The 20-year-old Evans was the sole wireless operator on the SS Californian which was also crossing the Atlantic at the time, when in April, 1912, the Titanic embarked on her doomed maiden voyage.
On the night of April 14, 1912, Evans was on duty aboard the Californian when his captain, Stanley Lord, entered the wireless operator’s cabin and informed him that they had stopped due to ice in the vicinity and ordered him to warn all other ships in the area, which he did. Meanwhile, in the wireless room of Titanic, senior operator Jack Philips and Harold Bride, junior operator, were tirelessly working to clear a backlog of passenger’s private messages that were to be relayed to the Cape Race wireless station.
When Philips received Evans’ ice warning, he was almost deafened by the sudden interference in his headset and sent an angry response telling Evans to keep out of the airwaves. Philips also never passed this message to the bridge, but in his defence, Evans had not prefixed the message, with the letters, ‘MSG’ which stood for Master Service Gram and was customary for all messages intended for the bridge. Evans, feeling that he had done what was asked of him despite Philips’ rude apparent rejection of the message, then switched off his wireless equipment and went to bed. This exchange was to prove serious, as it could have avoided Titanic’s collision with the iceberg later on that night.
In the early hours of the morning of April 15, 1912, Philips communicated with the nearest ship responding to the SOS call he sent out on the orders of Titanic Captain Smith. This ship was RMS Carpathia who steamed to the rescue of the stricken liner, but whilst she was 4 hours away, the Californian was much closer to Titanic and although Lord’s officers informed him of the large ship which had stopped and was visible to them, firing rockets, Lord never thought to wake Evans (although he did try communicating with Titanic by Morse Lamp).
Evans was only woken once it was too late and he learned via his headset what had happened to Titanic. The Californian then, after looking for any survivors that had been missed by Carpathia, but finding none, continued its route to America, where upon arrival, several key crew members, including Lord and Evans were summoned to give evidence at the American inquiry. Evans also gave evidence at the British inquiry into the Titanic tragedy and, like others involved in the disaster, was offered a lot of money from newspapers for his story, but refused.
Evans continued service with the Marconi Wireless company and its successor companies (Eastern Telegraph Company and Cable & Wireless—the later part of his career was spent as manager for Cable and Wireless on the West Indian island of St Lucia) for the rest of his life. He also served at sea in World War 1 and World War 2, running mobile telecommunications for the British Army in North Africa and then Italy, and married and raised a family. Evans died of a heart attack in 1959.
References and Sources
United States Senate Hearings, 26 April 1912, Testimony
Board of Trade Hearings, Testimony
United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912.
Wreck Commissioners’ Court, Proceedings before the Right Hon. Lord Mersey on a Formal Investigation Ordered by the Board of Trade into the Loss of the S.S. Titanic.
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is compiled by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]