Charles Emil Henry Stengel and Lifeboat # 1

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Inezita Gay

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My greatgrandfather was Charles Emil Henry Stengel. I am looking for descendants of the other occupants of Lifeboat #1. Were the people in Lifeboat #1 cowards? Should they have gone back? This question haunts me.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Should they have gone back? Good question. For myself, I can't blame them or anyone else for not doing so. The problem is that in a lifeboat with reletively few seats and over 1500 people struggling in the water, it would have been all too easy for that or any other boat to be swamped with the the consequence of even greater numbers of lives being lost.

It's easy enough for us to make value judgements from the warmth of our studies, and quite another when you're actually out there in the thick of things and knowing that if you guess wrong, you're dead.

The sea is an equal opportunity killer.
 
Jun 8, 2002
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Well said, Mr. Standart.

Depictions of the disaster, in writing and in film, tend to moralize on the appalling cowardice and selfishness of the occupants of the lifeboats who either made no effort to return to pick up those struggling in the water or even protested when others suggested it.

Hindsight is 20-20, and these participants in the disaster did not have the luxury of knowing what we know, for example that the Carpathia was on her way and that practically everyone in the boats would be saved.

Like you, I don't think we should judge any of the players that night.

Best regards,
Doug
 
May 12, 2005
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Inezita,

The people in boat 1 were not cowards, nor was anyone else in the other boats. Lifeboat 1 had no special designation as a rescue craft that night, although it is usually the only one mentioned when the subject is brought up of the boats' being under-filled.

Boat 1 ought to have gone back but all the boats should have done so. That they didn't - except for boat 14 - shows only too clearly the reality of human frailty. Heroism is unnatural; that is why, when it happens, as in the case of Harold Lowe, it is so remarkable. All action by comparison, however noble-intentioned, pales.

As to descendants of other boat 1 survivors, I understand that they are all private people. It would be interesting if a reunion of sorts could be affected - I have wondered about it myself. Maybe someday it can be managed.

Randy
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Thanks Doug. What it really boils down to is cold unfeeling numbers. 28 seats available as opposed to 1500+ screaming...(for good reason!)...contenders. For all that people like to make judgements, I have to wonder if any of us could have done any better.

Hopefully, we'll never have to find out.
 

Bob Godfrey

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The rescue effort of Lowe in boat 14 was indeed remarkable but not unique. Quartermaster Perkis, in charge of boat 4, refused the demands of his passengers to beat a retreat and remained close enough to the sinking ship to take twice as many people from the water, sooner and at greater risk.
 

Dave Gittins

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I'm one of the critics of Sir Cosmo and the crew of boat 1. This was an age when noblesse oblige still meant something. Sir Cosmo might have shown the leadership expected of his class. However, I wouldn't take it further than did Lord Mersey in his report. He wrote---

"The very gross charge against Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon that, having got into No. 1 boat he bribed the men in it to row away from the drowning people is unfounded. (Duff Gordon, 12586 et seq.) I have said that the members of the crew in that boat might have made some attempt to save the people in the water, and that such an attempt would probably have been successful; but I do not believe that the men were deterred from making the attempt by any act of Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon’s. At the same time I think that if he had encouraged to the men to return to the position where the “Titanic”￾ had foundered they would probably have made an effort to do so and could have saved some lives."

As in the case of Captain Lord, contemporaries grossly exaggerated the capacity of Sir Cosmo and the others to rescue people. They certainly could have saved "some lives" but they would have been working against time and hypothermia. As to whether they were cowards, I think that, as so often that night, no conscious and reasoned decision was made. They just played it by ear. In dangerous situations, some act heroically without weighing the consequences. Some chicken out, with equal lack of consideration. People are like that.
 
May 12, 2005
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As I have said before, noblesse oblige, however pervasive in 1912, was not a valid criteria for judging a man's authority or suitability.

It's absurd to me that in as horrific a situation as unfolded on April 14-15, 1912, Cosmo Duff Gordon, owing merely to the fact that he was an aristocrat, should have been expected to possess superior skills at governing and discipline. That's ridiculous. People are people. Strength and weakness transcend class. And catastrophes are not fair gauges of people's character. The effects of fear and shock have to be factored in. The order of noblesse oblige is romantic in such a circumstance but wholly impractical.

Cosmo was a man just like any other that night who found himself in the lucky embrace of a lifeboat. There was no special obligation he had to be a savior, no intrinsic duty to his fellow man, at least none based simply on his rank and breeding.

Cosmo was both a sensitive and strong man all his life, a man who was devoted to a woman he adored and to a family he loved, a man whose care for and dedication to others was deep. That night in 1912 may not have found him a God or superman, but what it did show him to be - a flesh and blood, ordinary man - is more than acceptable, more than adequate.

He wasn't a hero that night. But in many ways, for the remainder of his proud but lonely life, he WAS heroic. Though it was from old age that he officially died, it was the Titanic that really killed him.
 
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Susan Leighton

Guest
There are legitimate reasons for Boat 1 to receive so much criticism regarding the boats' being under-filled and not returning to the ship. The impression is that it took seven crewmembers to transport five very rich passengers, in a boat with a capacity to seat about 40 passengers. Boat 1 reportedly left Titanic at 1:10 which gave the occupants at least an hour and ten minutes before she finally sank. They also had over two hours in the water before being rescued by Carpathia. They had ample time (3hours, 30 minutes)and made a conscious decision NOT to return and the crewmembers were 'compensated' for their efforts. They were cowards.

I realize this is a simplistic approach to what was obviously a very horrifying experience for everyone concerned, but as I have previously stated, an impression was formed based on raw data and does not factor in the actual experience of the event.
-Susan Y. Leighton
 
May 12, 2005
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You're right that, owing to sensational press coverage, the passengers and crew in boat 1 could not help but endure questions and rumors about their escape.

Some key facts, though:

Re: boat 1's being under-filled - it held the least number of occupants of any other lifeboat but did not leave the least filled. Taking into account the difference between its capacity and complement and those of other lifeboats, boat 1, being a smaller craft, actually had less empty spaces than boats 7, 6 or 8, which were large craft.

Moreover, each of these boats left the ship earlier than or about the same time as boat 1 and therefore their occupants had equally ample opportunity to devise a rescue effort and return to the ship. But they didn't, having also made conscious decisions NOT to return to the wreck site.

Boat 1 left with the fewest passengers through no fault on the part of those passengers and later did not return to save others because the CREW decided not to make the attempt.

As to the misguided but well-intentioned compensation by Cosmo Duff Gordon to the crew of boat 1 - well, this is what really burned his toast. However bad it looked, the simple truth is that he basically offered the money as a peace offering, to pacify ruffled feelings on the part of some of the crew members who had not only spoken roughly to a lady (his wife) but were grumbling about the possessions and pay they had lost in the sinking.

People don't like to bring up that. They'd rather concentrate on Lucy Duff Gordon's jibe about that God-forsaken nightdress. It does make for better reading, I guess, to imagine a spoiled rich bitch sitting back and bemoaning the loss of fripperies than to know the truth.

It's strange, unfortunate and disheartening that negative, unbalanced stories like these will likely go on being told and believed by new generations. It almost seems people would rather know a juicy half-truth than the dull whole truth.
 
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I honestly don't know what I would do if I were actually in the position those in any lifeboat were in. I can only hope that I would have voted to go back and try to save more people but I just don't know for sure. I'm not making excuses for any of those in any boats that chose not to go back. I'm sure that those who survived were haunted forever by what could have been if they made a different decision.
 
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Timothy Brandsoy

Guest
I believe that Sir Cosmos attempt to reimburse the crew for their lost kit was an honorable one, later mistaken as bribery.

The crew seemed to look to the Gordons for direction, where it should have been the other way around. But in that era the gentry were elevated in obvious rank and assumed ability. That they were merely human became a chink in their armour, much like the the damaged Titanic herself.

While Astor, Gugenheim and the Strausses proved their mettle the Gordons did not. Heroes often die. The decision not to go back and rescue any survivors is human, but was a base and selfish motivation of perceived survival. That they could of been swamped by helpless and half frozen victims is ludicrious. The CREW should have known that the struggling swimmers were not a threat to their safety in the boat. I think that's where the perception comes in that the crew was paid off not to go back.
 
May 12, 2005
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Timothy wrote: "The decision not to go back and rescue any survivors is human, but was a base and selfish motivation of perceived survival."

Self-preservation is base and selfish but almost everybody in the lifeboats that night succumbed to it.

Timothy: "That they could of been swamped by helpless and half frozen victims is ludicrous. "

It's not ludicrous. The fear of being swamped by the crowd in the water was general.

Timothy: "The CREW should have known that the struggling swimmers were not a threat to their safety in the boat."

Not true. Symons and others were concerned about the safety of the situation. In other boats, it was the very same. Lowe in 14 didn't head back sooner because of his belief that it would be dangerous. Hichens in 6 opposed going back for the same reason. In boat after boat, as the cries of the drowning reached their ears, people's instinctive fear and self-preservation set in.

Boat 1's failure to go back and it's occupants' fears and "selfish" motives were part of a widespread systematic pattern of human weakness that showed itself that night.

If the actions of the people in boat 1 were an exception to the rule as things played out that night, I could understand their being continually singled out for derision. But the truth is that the Duff Gordons did, said and felt nothing different than was done, said and felt by most others.

Yet due the unfortunate circumstances of their boat's holding so few people and the incident of the money gifts, the Duff Gordons have been held up as a villains and cowards. They have taken the brunt of the criticism of their boat's failure (and the other boats' failure) to assist in rescuing the drowning.

Their inaction was not heroic, but it cannot be said to have been despicable either. If they were not on their "mettle" then neither was almost anybody else who made it into a lifeboat; the bottom line being that, with few exceptions, people's response to the drowning of others was simply to NOT respond. The Duff Gordons cannot be called cowards if the others are excused from the charge.
 
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Timothy Brandsoy

Guest
Timothy: "That they could of been swamped by helpless and half frozen victims is ludicrous. "

Randy: "It's not ludicrous. The fear of being swamped by the crowd in the water was general."

The crew should have been well aware of hypothermia and that few would have lasted in the water. That only one boat went back is despicable IMHO....not just to single out boat #1.

As the cries died down (literally) they could of tried to pick up a few on the fringe if they were so worried about being swamped. Symons and Hichens were WRONG. They may have been justifiably scared and nearly universaly so, but some were in fact saved from the water and their boats were not "swamped". General fear and hysteria doesn't make something true, no matter how pervasive it is. It may be an excuse but it doesn't make it a fact.

The Duff Gordons had another thing against them, besides a half filled boat and a lot of crew members, they had each other. In the public arena of the time (women and childen first) that may have been held against them since so many lost their spouses and loved ones. To the general public they must have looked pretty cozy with their virtually private boat and crew. The Strauses became the 'heroes' and the Duff Gordons became the 'villians' in this very public passion play. I'm not saying it's "right" I'm just trying to view it in it's historical perspective. Nor do I think it would be much different today with modern characters.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>The crew should have been well aware of hypothermia and that few would have lasted in the water. That only one boat went back is despicable IMHO....not just to single out boat #1<<

Tim, I assure you that the crew was intensely aware of this. They were also intensely aware of the fact that they were stranded in the middle of the North Atlantic with no other refuge beyond what they had. I can also assure you that they knew full well that the seats available came nowhere close to what was needed to take everyone aboard.

Rowing into a panicked mob with ill trained and scarce crewmembers would have been...and was...percieved as foolhardy for good reason. Boat operations on the open ocean are extremely dangerous and having to fight off a mob was the last thing they needed to do. Had they charged in right off, that's exactly what they would have been doing.

>>As the cries died down (literally) they could of tried to pick up a few on the fringe if they were so worried about being swamped. Symons and Hichens were WRONG.<<

Sez who? Us? Take note of the fact that we weren't there and our necks were not on the line. They were, as were those in the boats whose lives they were responsible for.

>>but some were in fact saved from the water and their boats were not "swamped".<<

Because the boat that went back did so long after the Titanic sank and by that time, the cold had claimed most of the people in the water. Dead people don't swamp boats, but live ones do if there are enough of them. Early on, there were.

You might want to take note of what Lowe had to say about the question of trying to pick up more people. This is excerpted from his testimony on Day 5 of the Senate Inquiry:

Senator SMITH. That makes 65. So that when he lay on his oars, if he was in lifeboat No. 5 and he heard the groaning of these people and their cries for help, he could, if he had gone toward them, have accommodated 30 more people safely in that lifeboat?

Mr. LOWE. After the ship had gone down?

Senator SMITH. Yes, sir.

Mr. LOWE. No, sir; he could not; pardon me.

Senator SMITH. Why?

Mr. LOWE. Because he would be hazarding all the, rest of their lives. That is the thought that struck me, and I will give you a full explanation of that if you would like to listen to it.

This is from an experinced officer who knew the sea and had a lot of training, education and experience to back up his point of view. Many of the lessons he benefited from were learned the hard way from the observed behaviour of people in real world shipping casualties in the past. Given that understanding, I can scarcly blame any of them for not taking the gamble. I can say with utter confidence that I wouldn't have.
 
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I understand what Timothy is saying and I really am not in disagreement as to ethics. Yes indeed it was too bad that boat 1 and ALL the other boats didn't go back to aid the drowning. It is what haunted the survivors - those calls for help that could not be answered. It is what haunts us still today.

Was it morally wrong to ignore the cries? Many like Timothy believe it was. I think they make valid arguments and I understand their point. My personal stance is that, however sad it is that more couldn't be done to aid the drowning, it was still the right (or at least a valid) thing to not risk more lives in a dangerous attempt at rescue.

Now, of course, the danger has passed. But if any one of us were stuck in a little boat in the cold, in the night, out on the ocean and heard that horrible rush of screams from hundreds and hundreds of people, I bet we would be just as paralyzed from shock and fear as the people in the boats were that night.

Was the fear justified? I agree with Michael that largely it was. The excerpt he provides above of Lowe's views is about as clear as you can get.

But there is another incident, too, that of capsized Boat B, which speaks to the reality of the danger of the mob in the water. In an article I read recently by Archibald Gracie in "The Outlook" magazine (27 April 1912), he tells of the difficult choice he and others made of having to turn swimmers away:

"(page 897)...At any rate, we pushed our way through the wreckage and when the complement of men was about thirty, we could not take a single one more on the boat. If we had, it would have collapsed. The men struggling in the water appealed for help but we had to explain to them that to assist one would be to destroy us all. An unknown hero to whom we so explained said, 'All right, boys; good-by and God bless you!' ..."

So here we now have the words of one who had actually been among the swell of people in the water. If anyone was in a position to know the state of danger there it would have been Gracie and others like him (Thayer, Lightoller etc)who experienced how life-threatening it was.
 

George Behe

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Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Mike!

>Because the boat that went back did so long after >the Titanic sank and by that time, the cold
>had claimed most of the people in the water.

Although Lowe and boat #14 stayed away until most of the swimmers were dead, Walter Perkis and boat #4 certainly didn't. Indeed, Perkis saved more swimmers than did Lowe -- and under the very same conditions that caused Lowe to avoid the area until much later.

>Boat operations on the open ocean are extremely >dangerous and having to fight off a mob was the >last thing they needed to do. Had they charged in >right off, that's exactly what they would have >been doing.

Nobody is suggesting that the boats should have "charged" into the middle of the swimmers. Perkis simply *used his head* and stayed on the *fringe* of the swimmers (whereas Lowe was overcautious and stayed away from the swimmers altogether until it was almost too late.)

Not everyone is cut out to be a hero, though, and Randy makes a valid point about the paralyzing fear that many of *us* would have felt if we had found ourselves in a similar situation. That being the case, let us take a moment to remember Quartermaster Walter Perkis. All honor to him!

All my best,

George
 

Bob Godfrey

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George, I made the same point further up this thread, but I'm glad to know I'm not the only member of the Perkis fan club!

Regards,
Bob
 

Inger Sheil

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Coincidently, the subject of #4 has come up for discussion between myself and another Titanic researcher quite a few times during our recent get togethers, and we’ve both observed how Perkis’ stocks have risen in Titanic circles out of proportion to the accounts of his actions. I started looking into the role of #4 a little while back, and was quite surprised by what I found. The evidence regarding the actions of the passengers and crew, and Perkis in particular, is a lot more ambiguous than many people acknowledge. While I’ve made the point before that the crew of #4 have often been overlooked in their efforts to rescue survivors, I think that perhaps the pendulum has swung to an uncritical praise of Walter Perkis that has elevated him to an heroic stature above his peers, an assessment not necessarily supported by the evidence. While some of his colleagues — most notably Harold Lowe, who has been subjected to some savage revisionism in recent years — have been closely scrutinised and criticised, there has been uncritical approbation of Perkis. There seems to be an assumption that because he was in charge of the boat that all her actions should be accredited to him, but there seems to be rather a dearth of accounts that ascribe this level of proactiveness to him.

Mrs Ryerson, for example, does not ascribe any particular leadership to Perkis or even any one man: she notes that there was confusion, which lead to them not making much progress:

quote:

The order was given to pull away, then they rowed off - the sailors, the women, anyone - but made little progress; there was a confusion of orders; we rowed toward the stern, some one shouted something about a gangway, and no one seemed to know what to do.
As for that while some wanted to back, others did not — it was more two camps, rather than one man taking leadership:

quote:

Then we turned to pick up some of those in the water. Some of the women protested, but others persisted, and we dragged in six or seven men.
As for the men rescued out of the water, several of these were able to swim to the boat because of its proximity...even before the ship went down. Hemming testified that:

quote:

I went to the bridge and looked over and saw the water climbing upon the bridge. I went and looked over the starboard side, and everything was black. I went over to the port side and saw a boat off the port quarter, and I went along the port side and got up the after boat davits and slid down the fall and swam to the boat and got it.
After swimming to #4, he asked to be helped in:

quote:

Mr. HEMMING. I tried to get hold of the grab line on the bows, and it was too high for me, so I swam along and got hold of one of the grab lines amidships.
Senator SMITH. What did you do then?
Mr. HEMMING. I pulled my head above the gunwale, and I said, "Give us a hand in, Jack." Foley was in the boat. I saw him standing up in the boat. He said, "Is that you, Sam?" I said, "Yes;" and him and the women and children pulled me in the boat.
Hemming described them going back for survivors after she sank, and according to him it was a process of both the men swimming to #4 and the survivors swimming for the boat:
quote:

Senator SMITH. You picked these seven men out of the water?
Mr. HEMMING. Yes, sir.
Senator SMITH. Did they swim to the boat, or did the boat go to the men?
Mr. HEMMING. Both. They swam toward the boat, and we went back toward them.
Senator SMITH. After you got these seven men in, what did you do then?
Mr. HEMMING. We hung around for a bit.
Senator SMITH. Did you see any more men?
Mr. HEMMING. No, sir.
Senator SMITH. Did you hear any more crying?
Mr. HEMMING. We heard the cries; yes, sir.
Senator SMITH. Where? In what direction? Toward the Titanic?
Mr. HEMMING. We were moving around, constantly, sir. Sometimes the stern of the boat would be toward the Titanic, and sometimes the bow of the boat would be toward the Titanic. One moment we would be facing one way, and a few moments later we would be facing another way; first the bow, and then the stern toward the ship.
Senator SMITH. What did you hang around for?
Mr. HEMMING. We did not know what to do.
Senator SMITH. Did you pick up any more people in the water?
Mr. HEMMING. Not from the water; no, sir.
Cunningham testified that:
quote:

Senator SMITH. You swam around in the water until you saw the ship go down?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Until I saw the ship go down.
Senator SMITH. Then you turned to look for a lifeboat?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Then I turned to look for a lifeboat; yes.
Senator SMITH. Did you see one?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: No. I heard one, and I called to it.
Senator SMITH. Did that lifeboat come toward you, or did you go toward it?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: I went toward it.
Senator SMITH. It did not come toward you?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: I do not think so.
He also said that only one man (Prentice) was picked up after he was rescued. Cunningham expressed the following opinion as to how #4 came to pick up men from the water:
quote:

‘Senator SMITH. Did the officer in charge of lifeboat No. 4 attempt to go to any persons in the water?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM. I think his was the nearest boat to the scene of the accident, because he picked up most of the lot, I think.
Having pulled in men, in at least some instances because they were close enough to reach the boat under their own steam, the men in #4 were in a better position than those further away to understand the risks involved. Her situation was not strictly speaking unique either — Hoyt was able to swim after D, and was hauled aboard that boat. However, after pulling out a couple more people once the ship sank (most notably Prentice — he gave some vivid accounts of his rescue, and I may upload a couple to ET), even #4 eventually retired from the scene without a full load, and while there were still people alive in the wreckage.

Where are the specific survivor accounts that nominate Perkis as the proactive figure in #4? He was in command of the lifeboat as per his position, but other than his own words (which, it should be noted, are not self-aggrandising at all), there is very little direct material on what he said and what specific actions he took. I’d be very interested in anyone out there who has material that has a direct bearing on his actions in the lifeboats, be it positive, negative or neutral. Had he been the leader that modern interpretations are determined to make him, one would expect that the crew and passengers of #4 would be keen to draw media attention to him. After all, men like Jones became minor celebrities for far less! And yet, the accolades for Perkis seem to be a modern phenomena. Does anyone have more light to shed on this?

I don’t wish to do an ‘oi — the Emperor has no clothes!’ number on Perkis. As far as the evidence goes, he did his duty to the best of his ability. Although there's little direct material on what exactly he did, it seems a safe assumption that he acquited himself well. But I don’t think what data there is supports his elevation to quite the heroic stature that is fashionable in Titanic circles today. But all praise to all those in #4 who pulled men out of the water — they saved lives. It is to be a matter of thankfulness that #4 was as close as she was!​
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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quote:

Heroism is unnatural; that is why, when it happens, as in the case of Harold Lowe, it is so remarkable. All action by comparison, however noble-intentioned, pales.
Interesting point, Randy. Regarding Lowe, I don’t think it is perhaps quite fair to use him as a benchmark against which to assess the inactivity or actions/inactions of others. Lowe was an exception rather than the rule, and had been noted since early childhood for physical courage that could at times tip over into foolhardiness. I have newspaper accounts from his youth, prior to running away to sea, where his fearlessness/recklessness in boats was already drawing attention. His personal proactiveness was also a childhood trait - in one early episode, he risked his own life to save that of a friend. This was repeated many years later when, while on the ship’s sick list, he jumped overboard from a ship that was underway to rescue a man who had fallen. I've been collating accounts from survivors under his charge for years now, and it's remarkable how many of these are not more widely known. I was vastly amused to learn that one Titanic researcher even suggested that assertions of Lowe's 'heroism' were a modern concept, and not one dating to 1912. There's a vast bulk of accounts to contradict that notion! And when criticisms of Lowe were published, he had quite a few people ready to rise to his defense...some of them from quite surprising individuals. I'm looking forward to publishing these stories, as I think they deserve a wider audience.​