What are some of the most overlooked survivor's accounts


Jan 7, 2002
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Both Archibald Gracie and Lawrence Beesley seem to get the spotlight in regards to being the 'definative' passenger/survivor's accounts of the Titanic disaster- Are there any survivor's accounts that for some curious reason have been overshadowed, overlooked or neglected by the Titanic community, that add important details to what took place the night of the sinking? With all the focus on Beesley and Gracie's accounts, are some equally interesting accounts being ignored?
Or could it simply be the case that Beesley and Gracie's accounts were indeed the most interesting and informative 1st person narratives of the sinking?
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Tarn,

As nobody has yet responded to your question, I thought that I should mention Violet Jessop’s account — although the following points have been raised before. Violet Jessop has clearly received much less attention than Lawrence Beesley or Colonel Gracie as an eye witnesses of the Titanic disaster but, as I have asked before, how reliable is the book that was published in 1997/98? I have myself been reluctant to treat it as a primary source because the text of my book contains several obvious anachronisms. For example, a British stewardess is unlikely to have omitted the definite article when referring to a ship such as RMS Titanic. That is clearly the result of editing - but what else has been altered?

Elsewhere in the book, the editor’s heavy-handed comments are so persistent, intrusive and irritating that Violet Jessop's words are almost overwhelmed. For example, when Violet states that she could hear the firemen dropping the fires after the collision, we do not need to be told that this is "unlikely".

If we can generally assume that the book is indeed Violet's own testimony, it contains some significant points about the sinking, the conduct of the passengers and crew, the role of the band, the officer who fired a gun, and the efforts that were made to save the women and children of all three classes. She is also, as far as I know, the only person to mention cats on the Titanic.
 

Dave Gittins

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"She is also, as far as I know, the only person to mention cats on the Titanic."

You haven't read Joe Mulholland's account of the cat that saved his life. It's a good yarn, and probably just as true as Jessop's story.

There are no other survivor accounts as long as those by Gracie and Beesley. Charlotte Collyer left a heavily ghost-written story, plus a private letter. Lucy Duff-Gordon described her part of the story in Discretions and Indiscretions. There's Jack Thayer's book, written long after the event. There's Eva Hart's The Shadow of the Titanic, written even later. There are many short accounts of very varying accuracy that appeared in the contemporary press, or in Gracie's book. One I think is important is from Elizabeth Bonnell, who described the ship as "hog-backed", as seen from her lifeboat. This suggests the structural failure began earlier than is often thought.

Though not on Titanic, Howard Chapin left an account of the rescue, as seen from Carpathia. There are other accounts from Carpathia passengers.

Quite a lot of this material is online, some of it on this site.
 
Jan 7, 2002
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Despite Beesley and Gracie's accounts being the most comprehensive published 1st person accounts of the sinking, I hope buffs don't rely only on their accounts.

I have more faith in the Beesley account that I do the Gracie account- and how Gracie did not notice Titanic broke up is beyond me.....
To be blunt, I think both Gracie and Lightoller lied in asserting Titanic did NOT break in half.
I always believed Gracie and CH Lightoller agreed to assert that Titanic sank in one piece as a way to protect White Star- (and thus Lightoller's job)

But it is a testimony to Gracie's detective skills in being able to track down fellow survivors and determine who was in which lifeboat...

Other than not noticing Titanic broke up, were there any other errors in either Gracie or Beesley accounts?

Stanley, I found the editor's comments actually enhanced the Jessop book, as it tended to elaborate on key points.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Lawrence Beesley, who was perhaps the most impartial witness, with no company affiliations, stated quite clearly that the Titanic did NOT break up on the surface, although he heard the low, rumbling sounds of destruction taking place, unseen, below water level. Violet Jessop also heard these "thundering roars", and compared the ship - significantly - to "a hurt animal with a broken back".
 

Bob Godfrey

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Tarn, I think it hardly likely that any serious student of the Titanic would have read Gracie and Beasley and drawn the line at that. There might be a few, however, who are frightened off by the sheer weight of content in the British and American Inquiry transcripts, and those are the real motherlodes for survivor testimony. Mostly from the crew, of course, so it's always necessary to consider not just what each of them had to say but also their possible motivations in saying it.
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Mar 20, 2007
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'To be blunt, I think both Gracie and Lightoller lied in asserting Titanic did NOT break in half.'

Of course, we know NOW that the ship broke apart at the surface but to suggest a deliberate deception on the part of either Gracie or Beesley seems a little harsh. I've read numerous first-hand accounts of the disaster and have been struck by the often enormous differences between them. A great deal seems to depend on the perspective of the writer and their proximity to the ship between 2.15 and 2.20. Noelle Rothes in Lifeboat No. 8 would have experienced the events of that night in a very different way to Charles Lightoller, for example. But that doesn't necessarily make his account more worthy of attention than hers - any 'Titanic' historian worth his salt will read BOTH accounts before arriving at his own interpretation of what actually occurred.

Besides, wasn't Gracie actually underwater during the final moments of the sinking?
 
Jan 7, 2002
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I'm certain Beesley was quite honest in his account- being in a lifeboat, some distance away, it's easy to understand why he didn't notice the ship breaking in two- once the lights went out, it would be hard to see such details at a distance..
As for Lightoller & Gracie, I am HIGHLY skeptical that they did not notice the ship breaking up- Lightoller would have an agenda- to keep his position with White Star- if he were to reveal such a catastrophic failure of an Olympic Class ship to the press, it may reflect badly on him ...
 
Dec 29, 2006
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This thread was supposed to be about survivors’ accounts — which I take to mean the substantial, published accounts that have appeared in book form, rather than the much shorter stories and anecdotes which appeared in the contemporary press, or the body of evidence which can be found in the British and American enquiries. It was not meant to be about the supposed break-up of the ship, which has been discussed, ad nauseam, in other threads. However, I would point out that, as far as I can see, there is no reason why Lightoller, Gracie and Jessop should have lied about such a catastrophic failure, if indeed it had taken place.

It is well know that the Titanic sank by the bows and that, towards the end, she rotated about her lateral axis and the stern rose high into the air. This would have put unbearable strain upon the hull and, in such circumstances, a break-up would surely have been expected. The vessel’s designers could not have envisaged that their ship would ever have faced such an ordeal, and a catastrophic failure would clearly not have been their fault.

My own view (for what it is worth), is that the hull would have started to fail once the rotation had taken place, but that the actual break-up is more likely to have occurred during the final plunge. If the stern had broken off completely, as shown in the Cameron film, it is surely likely that the aftermost portion of the ship could have remained afloat for a little while longer. Something of this nature occurred on 24 March 1916, when the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway cross-Channel steamer Sussex was hit by a torpedo. Her bow portion was blown off and then sank, but the bulkheads held and remainder of the vessel did not sink.
 
Jan 7, 2002
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Hi Stanley
whoever said Violet Jessop lied about anything?
I'm doubtful that Lightoller and Gracie were being entirely truthful about their recollections about the breakup or (lack thereof) - but I do believe in the honesty of the Jessop & Beesley's accounts..
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Tarn,

I get the impression that Violet Jessop's book has not really been appreciated by some of the regular contributors on this site, and I am not quite sure why that should be the case. My only reservation concerns the heavy-handed editing which seems to have taken place, and I am hoping that someone can tell me how much was changed prior to publication.
 
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Lightoller was one on the first witnesses to give testimony at the US enquiry and he knew many other survivors would also be called to answer questions.

He knew that approx 600 odd other adults had seen more or less exactly the same as him.

He knew that if he’d witnessed the ship break up then so had everyone else. He must have been all too aware that if his version of such a key event did not match that of the vast majority he would soon be ‘found out’.

There is no way a man of Lightoller’s integrity and position would have deliberately lied and risked his reputation. The resulting shame would have jeopardised his whole career not just his employment with White Star.

The ship and the sea were Lightoller’s domain. Despite all the drama going on around him that night, he clearly retained a degree of level-headedness. The passengers meanwhile would have been in a state of extreme shock at what they were experiencing and in all likelihood their judgement and what they were 'seeing' would have been impaired somewhat.

Taken as a whole, the most comprehensive and accurate evidence has to be that of Lightoller’s. Not only did he provide the most evidence at both inquiries he also wrote a first hand account in his book. Yes, there are some inconsistencies in his evidence but perhaps that’s understandable in view of the intense questioning under pressure that he was rather unfairly subjected to.
 

Inger Sheil

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Good summaries on why it is perfectly plausible that Lightoller did not see the vessel break and thought that she sank intact. Given that he, like Gracie, was fighting for his life at the time, I think it can be understood why he didn't have a clear, overarching picture of what was happening.

Nor do I think Gracie is a man who would lightly perjure himself. He obviously respected Lightoller, but to suggest that he would go out of his way - as he does in "The Truth About the Titanic" - to explain why he thinks those who believed the ship broke in two were mistaken is to do a great disservice to the man. Gracie strikes me as a conscientous observer and recorder, who went out of his way to arrive at the "truth" when he could (witness his attempts to track down the origins of reports of Philips on Collapsible B). Lightoller may have earned his respect, but to suggest an historian would deliberately distort the truth for the sake of a man he had known only briefly, and be willing to go on the record and potentially be exposed as a liar, goes beyond credibility.

I'm not convinced at all that the motivation for lying was strong enough for these two men to lie under oath and in subsequent accounts. It may have been desirable for them to suggest that the ship was well built, but not to the extent that they would tell a lie that could easily be contradicted - as Steve pointed out, there were plenty of potential witnesses. The potential damage in being exposed perjuring themselves or being unreliable witnesses far outweighed any potential credit earned with the company.

As for accounts that have not received sufficient exposure...I personally think the correspondence of Clear Cameron and Nellie Walcroft deserve wider exposure. Clear's nephew, Ted Dowding, did a lot to share her story with the private publication of the letters in the late 90s, but they still need to really permeate the discourse about the disaster (compared to other accounts that have been quoted extensively, such as Collyer and Minahan). Rene Harris' early formal interview is another oft-negelected account, although it has been reprinted in the Commutator.
 
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You all make very good points- narrowly avoiding being crushed by a falling funnel may have placed their attention elsewhere..

Regarding seldom told accounts, I really enjoyed reading the account of Mr Henry Blank, published in a past issue of TI's journal 'Voyage'.
 
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"There is no way a man of Lightoller’s integrity and position would have deliberately lied and risked his reputation. The resulting shame would have jeapordised his whole career not just his employment with White Star." QUOTE






I think Lightoller was willing to be as agreeable as possible, and paint White Star in as favorable light as possible- I look at his testimony with some degree of skepticism, because I think he was indeed thinking of his career when giving testimony. He didn't want to say anything that would have hurt his career with white star, so he walked on eggshells with his testimony.
As for Gracie- he seemed to be everywhere at once on Titanic, and I am more comfortable relying on the Beesley account.
 
Jan 7, 2002
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The new Titanic documentary 'Titanic -Achilles Heel' suggested outright that Lightoller lied on the stand, when testifying during the US Senate Titanic Hearings. I agree with that assessment.
 
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>>The new Titanic documentary 'Titanic -Achilles Heel' suggested outright that Lightoller lied on the stand, when testifying during the US Senate Titanic Hearings. I agree with that assessment.<<

To put it in context, what Lights got caught out on was the fact that the Titanic had recieved ice warnings and that he was aware of it. As to his failure to notice the breakup, this muich is entirely credible. He was up forward as the ship went down and was literally too close to see the whole of what was going on.

On his website, Parks Stephenson did some CGI renderings which show how somebody could be looking right at the ship from a near bow on angle and not ever realize that the breakup occured.
 

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