Encyclopedia Titanica


The New York Times

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Detained Sailors Are Herded on the Celtic Under Close Guard of Detectives.
Men Forget Instructions, However, Long Enough to Defend Escape of J. Bruce
With private detectives walking before them to brush aside all inquirers and
more private detectives acting as a rear guard to accomplish the same
general purpose, the twenty-five members of the crew of the Titanic who were
held here at the request of the Government investigators, were hustled
aboard the White Star liner Celtic last night and were then taken three
decks down from the hurricane deck, where they were held under a close

The twenty-five men had been singled out by the Senate Investigating
Committee as men especially adapted, on account of positions they held on
the night of the wreck, to give testimony of value.

Once aboard the Celtic, the men were told that they would be dismissed from
the White Star Line's service for good and all if it were ascertained that
any of them had disobeyed the instructions against talking.

A reporter for THE TIMES, who was not aware of the close watch maintained
over the ship and the members of the Titanic crew held under guard, or the
rigid instructions issued to them, sought to interview the sailor Fleet, who
was one of the two men in the crow's nest on the night of the disaster, and
therefore could tell a story from a viewpoint different from all other

A sailor of the Celtic led the reporter through a gangway used ordinarily by
members of the crew only, and down past two decks into the crew's messroom,
where the Titanic survivors were eating their pressed corned beef, mashed
potatoes, and coffee.

Fleet was pointed out as the third man from the end of a table, on each side
of which sat six of the Titanic's sailors.

"You can take it from me," he said, as he drained his coffee cup, "that all
of us as works below want to go on record for saying John Jacob Astor died
like a man."

"And the crow's nest?" was suggested.

"Not a word," replied Fleet, "except that when I get me hands on that guy
what gave out the story about me---him as was running the wheel, as he
said---why, when I get him he'll be lucky to know if his name's Hitchins or
Hawkins. He said he saw me in the crow's nest. Now, there was a cabin in
between and he saw nothing of me at all, nothing at all, and what's more, he
ain't one of us."

The language was a little confusing. Fleet explained that Hitchins, the
quartermaster, was making his first trip and hadn't been drilled in the
sailor's way of "sittin' tight and waitin' for the boss's word." He went on
to add that, as for himself, he had been drilled, and so when Mr. Ismay said
not to talk it meant as far as he was concerned that there was nothing to be

After that Fleet sat very silent. Others at the table took up the talk. They
had kind words for Ismay, all of them.

"It ain't fair what they're sayin' of him. He's gettin' what ain't comin' to
him," commented a fat sailor in a black crush hat as he cut a piece of
tobacco from a plug, after finishing his dinner.

"Now I saw the boat he took, and it was the last---the very last, mind
you---on his side of the ship."

This little comment seemed to stir Fleet to more words in spite of his
announced plan to be still.

"The starboard side," he put in with emphasis. "I saw his boat go, too,
from up in the crow's nest. They're saying as to how he should have stayed
like the Captain did. But they don't know the game, No, he hadn't oughter
done nothing of the kind. He was a passenger, mind you, just a passenger,
that's all. The Captain could say to him anything he wanted to, like the
rest of us, and it was just as fair for him to go as any other passenger.
And the old man, he was a fine old man for fair, and he bore up first rate,
he did."

Fleet remembered again after saying this much that he hadn't any intention
to talk.

Others took up the conversation, and Fleet was curious to know how much
money various sailors who had given out stories had received. There were
tales of fabulous sums, the others at the table quickly told. One sailor,
they said, had been given $250 for "as fine a cock-and-bull story as a
sailor ever spun," and several said that men in tugs had offered £40 to them
as they came up the bay if they would jump overboard and come aboard the

Their next curiosity. after rehearsing the money prizes they thought some of
their number had won for telling stories,was to know what was going to
become of the relief money raised here and in England. They wondered if
"we're in for a bit, or if they'll leave it all up to the White Star Line."

The possibility of "keeping on with the line " interested most of them.
Some held, with all the wisdom of the "barracks room lawyers," so familiar
in army stations, "that the law was on the side of the company and all pay
stopped the minute the ship was lost." Others suggested that surely "Mr.
Ismay would make some grant," and Fleet announced that he had already had an
intimation that wages would be paid up to the time of getting home again.

The talk fell to lifeboat drills. One sailor said the rule on a line he had
worked for was a drill every week, "with the boats, mind you, lowered away
into the water, and the crews put to it for a 500- foot row to sea " to keep
their rowing arms in trim.

Another suggested that the boats he had seen lowered had never been actually
dropped into the sea. He added that this experience of this he had
encountered in the Mediterranean, "where you can get all the weather you
want any day," and the sea was no place to be on in such conditions.

From lifeboats the talk came back to the Titanic. One and all the sailors
said they had talked for years over unsinkable ships, and if they were dead
set in their faith over any one thing it was that in the Titanic they had
the kind of a ship they had always talked about---the kind that would keep
afloat. Fleet forget himself long enough to urge that he had seen from aloft
the officers trying to get women into the boats and the women holding off,
and had seen members of the crew walking about no doubt feeling, as he did,
that "it simply wasn't in the boat to go down."

Some one read from a newspaper the account of a sailor who said he had swam
away from the Titanic on his back so that he could look back and see her go
down. Fleet, when he caught the words, arose in his place and cursed the
sailor who was quoted. He cursed him loud and long. and when he reached
the end of his unprintable language he added something about the chill in
the water and "any guy that says he had time in it to be interested in
anything but his arms and legs."

The sailors, after completing their dinner, were told to "turn in early"
and get a good night's sleep before leaving for Washington to-day to give
the testimony expected from them by the Government.

Two detectives, whose language indicated that they were accustomed only to
strong arm tactics and strong arm verbal sluggery, broke into many fervent
imprecations when they were asked the easiest way oft the ship. Then for
the first time it was gathered that the usual avenues of approach were
closely guarded and that other private detectives were scattered about the
gangways and up and down the pier, and at the entrance to it.

The Titanic's crew, it seemed, had bean outfitted in new civilian clothes
yesterday morning, and the detectives had supposed it was two sailors
instead of a sailor and a reporter who went down the pier and up the gangway
reserved for the crew, neither of them being aware that the eager
watchfulness existed or that something of a blockade was being successfully

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2010) SEALING THE LIPS OF TITANIC'S CREW (The New York Times, Sunday 21st April 1912, ref: #11703, published 11 October 2010, generated 7th June 2023 10:25:07 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/sealing-the-lips-of-titanics-crew-11703.html