David Blair (mariner)

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David Blair (or Davy) was a British merchant seaman with the White Star Line, who had reassigned him from the RMS Titanic just before its maiden voyage. Due to his hasty departure, he accidentally kept a key to a storage locker believed to contain binoculars intended for use by the crow's nest lookout.

Titanic posting and reshuffle

Blair, from Broughty Ferry, was originally appointed the Second Officer of the Titanic.[1] He had been with the ship during its trial voyages to test the ship's seaworthiness and the final journey from its place of construction in Belfast.

The White Star Line, however, decided that with the Titanic's sister ship, the RMS Olympic, currently undergoing layovers, to have the Olympic's Chief Officer, Henry Wilde take the position, citing his experience with ships of the Titanic's class as a reason.[2] Blair wrote about the disappointment of losing his position on the Titanic in a postcard to his sister-in-law days before the Titanic left for Southhampton,[3] remarking, "This is a magnificent ship, I feel very disappointed I am not to make her first voyage."

Key to the binoculars

When Blair left the Titanic on 9 April 1912 he took with him the key to the Crow's nest locker, presumably by accident. This is believed to be a reason why there were no binoculars available with the crew during the voyage. According to other versions, the binoculars were not in the locker, but were left behind in his cabin,[1] or he took them along with him when he left the ship, as they were his personal set of binoculars. The absence of binoculars being a factor in the sinking of the Titanic, became a point of investigation in the subsequent inquiries into the sinking.

The lookouts at the time of the collision Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee maintained during the inquiries that they were informed they were to have no binoculars during the voyage. Fleet, when asked by a commission of inquiry composed of members of the United States Congress whether or not they would have seen the iceberg from farther away, replied that he would have seen it "a bit sooner". When asked "How much sooner?", he responded: "Well, enough to get out of the way."[4] According to legal expert Gary Slapper, though, Blair's "forgetfulness wasn’t a material reason for the disaster" as there were other intervening causes.[5]

The key itself survived and was donated by Blair's daughter to the International Sailors Society.[6] On 22 September 2007, it was sold in a group of items via auction held by Christie's, including a ticket from Belfast that fetched £32,000 and a postcard sent by a passenger which sold for £17,000.[7] The key was purchased by Shen Dougjun, the CEO of jewelry retailer TESIRO's Chinese division for £90,000, and is currently on display in Nanjing.[8]

The auctioneers said about the importance of the key that, it was a conjecture that the key could have saved the Titanic had it not left the ship. They also said that the money from the auction of the key will be used to set up bursaries and scholarships in Blair's name.[6]

Later events

He was First Officer on the SS Majestic in 1913 when a coaler jumped overboard; the night before a coworker had succeeded in drowning himself. While a lifeboat was organized, Blair jumped into the ocean waters and swam toward the man, who was now swimming for the ship. Though the boat reached the man first, Blair was commended for his action in the New York Times and received money from the passengers[9] and a medal from the Royal Humane Society[10].

Blair (and Charles Lightoller, who survived the Titanic disaster) served aboard the RMS Oceanic when it ran aground in 1914. As the navigator, Blair received the blame for the grounding at the resulting court martial.