Pattaya’s last link with the Titanic disaster passes away

Timothy Gibson was the grandson of James Gibson who had a controversial role in the Titanic disaster.

Timothy Gibson, grandson of James Gibson an apprentice officer on the Californian which lay near the Titanic as she sank in April 1912, has died in UK. He was 70 and had lived in retirement in Phuket, Bangkok and Pattaya before returning to Liverpool last year for medical treatment for a heart condition.

James Gibson and second officer Herbert Stone, on the midnight watch, saw white rockets in the sky but were unsure what they meant. Californian captain, Stanley Lord, who was lying on the chartroom settee, talked to them on the speaking tube but did not go on deck to see for himself. The captain suggested they might be company signals of some kind but failed to rouse the sole wireless operator who was asleep. The Californian remained stopped all night because she was surrounded by field ice.

The Californian’s captain Stanley Lord and his deck officers were blamed for not attempting a rescue operation as the Titanic lay sinking.

What became known as “the Californian incident” became one of the most controversial aspects of the Titanic disaster as the small steamer was blamed by two courts of inquiry in 1912 for not attempting a rescue operation. This view was endorsed by the 1958 movie A Night to Remember which in turn caused Captain Lord, then in his 80s, to launch an unsuccessful attempt to get the whole case reopened. Lord died in 1962, unavenged as he saw it.

Timothy Gibson always stressed that his grandfather had maintained that the ship he and Herbert Stone saw on the horizon was too small to be a transatlantic passenger ship and that the white rockets did not appear to be coming from her anyway. James Gibson subsequently made a career with the Royal Navy and Cunard before becoming a shore officer in Liverpool and dying in 1963.

In the film A Night to Remember, second officer Stone (left) and apprentice Gibson wonder what the white rockets might mean.

In 1992 the British government did reopen the Californian-Titanic controversy. The ensuing report came to the conclusion that the deck officers on the Californian did see the distant Titanic but that she was too far away to have saved any lives. Although some Californian scenes were shot in the 1997 movie Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, they were edited out in the final version.

In fact the Titanic’s rockets were really flares and not as bright or numerous as this painting suggests.

Timothy Gibson was an office worker most of his life before retiring to Thailand in 2007. Initially he lived in Phuket where he was a keen golf player and had a financial interest in a book shop. He moved to Bangkok and then, as his health deteriorated, to Jomtien where he spent a lot of time on the beach. His connection with the Titanic saga was not well known locally as he rarely discussed it. “My grandfather used to say let the past take care of itself,” he told a reporter in 2017, “and that’s what I prefer to do.” Timothy Gibson was unmarried and appears to have died without close relatives.