107 #91: Operators on the Carpathia withheld information about Titanic’s sinking in order to sell their story to the papers

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FALSE. Both Bride and Cottam, the Carpathia’s wireless operator, admitted that they did not provide information about the sinking to everyone who asked. They also admitted that they had been asked by the Marconi Company to save their story and sell it to the newspapers. However, Captain Rostron of the Carpathia had ordered them to prioritise survivor messages and official business, including White Star Line and Cunard messages, and to ignore everything else. Bride and Cottam insisted that their actions arose from the orders of Captain Rostron, who was motivated only by expediency; and that these overrode the orders from their employer.

The volume of messages was so great that Cottam sent over 500 messages from survivors and was awake for most of the time between the Carpathia picking up the Titanic’s distress signal and docking in New York several days later. At one point Cottam fell asleep over his set and had to be relieved by Bride, the Titanic’s injured wireless operator.

President Taft, whose military aide, Major Archibald Butt, was a passenger on Titanic, sent the USS Chester out to meet the Carpathia to try and get news of Major Butt (who had been lost in the sinking). It caused an uproar in America that the Chester’s requests for information were not complied with fully, but this was purely the result of the instructions Bride and Cottam had received from Captain Rostron. The Chester had requested a list of Titanic passengers and crew aboard Carpathia, but Captain Rostron told Cottam to respond with a list of Third Class passengers only as Cottam had already sent all the other names ashore. Neither Cottam nor Rostron was aware that the message was actually from President Taft, as it was signed by Commander Decker of the Chester. Several hours later, Bride transmitted the Third Class passenger names, which he said took a long time due to repeated misunderstandings on the part of the Chester’s operator; this was probably due to differences in the wireless systems used by each ship.

However, the rumour of withholding information for personal gain arose because it became known that the following messages were sent to the Carpathia by the Marconi Company and received by Bride:

8.12 P.M.

Say, old man. Marconi Co. taking good care of you. Keep your mouth shut and hold your story; It is fixed for you so you will get big money. Now, please do your best to clear.

8:30 P.M.

To Marconi officer, Carpathia and Titanic:
Arranged for your exclusive story for dollars in four figures. Mr. Marconi agreeing. Say nothing until you see me. Where are you now?

J. M. SAMMIS, Opr. C.

Both Marconi and Sammis thought that it was not unreasonable that the operators should make some money out of their story, just as Jack Binns, the wireless operator on the RMS Republic who had sent the first CQD by wireless from a ship, had done a few years earlier, and Sammis admitted sending a message to the Carpathia, asking Cottam and Bride to come to the Strand Hotel to meet a reporter from the New York Times.

Bride and Cottam both remembered that the earlier messages, asking them to ‘keep their mouth shut’, had been received, but were adamant that this had not influenced them, and that they had, as ordered by the captain, simply prioritised official messages and passenger traffic. Bride did subsequently sell his story to a New York Times reporter who came on board Carpathia along with Mr Marconi and Mr Sammis, for $500. Cottam left the ship as soon as she docked, but later received $750 from the New York Times for his story.

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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