107 #72: Third class passengers were kept below as Titanic sank and were prevented from entering the lifeboats

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FALSE. But this is possibly true in the case of some Third Class men, in some parts of the ship, who were not allowed up to the lifeboats with the women and children under the rule of Women and Children first. It is a myth that Third Class passengers, including women and children, were locked below until the end. This idea stems from the fact that the order to pass the Third Class women and children up to the boats was not given until 12.30 a.m., 50 minutes after the collision. However, Titanic’s first lifeboat, No. 7, was not launched until after this time, at 12.40 a.m. Third Class passenger Daniel Buckley was one of those men who was allowed up to the lifeboats, but he describes the alarming wait beforehand, while the boats were being got ready and swung out, prior to loading at 12.30 a.m:

DAB016: ‘Was there any effort made on the part of the officers or crew to hold the steerage passengers in the steerage?’

‘I do not think so.’

DAB017: ‘Were you permitted to go on up to the top deck without any interference?’

‘Yes, sir. They tried to keep us down at first on our steerage deck. They did not want us to go up to the first class place at all.’

DAB018: ‘Who tried to do that?’

‘I can not say who they were. I think they were sailors.’

DAB019: ‘What happened then? Did the steerage passengers try to get out?’

‘Yes; they did. There was one steerage passenger there, and he was getting up the steps, and just as he was going in a little gate a fellow came along and chucked him down; threw him down into the steerage place. This fellow got excited, and he ran after him, and he could not find him. He got up over the little gate. He did not find him.’

DAB020: ‘What gate do you mean?’

‘A little gate just at the top of the stairs going up into the first class deck.’

DAB021: ‘There was a gate between the steerage and the first class deck?’

‘Yes. The first class deck was higher up than the steerage deck, and there were some steps leading up to it; 9 or 10 steps, and a gate just at the top of the steps.’

DAB022: ‘Was the gate locked?’

‘It was not locked at the time we made the attempt to get up there, but the sailor, or whoever he was, locked it. So that this fellow that went up after him broke the lock on it, and he went after the fellow that threw him down. He said if he could get hold of him he would throw him into the ocean.’

DAB023: ‘Did these passengers in the steerage have any opportunity at all of getting out?’

‘Yes; they had.’

DAB024: ‘What opportunity did they have?’

‘I think they had as much chance as the first and second class passengers.’

DAB025: ‘After this gate was broken?’

‘Yes; because they were all mixed. All the steerage passengers went up on the first class deck at this time, when the gate was broken. They all got up there. They could not keep them down.’

After 12.30 a.m. all Third Class women and children passengers were assisted to the boat deck and stewards were positioned throughout Third Class to direct passengers to the lifeboats.

The doors and gates, including the one which Buckley refers to above, between Third Class and the rest of the ship were normally kept closed to comply with 1912 immigration laws. These required physical separation between Third Class and the other classes to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. However, Third Class Steward John Hart testified that all these gates and doors were opened at 12.30 a.m:

10151: (Hart) ‘I should like to know what are the means employed to prevent the third class passengers during the voyage from straying into the first and second class decks and quarters of the ship. First, are there collapsible gates?’

‘Yes, gates that can be removed. Dividing the third class deck there is a companion; dividing the second class deck and the first class deck there is a barrier.’

10152: ‘Are those kept fastened during the course of a voyage – the barrier and the companion?’


10153: ‘Are they open?’

‘Well, the barrier that lifts over and the gate that fixes in, you can just take it out with your hand; it is never locked.’

10154: ‘Do I understand you to say that those gates are not locked at any time and the barrier is not fastened?’

‘Not to my knowledge.’

10155: ‘So that at any time a third class passenger, by pushing the gate or by raising the barrier, can go to the second class deck or to the first class deck. Is that right?’

‘That is correct. That is, of course, if there is nobody there on watch. There usually is a quartermaster standing by there or a seaman.’

10156: ‘Have you ever seen those gates locked?’

‘No, I was not long enough on the ship to see them locked.’

10165: ‘You did not look whether the gates were locked or the barrier closed from the time you went on to the Titanic until the time of the accident. Is that so?’

‘I do not see how they could be locked. I do not think so at all.’

10170: (The Commissioner) ‘They were all down, as I understand, when you were bringing the passengers away?’

‘Yes, My Lord.’

10171: ‘All three were opened?’

‘Yes, My Lord.’

10172: (Mr. Harbinson): ‘Did you see anybody open these gates or raise these barriers?’

‘No, I did not see anybody open them; but I had to pass through them, and I saw them open.’

10213: ‘You have told us that you saw a number of stewards placed at various portions to direct the third class passengers how they were to go?’


10214: ‘About how many stewards were so placed?’

‘I passed about five or six on the starboard side.’

10215: ‘Who else besides you, then, were bringing the people from their berths—rousing them and bringing them up to the boat deck? How many others?’

‘Almost eight. A portion of the third class stewards were room stewards, of whom I am the only survivor.’

10216: ‘I understood that there were only eight third class stewards in the aft portion altogether?’

‘To look after them.’

10217: ‘Who were stationed at various places to direct the third class passengers the way they were to go?’

‘Not of that eight.’

10218: ‘There were five?’

‘Five others.’

10219: ‘What class stewards were they?’

‘I could not tell you. Stewards were placed all round the ship.’

10220: ‘Do you know who placed them there?’

‘I cannot tell you.’

10221: ‘Do you know the stewards by sight who were placed to direct the third class passengers?’


10222: ‘But you say they were not third class stewards?’

‘They were not third class stewards.’

10223: ‘Did you see the emergency door open?’

‘I saw it open—The swing door to the second class you mean?’

10224: ‘Yes?’


10225: ‘Do you know at what time it was opened?’

‘Yes, I can tell you. It was open at half-past 12.’

10230: (The Commissioner) ‘Did you see anyone keeping the third class passengers back, so as to prevent them getting to the boat deck?’

‘No, My Lord.’

10255: ‘According to you, all the women and children, from the aft part of the boat who were taken up and who wanted to escape could have done so?’

‘I do not doubt that for a moment.’

10317: ‘When you returned from your first visit to the boat deck you told us you had some trouble to get back owing to the men trying to get up. What prevented you?’

The stewards prevented these men getting up when the order was passed around for the women and children.’ [Author’s emphasis]

10322: ‘I suppose you found they got a little excited when they were asked to put their lifebelts on?’

‘They were simply told to put their lifebelts on in a quiet manner to prevent any kind of a panic that might have ensued.’

10323: And you did your best to discharge that duty?’


10324: ‘Was that before any order had been passed along that these people were to go up to the boat deck?’


10325: ‘And when the order was passed along that they were to be taken up to the boat deck, did you do your best to get them through?’

‘I did my duty, Sir, to get them through.’

Third Class men in some areas of the ship were required to wait below, under the rule of women and children first; and although there were no physical barriers preventing Third Class women and children passengers from reaching the boats, and stewards were guiding them to the boat deck, Steward Hart also recalls that many women in Third Class were unwilling to go to the lifeboats. Some went to the boat deck but found it too cold, some felt it was safer to stay on the ship than to get into a small rowing boat in the middle of the Atlantic on a dark night, and some did not want to leave their husbands:

9921: ‘Now just tell us about the next thing?’

‘I was standing by waiting for further instructions. After some little while the word came down, “Pass your women up on the boat deck.” This was done.’

9922: ‘That means the third class?’ ‘Yes, the third class.’

9923: ‘Anything about children?’

‘Yes. “Pass the women and children.”’

9924: ‘“Pass the women and children up to the boat deck”?’

‘Yes, those that were willing to go to the boat deck were shown the way. Some were not willing to go to the boat deck, and stayed behind. Some of them went to the boat deck, and found it rather cold, and saw the boats being lowered away, and thought themselves more secure on the ship, and consequently returned to their cabin.’

9925: ‘You say they thought themselves more secure on the ship? Did you hear any of them say so?’

‘Yes, I heard two or three say they preferred to remain on the ship than be tossed about on the water like a cockle shell.’

9926: ‘Can you in any way help us to fix the time, or about the time, when the order was given to pass the third class women and children up to the boat deck? Could you tell us how long it was after you were first roused, or how long it was before the ship went down?’

‘Well, as near as I can. The vessel struck, I believe, at 11.40. That would be 20 minutes to 12. It must have been three parts of an hour before the word was passed down to me to pass the women and children up to the boat deck.’

9927 (The Commissioner) ‘This would be about 12.30?’

‘Yes, My Lord, as near as can be.’

10076: ‘Lord Mersey has just pointed out that you told us, on the boat deck where the boat left there were some women and their husbands. How was it they did not get into the boats?’

‘Because the cry was for the women and children, and the boat at that time was practically full of women and children, and these women would not leave their husbands.’

10077: ‘That is what I wanted, that was the impression you got, was it?’


10078: ‘Did you hear any of them say so on the boat deck?’


10079: ‘You did?’


10080: ‘You have told us that you were one of a number of some 60 third class stewards?’


10081: ‘Can you tell me how many third class stewards were saved?’

‘Yes, I believe 11 or 12.’

10082: ‘Out of 60?’


Examined by Mr. SCANLAN.

10096: ‘At first, I take it, you were trying to assure the passengers under your charge that they were in safety?’


10097: ‘When you realised that the position was very serious, what did you say to those people?’

‘I told the people to lose no time in getting to the boat deck.’

10098: ‘Did you tell them the ship was sinking?’

‘No, I did not know the ship was sinking.’

10099: ‘Even amongst the 49 women and children for whom you were responsible, did some of those go back to their quarters?’


10100: ‘And refused to go?’


10101: ‘When those people refused to go, did you again go back to them and tell them that those in charge knew that the ship was in a very dangerous condition?’

‘Yes; they were informed the second time I went back.’

10102: ‘You made it perfectly clear to them?’

‘Everything was clear.’

10193: ‘How many women refused to leave their berths?’


Nor was there any discrimination against third Class women and children on the boat deck, as Fifth Officer Lowe explained at the US Inquiry:

HGL487: ‘What did you do about it yourself? Did you arbitrarily select from the deck?’

‘You say “select.” There was no such thing as selecting. It was simply the first woman, whether first class, second class, third class, or sixty-seventh class. It was all the same; women and children were first.’

HGL488: ‘You mean that there was a procession of women—’

‘The first woman was first into the boat, and the second woman was second into the boat, no matter whether she was a first class passenger or any other class.’

Nevertheless, most Third Class passengers only occupied Titanic’s stern-most and forward-most lifeboats in any numbers, and this was probably because these were nearer to the Third Class areas, there being no lifeboats at all stationed in third class areas of the ship.

Having listened to all the evidence at the British Inquiry, Mr Harbinson, the lawyer appointed to act for the Third Class passengers, concluded that there was no evidence of active discrimination against Third Class in the evacuation:

‘Now, my Lord, I wish to say distinctly that no evidence has been given in the course of this case that would substantiate a charge that any attempt was made to keep back the third class passengers. I desire further, my Lord, to say that there is no evidence that when they did reach the boat deck there was any discrimination practised either by the Officers or the sailors in putting them into the boats. It would be wrong of me to say so, because there is no evidence which would bear me out in saying so, and I think it only fair that in speaking on behalf of the third class passengers I should make that observation to your Lordship.’

Harbinson thought that much of the reason why a smaller percentage of Third Class women and children were saved than First and Second Class women and children stemmed from a lack of guidance for Third Class passengers. Despite Hart’s evidence, Harbinson thought that the organisation of stewards to take Third Class up to the boat deck could have been greatly improved, especially given that many in Third Class would be unused to travelling on ships and would find it hard to make their way to the boat deck. He also thought that passengers ought to have been informed that the ship was sinking by some general alarm, which he said, despite suggestions that this would have caused a panic, was something they had a right to know and would have given them a better sense of the need to get to the boat deck as quickly as possible.

No-one can argue with these sentiments; and the fact that lifeboats went away with empty places in them, when elsewhere on the ship others wished to fill those places, can only be put down to poor organization, despite the need to avoid a panic.

No third class passengers were called to give evidence at the British Inquiry and only three gave evidence in the US, but even these three testified that they had not been discriminated against.

It is likely that they understood that the rule of women and children first applied to all classes and they were aware that Third Class women and children were invited to go up to the boat deck as soon as the lifeboats were ready for lowering. Nonetheless, and despite the harshness of the situation that the lack of lifeboats created, the thought that some men were required to remain below until very near the end is saddening and shocking.

Although they were in a sense crew, and therefore not strictly relevant to this discussion, we know that all the staff from the Ritz restaurant concession on the Titanic were kept below. As a result, all of them died except for the Head Chef ’s secretary, Paul Maugé, who was also the maître d’ of the restaurant. However, M. Maugé said that he thought he and the chef, Pierre Rousseau, had been allowed onto the boat deck only because they were dressed as passengers, whereas the other staff were in their working dress and were therefore seen as crew and ordered to remain on Titanic’s stern well deck, where there were no lifeboats, until all the lifeboats had gone.

As Titanic began to break up and sink rapidly after all her lifeboats had been launched, many passengers who had remained or been kept below suddenly poured out onto the Boat Deck, as described by Titanic survivor Colonel Archibald Gracie, in his detailed 1912 account of the sinking, The Truth About The Titanic:

‘My friend Clinch Smith made the proposition that we should leave and go toward the stern. But there arose before us from the decks below a mass of humanity several lines deep converging on the Boat Deck facing us and completely blocking our passage to the stern. There were women in the crowd as well as men and these seemed to be steerage passengers who had just come up from the decks below. Even among these people there was no hysterical cry, no evidence of panic. Oh the agony of it.’

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


  1. Passengers WERE locked behind gates in the lower decks. Surviving passengers testified during the court trial that the gates were locked but White Star Lines swore that they were not. 100 years later a mini sub was sent down to explore the wreckage and discovered that the gates in question are STILL locked. So clearly people were trapped and perished.

    1. The Berthen gates were locked before midnight, with Third Class kept behind them, but after midnight, when the order to abandon ship was given, these gates were opened to allow women and children who wished to be parted from their male companions to seek the deck. Tragically many women chose to stay with their husbands and teenage children, who were not allowed up.

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