Was Ismay really a villain?


Cam Houseman

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To answer all the serious questions here, Ismay was no Villain. Ismay should not have gotten a bad rap just for wanting to live. I do believe that things people did on that ship were heroic, and that 1,500 people died without consent that night who died a terrible death. Ismay, as Micheal Standard put it, was at the wrong place at the wrong time, specifically collapsible C being lowered. If you thought that you were watching the last life on a doomed ship lower away, what would you do. People are human and I don't think Ismay did anything WRONG. As his death would have just been another added to one of the worst tragedy's of all time. And if he went down with the ship like Andrews or Smith, he would have been seen a Hero. Now if anyone does not agree, just remember it is an opinion and that I am not defending anybody, I just think that People are going to act like people in a life or death situation. As for Ismay going into shock, he 100% did have some sort of PTSD, Jack Thayer (Many of you may have heard of him) went into Ismay's room on Carpathia because he seemed to be traumatized. by the disaster and Thayer described Ismay as not answering and staring into a blank space.
Agreed, Spiderman.

People were angry and wanted someone to blame
 
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To answer all the serious questions here, Ismay was no Villain. Ismay should not have gotten a bad rap just for wanting to live. I do believe that things people did on that ship were heroic, and that 1,500 people died without consent that night who died a terrible death. Ismay, as Micheal Standard put it, was at the wrong place at the wrong time, specifically collapsible C being lowered. If you thought that you were watching the last life on a doomed ship lower away, what would you do. People are human and I don't think Ismay did anything WRONG. As his death would have just been another added to one of the worst tragedy's of all time. And if he went down with the ship like Andrews or Smith, he would have been seen a Hero. Now if anyone does not agree, just remember it is an opinion and that I am not defending anybody, I just think that People are going to act like people in a life or death situation. As for Ismay going into shock, he 100% did have some sort of PTSD, Jack Thayer (Many of you may have heard of him) went into Ismay's room on Carpathia because he seemed to be traumatized. by the disaster and Thayer described Ismay as not answering and staring into a blank space.
Your opinion is a valid one to me. I will admit that mine has changed over the years of Mr. Ismay. He didn't want to throw his life away when there was no else to put in the boats at that time. The only thing I might say is that the people he did help get into the boats probably didn't think he was in the wrong place, at least after 2:20 am. But I'm not sure about that. Did any of those that he helped get in the boats trash him later? I know others did but don't remember if the survivors he helped did.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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IMO, the best way any of us can judge Ismay is by asking ourselves what each one of us would have done had we been in his position that night and coming up with an honest, heartfelt answer just within ourselves. I did just that and found that had I been the chairman of White Star and found myself in Ismay's position just before 02:00 am on the night of Monday 15th April 1912, I would almost certainly have done the same thing that he did - ie enter Collapsible C. I do have a strong sense of self-preservation and while I would never have deprived someone else of a place in a lifeboat just to get myself in, I would also be on the lookout for a likely opportunity to save myself. I believe that was exactly what Ismay did that night; contrary to some silly reports, he did not force or bluster his way into any lifeboat. As far as is known, he helped to load Collapsible C, waited till it was about to be lowered and when there were no other women or children coming forth, entered the lifeboat himself. Even then, I believe the boat was not absolutely full to capacity when it was lowered (please correct me if I'm wrong) and so Ismay cannot be blamed for his actions.

Of course, if there are people in these forums who can touch their hearts and swear that they would NOT have entered that boat had they been in Ismay's position, I'll accept it....if they can really accept it themselves.
 
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IMO, the best way any of us can judge Ismay is by asking ourselves what each one of us would have done had we been in his position that night and coming up with an honest, heartfelt answer just within ourselves. I did just that and found that had I been the chairman of White Star and found myself in Ismay's position just before 02:00 am on the night of Monday 15th April 1912, I would almost certainly have done the same thing that he did - ie enter Collapsible C. I do have a strong sense of self-preservation and while I would never have deprived someone else of a place in a lifeboat just to get myself in, I would also be on the lookout for a likely opportunity to save myself. I believe that was exactly what Ismay did that night; contrary to some silly reports, he did not force or bluster his way into any lifeboat. As far as is known, he helped to load Collapsible C, waited till it was about to be lowered and when there were no other women or children coming forth, entered the lifeboat himself. Even then, I believe the boat was not absolutely full to capacity when it was lowered (please correct me if I'm wrong) and so Ismay cannot be blamed for his actions.

Of course, if there are people in these forums who can touch their hearts and swear that they would NOT have entered that boat had they been in Ismay's position, I'll accept it....if they can really accept it themselves.
Given the same set of circumstances I couldn't honestly say I wouldn't get in. I am cursed with a conscience so it might bother me that I couldn't have done things differently and come up with better solutions. I've always believed in women and children first but there was none left for him to put in when the boat was going down. But if were going to brutally honest I've revised my standards to children first in the last few years unless I knew the woman personally.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I've revised my standards to children first in the last few years unless I knew the woman personally.
The women and children only rule has always seemed impractical and unfair to me. If I had to make evacuation rules, I would say disabled and elderly people first. Children seldom travel alone and so the next step would be families with children - otherwise too much time will be wasted in hesitation, persuasion, prolonged farewells etc. Finally, able bodied men and women together.
 
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Seumas

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IMO, the best way any of us can judge Ismay is by asking ourselves what each one of us would have done had we been in his position that night and coming up with an honest, heartfelt answer just within ourselves. I did just that and found that had I been the chairman of White Star and found myself in Ismay's position just before 02:00 am on the night of Monday 15th April 1912, I would almost certainly have done the same thing that he did - ie enter Collapsible C. I do have a strong sense of self-preservation and while I would never have deprived someone else of a place in a lifeboat just to get myself in, I would also be on the lookout for a likely opportunity to save myself. I believe that was exactly what Ismay did that night; contrary to some silly reports, he did not force or bluster his way into any lifeboat. As far as is known, he helped to load Collapsible C, waited till it was about to be lowered and when there were no other women or children coming forth, entered the lifeboat himself. Even then, I believe the boat was not absolutely full to capacity when it was lowered (please correct me if I'm wrong) and so Ismay cannot be blamed for his actions.

Of course, if there are people in these forums who can touch their hearts and swear that they would NOT have entered that boat had they been in Ismay's position, I'll accept it....if they can really accept it themselves.
I wouldn't disagree with any of that. Good post.

It's time for the ridiculous, moustache twirling, cartoon villain depiction of Ismay to end.

I would recommend that people read the late Michael Davie's chapter on J. Bruce Ismay in his greatly underappreciated book "Titanic: Life and Death of a Legend". It's the strongest "defence", if one wants to call it that, written about Ismay and his actions since 1912.

Davie demonstrated that Ismay's upbringing by a rather cold, stern, reproving, father resulted in the younger Ismay developing into rather a shy, sensitive, somewhat nervous man who did not like being "in the spotlight", only had a few close friends and who took criticism very personally. And this was all before the events of April 14/15th 1912.

Davie's research's reveal that Ismay was actually a generous philanthropist for many years (both before and after the Titanic disaster) particularly with regard to maritime charities. And was described by the few who did manage to befriend him as having been behind closed doors an exceptionally intelligent, articulate, kind, rather sentimental, warm hearted man but who wasn't able to show this side of his character in public.

On a lighter note, a wee bit of trivia is that Ismay was also regarded as a first rate shot, a keen fly fisherman and as a youth a talented soccer and field hockey player !

I have to take great exception to Wynn Craig Wade's completely inaccurate description of Ismay in the well known A&E documentaries of the early 1990s.

Wade describes Ismay as being some kind of bombastic, haughty, caricature English upper class toff who didn't like Americans and vice versa. As we see above, that simply wasn't true and if Ismay didn't like Americans (and they didn't like him) then why on earth did he marry an American woman and his ships prove so popular with the American social elite ? Wade clearly did not do his research on Ismay properly.

Now on the point of how much room was left in Collapsible C, IIRC it was almost full, there was room for about only three or four more adults.

The only thing about Ismay's escape that raises eyebrows today is that he was adamant the deck nearby was almost deserted when C was launched.

However, overwhelming testimony from other survivors who were either in that boat or on deck nearby during that time prove the opposite was true. The place was heaving.

As C began it's descent, there was still a large crowd nearby, a panic had broken out and Murdoch had to fire his revolver to keep order.

Dr Paul Lee has written an exhaustive (and crucially, even handed) article on the subject of Ismay's escape on his website which I would recommend.
 
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Julian Atkins

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I don't agree with Arun or Seamus.

I am perhaps affected by what happened in WW1 and WW2... The Lancastria in WW2 being one of particular focus and interest.

I think if I had a gun to hand I would rather shoot myself than drown.

Ismay had a nice life afterwards and don't be kidded. He served as a director of the LMS railway company till shortly before his death and was well paid.
 
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The women and children only rule has always seemed impractical and unfair to me. If I had to make evacuation rules, I would say disabled and elderly people first. Children seldom travel alone and so the next step would be families with children - otherwise too much time will be wasted in hesitation, persuasion, prolonged farewells etc. Finally, able bodied men and women together.
Well I never agreed with only. Just first. I would give priority to the young over the old if there wasn't enough seats to go around. But that's not an emotional or a moral decision to me, just a logical one. Save someone who has the potential for 70 years left over someone who might have only 7. But that's something everyone would have to decide for themselves. Either way it wouldn't be easy. But if the events are described accurately I don't believe Ismay was in that position when he got in the boat.
 

Seumas

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I don't agree with Arun or Seamus.

I am perhaps affected by what happened in WW1 and WW2... The Lancastria in WW2 being one of particular focus and interest.

I think if I had a gun to hand I would rather shoot myself than drown.

Ismay had a nice life afterwards and don't be kidded. He served as a director of the LMS railway company till shortly before his death and was well paid.
Julian, I think you may have misunderstood what Arun and I were getting at.

It's the popular idea of Ismay as the pantomime villain that we object to because the evidence just isn't there.

None of us can ever know how we would act in such a situation. A young, big, strong man may prove to be a snivelling coward and a frail little old little lady may prove to have the heart of a lion.

For some of us, religious and moral reasons dictate that suicide is not an option for us and we'd have to "go down fighting".

Ismay taking a place in a boat quite honestly doesn't outrage me at all. Maybe that says more about me and my attitude to life, I don't know.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Self-preservation is a built-in human tendency that varies from one person to another. In a situation like the sinking Titanic that tendency manifests itself depending on an individual's personality. Since it was the MEN who might have had difficulties in finding places in lifeboats even if they were on the boat deck well on time, let us look at this from a man's point of view.

An absolutely selfish man might try to get into a lifeboat to save himself at all costs and by any means, even it it meant depriving someone else of a place. At the opposite end of the spectrum would be a man who would wait till everyone else was safe before thinking of himself. But most of us "normal people" come somewhere in-between and IMO Ismay was one of them. What he did was to make sure that women and children in the immediate vicinity of Collapsible C was safely on board the lifeboat before finding a place for himself just before the boat was lowered. Since there were still a few places still available on #C when it was lowered, it would be safe to say that Ismay did not deprive anyone else - of either sex - of a place when he entered the lifeboat.

Of course, Ismay would have known full well that there were other women and children elsewhere still on board the Titanic when he entered Collapsible C himself. But then, he was an 'ordinary' man and not a hero and not really in a position to help those others effectively. He would have gained very little by going in search of more women or children; had he done so, Murdoch would have lowered #C without him and at 02:00 am Ismay could not be certain that anyone would survive on Collapsible A, which was still on the roof of the Officers' Quarters at the time.

Therefore, in my book, Ismay's actions in saving himself were acceptable - no more and no less.
 
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Julian Atkins

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I am not going to argue with anyone over this on the morals or ethics.

What I would point out is that Rostron sent a Marconigram service message to the Olympic very earlier on that Ismay was under opiate, and we also know he spent the entire journey on the Carpathia in the first class doctor's quarters/medical bay.

The original of the 'opiate' message is in Booth's book.
 
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Self-preservation is a built-in human tendency that varies from one person to another. In a situation like the sinking Titanic that tendency manifests itself depending on an individual's personality. Since it was the MEN who might have had difficulties in finding places in lifeboats even if they were on the boat deck well on time, let us look at this from a man's point of view.

An absolutely selfish man might try to get into a lifeboat to save himself at all costs and by any means, even it it meant depriving someone else of a place. At the opposite end of the spectrum would be a man who would wait till everyone else was safe before thinking of himself. But most of us "normal people" come somewhere in-between and IMO Ismay was one of them. What he did was to make sure that women and children in the immediate vicinity of Collapsible C was safely on board the lifeboat before finding a place for himself just before the boat was lowered. Since there were still a few places still available on #C when it was lowered, it would be safe to say that Ismay did not deprive anyone else - of either sex - of a place when he entered the lifeboat.

Of course, Ismay would have known full well that there were other women and children elsewhere still on board the Titanic when he entered Collapsible C himself. But then, he was an 'ordinary' man and not a hero and not really in a position to help those others effectively. He would have gained very little by going in search of more women or children; had he done so, Murdoch would have lowered #C without him and at 02:00 am Ismay could not be certain that anyone would survive on Collapsible A, which was still on the roof of the Officers' Quarters at the time.

Therefore, in my book, Ismay's actions in saving himself were acceptable - no more and no less.
Yes what you wrote is pretty much what I think also. He had to know at that point it was "game over". And if the reports are true even Captain Smith said that..."you've done your duty lads, its every man for himself" or something like that. I don't how accurate that is but at some point it was obvious. Ismay included.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Rostron sent a Marconigram service message to the Olympic very earlier on that Ismay was under opiate, and we also know he spent the entire journey on the Carpathia in the first class doctor's quarters/medical bay.
Not sure what that point is about Julian, as far as the subject matter of this thread is concerned. Even if Ismay was taking prescribed opioid medication, that would not have affected his judgement that night. As a doctor, I know that a person has to be on really big doses for that to happen and considering the known interactions of Ismay on the evening before the accident and in the couple of hours thereafter, I do not believe that the opiate, even if he had been on it, is relevant in any way.
 
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Not sure what that point is about Julian, as far as the subject matter of this thread is concerned. Even if Ismay was taking prescribed opioid medication, that would not have affected his judgement that night. As a doctor, I know that a person has to be on really big doses for that to happen and considering the known interactions of Ismay on the evening before the accident and in the couple of hours thereafter, I do not believe that the opiate, even if he had been on it, is relevant in any way.
I don't what to put words in his mouth but I read Julian's post as he was given opiates after the fact when he was taken aboard the Carpathia not while he was on Titanic.. Probably best he did as I'm sure he was despondent. Probably didn't need them before as Titanic was well stocked with enough booze to knock a whale out if somebody wanted to knock the edge off. I'll take your word about opiates as I know you know about that more than me. I only took them once in my life and after 2 or 3 days I told the doctor no more. I was liking it too much.
 

Keith H

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It is to be remembered that Ismay was below decks getting people out of their cabins as the ship sank and there is some talk of him being ordered into a life boat as with out him there would not be any one to carry the can of responsibility of all this .
And also after the disaster Ismay set up a trust fund for financial support to the survivors .
So despite other defects of his character not quite the villain as portrayed.
 
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Julian Atkins

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Hi Arun,

My point was that after the sinking and onboard the Carpathia Ismay required presumably sedating with what was to hand at the time, and in those times.

The obvious question is why Ismay required opiate?

He exhibited some bizarre behaviour in the ante rooms and corridors of the USA Inquiry.

What was his state of mind on the Carpathia that required opiate to be administered very early on and pretty much as soon as he got on board?

Cheers,

Julian
 

Arun Vajpey

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Hi Arun,

My point was that after the sinking and onboard the Carpathia Ismay required presumably sedating with what was to hand at the time, and in those times.

The obvious question is why Ismay required opiate?

He exhibited some bizarre behaviour in the ante rooms and corridors of the USA Inquiry.

What was his state of mind on the Carpathia that required opiate to be administered very early on and pretty much as soon as he got on board?

Cheers,

Julian
Hi Julian,

My answer to that is simple. During and in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, you are looking at 2 Ismays - One Ismay the individual and two, Ismay, Chairman of While Star.

During the actual process of the Titanic's sinking, no one - Ismay included - would have known if they would actually survive the disaster. On those days, simply getting on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean did not guarantee survival. Therefore, after the collision and while still on board the ship, Ismay the individual predominated; he did what he could to help some others and at some later stage took his chances at saving himself. When Ismay got on board Collapsible C, his predominant thought would have been to try and give himself a chance to live. As I said before, that is a human tendency prevalent to varying degrees in everyone and is not something I would blame him for.

But later on board the Carpathia, Ismay would have been more or less be certain that he had indeed survived and so would have started taking stock of his position. That was when the Chairman of White Star would surface, with all its added implications. There he was, having lost a brand new luxury liner on its maiden voyage with enormous loss of life with both the moral and economical repercussions to follow. Of all the survivors, Ismay would have known that he would have to face the proverbial music during the inevitable Inquiry and that awareness would have had its effect on his behavior.

So, IMO Ismay did not need sedation because of any guilt feelings over his own survival but because of his concerns about the corporate fallout that would follow.
 

Julian Atkins

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Hi Arun,

A lot of assumptions there, but I am very grateful for your considered reply.

Could one not equally propose or explore that Ismay required opiate on the Carpathia due to the guilt he felt having taken a place in a lifeboat when so many steerage women and children were drowned in icy waters and the most horrific circumstances?

I don't know of anyone else requiring opiate on the Carpathia.

Cheers,
Julian
 

Arun Vajpey

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Could one not equally propose or explore that Ismay required opiate on the Carpathia due to the guilt he felt having taken a place in a lifeboat when so many steerage women and children were drowned in icy waters and the most horrific circumstances?
Ismay would have felt that guilt had he somehow been directly responsible for the accident and/or could have done something to save all those women, children and others who died in the disaster. But as things turned out, he was not directly responsible and there was no way he or anyone else could have saved all on board. Yes, one might argue that as Chairman of the Company he might have pushed for more lifeboats, regular drills; but at the time, Ismay - like all others in the officialdom involved - was simply following the existing BoT recommendations and so was officially doing nothing wrong.

Having said all that, I agree that Ismay would have felt some 'survivor's guilt' but this would have been no more or different from that felt by the likes of Lightoller, Pitman, Boxhall, Cosmo Duff-Gordon, William Carter etc. Also, the psychological effects of survivor's guilt usually manifest themselves much later and not in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. IMO, on board the Carpathia, Ismay would have been thinking more about the personal, economic and corporate fallout of the sinking of the Titanic than anything else.
 

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