Events during departure


Arun Vajpey

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In his book The Maiden Voyage author Geoffrey Marcus mentions several minor events that occurred just as the Titanic left the harbour and sailed towards the English Channel. Some of these sound like speculative embellishment while others may well be true. I want to check if there is basis of truth in 3 of those events.

1. Soon after the near-collision with the New York, First Class passenger Irene Harris was reportedly accosted by a stranger who is supposed to have told her that the New York incident was a 'bad omen' and he was going to get off the ship in Cherbourg and advised her to do so as well. Mrs Harris reportedly laughed it off but never saw the man again and assumed that he had got off at the French port as he had said he would. Apparently, Mrs Harris mentioned him in interviews for years.
Is there any evidence that this encounter really took place? If such a man existed, he would have also been a First Class passenger to me able to meet Irene Harris; and if a First Class Titanic passenger broke his transatlantic voyage to get off in France, I would have thought it would be on record.

2. Soon afterwards the Titanic straightened to head out to the Channel to Spithead & the Nab. Nearby a local pharmacist named Frank Beken reportedly sat in a boat with a camera in readiness and took photographs as the ship passed. Reportedly, Captain Smith, who knew Mr Beken, ordered 4 blasts of the Titanic's siren in salute, something which the pharmacist is supposed to have recounted several times for decades.
Could this story be true? I have heard Frank Beken's name mentioned elsewhere in connection with the Olympic or Titanic but cannot recall the specifics. I would have thought 4 siren blasts to acknowledge an individual was unlikely, especially as the Captain would have had other things on his mind at the time. I have seen some Titanic photos on the web supposedly taken on that day by Beken but are they genuine?

3. Further into the channel and passing Isle of Wight, a young medical student lodging in one of the seaside villas reportedly ran upstairs to his bedroom window to get a better look of the passing Titanic.
I have never come across this particular incident in any other Titanic source except Marcus' book. Sounds trivial, I know, but I find it oddly interesting. If true, is there any clue about the identity of this medical student?
 
Nov 14, 2005
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In his book The Maiden Voyage author Geoffrey Marcus mentions several minor events that occurred just as the Titanic left the harbour and sailed towards the English Channel. Some of these sound like speculative embellishment while others may well be true. I want to check if there is basis of truth in 3 of those events.

1. Soon after the near-collision with the New York, First Class passenger Irene Harris was reportedly accosted by a stranger who is supposed to have told her that the New York incident was a 'bad omen' and he was going to get off the ship in Cherbourg and advised her to do so as well. Mrs Harris reportedly laughed it off but never saw the man again and assumed that he had got off at the French port as he had said he would. Apparently, Mrs Harris mentioned him in interviews for years.
Is there any evidence that this encounter really took place? If such a man existed, he would have also been a First Class passenger to me able to meet Irene Harris; and if a First Class Titanic passenger broke his transatlantic voyage to get off in France, I would have thought it would be on record.

2. Soon afterwards the Titanic straightened to head out to the Channel to Spithead & the Nab. Nearby a local pharmacist named Frank Beken reportedly sat in a boat with a camera in readiness and took photographs as the ship passed. Reportedly, Captain Smith, who knew Mr Beken, ordered 4 blasts of the Titanic's siren in salute, something which the pharmacist is supposed to have recounted several times for decades.
Could this story be true? I have heard Frank Beken's name mentioned elsewhere in connection with the Olympic or Titanic but cannot recall the specifics. I would have thought 4 siren blasts to acknowledge an individual was unlikely, especially as the Captain would have had other things on his mind at the time. I have seen some Titanic photos on the web supposedly taken on that day by Beken but are they genuine?

3. Further into the channel and passing Isle of Wight, a young medical student lodging in one of the seaside villas reportedly ran upstairs to his bedroom window to get a better look of the passing Titanic.
I have never come across this particular incident in any other Titanic source except Marcus' book. Sounds trivial, I know, but I find it oddly interesting. If true, is there any clue about the identity of this medical student?
I can't speak to items no.1 and 3 but item no.2 could very well be true. Mr Beken was farily well known then for his photo's and he owned a pharmacy on the Isle of Wight which according to the site below many royals of the time had visited because one of Queen Victoria's resisdences was close by. Anyway if you look at the link gallery you can see he took pics of everything on the water...and he did it for many decades. The site is kind of slow loading but interesting. Cheers.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Thanks Steven. I did think that the Beken photos were genuine, but needed to be sure. But, would Smith have ordered those 4 siren blasts as a salute as quoted in Marcus' book? I felt that so soon after the near miss with the New York, the Captain would have other things on his mind.
 

Aly Jones

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I actually thought ships whistles was to let other ships know where abouts are you, in case of fog, or other obstacles - there was nothing else available to warn other ships immedilaty of your presents (lack of voice radio, radar, and direct phone calls) . Plus in 1912 there were so many ships sailing. Were whistles not invented so a ship had a voice to talk to other ships?

Wouldn't captain smith blowing his whistle 4 times at a passer-by confused other ships in the area?

I'm really intruiged with number 1- hope someone can shed some light on it.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I'm really intruiged with number 1- hope someone can shed some light on it.

I don't recall that Irene Harris incident from any other source but might have missed it. The problem is a lot of my Titanic books have been sitting in a crate in a London warehouse for over 2 months, waiting to be shipped to our second home in India when Lady Corona obliges. :mad:

For some reason, I have been intrigued by #3 as well ever since I first read about it in 1986 in Marcus' book. If true, it would make an nice brief scene in a Titanic mini-series.
 

Georges Guay

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I actually thought ships whistles was to let other ships know where abouts are you, in case of fog, or other obstacles - there was nothing else available to warn other ships immedilaty of your presents (lack of voice radio, radar, and direct phone calls) . Plus in 1912 there were so many ships sailing. Were whistles not invented so a ship had a voice to talk to other ships?

Wouldn't captain smith blowing his whistle 4 times at a passer-by confused other ships in the area?

I'm really intruiged with number 1- hope someone can shed some light on it.

THE RULES OF THE ROAD AT SEA 1910
REGULATIONS FOR PREVENTING COLLISIONS AT SEA

ARTICLE 15, SOUND SIGNALS FOR FOG, Etc.

The words "prolonged blast" used in this Article shall mean a blast of from 4 to 6 seconds duration. The words "short blast" used in this Article shall mean a blast of about one second's duration.

All signals prescribed by this Article for vessels under way shall be given:
1. By "steam vessels" on the whistle or siren.
2. By "sailing vessels and vessels towed" on the fog horn.

A steam vessel shall be provided with an efficient whistle or siren, sounded by steam or some substitute for steam, so placed that the sound may not be intercepted by any obstruction, and with an efficient fog horn, to be sounded by mechanical means, and also with an efficient bell.

In fog, mist, falling snow, or heavy rainstorms, whether by day or night, the signals described in this Article shall be used as follows, viz.:

(a) A steam vessel having way upon her shall sound, at intervals of not more than 2 minutes, a prolonged blast.
(b) A steam vessel under way, but stopped and having no way upon her, shall sound, at intervals of not more than 2 minutes, two prolonged blasts, with an interval of about 1 second between them.
(c) A sailing vessel under way shall sound, at intervals of not more than 1 minute, when on the starboard tack one blast, when on the port tack two blasts in succession, and when with the wind abaft the beam three blasts in succession.
(d) A vessel when at anchor, shall, at intervals of not more than 1 minute, ring the bell rapidly for about 5 seconds.
(e) A vessel when towing, a vessel employed in laying or in picking up a telegraph cable, and a vessel under way, which is unable to get out of the way of an approaching vessel through being not under command, or unable to manoeuvre as required by these Rules shall, instead of the signals prescribed in sub-divisions (a) and (c) of this Article, at intervals of not more than 2 minutes, sound three blasts in succession, viz.:—one prolonged blast followed by two short blasts. A vessel towed may give this signal and she shall not give any other.

ARTICLE 28, SOUND SIGNALS FOE VESSELS IN SIGHT OF ONE ANOTHER

The words "short blast" used in this Article shall mean a blast of about one second's duration. When vessels are in sight of one another, a steam vessel under way, in taking any course authorized or required by these Rules, shall indicate that course by the following signals on her whistle or siren, viz.:

- One short blast to mean, "I am directing my course to starboard."
- Two short blasts to mean, "I am directing my course to port."
- Three short blasts to mean, "My engines are going full speed astern."

Personal notes:

Whistle signals to be used between ship and tug

a) Signals to or from a towing vessel ahead:
- Tow ahead – one prolonged blast followed by three short blasts.
- Tow to port bow – one prolonged blast followed by two short blasts
- Tow to starboard bow – one prolonged blast followed by one short blast.
- Cease tow – one prolonged blast followed by six short blasts in succession.

b) Signals to or from towing vessel astern:
- Tow astern – three short blasts.
- Tow to port quarter – two short blasts.
- Tow to starboard quarter – one short blast.
- Cease tow – six short blasts in succession.

c) Signals to all towing vessels:
- Hold in position: one prolonged blast followed by one short blast followed by one prolonged blast followed by one short blast.
- Let go: one prolonged blast followed by two short blasts followed by one prolonged blast.

Salute:
Ship 1: 3 prolonged blast followed by 1 short blast
Ship 2: 3 prolonged blast followed by 1 short blast
Ship 1: 1 short blast
Ship 2: 1 short blast

...and probably a few others!
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Getting back to the #3 incident in my OP, trivial as it may seem I have become obsessed with finding out the identity of that medical student. Obviously, thousands of people must have seen the Titanic pass that day from various vantage points but for Geoffrey Marcus to specifically say that in one of the villas on the eastern side of Isle of Wight there was a medical student who ran upstairs to get a good view out of his bedroom window, he (Marcus) must have had that information directly from the source during his research. Unfortunately, there is no reference key next to that sentence in the book.
 

Harland Duzen

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3. Further into the channel and passing Isle of Wight, a young medical student lodging in one of the seaside villas reportedly ran upstairs to his bedroom window to get a better look of the passing Titanic.
I have never come across this particular incident in any other Titanic source except Marcus' book. Sounds trivial, I know, but I find it oddly interesting. If true, is there any clue about the identity of this medical student?


Out of interest, is this what you are referring to?

 
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Arun Vajpey

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HD, it could very well be the same man. Marcus' book alludes to the guy as a "medical student" but since the book was researched and written in the 1960s, it might be that while interviewing the retired doctor who was a student in 1912, Marcus erroneously assumed that he was then a 'medical' student. I note that Elliott Brown passed away in 1967 aged 70, two years before The Maiden Voyage was published. But Marcus would have researched for material for several years and could have interviewed Dr Brown in the early 60s.

Thank you very much for that.

PS: Dr Brown's son Bruce Brown would have been a young man in the early 60s and would probably remember his father being interviewed by Marcus. Any ides how he can be contacted?
 

Arun Vajpey

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That's all right. Your article says that Dr Elliott Brown's son Bruce Brown lived in Henley-on-Thames in 2012; there is a Bruce F Brown and family living in that town now. May or may nor be a relation, but I'll check over the next few days. If Bruce Brown, the son of Elliott Brown is still alive, he'll be 85 years old now.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I'm really intruiged with number 1- hope someone can shed some light on it.

I checked. There is an allusion to the incident in Rene Harris' bio on Wikipedia; there are a couple of reference links but these are in the last 20 years and so probably were quoting off Geoffrey Marcus' book. One of those two references is a book called A Night Remembered by Stephanie Barczewski. I had never heard of it before.
 

Harland Duzen

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Re-discovered this today and wanted to add a possible answer to Question No.2:

2. Soon afterwards the Titanic straightened to head out to the Channel to Spithead & the Nab. Nearby a local pharmacist named Frank Beken reportedly sat in a boat with a camera in readiness and took photographs as the ship passed. Reportedly, Captain Smith, who knew Mr Beken, ordered 4 blasts of the Titanic's siren in salute, something which the pharmacist is supposed to have recounted several times for decades.
Could this story be true? I have heard Frank Beken's name mentioned elsewhere in connection with the Olympic or Titanic but cannot recall the specifics. I would have thought 4 siren blasts to acknowledge an individual was unlikely, especially as the Captain would have had other things on his mind at the time. I have seen some Titanic photos on the web supposedly taken on that day by Beken but are they genuine?

On an unrelated topic a few years ago, I emailed Kenneth Beken (grandson of Frank Beken) and along a conversation he shared an excerpt from a Beken of Cowes book which stated the following:


"On departing Southampton & seeing Frank Beken in his boat, Captain Smith came out onto the Bridge, waved and sounded the hooter. Frank took the last two photographs of the RMS Titanic in British Waters." *

As told to grandson Kenneth Beken by his grandfather Frank

I don't know which particular book this came from but this could be the source for the Beken of Cowes fact.

*No offence to Frank Beken but I should mention though that since the Titanic around this time would be leaving the Thorn channel and turning left / Port into the Solent that she would have blown her whistles twice to indicate she was turning left to other vessels and Frank Beken might have mistaken that as a possible personal whistle to himself. Although Smith could also perhaps have gone to the Bridge wing to sound the whistles and then spotted Beken just before doing it and waved to him.
---
Footnote Edit: Checked a large version of the Beken of Cowes photograph and personally can't see Smith or anyone on the Starboard Bridge Wing but he could have stilled waved at him before the photograph was taken.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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I don't know which particular book this came from but this could be the source for the Beken of Cowes fact.

The wording is different but the most likely source book is Geoffrey Marcus' The Maiden Voyage (1969).

I accept that given how well the Beken family and their pharmacy were known and respected in Isle of Wight, the part of the story about Frank Beken in his boat taking photographs as the Titanic passed by is very likely true. After all, they would have known about the maiden voyage and it would be natural for a photography enthusiast to position himself optimally to get pictures.

But I have misgivings about the truth of Marcus' statement about Captain Smith blowing the ship's siren 4 times to greet Beken. Would Smith have done that is a narrow and often busy shipping lane just after the near miss with the New York?

Reading Marcus' book, one cannot help but feel that while there are plenty of factual statements, there are also many licensed embellishments throughout. Perhaps the siren sounding was one of them.
 
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bylisandro

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Actually, the RMS Olympic was more famous than the Titanic and, contrary to popular belief, the Titanic’s sinking at the time was not seen as being any more eventful than any other shipwreck, other than that it took a greater loss of life than any other ocean liner of that period. (Ships such as the Sultana killed more people, but she was not an ocean liner.
 

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