Lightoller's Motives?

Doug Criner

His last action aboard Titanic was to help launch the collapsible boat atop the officers' cabins, after all the other boats were gone. His work ultimately saved his own life as well as others. Was he primarily motivated by self preservation, which would be very normal and understandable, or to save others?


What's the difference and why would it be important?

I mean, the man was on a sinking ship, surrounded by other men on a sinking ship, and they were all trying to float the lifeboat. Would it have made him less of a man than the men next to him who were only trying to save his own life? And, let's say that Lightoller was doing it 60% to save himself and 40% to save others, how would you measure that?

From Lightoller's testimony, which of course is suspect if you're evaluating the man's motives, the ship left him. He actually went down on the Titanic. He didn't get to the lifeboat until after he came back up. This would imply that he was freeing the lifeboat solely for other people, and didn't get on it until after the ship sank and he happened to be floating next to a perfectly good lifeboat in the middle of the North Atlantic.

On the other hand, the infamous overturned lifeboat also reputedly left stragglers in the water. Since Lightoller was the ranking man on this boat, he was responsible for all persons turned away and left to freeze. This could be judged as an entirely selfish motive on his part, or as a command decision to save the lives of the others on the lifeboat.

In general, given the man, his testimony, and what little rumors I've heard of his history he seems to me to be a very by-the-book kind of guy. The kind of man who possibly would have floated the lifeboat entirely because it was his by-the-book duty, regardless of how many lives it saved.


I don't mean to sound hostile or anything. I'm just wondering if there is a particular reason that his motivation might be of interest. Curiosity? Research? Historical context?
He would doubtless have had the same motivation as anybody on a sinking ship to act as he did: Save as many as he could and if he manages to save himself, so much the better. I don't think anybody thought to ask him about it.


Doug, I can't help but wonder what your motives are for asking this question?

If you want to find out about Lightoller, his own account has been reprinted now - 'Titanic and other ships' and Patrick Stenson's biography, "Titanic Voayager" is superb. It's a riveting read - there was a lot more to the man than just the Titanic.

As far as being motivated by self-preservation or wanting to save others lives - were you aware that on June 1st 1940, he volunteered to take his motor yacht Sundowner with his eldest son Roger and a young sea scout, to rescue as many stranded soldiers as he could from Dunkirk. Under heavy fire all the way and back, being dive-bombed by enemy aircraft and dodging mines, he succeeded in saving the lives of 127 men in a boat he'd previously only managed to squeeze 21 in before.

I would hope that that would answer your question.