Was Ismay really a villain?


James Hill

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Feb 20, 2002
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Some people claim that Ismay was a villain.But looking at what he did in the sinking you cant give him the villain status can you after all he did help to load the lifeboats.He was anxois to get the boats away (aka Fifth officer Lowe and Ismay).Can you call a man that does these good deeds a villain ?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I wouldn't call Ismay a villian. But then I'm not much for reductive stereotypes these days in any event. I tend to think of him more as somebody who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and who had the misfortune of having enemies willing to pillory him for the "crime" of being alive.

While portraying him as the living incarnation of the evil Snidely Whiplash seems still to be en vogue with some modern day Monday Morning quarterbacks, I have to wonder if some of these self-appointed moralists could have done any better. Maybe some could have, but methinks one would see some pretty mixed results were they tested the way Ismay was.
 

George Behe

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Hi, James!

I've never paid much attention to the occasional person's condemnation of Ismay simply because he survived; however, I *do* think that Ismay deserved condemnation for his later claim that he was "just a passenger" who didn't know anything about the Titanic's scheduled speed increase etc. (Ismay spoke about this subject to far too many passengers for me to give any credence to his later denials.)

All my best,

George
 

James Hill

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Do you think Ismay had a sort of mental breakdown once aboard the Carpathia and during the inquiries ?
 

Bob Godfrey

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James, if you go into the passenger research section and look for existing threads about Ismay you'll find a lot of discussion which has covered these areas and will be of interest.
 
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>>Do you think Ismay had a sort of mental breakdown once aboard the Carpathia and during the inquiries ?<<

Can't say as I know for sure. If taken at face value, one can hardly say that what's out there is a picture of a man in full control of his faculties. Reading between the lines however *can* present a very different picture. All a matter of opinion though, and unfortunately, Ismay is not available for interviews. You'll just have to read the available sources anddecide for yourself.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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Probably been pointed out before (haven't many things?) but Walter Lord quotes in TNLO a "scholarly broadside" from a British judge at the time, who basically said that although Ismay may not have been responsible in any way for the sinking, he was responsible for the lack of lifeboats subsequently and - so long as anyone remained aboard - his place was to wait, not to escape. Having said that, I tend to agree with Michael - who knows what any of us would have done.
 

Inger Sheil

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Oh dear...a certain recurring feeling is incarnate in this thread...it's almost like it's happened before...

However, seconding Bob's comment, perhaps you might find some of the discussion you're looking for in the passenger section, James. Ismay, his actions and character, have been discussed at some considerable length. Opinions range the full spectrum from admiration to execration, and everything in between. While there is no consensus as such, most people seem to be moving towards acknowledging his flaws in both character and action, but also recognising his essential humanity. He might not be the sneering villain of some of his screen incarnations, but at the same time there are question marks over certain aspects of his actions and evidence after the disaster.
 
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I have to wonder what that judge would have done had he been in the same position. It's real easy to be moralistic when you're safe and sound, but things become a little less clear when things go to Hell, and having a ship sinking in freezing water can have a profound effect on one's point of view. I would hope I could do better...but would I? It's a test I hope I never have to face.
 

Lee Gilliland

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I was just rereading TNLO, and in it he mentions shots fired near or at Ismay's boat. Yet I can find only Woolner's story. Has anyone any other sources?
 

Lee Gilliland

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Yes but I was asking for any direct accounts. Saying something happens "in the vicinity" is a bit broad, as there was quite a bit going on on the boat deck, in that area, at the time.
 

Inger Sheil

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You asked about shots fired "near or at Ismay's boat" - Thayer's 1940 account fits the bill - the lifeboat is often identified (although not conclusively) as C. An earlier version, given in 1932, suggests otherwise. For more information, see Thayer's section on Bill Wormstedt's 'Shots in the Dark':

http://home.comcast.net/%7Ebwormst/titanic/shots/shots.htm

Walter Lord was most probably referring to Thayer.
 

George Behe

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Hi, Tuna!

Although I have serious doubts about Thayer's belief (decades after the event) that the shooter was McElroy, Mrs. Goldsmith did mention in 1912 that shots were fired at Collapsible C while she was seated in that boat. (Although she didn't name the shooter, my own opinion is that Woolner's 1912 'Murdoch identification' was probably correct.)

All my best,

George
 

Inger Sheil

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I think it's quite possible that Thayer was mistaken - although it's interesting that he specifically named McElroy (I would have thought a deck officer would have been a more logical identification to make if one was unsure or memory was hazy). However, we do know that Murdoch had a gun, and we don't know if McElroy did. Two shooters are possible but would seem unlikely in the same location. McElroy can't be eliminated, but in the absence of more contemporary collaborating information for his identification, I'd rule the McElroy i.d. as problematical.
 

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