Survivors' suicides


Mike Herbold

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Dec 13, 1999
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As did George Brereton, who shot himself and Juha Niskanen, who set fire to his cabin and then shot himself. Their death certificates verify that.
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Having read the recently updated, and excellent, biography on Quartermaster Hichens on this site, I think he should be added to this conversation. Hichens suffered from heavy drinking, apparently brought on by depression, had attempted suicide, and at one point, even attempted to kill someone else.
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Now, with the revelation about Quartermaster Robert Hichens, consider this: it can now be said that nearly every member of the Titanic's crew who encountered the iceberg on April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m., and who were the most directly responsible for the collision, died, committed suicide, or was suicidal. Under my theory they were all killed in the Titanic disaster.

1. William Murdoch, First Officer - died in sinking, possible suicide.

2. James Moody, Sixth Officer - died in sinking.

3. Frederick Fleet, lookout - committed suicide.

4. Reginald Lee, lookout - survived sinking, later fate unknown.

5. Robert Hichens, Quartermaster - suicidal.

It appears that Joseph Boxhall and Alfred Oliver, were not quite on the bridge at the time of the collision.

Thus, except for Lee, whose fate is unknown, under my "mental illness" theory the Titanic disaster may have entirely killed off the crew who were the most directly responsible for it. And the killing didn't end on April 15, 1912. It persisted for many years.

Does anyone know what happened to Reginald Lee? I know his brother, a steward, went down with the ship, because one passenger in Boat No. 5 saw Lee cover his eyes when Titanic sank. Despite losing his brother, Lee tried to keep Boat No. 5's passengers in good spirits, and continued to encourage them while awaiting Carpathia's rescue.
 
S

Scott Blair

Guest
Joe,

According to his grandaughter the
Rev. Pat Thomas he served in WW1
went ashore after it and worked
in and around Southampton.He
told stories about the disaster
to his family. He attended the
Cunard -White Star survivors
annual dinner and died in the
1960,s, apparently quite peacefully.

Source is p123 of Gardiner/ Van der Vat
book The Riddle of the Titanic. I
think it was called the Mystery of
the Titanic in the U.S.A.

No reference is given for this
information in the book.

Hope this is some help.

Scott Blair
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Scott,

As one of the contributors, above, pointed out: the "mental illness" issue depends on each individual's ability to handle trauma. I think that the incident in Boat No. 5 suggests that Lee had the ability to accept tragedy, and move on. Perhaps this is something the others lacked.

Also, as his Senate testimony indicates, Lee perhaps found that the real fault resided on others', such as the White Star Line officers who failed to provide the crow's nest with binoculars.

Nonetheless, it would be interesting to know if Lee suffered the sort of residual trauma that others like Johan Svensson ("Titanic Johnson") encountered near the end of his life (see his bio on this site).

Heretofore, the instances of suicidal behavior, and death, set forth above, have been mostly random. To me, the high incidence of it among the crew on the bridge and crows nest, however, suggests a link for it to a particular event, i.e., the collision with the ice berg and concomitantly, fault for a horrible disaster.

One of the other contributors, above, suggested a link between suicidal behavior and male passengers who got into lifeboats when women and children were left to die. Certainly, this seems to have troubled, and hounded, Dr. Washington Dodge until he committed suicide in 1919. If you read his speech to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club on May 12, 1912 (see "Links" then "JShomi's pictures" and click under "Community Links"), he tries to explain himself, at length . . . which shows he felt a lot of public pressure and condemnation. Even more telling, newspaper accounts reveal that Dodge cried while he was giving the speech.

Another high profile, public person, Robert Daniel, who apparently made up a lot of stories about having swum around and been rescued from the water, eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver.

Thanks again for your input, and again, my compliments to the people who did the fine ET piece on Robert Hichens.
 
S

Scott Blair

Guest
Joe,

In the absence of any other material
the points you make about Lee seem
to be not unreasonable inferences.

Nowadays in the wake of disasters
large or small there is a lot more
in the way of support to deal with
any mental repercussions. Apart
from those who could afford it I
dare say most crew and passengers
just had to get on without any
professional help.That may have
contributed to any apparently
high incidence of suicidal acts
successful or not.

Social pressures must also have
had a part to play.Dodge's case
may well be an example.Certainly
the expected conduct of "leader"
figures in particular may account
for 1st class and possible crew
suicides.

There has to my knowledge been no
assessment of the mental impact of
the disaster on those involved in
a way that could draw out trends.

I wonder if our "modern" awareness
of the consequences of disaster
survival on the mind could be
brought to bear in a systematic
way on the Titanic survivors ?

Any thoughts?

By the way am I correct in
recalling that you are an
Attorney?I am a Scottish
litigation lawyer.

Scott Blair
 
Mar 10, 1998
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Dear Joe and Scott,
Several weeks ago a young lady left a message here on ET and said she was the granddaughter of Reginald Lee, that he died in the 1960's and gave other details. I corresponded with her briefly but it became obvious that her grandfather was not the "Titanic" Reginald Robinson Lee. Since that time, Brian Meister and I were successful in tracking down the real Reginald Lee down and I've obtained his birth and death certificates. I'm in the process of doing additional research now and hope to locate living descendants over the course of the next few months. Once Brian and I have completed all of our related research we will provide the information for inclusion in Lee's biography on this site. (Both Brian and I live in the Midlands/Pee Dee region of South Carolina where research facilities are scarce and much has to be done by phone and mail).

All of the information provided by Van der Vat and all of the information provided by the "granddaughter" is wrong--none of those statements and claims bears any resemblance to the facts concerning the real guy. Joe, you can certainly include him in your list as his death (although not suicide) may have indirectly been influenced by his experience on Titanic. One source I've read states that he "died by the bottle" and although his death certificate does not indicate that, it may have been a factor nevertheless.

We'll give out more details on down the line. This is one fellow I've wanted to find for years and Brian and I are on Cloud 9 to have finally pinned it down.

My best,
Phillip
 
Mar 10, 1998
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Joe and Scott,
When I sent my previous message I was at my office and did not have the death certificate copy there. Once I got home I checked and the exact cause of death given says "natural causes, heart disease following pneumonia and pleurisy." There is information though to suggest that his death might not have been so totally from natural causes but that will remain supposition unless I can find his direct descendants.

Phillip
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Scott and Phil,

This is becoming really exciting . . . if you're able to confirm that Lee suffered with problems, too, we may finally have established something or other about some of these suicides. Please keep me posted, Phil.

I agree, Scott, and I have already conceded in conversations above that it's difficult, if not impossible, to draw out trends.

Like you say, economics may have been a factor. Many crew members and passengers couldn't get medical treatment. Moreover, treatment back then probably wasn't very good. For example, in Dr. Dodge's case, he had been admitted to a hospital and placed on a suicide watch for several days. On June 21, 1919, he was released. He immediately went home and shot himself. So much for treatment in 1919.

But if I recall correctly, the world became more focused on post traumatic stress disorders during and after the First World War, in connection with the treatment of soldiers who suffered "shell shock."

I'm sure our modern awareness could be brought to bear, and concededly, I don't know much about disaster traumas. After the Columbine, Colorado school killings, and in connection with recent airline disasters, children and adults were afforded professional counseling. Obviously, "modern" awareness is that mental trauma leads to more deaths. This is the one sure thing that we can learn from what happened to the survivors of the Titanic disaster.

Take care,

Joe

P.S. Scott, you're right! I'm also doing civil litigation. I would really enjoy discussing law practice with you. For example, I would like to know if the Scottish judges are as bad as the ones we have over here. Ha! I already bored the ET crowd with one of my recent war stories so let's talk offline. My email address is: [email protected].
 
Dec 12, 1999
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We can add seaman John Collins as a possible candidate for the subject matter of this conversation; he died in a psychiatric institution in 1941. He, like Jack Thayer, went down with the ship. Eventually, Collins was rescued from Collapsible "B."
 
Mar 20, 1997
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I agree with the addition of John Collins to this thread and was about to do so myself. I was not surprised to read that he died prematurely and in a sanitarium, considering his experience during the sinking was particularly haunting and horrific even when lined up against what happened to Lightoller, Rosa Abbott and others who also survived going down with the ship.

In several accounts including his testimony, he stopped to help a steward assist a panicing mother and her two young children, and carried the infant with him as they made their way to the bow. The large wave washed them overboard and the baby was torn from his grasp. For someone of his youth (17 or 18), this had to have been a shattering experience which probably contributed to much guilty feelings about his own survival.

As an offshoot, does anyone know if he ever helped determine the identity of the steward or the unfortunate family? Edith Peacock and her two children best fit the description, though another possibility might be Alma Paulsson and two of her children. August Wennerstrom apparently said somewhere that he attempted to hold on to the two older children, so Collins might have been helping with Mrs. Paulson and the two younger ones.

Arthur
 
Jul 5, 2000
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I read on this board that many of you think that Murdoch committed suicide. Although I haven't ruled that possibility out, I would like to think he did not.

I thought it was wrong of James Cameron to show Murdoch shooting himself and Captain Smith absentmindedly and indirectly causing his own death. It gave many people the wrong impression. (I don't mean you, but people who don't know much about Titanic.)

I read a discussion similar to this one; I'm sorry but I don't remember which site it was on. Supposedly, Murdoch's family was quite upset after the sinking when newspapers wrote that Murdoch had committed suicide. They all testified that he was an honorable family man who would not committ such an act of cowardice.

As for Captain Smith, I have read a few accounts, including one in "Titanic-An Illustrated History" (Don Lynch), which say that some survivors recall seeing a man who appeared to be Smith. I believe these were the men who held on to the overturned boat. Those who were crewmembers said that they heard a voice similar to Smith's. He reportedly handed them a child and swam away. This sounds like what Rachel Boland posted earlier on this message board.

What do you all think?

ADRIANNE LAPAR
 
Dec 13, 1999
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Hello Adrianne,
It appears that Officer Wilde was one of the first to suffer the slur of suicide (which, of course, was a crime in those days). Within days of the sinking, the Liverpool Echo, which was and still is the evening newspaper in Wilde's home town of Liverpool, had printed an article making reference to his supposed suicide. Possibly an over zealous reporter had picked up on all the stories of "an officer" committing suicide and linked it either rightly or wrongly to Wilde. Wilde's family were of course infuriated by the story and demanded that the paper print a retraction, which appeared several days later. Of course, by this time the damage was done - no smoke without fire etc.! I wonder if the same story was reported regarding other Officers who lost their lives?
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
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Geoff wrote:

>Within days of the sinking, the Liverpool Echo, >which was and still is
>the evening newspaper in Wilde's home town of >Liverpool, had printed an
>article making reference to his supposed suicide.

Hi, Geoff!

Could you please quote the portion of the article that mentioned Wilde's suicide? I'm wondering if an eyewitness claimed to have seen Wilde's suicide or if the reporter just made a general statement 'on his own' that included Wilde's name. Also, how did the newspaper phrase the later retraction?

Thanks very much.

All my best,

George
 
Dec 13, 1999
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Hello George,
The "Echo" simply stated at the bottom of an article on the sinking that several survivors had said that "An Officer" had shot himself and that this man was believed to be Wilde. This article appeared soon after the first survivor reports were printed in the American papers. I think that it was just a case of a reporter putting Wilde's name to the supposed suicide because of the local interest.
The paper printed a retraction several days later to the effect that the allegation was completely unfounded and they very much regretted the upset caused to the late Officer's family.
The real story behind it was that Wilde's family, or more to the point, that of his late wife, carried a great deal of clout in Liverpool business circles. A quick word from them (and they appeared to be on the board of directors of virtually every large Liverpool company in some shape or form) would soon bring about a withdrawal of advertising space on which the paper depended.Also, they would not want the stigma of a suicide in the family - still a crime in those days - and, of course the ideal way for the victim's insurance company to wriggle out of paying out on the policy.
Hope you are keeping well George, give Pat our love.

Geoff
 
Dec 12, 1999
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I've been checking with the Eastland Historical Society about instances of mental illness among survivors of the Eastland disaster. They indicated that there were several suicides that may be connected to the disaster. Additionally, there are curious instances of trauma related injury. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Eastland disaster, it happened when a fully loaded passenger ship tipped over alongside a Chicago dock. Women and children had gone inside to avoid inclimate weather - - thus, many of them were killed, a total of 844 persons died in a matter of a few minutes.

There are some stories of trauma related illnesses. In one instance, a survivor couldn't stand to go around corners while riding in an automobile because doing so brought back memories of the disaster.

For those of you interested in "personal accounts" of this disaster check out their site at:


Additionally, the descriptions of people suddenly falling into the water, and having things crash down on them, other people's hands grabbing at their feet and legs, hands sticking out the water, screams and pandemonium, etc., suggest what the actual sinking of the Titanic might have been like.
 
Dec 12, 1999
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This thread should really be entitled: "Survivors' post traumatic stress syndromes." Based upon Pat Cook's fine research, we can add Lawrence Beesley to this lot. Pat says:

"Amid all this, it should be said, he was never far from the shadow of Titanic . . . he simply would never go to sea again, not even to cross the English Channel. Years later, according to one daughter, the singular time the family went to the beach, Lawrence sat with his back to the water."

This is something akin to the S.S. Eastland survivor who (after that ship tipped over) hated to turn corners when riding in an automobile.
 
Mar 10, 1998
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Hi Joe,
I have another one for you--recently tracked down Finnish passenger Eino Lindquist (even his own son had no idea what had become of him). Eino was a vagabond and never stayed in one place very long. After his last contact with his son and brother, they tried putting ads in various newspapers across the country where Eino had been known to live. But nothing ever turned up.

It turns out that he had been placed in a mental institution where he spent about a year before his death. His death certificate lists a contributory cause of death as paranoid schizophrenia. I'll send additional information on him to Phil Hind at some later date.

Phil
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Thanks, Phil. I'm counting, so far, roughly 20 people in suicide/ptss category - - or 2% of the survivors. There are some emerging patterns: mostly males, high among public figures and crew members directly linked to the sinking, but it seems mainly random. Given the scant resources we have, this figure is likely to be much higher. There are two well known candidates whom I have wondered whether they should be included: Archibald Gracie, and Captain Smith. Gracie died less than one year after the disaster, from poor health, a heart attack, or something. But some people have linked his death in some manner to the disaster. Captain Smith, of course, jumped into the water when the big wave hit, a sort of suicide - by many accounts, on the evening of the sinking he acted strange, very reserved. If you count Murdoch (albeit much disputed) in this category, shouldn't Smith be counted, too? Is the difference just that one did it with a gun? I have also not counted J.P. Morgan (although I do count Bruce Ismay) in this group for several reasons: he was not on the ship, and the source from which I received information that he suffered stress and trauma is, I think, questionable. A recent, and well-known biography on J.P. Morgan which I checked out says nothing about his death resulting from agony over Titanic. A more likely scenario is that he just have got fed up with the way his nose looked.
 

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