and rescue-at-sea, and his knowledge of why Republic ultimately succumbed to her damages, "that watertight bulkheads should be constructed as strong as the hull itself," a person who was in perhaps one of the best positions to elucidate the issues which lead to and surrounded Titanic's loss - was never questioned under oath in any public inquiry, not even one concerning Titanic.

TITANIC. Hearses and coffins await recovered bodies
in Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 1912.
Photo: Public Archives of Nova Scotia.


1See: The Practically Unsinkable Republic
2The Times (London), February 8, 09, 6:4.
3The American Family Immigration History Center (AFIHC), Minnetonka, built by Harland and Wolff in 1902 and at 616 feet and 13,440 tons, was similar in design to Republic. Perhaps Capt. Sealby booked passage on this ship to further analyze the causes for Republic's loss.
4See: Ancestry and Descendants of Joseph and Maria (Lucock) Sealby for a brief biography of Captain Sealby.
5At this point in his life, Capt. Sealby was no longer in command of a ship but was concluding his third and final year at the University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor - with his emphasis in admiralty law. This remark "attributed" to Capt. Sealby appears to be almost too cute, and may have been an added dig by the reporter or editor.