J Bruce Ismay Zero to Hero


Jamie Bryant

Member
Aug 30, 2003
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I realise that many of you are most probably slightly hostile to the name, a few others may think coward when his name springs to mind, but for me Ismay was none of these things. Yes he left his sinking ship, and the passengers whose fares his company took, but for me Bruce is not a villain, ironically, because he simply left the ship and faced the music of the world's press. Something he would be caught up in until his death. The year after the sinking he resigned from the White Star Line and IMM and his career/life never fully recovered. While the man who knew the danger ahead became a legend (who hasn't heard of Captain Smith?)i'm not saying give him a parade, but for those who soley blame him for the whole thing, just remember the resulting decline of Joseph Bruce Ismay.

JB
 
G

Graham Pickles

Guest
> Hi Donald

The problem been is that people do not want to understand or look into it. They take the opinion of people on message boards and do not find anything out about the real person. Mention his name and the word Coward comes strait to there mails. Nearly all the films portray him as a bad man, cruel, and a coward. And this and boards follow suite.

If people took the time and trouble to research him fully they would see a different side to the man.

He has really nothing to be Vilified for.

Regards Graham
 

Brian Meister

Member
Mar 1, 2001
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I think that you will find that real Titanic
passenger and crew researchers tend to be quite
fair to Ismay. After all the category of men
saved in First Class is quite high as compared
to their counterparts in other categories.
What most of us shrink from is the insertion
of modern day people with irrelevant chatter
to do greater damage to the man than the
contemporary press did in 1912.
I do agree, however, with the need to research
fully. One who makes statements not based on
facts finds themselves without weapons or
defenders.
Glad to see you back, Graham
 

Dennis Smith

Member
Aug 24, 2002
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Hi Guys,

Yes I tend to agree with you, Bruce Ismay wasn't a coward, he was merely human. I don't care from where you are from or what class you were, if the opportunity arose whereby you could save your own life you would take it. But to take it a step further, why did he become a recluse, I know the general public, to some extent resented the fact that he survived, but if he believed he was right why didn't he push the point?? My own personal opinion is that in the end he believed he should have gone down with the ship. Maybe he should have, which is worse, a life of misery or death in the freezing North Atlantic. Glad I'm never going to be in a position to make that decision.

Just my thoughts, still don't think he was a coward!!

Best Wishes and Rgds

Dennis
 
Apr 14, 2001
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I have a different opinion about Mr Ismay being a hero. Mr Ismay is no hero he was a coward for leaving the ship. This has been mentioned in this disscusion,however, there is also the fact that Mr Ismay cared more about luxuary than for safety. One person whose name was Alexander Carlisle came to Mr Ismay and told him how concerned we was about the fact that there wasn't enough life boats. And I think that Mr Carlisle was right,and had there been more life boats on board more people could have been saved. Whether more life boats could have saved more people or not will forever remain a mystery. But all i am saying is my personal opinion. And whther you agree or disagree with me is up to you I am only saying what i feel about Mr Ismay. Jennifer Mueller
 
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Graham Pickles

Guest
> Hi Brian

Thanks for the welcome, And I whole hearted agree with what you are saying. Too many people seem to believe what they read in many message boards and the films portrayal of Ismay. The first thing that comes into there heads is he is a coward. The main problem been when you ask them why, they say because he got in a boat. And like you so correctly state there was many men saved that night.

Ismay did not become a recluse after the sinking, He carried on in business life and many engagements. And it also has to be remembered he was resigning from his position well before Titanic sailed.

Regards Graham
 
Apr 25, 2001
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Also, one mustn't forget that there was no strict rule of 'women and children only' on the starboard side that night. Ismay must have seen quite a few boats lowered away with a good quantity of men in them, so his departure in boat C is quite in line with what happened at the other starboard boats.

Peter
 

Robert Hauser

Member
Aug 18, 2005
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>>Mr Ismay cared more about luxuary than for safety.<<

Dear Jenn,

Have you ever read "The Night LIves on" by Walter Lord? One of the chapters deals with some of the issues you mention. He points out the fact that nearly all passenger liners representing most of the major companies circa 1912 had lifeboat accomadations that were as bad, or worse, than those on Titanic. So if Ismay was guilty of greed over luxury, he certainly had a lot of company.

If you check out the British Inquiry (I think its near the end), there is a long section that compares lifeboat capacity between the various ships of various lines, including Cunard's Mauratania (which I think had room for less than 1000.)

As managing director of IMM, Ismay was responsible for the company's finacial performance. Although his father had founded White Star, it had been bought by IMM, a large American trust in 1901. From that point onward, Ismay was the CEO of a public corporation, not the absolute owner of White Star like his father had been. IMM was finaced by the very powerful American banker and architect of US Steel, JP Morgan. Morgan himself was on the board of directors at IMM. As arguably the most finacially powerful private citizen in modern history, Morgan's mere presence was no doubt a factor in the decision making process. Lord Pirrie (president of Harland & Wolff) was on the board as well. As managing director of IMM, Ismay was in between those sort of people on one hand, and the stockholders on the other (talk about being between a rock and a hard place!).

The position of managing director for a $170 million dollar corporation (and remember, this was 1912!) must have required an exceptionally strong and talented leader. Unfortunately, Ismay does not seem to have been up to the job, and was probably in over his head. He got the job because he was Tom Ismay's son, and White Star's management (Ismay included) sort of came with package when IMM bought the line. Ismay junior just wasn't the sort of man to stand up and be an industry pioneer on the issue of lifeboats. Neither Albert Ballin, or any of Imay's contemporaries, seem to have been either for that matter.

>>One person whose name was Alexander Carlisle came to Mr Ismay and told him how concerned we was about the fact that there wasn't enough life boats. And I think that Mr Carlisle was right,and had there been more life boats on board more people could have been saved.<<

True, but there's more to the story. The most probable reason Carlisle had for putting in those Wellin davits with the extra capacity seems to have been to cover the company's buttocks in case the Board of Trade decided to change the lifeboat requirements, (since there was apparently some sort of buzz going around the industry that this might be the case). It is doubtful that his motives were entirely humane.

When Ismay and the other board members rejected the extra lifeboats, Carlisle meekly signed off on the decision. When asked by Lord Mersey "Why on Earth did you sign it?", Carlisle admitted to being "soft on the day I signed that", or words close to that. This man, who was supposed to have been an iron fisted autocrat in the shipyard, apparently turned into a pussy cat when it came to standing up to his bosses. So, in a way, you could argue that Carlise was just as big of a coward as Ismay. If you want to find out more on this subject, again, I would recommend "The Night Lives On". Most library's have it.
Cheers, Rob H.
 

Henry Loscher

Member
Mar 6, 2003
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Hi Rob, Perhaps more people may have been saved, but probably not many. First off, they never did launch all the lifeboats they had on board before the ship sank. If they had more, how many would they have been able to have launched in the time available? Secondly, who would have manned the lifeboats if they had been launche?. There weren't enough able bodied seaman on board to man the life boats they had.

Regards, Henry
 

Teri Lynn Milch

Senior Member
Apr 7, 2001
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>>The position of managing director for a $170 million dollar corporation (and remember, this was 1912!) must have required an exceptionally strong and talented leader. Unfortunately, Ismay does not seem to have been up to the job, and was probably in over his head.>>

In my most humble opinion Mr. Ismay was indeed capable of handling the job of CEO of IMM. He left of his own accord, not the other way around. Do we want to know the real reason he resigned from IMM? Quite possibly it was because he could no longer tolerate Morgan’s way with the financials. Morgan was fastidious with the monetary numbers so much so that it drove Bruce out of his mind.

>>He got the job because he was Tom Ismay's son, and White Star's management>>

Yes this is true, and Morgan knew he would do a good job.

>>The most probable reason Carlisle had for putting in those Wellin davits with the extra capacity seems to have been to cover the company's buttocks in case the Board of Trade decided to change the lifeboat requirements, (since there was apparently some sort of buzz going around the industry that this might be the case). It is doubtful that his motives were entirely humane.>>

I never came across any mention, nor did I get the impression that the BOT needed to change requirements for lifeboats during my research into lifeboat requirements.

If the Board of Trade made changes before Titanic sailed, the changes would have been incorporated and Titanic would have been provided for what was needed. If there was a buzz, it is most likely a buzz that occurred AFTER Titanic had her disaster, not before.

>>When Ismay and the other board members rejected the extra lifeboats, Carlisle meekly signed off on the decision. When asked by Lord Mersey "Why on Earth did you sign it?", Carlisle admitted to being "soft on the day I signed that", or words close to that. This man, who was supposed to have been an iron fisted autocrat in the shipyard, apparently turned into a pussy cat when it came to standing up to his bosses. So, in a way, you could argue that Carlise was just as big of a coward as Ismay.>>

All people, no matter who they are, have good days and bad, and when we are in good moods we do things we wouldn’t normally do if we were in a bad mood or having a bad day. I know for myself when I am in a good mood I can tackle twice the workload.

I really don’t think Carlisle turned into a pussycat when approaching his boss, and he certainly was not afraid to make suggestions to him either. It is true Mr. Ismay held a great power, but he was kind to those he worked with and never condescended to them. He treated them all with a deep respect.
 
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Janicole

Guest
Excuse the typos or any errors. I have a habit of writing in a hurry.

I've noticed that in the movies, no matter what officer is lowering the boat Ismay is in they always have that "moment of shame" for him where everyone looks at him and is think of like "omg a man's in the boat" as far as I've research there were several male passengers in that boat. Ismay I think was a coward, but no more then any other man that got on the life boats when they asked for women and children. No one seems to look at Ismay's position...Ismay LOVED the White Star Line and this was a time when Cunard was seriously kicking there BUTTS sales wise. Ismay was under A LOT of pressure to basically pull this company up again (his father founded it. He didn't want to see it go belly up or anything). He knew he couldn't beat Cunard in speed so he envisioned these big beautiful luxurious ships that would put them back on the map again and beat Conard. When these ships were made he had a lot of pressure still on him. He wanted White Star to be better then Cunard and he knew that by Titanic beating Olympics record it would send out a message that White Star would just keep getting bigger and better. Ismay made a huge mistake in pushing the engines and Smith worked for HIM so I could see how he'd be nervous to stand up and say no, BUT this was his last voyage. What was Ismay going to do to him, you know? Smith was the one that let the engines be run at full speed into an ice field. So I can see how Ismay would be scared for his life when a ship is sinking and get on a boat. I do think it was a bit of a coward act and I do think that he should have kept his mouth shut about the speed, but I also think Smith should've done what was best for the passengers and worried about the ice rather then making the papers or what ever else was going through his mind.

I also think Murdoch was very wrongly vilianized in 1996's "The Titanic" and 1997's "Titanic." Smith had sealed their fate and poor Murdoch was just the unlucky bastard on duty when it happened. It wasn't know until AFTER the Titanic sank to hit the berg head on so really it was turn one way or the other, which way are you going to turn and the decision needed to be made fast the berg was right there so there wasn't time for Murdoch to call the Captain to ask what he should be like some say he should've done. That decision needed to be made right then and I think he made the decision any of the other officers would've made if they were on duty.

If anything I blame White Star for cutting costs and not using the best steel (which I don't think really would've made much of a difference) and for not thinking to put water tight doors ON TOP as well. I blame the original 2nd officer for not telling them where the binoculars were kept, Smith for just HAVING to have Wilde there (which not only confused each officer about their duties, but messed up the Olympic's order as well) and for ignoring ice warnings and sending Titanic into an Ice field at full steam.

I also think Lightholler got more credit then he deserved. He sent those boats away so empty because there weren't any women and children around rather then loading the boats with women and children first and then once they were on and there were on more women and children around letting the men fill the rest of the seats (of as much as he could) and it just always bothered me that so many people dead because he refused them seats on the boats, but he survived it. Captain Smith, Wilde, nor Mudoch even tried saving themselves (in fact Bride even said he saw Murdoch swimming in the water right by him (while he was on the boat) and he never once tried to board it. He said he watched him until he disappeared under the water). Lightholler was the one that did and his made into one of the biggest heros of the Titanic.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
>>If anything I blame White Star for cutting costs and not using the best steel (which I don't think really would've made much of a difference)<<

1) It wouldn't have made a difference.

2) It was in fact the best steel available to British shipbuilders at the time. Known as "Battleship Steel" because of it's use in British warships, this same steel made by the same company was used in a number of liners. This includes the original Queen Mary which survives in Long Beach.

>>and for not thinking to put water tight doors ON TOP as well.<<

You might want to take some time to understand some of the issues here. The watertight subdivision of an Olympic class liner even in it's original configuration is in many respects superior to what you see being used on passenger vessels today. If you don't believe me, try finding any passenger vessel which can survive having four of her forward watertight sections in open communication with the sea.

An Olympic class liner could.

You might also want to take some time to understand the problems involved with setting watertigt boundries. A merchant vessel has to keep it as simple as possible not only to make it easier for passengers to get around, but also easier to set. Having doors which can be dropped down or quickly sealed by the crew keeps training issues down to a minimum and this matters quite a bit with crews that are constantly changing.

You could, as a matter of technical possibility, build a liner to the watertight standards of a warship. The problem is getting the crew trained and keeping them trained to be able to quickly close the literally thousands of doors, scuttles, hatches, vents, and valves in a timely matter. It takes a warship a year's worth of time in workups to train to this level of compatancy and even at their best, still make a lot of mistakes.

The object here is to make the scheme for a merchant vessel as idiot proof as possible. The reletively simple scheme of the Olympics were up to that challange.

What they were not up to was mismanagement sufficient to leave five or more sections damaged after blundering into an iceberg.

>>I blame the original 2nd officer for not telling them where the binoculars were kept,<<

An irrelevant distraction, which fact was established at both inquiries in 1912. Binoculars are nearly useless and even detrimental to searching. When standing lookout duty at sea, I learned early on not to use them. They severely limit your field of vision to such a degree that the still accepted practice is to use the naked eye for searching. Binoculars, if they have them, are used to identify a target after it's been seen.

>>Smith for just HAVING to have Wilde there (which not only confused each officer about their duties, but messed up the Olympic's order as well) and for ignoring ice warnings and sending Titanic into an Ice field at full steam.<<

The first and the last proposition may have some merit to it, but the second does not. They didn't ignore ice warnings. They had them, knew about them, and the watch even had special instructions to be on the lookout for pack ice and bergy bit at the time they expected to be in ice.

The problem was not that they were unaware of them. The problem was that their response to what they had full knowlade of, was not equal to the danger they were going into.
 

Allan Wolf

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Mar 11, 2007
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Quote Janicole: "Ismay made a huge mistake in pushing the engines and Smith worked for HIM so I could see how he'd be nervous to stand up and say no, BUT this was his last voyage. What was Ismay going to do to him, you know?"

Watch out. There is no primary evidence that indicates Ismay had any sway over Smith's running of the ship. Especially in 1912, the Captain was all powerful. It was determined well in advance that Titanic's engines would be put to the test. The myth of the dandy owner being a threat to a ship's commander has no basis in the reality of 1912 merchant marine culture.

Also, take care when stating as fact that Titanic's maiden voyage was to be E.J. Smith's last. Again, there is no actual primary evidence to back this up. In fact, there is every indication that he would have commanded the third of the Olympic sisters (under construction at the time) once she was launched. See Gary Cooper's E.J: THE STORY OF EDWARD JOHN SMITH, CAPTAIN OF THE TITANIC, pp.258-259, for a good rundown of how contemporary rumors of his retirement (which White Star denied) were played up by the press after the sinking.

Quote Janicole: " Ismay I think was a coward, but no more then any other man that got on the life boats when they asked for women and children."

I suppose that the subjective question of cowardice in the face of such a disaster will forever be open to debate. I don't really know if Ismay was a coward or not. We may all think we are not cowards until that unforeseen moment when our courage is put to the test. There is no reliable contemporary evidence to suggest that Ismay personally kept any woman or child from occupying the spot in the lifeboat that he took.

Reliable witnesses all say that Ismay HELPED women and children to board the lifeboats. Then he took his place as Collapsible C was going down. Should he have allowed the empty seat to leave without him, knowing that there was no woman or child in the immediate vicinity who could take it? The question is open for debate. He didn't push a child out of the way to win that seat. It was simply there and he was there too, because he was in the thick of it, helping (as much as a civilian could) to launch the boats.

As a man, as a husband, and as a father of young children--just like Ismay was--I will forever ask myself if I would have done the same thing. I keep coming to the same conclusion. I hope that I would have helped those who could not help themselves, but at some point I would have tried to figure out a way to save myself (and see my three children again).

Here is something else to consider as part of the cowardice question: Did it not take quite a LOT of courage to step into that lifeboat, KNOWING that he would be asked to account for the death of so many who had put their trust in his company? If Ismay had chosen to stay rather than face the world, would William Randolph Hearst have labeled Ismay a coward for taking "the easy way out?"
 
May 1, 2004
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Allan brought up an interesting point. Mr. Ismay knew he was going to be put on the spot. He was the managing director of the company that owned the Titanic. He may have wanted to get out of the U.S. before he and the crew could be supeonaed to an American inquiry; but he certainly knew he could not dodge a British inquiry into the sinking of a British ship.
 

Mark Baber

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there is every indication that [Smith] would have commanded the third of the Olympic sisters (under construction at the time) once she was launched.

Although, as I said, it's far from clear that Titanic's maiden voyage was to have been Smith's last, it seems to me to be a stretch to say that he would ever have commanded Britannic. Smith was already past White Star's mandatory retirement age of 60, and as early as 1911 there were press stories to the effect that he would be retiring at the end of that year. Needless to say he didn't, but there's also evidence that he wasn't beyond stretching the truth on occasion with respect to his age. Although he was already 62 when he signed on Titanic at Belfast, the Belfast sign on sheet, which can be found in Cameron's Titanic:Belfast's Own, says "61," and the Southampton sign on, transcribed here says "59."

Even if Titanic's MV was not to have been Smith's swan song, retirement was not far off, and the likelihood is that the by-then-64-year-old Smith would have retired well before Britannic came into service, which would probably have been right around the time the war started. While anything's possible, it seems to me that the probabilities here weigh heavily against Smith's ever commanding Britannic.
 
Dec 5, 2008
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>>I also think Lightholler got more credit then he deserved. He sent those boats away so empty because there weren't any women and children around rather then loading the boats with women and children first and then once they were on and there were on more women and children around letting the men fill the rest of the seats (of as much as he could) and it just always bothered me that so many people dead because he refused them seats on the boats, but he survived it. Captain Smith, Wilde, nor Mudoch even tried saving themselves (in fact Bride even said he saw Murdoch swimming in the water right by him (while he was on the boat) and he never once tried to board it. He said he watched him until he disappeared under the water). Lightholler was the one that did and his made into one of the biggest heros of the Titanic.<<

First off, if Bride did in fact see Murdoch in the water (a debatable matter depending on where you stand with the ultimate way he died), he did not say he saw him swimming, but that he was lying motionless in the water.

Second, where is your basis for saying that Smith, Wilde and Murdoch made no attempt to save themselves? If you have other information that we are not aware of in regards to the unknown fate of 3 of the most infamous officers, please share it, because as far as we know, their last minutes (and much of their first) are still unknown.

And as for Lightoller surviving, I hardly think he didn't earn the right. He worked for hours to save hundreds of lives, and then refused a place in the last lifeboat! It's not like he snuck on board dressed as a woman! He (barely) survived on top of an overturned lifeboat that he had been working on trying to launch right until the very end, and in the process was responsible for the rescuing of another 30 odd men. I would hardly say he did not deserve his survival.

And while Lightoller may have gotten a great deal of attention from the Titanic tragedy, I hardly think he got "more credit than he deserved". Regardless of his actions about refusing men seats on lifeboats that could spare them, he still saved several hundred lives; a commendable action in anyone's book. Had he not, the tragedy of the Titanic would be an even great one than it already was. And don't forget, Lightoller has never been without his naysayers. I think you'll find many people even on this forum question his judgment and even perhaps him in many ways. People have been looking at the negative in his regards since the night that the Titanic sank, and they have not stopped since.

And the only reason he is the most infamous of the surviving officers is simply because he was the most senior, was called on to give the most information, and was on the Titanic from the beginning of the loading, right until the end (and then some!). It's not simply that the world decided to glorify him; he was simply genuinely in the best place to give the most information, and has been remembered for it.

Despite your personal opinions (looking from a great deal of hindsight), the fact remains that Lightoller did his best - from beginning to end - to save as many lives as he could. It's not that he did not make mistakes or understand the feelings of the other men on board(he himself had a wife and two very young children waiting for him back home), but was simply adamant that men should be men, and stand back and let the women and children have the chance to survive. It was a harsh law, but one he ultimately also imposed upon himself, as well.

I doubt few of us would have the courage to do the same.

Anyways, that's just my two cents worth.

Best regards,

Kat
 

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