Robert Williams Daniel

Oct 4, 2007
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Arlington, VA, USA
Does anyone know the real story of what happened to first-class passenger Robert Williams Daniel during the sinking? He talked to the press a great deal after the disaster, and he spun a fantastic tale that is, quite frankly, full of holes.

I've been working from the New York Times and Washington Times articles on this site, as well as records from the Virginia Historical Society:

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/mrs_astor_ill.html

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/widener-was-heroic-end-says-friend.html

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=389394186986

To the New York Times, he says that he stayed aboard until "all the boats had gone," and begged Mr. Astor to jump with him, but he would not.

"They refused to leave the ship," said Mr. Daniel, "and I left them standing there. What happened after that I hardly know myself. I had not taken time to dress and wore only a bathrobe...Finally, I jumped in and I was
struggling about among the ice cakes, fighting for my life, when I was rescued."

In the book "The Sinking of the Titanic," he is described as jumping from the ship with George and Harry Widener:

"Robert Daniel, a Philadelphia passenger, told of terrible scenes at this period of the disaster. He said men fought and bit and struck one another like madmen, and exhibited wounds upon his face to prove the assertion. Mr Daniel said that he was picked up naked from the ice-cold water and almost perished from exposure before he was rescued....George D. Widener and Harry Elkins Widener were among those who jumped at the last minute. So did Robert Williams Daniel. The three of them went down together. Daniel struck out, lashing the water with his arms until he had made a point far distant from the sinking monster of the sea. Later he was picked up by one of the passing life-boats.

His account to the Richmond-Times Dispatch is even more fantastic. It says he escaped in (on?) a "collapsible boat," and was then in the water for "at least an hour" wearing only a bathrobe. He was then pulled naked into a lifeboat that contained 34 women and children and only one man. The women screamed that no one was in command of the boat, so he took the tiller. At some point, Daniel apparently falls unconscious, and awakes in third-class aboard Carpathia. After identifying himself as a first-class passenger, he is moved to the captain's quarters, where he sleeps on the floor next to Bruce Ismay.

He also claims to have witnessed First Officer Murdoch shoot himself in the head "not more than 10 feet" from where he was standing.

I find these fantastic, conflicting accounts extremely hard to swallow. Are we really expected to believe that he survived swimming naked among "ice cakes" for over an hour? That he witnessed the final moments of Astor, Widener, and Murdoch? That he shared Ismay's quarters on Carpathia?

Daniel is listed on ET as escaping in Lifeboat 3. Is this what actually happened, or did he actually go into the water, as he said?
 
J

John O'Malley

Guest
Robert Daniel has been the most difficult to me in terms of lifeboat placement in my research. Apart from what you said, he also gave other accounts. In two, he claims to have been on the overturned boat with Jack Thayer, and that they were rescued by 2 lifeboats at dawn. In one, he claims to have been picked up clinging to a chunk of ice by a boat which had come back to search for survivors, and which was in command of an officer who earlier during the sinking he had seen firing warning shots at a group of men who tried to board the boat, before stepping into the boat himself. The latter account would seem to imply he was one of the 3 men picked up by Lifeboat 14 (Officer Lowe did fire warning shots at a crowd of men who tried to jump on the boat while it was being lowered). On the other hand, the former two accounts, as well as the third account you provided (thanks), indicate he was on Collapsible B. There is another possibility, then. Officer Lightoller is said by Colonel Gracie to have fired warning shots during the loading of Collapsible D. He also stepped into the boat to help people in, but stepped out just before it was lowered. He later ended up on Collapsible B. If Daniel was on Collapsible B with Lightoller and Thayer, he may have gotten into the same boat as them (Lifeboat 12), and then when he saw Lightoller in command, he assumed that Lightoller, who he (may have) saw firing warning shots at Collapsible D and then stepped into it, was in the boat already.

As it is, accounts from other survivors make the matter just as confusing. Orian Davidson, who was in Lifeboat 3, said in a letter that Daniel was in her boat. On the other hand, Thomas Dillon claimed to have seen Robert Daniel jump from the stern (and even accurately described him wearing a bathrobe), and Jack Thayer claimed to have seen Daniel still on the ship quite late in the sinking, while Collapsible C was being loaded. According to Thayer, Daniel downed a bottle of whiskey and appeared quite intoxicated. Could this explain the discrepancies in Daniel’s accounts? Thayer later he was the first recognizable survivor he saw on the Carpathia. This would make sense if they were both in Lifeboat 12 together.

Another problem arises. Daniel claims to have been the man who released all the dogs from the kennels during the sinking. This would make sense, because he had a dog, a French bulldog named “Gamin de Pycombe”, on the ship. However, Edith Rosenbaum claims to have stopped by in Daniel’s cabin during the sinking because his dog was crying inside. On the other hand, Richard Williams claims to have seen Daniel’s dog swimming around in the ocean. So who is right? Personally, I tend to go with Williams. He seemed a good historian, and whereas he specifically identified the type of dog (a French bulldog), I don’t believe that Rosenbaum did (someone correct me if I’m wrong). It’s possible, I think, that Rosenbaum actually entered the cabin of the Bishop’s, who had left their small dog in their cabin. Then again, weren’t all the cabins locked by stewards?

As you can see, though, it is very hard to pinpoint the truth of Daniel’s story. I would be very interested in hearing others opinions.
 

Mike Poirier

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Dec 31, 2004
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The one problem with Williams account is he wrote about the dog later in life... The shock of being in the water and the pitch black dark... He may have seen a dog, but with what the cold did to his brain, it's hard to describe an actual dog... Or Daniel may have brought him on deck before he got in boat 3. He may have seen that there was no letting a decent size dog in and chose his life.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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I see several more problems. Jack Thayer never mentioned him in his 1912 report and as far as I know he also did not mentioned him in the 1940s. (Interesting how the conclusion was made he was referring to Daniel even it does not really match.)

Dillon is another problem. If he really saw him why no mention in his 1912 reports or even 1912 BOT testimony? In complete dark at the poop he was able to make out Daniel? Very strange...

Remembers me somehow to the reports of steward Whiteley who gave three different reports to the press about the events of the sinking.
 
J

John O'Malley

Guest
The mention of Daniel by Jack Thayer comes from his 1940 memoirs "Sinking of the SS Titanic." While he and Milton Long are waiting by Collapsible C, Thayer describes:
"I did see one man come through the door out onto the deck with a full bottle of Gordon Gin. He put it to his mouth and practically drained it. If ever I get out of this alive, I thought, there is one man I will never see again. He apparently fought his way into one of the last two boats, for he was one of the first men I recognized upon reaching the deck of the S.S. "Carpathia." Someone told me afterwards that he was a State Senator or Congressman from Virginia or West Virginia."

Thayer does not specifically mention Daniel by name. However, Daniel was a State Senator of Virginia in later life. I'm not aware of any other Titanic survivor who was a State senator from Virginia. It seems clear to me that Thayer is referring to Daniel, whether or not his memory of events is reliable is open-ended, I suppose. The wording suggests that Thayer did not know Daniel personally, but that he recognized him later on as the man he had seen on the Titanic, and that someone else told him who he was.

Dillon's account I have not read personally, but I have seen it referenced at various sources. I personally have some doubts about this too. In his testimony at the British Inquiry, Dillon states that all the passengers on the stern appeared to be from steerage (3910/3911). This shows contradiction, but at the same time, I don't see any reason for him to have lied about seeing Daniel jump overboard.

As for the dog, while there was no doubt a lot of panic and confusion going on in the water after the ship sank, I still feel that Williams, as a historian and, in my opinion, one of the more reliable witnesses of the disaster, would not fabricate an incident he wasn't sure about.

Ofcourse, even if Daniel was telling the truth about being in the water, it does not mean that everything he said was true. I remain undecided as to whether Daniel left in Lifeboat 3 or if he really was on the ship until near the end. It is a subject I am still researching, and I'm sure that no matter what gets dug up, opinions will still vary.
 

Mike Poirier

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Dec 31, 2004
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Also, Thayer doesn't give the time frame of seeing Mr. Daniels... If he had said, "all the boats are gone and as I looked around I saw a man drain a bottle of gin." But he worded it in a way that it seems like an after thought.
 
Dec 7, 2000
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John

The problem I have with the dogs is that Daniel said he went below to release them.

While I think we can be fairly confident that the kennels were indeed located below on F Deck, I can account for most of the known dogs actually staying in the staterooms with their owners — including Astor's airedale and Daniel’s own bulldog. As far as I can tell, the only animal occupants of the kennels were Marie Young’s prized chickens!

I don’t have Rosenbaum’s accounts with me, but from memory, she merely mentioned seeing the dog while visiting Daniel in his stateroom, apparently somewhere ‘around the corner’ from her own (on A Deck). I can’t recall whether this was at some point before or immediately after the collision. Either way, this allows plenty of time for Daniel to leave the cabin with his dog or go back to at least release it and take it to the Boat Deck. So I’d say there is no need to doubt Rosenbaum’s account, at the very least, she confirms that he had his dog in the stateroom rather than in the kennels below.

This is another example where Daniel seems to have spun a tall tale.

Regards,

Daniel.