The Life and Times of Hugh Walter McElroy : Chief Purser of R.M.S. Titanic


Last words

Samuel Rule bathroom steward was asked at the British Inquiry, “When you got up to the boat deck did you get any other order “No”, as I passed up the staircase, I got to A deck and I saw Mr McElroy the Chief Purser and Mr. Dodd, the Second Steward They were in deep conversation. I thought to receive some orders from them, but there were no orders given, and I passed onto the next deck, the boat deck”.

Hugh was forward where collapsible “C” had been fitted to the lifeboat davits. Two men jumped into the boat and Purser McElroy is said to of fired his gun twice into the air as First Officer Murdoch ordered them out, this account was verified by first class passenger Jack Thayer who stated at the US senate inquiry that

It had been said “There was some disturbance in loading the last two forward starboard boats. A large crowd of men was pressing to get into them. No women were around as far as I could see. It was every man for him self. Purser McElroy, as brave and as fine a man as every lived, was standing up in the next to last boat, loading it, two men, I think they were dinning-room stewards, dropped into the boat from the deck above. As they jumped, he fired twice in the air. I do not believe they were hit, but they were quickly thrown out by Purser McElroy, he also did not take a boat and was not saved”

The conclusions were, that putting the sensationalist third hand newspaper accounts aside, there is reasonable documentation to suggest that there were several gunshots incidents, other than the warning shots admitted to, by Fifth Officer Lowe, Namely: -

(a) Warnings shots, attributed to either First Officer Murdoch or to Purser McElroy, were reported by First Class Passengers Mr. Hugh Woolner and Mr. Jack Thayer at collapsible C. These were entered into evidence during the Senate Inquiry, but not thoroughly investigated.

(b) One or more warning shots, attributed to Second Officer Lightoller, was reported by First Class Passenger Archibald Gracie at the Senate Inquiry but later retracted. This incident was not thoroughly investigated.

(c) Both First Class Passengers Mr Hugh Woolner and Mr Hokan Bjornstorm-Steffansson heard pistol shots. They were fired by Purser McElroy to prevent a rush on collapsible D, which had been fitted, into the davits, previously occupied by lifeboat 1. The men rushed over and helped the Officer pull the men out of the boat and the loading of the lifeboat soon resumed.

(d) Third class Passenger Mr Eugene Daly and First Class Passenger Mr George Rheims both wrote letters stating that they witnessed two men being shot down by a Officer at collapsible A, which was then followed by the Officers own suicide. Unfortunately both Mr Eugene Daly and Mr George Rheims were not invited to testify at either the Senate or British Inquiries, also, both were discredited as being cowards in newspaper accounts, which was the likely reason they were not invited to testify.

This of course is possible, that more gunfire incidents occurred than those described here, as James Cameron (who Directed the 1998 blockbuster movie “R.M.S. Titanic”) surmised during a conversation with R.M.S. Titanic author Mr Charles Pellegrino, “Only one-third of the R.M.S. Titanic’s people lived to tell what they saw; so as a rough estimate we must be missing two-thirds of the shooting incidents that actually occurred that night.

Purser McElroy was also seen at boat 9 where he was assisting in the loading. The Chief Officer and First Officer Murdoch was supervising, Mr Bruce Ismay was with them also, Mr Ismay was talking to Purser McElroy. I do not think there were any other officers there. Mr Widgery R.M.S. Titanic’s swimming Instructor also said "I was asked by Purser McElroy “If I understood anything about lifeboats?” I said “I understood a little” and just then some biscuits came up from the storekeeper. I helped him put one of the boxes into the bottom of the boat, I was then told by Purser McElroy to get into the boat. William Ward, Saloon Steward said “Purser McElroy sent me along. They had taken the canvas off of No. 9 and lowered it, we lowered her down to the level of the boat deck, and a sailor came along with a bag and threw it in the boat. This man said he had been sent down to take charge of the boat by the captain. The boatswain’s mate, Haynes, was there, and he ordered this man out of the boat, and the man got out again. He stayed there for three or four minutes, and the purser took hold of my arm and said, "Get in the boat and help the boatswain’s mate pass the ladies in." So I got in the boat, and stepped on the side, and the purser said are you all ready? Haynes answered “Yes” and we started to pass the ladies and children into the boat. We thought we had them all in, and the purser called out, “Are there any more women?”

With the water at C Deck, and rapidly rising, Purser McElroy was talking cheeringly and encouragingly to the second class Purser Reg Baker and also the Purser’s assistants, they were joined by Dr. O’loughlin and also Dr. Simpson, for a brief time, afterwards they were joined by Second Officer Lightoller, he was sweating from his work at the boats and Dr. Simpson joked "Hello Lights are you warm", after spending most of the night on the starboard side of the ship, loading passengers into the lifeboats, Purser McElroy had bidden “Good-bye” to those on board, he turned to his assistants and said “Well boys, the last boat has gone. I’m afraid we must eat sand for supper to-night”, the small group shook hands and said their personal goodbyes, and waited for the inevitable.

Second Officer Lightoller later said in the US inquiry "I draw the conclusion that everyone was notified, by the manner and under the circumstances under which I met them last. It was obvious to me that everything with regard to their duty had been done by the mere fact that shortly before the vessel sank I met both the pursers, Mr. McElroy and Mr. Barker also their four assistants, along with Dr. O'Loughlin, and Dr: Simpson, They were just coming from the direction of the bridge. They were evidently just keeping out of everybody's way. They were keeping away from the crowd so, as not to interfere with the loading of the boats. McElroy, if I remember, was walking around with his hands in his pockets. The purser's assistant was coming behind with the ship's bag; which to myself meant that all the detail work had been attended to. I think one of them had a roll of papers under his arm, showing that they had been attending to their detail work."

Finally Purser McElroy was last seen standing on the Boat-Deck near the gymnasium, beside mail clerk Mr William Logan Gwinn, giving him words of encouragement, for what was about to happen, both men died in the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic.

Richard (Hugh’s brother), his last words regarding his brother, “Need it be added, that one who was so brave was also a true catholic.” He had received Holy Communion in Southampton shortly before sailing, and Hugh’s last message to his brother was, “Do not forget me in your daily Mass.”

Related Biographies:

Hugh Walter McElroy

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