Immigration and Passports


Dan Waddell

Member
Mar 28, 2011
7
0
31
Hi.

Bit of a 'what if?' question this, hence the reason I put it in here. Had she made it to New York, does anyone here know what travel documents were required for non-immigrant Titanic passengers to enter the US? Was a passport or visa required by British citizens? I have read elsewhere that passports weren't essential or universal until the start of WWI. Does that mean as long as you had a ticket, and were travelling for business or pleasure, and were in first or second class, you were waved into the US without too much checking? Or was some kind of document essential?
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
85
308
UK
Even before the general requirement for individual passports and visas the US Immigration authority wanted to know who was entering the country and for what reason, but that was obtained from the ships' manifests rather than individual documents. For every 'alien' passenger (ie all Classes) these provided details like name, age, physical description, place of birth, where they were coming from and where going to, plus some basic assurances that their health, politics and financial viability were not likely to cause problems. In other words travelling 1st Class didn't mean you could walk right in without first establishing who you were, with the possibility of being taken aside for further investigation if anything looked suspicious.
 

Dan Waddell

Member
Mar 28, 2011
7
0
31
Thanks Bob and Senan. It's obvious an eye was kept on those who came in. But I wondered what might have happened to the Navratils had the boat reached its destination. He had bought a ticket under a false name and was travelling under it. If you wanted to travel under a false identity, perhaps the lack of passports made it easier to do so?
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
85
308
UK
Quite so. The immigration officials accepted what the shipping line had recorded, and the shipping line had recorded whatever the passengers offered (and quite often added their own clerical errors). Certain details were checked at Ellis Island - notably the health of the steerage arrivals - but otherwise it was fairly easy to get in with false information and especially if you were travelling Cabin Class, as the officials took everything on trust if it wasn't blatantly and obviously false. Those 1st Class travellers most likely to be collared were (if recognised) the 'usual suspects' who were known and expected at the ports of entry.
 

Senan Molony

Member
Jan 30, 2004
1,689
14
161
Dublin
I'd say plenty of the stewards recognised the card sharps travelling back and forth across the Atlantic, always under false identities.

"Well hello there! Who are you today?"

Didn't matter to them. Everyone was shrugging shoulders. (Shrugs Across the Sea?)
 

Aly Jones

Member
Dec 15, 2019
402
57
63
Australia
I know I wrote somewhere on here there was not such a thing back then, but on FB someone kindly said yes they were needed. I don't mind being set straight and being wrong. I never read anything about passport until 1924/26. And since some passengers used faked names, this lead me to believe passports never existed in 1912. I think I recall they wouldn't even have photo is if they did have passports. But who knows, I could be wrong and this person may be right. Was there some kind of identification needed to board ships in 1912?
 
May 3, 2005
2,586
261
278
I know I wrote somewhere on here there was not such a thing back then, but on FB someone kindly said yes they were needed. I don't mind being set straight and being wrong. I never read anything about passport until 1924/26. And since some passengers used faked names, this lead me to believe passports never existed in 1912. I think I recall they wouldn't even have photo is if they did have passports. But who knows, I could be wrong and this person may be right. Was there some kind of identification needed to board ships in 1912?
None of the "Titanic" movies I have seen seem to touch on this subject.
 
Nov 14, 2005
1,493
602
248
I know I wrote somewhere on here there was not such a thing back then, but on FB someone kindly said yes they were needed. I don't mind being set straight and being wrong. I never read anything about passport until 1924/26. And since some passengers used faked names, this lead me to believe passports never existed in 1912. I think I recall they wouldn't even have photo is if they did have passports. But who knows, I could be wrong and this person may be right. Was there some kind of identification needed to board ships in 1912?
No you were right. They weren't compulsory. Your facebook friend was wrong. Some had them but weren't required in 1912. But you still had to go thru immigration and be cleared for entry.
 
May 3, 2005
2,586
261
278
No you were right. They weren't compulsory. Your facebook friend was wrong. Some had them but weren't required in 1912. But you still had to go thru immigration and be cleared for entry.
Would that clearance have been done before passengers were allowed to proceed ?
For example at Cherbourg and Queenstown before passengers were allowed to board the tenders ?
This may be another goof in the 1997 "Titanic" movie but didn't the scene show the Rose-Ruth-Cal party just arriving by car and then proceeding on board without any further checks ?
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
5,033
290
353
Passports had been around for thousands of years, but in 1912 they were issued only to people who were doing something unusual. I have a copy of a British passport issued to a woman who was going on her own to Switzerland. It's just a single sheet of paper. It asks other nations to give her assistance.

Immigrants boarding Titanic were inspected by officials from the US consul. They were given a card that had to be shown on arrival in New York. Normally they would have been taken to Ellis Island but when survivors arrived on Carpathia formalities were greatly reduced. A few of these survive.

There's a lot of nonsense in the movies. Most obviously, Jack and Fabrizio couldn't have boarded using somebody else's tickets. They would have had to have proved they were a couple of Swedes. The same goes for the character in the 1953 movie who uses a ticket bought from a Basque.

As US citizens, Rose and company would have had to present their ticket to a official from the purser's office. He would have torn off a strip from the righthand edge of the ticket. This had their names and it would have been used later to make up the passenger list.
 
Nov 14, 2005
1,493
602
248
Would that clearance have been done before passengers were allowed to proceed ?
For example at Cherbourg and Queenstown before passengers were allowed to board the tenders ?
This may be another goof in the 1997 "Titanic" movie but didn't the scene show the Rose-Ruth-Cal party just arriving by car and then proceeding on board without any further checks ?
Dave said they were inspected before boarding by the U.S. consul. I didn't know about that. Interesting. I just know that once they arrived they had procedures to go thru to get final clearance..IE..health inspections, interviews..ect. But I have a feeling that probably only applied to the main entry points back then. Where I live the Arizona border in 1912 was still pretty much the wild west. People came and went as they pleased...actually they still do although technically its illegal. I did it as a kid.
 

Ed Coghlan

Member
Mar 10, 2007
8
0
71
The ease with which Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his friend Maurizio managed to board ship in James Cameron’s movie TITANIC contrasts sharply with the restrictions imposed on modern travel

With the outbreak of WW1 there was a realisation that passports which, curiously by today’s standards, did not include either a photograph or description were virtually useless. The 1914 British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, which came into effect in February 1915, introduced the requirement for both a photograph and a personal description.

On a lighter note the London Times of February 17th 1915 featured a letter from a gentleman complaining bitterly about the high handed attitude of the Passports Department of the British Foreign Office. Having described his facial features as ‘intelligent’, the writer protested that an official had without consultation amended the description to ‘oval’.

As per the Irish Times of March 1916, an intending lady passenger unsuccessfully sued a White Star Line agent after she was refused passage on a liner due to the absence of a passport. The judge refused to accept the passenger’s claim that she had not been informed of the need for a passport in order to travel. In his defence the White Star Agent claimed that he had brought the requirement to her attention but she decided to take the risk.

In dismissing the case the Judge cautioned the Agent not to issue tickets unless a passport was produced.

How times have changed.
 

Similar threads

Similar threads