What time during the sinking did people's doubt vanish?

Dan Kappes

Aug 17, 2009
Apple Valley, Minnesota, United States
I remember a scene in the movie A Night to Remember when an elderly lady complains about being woken up in the middle of the night and saying "Everybody knows this ship can't sink!" The next shot of the film shows a boiler room flooding and water drenching stokers to prove she's wrong.

Every time I watch that scene I feel like slapping her in the face and saying, "Lady, don't you know and/or haven't you heard about what's going on below-decks?!"

What time during the sinking did most people on board start to realize that the Titanic was indeed sinking and they started to panic or attempt to save themselves?


The ship settled so slowly and quite evenly for a long period. The music was playing and a number of the officers and stewards (who were confident the ship would not sink) were reassuring the passengers that there was absolutely nothing to worry about.

Mrs. White said:
"Nobody ever thought the ship was going down. I do not think there was a person that night, I do not think there was a man on the boat who thought the ship was going down. They speak of the bravery of the men. I do not think there was any particular bravery, because none of the men thought it was going down. If they had thought the ship was going down, they would not have frivoled as they did about it. Some of them said, "When you come back you will need a pass," and, "You can not get on to-morrow morning without a pass." They never would have said these things if anybody had had any idea that the ship was going to sink."

Many Third class passengers were berthed in the stern section and they were seen climbing the stairs that led to the aft well deck. They remained there for a considerable time as they did not know what else to do. Charles Hendrickson was down on E-deck and saw the 3rd class passengers carrying their luggage and walking up the corridor towards the aft well deck.

"They were in the working alleyway, going along with trunks and bags and portmanteaux."

Q - There was a crowd of them?
A - Yes, a big bunch of them.
Q - When you came aft again were they still there?
A - Yes, they were working their way aft; they were going towards aft.
Q - They were going aft with their luggage?
A - Yes.
Q - Were the steerage passengers still in the alleyway then?
A - Yes, they were walking about to and fro; some sitting on their luggage.
Q - There was no panic among them?
A - No, they were just walking about in an ordinary way.
Q - You saw them there with their luggage?
A - Yes.
Q - How long would this have been after the collision?
A - About three-quarters of an hour.
Q - Which way were they going?
A - They were going along aft.
Q - Was anybody giving them instructions where to go?
A - No one at all.
Q - No one at all?
A - I never saw anyone there, and heard no one.
Q - And you heard no one tell them where to go?
A - No.
Q - Those people were left to their own resources?
A - They were going along on their own.
Q - You did not hear any of the stewards reassure them in any way?
A - I did not see any stewards.
Q - And so far as you could see there was no organisation amongst the members of the crew?
A - No.
Q - And no directions given to the passengers as to what to do?
A - No.

Charles Joughin was also down on E-deck. By this time there was some order and the interpreters were brought in to help the passengers understand that their wives and children would be taken up to the boat deck while the men would have to remain below until they received word to let the men up as well. They also were not allowed to bring their luggage with them.

Charles Joughin was asked:
Q - You say at the time this passage seemed to be obstructed by third-class passengers bringing their luggage?
A - Yes.
Q - Would that lead to any confusion?
A - It would.
Q - Did it, as a matter of fact?
A - There did not seem to be much confusion, only it hampered the steward; it hampered the interpreter and the men who were helping him, because they could not prevail on the people to leave their luggage.

Shortly before the ship broke in two he went below to the kitchens and got a drink. He said the passengers were still holding onto their luggage in those final moments. He said - "They would not let go of them......I saw third-class passengers coming straggling through the kitchen, and they even had their baggage then."

There were orders to open the gangway doors so that the passengers below decks could climb down rope ladders into the lifeboats that were supposed to wait close by, but this plan failed entirely. 4th officer Boxhall said he was instructed to take his boat up to one of the aft gangway doors. He saw a crowd of people at the door and he was afraid they would jump out and swamp his boat. He had to protect the people already in his boat, and he rowed away to a safer distance. He said the propellers were rising above the water at this time, which indicates that there were passengers below decks waiting by the gangway doors at this very late stage of the sinking as they hoped the lifeboats would return. It is unknown when panic in those locations began, but the ship broke apart soon after.

Colonel Gracie was standing on the forward boat deck just moments before the bridge submerged. He said: "My friend Clinch Smith made the proposition that we should leave and go toward the stern. But there arose before us from the decks below a mass of humanity several lines deep converging on the Boat Deck facing us and completely blocking our passage to the stern. There were women in the crowd as well as men and these seemed to be steerage passengers who had just come up from the decks below. Even among these people there was no hysterical cry, no evidence of panic. Oh the agony of it."

There was some panic when the last lifeboats that were aft were in the process of lowering away and 5th officer Lowe had to fire his gun to prevent the passengers from jumping into the last remaining boats. There was also a struggle to pull a number of men out of one of the collapsible boats before it was lowered, but there was no real sense of panic for many people as they were still waiting in the aft well deck. Then suddenly there was a terrific explosive sound and the ship broke apart. The stern keeled over heavily to port and most of the people on the aft well deck were spilled into the sea.

Edith Rosenbaum was in a lifeboat and she heard a terrific yell, but she mistakenly thought the people on the ship were cheering. She said:

"Preceding the sinking of the boat, there was a loud cry, as if emanating from one throat." (this was the sound of hundreds of passengers being tipped into the sea as the broken stern keeled over) "The men in our boat asked the women to cheer, saying 'Those cheers that you hear on the big boat mean they have all gotten into lifeboats and are saved.' and do you know, that we actually cheered, believing that the big shout was one of thanksgiving."

Survivor Frank Evans was in a lifeboat that rowed away from the port side and he thought the same thing as Edith. They could not imagine that people were dying. He said:

"We heard these cries, but we took them to be the boats that went away from the starboard side of the ship; that they were cheering one another, sir.
Q - Giving them encouragement?
A - Giving them encouragement, sir.
Q - Did you not hear the cries of anyone in distress?
A - No, sir.

Ruth Becker said she heard a terrific explosion and saw the ship break in half. She said that was the moment they heard people screaming and jumping into the water. When the band played 'Nearer My God To Thee' there were several survivors who heard the passengers on the ship singing along to the hymn in a solemn moment as they hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. I believe many of them were optimistic that the safest ship in the world could not go down on her maiden voyage and there were rumours that a number of ships were coming to their rescue.
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Chung Rex

Dec 25, 2006
If they could observe the forecastle deck for whatever reason, the best indicator might be that the forecastle deck was submerged. Virtually nobody would think that any ships with submerged forecastle were at good conditions.
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Brad Rousse

Nov 27, 2002
Prague, Czech Rep.
It probably came in waves depending on a wide-range of factors from where you were in the ship to your personal resistance to panic.

But as previously mentioned, the submergence of the bow would probably the point that only the most deluded could conclude the end was coming.

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