Was Ismay really a villain?


John Knight

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I feel that David has made some very good points. The big problems we all have are that none of us were there and that we are all making judgements using hindsight.
Why on earth should I want to deprive anyone of a loved one? Whether they are Ismay's family or anyone else's.
To pass any form of definite judgement about anyone's behaviour without 100% knowledge of all pertinent facts is disturbing.
Whether we like it or not, the ship was built and equipped to meet and indeed exceed, accepted rules and regulations for those times.
David is correct in stating that no matter how many lifeboats that ship carried they would all never have been launched. Boats for all does not always work out that way, not even today.
We take risks every day of our lives when we rely on others. Some become unacceptable as time goes by, and yes, often because of tragedy. But we still take them because we want cheap and we want easy and we want nice to look at etc, etc.
If anyone really thinks that when they board a ship a train or any other form of transport the passengers know there will be no risks is deluded. We all know there are, we just choose to ignore them so we can have cheap, easy and son and so on.
So, no, Bruce Ismay was not a villain, he was human, like you and like me.
 

Tad G. Fitch

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Dec 31, 2005
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It is ok to speculate on Ismay and whether or not he was a "villain," but I promise you that if every person here was facing the same decision that he did before boarding that lifeboat, certain death, or the chance to survive, 99.99% of you would choose the chance to survive, especially if all it entailed was boarding a lifeboat without any objections from the crew. The basic fight-or-flight response of the human brain and that of pretty much every animal dictates this. It's an instinctual response. Sure, there is a rare person here or there that can overcome this, but not many. That is why many times people in building fires have died from being trampled to death from the rush to get to the exit rather than from the fire or smoke. The urge to survive often overwhelms anything else.

Second, while there is considerable evidence that there were warning shots fired at Collapsible C, there is no way of saying what bearing this had on how Ismay boarded Collapsible C, if any. In fact, he probably boarded the boat before this happened, and clearly, none of the officers on the scene tried to make him get out. Are we to call them villains for allowing him to board or stay in this boat as well? Certainly not.

My own personal opinion is that labeling someone as a villain is often a simplification of the situation and decisions that a person made, from a historical and moral perspective. People come in all shades of gray, but things are rarely black and white.

I say it again. Unless anyone has any evidence that Ismay intentionally did anything knowing that it was negligent (i.e. against the accepted knowledge and attitudes of safety regulations and standards of the day), or did something intentionally malicious (throwing other people out of a boat so that he could get it, ordering officers to let him in ahead of women, etc.), then he is simply not a villain. He is a product of his times, and any decisions about the number of lifeboats and safety features have to be looked at in the perspective of what was acceptable in 1912, not what is acceptable to us by modern standards. He exceeded the safety regulations of the day, but clearly, in hindsight, it was not enough. On that I suppose he is guilty, but only if you condemn everyone else involved in regulations all the way down to operations of passenger liners of the day in the same fashion.

Ismay's actions might be viewed as distasteful or dishonorable by some, but a villain he was not.
 
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The concept of Ismay as villain stands upon three legs. First, that there was factually a shortage of lifeboats aboard at the time of departure from Southampton. Second, that this shortage of lifeboats was the direct result of a decision by Ismay. And, third, that Ismay acted to save his own life because he had pre-sailing knowledge of this shortage of lifeboats. Knock out any of those three legs, and the whole concept tumbles like a broken milking stool.

The point of my previous post is that this first premise is false. Titanic did not sail with a shortage of lifeboats. In fact, the number of boats was quite prudent given: A.) the purpose of the boats in lifesaving as water taxis; and, B.) the number of available trained crew. While unforeseeable at the planning, building and fitting out stages of Titanic, it also turned out that the time available between impact and foundering did not allow for the use of more boats.

When put into historical context, the first "villain" premise is seen to be false. Events on the night of the sinking proved the number of boats carried was actually beyond adequate to the point of being surplus.

The concept behind the lifesaving system of Titanic was to build a vessel capable of being "its own lifeboat" long enough that all persons aboard could be transferred to a rescue vessel in the event of an incident at sea. In this scheme, the number of boats carried was proper and fitting for the purpose.

Thus, the second premise is necessarily false as well. Ismay could not have decided to carry too few lifeboats because the first premise, that there were too few, is factually incorrect.

This brings us to Ismay on the slanting deck of a sinking ship. Yes, he was well aware that circumstances had overwhelmed the lifesaving system installed aboard Titanic. As I say, he may well have been frustrated by the irony of the situation. His company had gone to huge expense in order to insure the safety of all persons aboard Titanic, but this financial extravagance in the name of safety had gone for naught.

With the first two legs of the "villain" concept proven false, the third — that Ismay saved his life because he had pre-sailing knowledge of the boat shortage — is also false because there was no shortage of lifeboats within the intended lifesaving scheme of Titanic.

There was a shortage that night. It was of time, not lifeboats. The lifeboats worked perfectly as ferries to carry Titanic passengers and crew to Carpathia. The problem was that it took too much time to get the rescue ship on scene and the lifeboats ready for a second ferry run. By morning, Titanic was gone. However, that fact is immaterial to any assessment of the adequacy of the lifeboats. Within their designed intent the boats functioned perfectly. It was the ship that failed.

What we have in Ismay is a coward on the deck of a sinking ship. Nothing more. Would it have been better if he had found someone else to live while he perished? I suppose in a romantic way the answer is "yes." However, the sinking of Titanic was not Greek tragedy or Norse saga. Ismay was not a mythical character to be born or killed at the whim of an author.

During the time while Titanic remained a functioning ship it can be argued that Ismay played a role in getting people into boats. In retrospect, that was minor heroism. By the time he chose to save his own skin, however, Ismay's situation had reached the "every man for himself" stage. Titanic was obviously no longer a functioning ship, but a slipway to eternity.

In the situation Ismay found himself every man, woman, and child has a fundamental right to survive. This is part of the law, the custom, and the lore of the sea as well as something deep within human nature. A stupid hero would have stood back and left that lifeboat seat empty. A wise coward jumped into the boat and saved himself.

This does not exonerate Ismay from what may be his true role in the sinking. We cannot say with certainty, but it does appear Ismay placed a great burden on Captain Smith to make a fast maiden crossing in Titanic. This burden may have been enough for Smith to choose to pick his way through the ice rather than sail 50 miles farther south and avoid it altogether. Even though Ismay did not direct the navigation with his own hand, if he did place such a burden on Captain Smith he is equally responsible for the end result. But, we do not know for sure.

So, while we can berate Ismay for being a wise coward, and we can speculate that he may have played a causative role in the sinking, we cannot make him into a villain based upon either the number of lifeboats or that he took a seat in one of those boats at the last minute. The facts argue against the charge of Ismay as a lifeboat "villain." At worst, he was just a wise coward.

-- David G. Brown
 
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>>and clearly, none of the officers on the scene tried to make him get out.<<

Just to throw a bit of a curveball in this, I wonder if perhaps the remaining officers saw this as an opportunity to just get the man out of the way. He may have helped but if the reaction of one of the officers (Telling him to get the hell out of the way) was any indication, his participation was far from welcome.
 
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Alyson Jones

Guest
Bruce Ismay was not a villan. Ask me a couple of months ago i would of said Yes!

Since being on here i have learnt some things from other members and i have been taking notice of books and Documentires.
It seems Bruce Ismay was a very queit gentle man that never really spoke,only if he had too.

The life boats left Titanic with 475 seats to avalible (not Ismay's Fault)
He help Women in to life boats,he only entered the life boats when no other women was around.
I know that Captain Smith was soft natured but Captain Smith being a captain of the Time would of been alot stonger in personality than Ismay was, therefore i don't think Ismays pushing would of effected the Captain thinking that much,not like the way History as provided.
We can't talk either, i bet most of us would done the same as MR Ismay did. Until then How can we judge Ismay and other major people, if we never been in that kind of situcation.
 
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>>Until then How can we judge Ismay and other major people, if we never been in that kind of situcation.<<

In all fairness, we have to make judgements, Alyson. I believe however that it's wise to be very careful of the judgements we make but we have to make them. That may not be altogether pleasant, but that's life.
 
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Alyson Jones

Guest
>>In all fairness, we have to make judgements, Alyson<<

Yes i agree to a certain point. If people been in that situation before can easliy judge but people who have not, its hard to judge.
 
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>>If people been in that situation before can easliy judge but people who have not, its hard to judge.<<

Nobody ever said it was easy or even that it should be. Still, there's no getting away from it. The judgements started from the day the first bits of news hit the front pages and the judgements that mattered began the day Senator Smith started the Senate Inquiry. While it may be hard to face up to, the people on the outside looking in are often the ones who are best able to do the job impartially. This is not to say that they always do, but there's that matter of accountability which never goes away.
 
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Alyson Jones

Guest
Michael Sir. I was just stating that people who never been in that situcation before should not judge but they can if they want to.
 

Jason D. Tiller

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quote:

I wonder why he wasn't looking around and helping 3rd Class women into boats.
Well, Bruce Ismay did assist women into the lifeboats, George, but whether any of them were third class, I'm not sure.

Here are a couple of accounts, where Ismay did assist:

GIRL SURVIVOR HAS PRAISE FOR ISMAY

Mrs. Cassebeer Account

In my opinion, I don't view Bruce Ismay as a villian. I see him as a human being, just like the rest of us who chose to live, instead of being among the victims. There would have been absolutely no point, in being another statistic.​
 
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>>I was just stating that people who never been in that situcation before should not judge but they can if they want to.<<

Actually they have to. To say that somebody who should never judge, or to say that they should do so only if they have been in that situation is the stuff of second grade psuedo-morality. It doesn't work that way in the real world and is impractical to boot, even if only because somebody has to ask the hard questions, and demand straightforward answers.

I do not have to walk in Ismay's shoes to make the observation for example that by the ethical standards of the day, Ismay acted in a cowardly manner. The existance of that ethic is known, it was an ethic which Ismay had to be aware of, one which he was expected to abide by given the standards and expectations of the day and which he failed to live up to. That's not just a judgement, it's a fact. All it takes for me to be able to make that observation is simple research into the known customs and moral imperatives of the time in which he lived.

Now having said that, I don't see him as a villain as the essential ingrediant of malice is absent. Scared witless, yes. A coward by the standards of his time, yes.

A villain, no.

As always, the last destinction is a matter of some opinion. Your own results, opinions, and judgements may vary.
 
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I agree whole-heartedly with Michael.

Under no circumstances do I consider Ismay a villain. A coward, yes (though that is debatable by current and Edwardian standards). Scared - absolutely, but understandable. But out with the definite intentions of causing harm, absolutely not. He was, to his credit, trying to help people (albeit very ineffectively, and became more of a nuisance than a help).

If anything, I think his biggest crime was negligence. A) for not enough lifeboats (don't worry, Michael, I promise I won't get started on this again!
happy.gif
), something understandable for the time, but nonetheless irresponsible, and b) for not taking the appropriate measures to get as many people off of the boat as possible.

While the Captain neglected to inform most (if not all) of the Officers and Crew of the direness of the situation, Ismay could have (in theory) at least attempted to make them aware of the situation in a better way then his mindless hysterics.

He certainly could have handled himself better that night, and whether he deserved a place on a lifeboat is highly debatable, but frankly, I would say no.

He had a moral obligation to the passengers travelling on his ship, and he should have done everything within his ability to ensure their safety. When that had failed, the least he could have done was try and save as many as possible. Instead of that he took a place on a lifeboat - one that could have been better served for another, like little Lorraine Allison for example.

While whether or not the men should have given their lives for the women is a matter of opinion, something I will not get into, however, I do believe that the lives of children should be valued about both men and women alike.

I also believe that judgement is a necessary part of life, and if we did not do it, society would fall apart at the seams. What about criminals? People like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson would still be out on the streets if they were not tried and judged for their crimes. "Don't judge someone unless you've walked a mile in their shoes" is something only relevant in a perfect, utopic society where everyone lives in perfect peace and harmony. I doubt with the world being what it is, that it is anything more than a fantasy for children and the highly naive.

>>Just to throw a bit of a curveball in this, I wonder if perhaps the remaining officers saw this as an opportunity to just get the man out of the way. He may have helped but if the reaction of one of the officers (Telling him to get the hell out of the way) was any indication, his participation was far from welcome.<<

I find that INCREDIBLY interesting, Michael, and a very plausible possibility. Often whenever there are disasters going on that require cool-heads, sometimes the best that can happen is to simply get the frantic, trouble-causing (though sometimes well intentioned) bystanders out of the way. If getting Ismay onto a boat allowed the officers the peace they needed to finish loading, then perhaps it was best that he was on a boat!
 
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>>I find that INCREDIBLY interesting, Michael, and a very plausible possibility.<<

As did I when the thought occured to me. For the record, it was Lowe who had the harsh words for the man, and he was right in nipping the problem in the bud then and there.
 
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"For the record, it was Lowe who had the harsh words for the man, and he was right in nipping the problem in the bud then and there."

Yes, I recall reading that in several places. Ismay, if I remember correctly, was pretty ticked off about it and Lowe's 'harsh language'. I believe they even wrote what he said down on a piece of paper first to see if it was appropriate to be repeated at one of the inquiries.

He was loaded onto one of Murdoch's boat (I believe - please correct me if I'm wrong!), who was arguably one of the most level headed and clear minded of the lot. If any would have come to the conclusion of getting rid of a huge nuisance and problem, I would image it would have been him. Especially if he was feeling the responsibility of the crash - all he would want to do was save as many people as possible, and get rid of anything that prevents that (at least I imagine).
 
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Alyson Jones

Guest
Micheal.If you are talking about going back in a Time Machine to find out the information,then yes i agree.

I agree with you about Ismay not being a villian.
people Jugde all the time(Including myself)so i can't really talk lol and they do and can.

Do i think people have the right to judge people-No i don't.If they been there done that than they have the right to judge.
Some people are totalually innercent but can be dragged down by false judgements.
people can judge there's no law to it, but i don't agree.
 
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>>Do i think people have the right to judge people-No i don't.<<

As I indicated, that sort of thinking is simply second grade psuedo-morality and the grade school is where it belongs. It's not a question of whether or not anybody has a "right". It's a question of utter necessity and obligation. We may not like it but real life doesn't care what we like.

>>, if I remember correctly, was pretty ticked off about it and Lowe's 'harsh language'.<<

Here's the exchange:
quote:

Senator SMITH. You may put that into the record. You said you -

Mr. LOWE. You wish me to repeat it, sir?

Senator SMITH. You uttered this to Mr. Ismay?

Mr. LOWE. Yes; that was in the heat of the moment.

Senator SMITH. What was the occasion of it; because of his excitement, because of his anxiety?

Mr. LOWE. Because he was, in a way, interfering with my duties, and also, of course, he only did this because he was anxious to get the people away and also to help me.

Senator SMITH. What did you say to him?

Mr. LOWE. Do you want me to repeat that statement?

Senator SMITH. Yes, sir.

Mr. LOWE. I told him, "If you will get to hell out of that I shall be able to do something."

Senator SMITH. What reply did he make?

Mr. LOWE. He did not make any reply. I said, "Do you want me to lower away quickly?" I said, "You will have me drown the whole lot of them." I was on the floor myself lowering away.
Make of that what you will. If Ismay was bothered by it, he didn't show it at the inquiry.​
 
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Caroline Mendes Ferreira

Guest
Ismay was really guilty or not?

Many at the time Bruce Ismay accused of being the culprit of the tragedy of the Titanic, for one reason only send the captain have to speed. Bad I do not think he saja the culprit for the tragedy because the night of the disaster Ismay help many women and children into the lifeboats and as much as he left the ship with more than 1,500 people on board, because we think if he had not helped those women and children would not be more empty seats in those boats.

[Moderator's note: This message, originally a separate thread, has been moved to this existing discussion of the same subject. MAB]
 
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titan

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Aug 15, 2014
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Ismays actions

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to know is Joseph Bruce Ismay was persecuted for his cowardly actions when he stepped into a lifeboat filled with woman and children. surly he must have suffered some hideous punishment or was it simply overlooked and he just got a bad name
 

titan

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Aug 15, 2014
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some of you seem to have forgotten that Ismay took and kept one of the wireless messages to show off to passengers, it clearly stated of the ice in the area and as he was a passenger he really had no right to do that. as for is actions when the lifeboats are concerned, I think that he simply sought to save his own life, he did say that the lifeboat was mostly full and still had room for more and there was no one left on deck so he took his place. his actions after trying to help fill the boats was of self preservation.
 

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