Question Were the third class passengers really locked down?

  • Thread starter Jenn Quaile (Jenn)
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Jenn Quaile (Jenn)

i wanted to know if it was really true that the third class passenger were rally locked down in the third class until all of the first class were safely boardede into the lifeboats? if so was this the general rule of all passenger ships at the time?

David Matthew Stewart (Titanicus)

I think, that, it was not a genral rule, as, no other ships had sunk, with this great a loss of life. I, myself, think that some gates were locked, and others weren't. I have heard an account of a third class corridor, where a gate was wide open, leading to the second calss areas of the ship, which, would lead them to the boat deck if they just kept going up...
Either way, I don't think that the James Cameron Movie accuratly portrayed the Third Class areas during the sinking.


According to various accounts from stewards aboard Titanic at the time of the disaster, many gates were left wide open. Many third class passengers walked straight passed them as they didn't have a clue where they lead to. Those who had boarded at Queenstown only had three days to learn their way around their own accommodation let alone find their way around the maze of corridors in other areas. Lightoller said it took him two weeks to be able to know where he was onboard. Also, all signs onboard Titanic were written in English, so the many Scandinavian and middle eastern third class passengers wouldn't understand the signs, so walk straight past open gates that led up to the top decks. I think that Cameron's film puts too much emphasis on keeping third class passengers below. I think the general confusion that occurred in third class resulted in not many being saved. By design Titanic's third class passengers had the hardest job in getting to the boat deck. First and Second class public rooms and cabins were mainly contained within the superstructure and centre of the vessel close to the boats, whereas third class was forawrd and aft.

David Gleicher (Davidg)

The question of whether the third class were forcibly prevented from reaching the boat deck is, I think, misplaced, when it comes to the general issue of why passengers from this class perished in such a great proportion compared to the other classes. The idea that it was the design of the ship that was the problem seems rather far fetched as well. The vast majority of third class passengers seem to have been directed early on to the the public spaces in the far rear of the ship as far up as D Deck. There they waited for further instructions, as boats were being loaded far above them, from the ship's authorities, who they had a right to expect had organized a proper rescue for them. But they hadn't.



Mar 10, 1998
I have a hand written account of a third class passenger Laura Mae Cribb who was 17 at the time and she states that she got right up thru the gates to first class and out on the boat deck. The gates were used only for quarantine purposes upon docking in the United States for customs and health inspecitons.

Rachel Boland

Mar 10, 2000
Sturgis, Michigan
The one reason for the 'locked gates' on all ships (not just Titanic) in third class was because most 3rd class or Steerage (as they were more commonly called) were mostly immigrants going to America and they had NOT passed through Ellis Island/Castle Garden or another port, so they were considered a health risk to the other passengers. I know it doesn't sound fair, but if any had a disease and they were with the other classes, who knows what would have happened.

On most passenger lists it is listed as First Cabin/Saloon, Second Cabin/Saloon and Steerage. I have seen some ship that came in with only one or two first and second class passengers.

David Gleicher (Davidg)

I have a question, which perhaps somewhat can help me out on.

Paul Quinn, in his book Titanic at Two writes, concerning third class passengers at the rear of the ship, "In third class, passengers were told to put on their life belts and report up on deck. But they only made it to the foot of their main staircase on D deck before meeting crewmen who advised them to wait there unitl further direction."

Does anyone (including Paul if he's out there) know of specific testimony or some other account that refers to such crewmen who instructed passengers to wait at a certain point, without going up further toward the boat deck?

Cindy H

The only testimony I have found so far (I'll keep looking because this question has plagued me too) was by Mr. Abelseth from 3rd class. He states that while the gate was closed, he didn't believe it was locked and he believed that anyone could go up... that they weren't restrained. However, he further states that people were climbing up some cranes to get to the boat deck. Which makes one wonder why they would do this. It's quite obvious that the US Senate believed that at least some of the gates were locked and that some of the crew were trying to prevent passengers from going up to the boat deck. IMHO I believe that Cameron merely tried to play that out.

If you wish to see the testimony go to:

David Gleicher (Davidg)


I'm familiar with Abelseth's testimony, but it refers to the gate separating the rear well deck from the boat deck (atop the ship). One might infer that since there were crewmen stationed to keep people from getting through this entry point to the boat deck there must have been a similar situation below, but I was looking for more direct testimony.

I did realize after posting my previous message that there is the testimony of Paul Mauge, secretary to the chef of a la carte restaurant. He testified to 'two or three stewards", apparently at the third class stairway on D Deck who would not let the restaurant employees pass through to get to the boat deck. Perhaps this is the source of Quinn's claim(?)


Matt S

Apr 19, 2018
The reason a lot of the people who drowned were third class, was because it was at the back of the ship, so it took longer to get all the way up to the boat deck, they weren't locked down there though

robert warren

Feb 19, 2016
Totally agree. I believe some gates were open, some locked.There were a number of crew who did go down and escort groups of them up to the boat deck.Of course 3rd class was not totally blameless here either. Another survivor, August Wenerstrom recalled being rather p###ed off at seeing a large group of Catholics who were sitting there praying to the Almighty to help them and not doing anything to try and save themselves.I think the main problem with all of this, is that the crew were too involved in the goings on above decks to go and check and make sure ALL gates were open and these people could get up and out. I of course wince when I see the depiction in JC's film.I find it hard to believe that stewards were pistol whipping and smashing people's faces through the gates with their guns. Horrible to see, even more horrible if it's true!!
Jul 9, 2000
Easley South Carolina
>>I find it hard to believe that stewards were pistol whipping and smashing people's faces through the gates with their guns.<<

Where is the evidence that this happened at all?

You hear about it in the popular folklore and even some of the personal accounts. The problem with all of that is that the only gated areas down below decks were intended to keep passengers out of places like the vegetable locker. There were none elsewhere and none indicated on the plans.


Jul 1, 2015
Tacoma, WA
The best report I've ever read about gates is in the Centennial Reappraisal book. When writing my classroom I looked into this matter thinking that it would be a topic of discussion (due to time however I was not able to get into it though). Upon my research I began to ask why would the crew keep the people down below, if indeed some did? I thought that the best examples of why comes from the testimony of 3rd Class Steward Hart, especially when he said, "I waited about there with my own people trying to show them that the vessel was not hurt to any extent to my own knowledge, and waited for the chief third class steward, or some other Officer, or somebody in authority to come down and give further orders." This offers some insight. First he didn't have knowledge to the extent of the damage, and he did not have orders to let people up- or any orders at all. The stewards could not just let passengers go throughout the vessel on their own free will, Titanic was still an immigration ship, and if the ship was not to sink than the passengers would still have to separated. Until orders came the stewards still had their duty. Of course once people started to realize that the ship was sinking things would change on both the part of the crew and passengers. Passengers would want to escape and crew would want to maintain order, if not escape themselves. Though it is possible that there was ill intent on some people's part, such as if you were Italian or Asian- that segregation would crop up throughout the testimonies, I also believe that it was fight or flight. Though fictional, a good example is in Cameron's movie when the steward drops his keys in the water when trying to unlock the gate. He was fleeing for himself, and tried to unlock the gate but thought it better to save himself. Again, though fictional, such occurrences in other forms could easily have happened.

Of course then Hart would also claim, "Yes, those that were willing to go to the boat deck were shown the way. Some were not willing to go to the boat deck, and stayed behind. Some of them went to the boat deck, and found it rather cold, and saw the boats being lowered away, and thought themselves more secure on the ship, and consequently returned to their cabin....Yes, I heard two or three say they preferred to remain on the ship than be tossed about on the water like a cockle shell."

Arun Vajpey

Jul 8, 1999
My feeling, as others have said in the past about this, is that there was no concentrated attempt to keep the steerage passengers "locked down below". During normal crossing, some gates were locked to stop curious third class passengers from exploring areas where they were not allowed. These were very likely located at the most obvious access points from Third Class areas to the upper decks, something that many steerage passengers would have noted and later recalled. That is human nature.

After the collision and during the sinking, these gates remained locked and those steerage passengers who congregated in those areas would continue to have their access barred. If there were any stewards on the other side of those barriers, they might not have known what to do and in case of non-English speaking Third Class passengers, they might have misunderstood the staff members' gesticulations or whatever. But I am sure that there were other (perhaps less obvious) access points to the upper areas as far as the boat deck and some steerage passengers did find their way there. There is a (from the Olympic) photograph of one of the main stairwells from Second Class to the boat deck and there was only one door between this and a major Third Class corridor. As far as is known, that door remained open throughout the sinking.

There are other issues. Even allowing for some embellishment on his part, there must be some truth in Wennerstrom's claim that even late into the sinking there were several southern European passengers sitting around praying without making any attempt to save themselves. Then there is also the question of negotiating the long and convoluted path that many steerage passengers had to take to reach the boat decks, even when there were no barriers. On pp 118-119 of Don Lynch's book Titanic - An Illustrated History there is a good illustration titled "Were They Kept Below?" depicting this very problem.
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