7 Women And Children First

Icebergs loomed up and fell astern and we never slackened. It was an anxious time with the Titanic’s fateful experience very close in our minds. There were 700 souls on Carpathia and those lives as well as the survivors of the Titanic herself depended on the sudden turn of the wheel.

– Captain Arthur H. Rostron, Commander, Carpathia

With his 40 years experience at sea, Smith knew the importance of a calm and orderly evacuation, and with the information he had received, the fate of his ship. He was perfectly aware of the ratio of passengers aboard and the lack of lifeboats. Yet, on the night of the 14th April 1912, he never gave an order to Abandon Ship. Twenty minutes after the ship’s collision with the iceberg, Smith gave the order to “Prepare the Lifeboats”, and also ordered the passengers and crew to put their lifebelts on.

The long held belief – certainly held by Carpathia’s Captain, was that Titanic lay 58 nautical miles away to the South-East. The discovery of the wreck site of Titanic in 1985 proved that the actual distance was 47 nautical miles. Captain Rostron of RMS Carpathia had never before in his career had to respond to a CQD or SOS from any other vessel. The CQD from Titanic was a clear call to duty.

As he rushed into the ships chart room, he kept calm, as he was aware there were no room for hesitation, no second-guessing – he had to provide the assistance. Having first worked out his new course over the chart table, Rostron ascended the ladder to the bridge and gave the helmsman the new course-North 52 West. Rostron next telegraphed the engine room “Full Speed Ahead”. He knew that to cover the distance between them and Titanic would take four hours at Carpathia’s top speed of 14 knots – He was totally unaware the actual distance to the stricken Titanic would take far less travel time at 14 knots. Rostron next called out all off duty stokers and off duty watch, to get as much speed as possible from the engines. Rostron also ordered the heating to be cut off from crew and passenger accommodations to make every ounce of steam the boilers made to go into the engines.

Rostron then gave a series of orders to First officer Dean to prepare all lifeboats and swing them over the side in preparation for a major rescue operation, for strings of lights to be hung along the sides of the ship, all gangway doors to be opened, slings made ready for hoisting injured survivors aboard, for cargo netting to be slung over the side for survivors to climb aboard, for canvas bags to be made available for lifting small children aboard and for oil bags to be prepared for pouring on rough seas, if required.

Rostron next called for the ships surgeon, Dr. McGee and two other passenger surgeons, and assigned each man to take charge of one of three first aid stations. McGee was assigned to the First Class station, the Italian doctor was assigned to the Second Class station and the Hungarian doctor was assigned to the Third Class station, with each station being set up in the dining room of each class. Stewards and pursers were assigned to cover respective gangways. As survivors boarded, they took note of names and class, then ensured they are directed to their respective first aid stations. Coffee and whiskey would also be provided. The smoking room, library and lounge were all converted into dormitories. Carpathia’s Third Class passengers were also grouped together to make more room for Third Class survivors. Stewards were stationed along the corridors to prevent the inevitable ‘curious’ passengers from getting in the way of rescue efforts.

Titanic was attempting a speed record

Rumours originating from American press reports of 1912, suggest that Titanic’s maiden voyage was used by White Star Line, not only to display the splendour of their newest vessel, portraying Titanic as not exclusive of the only vessel of opulent magnificence and size, but to also display her speed capabilities.

White Star Line Chief Executive J. Bruce Ismay is believed to have persuaded Captain Smith – thus being accused of interfering with the navigation of his ship, to attempt to win the prestigious Blue Riband. An award presented for the fastest Trans-Atlantic voyage from Southampton to New York, thus explaining the reason why Titanic did not slow down before striking the iceberg.

The Blue Riband was an unofficial accolade or ‘Gentleman’s agreement’ – awarded to regular passenger vessels sailing the Westbound route of the North Atlantic, against the Gulf Stream current. Twenty five British vessels have been awarded the mythical Blue Riband, throughout maritime history from 1830. Five of those vessels were owned by White Star Line, thirteen were owned by the Cunard Line. The accolade was awarded to White Star Line’s Adriatic in 1872, Germanic in 1877, Majestic and Teutonic in 1891. Cunard Line’s Lusitania first achieved the Blue Riband honours in October 1907, beating her own record again in May 1908, July 1908 and August 1909 with the highest average speed of 25.65 knots, until the Mauritania outpaced Lusitania in September 1909, with a top average speed of 26.06 knots.

In 1935, the Blue Riband trophy became official, after a British politician and owner of Hale’s Brothers Shipping Company, Harold K. Hales donated the prize, which was named the ‘Hale’s Trophy’. The rules related to the unofficial accolade were changed to any commercial surface vessel crossing the North Atlantic in either direction.

The Blue Riband was, in 1912 an unofficial prize for the fastest crossing of the North Atlantic. It’s quite ironic that a mythical Trans-Atlantic prize would be associated with Titanic, given that Titanic was traveling the extreme Southern route to New York to avoid, what Captain Smith recognised was an extended ice field, which actually extended a lot farther south than his intended southern route. While Smith’s intended southern route was believed to be southern enough to avoid ice fields for the month of April. A speed record attempt would have been along the northern route, being the shortest distance between Europe and America.

Cunard Lines Lusitania and Mauritania were built for speed and both vessels could achieve speeds in excess of 26 knots as opposed to Titanic’s 24 knots. Titanic was no match as a viable competitor against Lusitania and Mauritania because Titanic was designed and built for luxury and safety above speed.

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Carpathia was sailing towards the coordinates provided by Chief wireless operator Philips on Titanic. Meanwhile, Captain Rostron re-assessed all his orders and concluded he had done all he could in preparing his ship to assist Titanic. His next concern was to do what he could to ensure that Carpathia did not meet the same fate as the stricken vessel. To that end, he posted extra lookouts in strategic positions such as the bow forecastle and ships bridge.

Titanic’s crew had not been adequately trained in evacuation procedures in the event of a serious mishap at sea. The evidence presented to the later US and British inquiries also showed, all too painfully, the total inadequacy of the Officers in respect of their knowledge of the procedure for firing distress rockets and in which order. The crew did not know which boats they would be stationed at during an evacuation at sea and the Officers did not know how many passengers could be accommodated in the lifeboats prior to launching. Although all twenty of her life boats were launched, most were launched into the cold Atlantic barely half full and Lifeboat number 1, was occupied by only twelve people from the starboard side. As previously stated, most were launched only half full but the last few were launched over-full, with some survivors claiming the water was up to the rim.

Thirty minutes after the collision – at 12.05am – the ship was taking a noticeable dip in the ocean at the Bow, the squash court, 32 feet or 9.7 m above the level of the keel was flooding.

Many First Class passengers appeared on deck in bed clothes, covered only with coats, yet the lifeboats were only beginning to be uncovered as the ships band, under the leadership of Wallace Hartley, were playing a medley of cheerful ragtime tunes to “Keep the spirits up” of those who were beginning to wonder if something might be wrong. Some passengers thought that the entire procedure was unnecessary. A deafening roar emulated throughout all the decks as coal stokers drew out the fires, relieving pressure from the boilers to prevent an explosion from the cold seawater rushing into the bowels of the ship.

As the first lifeboat was being launched at 12.45am, a sudden whoosh emulated out as the first rocket shot 800 feet into the night sky above Titanic, fired from the bridge by Fourth Officer, Boxhall, lighting the night sky above Titanic and amusing young children with its 12 brilliant white stars slowly floating down, as their parents were trying to get them aboard the lifeboats.


Titanic’s lifeboats play a major part in the Folklore surrounding the disaster. It is well known that Titanic’s 20 lifeboats could only cater for 1,178 passengers and crew. On her maiden voyage, Titanic was carrying 2.223 people from Southampton to New York, although Titanic was designed to carry up to 3,300 people.

Lifeboat 4, Titanic

In 1912, the tradition for loading lifeboats during an emergency was “Women and children first”. This tradition often caused time delays in filling the lifeboats as the women and children were singled out for priority in lifeboat placement, which often led to lifeboats being launched half full. This was certainly the case with Titanic.

A great number of passengers – believing the activity on the boat deck was nothing more than a lifeboat drill – preferred the warmth inside the ship, rather than the cold air outside. Captain Smith also never gave the order to Abandon Ship, which led to a belief among the majority of the passengers, they were in no particular danger. These time delays resulted in the first lifeboat leaving the ship at 12.45am – over a full hour after the ships collision with the iceberg and 40 minutes after Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats to be prepared. The port side lifeboats were mainly filled with women and children and a few men. However, on the starboard side, men, women and children were loaded prior to launching into the cold Atlantic Ocean.

The first lifeboat launched from the starboard side of the ship contained only 12 people. The majority were launched half full and did not return to Titanic to pick up drowning victims, due to passenger and crew concerns of swamping the boats. Two did return to pick up other victims, but the majority of them died before RMS Carpathia arrived at 4am, two hours after Titanic sunk. The rescue continued until the last lifeboat was collected at 8.30am.

The lack of lifeboats was the result of outdated maritime regulations. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1884 stipulated the number of lifeboats for a vessel up to 10,000 tons. By 1912, this limit had been exceeded by the growth in size of newer vessels. Titanic’s gross registered tonnage was 46,328 tons. This was not uncommon at the time, and the White Star Line believed its new Olympic-class ships could remain afloat until the passengers and crew were transferred to a rescue vessel.

This common belief is perfectly outlined and explained by the Captain of the Cunard Line’s Carpathia. Captain Arthur Rostron explained at the U.S. Senate Inquiry, in comparing the gross tonnage of his own ship as being 13,600 tons to Titanic’s 46,328 tons, why they were both required to carry a total of 20 lifeboats each.

Carpathia was certified to carry 2,450 passengers, with a compliment of 300 crew members. Senator Smith asked Rostron “The fact that, under these regulations, you are obliged to carry 20 lifeboats and the Titanic was only obliged to carry 20, with her additional tonnage, indicates either that these regulations were prescribed long ago”. Rostron replied “No, sir; it has nothing to do with that. What it has to do with is the ship itself. The ships are built nowadays to be practically unsinkable, and each ship is supposed to be a lifeboat in itself. The boats are merely supposed to be put on as a standby. The ships are supposed to be built, and the naval architects say they are, unsinkable under certain conditions. What the exact conditions are, I do not know, as to whether it is with alternate compartments full, or what it may be. That is why in our ship we carry more lifeboats, for the simple reason that we are built differently from the Titanic; differently constructed”.

Under the 1883 Merchant Shipping Act, Titanic had more lifeboats than she was required to have. On her boat deck, the upper most deck. Titanic had 14 main lifeboats, 8 toward the aft and 6 toward the forward of the ship, 4 collapsible boats and 2 emergency cutters. The emergency cutters were held on their davits over the side of the ship in preparation for an emergency, such as a passenger falling over the side.

Titanic Boat Deck

Titanic main lifeboats in green, Emergency cutter lifeboats in red, collapsible lifeboats – C and D – in purple. Two other collapsible lifeboats – A and B – are situated behind the crew quarters.

Titanic was woefully underprepared for the disaster that doomed her. Lifeboat drills had not been carried out since leaving Southampton. A lifeboat drill had been scheduled for the morning of the disaster, but for various reasons, had been cancelled by Captain Smith. Few members of crew were aware of their lifeboat stations or knew what they were supposed to do in the event of an emergency. A cursory drill had been carried out while the ship was docked at Southampton, including the launching of two boats, rowing them around the Wharf, then returning them to the ship.

White Star Line never envisaged that all the crew and passengers would have to evacuate the ship all at once, as Titanic was believed to be “practically unsinkable”, the lifeboats were intended to ferry passengers and crew from the stricken ship to rescue ships. This belief was reinforced for White Star Line during Titanic’s construction, because their own RMS Republic was involved in a collision with the Lloyd Italiano liner, SS Florida in January 1909. Although RMS Republic sunk, her crew and passengers were all saved, because the ship stayed afloat long enough for them all to be ferried to rescue ships who arrived to assist. RMS Republic stayed afloat considerably longer than Titanic’s, just under three hours as RMS Republic took half a day to sink. Another similar incident happened in 1956 when the Italian Liner Andrea Doria took eight hours to sink, which gave ample time for all passengers and crew to be ferried to safety.

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Boxhall alerted Captain Smith of a vessel forward of Titanic’s position, about three miles off. A short discussion began between them that resulted in Boxhall firing off rockets and using a signal lamp to try to attract the ship’s attention, without observing any response from the other vessel. At 12.25am, Smith gives the order to start loading the lifeboats, with women and children first.

The first lifeboat was launched from Titanic about 12.45am, 15 April, an hour after she struck the iceberg and 40 minutes after the first lifeboat was uncovered. The boats were lowered in sequence, from the middle forward to aft. First Officer Murdoch, Third Officer Herbert Pitman and Fifth Officer Harold Lowe were working on the starboard side, with assistance from White Star Line Chairman, J Bruce Ismay and John Jacob Astor. Chief Officer Henry Wilde and 2nd Officer Charles Lightoller were working on the port side, while Captain Smith was on the bridge.

Smith’s order of “Women and Children first” was interpreted differently between starboard and port. Lightoller interpreted the order as Women and Children only, where-as Murdoch interpreted it as Women and Children First on the boats, then if space allows, men are permitted to take the extra space. The result was, Lightoller launched many boats that were barely half full to capacity. Murdoch allowed men to evacuate in the boats if there were no further women and children nearby waiting to embark. Murdoch’s actions significantly increased the number of men who survived the disaster.

Lifeboat 7, a standard lifeboat, was the first to be launched under the supervision of First Officer Murdoch, assisted by Ismay at 12.45am on the starboard side, with only 28 people onboard out of a capacity of 65 people.

One reason for this was, at this time, the passengers believed the activity to be merely an exercise, believing the ship to be in no immediate danger. Although Murdoch and Lowe had tried to persuade passengers to board, most were reluctant to do so.

Testimony from the later U.S senate inquiry into the Titanic disaster would claim the Officers believed the lifeboats were at risk of breaking apart if they were lowered at full to capacity. The Officers instead believed the boats would be further filled once they had reached the water from doors in the ships hull or would pick up people from the water. Although this did not happen when number 7 was launched, it did happen once the following boat was launched. An earlier test of the boats was carried out at Harland and Wolff, where the boats were lowered with full capacity. However, for some unknown reason, these test results were never passed on to Titanic’s crew.

On the aft docking bridge – or Poop Deck – Quartermaster George Rowe continued on his rounds, totally oblivious to any happenings further forward, as he had seen nobody in over an hour. He watched in amazement as boat 7 drifted past on the starboard side. Rowe telephoned the main bridge to enquire if they were aware of a boat being lowered. A voice on the bridge enquired who he was. He replied, he was the stern lookout. It quickly became apparent he had been forgotten. Rowe was ordered to come forward and bring rockets with him. Rowe moved abruptly toward the bow, carrying a crate of 12 rockets under his arm.

The second boat launched was standard lifeboat number 5 from the starboard side, by Murdoch and Lowe, with assistance from Ismay and Third Officer Pitman at 12.53 am. The boat was loaded mainly with women and children. A few husbands were allowed to join their wives, after some of the crowd remarked “Put the brides and grooms in first”. John Jacob Astor remarked “We are safer onboard the ship than in that little boat.”

Still wearing pyjamas and slippers, Ismay urged Pitman to load Women and Children first. Pitman disagreed saying, “I await Captains orders”. Smith was on the bridge, Pitman finally went to the Captain for approval. A short time later, Ismay urged a Stewardess to board. Pitman also boarded with Murdoch’s approval and was placed in charge of boat 5.

Able-bodied seaman George Moore was put in charge of standard lifeboat 3 by Murdoch. Again, mainly women and children first, then followed by a few men before it was launched. A few times that night, men were helping their wives onto the boats, then standing back, accepting their fate of going down with the ship. Margaret Brown would later state during an interview with the New York Times: “The whole thing was so formal that it was difficult for anyone to realise it was a tragedy. Men and women stood in little groups and talked. Some laughed as the boats went over the side. All the time the band was playing … I can see the men up on deck tucking in the women and smiling. It was a strange night. It all seemed like a play, like a dream that was being executed for entertainment. It did not seem real. Men would say ‘After you’ as they made some woman comfortable, then stepped back”.

One notable example was First Class passenger Charles Melville Hays, a railroad manager of Montreal, Canada, who helped his wife onto lifeboat 3, then retreated and made no attempt to board any of the remaining lifeboats. Among the passengers on lifeboat 3 were the Spedden family, of whom an earlier photo of Robert on deck playing with a spinning top was taken, who was only 6 years old at the time of the Titanic disaster. 40 year old, Governess Elizabeth Shutes, while describing the chaotic experience on boat 3, later wrote, “Our men knew nothing about the position of the stars, hardly how to pull together. Two oars were soon overboard. The men’s hands were too cold to hold on. Then across the water swept that awful wail, the cry of those drowning people. In my ears I heard: ‘She’s gone, lads; row like hell or we’ll get the devil of a swell”.

The first lifeboat to depart from the port side was Boat 8, a standard lifeboat, at 1.00am, with Able-bodied seaman, Thomas Jones in charge. Second Officer, Lightoller was assisted by Chief Officer Wilde. Ida Strauss was asked to join the others in the boat, but she refused, saying, “I will not be separated from my husband – Isador Strauss. As we have lived, so we will die together”. The 67 year old Isidor also refused an offer for them both saying “ I do not wish any distinction in my favour which is not granted to others”. Archibald Gracie witnessed what happened, saying “Then I saw Mr. Straus and Mrs. Straus, of whom I had seen a great deal, during the voyage. I had heard them discussing that if they were going to die, they would die together. We tried to persuade Mrs. Straus to go alone, without her husband, and she said no. Then we wanted to make an exception of the husband, too, because he was an elderly man, he said no, he would share his fate with the rest of the men, and that he would not go beyond. So I left them there”. Both Isidor and Ida Strauss were last seen hand in hand, as the ship went down. Able-Bodied Seaman Jones praised the courage of 1st Class passenger, the Countess of Rothes, by stating: “I saw the way she was carrying herself and the quiet, determined manner in which she spoke, and I knew she was more of a man than most aboard, so I put her in command at the tiller. There was another woman in the boat who helped, and was every minute rowing. It was she who suggested we should sing, and we sang as we rowed, starting with ‘Pull for the Shore.’ We were still singing when we saw the lights of the Carpathia, and then we stopped singing and prayed.”

Titanic’s fate is littered with stories of passengers refusing to leave the sinking ship on the available lifeboats, while others retiring back to their cabins and suites, facing their fate. History has seen these acts as bravery among many passengers. People tend to act on judgement, based on their knowledge. Many believed that Titanic was so large that no harm could come to them, if they just stayed calm and acted accordingly. There were no apparent signs of peril for the passengers and it must also be remembered, no evacuation or orders to abandon ship had been forthcoming from the Captain. Those passengers who refused to leave the safety of such a gigantic ship, were making judgment calls, based and acting on their knowledge.

The launch of emergency cutter lifeboat 1, was a departure from Murdoch’s Women and Children First directive. After watching boat 3, being lowered into the cold Atlantic Ocean. Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon asked if his party could be loaded into boat 1.

Murdoch relented by also allowing a group of six Stokers and two American passengers, Abraham Soloman and C.E. Stengel, along with a Lookout George Symons, he had put in charge. Out of a capacity of 40, Murdoch was allowing boat 1 to launch with only twelve passengers aboard, which prompted Greaser, Walter Hurst to remark “If they are sending the boats away, they might as well put some people in them”.

Among the passengers onboard boat 1, were the Duff-Gordons. The boat had a further capacity for another 28 people.

As was with most of the boats lowered from Titanic that night. There were no support from crew members to return to pick up additional survivors from the water. Fireman Charles Hedrickson told them” “its up to us to go back and pick up anyone in the water”. He found no support. Lady Duff-Gordon exclaimed to her Secretary “Where has your beautiful night-dress gone”. Fireman Pusey told the Duff-Gordons that the crew had lost all their kit and as from the moment Titanic sank, their pay will be stopped. To which Cosmo Duff-Gordon replied, “Very well, I will give you a fiver each to start a new kit!” Not realising the consequences of his actions, he did just that and proceeded to write a cheque for £5 for every crewman aboard.

Later he was accused of bribing the crew into not returning to the sunken liner to pick up additional survivors. From that moment on, his reputation sank along with the great Titanic. Later, after being rescued by the Carpathia, Sir Cosmo organised a group photo on Carpathia’s foredeck of his party dressed in the life jackets, while the other survivors watched on, incredulously.

Titanic Bridge

This photograph, looking up toward the bridge of Titanic, illustrates the starboard side emergency cutter lifeboat No 1, hanging over the side on its davit, in case of an emergency at sea.

Standard lifeboat 6 was launched at 1.10am, from the port side. From a capacity of 65 people, only 28 people occupied its seats. Quartermaster Robert Hitchens and lookout Frederick Fleet were placed in charge by Second Officer Lightoller. Among its occupants were Denver Millionairess and socialite Margaret Brown, who did not board voluntarily. She was picked up and thrown in bodily by a crewman. Lightoller asked for additional rowers after protests from within the boat for additional rowers. Major Arthur Godfrey Peuchen of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club volunteered and shimmied down the falls to take a position as rower. The boat could only draw slowly away from Titanic as Hitchens and Peuchin quarreled. Hitchens refused Peuchin’s request to row. Margaret Brown was getting furious at their attitude and asked if the women could row to help keep warm. Hitchens refused that request.

An order came from the bridge from Captain Smith, to return the boat to pick up more passengers from the water. Hitchens refused to return saying “No, we are not going back to the ship. It’s our lives now, not theirs”. After Titanic had sunk, Margaret Brown, Peuchin and several others urged Hitchens to return to pick up survivors. Hitchens again refused, saying, “There’s no use going back, ‘cause there’s only a lot of stiffs there”. Brown threatened to throw him overboard, Hitchens protested, swore at her and told her to shut up! A stoker told him “Don’t you know you are talking to a lady?” Brown then took charge of the tiller.

By 1.15 am, 7 lifeboats had been launched, with far fewer passengers and crew than they were rated for, although more people were beginning to fill them. The water was now up to Titanic’s name-plate on her bow as she began to list to Port.

40 people were onboard standard lifeboat 16, launched from the port side aft at 1.20am. Sixth Officer James Moody supervised the loading of Stewardess, Violet Jessop – who had survived the collision of RMS Olympic with HMS Hawke the previous year and would go on to survive the sinking of Britannic in 1916, making her the only person to survive disasters on all three White Star Line’s Olympic-Class Liners. Most of those, onboard lifeboat 16 were women and children from Second and Third Class.

When standard lifeboat 14 was launched at 1.25am from the port side aft, 58 people were onboard, as panic was beginning to become evident,

Titanic was well down in the water and passengers were beginning to press up against the rails. Lowe fired three shots from his revolver into the air to warn the crowd off. A young man jumped into the boat as it was being lowered into the Ocean. Lowe threatened to throw him overboard if he didn’t get out of the boat, then appealed to him to “be a man – we’ve got women and children to save”. The young man returned to the deck. Another male passenger managed to board boat 14 and conceal himself under a woman’s shawl. Lowe took charge of the boat after the ship sank and it was Lowe who bundled boats 10, 12, 14 and collapsible D, before transferring many of those present on boat 14, then returned to the scene of the sinking to try to search and pick up survivors. That was the only rescue bid that night. Unfortunately, it came too late, because there were many hundreds of lifeless bodies floating, after dying from hypothermia. A few were picked up, but died soon after, although six of those picked up did survive. A few hours later, Lowe rescued the survivors on Collapsible A, which was in danger of sinking.

Panic was starting to sink in for those still onboard Titanic, as the seriousness of their situation was beginning to dawn on them. A male passenger jumped into standard lifeboat 12 from Deck B as it was being lowered from the port side aft at 1.30am. Lifeboat 12 was first put into the charge of Able-Bodied Seaman Frederick Clench, but was subsequently placed in charge of Able Seaman John Poigndestre.

Poingndestre had to use a knife to cut the ropes supporting the boat after difficulties occurred while unhooking the falls. After the sinking, several passengers were transferred from other boats, including boat 14, making boat 12 seriously overloaded with 69 people aboard.

Wireless distress calls from Philips were by then priority and had quickly reached desperation status. His messages had begun to contain phrases such as “we are sinking fast” and “we cannot last much longer”.

Ismay and Moody continued assisting Murdoch with the launch of standard lifeboat number 9, from the starboard side aft of Titanic at 1.30am, with 56 passengers.

Boatswain’s Mate, Albert Hames was put in charge with Able-Bodied Seaman George McGough manning the Tiller. Most of the passengers were women, with two or three men who entered when it was clear that no more women were present or didn’t come forward.

May Futrelle, wife of Jacques Futrelle initially refused to leave her husband and board the boat, until he told her “For god’s sake, go! It’s your last chance! Go!” An Officer forced her into the boat. The millionaire Benjamin Guggenheim brought his mistress, Leontine Aubart, and her maid Emma Sagassar to boat 9, then quietly walked away back to his stateroom with his valet, Victor Giglio, where they both removed their lifejackets and put on their evening wear, before heading to the First Class Lounge. Guggenheim told a Steward “We’re dressed in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentlemen. There is grave doubt that the men will get off. I am willing to remain and play the man’s game, if there are not enough boats for more than the women and children. I won’t die here like a beast. Tell my wife I played the game out straight and to the end.”

When Ismay asked if there were any more women and children available, Kate Buss and her friend Marion Wright approached and noticed two shipboard acquaintances, Douglas Norman and Dr. Alfred Pain. Buss and Wright asked them to join them, but, the two men were barred from entering the boat by crewmen on the deck. Buss protested and demanded why they are not allowed to board. Haines told her “The officer gave the order to lower away, and if I didn’t do so he might shoot me, and simply put someone else in charge, and your friends would still not be allowed to come.” They never saw Pain and Norman again.

Loading Titanic Lifeboats

Illustration depicting the launching of Titanic’s Lifeboats

By the time standard lifeboat number 11 was launched at 1.35am, under Murdoch’s supervision, the boats were being filled more to capacity than previous boats – Boat 11, is believed to have had close to 70 people aboard. – Able-Bodied Seaman Sidney Humphreys was placed in charge. Steward James Witter had not intended to board the boat, but was knocked into it by a hysterical woman he was helping board as the boat was being lowered.

A lucky toy pig, wrapped in a blanket, mistakenly believed to be a baby, was tossed in to one of the women aboard. The toy actually belonged to First Class passenger Edith Louise Rosenbaum, who could not bear to be parted with it.

Eight year old, Marshall Drew was also in boat 11, with his Aunt and Uncle. He later said about his experience in boat 11: “When the Titanic struck the iceberg, I was in bed. However, for whatever reason I was awake and remember the jolt and cessation of motion. A steward knocked on the stateroom door and directed us to get dressed, put on life preservers and go to the boat deck, which we did. The steward as we passed was trying to arouse passengers who had locked themselves in for the night. Elevators were not running. We walked up to the boat deck. All was calm and orderly. An officer was in charge. ‘Women and children first,’ he said, as he directed lifeboat number 11 to be filled. There were many tearful farewells. We and Uncle Jim said good-bye. The lowering of the lifeboat, 70 feet to the sea was perilous. Davits, ropes, nothing worked properly, so that first one end of the lifeboat was tilted up and then far down. I think it was the only time I was scared. Lifeboats pulled some distance away from the sinking Titanic, afraid of what suction might do. As row by row of the porthole lights of the Titanic sank into the sea this was about all one could see. When the Titanic upended to sink, all was blacked out until the tons of machinery crashed to the bow. As this happened hundreds and hundreds of people were thrown into the sea. It isn’t likely I shall ever forget the screams of these people, as they perished in water said to be 28 degrees. At this point in my life I was being brought up as a typical British kid. You were not allowed to cry. You were a ‘little man.’ So as a cool kid I lay down in the bottom of the lifeboat and went to sleep. When I awoke it was broad daylight as we approached the Carpathia. Looking around over the gunwale it seemed to me like the Arctic. Icebergs of huge size ringed the horizon for 360 degrees.”

Wireless operator Jack Philips sent the last “intelligible” message to the Russian steamer, Birma at about 1.40am, saying “SOS SOS CQD cqd – MGY We are sinking fast, passengers being put into lifeboats. MGY.”

telegraph from ss berms

Distress message to SS Birma from Jack Philips at about 1.40am, 15 April 1912

The Boat deck and A Deck is where Standard Lifeboat 13 was loaded from before it was launched at 1.40am from the starboard side, under the supervision of Murdoch, Moody and Ismay, heavily loaded with 65 people, mainly Second and Third Class women and children and a few men, including Lawrence Beesley who subsequently wrote a popular book about the Titanic disaster and Dr. Washington Dodge, who was persuaded by Steward F. Dent Ray to take his family on the maiden voyage of Titanic, after seeing his family embark on Boat 5.

Eleven Year old Ruth Becker had bought blankets from her state room onto boat 13. These were later used to keep the stokers warm who were rowing in sleeveless shirts in the freezing air above decks. While the boat was being lowered, problems became apparent as a stream of water was being expelled through the ship’s condenser exhausts in a vain attempt to curb and expel the water that was rapidly flooding Titanic. The occupants of the boat had to use oars and spars to guide the boat past the four foot wide stream.

Boat 13 was being lowered simultaneously with boat 15 and came close to crushing the occupants of boat 13, as boat 15 was lowered on top of it. The lowering of boat 15 was halted just in time to prevent further injury on boat 13. The ropes or falls supporting boat 13 became jammed and had to be cut free to allow the boat to pull away from the side of Titanic.

Fireman Frank Dyamond was placed in charge of the most heavily laden boat at launching, standard lifeboat 15, from the starboard side with 65 people onboard. Murdoch and Moody oversaw the loading of the boat that, when launched, caused the gunwale to be well down in the water. Boat 15 was launched simultaneously as boat 13 and reached the water only a minute later at 1.41am.

Lifeboat 2 from the port side was the second emergency cutter, which was normally hung on its davit over the side, in case of a passenger falling over the side of the ship, or any other emergency at sea where a boat has to be launched at short notice.

The cutters were each capable of carrying up the 40 people, as opposed to the standard lifeboats, with a capacity of 65 people each.

Fourth Officer Boxhall was placed in command of boat 2 with 25 people onboard. Lightoller moved to load boat 2, but, found it already half full of men. He ordered them all out at gun point, saying “Get out of there, you damned cowards! I’d like to see every one of you overboard!” The men involved had no way of knowing that Lightoller’s revolver was not loaded. They removed themselves from the boat. As a result, lifeboat 2 was lowered with 17 people onboard, with 16 mostly Third Class women and one male Third Class passenger.

After Titanic had sunk, Boxhall suggested he take the boat back to pick up any survivors but the passengers hotly refused. Boxhall found that rather puzzling because it was only a short time before that the women were urging Lightoller to allow their husbands on with them. Now, they did not want to go back to save them.

Standard lifeboat 10 was launched at 1.50am. Able-bodied Seaman, Edward Buley, was placed in charge by Murdoch, with 35 people aboard, about half its capacity.

At this time Titanic was listing to port, making it increasingly difficult to launch the lifeboats from the port side as the list had created a growing gap of about 3 feet – 0.9 m – from the port side of the ship to the side of the boats. A French woman who tried to board the boat fell between the ship and the boat but was saved from falling and managed to board the boat. Titanic’s list created an urgency to load the lifeboats, children were rushed aboard. One baby was tossed in and was caught by a woman passenger. Mary Graham Carmichael Marvin, who was on her honeymoon on Titanic later commented “As I was put into the boat, he cried to me, ‘It’s all right, little girl. You go. I will stay.’ As our boat shoved off, he threw me a kiss, and that was the last I saw of him.”

The last standard lifeboat to launch from Titanic, was Boat 4 from the port side, under the supervision of Second Officer Lightoller. Boat 4 was launched simultaneously with boat 10, from the starboard side at 1.50am.

Captain Smith ordered the last two boats should be loaded from the Promenade Deck, instead of the Boat Deck, because the ship’s angle in the water was increasing. Smith seems to have been confusing Titanic and her sister ship Olympic at this stage, seeming to forget, the forward part of the Promenade Deck on Titanic was enclosed. As opposed to Olympic’s, which was open.

Lightoller ordered the glass enclosures to be opened, but was faced immediately with difficulties. First, the windows were unexpectedly difficult to open and the boat got tangled up on the ships Sounding Spar, which projected from the hull immediately below the cutter. The spar had to be chopped off to allow the lifeboat to be launched.

Boarding also presented difficulties. To overcome this, deck-chairs were placed between the windows and the boat to allow passengers to transfer safely. The pregnant, Madeleine Astor was assisted aboard the boat by her husband, John Jacob Astor, who asked Lightoller if he could join her. Lightoller refused his request, saying “No men are allowed in these boats until the women are loaded first”. Astor told his wife “The Sea is calm. You’re in good hands. I’ll meet you in the morning.” He did not survive.

Quartermaster Walter Perkis was placed in charge of boat 4 which, when launched had 40 women and 2 crew members aboard. Perkis instructed the boat be rowed around the sinking ship, to pick up passengers from the open gangways. At one point, he found himself below the empty Davit of boat No 16, where two greasers, Thomas Ranger and Frederick William Scott, shimmied down the falls toward boat 4. Scott fell into the water but was hauled onboard. To avoid the effects of the suction, Perkis ordered the boat away from Titanic. A lamp trimmer, Samuel Ernest Hemming jumped from Titanic and swam the 200 yards to boat 4. Immediately after the sinking, Perkis ordered the boat back to pick up survivors. He picked up another eight from the freezing north Atlantic: Fireman Thomas Patrick Dillon, Seaman William Henry Lyons, Stewards Andrew Cunningham and Sidney Conrad Siebert, Storekeeper Frank Winnold Prentice and two unidentified survivors. Later, the numbers increased after some were transferred from boat14 and Collapsible Boat D. Making a total of 60 occupants.

Nearer My God To Thee

Just as Titanic has famously remained in the imagination of the modern world, so has the tune the string band is believed to have played as the ship sank, “Nearer My God To Thee”. The lyrics were written by, the English poet Sarah Fuller Flower Adams in 1841. The lyrics were put to music in 1861, to the tune ‘Horbury’ and later to the tune of ‘Bethany’, written in 1859.

Titanic survivor, Stewardess and Nurse, Violet Jessop in her account of the disaster claimed in 1934, she heard the tune played as Titanic sank beneath the surface. In another account, survivor Archibald Gracie IV in his book The Truth About The Titanic, published in 1913, emphatically denies the tune was played by the ship’s ensemble. Wireless operator, Harold Bride in an interview with a New York Times journalist, after Carpathia reached New York also confirms Nearer My God To Thee was not played as Titanic began its descent to the cold dark sea bed of the North Atlantic. Bride claims the popular waltz Autumn, or the Episcopalian hymn Songe d’Automne or Autumn Dream, was played by Wallace Hartley and the string ensemble. Part of Bride’s comments to the journalist included:

“I saw a collapsible boat near a funnel and went towards it. I looked out. The boat deck was awash.”

“From aft came the tunes of the band. It was a rag-time tune, I don’t know what. Then there was ‘Autumn”. Phillips ran aft, and that was the last time I saw him alive.”

“I went to the place I had seen the collapsible boat on the boat deck, and to my surprise I saw the boat and the men still trying to push it off. I guess there wasn’t a sailor in the crowd. They couldn’t do it. I went up to them and was just lending a hand when a large wave came awash of the deck. The big wave carried the boat off with it.”

“Smoke and sparks were rushing out of the funnel. There must have been an explosion, but we had heard none. We only saw the big stream of sparks. The ship was gradually turning on its nose – just like a duck does that goes down for a dive. I had only one thing on my mind – to get away from the suction. The band was still playing. I guess all of the band went down.”

“They were playing “Autumn” then. I swam with all my might. I suppose I was 150 feet away when the Titanic, up on her nose and with her after quarter sticking up in the air, began to settle – slowly.”

“The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard it first while still we were working the wireless, then there was a rag-time 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”.

Bride’s account carries some weight, as being a wireless operator, he had to rely largely on detail. His account to the New York Times journalist indicates he was not excited or anxious during the final moments of Titanic. He was rather cool headed and able to recollect in his mind with reasonable accuracy, as opposed to another who may be panicky and anxious for their own life in such a situation. Or the confusion and grief of saying goodbye and worrying if loved ones are going to survive to reunite, while fully in the knowledge that a large number of fellow travelers would not survive and would be lost with Titanic.

Many other survivors apart from Jessop, Gracie and Bride recollected the final tune played by the ships band. The majority of them all have the same consensus that “Nearer My God To Thee” was indeed the final tune played.

Titanic Band

Titanic Band: Top left – Theodore Brailey – pianist, Top right – Roger Bricoux – Cellist

Middle left – Percy C. Taylor – Cellist, Centre – Wallace Hartley – Bandmaster, violist, Middle right – George Krins – violist.

Bottom left – John Hume – First violinist, Bottom right – J. Fred C. Clark – Bass violist.

Missing from picture – J. W. Woodward – Cellist

There are two popular versions of the Christian hymn, one being the American version Bethany and the English version Horbury. Both tunes are distinctly different from each other, neither sounds the remotest similar. In short, it would be impossible to confuse the two versions. But accounts from the Titanic disaster, from the survivors, both American and British, claim, both versions were played by Hartley and the other members of the band.

Band leader, Wallace Hartley was born in Colne, Lancashire, England in 1878. His father a Methodist choirmaster introduced Wallace to the Horbury version of the hymn, where it was played regularly at their Methodist Sunday services and where Wallace learned to play the violin from a fellow congregation member.

Many publications and movies about Titanic insist on portraying “Nearer My God To Thee” as the last tune Wallace Hartley and the other seven members played as the ship foundered. Walter Lords book “A Night To Remember” presents Harold Bride’s account. That of “Autumn” – Songe d’Automne. The 1958 movie by Roy Ward Baker of the same name features the Bethany version of the hymn, as does James Cameron’s 1997 movie “Titanic”. On the other hand, Jean Negulesco’s 1953 movie “Titanic” features the Horbury version of the hymn. Hundreds of other books written since 1912, all mention “Nearer My God To Thee” without mentioning either particular tune version.

The origins of the last tune played on Titanic, being “Nearer My God To Thee” could be founded on the grounding and destruction of Red Star Lines, SS Valencia on the South Shore of Vancouver Island on September 23, 1906.

As the lifeboats were being loaded and launched on Valencia, The passengers and crew began singing, “Nearer My God To Thee”. The memory of SS Valencia could have remained among the passengers of Titanic, among tunes they heard from the band of Titanic.

Another twist of the question of the bands final tune is, a third version. That written by Sir Arthur Sullivan from Gilbert and Sullivan fame. called “Propior Doe”. Hartley was a good friend of Sir Arthur Sullivan. “Propior Doe, Nearer My God To Thee” was a personal favourite of Hartley.

In the British national tabloid newspaper, The Daily Sketch, on April 22, 1912. A one time colleague of Hartley’s said that, when working on the Cunard Lines, Mauretania. Hartley had commented that, in the event of being on the deck of a sinking ship, He would like to play “O God Our Help In Ages Past”.

However, “Nearer My God To Thee” has gained popular acceptance.

~ ~ ~ ~

The first of the Collapsible Engelhardt lifeboats to be launched was Collapsible boat C, which was retrieved from its stored position and attached to the davits. It was supervised by Murdoch and assisted by Ismay and Moody.

By this time, Titanic’s bow was dipping deep into the water. The majority of the remaining passengers were moving aft toward the stern. Purser McElroy discharged two shots into the air from his revolver to discourage a large group of Stewards and Third Class passengers from storming the boat.

While Murdoch tried to hold the crowd back, Hugh Woolner and Swedish Army Lieutenant Bjorn Steffanson came to Murdoch’s assistance, by dragging two Stewards out, who had made it into the boat. As the deck was relatively clear of passengers, Ismay assisted those present into the boat, then, walked a distance, calling out for more women to load before launching Collapsible C, but he could not find any.

Quartermaster George Rowe was placed in charge of Collapsible C. Murdoch, Wilde and Ismay repeatedly asked if there were more women to come forward. A number of men took the remaining seats, including J Bruce Ismay and William Carter. As the boat was being lowered, the boat scraped down the hull of Titanic, as the port side list was increasing dramatically. At 2.00am, Collapsible C was the last boat launched from the Starboard side.

Suffering on Titanic

Two illustrations depicting the sad partings and hopelessness onboard Titanic

By 2,00 am Titanic was well down in the water. The cold North Atlantic was only about ten feet below the Promenade Deck, 1.500 people remained on Titanic by the time Collapsible D was being prepared for launching. Band Leader Wallace Hartley was now choosing the last tune his band would play. Some survivors claim the final tune was “Nearer My God To Thee”.

Crew members had to form a cordon around Collapsible D to prevent a storm of passengers boarding. Women and children were still picked out for placements. A male passenger, Louis Hoffman came forward with two boys. His name was later identified as Michel Navratil, who was a Slovak tailor. After kidnapping his two boys from his estranged wife, he took them onboard Titanic to make a new life in the United States. The two boys, gained the popular name of the ‘Titanic Orphans” as their father did not survive the disaster. The boys were later identified as Michel Marcel and Edmond Navratil after their mother identified them from photos that were published of them, around the world.

Quartermaster Arthur Bright was placed in charge with 25 people onboard, as the boat was lowered from Titanic’s port side. Two First Class passengers, Hugh Woolner and Mauritz Haken Bjornstrom-Steffanson jumped into the boat, as it was being lowered from A Deck, even as A Deck itself was continuing to flood. Bjornstrom-Steffanson landed upside down in the boat’s bow, Woolner landed half-way out, before being pulled aboard. Another First Class passenger, Frederick Maxfield jumped into the water after assisting his wife in the boat and was plucked out by the occupants.

Titanic’s tilt grows deeper by 2.05 am as water poured onto the forward section of A-Deck. At this time, Captain Smith was beginning his final inspection. Smith went to the wireless room and relieved Philips and Bride, and told them “Your duty is done”.

On his way back to the bridge, Smith told several crewmen “Its every man for himself now”.

Collapsible A and B proved difficult to retrieve and prepare from their respective storage areas from atop the Officers quarters. Lightoller, Murdoch, Moody and Bride had to rig makeshift ramps from oars and spars to lower them onto the Boat deck as Titanic’s bow section continued to sink up to and over the bridge.

Unfortunately, the makeshift ramp collapsed under collapsible Boat B, resulting in the Boat landing up-side down on the Deck. There was no time to right it as Titanic had begun her breakup and plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. A rapid movement of the ship caused a massive wave to ride along the Boat deck, washing the boat away from the stricken liner and washing many people over the side. Wireless operator Harold Bride was washed from the deck, the turbulent water from the wash, dragging him under. When he surfaced again he found himself trapped under the overturned hull.

The stays supporting the forward funnel snapped under the strain. Crashing into the water, the toppling funnel crushed swimmers beneath it, creating a wave that pushed the boat away from the sinking vessel. As the ship sank, the lifeboat was left amongst hundreds of people in the water. Several dozen, including Lightoller managed to climb onboard and take charge. Bride managed to escape out of the upturned hull and climb aboard. Archibald Gracie and Jack Thayer, also managed to climb aboard. In its present state, the boat was not stable, throughout the next few hours, the air under the boat escaped, lowering it further into the water, exposing those onboard to the water, first their feet, then their ankles, followed by their knees. Many of those who managed to climb aboard perished as the freezing temperature of the air and water exhausted them. Towards the Dawn, the water became choppy. Lightoller organised the remaining men on the hull to stand up in two parallel lines, either side of the centre keel, facing the bow. Then got them to sway in unison to counteract the rocking motion, created by the swell. Out of the original dozens, only 14 were left alive when they were finally rescued.

Murdoch and Moody managed to get Collapsible Lifeboat A on deck the right way up, before the same wave that ejected Collapsible B from Titanic, also washed Collapsible A into the water at 2.12am. As a result, the boat floated away from Titanic without its canvas sides pulled up. It was dangerously low in the water and overloaded. Most of its occupants had climbed in from the water and died of hypothermia. After the ordeal, 13 people were left alive from Collapsible A.


TITANIC: The Legend, myths and folklore Copyright © 2013 by Bruce Alpine. All Rights Reserved.

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