107 #20: Owner Ismay acted as a ‘Super-Captain’ and ordered Captain Smith to maintain full speed despite the unusual ice warnings they had received

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Bruce Ismay Titanic

FALSE. We have seen that Ismay did urge Captain Smith to get into New York early; and we know that Ismay discussed the speed of the Titanic with Chief Engineer bell at Queenstown:

18869: ‘You have told us at the conversation between you and the Chief Engineer the Captain was not present?’ ‘He was not.’
18870: ‘And that you had no conversation with him during the voyage about speed?’
‘Absolutely none.’
18871: ‘Then will you tell us how it was he was to become aware of your decision to increase the speed on the Tuesday?’
‘I think the Engineer would probably have spoken to him.’
18872: ‘Did you make any arrangement with the Engineer about that?’
‘I did not.’
18873: ‘Then as far as you know the Captain was not aware that you were going to make this increase in speed?’
‘No.’
18874: ‘Do you know under whose instructions those extra boilers were put on on a Sunday morning?’
‘I do not.’
18875: ‘Is that a thing the Chief Engineer would be likely to do on his own account?’
‘I should say so.’
18876: ‘Unless he had had instructions from the Captain that the speed was to be increased?’
‘I think he would if he was going to work up to 78 revolutions.’
18877: ‘At all events, you had no conversation with the Captain about it?’
‘Absolutely none.’

We also know that Captain Smith handed Ismay the Baltic ice warning telegram, which Ismay kept it in his pocket for five hours on the day of Titanic’s collision:

18828: ‘Now I will come to the question of the Baltic telegram. Did you before that particular Sunday know what was the practice with regard to Marconigrams received by the Officers on the ship relating to the navigation of the ship? Did you know what it was the practice to do with those Marconigrams as soon as they had been received?’
‘I believe the practice was to put them up in the chart room for the Officers.’
18829: ‘Did you know that on Sunday, April the 14th?’
‘Yes.’
18830: ‘Was not the Marconigram from the Baltic essentially a message affecting navigation?’
‘Yes.’
18831: ‘Then will you say why, under those circumstances, with that knowledge, you put that Marconigram into your pocket?’
‘Because it was given to me, as I believe now, just before lunchtime, and I went down and had it in my pocket.’
18832: ‘And you suggest that you put it in your pocket simply in a fit of absent-mindedness?’
‘Yes, entirely.’
18833: ‘And had it occurred to you when you were talking to Mrs. Ryerson that you had absentmindedly put this message into your pocket?’
‘It had not.’
18834: ‘It had not occurred to you?’
‘No.’
18835: ‘And you still retained it in your pocket until it was asked for by Captain Smith late in the evening?’ ‘Ten minutes past seven, I think it was, he asked me for it.’
18836: ‘That is to say, it had been in your possession for something like five hours?’
‘Yes, I should think so.’
18837: ‘And you seriously say it was put into your pocket in a fit of absentmindedness and retained for five hours?’
‘Yes.’
18838: ‘Although you were discussing it with two of the lady passengers?’
‘I was not discussing it with them.’
18839: ‘You mentioned it?’
‘I mentioned it.’
18840: ‘And took it out and read it?’
‘Yes.’

However, these exchanges are ultimately just examples of Ismay’s interest in Titanic’s maiden voyage, as owner of the White Star Line, and his close working relationship with his most senior engineer and most senior captain. The reality is that Captain Smith needed no encouragement to go as fast as possible. Although he had both a Managing Director of the shipbuilder and the Chairman of the Line on board for Titanic’s maiden voyage, Captain Smith had been in this situation many times before. Indeed, Ismay and Andrews had both been present on the Olympic’s maiden voyage, but it was on Olympic’s second trip to New York, when neither of them was on board, that Olympic arrived early, getting into New York on Tuesday night.

Captain Smith’s love of speed comes across clearly in the following passage from Commander Lightoller’s memoirs, Titanic and Other Ships:

‘“Captain Smith, or “E.J.” as he was familiarly and affectionately known, was quite a character in the shipping world. Tall, full whiskered, and broad. At first sight you would think to yourself, “Here’s a typical Western Ocean Captain.” “Bluff, hearty, and I’ll bet he’s got a voice like a foghorn.” As a matter of fact, he had a pleasant, quiet voice and invariable smile. A voice he rarely raised above a conversational tone—not to say he couldn’t; in fact, I have often heard him bark an order that made a man come to himself with a bump. He was a great favourite, and a man any officer would give his ears to sail under.

‘I had been with him many years, off and on, in the mail boats, Majestic, mainly, and it was an education to see him con his own ship up through the intricate channels entering New York at full speed. One particularly bad corner, known as the South- West Spit, used to make us fairly flush with pride as he swung her round, judging his distances to a nicety; she heeling over to the helm with only a matter of feet to spare between each end of the ship and the banks.”’

This glimpse of Captain Smith’s character is added to by the following recollection from his daughter, Helen Melville Smith, which she mentioned on visiting the set of the film A Night To Remember, in the late 1950s:

‘Cigars were his pleasure. And one was allowed to be in the room only if one was absolutely still, so that the blue cloud over his head never moved.’

Getting into New York early would have suited Smith’s quiet flamboyance, so Ismay would not have had to ‘order’ Smith to do anything. Indeed, Captain Smith came from an era before wireless communication, where all crack transatlantic passenger shipmasters went flat-out in clear weather at all times, trusting only to a good lookout to avoid danger.

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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