Was Lifeboat #11 overloaded?


Arun Vajpey

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In their 1987 book Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy, John Eaton & Charles Haas quote that when Lifeboat #11 was lowered from the A-deck, it was loaded with at least 70 people, which would have been 5 beyond its rated capacity. But here on ET, while acknowledging that there were claims of up to 80 people on board, it is felt that it was closer to 60. But only 41 names have been identified; that is not very surprising because during browsing the ET site, I got the impression that of all the "which boat?" uncertainties, #11 was the most often quoted as the probable candidate.

There is some supporting evidence to suggest that Lifeboat #11 might have been overloaded even before it was lowered. 12-year-old Ruth Becker was unable to find a place for herself in the boat after her mother and two younger siblings had boarded and was obliged to go in #13. Steward Wheelton claimed that he escorted about 40 women into the boat from A-deck and before getting in himself. Emma Schaebert, who managed to find a place for her brother Philip Mock, later stated that lack of space made some occupants almost stand in the boat. Jean-Noel Malachard and Rene Levy escorted their friend Marie Jerwan into #11 but were unable to find places for themselves even though other men had been allowed on this starboard lifeboat; both men died in the sinking. Later, there were comments on the boat becoming almost swamped, presumably due to the overcrowded conditions.
 
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Seumas

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I love the work of Charles Haas and the late John P. Eaton, two excellent historians and still worth reading.

One thing to keep in mind however is that there are a few aspects of their researches that are now out of date and have been eclipsed by more recent investigations.

The idea that No. 11 had seventy people in it or thereabouts started in 1912 with Colonel Gracie's lifeboat totals, most of which were way out.

The best source we currently have for the lifeboat occupancy totals is the analyses conducted by Tad Fitch and Bill Wormstedt in 2011 and which was updated in 2016.


They have No. Eleven at fifty occupants and that is what I would go with.
 

Arun Vajpey

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They have No. Eleven at fifty occupants and that is what I would go with.
I am not arguing the issue but I have actually heard Ruth Becker herself say in a TV interview (the one in which she wore a red top; I saw it in the mid-80s but it might have been an older recording) that she was was unable to find a place with her mother and siblings on Lifeboat #11. She was a girl of 12 at the time and surely people already in the boat would have allowed her in if there was room?
 

Seumas

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I am not arguing the issue but I have actually heard Ruth Becker herself say in a TV interview (the one in which she wore a red top; I saw it in the mid-80s but it might have been an older recording) that she was was unable to find a place with her mother and siblings on Lifeboat #11. She was a girl of 12 at the time and surely people already in the boat would have allowed her in if there was room?
A lot of survivors thought their boats had sixty or seventy in them when in fact they had room for twenty or thirty more. It was cramped inside them and it was pitch black so it was hard to count.

Another thing to remember is that Murdoch and Moody wasted no time in getting 9, 11, 13 & 15 away. All four were lowered in a timeframe of roughly ten minutes. There was no waiting around for anyone with regard to these boats and therefore it's not surprising what happened to Ruth Becker with her family in one boat and her in another.

The most modern evidence just does not support seventy people being No. 11 at all.

If you like, you could send Bill Wormstedt an e-mail concerning how many were in No. 11. He is a very friendly bloke who has always been happy to answer any questions I have had for him and I am sure he would do the same for you.
 
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Generally crew members gave a higher number of occupant than passengers did. Steward MacKay has the highest number mentioned about 74 to 78 while others mentioned less like Brice with about 60 while Stewardess Sincock had about 52 and Mrs. Nye guess about 30 to 40.

I don't think that there were over 70 people in the boat as it would have been nearly not possible for the crew to row. Wheelton mentioned that he had difficulty with his oar as he was hitting people sitting near by. I think about 60 might have been closer to how many actually could have been in No. 11.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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If you like, you could send Bill Wormstedt an e-mail concerning how many were in No. 11. He is a very friendly bloke who has always been happy to answer any questions I have had for him and I am sure he would do the same for you.
Thanks. I would like to contact Bill Wormstedt about this and a few other lifeboat related points. I am a big fan of his detailed and very well researched article about revising lifeboat launch times.

Can you PM me his e-mail address if you have it? Unless it is the same one on his Titanic website - [email protected]
 
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Seumas

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Thanks. I would like to contact Bill Wormstedt about this and a few other lifeboat related points. I am a big fan of his detailed and very well researched article about revising lifeboat launch times.

Can you PM me his e-mail address if you have it? Unless it is the same one on his Titanic website - [email protected]
Aye, that's the one I've used in the past.

The couple of times I have asked Mr Wormstedt a question he always sent back a very friendly, positive and constructive reply.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Steward MacKay has the highest number mentioned about 74 to 78
Yes, and that certainly seems like a slight exaggeration. It was in McKay's bio on ET that the overcrowded conditions on-board resulting in frayed tempers and for some occupants to periodically stand up is mentioned. He testified thus at the British Inquiry to Mr Cottrell:

10859. Were there any complaints in your boat before you got to the "Carpathia"?
- Yes.

10860. Can you tell us what the complaints were?
- Yes,
they complained about being crushed up so much, and they could not sit down properly, and other people complained because they had to stand all night.

McKay also alluded to the group of about 40 women who boarded from A-deck, the ones which Steward "Wilton" (Wheelton) had collected. McKay also mentioned 9 children and 9 crew members; but even in the incomplete list of occupants of Lifeboat #11 here on ET, there are no less than 16 crew, 5 of them women. I am not sure of those 5 stewardesses were part of Wheelton's group but I would have thought not.

Philip Mock is the only male adult passenger mentioned on ET as definitely being on Lifeboat #11 but there are a few other possibilities (even high probabilities) considered like Belgians Jean Scheerlinckx, Jules Sap and Theodor de Mulder. Probably one or two others. Kyrila Scully has the Belgians on #11 in her booklet.

Having said that, McKay does seem rather mixed-up with the lifeboat lowering sequence. As over a month had passed since the tragedy by the time he was called to testify, this is understandable to some extent. Although he accepted that his version was disputable, he seemed certain that Lifeboat #3 was lowered before #7 or #5, which we know was not the case. Also, as IG pointed out, there appeared to be about 5 minutes difference (which is quite a bit under those circumstances), McKay stated that Lifeboat #13 was being lowered even as #11 reached the sea level.
 
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Paul Burrell

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It is a common feature of crew survivor testimonies to (i) over exaggerate the number of passengers in their lifeboat, (ii) under exaggerate the number of crew survivors in their lifeboats and (iii) embellish the means of their escape.

Samuel Rule correctly identified in his testimony to the British inquiry that the lifeboat he was saved in - number 15 - had a large number of male, particularly male crew, survivors. Yet, because he was the only person saying this he was brought back to retract this statement.
 

Arun Vajpey

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It is a common feature of crew survivor testimonies to (i) over exaggerate the number of passengers in their lifeboat, (ii) under exaggerate the number of crew survivors in their lifeboats and (iii) embellish the means of their escape.
I am not disputing that at all. But what I am asking is, unlike the usual slightly exaggerated trend of crew assessment of lifeboat occupancy, whether lifeboat #11 could really have been slightly overloaded. I am not talking about McKay's numbers of 74 to 78 but somewhere between 65 and 70 people. The reasons I felt that were:
  • 12-year old Ruth Becker being unable to find a place in the boat despite her mother and siblings being in it. I have seen a TV interview in which Ruth Becker Blanchard clearly said that when she returned with blankets that Nellie requested, a crew member would not allow her into #11 as there was no room.
  • The fact that where there is uncertainty about which lifeboat someone was rescued on (eg the Belgian farmer trio), "probably #11" seems to be the most common conjecture here on ET and elsewhere. Of course other lifeboats are also considered, but #11 appears to be mentioned most often.
  • Even ignoring specific numbers, McKay and perhaps other crew mentioned that the passengers complained about being "crushed up" together to the extent that some of them could not even sit properly and at times had to stand. I think Emma Schaebert also felt the same, although she should have been relieved that her brother Philipp Mock had made it into the boat.
  • Marie Jerwan seemed to be one of the last passengers to board but her male friends, Jean-Noel Malachard and Rene Levy could not follow her. I have not come across any statement that claims that the two men were refused entry by the crew but considering that #11 was a starboard lifeboat with Murdoch in charge, lack of room seems a plausible explanation.
 

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