Graphic Stories of Titanic's Sinking Told By Eyewitnesses

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

   Hide Ads
Walter Nichols
Survivor of Titanic's Crew Who Told His Story to the Eagle

Steward Walter H. Nichols of the Titanic details for The Eagle the Scenes Following the Collision and the Launching of the Lifeboats.

 "I've been a sailor for twenty years, and I've crossed about 300 times, but this! "We left Southampton on Wednesday, April 10, with fine weather. Everything aboard was ship shape. We got to Cherbourg at about six that night and took on a lot of people there, though not quite so many as we took on at Southampton, counting steerage and all. We only stopped for a little at Queenstown, leaving there between 2 and 2:30 on Thursday afternoon. Our first day's run was 488 knots. This was counting from the time we left Queenstown until 12 o'clock on Friday. From Friday noon to Saturday noon she ran 544 knots, and the next day 546. She wasn't trying for a record because she was a new ship, and this was her first trip. 

Extreme Cold Told of Iceberg 

"All day Sunday it was very cold, although the weather was fine. There was ice all around us. There were services on board that day, in the first and second cabins. I was busy with my work and didn't go. Sunday night was my night off, and I went to bed at about 10 o'clock. I got off at 8, but I fooled around for a couple of hours before I turned in. I didn't go on deck. On a big boat like that a man working inside doesn't go on deck often. Sometimes you don't get a peep at the water for days at a time. It's Just like working In a big hotel. But I knew that it was mighty cold outside and I knew what the reason was, too. I've crossed enough to know that when it gets cold like that at this season it's because there's Icebergs around. And if we fellows down below knew it I guess the navigating officers knew it, too. 

Shock of Collision Came at 11:40 P.M. 

"My bunk was amidships on deck E, the main thoroughfare of the boat. There are still two decks below that, F and G. At 11:40 I was awakened by feeling a bit of a vibration. The ship went on for a bit and then the engines stopped. Nobody was frightened and some of the men in the room with me didn't want to trouble to get up to look out and see what had happened. I put on my coat and took a run out to look. It was all black outside and I couldn't see anything except that there was some ice on the deck forward. 

"Half of the men went back to bed. Nobody believed anything could be wrong. They had such faith in the ship. Everybody believed in her. 

"It was bitter cold outside, and I was glad enough to get back into the cabin where I bunked. It's located not far from the engine room—the engine rooms are just behind and below us and within a few minutes of the time we struck I could hear the engineers passing along the order to close the Watertight doors. One man would tell it to the next and he would pass it on to someone else. 

Crew Ordered to the Lifeboat Stations

"Well, as I say, some of the men went back to bed. 1 stayed, up and sat around talking with some of the fellows for I should say three-quarters of an hour after the collision, when the second steward in charge of our cabin came in and gave us the orders to report up on deck. That meant that we were to report to the positions assigned to us In the life boat drill. My place was with lifeboat No. 15. So I went up to Deck A, where the lifeboats are. On my way up I noticed some of the passengers about, but no one seemed to be worried or excited. I passed by the gymnasium on my way. Inside were a number of passengers amusing themselves. One man was riding the bicycle, one of those exercise machines, and another was punching the bag. 

Saw No Iceberg After the Collision. 

"No. 15, my boat, was the after boat on the starboard side. All the odd numbered boats are on one side of the ship and the even numbered boats on the other. There were ten of us to man the boat, which is a big one, holding about seventy to eighty persons. When I got on deck It was still dark, but I could hear the wireless machine sputter. I didn't see any Icebergs or anything, Up on Deck A, which is the boat deck, there were only the boat crews. At least that is all I could see. I saw them working away at Boat No. 11 and Boat No. 13. When I looked down I saw that several of the boats were already in the water. The ship was brightly lit, and I could see the boats, with people in them, floating about in the reflection of the light from the ship. 

Revolver in Hand, Officer Gave Orders Quietly. 

"The officer in charge of the boats on that part of the deck had a revolver in his hand. He gave his orders quietly and we didn't realize even then that anything serious was the matter. The ship was down in the water a little forward but you couldn't notice it much from where I was. 

"We stood in line waiting for orders while boats 11 and 13 were swung out on the davits and lowered. The crews would make them ready and get into them. Then they would lower them to Deck B, where the passengers were. The boats are held by three ropes, one on either end, and one In the middle. They are cut loose by knocking out a block in the center after she is in the water. 

"I guess we waited for some minutes while they were getting the two other boats away. They were mighty careful not to let one boat go before the other had got clear. It's a drop of some ninety or a hundred feet from the boat deck to the water, and they had to look sharp to keep one boat from fouling the other. 

Heard Band Playing as Ship Was Sinking. 

"After we got in our boat and were waiting to be lowered to Deck B I heard the band playing. I was looking sharp after what I was doing and I don't remember what they played. I could just hear a sort of confused sound of the instruments, enough to know that they were playing. Someone told me afterward that the last piece they played was 'Nearer, My God, to Thee.' They didn't have a chance, poor devils. They were cooped up in one of the reception rooms, and they were drowned like rats, every one of them. 

"Altogether it took us about twenty minutes to fill our lifeboat and get away. There was no confusion and no rush. On Deck B, where we loaded the passengers, First Officer Murdock was in charge. He saw to the giving of the orders to the men that handled the boats. The order was to take women only, and the officers kept saying. 'We can only take women. No man allowed to get in.' 

Saw Colonel Astor Kiss His Wife Goodby. 

"But no one seemed particularly anxious to get in. The officer kept on talking to the women, sort of urging them. 'Come, now.' he'd say. 'Get in or we'll have to leave you behind. The boat's going to leave and we can't wait for you.' Several women stepped back as they saw the boat and refused to leave their men folks when they saw that they would have to go alone. One woman stepped up to the rail against which we were holding the boat, looked into it and then stepped back as though she didn't like it. I saw Colonel Astor kiss his wife goodby. I knew him because he had been pointed out to me in the saloon. I didn't know any of the rest. 

Women Had to Be Coaxed Into the Lifeboats. 

"All the time we were there the officer kept talking, quiet like, urging women to get in. He didn't say anything about danger. I guess he didn't want to have any rush, and so he just talked, quiet like, and kept sort of joking them along, telling them to hurry or they'd be left, and things like that. But they all seemed to think that the ship was a better place to be in than a lifeboat. Many of the boats weren't full. We only had about fifty people in ours. Some of the men passengers had to urge the women to go, and some of the women whose men folk didn't happen to be close to them refused to go. 

"Our boat was one of the last to get away. We held on until we were sure No. 13 was clear. Then we dropped to the water. None of us was excited and some of the men seemed to take it as a sort of little excursion in the boat. None of us had any idea that the Titanic would sink. We knew that the Olympic was on the way to us and we expected that she would come In the morning to pick up the boats and to take off the people that were left on the Titanic." 

Heard Revolver Shots and Saw Flashes on Titanic.

"As soon as we struck the water we started to pull away from the ship, so as not to foul against her side. As soon as we got a little distance off I could see that she was down a good deal by the head because the propeller was sticking half way out of the water. When we were couple of hundred yards away from the ship I saw two flashes and heard two revolver shots coming from near the bridge. All the boats had been lowered and I didn't know what the shots meant. By this time It must have been about 1 o'clock in the morning and the lights were still going on the main part of the ship. The other boats were all about us and we kept shouting to one another to keep close together. After we left the ship about four other boats got away. I kept pulling away at my oar and we rowed around just to keep warm. The women we had on board were huddled down in the center of the boat. Some of them were standing, but most of them were squatting down. 

"We saw the ship gradually settling down at the bow, until the forepart of the ship wasn't visible. Part of the time the band was still playing and we could hear the wireless. About an hour after we left her the fore part of the boat was going under and that was the first time we realized that she was going to sink. Because up to this time the men in the boat had taken the whole thing as a sort of holiday. 

Big Explosion Followed by Shrieks of Unfortunates. 

"The ship sank slowly and steadily and then we heard a little explosion that must have been the first boiler. After that the lights began to go out in different parts of the ship. Then came a big explosion. We could see a mass of black smoke. The boat seemed to lift right up out of the water and tilt up on end, and then seemed to break and drop back.

For one moment she was right up in the air standing on her nose. "That's when the people left on board went into the water. There were 1,600 to 1,700 left on the ship and most of them were thrown into the water by this explosion. Then a horrible shriek went up, cries for help and weird shouts. You can imagine what it was like, 1,500 of them. If you've ever been around when they were feeding a kennel of dogs, that's the only thing I can think of that it sounded like and that kept up for half an hour, growing fainter and fainter as the minutes passed. There was no other sound—just the crying of the people. 

Hundreds of People Struggling in the Water. 

"The ship quietly sank out of sight without a sound. We could see black spots of wreckage and hundreds of people struggling in the water. Some of the boats were near enough to help and pull some of the people in. One of the women in our boat wanted us to go back, but we wouldn't do it. Had we gotten in among that crowd struggling in the water it might have meant the end of us. With twenty of them grabbing the boat on one side it would have swamped us in a minute. It was awful, but there was nothing to do but wait. I won't forget those shrieks. The women In our boat crouched down and murmured. No one spoke. For half an hour we could hear those cries for help. Some of those left on the boats had managed to get on bits of wreckage. Some were on rafts so loaded down that they were partly under water. Some of the women in our boat started to move around. We had to keep them quiet, for with their shifting about we might have gone over. 

"Gradually those voices died away, and in something like half an hour everything was quiet and dark. We could see the other boats drifting about and kept close to them. Every now and then we passed a body floating on the water. 

Lights of the Carpathia Sighted. 

"Just as it was getting light, a few hours later, I don't know just how many, we saw the lights of the Carpathia. We hadn't suffered any, because we kept warm by rowing. Every man that was saved was in one of the boats. The cold water killed the others. No one could stand the water for six or seven hours. Every one of the bodies had on a life belt. We didn't try to pick them up; what was the use? We had all we could tend to with the living without bothering about the dead ones. The women in our boat didn't see the bodies. They were too far down in the bottom of the boat. They kept talking quietly, just as though they were still on the ship. "In some of the boats, I heard later, there was a lot of weeping, but not in ours. I guess those must, have been Continentals. The women in our boat were mostly English stock, and they're a braver sort. The kind makes a big difference. 

Lifeboats Surrounded by Giant Ice bergs. 

"By the time we started to row toward the Carpathia—we didn't know it was she until later; we thought it was the Olympic—it was getting light enough so we could look about us. Then, for the first time, we saw that there were big icebergs all about us. We counted fifteen or sixteen big bergs. They loomed up through the light, which wasn't strong yet, like sailing craft, and they were shaped like schooner sails, too. In all my sailing I've never seen so many icebergs In one place. A little farther off was a big icefloe; I guess it must have; been ten to fifteen miles long. There was a cold, freezing wind blowing toward us from this shoal. 

"When we got up to the Carpathia they were all ready for us. The men climbed on board up a rope ladder. The women were hoisted up in bo'sun's chair and the children were put in sacks. 

Dead Bodies Floated in the Wreckage. 

"After we got on board and the strain was over I felt weak for the first time. Sort of sick like, and a lot of the women became hysterical. The people on the Carpathia were surprised that there were so few of us left. They had expected to pick up everybody. If they had I guess there wouldn't have been room enough on board to stand up. The passengers were distributed all about and we were told to bunk wherever we could.  After the Carpathia had got us all on board from the lifeboats she started to cruise about. Bodies were floating all around and bits of wreckage. I saw chairs, cushions and pillows floating on the water. The California came along a short time after we were on board the Carpathia. The Carpathia cruised about among the wreckage until 9 or 10 o'clock. We didn't pick up anyone. All those that were alive were in the boats. And several of the men in the boats that had been fished up out of the water were dead. They dropped them over the side a little later. Nobody could have lived long in that cold water. 

Passengers Not Allowed to Send Messages to Friends. 

"On board the Carpathia things were pretty crowded. The passengers were put wherever there was room, in the steerage and anywhere. The Titanic crew waited on the Titanic passengers. Many of the women stayed in their rooms during the whole trip. I heard that Mr. lsmay stayed in his cabin all the time. I didn't see him.  Orders came to us that no news of any kind was to be given out. The captain handled all the news that was received or sent out. The first thing some of the passengers tried to do after getting on the Carpathia was to send wireless messages telling their people they were safe, but they weren't allowed to do it.

"They kept asking questions, but they weren't told anything. These were the orders: Don't give any information. I suppose a lot of the Titanic's passenger's on the Carpathia knew less about the accident than anyone else. They took all our names soon after we got aboard. But a lot of them were never sent ashore. My name wasn't sent in and my sister Ruth didn't know I was safe until I went to see her at 16 East Eleventh street, where she is working. My brother Frank came down to the boat to see if I was there, but he missed me. 

Rescued Passengers All Thinly Clothed. 

"Whatever news may have come to the shlp we didn't know anything about it. All the news went to the captain through the Marconi man. We were a sorry looking lot on the Carpathia. You wouldn't have known them to be the same people that were on the Titanic. All the clothes anyone had were those they wore in the boats Some of the women only had on their nightdresses and their outer coats which they put on when they came up on deck. A lot of the men, like myself, threw on their clothes over their pajamas. I'm still wearing mine. 

"After we got on board the Carpathia we heard of all sorts of experiences that others had had. I was told of one woman who took off her coat and insisted on giving it to a man who had been pulled out of the water into one of the boats. One man who was saved had jumped down 150 feet into the water from the stern of the ship just after the explosion. The baker who was also picked up by a boat, jumped from one of the top decks into the water just before the big explosion. 

No Excuse for Not Seeing the Iceberg, Steward Says. 

"As to the cause of the accident, I think someone must have been careless. There was no excuse for their not seeing the berg. We who were below knew there were icebergs about and the officers of the ship must have known it. The collision must have torn out the bottom of the ship beyond the first line of watertight bulkhead doors. She must have had hundreds of tons of water In her forward part to make her propellers stick up out of the water the way they did. 

"There were a lot of life rafts aboard the Titanic that were not used. If the people on board had only realized that. Some of the men did throw the life rafts into the water and jumped in after them. Then they climbed up on them and some of them were afterward picked up by the small boats. 

Not One of the Engineers Saved. 

"All the engineers were drowned—thirty-two or thirty-six of them. Not one was saved. The Marconi man who was saved was hurt about the legs. They had to carry him to the wireless room on the Carpathia. but he worked most of the time. Some of the men picked up by the boats died after they got on board the Carpathia. I think there were three or four. They were burled on Monday. The Carpathia didn't meet any ships until we were off Sandy Hook this afternoon. Then we were met by a couple of newspaper tugs. But orders were given to allow no communication and a couple of bo'suns manned the rail to see that the order was carried out. I was surprised the way they let us through. No quarantine stop and no bother with the customs. I didn't expect that they would let us members of the crew off the ship. But I Just walked off and no one interfered with me. Now I guess I'll have to start in and look for another Job."

Share on FaceBook Twitter

Related Biographies:

Walter Henry Nichols

Citation

Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) Graphic Stories of Titanic's Sinking Told By Eyewitnesses (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Friday 19th April , ref: #20384, published 1 September 2018, generated 22nd September 2021 09:00:16 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/steward-nichols-account.html