Archived Lot

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Date of Auction: 23rd June 2005

Sold for £4,200

Estimate: £2,500 - £3,000

The excessively rare C.Q.D. “Gold” Medal and Lloyd’s Life Saving Medal pair awarded to Captain J. B. Ranson, R.M.S. Baltic, who assisted in the rescue of over 1700 souls from the R.M.S. “Republic” and Italian liner “Florida”, following their collision off Nantucket in January 1909: this was the first occasion on which the “C.Q.D.” distress call had been sent by wireless transmission, a method encountered by Ranson once more on the night of 14 April 1912, when he responded to distress signals sent from the foundering Titanic - earlier that day he had alerted that ill-fated ship to the presence of icebergs but the relevant signal was pocketed by Bruce Ismay, White Star’s chairman

Lloyd’s Medal for Saving Life at Sea, small type, silver (Capt. J. B. Ranson - S.S. “Republic”, 23 January 1909), in its fitted case of issue; C.Q.D. “Gold” Medal, silver-gilt, inscribed on the edge ‘J. B. Ransom’ (sic), onetime fitted with suspension loop, contained in its original wooden presentation box, the interior silk lining gold embossed with the recipient’s name, extremely fine and excessively rare, just four of the latter ever having been awarded (2) £2500-3000

Lloyd’s Medal for Saving Life at Sea:

‘The Silver Medal of the Society be bestowed upon Captain J. B. Ranson, R.N.R., as an honorary acknowledgement of his extraordinary exertions in contributing to the saving of life on the occasion of the steamships Republic and Florida being in collision in the vicinity of the Nantucket Lightship on the 23 January 1909.’

In addition to the above reward, and as a result of the gratitude of saloon passengers from the White Star’s Republic, Ranson also became the recipient of another medal, for the former elected to commission a special commemorative award to recognise the bravery of the seamen who had taken part in their rescue. With the backing of the American wrist-watch millionaire, Ralph Ingersoll, who agreed to undertake the striking and distribution of the awards in question, all crew members from the Baltic, Republic and Florida were duly presented with silver “C.Q.D. Medals”, while the three Captains involved in the incident, and Jack Binns, the Radio Officer of the Republic, received special “gold” issues.

Joseph Barlow Ranson was born in Liverpool in 1860 and first went to sea as an apprentice, aged 14 years, on a British sailing vessel. A decade later he had risen to the command of a steamer of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company on the west coast of South America, and in 1892 he commenced full time employment with the White Star Line. He subsequently served in such famous ships as the Majestic, Britannic and Teutonic prior to taking command of the Baltic in 1907, which latter liner very much fitted the company’s ‘comfort-rather-than-speed’ policy, a strategy that would shortly be changed by the arrival of the “Olympic-class”.


Fortuitously, his subsequent part in the Republic-Florida incident has been well-recorded in numerous reference works, and indeed in his own account of the affair which was published by The Outlook in February 1909, the editorial to that feature describing him as a man ‘of ruddy face, broad shoulders and elastic step ... a living testimonial to the healthfulness of the seaman’s life’.

In brief, the White Star’s 15,400-ton Republic, bound for the Mediterranean with more than 400 winter sun-seekers aboard, and the 5,018-ton Lloyd-Italiano liner Florida, heading for New York with hundreds of emigrants on board, mainly refugees from the recent Messina earthquake, collided in thick fog south of the Nantucket Lightship in the early hours of 23 January 1909.

Aboard the Republic, Radio Officer Jack Binns, unaware that he was making history, immediately sent the distress call C.Q.D. (“Come Quick, Danger”), and his message was picked up by the White Star’s own 24,000-ton Baltic through Marconi’s shore station at Siasconsett, Massachusetts. Captain Ranson was quick to react, later describing how he threw the helm hard a-starboard, making for the stricken Republic’s position with all haste:

‘We knew her latitude and longitude and our job was to find her in the thickest fog. At the time we were 64 miles from the position given us in the first message from the Republic, but of course she was drifting all the time, and during our 12 hours’ search I estimate we travelled 200 miles on our zigzag course before we found her, and all within a sea area of ten square miles.’

On reaching the Republic at about 7 o’clock that night, Ranson commenced embarking her crew, and afterwards all of her passengers from the Florida, to which latter ship they had been transferred in the interim. At the same time, as a result of the damage caused to the Florida, he felt it wise to embark her passengers too, all in all a momentous exercise that took nearly nine hours, but nonetheless an exercise that was completed without any loss of life, even though there was ‘quite a nasty sea running’.

On the evening of the following day, the Republic was seen to be sinking rapidly and her remaining skeleton crew was taken off or plucked from the sea. She sank in 45 fathoms just south of Martha’s Vineyard Island. Meanwhile, the Italian liner’s collision bulkhead held, and she was able to reach New York without further incident. So, too, the Baltic, where she was greeted by huge crowds lining the wharves shortly after 1 p.m. on the 25 January. Ranson was exhausted:

‘During the time of the search I was where I had to be, of course, on the bridge. I went up about six o’clock on Friday morning and stayed there until we docked at one o’clock on Monday afternoon - about 80 hours ... Sleep? Why , no, I was there on the bridge walking around. I couldn’t have slept even if I had gone below.’

Nor could he find rest when he came ashore, for news of the rescue had attracted a media fenzy, not least because this was the first time that a radio-transmitted “C.Q.D.” message had been used. Infact it seemed to many that the experience of cross-Atlantic travel had undergone a major transformation, that passenger safety was now virtually guaranteed, whatever potential calamity awaited on the horizon. Even the greatly experienced Ranson was moved to state, ‘There is no question about it - the passenger on a well-equipped transatlantic liner is safer than he can be anywhere else in the world’.

And so might have proved the case with the Titanic, but for the fact she was not properly equipped, her woeful shortage of lifeboats resulting in the most famous maritime tragedy of them all, a tragedy that unveiled itself via a succession of Marconi transmissions that reached the Baltic’s bridge, where Ranson still held command on that fateful night in April 1912. Once again, his part in a major episode of maritime history is well-recorded, no complete account of the disaster failing to make mention of the Baltic’s role. Apart from anything else, the Baltic famously passed on an “ice-alert” to Captain Smith of the Titanic in the late morning of the disaster. Smith, having acknowledged the message - ‘Thanks for your message and good wishes. Had fine weather since leaving’ - then gave the written original to Bruce Ismay, White Star’s chairman, who promptly pocketed it. He later showed it to several passengers and it was not until 7.15 p.m. that it was posted in Titanic’s chart room. It read as follows:

‘From Commander, S.S. Baltic, 14 April 1912
To Captain Smith,

Have had moderate variable winds and clear fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer Athina reports passing icebergs and large quantity of ice today in latitude 41.51 north, longitude 49.83 west. Last night we spoke to the German oil tank Deutschland, Stettin to Philadelphia, not under control; short of coal; latitude 40.42 north, longitude 55.11. Wishes to be reported to New York and other steamers. Wish you and Titanic all success.’

Information such as this was high on the agenda of the subsequent Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry - which Ranson attended - and in the equivalent hearing held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, where the Baltic’s Marconi operator, Gilbert Balfour, gave extended evidence, largely based on his signal log:

‘We were just 243 miles south-east of the position of the Titanic when we got her Q.D. call, about 11 o’clock New York time, Sunday evening. We got the C.Q.D. call, giving her position, just saying “Struck an iceberg”, giving her present position, and saying that she required immediate assistance ... That message was sent immediately to the bridge, with instruction to the officer of the watch, Captain Ranson, as far as I know ...’

The interest in Baltic’s signal log was not altogether surprising, providing as it did an important record of the messages exchanged between assorted vessels that night, and, perhaps more tellingly, their individual reactions to the unfolding drama. Infact particular interest was shown in the difficulty confronted by Gilbert Balfour (and undoubtedly other Radio Officers) in making contact with the Californian, a ship that was probably nearer to Titanic than any other.

Ranson, however, the hero of the Republic-Florida incident, acquitted himself well, although it must have become painfully apparent as the night wore on that he was simply too far away to be of immediate assistance. Indeed as early as11.35 p.m. Gilbert Balfour was able to inform Ranson that he had been signalled by his counterpart in Titanic, the gallant John Phillips, “We are getting the women off in small boats”, and, ten minutes later, “Engine Room getting flooded”. The latter signal was received twice, but in the middle of the second transmission, ‘his motor ran down ... That was probably when the water rose to the dynamo in the engine room.’

Nonetheless, the Baltic continued to make good progress towards the scene of the disaster. At about 5 a.m., when a little over a 100 miles from Titanic’s last reported position, a weak message finally got through from the Captain of the Carpathia - ‘owing to persistent jamming by the Californian’ - but it was not until just after 6.30 a.m. that Ranson received confirmation of the true scale of the disaster, the Carpathia transmitting, “The Titanic had gone down with all hands, as far as we know, with the exception of 20 boat loads which we have picked up. Number not accurately fixed yet. We cannot see any more boats about at all.” Ranson immediately responded with an offer to make a rendezvous and take off some of Titanic’s survivors, but Carpathia’s Captain stated that he was making full speed for Halifax or New York and that Baltic ‘had better proceed to Liverpool’.

Ranson, who attained the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in the R.N.R., remained in the service of the White Star Line and was awarded the O.B.E. as a Senior Captain in the Great War (London Gazette 7 January 1918 refers). During that period he commanded the Baltic from the outbreak of hostilities until October 1915, and thereafter, with just a month’s break, the Adriatic until the end of the War, services that also resulted in him being awarded the British War and Mercantile Marine Medals. His final seagoing appointment would appear to have been aboard the latter liner in 1921.

Sold with a file of fascinating research, particularly with regard to the Titanic disaster, in addition to several original White Star Line ship picture postcards.