Hearing the cries of the victims

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Dec 12, 1999
One of the aspects of the disaster that most upset survivors was hearing the cries of the victims in the water, at 2:20 a.m. on the morning of April 15, 1912. However, I've never read any descriptions of what survivors in the boats actually heard --- other than that it was horrifying. Does anyone have a very specific description of this event? I suppose people in the water yelled "Help us!" and so forth...
Jul 29, 2001
Hello Jan!

I suppose the lack of detail about this may be connected with the survivors' reluctance to think or talk much about it. Do you recall Pitman's evidence at the U. S Inquiry, thus:

Senator SMITH. How many of these cries were there? Was it a chorus, or was it -

Mr. PITMAN. I would rather you did not speak about that.

Senator SMITH. I would like to know how you were impressed by it.

Mr. PITMAN. Well, I can not very well describe it. I would rather you would not speak of it.

Senator SMITH. I realize that it is not a pleasant theme, and yet I would like to know whether these cries were general and in chorus, or desultory and occasional?

Mr. PITMAN. There was a continual moan for about an hour.

Senator SMITH. And you lay in the vicinity of that scene for about an hour?

Mr. PITMAN. Oh, yes; we were in the vicinity of the wreck the whole time.

Senator SMITH. And drifted or lay on your oars during that time?

Mr. PITMAN. We drifted toward daylight, as a little breeze sprang up.

Senator SMITH. Did this anguish or these cries of distress die away?

Mr. PITMAN. Yes; they died away gradually.

Senator SMITH. Did they continue during most of the hour?

Mr. PITMAN. Oh, yes; I think so. It may have been a shorter time. Of course I did not watch every five minutes -

Senator SMITH. I understand that, and I am not trying to ask about a question of five minutes. Is that all you care to say?

Mr. PITMAN. I would rather that you would have left that out altogether.

Senator SMITH. I know you would; but I must know what efforts you made to save the lives of passengers and crew under your charge. If that is all the effort you made, say so -

Mr. PITMAN. That is all, sir.

Senator SMITH. (continuing). And I will stop that branch of my examination.

Mr. PITMAN. That is all, sir; that is all the effort I made.

Quotes courtesy of

best wishes,

Jul 29, 2001
It may be worth noting that in the American Inquiry, Senator Smith was particularly keen to ask witnesses whether they heard cries, and then to follow this by asking what they did about it.

To fill in a little more detail, 1st Class passenger George Harder, who was in 3rd Officer Pitman's lifeboat (No 5, starboard), stated at the US Inquiry:

"Then we waited out there until the ship went down. We were out there until the ship went down. After it went down, we heard a lot of these cries and yells. You could not hear any shouts for help, or anything like that. It was a sort of continuous yelling or moaning. You could not distinguish any sounds. It was more like - what I thought it was - the steerage on rafts, and that they were all hysterical. That is the way it sounded in the distance".

Major Arthur Peuchen (lifeboat No 6, port), said:

"We heard a sort of a rumbling sound and the lights were still on at the rumbling sound, as far as my memory serves me; then a sort of an explosion, then another. It seemed to be one, two, or three rumbling sounds, then the lights went out. Then the dreadful calls and cries.
Senator SMITH. For help?
Maj. PEUCHEN. We could not distinguish the exact cry for assistance; moaning and crying; frightful. It affected all the women in our boat whose husbands were among these; and this went on for some time, gradually getting fainter, fainter. At first it was horrible to listen to."

Of course, these two witnesses were some way from the Titanic when it sank - I think No's 5 and 6 were each (respectively) the second boat to be launched on its particular side of the ship.

Perhaps witnesses who left later could hear more distinct shouts.

Incidentally Lady Duff-Gordon was controversially quoted in a press report (London Daily News, April 20, 1912):

"I remember the very last cry; it was a man's voice calling loudly, 'My God, my God,' he cried monotonously, in a dull, hopeless way."

BUT she absolutely denied having said such a thing when questioned about it at the British inquiry.

"Absolutely untrue" was her response. (Q 12955, British Inquiry))

Both she and her husband, Sir Cosmo, explained that quotes in the American and British papers were not their words. (They were passengers in lifeboat No 1, the 4th starboard boat launched - the one with only 12 passengers in it)

I look forward to colleagues unearthing anything more specific.

This is an intriguing question, with some ramifications. It might perhaps be easy enough to ignore vague "moans", but if you hear someone calling out a specific request to help them, and you do nothing, then you might be considered more worthy of blame.

Jul 9, 2000
Easley South Carolina
I recall from one of our posters...the son of a survivor...that the man adamently refused to go to events like baseball games because the cheering reminded him too much of what those cries were like.

Not that I can blame him. I wouldn't be anxious to be reminded of such an event either.

Wish I could remember who said that.

Michael H. Standart
Jul 29, 2001

It was Frank Goldsmith's son, Charles.

see Passenger Research:Frank Goldsmith/Edith Evans/Leah Aks (post of Friday, March 1, 2002 - 10:28 pm).



(Message edited by bobfalange on April 1, 2002)
Mar 20, 2000
The London Daily News quote ascribed to Lucy Duff Gordon is erroneous. It was taken from the article she allegedly wrote for the NY American and syndicated by W.R. Hearst. Though it contained a by-line and her signature the story was much exaggerated. Lucy explained this in her testimony. Of course some of it WAS true but she was obliged to deny almost the whole account in order to keep to the line of strategy the Duff Gordons' attorneys had cooked up which was to prove that their lifeboat was too far away from the ship to have been able to go back and help.

Lucy's description in the Hearst papers of the cries was thus:

"...Suddenly I saw the Titanic give a curious shiver...Almost immediately we heard several pistol shots and a great screaming arose from the decks...Then the Titanic's stern lifted in the air and there was a tremendous explosion. The ship settled back again. The awful screams continued...The whole forward part of the liner dropped now under the waves and the stern rose a hundred feet, almost perpindicularly, rather like an enormous black finger pointed at the sky. The cries were agonizing. I never heard such a chorus of utter despair and agony...There was then another explosion and the great stern of the Titanic sank quietly under the waves. As it went down the screams of the poor souls on board grew louder. It took the ship but a short time to sink after the final explosion. It went under without a ripple...For a moment silence seemed to hang over everything and then from the water there arose again a bedlam of shrieks and cries...For an entire hour there had been this awful chorus of screams, gradually falling into a collective moan...Then all was silent..."

I have left out the "last cry" comment as I think that was editorial embellishment. Lucy afterwards always emphatically denied hearing anyone calling out "My God!My God!" The story was, as she said in court, "an invention."

Of course in court she also denied hearing any cries at all following the sinking. But again this was due to her counsels' advice. That she heard cries is irrefutable and finally Lucy did set the record straight on this in her autobiography when she wrote that "with one awful downward rush, the Titanic plunged to her grave...and the air was rent with harrowing shrieks..."

The Duff Gordons did as many did. They ignored the cries out of fear and confusion. But they are too often singled out for derision in this matter, as I've said time and again. There were other grossly underfilled lifeboats, some with many more empty spaces than boat 1 had, which
did not go back either.

It is difficult for us to reconcile today why only Officer Lowe had the courage to return to rescue people left struggling in the water. But fear does strange things to people. Still, it's simply not fair to pick out certain cases as more reprehensible than others. If the conclusion is to be that it was wrong for the cries of the drowning to be ignored, then blame must rest with every single able-bodied person sitting in a lifeboat who heard them and refused to respond.

By the way, I believe Lucy Duff Gordon's descriptions of the cries are some of the most graphic I've ever read. She refers to the sound variously as "screams," a "chorus of utter despair and agony," a bedlam of cries," an "indescribable clamor," "harrowing shrieks."

This ungodly noise of a thousand voices calling out in fear and pain, magnified no doubt as they carried over the water, is the most horrifying and disturbing thing about the disaster to me. We can't begin to imagine then how it must have affected those who were there to actually hear all those people dying. They must have been in such shock or else so afraid to have not tried to help more than they did.

No wonder so many survivors would get upset when recounting this aspect of the disaster. They were wrestling with guilt, I think.

(Message edited by rbigham on April 1, 2002)
Jul 29, 2001

Thank you for providing the original quotes from the American paper. My own quotes (above) were taken from the inquiry, where her alleged (and denied) comments were fed to her one line at a time by the barrister.

It just makes me wonder, though, exactly WHY her lawyers came up with what might be described as a "deny everything" approach, when it could have been fairly easy to demonstrate that the Duff Gordons heard the cries, as did other survivors in the vicinity. Although I agree with you that the Duff Gordons appear to have been unfairly singled out on the rescue issue, it would appear that an unnecessary and foolish piece of deceit on the part of their legal advisors, with which they went along, gave rise to increased suspicion on the part of the public.

Do you have any information on that, Randy?

(apologies if this has been dealt with on another thread - I just haven't picked up on it if it has)

best wishes,

Mar 20, 2000

In my articles for THS some years ago I discussed the question of why the Duff Gordons' lawyers instituted the strategy of having them deny that they heard cries AND to refute that they had objected to going back to help. It has been brought up here on ET as well I think and is probably on one of the "Lady Duff Gordon" threads or under "Boat 1."

But I'll address it here as best I can. You see, the couple's counsel had the task of "damage control" to consider. The press had gone wild over rumors that Cosmo had bribed the sailors in boat 1 to not return for a rescue. So it was essential that they "save face" at the Inquiry. The whole object in fact was to defend Cosmo and Lucy against the story of the bribe. It was not well thought out and certainly deceitful, as you've pointed out, but they were in desperation so the lawyers hit upon the idea that their clients deny being near enough to the ship to have been of any help AND especially to maintain that neither of them protested against their boat's going back for a rescue.

The truth is that boat 1 was only several hundred yards away from Titanic when it sank (not a thousand as was contended) and that both Lucy and Cosmo DID voice their objection to returning to the wreck site. Though there was NO bribe. I want to make that clear. Cosmo's offering of money to the crew of boat 1 was an entirely separate affair; it was a gesture of charity as well as of appeasement, if you will, as there had been a bit of a ruccous created among the men when Lucy made that ill-timed remark to her secretary about her nightgown. So when the men all started in complaining about losing their pay and how much worse off they were, etc., Cosmo offered them 5 pounds a piece. It was a peace-keeping gesture as much as anything.

Anyway, naturally the Duff Gordons were under considerable pressure during their cross-examination in the witness box. It shows less in Cosmo's testimony than Lucy's. He had better "rehearsed" what he had to say. Not that this helped him much in the end as he came across at times as far too nonchalant. But Lucy had trouble keeping the story straight, fumbling a few times, and having to look to her attorney for direction. This was checked at one time I believe by opposing counsel who asked her to pay attention to him.

Well, I think we've gotten off-topic. I apologize. I just wanted to clear up a few things.

All my best,

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