Ismay's Escape


Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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Hi all,
Just thought I'd start a discussion here about the nature of Ismay's escape from the Titanic. As far as I know, Michael Davie is the only one to have discussed this subject. As far as I can see, this is the situation (please feel free to add to this list, or correct me!)

Ismay himself said that he got into the collapsible as it was being lowered. I think he also said that there were no passengers on deck.

A newspaper reproduction in the THS Commutator about ten years ago had an interview with the ship's barber, Weikman was his name I think?
He said that Ismay had been bundled into a lifeboat by Wilde (I think?!)

Charles Lightoller confirms this, with Wilde saying that Ismay would be needed at the inquiries. Ismay disputed this though.

Jack Thayer Jr. says that Ismay pushed his way into the lifeboat. However, Thayer was writing decades after the sinking.

In the wake of Cameron's film, a relative of Ismay (I think her name was Bower-Ismay) disputed the film's depiction of Ismay's escape, saying that J.Bruce was manhandled into a lifeboat.

I am also aware that there was an account given by a survivor to a New York newspaper (and quoted in Wyn Craig Wade's book) that says that Ismay was seated first in the lifeboat and hand-picked the crewmen for the oars, including the survivor's husband. I don't believe this.

So, what to believe? I am tempted to dismiss the accounts given by Lightoller and Weikman as they are acounts that help their employer. I also think that Ismay's account is too lacking to be 100% true. Which leaves Thayer's account.

Any ideas?

Best wishes (and Happy Christmas!)

Paul
 

Daniel Cox

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Apr 5, 2004
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I know alot of people were quick to condem Ismay for saving himself.But on the night he was a broken man and probably going into a state of shock himself.
If he was manhandled into a boat or not i guess we will never know.But taking in the drama of the night , he was working with crew members in trying to save his passenagers by leading/helping them into boats ect.If he decided to stay on board and drown he would of still been taunted for the accident and what involvement he had to play in it.
When you look at it he was damn if did and damn if he didnt.Maybe he even made a note to himself to survive so he could help answer questions and make future shipping safer.I guess we will never know.
 

rob scott

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May 4, 2004
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there may be another side to this:
if he sees that boats are away not full, and it is no hurt for him just to get in this one... if he sees men are held back and some women are not yet up to boats or won't go without husbands... if he witnesses boats away only 1/2 full... then why not? why should he "go down with the ship"? does anyone other than a captain wilfully decide to go down? well maybe that man who waited to long in the 1st class, then realized before going out that all boats would be away...
it really didn't hurt anyone that he got in the boat... except his reputation!
those boats could take 45 and many went with 30, or 24, or even as few as 16... it was a mess, the organizing off passengers and launching of boats: not as bad as with Lusitania's total chaos and boats falling on people and boats capsizing, but still a mess...
one more life saved is a good thing with all those wasted seats of life-boats... not a bad thing. - just one other take on the issue
happy.gif

The thing making me the most mad reading about Lusitania, and read some of the same regarding Titanic, is the crass and callous reaction of boated passengers not saving others in the water just because of fears of boats swamping... many died just from cruelty and criminal disregard, but that is a different topic.
happy.gif

I cannot blame this man because he lived.
 
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Faith Elizabeth Cason

Guest
Rob-I agree with everything you've said. All fine points. I mean, in the end...what would you have done?
 
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Faith Elizabeth Cason

Guest
(Sorry, I posted that last message without my final point here...)

What it all comes down to, is an everlasting argument between people. Some who take sincere offense to the fact that one man, in this case Ismay, saved himself in a time of panic. One person lived on that night that otherwise would have almost certainly died. Whats it worth to argue over a mans live? Is it a question of wether or not he DESERVES to live???
 

Dan Cherry

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Mar 3, 2000
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Faith,
in my opinion, no. One can say with the benefit of hindsight, "well, if I were in this situation, I'd --- - - - -" but until you're actually faced with certain circumstances, you can't predict what you'd do. Some would argue that Ismay did what any other person would do - get in the boat because "it was there and I could". Others might say he felt he'd be the only one in the onboard leadership who could answer questions at any inquiry (although he didn't seem as forth-coming at the inquiry as some would have hoped/expected).

However, there are others who made the same decision that night, too - the boat was there, so they got in. Of course, most of these stories came from starboard. People lived or died based on if they stepped onto the port boat deck, starboard boat deck, and when. Some's decisions were life-saving, while others' were fate-sealers. Such is the drama that is Titanic.

...and such is the drama in any distaster humankind faces. The evacuation of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 is a recent example. Some who could have escaped didn't, or tried too late, while others made decisions that resulted in their lives being spared.

My .02
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Is it a question of wether or not he DESERVES to live???<<

As far as some people are concerned, it is. The assumption appears to be that since he was the owner/representative of the owners/chairman, that he had some sort of obligation to die. I don't agree with this, but as subjective a matter of opinion as this is, I won't waste time argueing the point. Doing so strikes me as a no-win scenerio no matter what "side" you take.
 

Logan Geen

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Dec 2, 2001
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I personally don't consider Ismay a villain. Nor is he a hero. He seems to be one of those unfortunate people who ended up on a situation that he couldn't handle. Perhaps he was in a position where he could've been a hero but just "didn't have it in him". If anything, his behavior indicates he was just all too human (something that we are reminded of often in the Titanic saga). While his pressing for more speed before and possibly right after the collision were certainly questionable, I find it hard to blame him for jumping into boat "C". I'd like to but I can't. And at the least, he certainly paid for his "crimes" later in life.

BTW, is it true that a town known as Ismay changed it's name in the aftermath of the disaster?
 
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Rachel Walker

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I agree with you, Logan. Everyone was calling him a bad person for jumping on the life bout, but what would you have done? Think about that.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Think about that.<<

Some do. Some don't. All I can do is point out that it's very easy to pass some sort of judgement on somebody faced with a life or death situation when one is not faced with the same situation himself. When you're actually there and have to make that choice, it's not so cut and dried.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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Just to put a different point of view - that of an Edwardian admiral at the time - cited by Lord in TNLO:
Conceding that Ismay was in no sense responsible for the collision, (Rear Admiral) Mahan argued that once the accident had occurred, Ismay was confronted with a whole new condition, for which he (and not the Captain) was responsible - namely, the shortage of boats ...
"Did no obligation as to particularity of conduct rest upon him under such a condition? I hold that under that condition, so long as there was a soul that could have been saved, the obligation lay upon Mr. Ismay that that one person and not he should have been in the boat."
There are a couple of interesting points about this. Firstly, there is the contrast between Edwardian moral certainty and our relativist view of the situation today. Mahan had no doubts about the right behaviour, and many people agreed with him. Also, this sort of certainty and conduct, if instilled into people, makes for much easier crowd control and management in situations of serious danger. I bet the good Admiral wouldn't have tolerated panic on any ship he'd commanded...none of us knows what we might have done had we been Ismay, but maybe a more interesting question is, what would you have preferred to have done if you'd been brave enough? I prefer to think I would have stayed behind - but I have no idea of course what I would have done at all. I might have been knocking old ladies on the head to get into a boat ...
 
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Honestly, I don't know that I'd be brave enough. It's not the sort of choice I ever had to face and that's why I'm reluctant to be hard on those who are. I might note that your correct about a lot of people agreeing with Admiral Mahan, and most of these people were newspaper editors who never faced such a danger or any hazard more dicey then a possible paper cut.

In fairness though, neither did Lord Mersey, and his comments were in Bruce Ismay's favour.
As to the attack on Mr. Bruce Ismay, it resolved itself into the suggestion that, occupying the position of Managing Director of the Steamship Company, some moral duty was imposed upon him to wait on board until the vessel foundered. I do not agree. Mr. Ismay, after rendering assistance to many passengers, found "C" collapsible, the last boat on the starboard side, actually being lowered. No other people were there at the time. There was room for him and he jumped in. (Ismay, 18559) Had he not jumped in he would merely have added one more life, namely, his own, to the number of those lost.
I don't know if Lord Mersey's comment really proves anything or not beyond the apparant fact that Edwardian moral certainty may not have been quite as "certain" as we may be inclined to believe.
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Jan 28, 2003
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I think I really meant that whatever moral position an Edwardian upheld, s(he) did it with more certainty that we tend to. They had conviction - Lord Mersey as well as the Rear Admiral. I wouldn't have expected Lord Mersey to have very rigorous standards - he was basically a politician, so I expect he was more 'flexible'...
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I think I really meant that whatever moral position an Edwardian upheld, s(he) did it with more certainty that we tend to.<<

Point taken. Objectively, I have to wonder about that. I don't see any lack of people willing to take absolutist positions these days, at least if it supports the socio-political-religious agenda du jour, but that's a rant for a very different sort of forum.

>>I wouldn't have expected Lord Mersey to have very rigorous standards - he was basically a politician, so I expect he was more 'flexible'...<<

LOL!!!! I don't think you'll find too many people willing to dispute that one!
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Jan 28, 2003
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I don't see any lack of people willing to take absolutist positions these days, at least if it supports the socio-political-religious agenda du jour, but that's a rant for a very different sort of forum.
It's probably partly cultural - the USA is different to the UK. As a Brit, like Mahan and Mersey, I know very well that compared to them I am a complete ditherer when it comes to moral issues. We are educated to see many points of view here these days (i.e. dither!) . And as for the poor French - every child has to study philosophy at 16, and after you've had your brains put in the Foucalt / Derrida / Satre blender, I should think you could persuade yourself to believe anything - or nothing. You ever tried to read this stuff? It might make you clever, but it would never make you certain.
Somehow I doubt Ismay, Mersey or Mahan ever read philosophy, though I may be wrong. And though this forum, as you say, is no place for a rant about absolutism, it's fascinating stuff and does bear on the polarised views of Ismay's conduct.
 
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Rachel Walker

Guest
If i had been in Ismay's position, i would have done the same thing. Only the bravest of the brave would not have. Just because you want to live, you are not a bad person. Remember that next time you judge Ismay and people like him.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>You ever tried to read this stuff?<<

Nope. Can't say as I have. Education in classics and philosophy is perhaps not what it should be on my side of the pond.

>>Somehow I doubt Ismay, Mersey or Mahan ever read philosophy, though I may be wrong.<<

That might be a safer bet then you realize. I don't have the cirriculum vitea of these people handy but bear in mind that one is talking about people who had the very best educations one could get or at least a good opportunity to get one. Philosophy would just go with the territory.
 

Jack Devine

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Jan 23, 2004
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"Somehow I doubt Ismay, Mersey or Mahan ever read philosophy, though I may be wrong."

Bear in mind that any upper-class Brit of that era would have been raised on the Greek and Latin classics, which have a philosophy of their own. None of that relativistic Gallic mishmash but the moral certainty of Horatio at the bridge. Honor, duty and self-sacrifice were drilled into these men, even if in practice they may been quite a bit more "flexible" in their conduct. Reading the classics was considered the most important part of an education. Eisenhower was considered to be uneducated by most British generals, because while he graduated from West Point, he never read the Iliad in the original Greek.
Theirs was a very different world from ours.
 
Feb 22, 2005
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I also think Ismay escape was not so wrong, he was in shock, as he thought the Titanic was unsinkable, because of the shock he was in knowing the ship was going to sink and knowing there was not enough life boats and being scared of dying maybe he jumped into the life boat. I am not sure what i would have done in that situation.
 

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