Women and children first

I thought I read somewhere that Lightoller and Murdoch somehow ended up with different policies. One said W&C first, the other said W&C ONLY. In fact, in the 1997 movie, you hear Lightoller offscreen say the latter.

Where can I find a discussion or documentation of this discrepancy, and did it in fact exist? Thanks.

Erik Wood


Captain Smith said Women and children first. Murdoch assumed that meant all the women and children you can find that anyone else that will fit. Lightoller assumed it meant only women and children. Lightoller had a record for not allowing men at all. I hope that this helps.


Nathan Heddle

Former Member
Yes the women and children question is interesting. It seems that one side of the boat was letting men in and the other, which Lightoller seemed to be in control of wasn't letting in any men.

It has always seemed odd that there were two different rules for the two sides of the boat.

>Lightoller had a record for not allowing men at all.

From what I remember, it seems that Lighttoller only let in one man on his side, and it was because that particular lifeboat needed someone to be in charge of it due to lack of crew.

I seem to remember a further statement by Murdoch about "Brides and grooms". Did he actually make a statement on this? This might explain why he let men into the lifeboats also.

James Douglas Smith

Former Member
Radio Operator Harold Bride mentioned in his account (published in the New York Times after the Carpathia arrived) that as he was delivering a message on the boat deck (to the Captain, as I recall), he thought he heard someone call his name. He seems to have "perked up" his ears a bit and heard an officer calling, "put the brides and grooms in first." Lightoller was indeed quite strict about "women and children only;" if Bride's account is correct, it was probably Murdoch that he heard.
The issue of the half-full lifeboats consisting of women and children only is one that I cannot seem to get by. Before they sailed the lifeboats were tested with the weight of 70 MEN, so that would mean they probably could have got 100 women and children on one boat. Had Lightoller allowed the lifeboats to fill up to their capacity many more people would have survived and been saved from an awful fate that night.

In his autobiography he placed the blame of the loss of hundreds of lives on a flawed Marconi wireless system. This might have been true, but Marconi was not the one who filled the life-boats and decided who was to going to live or die.

Was Lightoller married and did he have any children while he was stationed on the Titanic? Maybe he would have made more exceptions and allowed more men to join their wives and children while he was in charge of filling the boats.

Thank you.
>>Was Lightoller married and did he have any children while he was stationed on the Titanic?<<

Yes he was. You might want to start HERE and follow the links to learn more about him.

>>The issue of the half-full lifeboats consisting of women and children only is one that I cannot seem to get by.<<

Why not? It's a part of history as it happened. There's really nothing any of us can do about it and it's way too late to pass some highly subjective moral judgements. He dealt with the crisis as best he could and carried out his orders as best he understood them. That understanding may well not have been perfect but miscommunications and misunderstanding was as rampant then as it is in any other disaster.

While the boats were indeed tested to full capacity in Belfast, whether or not all the officers knew about it is questionable at best. While I have a difficult time believeing that they didn't know...this purported ignorance and the notorious Masaba message *may* have been misdirection,...that hardly means that all of them did know about it.

>>but Marconi was not the one who filled the life-boats and decided who was to going to live or die.<<

Quite right...Marconi had no part in this decision process, but befor any of us gets into some sort of rightous rage over any of this, it would be wise to make sure that one has all the facts at hand...or at the least...the ones of the most immidiate importance.

Titanic's officers found themselves between a rock and a hard place when they realized that they were;
a) On a sinking ship with
b) A surplus of bodies,
c) A shortage of boats to put them in and
d) No help in sight that could be obtained until *after* the ship sank in freezing cold water.

That meant that no matter what, they absolutely had to make some very difficult choices on who would live and who would die. Could any of us have done any better in their position and having only the knowladge and understanding they had at the time?

Maybe, but I'd bet long odds against it.
Your right about the misdirection and faulty communication that contributed to this disaster and others. The deadly combination of human errors or mishaps, like the missing binoculars, calm sea, and the fact that there were not enough lifeboats on board made 'Titanic' an accident waiting to happen. I am not casting any doubt on Lightoller's character or bravery during this time. I believe had he known the gravity of the situation at first he would have done things differently. Too bad The White Star Line placed luxury over the safety of their passengers and crew.

Sean C. Corenki

Former Member
Susan...I do not agree with your assessment that the Titanic was "an accident waiting to happen." It is far too easy 92 years after something has happened to sit back and draw conclusions and find faults and make criticisms when you have a wealth of information that was'nt available AT THE TIME to the players involved. The Titanic did'nt have enough life boats for all persons aboard. I doubt that liner operating on the transatlantic at the time did. They did'nt have to, the law did'nt require it. After the Titanic disaster all passenger vessels were quickly fitted with adequate lifeboats. The Titanic opened eyes to the fact that the unthinkable and unimaginable could happen. The German's came up with the brilliant idea of building giant airships and filling them with hydrogen and a bunch of people and flying them all over the globe. Did German scientists know that hydrogen was a highly volatile gas? Of course they did. It was cheaper and more accessible to them than helium so they used it for economic reasons at the expense of safety. They never had an accident with it before,why not use it? The Hindenberg ended the use of hydrogen filled airships in one day in 1937. Again, the unthinkable happened. People learned from the mistake and it was never repeated. The Titanic was operating normally on the night of April 14. Much is made of ignored ice warnings and reckless speed but I happen to think if the Olympic or the Lusitania or any other large express steamer was there under the Titanic's circumstances they would have done the same. It was normal procedure. Large liners did'nt go crashing into icebergs at high speed, they were spotted well in advance a manuevered around. After the Titanic this mentality changed,again, because people were awakened as to what could happen. Regarding the binoculars: They are also frequently brought up as one of the crews mistakes or fatal errors of the evening. They were not. Binoculars were invaluable for identifying something after it was spotted with the naked eye. They were useless for scanning the horizon for unknown objects in the dark as they greatly reduced peripheral vision. The Titanic was no more an accident waiting to happen than the Hyundai I drive to work every day is. Perhaps if the dozens of fire fighters that entered the World Trade Centers on 9/11 knew the buildings were going to collapse they would'nt have gone in? Hindsight is a great tool. Too bad we could'nt figure out a way to use it BEFORE an event has happened. Regards, Sean
>>Too bad The White Star Line placed luxury over the safety of their passengers and crew.<<

I keep hearing this and when I think about it, this is one of those things I have to point out as being very misleading. White Star did not put luxury ahead of safety. With the operational experience of the past half century to draw on, they produced ships that were both safe...safer in fact then what a lot of the competition offered...and very rugged. In point of fact, the Olympic and Titanic had features which exceeded the legal safety requirements/regulations/laws of the day. Further, they had some signifigent margin for growth in anticipation of the "lifeboats for all" thing becoming law.

BTW, the emphisis on luxury was at the behest of the customers who demanded bigger, better, faster, and more comfortable ships with more amenities then those that came befor them. White Star did nothing more then accomadate that demand as did Cunard, Canadian Pacific, Hapeg Lloyd, etc. They would have been exceedingly stupid not to as if one hadn't offered the goodies and creature comforts demanded, the customer would go to the one who does.

It's not for nothing that the shipping lines even today point out that it would be possible to build a ship that would be perfectly 100% safe...but nobody would ever sail on it.

As to the issue of binoculars, this is another piece of misdirection that has become entrenched in the Titanic mythos that...unfortunately...never seems to go away. As one who has stood lookout watches at sea in adverse conditions of low visibility, I can testify from personal experience what Sean just spoke to above. Binoculars are grossly over rated.
Gentlemen, thank you for your insights. Whether or not the binoculars would have helped the crew on that calm night, it sure seems a simple navigational tool that should have been at the crew's disposal. Ironic, that so much attention to detail was paid in the grand construction and design, yet they did not have a pair of binoculars?

I can just hear the BERG saying as the luxurious steam liner approached it, "YOU THINK YOUR BIG?"
Hello Susan.
It's always easier to think the unthinkable after an event, particularly in the tricky area of risk assessment.

Take for example the QM2, a much bigger ship, and technologically much better protected than the Titanic ever could have been. The designers would have put safety, I think, at the top of their agenda .... after the objective of attracting enough high-spending customers to ensure a profit. I think the Titanic designers would have done precisely the same. And you can't fault those priorities - after all, who spends millions to create a safe white elephant?

The QM2 designers have, of course, 90+ years of history to inform their safety decisions since the Titanic, and other, disasters. Some of their preoccupations would be the same as for Titanic - fire, watertight compartments, stability, operating procedures etc., and some different i.e. the risks of terrorist attack.

The designers of QM2 have never said she is unsinkable, but then neither did the WSL. Capt. Smith said something to the effect that Titanic was practically unsinkable, which was a bit injudicious, but the media and public were the ones who decided it was 'unsinkable'. And I think you might find a similar public opinion today about the QM2.

She is so big even a freak wave would find it hard to sink her; she has technology aboard that make it impossible surely, to run into anything, or for anyone with evil intention to approach her. A remote attack would take quite a bit of expensive, and difficult to obtain and launch, hardware to do it. What else is left? Well, we don't know, except that - there must be something. But it's hard to protect against that something.

Risk assessment is a difficult area for two main reasons. The accumulation of human experience demands that systems are designed to avoid previous disaster - which we do quite well. Unfortunately, human attitudes interfere with the process of safety in two ways. Firstly, we assume we've now got it right and, secondly, we compensate for that in our behaviour - being naturally risk-taking creatures. So we rely on our knowledge and technology.

Take seatbelts in cars. The most notable result of their introduction was that we felt safer, so we drove faster, and the accident rate didn't decrease, although the severity of the outcomes did. It you really wanted to eliminate car accidents, you would put everyone in the car into a seatbelt except the driver. You would then mount a spike on the steering wheel boss - you would increase the driver's risk - not reduce it.

Titanic's crew thought they had the safest ship in the world and knew that, under normal operating conditions, they had sound operating procedures and were well-trained. The training didn't let them down - nobody ran around like a headless chicken. The lack of binoculars was probably not considered anything more than a non-regulation irritation for the reasons Michael stated.

What let them down was lack of experience in role and command of radio communications (it was new, and still operating in Marconi's interests); culture (Edwardian 'chivalry'); and the difficult of communications in an emergency (who knew what anyone else was desperately trying to do?).

I've probably missed out a few issues, I realize, but the point is that when we accuse them of hubris leading to loss of life, we are just as much at risk ourselves of the same thing - only for reasons which we probably have not been able to foresee. Our descendants will no doubt think how stupid we were.

Part of the fascination of the Titanic is poring over the details to find out exactly what went wrong, and to learn from it. It is a mistake, however in my view, to think that we are radically different in either wisdom, morality or judgement.
Hi Monica,
Thanks for giving me some interesting points to ponder. I agree that we are 'risk-taking creatures' and that the people on the Titanic were not very different from people today. Everything becomes clearer when you are able to take a few steps back and look at the entire situation. And that is not possible when the actual event is taking place. I salute all the brave men and women on the Titanic who we will forever remember...Nearer My God To Thee!
>>Whether or not the binoculars would have helped the crew on that calm night, it sure seems a simple navigational tool that should have been at the crew's disposal. Ironic, that so much attention to detail was paid in the grand construction and design, yet they did not have a pair of binoculars?<<

Susan, if you have the chance, you might want to read through the Inquiry Transcripts Themselves. You may be surprised to learn that the attitude towards binoculars on the part of many of the officers wasn't that much different from my own. Personally, I found the things to be of no real use for searching and I had much better instruments available (With coated lenses that tend to intensify available light!) then they did in 1912. It's not really surprising that the lookouts tried to make it an issue. Being on watch at the time, they knew it would be all too easy to be socked with "The Blame" so they would tend to "spin" the story a bit in their favour.

Not that I never used the things, but when I did, it was to identify a target after I've seen it and know where to look. If you want to get an idea of how tricky it is to use these things, go out to sea or even out on a local lake and try searching with the things. It's not as easy as one might think.
>"Not that I never used the things, but when I did, it was to identify a target after I've seen it and know where to look."

Michael, that's exactly the same view I gotten from reading the testimony. I take it we're in agreement that "no binoculars in the crow's nest" was a bit of a red herring.