The Titanic Historical Society

TITANIC Past and Present

Part Five

by Edward S. Kamuda
Additional text and editing by Karen Kamuda, Paul Louden-Brown

The writer William T. Stead, the painter Frank D. Millet and Major Archibald Butt died; their bodies were never recovered.

In lifeboat Number 2 Fourth Officer Boxhall burned green flares taken from the wheelhouse to attract attention of a rescue ship; his last was seen by those on board Carpathia. Captain Rostron ordered rockets to be fired in reply and at 4 am the Cunard liner arrived at the estimated position given by the Titanic's wireless operator.

Large numbers of icebergs were all around the ship as the crew began to pick up survivors from boats scattered over several miles of ocean. Rostron reported that there was very little wreckage when he got near to the scene of the disaster; a few steamer chairs, cork lifejackets and only one body. Titanic's boats were hauled up and stowed on deck. The rescue operation had taken four hours and as the Carpathia briefly searched the area for more survivors, two memorial services were held. The first, a short prayer, for the 705 who had been rescued, the second, a funeral service for those that had died.

First plaque to be placed on the TitanicIn the minutes and hours that followed the sinking the seabed became littered with thousands of objects. China from the à la carte restaurant; tiles from the floor of the gymnasium; a woman¹s high button shoe; a giant boiler from the engine room and lying in of this field of devastation was the broken and shattered hull of Titanic.

When Dr. Robert Ballard's expedition found the wreck on September 1, 1985 he decided to leave the area in peace, recording the discovery with photographic images. In 1986, he returned and placed a bronze memorial plaque on her stern for the Titanic Historical Society honoring those who died. He kept his promise, but since then the wreck site, considered by most a mass grave, has been stripped and several exhibitions staged in Europe and the United States have displayed an odd assortment of twisted, torn and broken objects; even personal items and clothing. We now know the motive was profit and the pettiness shown by various individuals was proven; the gravesite had been violated.

Most people are curious about life aboard the once mighty ship; in reality Edwardian life had many of the conveniences we enjoy; one only has to talk with their grandparents. It was an age of great optimism and invention and because so much had been created in so short a time, the impression was man had conquered nature. There were marvelous machines like sewing machines run by electricity that could mass produce instead of single hand-made products; wonderful entertainment -- movies, phonographs and cameras, even time off for a holiday previously unheard of. Travel in automobiles, paved roads, communication by telephones and mail-order catalogues afforded labor saving appliances for everyone.

Titanic's furnishings weren't unique. It is a myth that has formed over time. As in any hotel chain, and ships were simply elegant floating hotels, the china, glassware, linens, utensils, nearly everything aboard were products of mass manufacture.

Over 1,500 lives were lost, frozen or drowned in the frigid North Atlantic. The statistics are appalling enough to read let alone the reality of such a magnificent ship sinking on her maiden voyage. Of the 1,324 passengers and 899 crew on board, at the time of the collision, only 706 survived the disaster. Approximately 320 bodies were recovered, many buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but no trace was ever found of the Rice family. Margaret and her five young children; Albert, George, Eric, Arthur and Eugene all perished, their only memorial - RMS Titanic.

The news reports predictably generated a furious clamor, including hundreds of indignant newspaper editorials and two official government inquiries; one by the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, with Senator William Alden Smith, a Republican from Michigan as Chairman; the other by the British Court of Inquiry, with Lord Mersey as Wreck Commissioner.

The official inquiries did little to help people understand why such a terrible tragedy could have happened. Government hearings have a way of gathering information but conclusions often fall short of the mark because political considerations rather than fact usually take precedence. In recent years the enormous weight of material written has in many ways confused understanding of the disaster.

The THS plaque shown just after being placed on the Titanic's sternIn uncomplicated terms, the large loss of life was caused by outdated British Board of Trade regulations which allowed Titanic to go to sea with insufficient lifeboat accommodation. Regulations required vessels of 10,000 tons or over to carry a minimum of 16 lifeboats with a capacity of 5,500 cubic feet with rafts and floats equal to 75% of the lifeboats' capacity. Titanic could carry a total of 3,511 passengers and crew but regulations meant the Company was required to provide space for only 962. White Star, in fact, provided Titanic with four extra collapsible type boats increasing the capacity to 1,178.

As a reader, one must forget the 21st century and think in terms of 1900. Lifeboats were considered a means to transport people from one ship to another. The Atlantic Ocean was a "highway" and if an accident occurred, help was always close at hand, another ship would soon approach and render assistance. In hindsight that was a poor reason but Titanic was not unique, all the big liners were inadequately equipped such as Mauretania mentioned earlier. Titanic happened to be the ship that the consequences of that thinking were tragically portrayed. Consider Lusitania's fate a few years later; after receiving massive torpedo damage, the ship sank in fifteen minutes, lifeboats were still hanging in their davits.

Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the catastrophe concerns Captain Smith. His failure during the loading of the lifeboats led to unnecessary loss of life. He was the head of the command structure which fell apart on Sunday night; his officers dispatched lifeboats with a fraction of their human capacity. As the master of a ship, the responsibility for the welfare of his passengers and crew was his alone.

Any seaman would tell you that a boat, with capacity for 64, in a flat calm could take 74 or perhaps more. Several of the Titanic's boats left with just a dozen or so onboard. And while the world praised the heroic Captain for going down with his ship and put up a bronze statue to his memory, J. Bruce Ismay found himself a scapegoat. Even in the most recent Titanic film, Ismay is portrayed as an autocratic businessman who is shown up by the fictional Rose DeWitt Bukater as ignorant and uncultured. In reality, Ismay was a far more complex man than the two-dimensional stereotype. Well-educated, certainly well enough to know who Sigmund Freud was, he disliked media attention and kept his personal life and that of his family out of the public spotlight. One of his principles was never to interfere with another's judgment, whether commanding a ship or driving a car, yet we see the opposite in the film. Through his intellect and strength of will he turned the ailing IMMC around and made a handsome profit for his fellow directors and shareholders. Titanic was his dream, but on the night of April 15, 1912, he found himself in a nightmare. Helping to load lifeboats to the ship's last dying moments and sure he had discharged his duty, he entered one of the last lifeboats that was only half-filled.

Lord Mersey, in the British inquiry report, wrote: "As to the attack on Mr. Bruce Ismay, it resolved itself into the suggestion that, occupying the position of Managing Director...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. Had he not jumped in he would merely have added one more life, namely, his own, to the number of those lost."

The press, particularly in the United States, where publisher William Randolph Hearst, a powerful man and an Anglophobe, who owned a large chain of newspapers and the first to syndicate insuring mass coverage, christened him "J. Brute" Ismay. Criticized for saving his own life when so many lives had been wasted by Captain Smith and Titanic's officers, it is an irony of history that Ismay is judged so harshly.

In June 1913 he retired from the presidency of the IMMC, following arrangements made in January 1912. After Titanic's loss he wished to remain a director of White Star. His colleagues, however, insisted he retire from that seat too. He owned an estate on the west coast of Ireland and spent a great deal of time there during the fishing season, neither hiding away nor seeking public attention following the disaster. Far from becoming a recluse (as popular legend has it) Ismay continued as chairman and director to several large companies in Liverpool and in London.

Titanic's loss dismayed and infuriated the brave new world of 1912. Faith in the omnipotence of technology was badly shaken. But good did come from the terrible as so often happens. Ships would no longer be permitted to sail without enough lifesaving equipment for everyone; an International Ice Patrol was formed to warn ships at sea against wandering icebergs; the transatlantic tracks were shifted farther south during the critical winter and spring months and passenger liners were required to keep operators on a twenty-four hour wireless watch.

The White Star Line, contrary to myth, recovered from the disaster. The great tide of immigration from Europe filled their ships and the Company, in 1913, announced record profits despite the loss of their flagship.

Nothing, however, could bring back the more than 1,500 lives that had been sacrificed to a complacent faith in state-of-the-art marine technology and lax government regulations.

As for the Titanic, her story will be told again and again, proven by the interest in the Titanic Historical Society formed in 1963 and still growing, and the success of Jim Cameron's film, despite the fictional screenplay, serves as a poignantly appropriate requiem.


The Titanic Commutator Issues shown here contain articles and real life accounts that relate to this article. Each is available as either a reprint or in-print issue from our Museum Shop.

Titanic Commutator 121

Titanic Commutator - Issue # 121 The Rest of the Story - Pt 1 by C. H. Lightoller is featured along with information about survivors and Captain Smith.
 To buy this issue

Titanic Commutator 138

Titanic Commutator - Issue # 138 talks about Titanic and the Inter- national Ice Patrol, Canadian Titanic victims and difficulties in the filming of "TITANIC".
 To buy this issue

Titanic Commutator 137
Titanic Commutator - Issue # 137 contains: Bertha Lehmann Luhrs, A Young Lady Survivor Tells Her Story, also 20th Century Fox Production Notes from "TITANIC" and the cover photo is the South- ampton Scene from "TITANIC"
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