107 #77: Ismay pushed his way into Collapsible C, the last lifeboat to be launched on the starboard side

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Ismay Titanic

FALSE, probably. Ismay got into the last lifeboat to be lowered on the starboard side, Collapsible C, at about 2 a.m., only when it was actually in the act of being lowered away and when there were no passengers in sight, as he explained at the US Inquiry:

JBI547: (Senator Smith) ‘Was it filled to its capacity?’

‘No; it was not. JBI548: Why?’

‘I understand the full capacity of one of those boats is about 60 to 65.’

JBI549: ‘Of the collapsible?’

‘I do not know whether the capacity of the collapsible is the same as that of the wooden boat.’

JBI550: ‘It was not filled to its capacity?’

‘No, sir.’

JBI551: ‘Do you know how many people were in it?’

‘I should think there were about 40 women in it, and some children. There was a child in arms. I think they were all third class passengers, so far as I could see.’

JBI552: ‘And this boat was from the starboard side of the boat deck, or top deck, near the bridge?’

‘Yes, sir.’

JBI553: ‘At the time you entered it, did you say anything to the captain about entering it?’

‘No, sir; I did not. I never saw the captain.’

JBI554: ‘Did he say anything to you about your entering it?’

‘No, sir.’
JBI555: ‘Who, if any one, told you to enter that lifeboat?’

‘No one, sir.’

JBI556: ‘Why did you enter it?’

‘Because there was room in the boat. She was being lowered away. I felt the ship was going down, and I got into the boat.’

Lord Mersey accepted Ismay’s version of events, concluding in his Report at the end of the British Inquiry:

‘As to the attack on Mr. Bruce Ismay, it resolved itself into the suggestion that, occupying the position of Managing Director of the Steamship Company, some moral duty was imposed upon him to wait on board until the vessel foundered. I do not agree. Mr. Ismay, after rendering assistance to many passengers, found ‘C’ collapsible, the last boat on the starboard side, actually being lowered. No other people were there at the time. There was room for him and he jumped in. (Ismay, 18559) Had he not jumped in he would merely have added one more life, namely, his own, to the number of those lost.’

It should be noted that, prior to his departure in Collapsible C, Ismay had worked tirelessly all night alongside Titanic’s crew to get the lifeboats away as quickly as possible. Third Officer Pitman testified:

‘I came along and brought in my boat. I stood on it and said, “Come along, ladies.” There was a big crowd. Mr. Ismay helped to get them along; assisted in every way. We got the boat nearly full, and I shouted out for any more ladies.’

Ismay personally helped and urged scores of women to get into lifeboats, many of whom might not otherwise have done so; at one point he practically threw First Class passenger Edith Russell down the stairs from the boat deck in his haste to get her into lifeboat No. 11, which was being loaded from the A Deck rail. Two First Class stewardesses, Annie Martin and Katherine Gold, remembered him urging women into a lifeboat in an interview with the Western Daily Mercury, 30 April 1912:

‘Mr. Bruce Ismay helped all he could to get the women into the boats. He implored one group of stewardesses to take their place with the others. The reply was: “But we are only stewardesses, sir!” when he said: “You are women; please get in at once,” and he insisted on their doing so. “We saw him later on when he was sitting on the gunwale of one of the last boats to leave. He had nothing on but his pyjamas and an overcoat and was blue with the cold.”’

In fact, Ismay was so anxious about getting the boats loaded that at one point a somewhat exasperated Fifth Officer Lowe ordered him away from lifeboat No. 5, in language described at the inquiry as ‘not very parliamentary’:

HGL332: ‘Do you know any of the men who assisted you in lowering that lifeboat?’

‘No, sir; I do not, by name. But there is a man here, and had he not been here I should not have known that I had ordered Mr. Ismay away from the boat.’

HGL333: ‘Did you order Mr. Ismay away from the boat?’

‘I did, sir.’

HGL334: ‘What did you say to him?’

‘This was on the starboard side. I don’t know his name, but I know him by sight. He is a steward. He spoke to me on board the Carpathia. He asked me if I knew what I had said to Mr. Ismay. I said, “I don’t know Mr. Ismay. “Well,” he said, “you used very, very strong language with him.” I said, “Did I?” I said, “I can not help it if I did.” He said, “Yes, you did,” and he repeated the words. If you wish me to repeat them I will do so; if you do not, I will not.’

HGL335: ‘I will first ask you this: What was the occasion for your using this harsh language to Mr. Ismay?’

‘The occasion for using the language I did was because Mr. Ismay was overanxious and he was getting a trifle excited. He said, “Lower away! Lower away! Lower away! Lower away!” I said—well, let it be—’

Mr. Ismay: ‘Give us what you said.’

Mr. Lowe: ‘The chairman is examining me.’

Senator Smith: ‘Mr. Ismay, you asked the witness to give the language?

Mr. Ismay: ‘I have no objection to his giving it. It was not very parliamentary.’

Senator Smith: ‘If the language is inappropriate—’

Mr. Lowe: ‘There is only one word that might be so considered.’

Mr. Ismay: ‘May I suggest that it be put on a piece of paper and given to you, Mr. Chairman, and you decide.’

Senator Smith: ‘All right; write it down.

(The witness, Mr. Lowe, wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to the chairman.)

HGL336: ‘You may put that into the record. You said you—’

‘You wish me to repeat it, sir?’

HGL337: ‘You uttered this to Mr. Ismay?’

‘Yes; that was in the heat of the moment.’

HGL338: ‘What was the occasion of it; because of his excitement, because of his anxiety?’

‘Because he was, in a way, interfering with my duties, and also, of course, he only did this because he was anxious to get the people away and also to help me.’

HGL339: ‘What did you say to him?’

‘Do you want me to repeat that statement?’

HGL340: ‘Yes, sir.’

‘I told him, “If you will get to hell out of that I shall be able to do something.”’

HGL341: ‘What reply did he make?’

‘He did not make any reply. I said, “Do you want me to lower away quickly?” I said, “You will have me drown the whole lot of them.” I was on the floor myself lowering away.’

HGL342: ‘You were on the boat deck, standing on the deck of the boat, the upper deck; and where did he stand?’

‘He was at the ship’s side, like this (indicating). This is the ship—he was hanging on the davit like this (indicating). He said, “Lower away, lower away, lower away,” and I was slacking away just here at his feet (indicating).’

HGL343: ‘The boat was being lowered?’

‘I was lowering away the boat myself, personally.’

HGL344: ‘I want you to say what he did after you said this to him?’

‘He walked away; and then he went to No. 3 boat.’

HGL345: ‘Alongside of yours?’

‘The next boat forward of mine; that is, on the same side; and I think he went ahead there on his own hook, getting things ready there, to the best of his ability.’

Lowe also observed Ismay at no.3:

HGL505: ‘Did Mr. Ismay assist in filling that boat?’

‘Yes; he assisted there, too.’

HGL506: ‘You found him there when you turned from No. 5 to No. 3?’

‘He was there, and I distinctly remember seeing him alongside of me—that is, by my side—when the first detonator went off. I will tell you how I happen to remember it so distinctly. It was because the flash of the detonator lit up the whole deck, I did not know who Mr. Ismay was then, but I learned afterwards who he was, and he was standing alongside of me.’

HGL507: ‘Did you say anything to him?’

‘I did not.’

HGL508: ‘You saw him in the flash—’

‘Of the detonator.’

This impression of Ismay working like the crew to get lifeboat No. 3 away is reinforced by the testimony of Samuel Rule:

6462: ‘At this time, from what you have said, Mr. Ismay was standing close?’

‘Yes, he was helping to get No. 3 out.’

6463: ‘Helping to get No. 3 boat out?’

‘Yes.’

6464: (The Attorney-General—To the Witness.) ‘Was Mr. Ismay dressed at this time?’

‘No, he had his slippers and a light overcoat on and no hat.’

6465: ‘Slippers, light overcoat and no hat?’

‘Yes.’

6466: ‘You said he was helping. What was he doing?’

‘He was just the same as any of the crew; he was doing all he could to assist to get the boats out.’

The evidence that Ismay pushed himself into a lifeboat comes from the following privately published account of First Class passenger Jack Thayer, written in 1940, three years after Ismay’s death:

‘There was some disturbance in loading the last two forward starboard boats. A large crowd of men was pressing to get into them. No women were around as far as I could see. I saw Ismay, who had been assisting in the loading of the last boat, push his way into it. It was really every man for himself…’

This account seems to ring true, but it was written long after the disaster and Jack Thayer had every reason to be critical of Ismay, not least because his father was killed in the disaster.

Billy Carter, the other First Class passenger who escaped in this lifeboat with Ismay, insisted in 1912 that Ismay’s version of events was accurate. Although Mr Carter may have had similar reasons for agreeing that Ismay’s escape was as Ismay testified, his account was given at the time and must therefore be given the weight it deserves, regardless of what one thinks of Carter’s own character. (Carter’s wife divorced him soon after the disaster, citing cruelty as one of her reasons.)

Given that Ismay was clearly working alongside Titanic’s crew, and as crew, it is most likely that he simply stepped in, as he said he did, as the boat was in the act of being lowered, as he would have had the opportunity of doing so.

Regardless of which version of events was most accurate, public opinion in 1912 damned Ismay for saving himself from the loss of what was effectively his own ship, when so many men and women drowned, especially given that it was known that he was desirous of making a fast passage. The press at the time dubbed him ‘J. BRUTE Ismay.’

It seems that Ismay’s own conscience was not clear on the matter of his survival. On board the rescue ship Carpathia, Ismay could not face any of the 37 women whose husbands had drowned on the Titanic. He therefore hid in the doctor’s cabin for the entire passage to New York, though he explained this differently to Senator Smith at the US Inquiry, at 10.30 a.m. on the morning after the Carpathia arrived in New York:

JBI560: ‘Not desiring to be impertinent at all, but in order that I may not be charged with omitting to do my duty, I would like to know where you went after you boarded the Carpathia, and how you happened to go there?’

‘Mr. Chairman, I understand that my behaviour on board the Titanic, and subsequently on board the Carpathia, has been very severely criticized. I want to court the fullest inquiry, and I place myself unreservedly in the hands of yourself and any of your colleagues, to ask me any questions in regard to my conduct; so please do not hesitate to do so, and I will answer them to the best of my ability. So far as the Carpathia is concerned, sir, when I got on board the ship I stood up with my back against the bulkhead, and somebody came up to me and said, “Will you not go into the saloon and get some soup, or something to drink?” “No,” I said, “I really do not want anything at all.” He said, “Do go and get something.” I said, “No. If you will leave me alone I will be very much happier here.” I said, “If you will get me in some room where I can be quiet, I wish you would.” He said, “Please go in the saloon and get something hot.” I said, “I would rather not.” Then he took me and put me into a room. I did not know whose the room was, at all. This man proved to be the doctor of the Carpathia. I was in that room until I left the ship. I was never outside the door of that room. During the whole of the time I was in this room, I never had anything of a solid nature, at all; I lived on soup. I did not want very much of anything.’

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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