The Fatal Journey of Third Class Men on the Titanic

Was survival or loss determined the Titanic's design?



Given the well-documented practice of those in authority during the immediate aftermath of the collision to downplay its seriousness 1, how aware a Third Class passenger on the Titanic was of what had happened greatly depended on where he or she was quartered. Single women and families with children were quartered in the extreme after end of the stern (Passenger Occupancy Table below) from D Deck down to G, far from the forward end of the bow on the starboard side of the ship where the collision occurred. For these passengers, aside from the initial jolt (which was noticed by some but by no means all), the only direct evidence of the event were the ship’s engines being shut off within a matter of minutes of the collision (Beesley, 1912: 28). It is quite probable that many Third Class women and families in the after quarters did not notice anything and slept well after midnight before having an inkling of being in danger.

In sharp contrast, the nearly 440 Third Class passengers residing in the forward quarters—overwhelmingly single men, along with a relatively small number of childless couples (Passenger Occupancy Table below)--there was considerably more awareness early on as to both the nature and the magnitude of the accident. This would have been especially true of men quartered on the starboard side in the open berths on G Deck and the cabins on F Deck where water from the accident entered directly.


Passenger Occupancy Table 2


Forward Quarters


After Quarters




Single Male

Childless Couples


Single Fem.

Couples with Children




Third Class













































The Third Class survivors Carl Jansson and Bernt Johannesen are typical of several men who survived who were in the forward quarters and who in later accounts reported quickly comprehending the significance of what had occurred simply because water was filling their quarters. The former is quoted as having said:

Then I run down to my cabin to bring my other clothes, watch and bag but had only time to take the watch and the coat when water with enormous force came into the cabin and I had to rush up to the deck again where I found my friends standing with lifebelts on and with terror painted on their faces. What should I do now, with no lifebelt and no shoes and no cap? (H.: Passenger Lists & Biographies).

And Bernt Johannesen is cited as saying:

We were in the cabin where we undressed. Then we heard something like a vibration in the ship. I dressed, and went upstairs. On the other deck I met a mate who told me that we had struck an iceberg, and boats were being put out as a matter of precaution. It was nice, quiet weather that evening, so I thought I would walk to the cabin to get a coat. But at the fourth deck I was stopped by an officer who told me that I could not get any further. The sea water had got into the cabin (H.: Passenger Lists & Biographies).

For those in the forward quarters without first-hand experience of the accident, the evidence no doubt came quickly enough from those in the vicinity who had seen the water coming in or themselves had heard from one who had. There are, for instance, a number of references in first-hand accounts to a large group of ‘firemen’ (or ‘stokers’) appearing on the Boat Deck very early on (e.g., Gracie, 1913, in Winocour, 1960: 175-6)3. Being employed far below, in the boiler rooms at the forward end and thus being not only experienced with ships, but also having seen the water literally rushing in, these firemen clearly understood very soon the seriousness of the situation and immediately headed to the upper decks. They, and crew members like them, of course communicated their understanding of things to nearby passengers in the forward quarters, so that the information rapidly spread The Third Class passenger Daniel Buckley4 testified exactly to just such a process:

I got on my clothes as quick as I could and the three other fellows got out…Two sailors came along, and they were shouting: ‘All up on deck! Unless you want to get drowned.’ When I heard this I went for the deck as quick as I could (A.).

Within roughly one half hour of the accident, then, we can infer that the information had already reached a critical mass of the Third Class passengers in the forward quarters that the ship was taking in water. Driven by fear, and in the case of those whose quarters cabins are literally flooded by necessity, hundreds of men deep down on E, F and G Decks at the forward end of the ship now gather up as best they can their belongings, and begin a journey, in the depths of the ship, the near length of the Titanic from bow to stern. This, even as right above them on the forward Boat Deck lifeboats are being prepared, eventually to be loaded almost exclusively with First Class passengers and their servants. The present piece is an investigation into what is known about this journey, in the hope of shedding some light on the general treatment of the Third Class passengers by the ship’s authorities. 5

As suggested by the title of this piece, the journey proved a fatal one. The men—some 350 to 400 of them6—went almost the entire way along the working alleyway known as ‘Scotland Road’ that ran along the port side of E Deck. The journey was not completed probably for all of them until roughly 1:00AM. It ended in a deadly cul de sac. Virtually none of the Third Class men who went back to the stern from their front quarters were ever rescued. Of 420 men in the forward quarters only 56 survived. Many, if not all of the survivors most likely went immediately up to the forward Boat Deck, never taking the journey at all. The majority of the men who did take the journey, once it was over apparently waited in Third Class public spaces in the stern, many of them emerging only at the last moments before the ship sank, part of a mass of people who rushed to the after Poop Deck in a desperate attempt to extend their lives. Some unknown number of the men made it up to the after Well Deck beginning at 12:30AM to 1:00AM or so where they were detained, their access to the Boat Deck restricted (Abelseth, A.; Dillon, B.: 3828-55). These men were akin to spectators of the rescue, watching the lifeboats being launched from the after Boat Deck. Ultimately, they joined the mass of people who huddled together at the extreme rear of the Poop Deck as the ship finally sank bow-first into the North Atlantic. As we shall see, there may also have been some unknown number of the Third Class men who were led from Scotland down to the Third Class dining rooms on F Deck, roughly amidship. If so, they and any other passengers who collected there, may never have made it out from the stern of the Titanic at all, the ship serving in the end as their under water mausoleum.


David Gleicher