The story that one of the two Mexicans on board the Titanic, 1st class passenger Manuel Uruchurtu, gave up his seat in lifeboat 11 to 2nd class passenger Elizabeth Nye is a heart-stirring tale of chivalry from a bygone age. There is only one problem with it though - it is NOT a true story.
I first started researching the life of Elizabeth Nye in 1988. Nine years later I went online for the first time and it wasn't long before I came across a relatively small number of Spanish language websites that all contained the same account of the alleged incident. They claimed that Manuel Uruchurtu had been granted a seat in the lifeboat due to his status as a Mexican Government Official returning from a duty visit abroad. An English lady, named as Elizabeth Nye, was refused entry to the boat as it was already full. She pleaded to be allowed in as her husband and child were waiting for her in New York. On hearing this Mr Uruchurtu ceded his place in the boat to her, asking only that she visit his family in Mexico to explain what had happened. The sites all concluded by saying that it was later found out that Elizabeth Nye had lied as she did not have a family waiting in New York. Those sites that that invite readers' comments have attracted many rude and unpleasant posts about Elizabeth such as 'Elizabeth Nye is a murderer' Regrettably I see comments of that nature have started to infiltrate this forum.
From the first time that I read the story it just did not sound right at all. For a start, Titanic's lifeboats had not been loaded according to status and no one had their credentials checked prior to entering a boat.
As someone who had been researching the life of Elizabeth Nye for ten years before I first read of these allegations I was confused as they certainly did not match the character and personality of the woman I had come to know during my research. Yes Elizabeth was a widow in 1912. She had married in 1904 and a daughter born in 1906 had lived for just nine months. Her husband had died in the USA in 1911. The suggestion however that Elizabeth, who was a lifelong Salvationist, had abused the memory of her deceased family and stated that they were awaiting her in New York, was not a story that I and many others were prepared to believe.
There are many other areas where the allegation is at total odds with the evidence as it was recorded in 1912. Elizabeth had left the Titanic in lifeboat 11 about 0135 hrs by which time it was obvious to all that the ship was going down and the priority was to save the women and children. Would a lady have been refused permission to enter a lifeboat under those circumstances? In a letter written aboard the Carpathia Elizabeth makes no mention of any difficulty boarding lifeboat 11, and no mention of anyone giving up his seat and his life to save her. ("We were put into the lifeboat and pushed off at once. They put all ladies and children in first") Elizabeth's cabin companion Amelia Brown accompanied her to the lifeboat and similarly makes no reference to any difficulty boarding. ("I was bustled to the first class deck and pushed into one of the boats")
At the subsequent US Inquiry two members of the crew who assisted in the loading and launching of lifeboat 11, Steward Edward Wheelton ("Mr Murdoch told two sailors to jump into the boat and we lowered away") and Able Seaman Walter Brice (Senator Bourne- "Were there any women or children who tried to get into the boat who were unable to do so?" Brice - "Not that I saw sir") were interviewed at some length. Neither man mentions refusing entry to a lady nor any gentleman giving up his seat.
Another of the occupants of lifeboat 11 was 1st class passenger Edith Rosenbaum (later Edith Russell) who was acquainted with Manuel Uruchurtu. Edith was not called to give evidence at either the US Inquiry or the later UK Enquiry but she was, throughout the remainder of her life one of the most vocal of survivors when it came to the subject of the Titanic. I traced a total of nine articles by, and interviews with her, about her departure from the sinking vessel and in not one of them does she mention Mr Uruchurtu.
If there had been any truth in the story then it would have surely have become as endearing a part of the Titanic tale as that of Isidor and Ida Straus and not just a tale that only started appearing on websites some 8 decades later. We must ask ourselves why didn't this story appear in A Night To Remember or any other book up until 2008? There is an explanation -it was becoming increasingly obvious that someone had taken the sketchy details of Elizabeth's life and had fitted a story around them. This would have been done at a time when they had no way of knowing that Elizabeth's life was being researched for a biography.
Nevertheless, I continued to bear the allegations in mind during my remaining research but I never ever came across any fact to even remotely suggest that there might be any truth in them. Elizabeth was a prolific writer and kept in touch with many friends and family members throughout her life. None of them to whom I spoke had any knowledge of her ever visiting Mexico.
I knew no one at that time in that country who might have been able to help me. (Happily that situation has now changed) The number of Spanish language sites carrying the story proliferated over the years - they all appeared to be copied from each other, each telling the same, devoid of detail, verbatim account. Google 'Nye Uruchurtu' today and it lists a total of over 27,000 sites on which the two names appear together. (This of course includes Titanic sites that show passenger lists)
After a total of 20 years of research my biography of Elizabeth Nye was published in 2009. As I had not discovered one iota of proof in support of the allegations the book contains no mention of Manuel Uruchurtu.
On 11 Apr 12 I was contacted by The Reforma newspaper in Mexico City who told me that a new book about Mr Uruchurtu was about to be published. They asked me if I was in possession of any information that would confirm that Manuel Uruchurtu had ceded his lifeboat place to Elizabeth Nye. My reply was that I knew of no facts which would support the story but I knew of plenty which suggested that no such incident had ever taken place and went on to list them. The story was printed the next day by The Reforma under the heading 'Mystery surrounds Uruchurtu gesture' - 'The author of Elizabeth Nye's biography says to be wary of stories circulating on websites regarding Manuel Uruchurtu .....' Happily this article has now started to be repeated on many Spanish language sites.
On 18 Apr 12 a press conference was held in Mexico City to announce the new book 'El Caballero Del-Titanic'(The gentleman of the Titanic) During the press conference the book's main author, Guadalupe Loaeza, stated that at no time during her research did see see any document or other proof that the Nye/Uruchurtu incident had happened, she had worked solely on information supplied to her by the book's co-author Alejandro Garate Uruchurtu.
The following day was to prove decisive with the publication in The Reforma of a letter sent in by the granddaughter of Manuel Uruchurtu. Translated it read:
Such positive testimoney from the nearest surviving relative to Manuel Uruchurtu totally vindicates Elizabeth Nye from any involvement with this story.Rejection of Heroic Act
In the culture section dated 11 April there is a report regarding the book written by Guadalupe Loaeza about Manuel Uruchurtu 'The Gentleman of the Titanic'
Guadalupe Loaeza has taken advantage of the claim to write a book, which is not based on any facts, surrounding Manuel Uruchurtu my late Grandfather who died in that unfortunate tragedy.
Maybe with the best of intentions ?? she is referring to how a gentleman gave up his place on a lifeboat to a woman.
In the article in The Reforma newspaper she states 'his relatives assure us that he gave up his place on a lifeboat to 2nd class passenger Elizabeth Rammel Nye'
I am the granddaughter of Manuel Uruchurtu and neither my father Armando Uruchurtu (who was 5 years old at the time) or my young aunties Amparo and Dolores Uruchurtu (aged 15 years and 17 years) or anyone else in the family who lived with my Grandmother in the last few years of her life have ever heard of this alleged incident which, had it genuinely occurred, I am sure they would have spoken about openly and proudly.
The story was made up by another (not so close) relative by the name of Alejandro Garate Uruchurtu who has appeared on television claiming to be the grandson of Manuel Uruchurtu, and whom I believe feels the need to give notoriety (unnecessarily) to the surname Uruchurtu.
I want to make it quite clear that none of his surviving grandchildren, that is my brother and myself now aged 74, have any proof of that alleged heroic act, although many including my father and aunties spoke of the tragic deaths of his parents Manuel and Gertrudis. We know that Grandfather Manuel was an extraordinary and exceptional person and find it uncomfortable and ridiculous that anyone should try to dramatize his death.
If you see fit you may publish what I have written here.
I am comfortable with the article by Erika P. Bucio regarding the 'Mystery surrounds Uruchurtu gesture'
Granddaughter of Manuel Uruchurtu.
Mr Garate however does not agree. The following day's edition of the newspaper contained his reply to Gertrudis - calling into question her honesty and sense of family honour. He stated where his proof may be found. He claimed that Edith Rosenbaum gave evidence at the US Inquiry that she had met Mr Uruchurtu at Cherbourg and had witnessed his heroic act in lifeboat 11 as she was also in that boat. He also claimed that recognition of the heroic act is contained in 'United States Congress, Senate ... 62nd Congress 2nd Session, 20 August 1912, Document 933' having been located there by Robert Bracken, eminent Titanic researcher. The alleged visit by Elizabeth Nye to Mexico, said on many websites to have been in 1924, he now claimed to have been two visits, one in 1915 and another the following year.
Document 933 mentioned is a 92 page booklet which is still readily available today. It is an abbreviated version of the UK Board of Trade Enquiry into the loss of the steamship Titanic. It contains no reference to Mr Uruchurtu at all.
In an effort to clarify his alleged involvement I contacted Robert L. Bracken, Treasurer of The Titanic International Society (and the author of several fine articles on ET) Bob replied that he had never heard of Mr Garate, had never been in contact with him and he knew full well that Document 933 did not contain any 'recognition of a heroic act' He was unaware why his name had been used to support Mr Garate's claims.
The concern that I have about the book written by Guadalupe Loaeza is that she has chosen to write the chapter involving Elizabeth Nye in the first person, i.e. as if it were Elizabeth who had written it. My fear is that this will confuse many readers who will assume that they are reading an autobiographical work by Elizabeth and they will be duped into believing the story is true, as indeed Miss Loaeza herself was.
Yes, I believe that Manuel Uruchurtu was a hero of the Titanic, but only to the same degree that all the 1,500+ who had to remain on board and face the certainty of imminent death were heroes. Did he compound his heroism by giving up a seat in a lifeboat? No he did not.
I do not expect Mr Garate to agree of course but I feel sure that he would now, after twenty years of telling his story unchallenged, welcome the opportunity to prove the story he has been telling the Mexican Nation many times through the media there. I invite him now, instead of telling us that he has seen the documents from 1912 which prove his story, to produce to us all copies of those documents so that we may all benefit from them.