107 #98: Ismay developed a lifelong opiate addiction after the sinking and withdrew from society

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FALSE. But he did withdraw from society to a large extent. In his book, A Night To Remember, Walter Lord describes Ismay as being in shock and drugged on opiates until the Carpathia reached New York, and afterwards remaining a ‘virtual recluse’ in Ireland. The wireless traffic does show that Ismay was given a sedative by Carpathia’s doctor after coming aboard, in the following telegram from Captain Rostron of the rescue ship Carpathia to Captain Haddock of the Olympic, sent at around 7.30 a.m. on the morning of the 15th April, 1912:


‘CAPTAIN Olympic:’

Bruce Ismay is under opiate.


As we have seen, Ismay was offered coffee when he arrived aboard the Carpathia, which he refused saying only: ‘I wish you would get me somewhere where I can be quiet’ and one can well imagine that he was keen to avoid meeting the many women on Carpathia’s decks who had lost their husbands, when he had got into a lifeboat—particularly those in First Class to whom he had bragged about Titanic’s speed and the likelihood of an early arrival in New York, despite the ice conditions.

He was nevertheless sufficiently in control of himself to send wireless messages to New York, including a message to the White Star Line informing them of what had happened. As we have seen, this message was prepared on the morning of the 15th April, although it was not received in New York until the 17th. Ismay also sent several other wireless messages whilst aboard the Carpathia, including one stating that the White Star Line’s Cedric should be held back in New York to wait for Titanic’s surviving crew to arrive aboard the Carpathia, so they could be kept together and be returned immediately to England. He also appeared fit and well at 10.30 a.m. the morning after the Carpathia arrived in New York, when he appeared before Senator Smith as the first witness at the US Inquiry into the Titanic disaster.

Ismay was tall, fit and only 52 years old when Titanic sank, and he was at that time already Chairman of the International Mercantile Marine Company, which owned a larger percentage of all transatlantic shipping than any other company, by a long way. As a young man at Harrow, Ismay was a renowned athlete and sportsman and there is no evidence of his using drugs habitually, at any time in his life.

As for withdrawing from public life, there is some truth in this rumour. Ismay retired as a director of the White Star Line in 1913, although an article in the London Times in January 1913 announcing his retirement was at pains to explain that he had expressed his wish to retire two months before the Titanic disaster in February of 1912, ceding his post to Harold Sanderson; the retirement was to be effective from June 1913. Ismay still retained several other company directorships after the sinking, although in 1913 he purchased a large house in a very secluded spot in County Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. The house is completely surrounded by walls eight feet high and is situated near quiet salmon fishing pools, where Ismay liked to relax.

His obituary in the Times mentions his generosity towards the ‘needy inhabitants’ of County Galway, and he kept up his habit of charitable donations, giving £11,000 to a fund for the widows of lost seamen, and in 1919 giving £25,000 to a fund which aimed to recognise the contributions of merchant seamen during the war. He also inaugurated the cadet ship Mersey, for the training of merchant navy officers, and oversaw the rebuilding of his house in Ireland after it was burnt down by the IRA in 1925. However, it seems that by the mid 1920s he had retired from active life and begun to spend most of his time in Ireland, later returning to England, where he died on October 17th, 1937, of a stroke arising from complications with diabetes; he was buried in Putney Vale cemetery

Ismay was understandably affected by the publicity which accompanied the Titanic’s sinking and by the accusations of cowardice and recklessness levelled against him. His wife was said to have remarked ‘That ship ruined our lives’, and the couple disliked any mention of the Titanic.

In his book The Night Lives On, Walter Lord described Ismay’s post-Titanic life as follows:

‘After the Titanic Ismay never participated in public functions. He never attended Mrs Ismay’s frequent bridge parties and dances. He never travelled to America again. He amused himself sitting on a park bench, chatting anonymously with down-and-outers. He liked to watch passing parades, looking at them alone and lost in the crowd.’

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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