Notes on Lifeboat Lists

Explore the difficulties in producing a credible list of lifeboat placements.


When it comes to deciding how the survivors escaped the Titanic, there are often contradictory ideas / theories, e.g. Edwina Celia Troutt, who some people claim left in collapsible D, whereas others claim she was in boat 16. Edwina herself, stated she left in boat 13. How, then, can one try to find out how things really were that night? First, one must consult the sources.

1. There are two very important sources, viz. the British Enquiry and the American Senate hearings. Both took place shortly after the disaster and are thus fully acceptable from an academic point of view. In the British Enquiry, quite a few crewmembers tell about their experiences; focusing on what occurred during the fatal night and how the ship was abandoned. Two passengers testified; Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon. When the enquiry closed, a summary was published, which Colonel Gracie frequently quoted when he wrote his own book about the disaster. One must have access to the original enquiry in order to get the full picture, not the summary. In the summary, e.g., Gatti kitchen clerk Paul Maugé is quoted as saying that he was in the second or third boat on the starboard side. What is left out is that he actually said the second or third boat on the second class (aft) deck. The American Senate hearings also concentrated on what took place on the night in question, what happened and how the ship was abandoned. Some passengers, mainly first class passengers also testified or sent in affidavits. These are the two most important sources when determining how the ship was abandoned. Very little is said about shooting incidents, e.g. The only one that can be established is Officer Lowe's use of a revolver near boat 14 (aimed at nobody).

2. Interviews with survivors. Interviews with survivors are obviously also very useful when it comes to determining how the individuals escaped the sinking liner. One must bear a few things in mind when reading survivors' accounts, however:

A) quite a number of men would claim they swam around in the water for hours on end before being 'picked up by a boat'. The two sources mentioned above clearly state that only thirteen people were taken out of the water into lifeboats; boat 4 picked up eight crewmen (seven are mentioned in the hearings by name), two of whom died; boat 14 picked up four, one of whom died. Some people in boat 14 say that actually only three were picked up by this boat; Mr Hoyt, who died, a Japanese young fellow (actually, one of the Chinese sailors travelling third class - Fang Lang) and a young steward (Harold Phillimore, even though he is not mentioned by name). There have been suggestions that steward Jack Stewart was one of those picked up by boat 14, but his name is mentioned nowhere in either of the hearings. The alleged fourth person is not mentioned at all. Perhaps this was second class passenger Emilio Portaluppi or third class passenger Abraham Harmer, who died and was buried from the Carpathia. Perhaps there wasn't a fourth person at all... Collapsible D picked up Frederick M Hoyt, who had put his wife into that boat and jumped into the water immediately after it had been lowered and subsequently was picked up. This is a matter of fact one has to bear in mind when reading male passengers stories about how they escaped from the ship. Many claim they were on one of the collapsibles. Collapsible A floated away from the ship, waterfilled. During the night perhaps 20 people managed to get onto it, but many succumbed to the cold and died. Most of the survivors in the boat said there were 'ten or eleven' or 'ten or twelve' saved from the boat (Olaus Abelseth, Richard N Williams, George Rheims). This obviously limits the number of people in the boat; many would later claim they were in this boat or in the other Collapsible, B. Boat B floated away, upside-down. According to most of those on the boat, there were between 25 and 30 on it, but 'two or three' or 'three or four' died during the night. Officer Lightoller also testified to this effect. He also said there were mainly crewmen, stokers, on the boat. There were only three passengers according to him. Colonel Gracie on that boat also suggested there were three or four passengers, the rest were stokers. All of this is in sharp contrast to many men passengers' stories about their survival. Obviously, they survived, but not in the way they say. One must bear in mind that it was a social 'misdemeanor' for a man to have survived the disaster, when so many women and children perished. Some of men probably had their stories improved by journalists, a large number gave several different, contradictory interviews. Peter Denis Daly is an example of this. He would sometimes say he swam around in the water for six hours [sic] before one of the Carpathia 's lifeboats picked him up. In other accounts, he claimed that Colonel Gracie and George Rheims helped him onto a boat (they were in different boats) and so on. It is very likely that he actually left the Titanic in one of the starboard boats, where men were permitted to enter the boats. Nearly all starboard boats carried a large number of men; only boats 11 and C had a majority of women/children. One cannot read an interview and take for granted what is said without critically analyzing the content.

B) Quite a number of survivors say they left in 'the last boat'. Obviously, this cannot be the case. The last boat lowered from the ship was collapsible D, and 2nd Officer Lightoller said he put '15 or 20 people into it, all it would hold.' 2nd class chief steward Hardy counted them and found there were 25 in the boat (American Senate hearings) and quartermaster Arthur John Bright, in charge of the boat, also said there were 25 in it. Where, then, were these people who said they were in the 'last boat'? They probably meant 'the last boat in our part of the ship'. This means that a person who was on the starboard side aft indicated boat 15 and a person on the port aft side must have meant boat 16 and so on.

3. Another way of finding out how people left the ship is to read what other people said at the time; a good example is Colonel Gracie's own book, which was edited after his death. Col Gracie was in contact with a large number of first class survivors and could place them in different boats built on the facts as he knew them. He made a few errors, however. Mr and Mrs Taylor travelled first class and left together in an early starboard boat; Col Gracie determined this was boat 5. Yet this was apparently not so. According to Mr Taylor's account, published in the Atlantic Daily Bulletin recently, people were put into their boat rather than taken out of it, thus indicating boat 7. Mrs and Miss Crosby were also with them in that boat (Gracie had them in boat 5 as well). Col Gracie also got a few names wrong, e g a 'Youssef Ibrahim' and wife and children in boat 2. Youssef Ibrahim Shawah did not survived the sinking, however, nor was not married. Colonel Gracie is probably referring to Anton Kink his wife and daughter. There are a few of these mistakes, so one should not believe second hand information implicitly. Colonel Gracie's book is an excellent description of what took place that fatal night, and these examples are by no means meant to discredit the book at all (Colonel Gracie didn't have much time to re-examine his facts himself, since he died before his book was published)

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