Miss Minahan vs Lowe

Jul 19, 2003
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This had been a discussion between Mr Pat Cook and self a long time ago and wanted to have a heated discussion as to whose testimony was correct and whose was not (i.e. Minahan vs Lowe).

Miss Daisy Minahan had stated in an affidavit and letter to Senator Smith that she escaped in Lifeboat 14, that the ship sank at 2.20am (according to a gentleman who stood next to her, looking at the time) and that Fifth Officer Harold Lowe's conduct was one to be noted. However, we see glaring examples of his goodness in the testimonies of Mrs and Miss Compton; but Miss Minahan's testimony cannot be disregarded as she had many good truths in her statement, i.e. Captain Smith's dinner party, the time the ship sank and so forth. But perhaps Mrs and Miss Compton were at the back of the lifeboat (if I recall, I heard that the two ladies were in the back of the lifeboat, thus making it very hard to hear the discussion; never forget Miss Gladys Cherry's own statement in Lifeboat 8: 'I did not hear the discussion very clearly, as I was at the tiller; but everyone forward and the three men refused'). If Miss Minahan was in the front of the lifeboat and the two Compton ladies at the back, it would have been harder for the latter to hear Officer Lowe. Of course they all heard him when he wanted to go back, but why was he so rude to Miss Minahan? 'Jump, God damn you, jump!' Miss Minahan had the right to be offended at a statement like that.

But what are your comments, facts, etc? I find this to be a wonderful discussion about who is telling the truth and there are historians here.

I thank you for your attention to this post.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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I'm not sure I understand what your debate is about, but I would unhesitatingly agree that Miss Minahan's telling the truth about Lowe's behavior.

There is other testimony which suggests that Lowe was belligerent and abrasive. For example, when Lowe went back to get passengers from the water, Second Class Passenger, Charlotte Collyer described the scene when they encountered the Chinese sailor, Fang Lang, as follows:

". . . we saw a floating door that must have been torn loose when the ship went down. Lying upon it, face downward, was a small Japanese . . . "What's the use?" said Mr. Lowe. "He's dead, likely, and if he isn't there's others better worth saving than a Jap!"

Here we have some pretty pathetic conduct, even under 1912 standards: there's men's bodies floating all over the place, babies, children, women, floating around dead, one guy even died in Lowe's boat after they pulled him out of the water . . . it's a scene of heartbreak - - but in the middle of all this Officer Lowe has the gall to refer to an asian passenger as "a Jap" and then to suggest he's not worth saving. Later, he refers to Lang as the "little blighter."

I suppose all sorts of excuses for this could be offered. Further, Lowe went back to get bodies while others didn't.

But the fact is Lowe obviously didn't have much class about himself. I believe Miss Minahan is absolutely telling the truth when she contends he said "Jump, God damn you, jump?"
 

Mike Herbold

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Feb 13, 2001
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Hi Joe:

You should clarify that Lowe did go back and rescue the Chinaman, who was probably Lang. A few moments later after he was revived and helped with the rowing, Lowe said of him: "I'm ashamed of what I said about the little blighter. I'd save the likes o' him six times over, if I got the chance."

Lowe was no 1912 version of John Rocker; he should be judged according to the standards of his day rather than by our "enlightened" politically-correct present day standards. Keep in mind that even up through the end of WWII it was common to use the shortened form of Japanese.

Daisy Minahan, as you know, is one of my California-related passengers, so I'm really interested in her comments. My gut reaction is that Daisy was definitely out of her element in a decidely non-first class situation. She was in one of the very last lifeboats launched, and Lifeboat 14 had many problems. If we are to totally believe her testimony, it wasn't Lowe's idea to go back and rescue passengers from the water; he had to be implored (her word) by the women to divide his passengers among three other boats and go back for surviors.

Daisy sounds a little thin-skinned to me. I have no doubt that Lowe said to her "Jump, God damn you, jump." There was probably a lot of swearing going on everywhere at that point. Titanic had just sunk and hundreds of people were in the water screaming for help. It was a very tense moment. Who wouldn't be swearing?
 

Inger Sheil

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In the course of our research for the Lowe biography, one issue we’ve found ourselves addressing quite frequently is the fifth officer’s use of language and his conduct towards passengers. There are also, in our politically correct times, the allegations of racism which crop up. Lowe looms in the Titanic canon as a sarky sailor and uber bigot in a bigoted age.

Tackling the question of Lowe’s language, I have no doubt that he did indeed tell Daisy Minahan to ‘Jump, God damn you, jump’. He was never questioned specifically on this point (Minahan’s affidavit was submitted after he had testified), so he was not in a position where he could answer any of her charges or offer his own point of view. We can, however, look at the circumstances under which he lost his patience with Minahan. He was attempting to shuffle a number of passengers in the dark between several lifeboats in order to effect a rescue attempt. This was an extraordinarily stressful situation for all involved, Lowe included. Nor was he the only officer to snap at a passenger — even Boxhall, by most accounts a fairly mild mannered individual, would tell one woman to ‘shut up’.

According to those I have interviewed who knew Lowe very well, and the other non-Titanic sources I have consulted, Lowe was not habitually short tempered (quite the opposite, in fact). He did, however, have the lexicon of the sea, - a result of the environment he had known since his teens. The phrase ‘to swear like a sailor’ is proverbial. This gave rise to a comment one woman made to me about Lowe in later life. According to her, he had the manners of a Victorian gentleman, but he retained the colourful language usages he had picked up over the course of his career.

Some of the women in the boat noted his forceful means of expressing himself — Irene (Rene) Harris was one. She would go on to call him ‘the real hero of the Titanic’. Sara Compton would write that “Mr Lowe’s manly bearing gave us all confidence. As I look back now he seems to me to personify the best traditions of the British sailor.”. Harris also noted Lowe’s attempts to encourage those in the boats. As far as Clear Cameron was concerned, “We people who were saved in the last 4 boats owe our lives to him altho they won’t think it”.

In some instances, such as in his altercation with Ismay, Lowe’s language was admired. Cameron would write that Lowe “gave him (Ismay) socks before he left the Titanic, I sent you the paper, he didn’t know who he was talking to and what’s more he didn’t care. If ever there lived a John Bull it’s him.”

For some, Lowe’s language made him an interesting and colourful figure. For others, such as Minahan (who experienced it when it was directed specifically at her), it was abrasive and unacceptable. From our distant perspective, we can only attempt to understand why each of the protagonists conducted themselves the way they did. Rather than judge them, try to understand why they had the actions and reactions that they did. This means appreciating that Minahan was undergoing an extremely traumatic experience, and the she felt that Lowe’s aggressive language use was unwarranted. It also means understanding that Lowe was attempting to do his duty under difficult circumstances, and this resulted in him reverting to a means of expression he would otherwise not have used while communicating with a passenger.

Inger Sheil
 

Inger Sheil

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The construction of Lowe as racist — even aggressively bigoted — is one that has gradually become so ingrained in the Titanic canon that it is taken almost as a given. I’ve examined this point in some depth, and it is my view that it is quite unwarranted.

The charge rests primarily on two points: the fact that Lowe was induced to retract his identification of the men whom he felt were threatening to jump into #14 while it descended as ‘Italians’, and the remarks Charlotte Collyer attributed to the Fifth Officer before he rescued the Asian passenger from the wreckage.

To look at each of these points in turn:

Lowe did indeed describe the men on the other decks as ‘Italians’ — but he was by no means Robinson Crusoe in this regard. Fred Crowe testified of men, “probably Italians or some foreign nationality other than English or American”, who attempted to rush #14. Nor were such comments confined to the crew — Nellie O’Dwyer was reported as declaring that “The Italian men were the worst”. This is far from an exhaustive listing of passenger and crew accounts that incorporated derogatory remarks directed at Italians.

This does not justify Lowe’s identification of ‘Italians’ (however sincerely he might have believed they were indeed Italians, an interpretation engendered by the prejudices of his era). It does, however, provide a context for his remarks that is essential to achieving any understanding of social interaction and conflict in that era. To single Lowe out for his remarks is to create a very distorted impression of anglo-celtic attitudes of the era. Furthermore, when asked to retract his statements he did so very fully in a sworn statement. A subsequent statement I have from Lowe very carefully avoids the use of contentious ethnic identifications — he had learned his lesson. Lowe was a useful for Cusani to target for an apology, and he has been singled out ever since for his comments.

As for the remarks Lowe allegedly made about the rescue of the Asian passenger — this is a point I have debated fully before. Collyer’s account has never been critically examined, and has been simply parroted ad nauseum. While valuable in some respects, in others I believe it is open to question. I do not believe she was in #14 when it returned for survivors, and I do not believe she could have heard any remarks Lowe made prior to rescuing the passenger. Read her account carefully and critically, and you will find she describes vividly the rescue of passengers on the overturned collapsible B, and also gives a detailed description of rowing several miles to the Carpathia. Her own daughter does not place them in #14 when Lowe took it back to search for survivors.

Lowe was not in a position to identify the ethnicity of the man on the floating wreckage prior to saving him. It was so dark in the lifeboats that Beesley could not identify the people seated next to him by appearance. We have a statement from Lowe that it was the next morning, after sunrise, that he reached his conclusion that he saw no women in the wreckage — he could not reach that determination in the darkness, as there was simply insufficient light. I find it stretches credibility to extremes to suggest, as Collyer did, that Lowe was able to identify the ethnicity of a person in the water lying face down on wreckage.

Lowe’s views on racial issues are for more complex than the Titanic community appreciates. I have some very specific data on what he felt about different racial groups and, as in so many other areas, he was both typical and atypical of his time. This is one issue we intend to explore in our work on Lowe.

And one final point — while Collyer’s account is bandied about freely in Titanic literature, another incident receives far less play. Harold Lowe, while on a voyage to the Far East, once risked his life in jumping after a man who had gone overboard. This was in spite of the fact that Lowe was on the ship’s sick list, suffering from blood poisoning in his arm. The man he saved was described simply in contemporary accounts as ‘a chinaman’.

Inger Sheil
 

Inger Sheil

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Minor correction to what I wrote above to avoid misunderstanding - Irene (Rene) Harris was in Collapsible D. I merely referred to her as being 'in the boat', which could lead to the interpretation that she was in #14.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Irene -

Didn't Lowe have a flashlight? How did they find and rescue several passengers from Boat 14?

With respect to yours, Pat's and Mike's comments, I think rather than work up a revisionist perspective on Lowe, to the point of challenging passenger accounts under a close cross-examination (which is a fairly impossible and speculative task given the tools we have) we should simply agree that he was a fairly abrasive guy that night. He probably made some racist remarks.

I think it's fair to say, even today under the so-called politically correct standards, that such remarks are pathetic. And to say it in the context Lowe did seems pathetic, as well. But, obviously, nobody's perfect.

I'm not out to prove Lowe was a racist. Maybe some people are. Nonetheless, the fact the remarks may have been made many years ago doesn't necessarily vindicate Lowe. People frequently justify President Lincoln's racism as something on the order of the day. This isn't always accepted. In fact, in 1912, the order of the day was separate "Jim Crow" treatment for Asians in the U.S. - - whose kids went to separate schools, their families couldn't own land, etc. Believe me, none of them ever at any time appreciated being called "jap" - and they were called that, a lot, and for a derogatory purpose.

Further, objecting to rasicm isn't just a matter of political correctness. Racism is genuinely offensive to everyone. Even in days when racism was blatant and commonplace, from an individual's perspective, I think racism reflects upon a feeling that some one is better than some one else, and is always to some degree a defect in character. So, the "times" or "order of the day" or "not politically correct" excuses are in my mind too easy to adopt. But this is not the catalogue from which to judge Officer Lowe.

Further, when I first read that Lowe had told Minahan, "Jump, got damn you, jump!" I thought nothing of it. Like Mike, and you, I thought it was attributable to the pressures, and difficulties of the moment. Lowe, for one, had been fending off passengers at the ship, fired shots, etc. He must have been in a state of frenzy.

But it sounds as though nearly everyone agrees that Minahan was telling the truth about what Lowe said to her.

As far as I've seen the people on Titanic were unexceptional, honorable but ordinary people who suddenly found themselves faced with a life and death situation. Ascertaining how each of them dealt with it (not only in 2 and 1/2 hours, but for the rest of their lives) is what makes the story challenging. Some of them, including Lowe, did exceptional things. Within this microcosm, trying to understand as much about each of them is helpful to such an inquiry. Lowe impresses me as abrasive, perhaps belligerent, but not necessarily careless - - based upon his statements to passengers on April 14th and 15th, 1912, and his Senate testimony, days later. Thanks to him many people's lives were saved. The swearing, and race remarks are part of the record. But that record is a snapshot of a critical time for him, and reflects how he dealt with it. But it's not a catalogue for his life.

If Lowe was abrasive, belligerent, or in a state of frenzy which brought out his baser character elements, on April 15, 1912, then that's the way it is.
 

Inger Sheil

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Didn't Lowe have a flashlight? How did they find and rescue several passengers from Boat 14?

My research has determined that Lowe had a flashlight while loading the boats and for a short period after leaving the ship, probably given to him by John Simpson. However, for whatever reason (possibly the light had failed) he did not have it when returning to search for survivors.

With respect to yours, Pat's and Mike's comments, I think rather than work up a revisionist perspective on Lowe, to the point of challenging passenger accounts under a close cross-examination (which is a fairly impossible and speculative task given the tools we have) we should simply agree that he was a fairly abrasive guy that night. He probably made some racist remarks.

I disagree. I strongly believe, as per my academic training, all accounts should be treated to close scrutiny rather than acceptance at face value. It is not an ‘impossible and speculative task’, but rather a necessary part of historical studies. This examination should extend to all eyewitness accounts, as they are, by their very nature, subjective. This is a basic approach in historical studies.

To state that ‘we should simply agree that he was a fairly abrasive guy that night’ is a gross oversimplification, and distorts our impression of his conduct. That he ignored normal nicities of social interaction at some points is not in dispute. But to say that he was 'fairly abrasive' is a sweeping generalisation. Other passengers saw him as a man who embodied the finest traditions of the British sailor.

I think it's fair to say, even today under the so-called politically correct standards, that such remarks are pathetic. And to say it in the context Lowe did seems pathetic, as well. But, obviously, nobody's perfect.

I have already stated I contest that Lowe ever made the remarks pertaining to the Asian passenger, as they come from one unsupported and — in my view — dubious source. In addition, I think you need to understand more about contemporary usages. ‘Jap’, while its use is unsupportable today, was not considered in the same light in 1912. ‘Little blighter’ — the use of which you condemn — was, in the context Lowe was alleged to have used it, not intended as derogatory. Nor, in England and Australia, is it considered particularly objectionable today in most instances. I've frequently been called 'a little blighter' by my nearest and dearest.

To use another example, the word ‘dago’ was used very commonly as a descriptive term for certain ethnic groups. To a modern reader, the term is so offensive as to be jarring. In 1912, however, this was not the case. I’ve read correspondence written by one of the other officers in the first decades of the century in which he refers to the ‘dagoes’ on his watch. The immediate impression, to a 2000 reader, is one of distaste, if not outright shock, so strongly emotive is the term. However, reading on further, one finds that the writer was actually making a positive comment about these men, contrasting them favourably to the ‘Britishers’ on the other watch.
Be aware that the usages and attitudes of 1912 are unnacceptable to modern sensibilities (take, for example, attitudes towards women and class). However, I suggest that you should leave some of your own judgements behind — ‘pathetic’ is not a term to use if you want to appreciate why people spoke and acted as they did.

I'm not out to prove Lowe was a racist.

No, you just accept it as a proven ‘fact’ and proceed from there.

Maybe some people are. Nonetheless, the fact the remarks may have been made many years ago doesn't necessarily vindicate Lowe. People frequently justify President Lincoln's racism as something on the order of the day. This isn't always accepted. In fact, in 1912, the order of the day was separate "Jim Crow" treatment for Asians in the U.S. - - whose kids went to separate schools, their families couldn't own land, etc. Believe me, none of them ever at any time appreciated being called "jap" - and they were called that, a lot, and for a derogatory purpose.

If you want to appreciate why people thought and acted as they did in 1912, you’re going to have to cease judging them on what is acceptable in 2000. History is about understanding events and individuals in context. Lowe — even if he were ‘guilty’ of the charges you lay at his door (and I doubt very much that he was) — was not an aberration. He was typical of his era, and does not deserve to be singled out for condemnation.

Further, objecting to rasicm isn't just a matter of political correctness. Racism is genuinely offensive to everyone. Even in days when racism was blatant and commonplace, from an individual's perspective, I think racism reflects upon a feeling that some one is better than some one else, and is always to some degree a defect in character. So, the "times" or "order of the day" or "not politically correct" excuses are in my mind too easy to adopt. But this is not the catalogue from which to judge Officer Lowe.

Please don’t lecture me on racism. I have long been actively politically involved in efforts to combat bigotry. Those familier with Australian politics at the moment would understand why there is a need to do so. Do not mistake my attempt to put Lowe in the context of his own time with my personal views on racism.

I find many 1912 views offensive — stereotypes about women and my own ethnic group, the Irish Catholics, spring to mind. But rather than seek to single out individuals for condemnation, I find it more productive in terms of historical studies to understand why these views came about and how they affected the behaviour of individuals.

You state that Lowe’s views on race (a canonical interpretation which I challenge) stem from a flaw in his character. I contend that they derive from his cultural and social milieu. You state that ‘racism is genuinely offensive to everyone’ (wouldn’t it be nice if that was true!). In 1912, it simply was not widely recognised as racism.

But it sounds as though nearly everyone agrees that Minahan was telling the truth about what Lowe said to her.

That Lowe told her to ‘Jump…’ etc. is not a point of contention. What is contentious is the extent to which we should ‘blame’ him for his usages. I hold that we are in no position to judge the man for his comment, as it should be viewed in the context of the pressures he was under. Your remarks are judgemental in the extreme.

The swearing, and race remarks are part of the record. But that record is a snapshot of a critical time for him, and reflects how he dealt with it. But it's not a catalogue for his life.

'Swearing' is part of those remarks recorded of him, as is the admiration of many under his charge. The 'race' remarks - if you're referring to the remarks Collyer attributes to him - are a matter of contention. It does *not* reflect how he 'dealt with it' (i.e. the disaster and its aftermath) - his comments and language must be viewed in the context of all the other sources concerning Lowe. Viewed in isolation, as you have done here, distorts our perceptions. As you seem to recognise, this is not a 'catalogue' (or indicative)of his life and character. If you want to have more than a superficial understanding of Harold Lowe and his role and actions during the sinking of the Titanic, it is necessary to have an understanding of his entire life and his character. Otherwise, you're just catching the surface.

If Lowe was abrasive, belligerent, or in a state of frenzy which brought out his baser character elements, on April 15, 1912, then that's the way it is.

I find this characterisation of Lowe utterly risible, even though you have qualified it with an ‘if’. I firmly believe that the most serious charge that could be leveled at him was that he used stronger language in a few instances than he would otherwise have used. Balanced against this (even outside of what he accomplished in terms of rescue work) should be his attempts to encourage those under his charge. Lowe was specifically commended for his conduct by passengers such as Clear Cameron, Nellie Walcroft, the Comptons, and Rene Harris. He could not have accomplished what he did if he were in a ‘state of frenzy’. There is a world of difference between suggesting that he became terse at points, even swearing at passengers, and stating that this was indicative of his conduct throughout.

Inger Sheil
 

George Behe

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Dec 11, 1999
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Inger wrote:

>Lowe did indeed describe the men on the other decks as ‘Italians’ — but
>he was by no means Robinson Crusoe in this regard.

Hi, Inger!

That's true -- Lowe was merely exhibiting the 'standard' prejudices of the day. If he had been (say) a planter in Alabama in 1850 he might easily have held pro-slavery sentiments which were just as acceptable in 1850 as his later sentiments were in 1912. The man must be evaluated in context with his times, and we must therefore accept his prejudices (although that doesn't mean we have to *like* them.)

>......... Collyer’s account has never been critically examined,
>I do not believe she was in #14 when it returned for survivors, .......
>Her own daughter does not place them in #14 when Lowe took it back to
>search for survivors.

However, her daughter also claimed that Lowe shot and killed a man who jumped into her lifeboat. If the little girl's newspaper interview could be so wildly wrong about that simple observation, nobody will ever know which parts of that interview are truly accurate (if any) and which parts stemmed from the mind of an imaginative -- or hurried -- newspaper reporter. That being the case, if your book will be using the daughter's interview in an attempt to discredit Mrs. Collyer, I hope you'll make it clear that your evidence has been selected from a newspaper account that contains serious historical inaccuracies; that way the reader will be able to judge for himself whether Mrs. Collyer or her daughter make the more believable case.

>Lowe was not in a position to identify the ethnicity of the man on the
>floating wreckage prior to saving him. It was so dark in the lifeboats
>that Beesley could not identify the people seated next to him by
>appearance.

Perhaps Lowe had better eyesight than Beesley. (Don't forget that Lowe was somehow able to tell that the man who disguised himself with a lady's shawl was -- again -- an 'Italian.') Or perhaps Lowe just had a tendency to give his intuition (or imagination) free reign when it came to the question of race.

Besides his 'racial awareness' that night, Lowe appears to have been tuned in to the passengers' economic backgrounds as well. (As I mentioned some time ago, he even boasted to Mrs. Brown that he deliberately prevented wealthy passengers from entering the lifeboats.) Even though Lowe was apparently able to rationalize his own behavior to his own satisfaction, his petty prejudices undoubtedly cost several First Class passengers their lives.

Like all human beings, Lowe had great strengths -- as well as serious flaws; I'd like to read an account of his life that explores *both* aspects of his psyche and describes a flesh and blood person who (again, like all of us) tried to do his best but who -- occasionally -- still fell victim to his own feet of clay.

All my best,

George
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo, George!

That's true -- Lowe was merely exhibiting the 'standard' prejudices of the day. If he had been (say) a planter in Alabama in 1850 he might easily have held pro-slavery sentiments which were just as acceptable in 1850 as his later sentiments were in 1912. The man must be evaluated in context with his times, and we must therefore accept his prejudices (although that doesn't mean we have to *like* them.)

Or, conversely, had he been born in England in 1973 to a comfortably middle class family with some leanings to the left, as I was, Lowe might today be one of the champions of equality (as we now define equality — who knows how perceptions will change in another 88 years?). It must be pointed out that he has been singled out for a perception that was common among survivors. He alone was held accountable for his remarks about Italians, and he alone (to my knowledge) withdrew his comments. He also made a conscious effort to avoid the term in subsequent accounts he gave of the disaster. The issue of Lowe and racism, as I have tried to outline (but cannot fully explore until I’m prepared to go public with my sources on this matter) is more complex than anyone has yet suggested.

if your book will be using the daughter's interview in an attempt to discredit Mrs. Collyer, I hope you'll make it clear that your evidence has been selected from a newspaper account that contains serious historical inaccuracies; that way the reader will be able to judge for himself whether Mrs. Collyer or her daughter make the more believable case.

We’ve discussed this point before at considerable length, and you may recall that the problems with Collyer’s version of events do not begin or end with her daughter’s account. In the preliminary notes for the chapter dealing with this material, we do note the potentially contentious points in both accounts. As I’ve said before, all accounts — Lowe, Minahan, Collyer, Compton, Harris etc. — should be subjected to critical assessment.

Perhaps Lowe had better eyesight than Beesley. (Don't forget that Lowe was somehow able to tell that the man who disguised himself with a lady's shawl was -- again -- an 'Italian.') Or perhaps Lowe just had a tendency to give his intuition (or imagination) free reign when it came to the question of race.

Presumably Lowe saw the ‘disguised’ passenger at somewhat closer quarters when he manhandled him into another boat than the passenger in the water…and even then, he interpreted the man’s ethnicity incorrectly. I’ve solved that point we disputed before, btw — the question of how Lowe arrived at his determination that he saw no women in the wreck. We have a very specific statement from him that it was after dawn he arrived at that conclusion.

Besides his 'racial awareness' that night, Lowe appears to have been tuned in to the passengers' economic backgrounds as well. (As I mentioned some time ago, he even boasted to Mrs. Brown that he deliberately prevented wealthy passengers from entering the lifeboats.) Even though Lowe was apparently able to rationalize his own behavior to his own satisfaction, his petty prejudices undoubtedly cost several First Class passengers their lives.

This is one person’s account of what Lowe purportedly said on the Carpathia. First class passengers — the Comptons and Harris among them — found nothing objectionable in his attitude (quite the opposite). I also have the account of one male passenger who saw him in action that night who commended him specifically for his attempts to ensure there was no ‘dirty play’ at the boats. I disagree that his ‘petty prejudices’ ‘undoubtedly’ cost ‘several First Class passengers their lives’. This is a serious charge — can you substantiate it beyond an extrapolation you’ve drawn from the account of what Lowe is alleged to have said? Lowe did indeed block some first class male passengers from entering the boats (Alexander Compton among them), but he also barred male passengers in general of all classes. Have you found any additional accounts? I know that you specifically inquired after what you characterised as ‘unsavoury’ accounts of Lowe’s actions (my own approach is somewhat more omnivorous — I seek all material relating to Lowe, positive and negative).

Like all human beings, Lowe had great strengths -- as well as serious flaws; I'd like to read an account of his life that explores *both* aspects of his psyche and describes a flesh and blood person who (again, like all of us) tried to do his best but who -- occasionally -- still fell victim to his own feet of clay.

I’m interested in biography, not hagiography. As far as I’m concerned, the assumption that all human beings are flawed is a History 101 basic. This does not mean, however, that one takes all negative allegations about an historical figure at face value, any more than one takes all laudatory accounts without question. The material I have suggests that Lowe was not the hot headed bigot that has become established without question in the Titanic community. His character, and views on race, are considerably more complex. The ‘negative’ aspects of his character that I've come across, which I explore as fully as all other facets of the man, have not really been touched upon in any of the writing out there about his role in the disaster.

In order to gain a greater appreciation of Lowe’s character, I have based myself in London to facilitate access to material, both archival and from family and other sources. In the course of my research I’ve had to overcome many preconceptions popular in the Titanic community — including that of the sarky, short tempered seaman. My interpretation of the man is not grounded only in the reports of the Titanic disaster, but on his entire life. I have no desire to write about — or construct — a marble man. Indeed, one thing I actively resist are the polarities in interpretations that are so rife in those who read and write about the disaster and those involved in it.

Regards,

Inger Sheil
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Inger,

You state:

("... I strongly believe, as per my academic training, all accounts should be treated to close scrutiny rather than acceptance at face value. It is not an ‘impossible and speculative task’, but rather a necessary part of historical studies. This examination should extend to all eyewitness accounts, as they are, by their very nature, subjective. This is a basic approach in historical studies.")

Inger, I know that. What I'm saying is that the testimonies and few eyewitness accounts are all there is, and that's not much to work with 88 years after the disaster if you're going to somehow do this vigorous cross-examination that completely discredits the clear statements of Minahan and others in the record.

The truth is you'll just end up with historical revisionism, i.e., a different perspective based upon the same facts, which, I think, is what you're really doing.

Next, you state:

(". . . ‘Jap’, while its use is unsupportable today, was not considered in the same light in 1912. ‘Little blighter’ — the use of which you condemn — was, in the context Lowe was alleged to have used it, not intended as derogatory.")

Yes, by caucasian people, perhaps, the derogatory aspects of "JAP" may not have been fully appreciated.

(" . . . Be aware that the usages and attitudes of 1912 are unnacceptable to modern sensibilities (take, for example, attitudes towards women and class). However, I suggest that you should leave some of your own judgements behind — ‘pathetic’ is not a term to use if you want to appreciate why people spoke and acted as they did.)

Frankly, your "modern sensibilities" actually refers to "caucasian sensibilities." Inger, the use of "Jap" is pathetically racist, and it was so in 1912. Consider, too, how Lowe used it. He said the "Jap" wasn't worth saving. Even worse, Collyer probably related all this as though she thought it was funny. If that's not racist, I don't know what is.

Further, the perpetrators frequently adopt a self-appointed stance in assessing what is racially offensive and what is not, and what is "politically correct." But this is like having the fox in the chicken coop. The objects of racial stereotyping can assess racist statements too. Booker T. Washington, in his famous book, "Up From Slavery," often made the point that racially offensive conduct was taken lightly, overlooked, or ignored. Washington was admired because he could take it all and still manage to build a prestiguous learning institution. But Washington nonetheless found that even the most subtle remarks were abrasive and done by persons with full knowledge of what they meant by them.

My wife is Japanese-American. To her family, which has lived in the United States since before 1900, "JAP" has always been there, and its always been a very racist term. The fact that people then may have taken it more lightly than now, makes little difference overall.

(" . . .That Lowe told her to ‘Jump…’ etc. is not a point of contention. What is contentious is the extent to which we should ‘blame’ him for his usages. I hold that we are in no position to judge the man for his comment, as it should be viewed in the context of the pressures he was under. Your remarks are judgemental in the extreme.)

On the contrary, my point of contention is whether Minahan was telling the truth about the "Jump . . " statement. Lowe made other statements about a "Jap" that night which, from my perspective, tend to buttress the possibility of his having been abrasive to Minahan. I make no apoligies for being "judgmental" because in my mind the 'didn't want to bother saving a "Jap"' statement is racist on its face, quite aside from the incredible context wherein the statement was made, and it's offensive - - even by 1912 standards.

I already conceded that this is just one event out of Lowe's life and the man cannot otherwise be judged except by the whole "catalogue" of events in his life.

Inger states, about Lowe being racist:

". . . No, you just accept it as a proven ‘fact’ and proceed from there."

Stating that someone makes a racist remark on April 15, 1912 is not the same and saying the guy is a racist. To me, a "racist" pulls a minority person on a chain behind his pick up, or plays a concentration camp game on the subway, with his notebook computer. A guy who says "Jap" on April 15, 1912 isn't in that league. Inger, you made the leap from racist remarks to "racist" to discredit my argument.

(" . . .As you seem to recognise, this is not a 'catalogue' (or indicative) of his life and character. If you want to have more than a superficial understanding of Harold Lowe and his role and actions during the sinking of the Titanic, it is necessary to have an understanding of his entire life and his character. Otherwise, you're just catching the surface.")

Inger, I think you have to understand the man's life to make a fair judgment about him, but I don't think you have to understand his whole life to assess his conduct on April 15, 1912. It might help, but I don't think it's necessary.

(" . . . I firmly believe that the most serious charge that could be leveled at him was that he used stronger language in a few instances than he would otherwise have used . . . There is a world of difference between suggesting that he became terse at points, even swearing at passengers, and stating that this was indicative of his conduct throughout . . .")

Inger, couldn't it be said that his use of "stronger language" was "abrasive?" What, in heaven's name, is the difference? Are you going to develop some April 14-15, 1912 time line of Lowe's conduct whereby this or that act was "strong language," at a particular time, so we're careful not to generalize. Since we have so few facts, I can't assess whether he was abrasive that whole evening, but that doesn't mean he wasn't abrasive to Miss Minahan.

This is what I mean by "revisionism." You're not disputing the facts, you just re-characterize them, or isolate them, and by that offer a more innocuous perspective on Lowe.

Inger, I appreciate that this is a very serious issue for you. It wouldn't bother me at all if you prove to be entirely right about Lowe. But I don't want to continue this because I think we're just getting into a "swearing match" ourselves. Best of luck with your research.
 
Jul 19, 2003
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Judging by Miss Minahan's affidavit, the lady certainly was huffy and as such, would it not be conspicuous that she would not behaviour in the officer's voice? Of course, I agree with Mike on the focus that they were in the middle of the icy North Atlantic with no commissariats and hundreds of poor, innocent souls screaming for help. But as we note her touchiness, it is obvious that clearer facts may press out and especially due to the fact that she was more privileged than the average woman was — she was, after all, a First Class lady with higher-expected standards than most other ladies. And with the fact that her brother was one of those men screaming for help certainly would not have been a time for Miss Minahan to make up a story with elements willing to impress Senator Smith.

To say that it is offensive to be called a “Jap” or “Chink” depends on how you look at the situation. In most cases during 1912, people in general in the United States called someone that not in an abrasive manner, but a simple shortening of what they were. Of course there were those select few who did use it in a bigoted manner, but my great grandmother, who is 92, does not call a black person “nigger” because she is insulting them holding a racist bias, but that is how she calls them. Do you suppose that Agatha, Dame Christie, when writing ‘Ten Little Indians’, meant that book to be offensive with its original title of ‘Ten Little Niggers’? Certainly not! Dame Agatha, one of the most levelheaded, well-informed authoresses known in history, wrote that not in offensive. But would you like to know who took that into offence? I would like for you to take a wild guess. And I know for a fact that The Honourable Dame Agatha never meant to offend anyone in her statement, or titles for that matter.

Of course there is no doubt Lowe wanted to achieve good, but I personally believe that his statements such as ‘a good song to sing would be Throw Out the Life Line’, or ‘I think the best thing for you ladies to do is to take a nap’ are documented facts by a woman who, as said earlier, was quite thin-skinned. I take in what appears to be self-evident; but of course I do not say that I am correct in any of my own surmises. And I do not think personally that we shall ever know the truth of that night, for there it is more a fifty/fifty situation whereas Miss Minahan spoke truth and Officer Lowe spoke truth (and, to extrapolate further on what Mr Shomi said, from his own testimonies and life, Lowe did seem a biased character in a different way that most consider ‘biased’ to be). Again I do not state that I am correct in some areas of this discussion, but what appears self-evident from the character of the person(s) of which we spoke tonight.

I thank you all for your revisions, inputs, thoughts, opinions, facts, &c.
 
Jul 19, 2003
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Let me reiterate that first sentence as: 'would it not be conspicuous that she would not react to the behaviour in the officer's voice and manner?'
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Inger!

I wrote:

>Perhaps Lowe had better eyesight than Beesley. (Don't forget that Lowe
>was somehow able to tell that the man who disguised himself with a
>lady's shawl was -- again -- an 'Italian.')

Inger replied:

>Presumably Lowe saw the ‘disguised’ passenger at somewhat closer
>quarters when he manhandled him into another boat than the passenger in
>the water

I'm afraid that's merely an assumption on your part, though; for all we know, Lowe may have leaned over the side of the lifeboat trying to get a good close look at the Oriental to see if he was still alive.

>First class passengers — the Comptons and Harris among them —
>found nothing objectionable in his attitude .....

True -- but then Lowe didn't reveal his *motivation* to those passengers the way he revealed it to Mrs. Brown.

> I disagree that his ‘petty prejudices’
>‘undoubtedly’ cost ‘several First Class passengers their lives’. This is
>a serious charge — can you substantiate it beyond an extrapolation
>you’ve drawn from the account of what Lowe is alleged to have said?

Let me restate my comment: "Lowe's petty prejudices *may well* have cost several First Class passengers their lives."

In any case, the point is that Lowe admitted that he consciously used his own perception of a man's wealth as a criterion for whether or not that man would be allowed to enter a lifeboat. No matter how one tries to cut the cake, *that* is a petty prejudice that was utterly unworthy of a White Star officer.

All my best,

George
 

Pat Cook

Member
Apr 27, 2000
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I KNOW I'll regret getting into this! Like the saying goes "It's Deja Vu all over again!" However, my only comment was that Herbold and I have much in common. MY opinion actually has nothing to do with Lowe per se - I just don't and never have believed much of anything Daisy Minahan had to say, period, paragraph. And I do not even bother to discuss it anymore - no point. Just my opinion. She who complained, in U S Hearings, of tripping over bread, of all things, and never once even mentioned loosing a family member!

That being said I just wanted to mention two things. With all the haranguing (not sure of the spelling there) about Lowe's manner or bigotry, I feel someone should mention that it was only a scant 50 years earlier that, in America, it was legal to own slaves! In those days, even in First Class, bigotry was VERY accepted, mostly (IMHO) as a hold-over.

Also, George wrote:
"Perhaps Lowe had better eyesight than Beesley. (Don't forget that Lowe was somehow able to tell that the man who disguised himself with a lady's shawl was -- again -- an 'Italian.')"

I got a little fuzzy here - were you pointing out that Beesley couldn't identify the man passing for a woman in #13? Or did I miss something?

Best regards,
Cook
 
J

Jay Lancey

Guest
Hello

I just wanted to say to Pat, Inga and Mike that I think you have made some very good points. It seems to me that Lowe has been judged retrospectively for actions in 1912 that are unnacceptable in the year 2000. We see it in Butler's book and on the internet.

What are the accounts by Harris, Cameron and Walcroft?

Jay
 

Pat Cook

Member
Apr 27, 2000
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Hi, Jay,

Inger knows far more about this than I do. I can tell you a bit about Walcroft. Nellie Walcroft was traveling 2nd class with her friend Clear Cameron (Inger can fill you in on the book "Clear to America" about her letters). After the catastrophe, Nellie wrote two letters - one to a friend, Clara, in which she stated that Lowe shot some men to keep them from swamping the boat (or words to that effect) - the OTHER one, written to her hometown newspaper, the Maidenhead Advertiser (I believe) stated that Lowe shot AT some men to keep them from swamping the boat. Of course, the one saying Lowe shot the men is the one that sold for $13,200.00 at an English auction last year and is now on display at the Orlando Permanent Titanic Exhibit in Florida. I have written (as have many members of Nellie's family) to the exhibit to get them to display the newspaper letter beside the other but (though I haven't heard any different from the family) we have never received a reply. Some of them believe, as do I, that Nellie was in such a hurry writing her friend to tell her she was safe, she simply left out the word 'at' from 'shot AT the men'.

Personally, again just my opinion, even if I never saw the newspaper letter, I would be suspicious of the first letter. My reasons are this: in the letter she mentions people all around her drowning - she goes on for a couple of sentences or more about this, how horrific it was, how agonizing. But she states Lowe shot men and doesn't say any more about it? No "the horror" or "I have never seen anything like this" - nothing. That's why I believe she didn't realize what she had, indeed, written. Also, you add to this the fact that both Clear and Nellie were devoted to Lowe after the disaster - I just can't see them being so adoring of a murderer.

Again, for what it's worth, this is just my opinion and a long one for somebody who was going to stay out of it.

Warmest regards,
Cook
 
Jul 19, 2003
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As to Miss Minahan's describing her tripping over piles of bread on deck, it is more than likely that she was giving her clearest detail of every step in every hour of the sinking for her. But yes there is no mention of Mr or Mrs Minahan.

And that draws me to my next question - did Mrs Minahan ever give a statement?