The IsmaySmith reception room conversation

Hi everyone!

It has been shown, in many accounts that Ismay was pressing Captain Smith to light the last boilers to bring Titanic up to full speed, which she was traveling at when she struck the iceberg. In the hearings after the disaster, 1st class passenger Mrs Elizabeth Lines spoke about claiming that she had overheard, whilst taking coffee with a friend in the reception room, Ismay say to Smith "Today was better than yesterday, we will beat the Olympic and get into New York on Tuesday night"(or something to that effect). Mrs Lines had confirmed with a steward that it was Smith and Ismay. In the hearings, Ismay strongly denied any such conversation took place. Was he telling the truth or lying under oath? I think it most probable he was lying as admitting to influnce the Captain to drive the Titanic and full speed into that icefield, and the berg, and the resulting death of 1,500 people would have put him in the direct path for the blame, and would only further blacken his already badly tarnished reputation.
However, is it possible that Mrs Lines had a reason for making the story up to perhaps defend Smith? Perhaps he was her favourite captain or perhaps she knew him well, and wanted to clear his name of any blame which may be attached for the loss of 1,500 men, women and children by passing the buck onto the already damaged reputation of Ismay? Or maybe she had a grudge against Ismay?! Just an idea, but what do all think of this alledged conversation? Was Ismay lying at the hearings? I would really like to hear your thoughts!

regards,

Shane
happy.gif
 
I'd be surprised if some sort of conversation hadn't taken place, but unless there's corroberation, it's really a case of the ever popular "He-said-she-said" thing.

I just don't know.
 
"Today was better than yesterday, we will beat the Olympic and get into New York on Tuesday night" So what?

What Ismay was saying, if he said it, was nothing but the truth. Titanic was going a tad faster than Olympic did on her maiden voyage. I'd put this down to the quiet weather and the fact that Titanic had her propellers adjusted in line with data from Olympic. Add the fact that Captain Smith was a known hard driver of ships.

The mere fact of Ismay knowing how fast the ship was going does not prove any wrongdoing on his part. Any passenger sitting in a jet can check the speed without urging the pilot to go faster. We all know the back seat driver, who should have no influence on the driver!

In maritime law, it doesn't matter what Ismay urged Smith to do. The buck stops with the captain. He must do whatever his professional judgement says is best. If ordered to do something really stupid, he could resign in protest, if he dared. Ismay would only ever be "in the direct path for the blame" if he failed to acquit himself in the American civil court of of two key charges. Even then, he would suffer no penalty. The points to be decided are--

1. That he knew that the actions of Captain Smith were reckless and/or negligent.
2. That, having this knowledge, he permitted Smith's actions to continue.

These two points were never decided and in the US the claims were settled out of court and approved by a judge.

Even had both points been proved, no action would be taken against Ismay personally. All that would happen would be that damages awarded against his company would be unlimited.

Ismay's actions were argued at length in two inquiries and the US civil court. He was never proved to have influenced Captain Smith's navigation. William Alden Smith, who was a lawyer and went after Ismay in no uncertain fashion, had to be content to ascribe to him an unconscious influence. I might add that he included everybody's hero, Thomas Andrews, in this statement.

"I think the presence of Mr. Ismay and Mr. Andrews stimulated the ship to greater speed then it would have made under ordinary conditions, although I cannot fairly ascribe to either of them any instructions to this effect."

In my opinion, that's where the matter stands. The blame rests where it always has, with Captain Smith.
 
Shane, Elizabeth Lines most likely did hear the conversation as she reported it so it's not surprising then that Ismay would later deny saying what she claimed. But Dave has summed the ultimate issue up here quite well.
 
Thanks guys,

Dave- I can't remember exactly her words, but I'm sure she claimed she heard Ismay urging Smith to light the last boilers to speed her up, to "get through the danger zone" and to "beat the Olympic and get into NY on Tuesday night". It seems to me that Ismay wanted to make the public think that each ship built would be better than the last, so he urged Smith to try and beat the Olympic's speed record, by speeding her up. As Walter Lord put is he believed that Smith was trying to "please the client".
As to your point about it being perfectly acceptable for Ismay to persuade Smith into speeding the ship up, I understand that in maritime law, it is an illegal offence for any passenger to try and influence the captain of a ship.
regards,

Shane
 
All,

The conversation most likely did take place (i.e. that Lines is not pulling our legs). She did not testify at the US inquiry, but gave a deposition to the Limitation of Liability inquiry in 1913. She was interviewed in France. The 28-page deposition is still available from NARA.

Daniel.
 
The thing that has always intrigued me about Ismay's evidence is that he volunteered the story of the proposed high speed run and the conversation with Joseph Bell at Queenstown. There was no surviving witness to this. Was he being scrupulously honest, trying to impress with his frankness, or getting in first in case some survivor knew of it?

Personally, I favour the first two proposals.
 
Dave,

You're right, the only mention of the Queenstown meeting was from Ismay himself. There was no witness so far as I know of, and if it were not for Ismay, we'd never know about it.

The conversation that Lines overheard was in the reception room (port side) after lunch on Sat the 13th. Mrs. Ryerson corroborated a similar proposed run when she and Mrs. Thayer were spoken to by Ismay on Sunday afternoon.

Daniel.
 
Hi, Daniel!

Ismay also told Jack Thayer and his father about extra boilers being connected to the engines and an impending speed increase -- even though Ismay later claimed that "I had no knowledge at all as to what was being done below" [i.e. in the boiler rooms.]

If you say so, Bruce. :)

All my best,

George
 
"As to your point about it being perfectly acceptable for Ismay to persuade Smith into speeding the ship up, I understand that in maritime law, it is an illegal offence for any passenger to try and influence the captain of a ship."

My understanding of the law at that time is that this purported conversation would not construe as criminally 'interfering with the navigation of a vessel'. Attempting, whether impliedly or expressly, to coerce a shipmaster by way of his employment would, if carried into effect, merely give him a cause of action and a civil remedy outside of the criminal law. A certificated officer's primary concern must be his certification (which is enduring) and the responsibilities which attach to it, not his employment (which is incidental).

For any criminal charge to be sustainable there would have to be some discernibly physical element of coercion, which was clearly not the case.

Furthermore, the early arrival of an otherwise scheduled passenger vessel is a logistical, economic and social embarrassment. Even if Port Health, Immigration and Customs worked round the clock (which I understand they did not) their respective boarding parties would still have to be specially ordered to clear in such a large complement. A similar situation applies for towage and for shore gangs for mooring and baggage handling.

Another consideration is that it may not be feasible for individual passengers to bring forward their oncarriage arrangements. A shipowner would not want to reduce his prestigious passenger complement to gazing wistfully at the lights of Manhattan from the quarantine anchorage!

If a comparative record passage apropos Olympic was being contemplated, it would make better sense to declare 'end of passage' at the Nantucket light vessel and thereafter reduce speed to arrive as scheduled.

Noel
 
Hi, Noel!

>Furthermore, the early arrival of an otherwise >scheduled passenger vessel is a logistical,
>economic and social embarrassment. Even if Port >Health, Immigration and Customs worked round the >clock (which I understand they did not)

It appears that Quarantine officials were on duty by *at least* 3 a.m., since the Olympic was scheduled to reach Quarantine at that time while on her maiden voyage.

>...their respective boarding parties would still
>have to be specially ordered to clear in such a >large complement. A similar situation applies
>for towage and for shore gangs for mooring and >baggage handling.

I suspect that's what must have occurred during Olympic's second westward crossing when the vessel reached Ambrose Light seven hours ahead of schedule (at 10:08 p.m. on Tuesday night instead of at her regularly scheduled time of 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning.)

>Another consideration is that it may not be >feasible for individual passengers to bring >forward their oncarriage arrangements.

That's quite true, since Mrs. Ryerson expressed that very concern to her husband after her conversation with Ismay re: an early arrival in New York: "...I discussed it with my husband after I went downstairs, and the question of what we would do if we got in so very late."

All my best,

George
 

Callie Copeman

Former Member
I've always been a bit suspicious of the Ismay/Smith conversation rumour; it just doesn't ring true to me. I had a bit of a look round last week and I found this, which may be of interest to some of you. This theory just seems to make a lot more sense somehow:

(from Titanic: Sinking the Myths
By Paul Louden-Brown)

"The myths surrounding Ismay are many but almost all centre on allegations of his cowardice in escaping the sinking ship whilst fellow passengers, notably women and children, were left to fend for themselves. The claims made at the time and repeated today were that he 'saved his own skin' whilst others died. In reality Ismay helped with loading and lowering several lifeboats and acquitted himself better than many of the crew and passengers. He only entered a lifeboat when it was actually being lowered and no other passengers were in the vicinity. Some witnesses stated he was ordered into the lifeboat but, whatever happened, Lord Mersey said at the British enquiry into the loss of Titanic, 'Had he not jumped in he would simply have added one more life, namely his own, to the number of those lost'.

Ismay's fault was that he survived and as a consequence laid himself open to the high and somewhat dubious moral code of the US press. Almost universally condemned in America, when he finally arrived home he was cheered and applauded as he descended the gangway at Liverpool. The British press had treated the whole episode in a far less judgmental way.

In a second, more serious allegation, it was claimed he ordered Captain Edward J Smith, Titanic's commander, to 'make a record crossing' thus indirectly causing the collision with the iceberg. It is unlikely that an experienced shipmaster like Smith, on his last voyage before retirement and the highest paid commander in the mercantile marine, would defer to Ismay on matters of navigation. No firm evidence has ever come to light to suggest that Ismay in any way interfered with the navigation of Titanic and, other than talking with the various heads of departments on the ship, conducted himself like many other passengers. Yet the opposite image of him exists today.

But where did all these stories come from? All of the negative stereotypes can be tracked back to the American press and in particular to those newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful and influential men in America. Hearst and Ismay had met years before in New York when Ismay was an agent for his company. The shy and private Ismay disliked press attention and the two men fell out as a consequence of his refusal to cooperate.

Hearst never forgot, and in April 1912 his syndicated press prosecuted a vicious campaign against Ismay, who was defenceless in the eye of the hurricane. Stories were invented and witnesses, wishing to strengthen exorbitant insurance claims for lost baggage against the company, declared he had in fact ordered Smith to make a record crossing.

...Titanic would never be able to challenge the speed or manoeuvrability of the Cunarders, but this did not matter. White Star had given up all thought of speed records more than a decade before, in 1899, with the introduction of Oceanic... Speed plays a major part in the continuing story of Titanic. It is often said she was trying to make a record on her maiden voyage, attempting to arrive ahead of schedule in New York. Not true. Not all of Titanic's boilers had been lit and besides this she was sailing on the longer southern route across the Atlantic in order to avoid the very threat which caused her eventual loss. Even if all boilers had been lit, her maximum speed was 21 knots, a far cry from the 26 knots the Cunarders regularly recorded. Titanic did not attempt a full speed crossing because of the risk of potential engine damage, and her passengers would have been inconvenienced by arriving a day before their hotel or train bookings."
 
Hi, Callie!

> This theory just seems to make a lot more sense >somehow:

The only problem with Louden Brown's theory is that it is based on a number of historical inaccuracies which have been debunked in various previous threads here on ET.

>I've always been a bit suspicious of the >Ismay/Smith conversation rumour;

It wasn't a rumor, though -- the information about this conversation came directly from Elisabeth Lines' testimony at the Limitation of Liability hearings.

Louden Brown wrote:

>In a second, more serious allegation, it was >claimed he ordered Captain Edward J Smith,
>Titanic's commander, to 'make a record crossing' >thus indirectly causing the collision with the
>iceberg.

To the best of my knowledge, no reputable modern-day researcher claims that Ismay *ordered* Smith to do anything. Rather, Smith seems to have been *influenced* by Ismay's mere presence on board the ship as well as by Ismay's apparent desire for Titanic to better the Olympic's maiden voyage crossing time.

>It is unlikely that an experienced shipmaster >like Smith, on his last voyage before retirement

Dave Gittins has found convincing pre-disaster evidence that Smith was not scheduled to retire following the Titanic's maiden voyage.

> All of the negative stereotypes can be tracked
> back to the American press and in particular to >those newspapers owned by William Randolph >Hearst,

Not true.

>....witnesses, wishing to strengthen exorbitant >insurance claims for lost baggage against the >company, declared he had in fact ordered Smith to >make a record crossing.

Not true.

>Speed plays a major part in the continuing
>story of Titanic. It is often said she was trying >to make a record on her maiden voyage,
>attempting to arrive ahead of schedule in New >York. Not true.

Recent research demonstrates pretty conclusively that Louden Brown's 'not true' claim is itself not true.

>Even if all boilers had been lit, her maximum >speed was 21 knots,

Not true.

> Titanic did not attempt a full speed crossing >because of the risk of potential engine damage,

Titanic was nevertheless well on her way to beating the Olympic's maiden voyage crossing time.

>and her passengers would have been inconvenienced >by arriving a day before their hotel or train >bookings."

True -- but then the Olympic's passengers found themselves in that very same situation on the occasions when Olympic arrived in New York ahead of her own scheduled arrival time. Titanic's passengers would undoubtedly have followed the same landing procedures as had the Olympic's passengers.

All my best,

George
 
Hi George,

Thanks for pointing out some very crucial points here. I have read the Paul Louden Brown excerpt before and was not convinced then but now I see how really far off, in my estimation, that author is in his conclusions.

You have covered the bases here thoroughly. But I will expand, if I may, on the matter of the US press, described by Louden Brown as having a "dubious moral code." That is not so much untrue as it is short-sighted, considering the drivel which the English tabloids were turning out at fever pitch. To be frank, Hearst had bigger fish to fry than Ismay and, while all the Hearst-syndicated stories about him were sensational, they were no more so than other articles about other personalities. As for the British press being especially sympathetic to Ismay's plight, I think that is really not true. The British papers were initially quite fierce in their judgement of the Duff Gordons and Ismay.

I was intrigued to learn of Dave Gittins' findings in the matter of Captain Smith's retirement. That is very interesting indeed.

On a personal note, may I say that your posting is a sight for sore eyes, my friend. We've been trying to hold the fort down while you were away; I've even tried to do the meet and greet. But none can rival your friendly presence which was missed.

Best as ever,
Randy
 

Callie

Member
Hi Randy & George, thanks for your comments. I'd like to read the debunking of Louden-Brown's theories but there is so much information on here and, being new, I haven't had the time to go through it all yet. I shall certainly be making time though.

Dave Gitting's findings sound very interesting. The matter of Smith's retirement of course has all the requisite poignancy for a tabloid news story, but I had never doubted it because it has been related as fact in so many different sources. I guess the vilification of Ismay also has all the markings of a tabloid news story (whether English or American) - all accounts seem to portray him as rather too much of a pantomime villain, which is why I've always been doubtful. Thanks for pointing out the flaws in the argument though (and for welcoming me!); I'll have a look at the other sources you pointed out.
 
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