To my poor fellow-sufferers: My heart overflows with grief for you all and is laden with sorrow that you are weighed down with this terrible burden that has been thrust upon us. May God be with us and comfort us all.
– Eleanor Smith – wife of the late Captain Edward J. Smith
As the news blackout from Carpathia continued, until her arrival in New York, the rumours and concern from others extended to the top office of the United States. President Taft was becoming increasingly worried about his military aid, friend and Titanic passenger, Colonel Archibald Butt. Communication stations along the coast had failed to get any response from the Carpathia from the day Titanic foundered.
On April 16, President Taft ordered the Chester Class Cruisers, USS. Salem and USS. Chester, from Boston. Salem and Chester’s orders were to sail to the scene of the disaster and send back any information they could to determine what had happened. Taft had also tentatively considered sending the two cutters, USS. Seneca and USS. Mohawk, from New York, to proceed to Sandy Hook to rendezvous with Carpathia, to act as an escort into New York.
U.S. Secretary McVeagh considered the possibility of sending the Cutter USS Gresham, to also rendezvous with Carpathia, with the idea of carrying newspaper journalists to board Carpathia to get information direct from the survivors, then to send the information direct to Naval Communications stations. Who in turn, would release the information as it was received. Unfortunately for McVeagh, this plan would require co-operation from Cunard Line in granting the journalists permission to board Carpathia. McVeagh was forced to abandon the plan when Cunard refused to co-operate, continuing Rostron’s plan to protect Titanic’s survivors for as long as possible. Certainly for as long as they are aboard his vessel.
Meanwhile, the weather from the wreck site to New York had changed considerably. Carpathia had sailed through fog, rain and scattered thunder-storms over the last four days, this weather-pattern continued as Carpathia approached the City of New York.
Reports from the Nantucket Shoal Lightship stated that Carpathia had passed by at 6 am on April 18. Estimates put her arrival at Cunard’s Pier 54 at approximately 9.00pm, although no one in New York was certain, because of Rostrons continued news blackout. Snippets of information had reached authorities from messages sent from survivors to loved ones. Still, no one knew for certain.
Everything about Carpathia, before her entry into New York on 18 April, 1912, would have made a fantastic thriller novel today. Prior to her docking at Cunard’s Pier 54, Carpathia was the Mystery Ship.
Many imaginary tales were circulating globally. Articles of news were varying day to day. Such as: many of the lifeboats – full of survivors were sucked under as the great ship sank, all the passengers are safe and transferred to lifeboats, the women survivors were going insane through grief of the loss of husbands, many other ships had picked up further survivors and, Titanic was under tow to Halifax, the Baltic had picked up a further 250 survivors, before her arrival in New York.
What is true is that before her arrival in New York, Carpathia had become known as ‘The Ship Of Sorrows’ and ‘The Ship Of Widows’,
The world wanted to know what had happened, who was to blame and in accordance with tradition, who the hero was. The largest newspaper chain in America, owned by Hearst, had already decided who the villain was – Ismay. There was only one character needed. Every tragic story needs that knight in shining armour, who comes to the aid of the damsel in distress, Right? As the wireless of Carpathia remained silent, speculation was growing to unparalleled heights.
A selection of Newspaper headlines, giving a variety of descriptions of the Titanic disaster.
Journalists were frantically trying to get the scoop about the disaster, jostling to be the reporter who got the latest news. Every avenue of news gathering were exhausted. No news was coming from the Carpathia herself. Another source was desperately needed. That main source would be the survivors themselves. Throughout the day of Carpathia’s arrival, newsmen were frantically trying to get a vantage point as close to the ship’s point of arrival as they could, to get that scoop over all the other newsmen present. Their luck turned sour as Cunard refused to give them entry passes onto Pier 54, insisting on reserving the Pier for relatives of the survivors only. Security around the Pier was stepped up to prevent unauthorized persons entry onto the pier.
The weather conditions were not friendly to the waiting media. Thick fog throughout the day was causing the press to speculate the arrival of Carpathia could be delayed until around 1.00am the next day.
The Hero – Captain E.J. Smith
Born on January 27, 1850 to Edward and Catherine Smith in Hanley, Staffordshire. Edward John Smith attended Etruria British School, until the age of 13. Moving to Liverpool at age 17, he became an apprentice on the ship Senator Weber, which was owned by A. Gibson & Co. of Liverpool.
On January 13, 1887, E. J Smith married Sarah Eleanor Pennington in Winwick, Cheshire. Their daughter Helen Melville Smith was born in Waterloo, Liverpool on April 2, 1898. The family lived in Highfield, Southampton.
In March 1880, Smith joined White Star Line as Fourth Officer on the RMS Cedric. Serving on the companies’ liners to Australia and New York. He rose quickly in status. In 1887, Smith received his first command, on the Republic. Earning his Extra Masters Certificate in 1888, he became a Full Lieutenant with the Royal Naval Reserve, allowing his ship the distinction, as a British merchant vessel, of flying the Blue Ensign of the RNR.
In 1895, Smith’s second command was with Majestic for nine years. Transported troops to the Cape Colony during the Boer War, without incident, earning him the reputation as a “safe Captain”, for which he earned the Transport Medal, given to him by King Edward VII in 1903. Smith also became known as the “Millionaires Captain” because England’s Upper-Class preferred to sail on ships under his command.
Smith commanded White Star Lines newest ships from 1904, with his first, the biggest vessel in the world at that time, Baltic. Her maiden voyage on June 29 1904 from Liverpool to New York was without incident. After three years, Smith was assigned the big ship, Adriatic, her maiden voyage also going without incident. While with the Adriatic, Smith received the Royal Naval Reserve’s Long Service Medal. By virtue of this award, he was now entitled to be addressed as, Captain Edward John Smith, RD (Reserve Decoration), RNR (Royal Naval Reserve).
As the most experienced Captain in the White Star fleet and one of the most experienced in the world, E. J. Smith was asked to command the first of the new generation super-liners, that of RMS Olympic. The maiden voyage again went without incident, until reaching New York on June 21, 1911. While docking at Pier 59, one of the twelve tugs maneuvering Olympic into he berth became jammed under her stern, before working itself free.
Another incident occurred with Olympic on September 20, 1911. Smith was on the bridge when his ships shear size is believed to have caused the Royal Navy cruiser, HMS Hawke to be sucked into Olympic’s hull. The collision caused damage to one of her propeller shafts, while filling two of her compartments with water. The Royal Navy warship lost her prow. An inquiry by the Royal Navy found Olympic was to blame for the incident. On arrival at Harland and Wolff for repairs, Titanic’s finishing had to be halted so that a propeller shaft could be used to replace Olympic’s damaged one. In February 1912 Olympic lost a propeller. Titanic’s completion was delayed again, so that a propeller could be removed and installed on Olympic. This incident put Titanic’s maiden voyage back, from March 20 to April 10.
One myth is that Captain E. J. Smith was set to retire after the maiden voyage of Titanic. An article in The Halifax Morning Chronicle on April 9, 1912, stated that Smith would remain in command of Titanic “until the Company – White Star Line completed a larger and finer steamer” – believed to be RMS Britannic.
Although history has seen Smith in a favorable light, many questions still remain about Smith’s adequacy. The fate of so many passengers and crew were firmly at the hands of Captain E. J. Smith. Any ship’s Captain takes full responsibility for the performance of his vessel, full responsibility for her crew and the safety of her passengers. The events of the night of 14 to 15 April 1912, including the loss of the ship, passengers and crew falls completely with Captain Smith. It was Captain Smith who ignored the ice warnings throughout the day and night of April 14, who failed to adequately order a lifeboat drill for the voyage from Southampton to New York, who failed to order an abandon ship, failed to ensure the lifeboats were full before launching and failed to ensure the rockets were fired in the correct order, as set out according to the Laws Of The Sea. The Captain is always ultimately responsible for his ship.
What happened to Smith?
Just what did happen to Captain Smith? Many contradicting stories circulated after Titanic’s sinking. The popular belief is that he entered the bridge, then closed the door and calmly sank out of sight as the great ship slid beneath the surface. This scenario sounds simplistic and follows the popular belief of how a hero should die. Calm, decisive and, in Smith’s case, not forgetting the British “Stiff Upper Lip”.
The mystery of Captain Smith will remain a subject for conjecture, as his body was never found. A childhood friend would later say ”Ted Smith passed away just as he would love to do. To stand on the bridge of the vessel and go down with her is characteristic of all his actions when we were boys together”.
An unnamed witness claimed that Smith shouted “Be British boys. Be British!” before going under with the ship. An “unnamed” witness always lays the groundwork for fiction.
Named witnesses however claimed contradicting accounts. The majority of the witness accounts all follow one theme. That Captain Smith was washed overboard as the forward section of the ship was engulfed by the ocean.
G.A. Drayton claimed Smith had simply been washed off the bridge as Titanic lunged forward, saying: “I saw him swim back to the sinking ship. He went down with it, in my sight”.
Seaman G. A. Hogg said: “I saw Captain Smith in the water alongside a raft. ‘There’s the Skipper, I yelled. Give him a hand’. They did, but he shook himself free and shouted to us ‘Goodbye boys, I’m going to follow the ship”.
Other witnesses claimed differing variations of this scenario with some claiming Smith saved a child before returning to his ship. One such variation came from Entree Cook, H. Maynard, who stated that while on a lifeboat, he saw Captain Smith swim up to them and hand over a baby before swimming away. Charles Williams, a passenger claims that he saw “Captain Smith swimming around the icy water with an infant in his arms and a lifebelt”. When the small boat Mr. Williams was in went to rescue Captain Smith, he handed them the child, but refused to get in himself. Then Captain Smith pushed himself away from the lifeboat, threw his lifebelt from him and slowly sank from sight. ”He did not come to the surface again.” Fireman Harry Senior stated that he saw Smith rescue a child.
Following the popular belief for the final moments of Captain Smith, he then entered the bridge and closed the door to the wheelhouse where he awaited his fate.
A report in the New York Times on April 19, 1912, mentions Dr. J.F Kemp, a passenger onboard Carpathia. Dr J.F Kemp was a surgeon of the University of the Philippines at Manila. He claimed he was talking to a child on the deck of Carpathia: “A boy and one of the last of the children to be taken from the Titanic told me that he saw Captain Smith put a pistol to his head then fall down.” When asked by the reporter if he believes this story, Kemp replied: “Of course, I cannot tell whether the boy told me the truth, but it seems to me hard to believe the little fellow would invent such a tale. I was talking with him on the deck of the Carpathia when he voluntarily told me”.
A story told in the Baltimore, Md press on 20 July 1912, presents a more ominous account on Captain Smith. Reporting an account by Captain Peter Pryal, who claimed to be a good friend of Smith, stated: “Captain Pryal, one of the oldest mariners in Baltimore and well known in shipping circles, who sailed with Captain Smith when he was the commander of the Majestic, made the startling statement today that he saw and talked to Captain Smith at Baltimore & St. Paul Streets. He declares he walked up to Captain Smith and said, ‘Captain Smith, how are you?’ Then the man answered, ‘Very well, Pryal, but please don’t detain me, I am on business.’ He says he followed the man, saw him buy a ticket for Washington, and as he passed through the gate of the railway station he turned, recognized Pryal again, and remarked ‘Be good, shipmate, until we meet again.’ ‘There is no possibility of my being mistaken,’ said Captain Pryal, ‘I have known Captain Smith too long. I would know him even without his beard. I firmly believe that he was saved and in some mysterious manner brought to this country. I am willing to swear to my statement. Many persons may think I am insane, but I have told Dr. Warfield of the occurrence and he will vouch for my sanity.’ Dr. Warfield said that Captain Pryal was perfectly sane. The captain is well-to-do and is a consistent church member.”
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Onboard Carpathia, Captain Rostron was becoming concerned over the experience for the survivors at the hands of the awaiting press onshore. As the questions were surely going to flow, the survivors would be expected to relive their experiences over and over again. He imagined the difficulties that would bring, as Rostron had been fearful of any false information around the foundering of Titanic. He was aware of the rumours circulating onboard from the grief-stricken passengers. Rostron summed up his feelings well at the U.S Senate Inquiry, when Senator Smith asked him about the information being held back by Carpathia in the days up till her arrival in New York. In particular, the force of the impact which wrecked the Titanic. Rostron said “I know nothing about it, sir. I have not asked any questions about this kind of business. I knew it was not my affair, and I had little desire to make any of the officers feel it any more than they did. Mind you sir, there is only this: I know nothing, but I have heard rumors of different passengers; some will say one thing and some another. I would, therefore, rather say nothing. I do not know anything. From the officers I know nothing. I could give you silly rumors of passengers, but I know they are not reliable, from my own experience; so, if you will excuse me, I would prefer to say nothing”.
While approaching New York, wireless operator Harold Cottam was working feverishly with Titanic wireless operator, survivor Harold Bride, to dispatch the many messages from survivors to relatives and loved ones onshore. They had both been working non-stop for three days, confusing those waiting onshore. Carpathia’s wireless was transmitting all day, everyday. But, no news about the actual sinking of Titanic was being transmitted to a waiting world. All requests for information were simply ignored. Survivor, Margaret Brown had personally paid the fee for survivors who could not afford to send messages to loved ones and who would undoubtedly be worrying about their fate.
Top Left and Right – Crowds gather to watch Carpathia enter New York.
Bottom Left – Titanic lifeboats lowered half way prior to offloading at Pier 59.
Bottom Right – Titanic lifeboats at White Star Lines Pier 59.
The heavy fog had lifted as Carpathia entered New York Harbour, but heavy rain was falling as she sailed past the statue of Liberty. The rain was accompanied with thunder as she proceeded to the Cunard Lines Pier.
Around 30,000 to 40,000 people had gathered on vantage points around the harbour to watch the great mystery ship. Spectators and reporters were on tug boats, ferries and yachts, escorting her into port and many reporters were offering money for the survivors accounts on the disaster – the story that had captured the world’s attention and triggered a flood of intrigue.
As she sailed up the harbour, a tug boat got alongside her, loaded with photographers. The continued flashing of the cameras lit up the side of the ship, revealing the decks were crammed with passengers.
Carpathia, heroically sailed past Pier 54. Her destination was the White Star Lines, Pier 59, the Pier Titanic would have occupied before her return voyage to Southampton on April 20, 1912.
A message was sent to White Star, informing the company that Titanic’s lifeboats were hung halfway to the water from davits and asking if tugs could be sent out to take them away, as Carpathia could not dock while the boats were onboard. Titanic’s lifeboats were then offloaded at their home, at White Star Line, Pier 59.
Carpathia then sailed down river to her own Pier 54 to offload her booked passengers and her passengers from Titanic. Two thousand people waited on the Pier as Carpathia maneuvered into her berth, while relatives, friends, medical personnel and government officials waited in almost complete silence. Carpathia’s engines finally ceased operating as she docked at Pier 54, close by Fourteenth Street, at 9.35pm.
Captain Rostron knew the attention was going to be placed on the survivors as they disembarked from the vessel, so Rostron allowed Carpathia’s passengers to disembark first.
Then the moment he feared had come. The scene quickly became frantic as the first Titanic survivor headed down the gangway, onto the Pier – a young woman, dressed in make shift clothing, with teary eyes walked down the gangway. She was then escorted on the arm of an officer, as the waiting crowd finally gave voice to their feelings and wailed with sounds of sobbing and shrieks.
Top Left – Carpathia at Pier 54. Bottom Left – Titanic wireless operator. Harold Bride is assisted off Carpathia.
Right – Illustration depicting the sad scene in New York as Titanic survivors disembark Carpathia
Every man, woman and child who descended the gangways, each had a story to tell. The world wanted to know those stories, every little detail was hounded by the waiting army of press reporters and cameramen. The first glimmer to spark the imagination of the horror and romance came from wireless operator, Harold Bride.
Still nursing his broken and heavily bandaged feet, Bride recounted, the pressure when he was still sending CQD and S. O. S messages, then his eventual departure from the foundering liner. He said: “The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard it first while still we were working wireless when there was a ragtime tune for us, and the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, it was still on deck playing ‘Autumn.’ How they ever did it I cannot imagine.”
The men who survived came under scrutiny as they were forced to explain why they managed to survive, when so many women and children died. Perhaps seeded by popular news articles, ostracizing White Star line general manager Ismay.
As is with many major disasters, Titanic certainly had its share of stories of heroism, such as that of 36 year old Edith Evans. As they were waiting to board collapsible lifeboat D. Edith turned to fellow passenger, Caroline Brown, then said “You go first. You have children waiting at home” Evan’s decision to wait cost her her life. Mrs Brown later exclaimed: “It was a heroic sacrifice, and as long as I live I shall hold her memory dear as my preserver, who preferred to die so I might live.”
13 year old, Madeleine Mellinger, had been very excited to be on the greatest ship ever built, which she saw as a symbol of progress, a sign of new beginnings. Along with her Mother, Elizabeth, she was on her way to a new life in North America. While watching Titanic from her lifeboat, she recounted “I could see the lights of the ship starting to go under water, then soundlessly, perhaps a mile away, it just went down. It was gone. Oh yes, the sky was very black and the stars were very bright. They told me the people in the water were singing, but I knew they were screaming.”
A woman who made herself well known on Titanic, made a comment to a reporter’s question that completely immortalised the way the world knows her as a famous Titanic survivor, Margaret Brown. When asked how she survived the sinking, Margaret replied ”Typical Brown luck, We’re unsinkable,” from that moment onwards, she has been known as – “the unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Confusion around the exact number of people aboard Titanic after the disaster was evident in events that followed Carpathia’s arrival in New York. Newspapers were reporting the number at 2,340 souls onboard. The exact number given at the U.S. Senate Committee enquiry was recorded at 2,223. Later, however, the British Board of Trade enquiry had the number, using records provided by the White Star Line, at 2,201.
Some supposed passengers and crew were mourned for a few years, before the truth was realised. Miss Eva Wilkinson arrived at her Mothers house in England, sixteen years after she missed her sailing. Not realising her name was still on the passenger list, she managed to get to the United States, where she served as a nurse during World War 1. Thomas Hart was rather too embarrassed to come forward after realising his name was on the list of the dead. His excuse was that he missed the sailing after getting drunk. Almost a month after the disaster, he also appeared at his Mothers house on May 8, 1912.
Several crew members appeared on the list of crew, even though they were not onboard. Three brothers, with their surname as Slade, were sacked on the day of sailing from Southampton, after turning up for duty, drunk. Their names were not taken off the crew list. Fireman John Coffey deserted the ship while anchored at Queenstown, Ireland.
Not mentioning those passengers who missed the sailing due to various reasons, as mentioned earlier in Chapter 3. Some further passengers sailed under assumed names, because luxury liners were known to attract gamblers and con-artists – such as George Brereton, whose real name was George Brayton.
Over a century since Titanic sailed into history, modern researchers now give the total number of passengers, Officers and crew onboard Titanic at the time of leaving her last port of call, Queenstown, Ireland, as being 2,207 to 2,208.