Encyclopedia Titanica

Mrs E. W. Bucknell says carelessness cost many lives

Survivor of the titanic condemns lack of boats and failure to have drills

Philiadelphia Inquirer

    Hide Ads

Crew's inefficiency shown when boats were manned

Condemning in the strongest possible manner the unpreparedness of the life-saving apparatus of the giant Titanic, and giving unstinted praise to the heroism of the passengers aboard, Mrs Emma Ward Bucknell, widow of William Bucknell, founder of Bucknell College, last night told of the sinking of the big steamer.

Mrs Bucknell was rescued by the Carpathia. She was met at the Cunard docks Thursday night when the vessel tied up, and after spending the night in New York City came to the home of Mrs Samuel P. Wetherill Jr at 2230 Spruce Street, yesterday afternoon.

Mrs Bucknell, despite the exposure to which she was subjected, the horrors of the scenes and incidents through which she passed, and the fact that she pulled and or, as did eight other women, for many hours prior to the rescue, was fresh in appearance and related to the story of the disaster in a plain, straightforward manner.

One lifeboat sank.

To her the greatest crime was the "unpreparedness" of the lifeboat equipment. One of the boats, she declared, was launched with the plug out of the bottom, and afterwards sank, the occupants fortunately being rescued by the Titanic's fifth officer. The lifeboat in which she was placed by Captain Smith, she declared, was manned only by a steward and three ordinary Seaman.

And none of the men, she declared, knew how to row.

Mrs Bucknell also said that she had not seen a lifeboat drill while she was aboard the Titanic, and diligent inquiry among those rescued, after they were safely aboard the Carpathia, failed to develop any knowledge on their part of such drills ever having been held. Mrs Bucknell said that the only provisions aboard her lifeboat was a basket full of bread. She saw no water, although she said that two small casks beneath one of the seats may have contained water.

Ten miles what's the distance the party had to pull the photos from the scene of the wreck towards a light on the horizon which disappeared, and the same heartrending struggle had to be gone through again in the morning for the arrival of the Carpathia and their salvation from the towers of the ocean was complete.

"It is only the fact that no provisions of an adequate nature were made to safeguard the lives of the passengers of the Titanic that made me consent to this interview," explained Mrs Bucknell.

No drills on Titanic

"the whole affair has been so terrible that I feel as though the true conditions on the Titanic should be no. I have been across the ocean 30 or more times in the past four years and have seen many lifeboat drills, but I never saw one on board the Titanic.

"Perhaps I had better start my story at the time of the crash. I was accompanied by my maid, Albina Bassani, and my cabin was on the starboard side at the front of the ship. I was awakened by the crash as the vessel struck the iceberg.  Of course I immediately got up and dressed partly. My maid came into my room and when I went out into the corridor between our cabins I found pieces of ice on the floor. They had been forced through a broken porthole when the iceberg was hit.

"By this time a man, I believe he was one of the stewards, came through saying that there was no danger as a result of the collision. But while his voice was calm and he delivered his message easily, his face belied the confidence of his words, expressing the fear he had in his mind.

"I returned at once to my cabin and began to dress as warmly as I could. I anticipated that they would come greater difficulties and I intended to be prepared. I told my maid to dress also. And about this time another man came through the hallways crying out that everyone should dress immediately and go on deck. I called to my maid to fasten my gown, and only tarried long enough to get a heavy fur coat. 

"Out in the corridor I met a young woman who was telling another one that we had struck an iceberg.

This second woman said that it could not be possible. I picked up the pieces of ice on the floor and holding them out towards her in the palm of my hand said to her, 'Here is ice, it is an iceberg.' Then I returned again to my cabin. 

Ordered to deck

"My maid pleaded with me not to go up on the deck. She cried out that we would surely be lost if we did not stay in the safety of our room, but I told her that the only thing to do under the circumstances was to obey orders implicitly. And our orders were to proceed at once to the deck. 

There was no excitement on the deck among passengers. They were in groups talking to one another. I saw Colonel and Mrs John Jacob Astor and the Wideners and a number of others talking about the collision with what was said to have been a submerged iceberg. 

"It couldn't have been a submerged iceberg. There was too much ice in the hallways by the portholes for it to have been, and I distinctly heard one of the women passengers declare that it had been higher than the deck D, upon which she was at the time. 

"To describe the hitting of the iceberg is difficult. The nearest I can come to that is to say that it sounded like a continuous and terrific peel of thunder mixed in with many violent explosions.

"While we were on the deck there was no confusion, and when I arrived there I stayed for a time on the starboard side, where the ship had struck. A man passing through declared that the bow had only been slightly damaged and that they were then lowering the bulkhead doors.

Women placed on boats

"Then came the order for the women and the men to separate. I had crossed from the starboard side to the port side of the Titanic by that time. I saw Colonel and Mrs Astor leave that side of the ship and walk towards the other. He was bending over her as they walked. And it was then that I saw the wideners for the last time. They were all together.

"I was put in the second lifeboat from the Barrell, and I think it was Captain Smith himself and put me into the boat. "'It is only a matter of precaution,' explained the captain, 'and there is really no danger.' It was lifeboat number 8, and it was manned by four men, a steward and four ordinary Seaman.

We were in that boat ten minutes while the four men endeavoured to lower it from the davit's. They did not seem to understand how to operate the ropes and the process of launching the lifeboat, which should not take more than two minutes, took ten.

"On the vessel there was beginning to be the signs of the great tragedy about to descend. Wives and husbands were separated when the women were placed in our boat. A few of the men grew seemingly desperate, and Captain Smith, who was standing by, cried out: 'Behave yourselves like men! Look at all of these women. See how splendid they are. Can't you behave like men

Given basket of bread

"All of the women were calm, though they had just been torn from their beloved ones. There was only one, a little Spanish bride, who cried out hysterically for her husband, he was held back by other men.

"Then Captain Smith himself picked up a big basket of bread and handed it across to me in the lifeboat. That was all the provisions I saw. There may have been water on board, but I did not see it. I took the precaution to drink a water a glass of water just before I departed from my cabin. 

"'There is a light out there,' said Captain Smith to the man in charge of our lifeboat which contains 35 persons. Ttake the women to it and hurry back as speedily as possible.'

"And away off in the horizon almost we could make out a light. We could not tell whether it was a steamer or a fishing vessel, or what it was. One of the three semen on the lifeboat protested against leaving the side of the Titanic. He declared that we did not have a sufficient number of passengers aboard. 

"A voice from somewhere in the boat said, 'The Titanic is not sinking.'

"But I said look at those portholes, and by the dark line of the water edge we could see that the big ship was pointing at her bow down into the ocean. Another declared that the speaker would rather stay with the people on the ship. But again I pointed out that it was best to obey the orders of the captain and the four oars were put out by the men. 

Men could not row

"and they could not row!

"It was tragic. I have known how to row for a great many years as the result of much time spent in the Adirondacks and I slipped into the seat beside a man and showed him how to work the oar. The Countess Rothes and her maid, both of them expert oarswomen, followed me in this as did another woman of about 40 years, who was in the boat, and we began the long pull towards the light. 

"The Titanic was settling rapidly by that time, although we were the second lifeboat to cast off. On the deck we could see the people and we could see the launching of the lifeboats. Again I pointed out the danger in being close when the ship would sink and I was told that it would not sink before 2 o'clock that afternoon, a full 12 hours distant. 

"Meanwhile we rowed towards the light which ever seemed to recede. We were about a mile from the Titanic when she sank. The lights went out just a moment before. We heard faint cries as the big ship raised at the angle to slide into the sea, and we heard the roar of the air as she finally plunged to the bottom at the angle.

"But, as I said in the beginning, it was not so much to tell you of the happenings of the wreck that I consented to this interview as it was to impress upon the minds of people the fact of the appalling unpreparedness of the lifeboat equipment of the Titanic. 

"There was only a small lamp on board our lifeboat. The steward who was in charge called back to turn it low so as not to burn it too greatly. Someone suggested putting it out, when an enquiry was made as to whether there were any matches aboard.

"And it was found that there were none! 

"I asked if the lifeboat had a compass, only to find that it was not equipped with even that. One of the semen explained that it would be possible to steer by the stars at night and the Sun by day. I said that we would be unable to determine our direction should a heavy fog prevail. Whereupon the man replied that in all probability we should not have to bother about it anyway.

"So with our lantern turned low and with eight of the women passengers assisting at the rowing, we pushed towards the light to which we had been directed by Captain Smith. The men soon learned to handle the orders as they should be handled, but even though they were used to rough work, their hands were soon inflamed and blistered.

Women's hardships

The plight of some of the women in our boat was pitiable. While some were fully dressed, others wore only their nightgowns and kimonos. The maid to the Countess of Rothes, who pulled one of the best oars in the boat, was dressed in this fashion, and her hair was streaming down her back and shoulders all the time we were in a little boat. The women would row until they would fall from exhaustion, their place being taken by another woman who would gently move aside the collapsed one and work in her place until exhaustion also overcame her.

"Meanwhile, with our lamp burning low we proceeded. We learned that one of the women [Ella White] on the boat had an electric cane. She said the battery was in good shape and she was delegated to flash it every once in awhile.

"Then I sighted the Carpathia. It was still dark, and as the person in front of me stooped over as I bent on a stroke of the oar I saw a row of lights on the horizon. I cried out that the chief officer in charge of the lifeboats must have assembled them together and suggested that we join them. And one of the sailors looking over in the direction I indicated said, 'We are saved, it's a steamer, because I can see her masthead lights. I could make out a green light and had thought it was the light the commanding officer of the lifeboats was carrying. 

"The lantern was lit to full flame and the electric cane was flashed at intervals and when we looked again for the light we had been sent out to reach, by Captain Smith, we found that it had gone. We never learned what it was, but all believed it to be a fishing smack.

"And then the Sun came up in all its glory on a beautiful morning and off about ten miles we could make out the Carpathia.

"Then began the long low back to the boat. By that time the hands of the inexperienced Osman were in terrible shape. The man sitting beside me, and whom I was helping to row, showed me the palms of his hands and they were in a sad condition. The wind was freshening, too, and the cold had become more intense.

"On all sides of us, of course, there was ice. But not once during the time we were in the water were we endangered by the ice floes. While we were rowing back practically the entire journey was made with twelve pairs of hands pulling the oars. Each of the men was assisted by two women. 

Row for Carpathia

"This served to warm us and the nearness of the Carpathia, upon which we slowly gained, gave us courage. Someone threw me a knit jacket and I wrapped this around the hands of the seaman beside me and around my own, and side-by-side we pulled with might and main for the rescue ship. 

"One woman in the party declared that there was no necessity for us to go to the Carpathia. She wanted to stay where we were, so that we could be picked up. She cried out that if rowed after the ship we might lose her. Someone explained to her that the only thing for the Carpathia to do was to remain stationary and have all the small craft row to her. And after a brief colloquy between them, the woman who wanted us to rest on our oars stopped her quibbling. 

"We saw no bodies on the surface of the water as we drew near to the Carpathia. Neither did we see any wreckage other than a log, which many of us believe did not come from the Titanic. The only strange thing was a yellow scum on the surface of the water. 

"Never was there such kindness as we received on the Carpathia. The passengers turned out to help us, the sailors, the stewards, the stewardesses and everybody did nothing but attend to the ones of those from the Titanic.  I did not see the captain at all. He never left the bridge during the entire voyage to New York. 

"But again I want to tell of the poorly equipped lifeboats.  From the fifth officer of the Titanic, who was among those saved, I learned that one of the collapsible lifeboats had been launched with the plug out of a large hole in the bottom. The nineteen people in it were slowly sinking, despite their efforts to plug up this hole with clothing. The force of the water was too much for them and they could not plug it. This boat was only about three inches above the water when the fifth officer directed the rescue of the entire party.  
Our boat did not see a single person in the water. I learned from the fifth officer that when the Titanic slanted for the final dive into the depths all of the persons on her deck were thrown together into an a pitiable [sic] mass of humanity, unable to move and being crushed by the weight of those above.

Boilers exploded

"and then as the cold water is rushed into the engine rooms and caused the explosion of the boilers, a number of those were saved by being blown high into the air. In this fashion they were out of the water at the time of its greatest turmoil following the sinking of the Titanic, and a number was subsequently picked up.

"It was not until Thursday morning that I was able to get a message to my relatives by means of the wireless of the Carpathia. I filed a message an hour after I was hauled into the boat, but really one cannot blame them for not sending the messages. The wireless equipment of the Carpathia is very poor, having a radius of only two hundred and fifty miles, and when that range had been established, all of the messages could not be delivered.

"You ask me if this will have any effect on my ocean travelling, I hardly know what to say after seeing how unprepared the newest and most modern vessel was in the matter of life-saving devices. I always did shudder when I witnessed lifeboats drills on the German vessels, and when I saw them changing the food and water in lifeboats, but after an experience like this where an inefficient crew, untrained in any of the necessary requirements, not even knowing how to lower the boat into the water, one naturally hesitates. Anyway it will be some little time before I venture again. I shall have to completely recover from the effects of this ordeal."

Mrs Bucknell will remain with Mr and Mrs Samuel Price Wetherill, Jr., for some time. She is now unable to occupy her former townhouse at Seventeenth and Walnut Street, and when in this country spends most of her time in her summer house at Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks.

One of her daughters is the Countess Pecorini, of Rome, who has been notified by cable of her safe arrival here. Howard Bucknell of Atlanta Georgia, and Mrs Charles H. Judge, of Detroit, are her son and daughter also. Mrs Bucknell is also a relative of Mrs S. Hudson Chapman, 1128 Spruce Street. Her sister is Mrs Garrett Pendleton, whose husband is president of the Cambridge Trust Company of Chester. 


  Send New Information

Find Related Items


Encyclopedia Titanica (2022) Mrs E. W. Bucknell says carelessness cost many lives (Philiadelphia Inquirer, Saturday 20th April 1912, ref: #692, published 23 August 2022, generated 29th May 2023 10:42:59 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/mrs-e-w-bucknell-says-carelessness-cost-many-lives.html