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The Titanic crew had no binoculars, which might have helped them spot the iceberg

Stefan Andrews

The story of how the RMS Titanic crew had no binoculars, relates to the name of David Blair, or just Davy, a British merchant seaman with the White Star Line shipping company- notoriously remembered for its ill-fated Titanic.

The story goes that the White Star Line had Blair reassigned from his post at the RMS Titanic just days before its maiden voyage. Blair departed with the Titanic in a hurry, and supposedly by accident, he kept a key to a storage locker believing to contain binoculars intended for the crow’s nest lookout. The crow’s nest is the best spot on ships where crew members can notice potential danger, see other ships or spot land. Unfortunately, this essential gadget was missing.

Poster Advertising Vinolia Otto Soap for the ca. 1900
Titanic of 1912

Blair’s sudden reshuffle from the Titanic 

David Blair had been originally appointed as the Second Officer of the Titanic. He has accompanied the ship at its trial voyages to test its functionalities at open sea. However, his final journey was from Belfast, the place where the Titanic was constructed, to Southampton from where the ship took off for the disastrous cross-Atlantic trip.

The iceberg which probably has been hit by Titanic, photographed by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adalbert on the morning of 15th April 1912. The iceberg was reported to have a streak of red paint from a ship’s hull along its waterline on one side

The White Star Line decided to appoint Chief Officer, Henry Wilde to take a position on Titanic. This was done at the last moment, just a few days before the departure on 10th April 1912. The previous post of Wilde had been at the Titanic‘s sister ship, the RMS Olympic, and he was given the position on Titanic thanks to his experience with ships of the same caliber.

The reshuffle of the crew meant that Chief Officer William Murdoch and First Officer Charles Lightoller were demoted one-step rank, which has resulted in having Blair removed from the command table.

Henry Tingle Wilde

The reshuffle was a huge disappointed for Blair. He has written in a postcard to his sister-in-law days before the Titanic left for Southampton, saying that:”This is a magnificent ship. I feel very disappointed I am not to make her first voyage”.

The man with the keys to the binoculars

Blair left the Titanic on 9th April 1912, and along with him, he took the keys to the crow’s nest locker. Most probably an accident, but it is believed to be the reason why there were no binoculars available with the crew during the journey. Other versions of the story tell that the locker was open, but that there weren’t any binoculars. According to another story, they were left behind in Blair’s cabin, or he took them along with him once he had left the ship, as the set was his personal possession.

From left to right: First Officer William M Murdoch, Chief Officer Joseph Evans, Fourth Officer David Alexander and Capt. Edward J. Smith as seen on the Olympic


Fairly, the binoculars were part of the investigations which followed after the sinking of the ship, but some of the conclusions stated that Blair’s “forgetfulness wasn’t a material reason for the disaster”, as there were other major reasons for the casualties of the ship.

An interesting anecdote also relates to the lookouts at the time of the collision, Frederick Fleet, and Reginald Lee, who were conscious about the facts that there are no binoculars during the voyage. When a commission of inquiry had asked Fleet, whether or not he had seen the iceberg from far away, he replied that he “might have seen it a bit sooner. When asked “How sooner?”, he replied: “Well, enough to get out of the way”.

British sailor and lookout of the RMS Titanic Frederick Fleet at the age of 24


Newspaper report of the sinking of the Titanic

Anyways, the key itself survived and was donated to the International Sailors Society by Blair’s daughter. On 22nd September 2007, it has been sold via an auction with other items of Blair.

Read another Titanic story from us: The Titanic survivor who opposed the doctors’ decision to amputate his legs and went on to become a tennis champion

It would be Shen Dongjun, CEO of a prominent jewelry retailer from China who purchased the key £90,000. It’s currently on display in Nanjing. Who knows- the key might have saved the Titanic had it not left the ship!?

Stefan Andrews

Stefan is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs a blog – This City Knows.