Getting The Crew Ready

Jan 6, 2005
275
5
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Iowa, USA
Hello, I'm new here, and I hope I'll be forgiven if this subject has been covered already; I didn't find it on a search.

As we all know, the Titanic's service life was only four days. Yet, by most accounts, she was running very smoothly from the standpoint of the average passenger; the service seems to have been completely satisfactory to some very discriminating Edwardians, in spite of the brief time the crew had been aboard.

That is quite an achievement for a maiden voyage; Titanic's size and her three classes made starting up her services equivalent to putting three fair-sized hotels into existence at the same time.

Can anyone shed any light on how this was achieved? I understand that some service staff was recruited from Olympic. Did WSL have some sort of planned advancement programme that provided for highly trained "key" or "core" service staff to establish standards and routines when a ship was new, with those staff members moving on to the next new ship when it was launched?

If anyone could shed any light on this, I'd be grateful. I have long thought that part of the reason for the heavy loss of life when Titanic sank was that things were going so well, that passengers refused to believe anything could have gone so terribly wrong, until it was too late.
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
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Hallo Sandy, and welcome to the ET messageboard! -

You are correct that many crew members had come over from the Olympic - a good many others had come over from the Oceanic, Adriatic or other WSL vessels, and some from other lines. This is true of all three departments - engineering, deck and victualling. Most crew had at least some experience at sea before, although there were a handful for whom this was their voyage.

Previous ship is listed in the crew agreements, so if you call those up you can see information on previous vessel served aboard and when they left the ship.

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/pog/crew_pog.shtml

Many crew had had some time to familiarise themselves with the Titanic, as quite a few who signed on for the NY crossing joined her in Belfast before her sea trials.

Minutes of a WSL meeting after the disaster suggest that there seems to have been some advanced planning for at least certain senior crew members to be allocated to the Olympic class ships if possible - it was claimed that crew who had proved themselves were marked down for transfer to the Olympic vessels.

Otherwise, the majority of crewmen were experienced, many of them in transatlantic liners such as the Olympic or Oceanic, and so there was a certain level of cohesion.
 
Jan 6, 2005
275
5
88
Iowa, USA
Inger:

Thanks for the hearty welcome, and for a very helpful answer to my question.

Even with the experience of crew members and the similarity of Titanic to Olympic, it's a great tribute to WSL's methods and the crew involved that Titanic was running so smoothly on her maiden voyage. I think that people overall were simply much more disciplined then. In our own day, the new QM2 had to conduct extensive "dress rehearsals", and there were still a lot of complaints about service for a while.

Even with the evident discipline aboard Titanic, I'll bet there was many a little backstage drama during the voyage, where needed supplies or equipment could not be located immediately. As we know, the ship's binoculars were mislaid accidentally; I can easily imagine there were times when victualling staff had to search to find where brooms, dusters, cleaning rags, etc. had been stowed.

Again, thanks!
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
5,342
34
208
Hallo again Sandy -

There's a great comment in Lightoller's biography Titanic and Other Ships that speaks of the initiative and self-discipline expected of men of the merchant service - while his remarks were mainly about the deck crew, there is a certain applicability to other departments as well. There certainly were, as you point out, snags and matters that needed to be ironed out during the voyage - Imanita Shelley's complaints are perhaps the most obvious example of an unhappy customer!
 
Jan 6, 2005
275
5
88
Iowa, USA
Inger:

Ah yes- dear, dear Imanita. When I was much younger, I put in some time in what is euphemistically known as the hospitality industry. There is an Imanita Shelley in every hotel, on every ship, on every plane.

What I find interesting about Mrs. Shelley's affidavit is that no one else, in either hearing, had any complaints that were of remotely the magnitude hers were. I also find it pretty amazing that a woman claiming to be suffering mightily from tonsillitis and suspected of having incipient diphtheria was able to jump for a lifeboat quite handily, when her healthier travelling companion, Lutie Parrish, had to be thrown into the boat.

Imanita also seems to have spent a lot of her time in the lifeboat inventorying its amenities and comparing them with her expectations; she even mentions compasses and binnacle lights- items most landlubbers would not have known to complain about. Her affidavit does not devote one single word to the cries of the passengers left in the water after Titanic sank; if Mrs. Shelley's affidavit was all someone knew of the disaster, they would not have a clue that 1,500 people drowned in the North Atlantic under the most horrific conditions, except for one euphemistic reference to some crew "going down with the ship". A close reading of her statement makes it seem as if she was much too busy counting oars to be bothered with trifles like the cacophony caused by hundreds upon hundreds of the dying.

I am willing to bet that Senator Smith did a lot of eye-rolling over Mrs. Shelley's description of conditions in the lifeboat. Not that she was the only complainant- Mrs. J. Stuart White's grousing about the stewards having a smoke is also one for the books. But Mrs. Shelley is the champion complainer of all time, it seems to me, totally self-centred at a time when a little selflessness went a very long way. I would accept her complaints (though with a grain of salt), if they had been confined to the voyage itself; there are always uncompleted conditions in every new ship and hotel. Her complaints about the lifeboat, however, reveal a preoccupation with herself that leaps off the page nine decades later.