Encyclopedia Titanica

An Unpleasant Incident

New York Times

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The maiden voyage of the splendid steamer, the Teutonic, of the White Star Line, which arrived at this port on Wednesday, seems to have been marred considerably by an unfortunate occurrence which took place on one of the last days of the voyage. Among the passengers on the vessel were Sir Lyon Playfair and Mr. J. Bruce Ismay, the New-York agent of the White Star Line. A little entertainment was given in the grand saloon last Tuesday night and in the speechmaking which usually follows such an affair Mr. Ismay acted as Chairman, or master of ceremonies.

He made a pleasant little speech about the new vessel, told all about what was expected of her, and how the aim of the company was always to please its patrons, and after a while introduced Sir Lyon Playfair to the audience. It was the manner of this introduction which caused the trouble which is now being pretty thoroughly ventilated. There were many Americans among the passengers, and, according to Commodore A. E. Bateman, who was one of them, Mr. Ismay took occasion to talk in a sneering manner of American legislators as compared with noble British statesmen.

To a reporter Commodore Bateman said yesterday that Mr. Ismay first talked about legislators in general and Sir Lyon Playfair in particular, and then, in introducing the latter, remarked: “It gives me great pleasure to present to you a distinguished guest, Sir Lyon Playfair, who is a member of Parliament. And to be a member of Parliament, you know, is quite a different thing than to be a United States Senator or a member of the United States Congress.” This was said in a facetious manner, a heavy attempt to be “funny,” and was accompanied by a sly English wink which quite captured the hearts of the speaker’s countrymen who heard him.

But the loyal Americans who heard this statement and who gazed with astonishment at the ponderous wink were not pleased with either. They were, on the contrary, indignant at the slur. It was hardly possible that Mr. Ismay had deliberately attempted to affront them. It was more probable that that gentleman, unaccustomed as he admitted he was, to talking in public and desirous of paying a compliment to the nobleman, had gotten somewhat flabbergasted , (which is an American word perhaps unfamiliar to Mr. Ismay,) and had blundered in the effort. That was the charitable construction placed upon the little episode, but Commodore Bateman felt it to be only just that Mr. Ismay should know of the feeling he had succeeded in creating and wrote him a letter. He set forth the facts and inquired in a polite American way if it was regarded as necessary by him to insult Americans and their representatives in order to say something pleasing to and about Sir Lyon Playfair. It was also suggested to Mr. Ismay that there was a better way of getting American dollars than by talking disparagingly of American people.

There were, perhaps, some stronger sentences in this epistle than those outlined, but, at any rate, it elicited a reply from Mr. Ismay. It was a sort of an apology which Commodore Bateman regarded as lame, weak and unsatisfying. However, the matter was dropped there until, at any rate, the American shore was reached. Commodore Bateman, who took it upon himself to write to Mr. Ismay without consultation with his fellow passengers simply because he believed a rebuke to have been merited, declined to give the two letters to the reporter. That, he said, ought to be done by Mr. Ismay if it were done at all.

A lunch was given on board the Teutonic, lying at her dock at the foot of West Tenth street, yesterday afternoon by Mr. Ismay, to about 150 gentlemen, and Mr. Ismay, as host, made a little speech, failing, however, to allude to this unpleasant matter. In fact, he declined to discuss the subject at all. Capt. Parsell, in command of the Teutonic, made a speech, too, and in it he talked most vigorously about the manner in which his employer, Mr. Ismay, had been treated by the American press. Mr. Ismay, he said, had spent many years in laboring to benefit the traveling American public -- incidentally, perhaps, he might have said himself -- and the morning after he arrived from abroad he found himself vilified by American newspapers. Capt Parsell spoke at considerable length upon this subject, defending, in a measure, Mr. Ismay, and denouncing the whole story as a pure fabrication.

The lunch was a very pleasant one. Most of the guests were steamship men, but others who were not were Gen. Horace Porter, who made a characteristic address; William L. Booker, the British Consul; District Attorney Fellows, who didn’t make a characteristic address; Fish Commissioner Blackford, and others. After lunch was over the gentlemen inspected the new vessel and admired its perfect construction.

[Note: This article is incorrect in identifying the Ismay involved here; it was Thomas Ismay, not Bruce Ismay, who made the comments in question.]

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2010) An Unpleasant Incident (New York Times, Saturday 17th August 1889, ref: #11343, published 28 February 2010, generated 23rd January 2023 11:54:36 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/an-unpleasant-incident.html