107 #69: One man escaped by pretending to be a woman in order to get into a lifeboat

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TRUE. It is possible that more than one man might have done so. Fifth Officer Lowe said that he had discovered a man dressed as a woman when he was transferring passengers out of no.14 into other boats preparatory to going back to pick up more people:

HGL624: ‘Then I asked for volunteers to go with me to the wreck, and it was at this time that I found this Italian. He came aft, and he had a shawl over his head and I suppose he had skirts. Anyhow, I pulled this shawl off his face and saw he was a man. He was in a great hurry to get into the other boat, and I caught hold of him and pitched him in.’

In fact, this was probably Third Class passenger Edward Ryan, who freely admitted in a letter to his parents that he had put a towel over his head in order to pass as a woman and enter a lifeboat. He was Irish, but Lowe may not have realised this in the dark, and probably allowed his prejudices about foreigners in general and Italians in particular to colour his judgment of the man’s true nationality.

Lifeboat 4 also attracted a female disguise story. 11-year-old William Carter, Jr, was apparently being prevented from entering it, so William’s mother put a woman’s hat on his head and bundled him into the boat with her. In fact, William himself said that he did not wear a hat into the boat; Mrs Carter put the hat on his head when they were already in the lifeboat and had left the ship, in an effort to keep him warm. When lifeboat no.4 came alongside Carpathia the next morning, William Carter Sr, who had been rescued in another boat and was already on board, could not see his son until William Jr swept the hat off and called up, ‘Here I am, Father.’ The Worcester Evening Gazette of 19th April, 1912, later embellished this story with a different cast of characters, claiming that the incident had involved Madeleine Astor putting a hat on John Ryerson’s head and declaring, ‘Now he’s a girl, so he can go.’

Third Class passenger Daniel Buckley thought that Mrs Astor had thrown her shawl over him as a disguise when she found him hiding in the bottom of her lifeboat, number 4. Whoever did help Daniel Buckley, it was not Madeleine Astor as he was in Boat 4, whereas Buckley was in Boat 13.

But some of these female disguise stories were entirely fictional. William Sloper, a stockbroker in First Class, was accused of escaping in this way, but he left Titanic in lifeboat number 7, the first one to be launched. First Officer Murdoch allowed both men and women into this lifeboat, so Sloper had no reason to disguise himself as a woman, and in fact the story was published in the New York Herald, one of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers, apparently as revenge for his refusing to talk to their reporter and instead giving the exclusive on his Titanic story to his friend at the New Britain Herald. On the advice of his family and friends, Sloper refrained from bringing an action for libel.

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