Legal compensation of Titanic musicians


Senan Molony


Judge Thomas at Liverpool County Court today decided that the Titanic's bandsmen did not come under the Workmen's Compensation Act.

(Waterford News, November 1, 1912 p.5)

Sir - In justice to all concerned, we shall be grateful if you would kindly give publicity to the following:-

These men were insured with the Legal Insurance Company Ltd, who took steps to ascertain the dependents, and in two cases where dependency was evident settlements were immediately made.

They were compelled to repudiate certain claims on the grounds of "doubtful dependency," and matters were delayed in consequence.

Although the court held that no legal liability held at all, the company have generously made ex gratia payments to the amount of nearly £700.

In addition to the above, £1,555 has been distributed from a fund organised by ourselves for the benefit of the relatives, and to our knowledge they have further benefited by a sum of over £1,200 raised by concerts and from other charitable sources, making an approximate total of £3,450.

We are further in a position to state that their needs will be still further sympathetically considered by the distributors of the National Fund.

We wish to give publicity to these facts to refute the suggestion in various papers that the dependents of these brave men have been in any way badly treated.

Yours faithfully,

C. W. & F. N. Black,

Music Directors to the White Star Line

(Cork Examiner, December 23, 1912, p. 8)
"Judge Thomas at Liverpool County Court today decided that the Titanic's bandsmen did not come under the Workmen's Compensation Act."

Which begs the question:

Were any other workers on board - under whatever nexus - eligible for compensation under the Act?

The crew did come under the Workmen's Compensation Act and payments of up to 300 pounds were made quite promptly.

Details are not easy to find, as the money was often paid through a court in the area where the claimant lived, so they are scattered about Britain. I've included an interesting contested case in my book.

Brian Ticehurst keeps on turning up more examples and is perhaps the best expert on this..

Apart from the musos, a few others were not covered, notably the barbers. I don't know about Gatti's staff.
I wrote in the White Star Journal of the case of Titanic victim William Cheverton.

June 2003 issue.

First class saloon steward Cheverton's body was the last of all to be recovered. It was found on June 8, 1912, and speedily reburied at sea by the steamer Ilford.

Cheverton's name entered British case law in 1913 through a claim brought by his family against his employers, the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, under the Workman's Compensation Act, 1906.

Dawbarn's annual legal review of the Act (Sweet & Maxwell, 1913) cites the issue of "partial dependency" of relatives in Cheverton versus Oceanic Steam Navigation Co.

An arbitrator had awarded his parents (partial dependents) the maximum compensation of £300, described in the review as "a somewhat startling amount, as the deceased had contributed only 30 shillings."

On appeal by OSNC, Judge Cozens-Hardy said he could "see no reason to say that the arbitrator has not exercised a judicial discretion.

He has held £300 to be 'reasonable and proportionate' to the injury."

The Act had provided a maximum of £300 for a family wholly dependent on a breadwinner who lost his life in the course of his work.
“Apart from the musos, a few others were not covered, notably the barbers. I don't know about Gatti's staff.”

There were several arcane definitions of what constituted a ‘workman’. In the absence of further information I would conjecture that those engaged on Articles at nominal rates were classified as ‘professionals’ and thus excluded from the scope of the Act.

The initial Acts (that of 1906 was in force at the time) brought into being a contributory insurance scheme and, as to whether the shipowner was directly involved, the indicator would be whether the specified contributions were collected from the musicians etc. by the master in his capacity as a fund holding agent.

Coincidentally, White Star had recently been in court over similar issues in the form of Ismay, Imrie & Co. v. Williamson [1908] A.C. 437. The claimant was a man who succumbed to heat stroke while raking ashes out of a boiler in the stokehold of a steamship. I don’t know if he was a seaman or a shoreside worker and the style of the appellants gives me reason to believe they were appearing as ship’s agents rather than as shipowners.

On the main matter clearly we need to know more.

There was an issue at the time in that a claimant under the Act was, by reason of his claim, deemed to have extinguished any cause of action he might have against the employer for negligence. Under the Act the term 'accident' was open to a wide interpretation.

Court of Appeal

Actress's claim under Workmen's Compensation Act

Armour v. British International Pictures Ltd.

(Before the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Slesser and Lord Justice Romer)

The court dismissed this appeal, from a decision of His Honour Judge Turner, sitting at Westminster County Court, which raised the question whether Mrs Marie Armour, known professionally as Miss Marie Mischel, who was injured while acting as a "crowd artist" in the production of the film Atlantic on board a liner in Tilbury Dock, was a workman within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Acts, and so entitled to claim compensation. The County Court judge decided that she was not.

Mr Heathcote, who appeared for Mrs Armour, said that his client had been knocked down, and her left knee seriously injured, to such an extent that it was doubtful whether she would again be able to take part in film production.

She had been acting with 400 other "crowd artists" on board the liner, staging a scene representing the sinking of the Titanic and the rush for the boats.

It was difficult to say that Mrs Armour was not a workman; in other words, that she was an independent contractor, giving her services in her own way to achieve a certain result. Four hundred people doing each one as he pleased would achieve nothing but confusion. The County Court judge had not given weight to the control exercised over these "crowd artists."

The Master of the Rolls, in giving judgement, said the question was a simple one, namely whether the appellant had entered into a contract of service; or whether she had merely agreed to render certain services.

It was a question of fact, and the County Court judge, having heard all the evidence, had decided as a fact that Mrs Armour was not the servant of the respondents. It was not for the court to interfere with his decision on a question of fact, and the appeal must be dismissed.

Lord Justice Slesser and Lord Justice Romer agreed.

(The Times, Wednesday July 30, 1930, p. 4)