by Senan Molony
THERE is an old adage that the argument is not always about what the argument is about.
This is a case in point.
Three commentators of common interest have decided to fight the validity of Hugh Woolners evidence to the US Titanic Inquiry line by line. That is their yardstick 100pc reliability - and let them be held to it.
But it is important to bear in mind that Woolner is merely a battleground for the real issue. Which is a claim that Collapsible C, containing Bruce Ismay, left the Titanic close to her climactic consummation. Thats the reason for skirmishing over Woolner.
The British Inquiry judged that Collapsible C left at 1.40am. Two of the three opposing commentators to this skirmish (Tad Fitch and Bill Wormstedt) have separately set themselves up as the arbiters of Revised Lifeboat Departure Times - which instead place Collapsible Cs departure time at 2 am.
It will turn out that this random reassignment is based on little more than an interpretation of Hugh Woolners testimony. Because there is virtually nothing else on which to construct the claim that Bruce Ismay climbed into a lifeboat amid shots and chaos, while women and children stood in the immediate vicinity and were abandoned.
Woolner says he saw shots and chaos at a forward starboard boat. To preserve the idea that Collapsible C left at 2am, it is necessary to assert that this was the boat where terror prevailed and gunshots were discharged.
It becomes necessary to assert that what Woolner saw was Collapsible C and only Collapsible C with shots punctuating her loading and departure from the Titanic.
There are two immediate difficulties with this claim
Before dealing with all the specifics of Woolner, let us consider two further points:
If Fitch, Halpern and Wormstedt wants us to take Woolner at his word, then by all means let us do so. If he is completely reliable, then his specific references to Murdoch rule out Collapsible C as the boat at which he saw shots fired, because that was launched by Wilde.
Collapsible C also had Quartermaster Rowe in it, and he makes no mention of either gunshots or Officer Murdoch.
For Woolners boat to be Collapsible C, then, Quartermaster Rowe would have to remain impassive while Murdoch, his senior colleague, does all the work. Helped (humiliatingly for Rowe) by Woolner and Steffanson. And watched by an inert Ismay.
Woolner said in his US Inquiry evidence that the First Officer had fired the two shots at the forward starboard boat. Senator Smith suggested this was the Chief Officer, but Woolner immediately corrected him:
Senator Smith: fired those two shots, do you know?
Woolner: Mr Murdoch, so far as I can tell.
Senator Smith: Mr Murdoch, the Chief Officer?
Woolner (correcting): Yes. He was the First Officer, was he not?
Senator Smith: You are quite certain it was not Mr. Lowe?
Mr Woolner: I am pretty certain. I think I recognized the voice of Mr Murdoch.
Woolner was an Englishman. Wilde was an Englishman. Murdoch was a Scot and his accent would have been very distinctive to an Englishmans ears.
I heard Mr. Murdoch shouting out, "Get out of this, clear out of this," and that sort of thing, to a lot of men who were swarming into a boat on that side.
Woolner took a distinct interest in the officers and was keen on finding out what the Captain looked like.
I asked somebody to point him out to me. Naturally, one is interested to know the appearance of the Captain, and I knew him by sight.
Senator Smith: Did you see Officers at these boats besides the Captain?
Woolner: Yes; the First Officer.
Senator Smith: Mr Murdoch?
Woolner: Yes. He was very active.
It is safe to assume Woolner was indeed certain that it was Murdoch he heard and saw. As a Briton he knew a key and distinctive difference between British officers, which would not have been perceptible, for instance, to American passengers.
If Woolner is right in all aspects of his evidence, as Fitch, Halpern and Wormstedt suggest, then the boat at which the shots are fired, close to the end of the Titanic simply cannot be Collapsible C.
If Woolner is right in his evidence - as Fitch, Halpern and Wormstedt say he is - then Fitch, Wormstedt and Behe are wrong in claiming (in their revised launch times) that Collapsible C left at 2 am.
The other occupants of Collapsible C speak of the Chief Officer [Wilde] attending their launch.
Quartermaster Rowe knew his senior Officer colleagues!
17630. Who got into that boat?
Rowe The boat was partially full when I got into it; I had 68 women and 3 children in the stern. Chief Officer Wilde was asking for more women. There were none forthcoming, and two gentlemen got in.
17631. Who were the two gentlemen? One was Mr. Ismay. [Definitely saved in C]
He said the same in his US evidence:
The Chief Officer, Wilde, wanted a sailor. I asked Captain Smith if I should fire any more [rockets], and he said No: get into that boat.
He said it repeatedly (backed by his fellow crewmen), and also:
Senator Burton: Did you hear any revolver shots?
Rowe. No, sir.
There was not a bit of trouble in managing Collapsible C. Nor does Rowe mention Murdoch at all in his evidence. And he says Collapsible C was three-quarters of a mile away from the ship when she sank totally inconsistent with a 2am departure.
By the way, it is not only Molony who irritatingly raises these questions about Woolners reliability as an indicator for Collapsible C.
David Gleicher in his 2006 book (The Rescue of the Third Class Men on the Titanic: A Revisionist History) suggests (p. 108) that there are obvious problems with Woolners evidence.
He also states (p. 136) that Wormstedt et al have put forward a highly improbable fifty-five minute interval between the departure of Boat 1 at 1.05am and their claim of 2am for Collapsible C. Both were launched from the same set of davits.
Gleicher makes a detailed case advocating a return to the official 1.40am departure time for C (the original ascribed the British Inquiry), saying it is suggested by the testimony of Officer Boxhall along with that of Quartermasters Arthur Bright and George Rowe.(p. 147).
Crewman Albert Pearcey separately repeatedly states the departure time of Collapsible C
10456. Can you give us any idea of how long it was after you had started rowing away from the Titanic before she sank? No, I cannot. It was 20 minutes to two [1.40am] when we came away from her.
10457. That will help us. It was 20 minutes to two, you remember, when you started rowing away from the ships side. Is that right? Yes.
10458. That is what you mean, is it? Yes.
10459. Not when you came up on deck, but when you started rowing away? Yes, when we got away. It was just in time.
10460. How do you remember it was 20 minutes to two? Because I looked at the time.
10461. That is what I wanted to know. Where did you look at the time? One of the passengers had the time.
10462. And it was 20 minutes to 2? Yes.
|Quartermaster Bright, using an oar as a tiller in the stern of Collapsible D, the boat in which Woolner was saved. He said Collapsible C had gone some "twenty minutes or more" before!|
Quartermaster Bright happened to lower the separate Collapsible D in which Woolner would be saved! There were only two collapsibles on the port side, D & B, and only D was lowered B being swept off and finishing as an upside-down sanctuary for some.
Quartermaster Bright was saved in D, and in fact took her tiller. He said:
Senator Smith: Do you know whether Mr Ismay was in Mr Rowe's boat [C]?
Bright: I have learned so since; I could not say then.
Smith: That was a collapsible lifeboat forward?
Bright: There were four collapsibles. That was one of them.
Senator Smith: I understand. That was a collapsible lifeboat forward, on the starboard side?
Bright: Close to the bridge; yes.
Bright said he assisted to get this starboard collapsible [C] up in place and was then sent away to clear another one. [D]
Smith: You went to this other boat; but where was it?
Bright: I was on the opposite of the deck to what that [C] was.
Smith: On the port side?
Bright: On the port side, right forward, close to the bridge. [D]
Smith: And what was that, a collapsible?
Bright: Yes; identically the same as the other one.
Smith: What did you do there?
Bright: We got that one out and filled it up with passengers.
Smith: How many passengers; how many people?
Bright: When the boat left the ship there were 25; all it would hold.
Bright crucially also says this:
Senator Fletcher: The collapsible boat on the port side [D] was lowered after the one on the
starboard side [A]?
Bright: Yes; the starboard one [A] went down before the other one [D].
Fletcher: And it went down immediately before the one on the port side?
Bright: I could not say how long. I suppose it was 20 minutes or more. It was getting ready before I went down.
Gleicher, using separate arguments, says there is much evidence that there was no delay in launching Collapsible C from the falls used by Boat 1, which Wormstedt et al say went at 1.05 am. (They claim 2 am for C and 2.05 am for D.)
There is no point in exhaustively rehearsing the mass of this material, but Gleicher produces a mesh of interlocking lifeboat times, which he maintains (p. 159) are flatly contradictory to the assertion that Collapsible C departed at 2 am.
Let us return to the first point - Woolner does not state specifically that the boat he saw was Collapsible C.
There were two collapsibles on the starboard side, A & B.
Collapsible C departed without difficulty of any kind, according to its occupants. Collapsible As departure, on the other hand, is far murkier, even apocalyptic.
At which boat would shots more likely belong?
Interestingly, Woolner does not use the word collapsible in any of his early newspaper accounts about shots that were fired at a starboard boat. Nor does he use any word but boat in his piece composed on the Carpathia.
Yet he knew the difference, because he himself was saved in a collapsible. Yet he agrees when it is put to him in evidence that the shots boat is indeed a collapsible. If so, which one?
In the letter cited from the web pages of Charles Pellegrino, there is a reference to Woolner and Steffanson turning our attention to a boat ready on the starboard side where there was shouting going on.
A wholly unjustified parenthesis - [Boat C, Ismays Boat] has been inserted here, without any evidence for that identification. Woolner says what it is - a boat on the starboard side.
Woolner says, yet again, that he saw the First Officer twice fire a pistol. Someone unblushingly inserts in parenthesis here that it is: [William Murdoch, at Boat C] but First Officer Murdoch was not involved at boat C, whose occupants say in evidence that it was launched by the Chief Officer, Wilde.
To the issue of Woolners credibility - the fact is that Woolner, even in the accounts cited in FH&W, offers differing earlier versions than he later relied on in evidence.
But it is the sequencing difficulties of his US Inquiry evidence to which I originally drew attention, and to which point I posted the Calgary Herald story, relayed through someone called Desegrund, who must obviously be the same source as appears under a slightly different name elsewhere.
Yet it is FH&W who now suggest that Woolner was NOT on the port side as Boat D was lowering, but had been on the starboard side all the time!
Unfortunately, as any model-maker knows, you cant see through the superstructure of officer quarters, wheelhouse, deckhouse and so on. No one can see D from the starboard side.
And Woolners US evidence is, at least, clear:
When that boat [D, port side] seemed to be quite full, and was ready to be swung over the side, and was to be lowered away, I said to Steffanson: "There is nothing more for us to do here."
All are agreed that this is Boat D, launched from the port side. Woolner leaves us in little doubt that he and Steffanson are standing there looking at it. There is nothing more for us to do here.
FH&W now seem to suggest that the word here does not refer to the port side of the Boat Deck, beside Boat D, but to the Boat Deck in general, because Woolner and Steffanson must be on the starboard side.
Is this because they perceive the reverse difficulty that
Oh, no; something else happened while that boat [collapsible D] was being loaded. There was a sort of scramble on the starboard side, and I looked around and I saw two flashes of a pistol in the air...
If Woolner is on the port side, at Boat D, then he cannot see past the superstructure to where there are two pistol flashes in the air.
The height of the crew quarters must be about nine feet. Pistol flashes occur close to a guns muzzle. They cant be seen from Boat D on the port side because of the intervening housing. But that is what Woolner says.
FH&W would say that the shots occured at Collapsible C, which we know was launched from the falls of Boat 1, all the way forward. But the view directly across from D is blocked.
As Lightoller, who was at Boat D, specifically says:
14009. You used an expression just now that as far as you knew it was the last boat to leave the ship. Can you tell us, had you been able to observe during all this time what was happening to the boats on the starboard side?
Lightoller: No, no sign of the starboard side. You cannot see across.
|Shots on the boat deck. Lightoller, played here by Kenneth More in A Night to Remember testified that "you cannot see across" to the opposite deck from where he was at Boat D. The housing proves the point, as will any Titanic model. It is impossible.|
Woolner and Steffanson must form the view to leave Boat D [There is nothing left for us to do here] and then cross the Boat Deck if they are to be able to see flashes in the air.
The shortest way is across the Bridge, but Woolner makes no mention of how he could have got there His evidence, which anyone can read, is that he just looked around to see them.
[In another part he mentions "just turning a corner" when the shots occurred - but this has him crossing from the boat on the port side, a boat he will somehow later rejoin. William Lucas, who left in D estimated it took three and a half minutes to lower a boat. But Woolner has much work to do!]
If, as argued, he is on the starboard side already, he hardly has to look around on hearing a commotion in order to see flashes. (He cant be looking at Boat D from the starboard side of the Boat Deck in the first place. Why would he be staring at the housing?)
The reader has to dispassionately assess whether Woolners Inquiry account, in its detail and sequencing, can be relied upon.
The time does not appear long enough to allow the sequencing to be right.
Reading his short US Inquiry evidence is worthwhile. The sequencing is this:
1) He claims that he and Hakan Bjornstrom Steffanson saw Boat D "was about to lower", then witnessed Murdoch fire two shots to get men out of a boat on the starboard side.
2) Woolner says he and Steffanson then each personally pulled several men out, and hoisted a number of women into this starboard boat instead. ("We pulled out several, each" - "I should think five or six", then "lifted in these Italian women, hoisted them up on each side and put them into the boat.")
3) Having nothing further to do after all this "pulling out" and "hoisting", Woolner claims he and Steffanson went down from the Boat Deck to A Deck, then crossed over to the port side, where boat D was still lowering, so they jumped into it.
At the end of the day, however, we are left with two certainties:
* Woolner are Steffanson were saved in Boat D, launched from the port side
* Lightoller, in charge of Boat D, remorselessly applied a rule of Women and Children ONLY at the port side.
Is it credible, that men who are on the Boat Deck on a sinking ship on whatever side should say there is nothing left for us to do here and go down one deck?
By the early accounts, Woolner and Steffanson previously found women on A Deck and chased them up. Are they really looking for more women when they choose to go down one deck, at a time after 2am? [Wormstedt, Behe and Fitch say Boat D launched at 2.05]
Think of the act of walking as far forward as possible on a sinking ship. Think of the stomach-churning idea of descending (Think, also, of trying to get past Murdoch with his gun.)
They are on the starboard side. Going halfway down the starboard companion way - located all the way forward, not aft - will allow a full view of the A-Deck promenade on the starboard side. It can be seen to be empty.
Human nature would suggest that Woolner and Steffanson, perilously close to the water behind them, would then scoot quickly back up those stairs.
But for reasons not specified, they cross abeam on A Deck. The Titanic had a pronounced list to port at this time and if they slide down to the port side they are taking a huge risk.
They might not be able to climb back uphill to the starboard side after checking the port side promenade corridor for women, if that is indeed their purpose.
The most commonsense approach is to imagine yourself in this position. If there is nothing more to do, what are you then doing? Why not wait where you are on the Boat Deck?
Imagine, however, that you do descend the companion and see the starboard corridor of A Deck deserted. Would you really go down the slope to the port side to check that corridor too?
Even if you were to do that, and see a couple of women 50 yards away, what could you realistically do for them?
Could you haul them up the incline, assuming it did not get worryingly worse? There are no boats on the port side! One has to assume D has departed during ones exertions.
Yet there are no grounds for believing that there might be any left on the starboard side either. Thats the boat deck, where there is nothing left to do.
It simply does not seem credible that Woolner and Steffanson would go down a deck on a sinking ship for an altruistic purpose. Any woman down there could not be saved.
If the purpose is not altruistic, then the equation changes. Because there can be no realistic possibility of meeting Collapsible D on the port side in Woolners timeframe. And Woolner insists that reaching that craft was a lucky encounter.
But to move oneself to the low, listing port side of A Deck, from the high starboard side of the Boat Deck, requires some motive. And as Woolner tells it, there is no motive. Yet there is powerful risk
If one man cannot see it, surely the other can.
Gleicher says in his book: When stripped of veneer, the two were seeking to gain entrance into one of the last boats He says Woolner, who in the final analysis jumped into D, converted a confession of guilt into an adventure story with him [sic] and Steffanson as the conventional heroes. [p. 201]
Fundamentally, Woolner was saved in Collapsible D. Good luck to both he and Steffanson. But to enter D it is not necessary to cross the Boat Deck to the starboard side, not necessary to perform insurance heroics, not necessary to descend and re-cross the Boat Deck in order to rendezvous happily with the original craft.
All that is necessary to enter D is to jump from the Boat Deck or to jump from A Deck, which can be accessed by a nearby companionway, still on the port side.
But there are things that Lightoller and Lucas said about A Deck when they were launching Boat D. They said them in 1912, not airily decades later.
14018. You did order this collapsible boat [D] on the port side to be lowered down from the davits? Yes.
14019. Did you notice how far she had to drop to get to the water? Yes.
14020. Now how far had she to drop? Ten feet.
14022. And there she met the water? Yes.
14023. The fore part of the ship must have been under water? 'A' deck was under water.
14024. And the bridge must have been under water?
Lightoller: Almost immediately afterwards the water came from the stairway. There is a little stairway goes down here just abaft the bridge which goes right down here and comes out on this deck for the use of the crew only and it was almost immediately after that the water came up that stairway on to the boat deck.
There is no time for Woolner to do what he says he does.
William Lucas, at Boat D, said:
1518: The boat was riding off the deck then. The water was up under the bridge then.
At 1549 he agrees he practically floated off the deck. When hoisted up to the davits, the water had been (15340) about one and a half feet away.
John Hardy, who left in D, said in his US evidence that the Titanic had a heavy list to port by the time we commenced to lower away. How could Woolner heave, hoist and explore?
We dont need plaster saints and we dont need cardboard cut-out villains. People who pronounce on Woolner do not know the character of the man, which involved spectacular bankruptcy and a court case over alleged improper influence in the altering of the will of a nonagenarian woman. None of this is immediately relevant to his actions on Titanic, but we should attempt to know people in the round. I will post more on the rest of his life shortly.
FH&W, strong in their language, are full of the absolute. They werent there. They dont know. Claims to the absolute are fantasy.
* For more on Collapsible C, visit the discussion on the Encyclopedia Titanica message board -THERE NOW FOLLOWS A PANEL ON FURTHER DIFFICULTIES IN WOOLNER'S TALE:
WATER can only ever have one level. Hugh Woolner creates two.
His American evidence is that water had reached his feet on A Deck. The water therefore was as high as the forward bulwark, spilling over.
As we went out through the door [to face the forward wall of A Deck] the sea came in onto the deck at our feet.
The door led behind into the enclosed A Deck passage. [See Deck Plans on the ET homepage.]
The water arrives on A Deck from in front, as described by Woolner himself.
But he indicates that he and Steffanson, having climbed onto the bulwark at the port side of A Deck, did not have water immediately beside their feet. With a steep pitch to the sinking, there may have been an inch or twos grace. But the water ought to have been directly at hand!
This is particularly true and inescapable since the Titanic had a "heavy list" to port at the time of the lowering of Boat D, according to witness John Hardy who left in her.
But Woolner says in his evidence that he had to jump out and down. He specifically says both. Yet when he grasped the gunwale of Boat D, only his legs (not the whole of him) were in the water.
Woolner was 6ft 3 inches tall. This means a gap of at least a couple of feet between water at one level (below the boat he was jumping for) and the water spilling over the forward bulwark.
In his evidence, he is squarely caught on this point by Senator Smith:
"So I said to Steffanson: 'This is getting rather a tight corner. I do not like being inside these closed windows. Let us go out through the door at the end' [of A Deck]. And as we went out through the door the sea came in onto the deck at our feet.
the sea came in, water came in, on A Deck?
Woolner: "On that A Deck. Then we hopped up onto the gunwale preparing to jump out into the sea, because if we had waited a minute longer we should have been boxed in against the ceiling. And as we looked out we saw this collapsible, the last boat on the port side, being lowered right in front of our faces.
Senator Smith: How far out?
Woolner: It was about nine feet out.
Smith: Nine feet out from the side of A Deck? - Yes.
Smith: You saw a collapsible boat being lowered? - Being lowered, yes.
Smith: Was it filled with people?
Woolner: It was full up to the bow, and I said to Steffanson: "There is nobody in the bows. Let us make a jump for it. You go first." And he jumped out and tumbled in head over heels into the bow, and I jumped too, and hit the gunwale with my chest, which had on this life preserver, of course and I sort of bounced off the gunwale and caught the gunwale with my fingers, and slipped off backwards.
Smith: Into the water?
Woolner: As my legs dropped down I felt that they were in the sea.
Smith: You are quite sure you jumped nine feet to get that boat?
Woolner: That is my estimate. By that time, you see, we were jumping slightly downward.
Senator Smith: Did you jump out or down?
Smith: Both out and down?
Woolner: Slightly down and out.
Smith: It could not have been very far down if the water was on A Deck; it must have been out.
Woolner: Chiefly out; but it was sufficiently down for us to be able to see just over the edge of the gunwale of the boat.
Woolner thus has water both Up and Down in his evidence.
He cannot have it both ways. He cannot be on A Deck and jump into Boat D in the manner described. (Yet we know he was saved in D.)
Woolner describes jumping a nine feet gap. He explains this improbable leap by saying we were jumping slightly downward, which takes away 'slightly' from the horizontal separation.
Then he says he and Steffanson jumped both out and down which simply must give contradictory water levels if the water was also coming in on A Deck.
When caught on the point by Senator Smith, Woolner says he was jumping chiefly out. The horizontal distance is pushed back out again and the gap is nine feet.
Let us say that chiefly out with a gap of nine feet means 7ft out and 2ft down. This still gives contradictory water levels. But it is also a remarkable spring for someone who is standing crouched on an edge or ledge. Because it is extremely physically difficult to jump a distance equivalent to ones own height without a run-up. Human beings are not kangaroos.
The reader can experiment by going to a wall, then taking three large strides away from it. Turn on the spot. Try to spring back to the wall
Since a mean male foot might be nine inches long, the nine-foot gap (9 x 12) is no fewer than twelve heel-to-toe steps. Take a few steps off for the downward element of the gap, which remains chiefly horizontal. It is still a very considerable distance. Can you jump it from a standing spring?
In 1912 the standing long jump at the Stockholm Olympics saw Konstantinos Tsiklitiras of Greece take the gold medal.
The best of his three jumps, from hundreds of competitor attempts overall, was 3.37m, or almost exactly 11ft. But it is safe to say the winning athlete was not encumbered by middle age, a cigar habit, a roof close overhead, heavy clothes or a clumsy lifejacket!
Hugh Woolner was 6ft 3in. Perhaps he could have reached the gunwale of the lifeboat as he describes, his arms being extended. But his companion, Haken B. Steffanson (from Ellis Island immigration records) stood only 5ft 6in, or three inches under average male height today.
Yet listen to what Hugh Woolner says in his evidence:
It [Boat D] was full up to the bow, and I said to Steffanson: "There is nobody in the bows. Let us make a jump for it. You go first." And he jumped out and tumbled in head over heels into the bow, and I jumped too
Steffanson jumped first. The 5ft 6in man leapt an incredible 9ft, chiefly out and slightly downwards, to not only reach the boat, but to tumble in head over heels. He didnt even need to use his arms!
Woolner made this claim before his split-level ocean story was detected by Senator Smith. Woolner then changed the 9ft gap to chiefly out, onto the horizontal, in a bid to get the water level back up... but he could not undo his earlier description of Steffansons relatively effortless jump!
Hugh Woolners story is thus exaggerated and impossible in places. Lightoller says A Deck was under water at the time Boat D was launched and William Lucas says D floated off the deck. John Hardy, who was in D, says it was too near the water and that one gentleman took to the water and climbed in the boat after we had lowered it. I remember that quite distinctly.
Hardy does not remember, distinctly or otherwise, anyones superhuman leap from A Deck. And the fact is that Woolner and Steffansons alleged feats pay no attention whatsoever to the testimony of others.
Incidentally, a correspondent points out another shortcoming:
"The collapsible boats didn't have a strong gunwale. It was like a raft with canvas sides that were lifted up. How could Woolner have 'bounced off' canvas? He would have broken the canvas side!"
[See the classic picture of Collapsible D to grasp this point - its sides are visibly loose.]
The overall conclusion must be as originally stated - Hugh Woolners evidence is highly unreliable.