Peter Engberg looks at the evidence for who left the Titanic in the final boat to be lowered.
Titanic 2.00 a.m. On the forward port side of the ship, collapsible boat D was being prepared for lowering. Boat 2 left the ship perhaps 15 minutes earlier and the crew had attached the collapsible lifeboat in the now empty davits. Boat D was meant for approximately 47 people – there were still around 1,600 people left on the sinking ship.
When one watches films about the sinking of the Titanic, there are scenes of panic and lots of people around this last boat which left the ship. Yet, this appears not to have been quite true. On the contrary, the crew seems to have had trouble in finding passengers to fill boat D. What explanation could there be for such a shortage of people near the last lifeboat only a short time before the ship sank?
One explanation is that second and third class passengers did not have access to this area of the ship, nor did they know how to get there. Another explanation is that most first class women and children already had left the Titanic. There were in fact only eight left when boat D was being loaded, three of whom escaped in it (the remaining five were lost). There were a few third class passengers around. It is not exactly known how they got there, but they may have been escorted there in a group lead by a third class steward; one group had been escorted to deck by steward William Cox.
Several survivors later testified at the American and British Enquiries, including quite a few who had been at/near boat D when it was filled and subsequently lowered away. Some passengers were interviewed in contemporary press, so we do know a little about what happened when the last boat left the Titanic. 2nd Class Chief Steward John Hardy described the scene at/near/in boat D at the American Inquiry.
...I went to my station at the boat, which was boat 1 on the starboard side. I saw that lowered before I myself got there; that is, I myself did not get into it, as there was no room. By that time all the starboard boats had gone, and I went over to the port side and assisted the ladies and children in getting into the boats, and finally I was working on deck until the last collapsible boat was launched.
Senator FLETCHER. Where was that located?
Mr. HARDY. Right forward, on the port side. We launched this filled with passengers. We launched the boat parallel with the ship's side, and Mr. Lightoller and myself, two sailors, and two firemen - the two sailors were rigging the poles and getting them in working order and Mr. Lightoller and myself loaded the boat. When the boat was full, Mr. Lightoller was in the boat with me; and the chief officer came along and asked if the boat was full, and he said yes. He said he would step out himself and make room for somebody else, and he stepped back on board the ship and asked if I could row. I told him I could, and I went away in that boat.
We lowered away and got to the water, and the ship was then at a heavy list to port by the time we commenced to lower away.
we all got together, about seven boats of us, and I remember quite distinctly Boatswain (sic) Lowe telling us to tie up to each other, as we would be better seen and could keep better together. Then Officer Lowe, having a full complement of passengers in his boat, distributed among us what he had, our boat taking 10. We had 25 already, and that number made 35.finallyWe got clear of the ship and rowed out some little distance from her, and
Officer Lowe then returned with his crew back to the ship to pick up all he could. I found out afterwards he had picked up some. We hung around then until dawn, until we sighted the Carpathia, pulling now and again. We were towed up by Mr. Lowe with a sail to the Carpathia, not having enough men in the boat to pull. There was only just this quartermaster and myself, two firemen, and about four gentlemen passengers, and the balance were women and children.
He also stated there were Syrians in the bottom of the boat.
Quartermaster Arthur Bright had been helping firing rockets and had also assisted in getting boat C, on the starboard side, ready for lowering. He was then sent to the other side of the ship to get boat D ready.
Mr. BRIGHT. When the boat left the ship there were 25; all it would hold.
Senator SMITH. Did you count them?
BRIGHT. Mr. I did not count them then; but after we got away there was Mr. Lowe, the fourth [fifth] officer, came alongside of us in another boat, and told us stick together, and then he asked the number in the boat, and there was a steward by the name of Hardy counted them and told him, and then they put ten or a dozen men into our boat because it was not filled up.
2nd Officer Charles Lightoller was in charge of loading the boat. He had already supervised the filling and lowering of some other port side boats. He testified to the shortage of women at/near the boat at the British Enquiry.
13996. Was she filled? What happened?
Lightoller - We had very great difficulty in filling her with women. As far as I remember she was eventually filled, but we experienced considerable difficulty. Two or three times we had to wait, and call out for women - in fact, I think on one - perhaps two - occasions, someone standing close to the boat said, "Oh, there are no more women,"
14002. Do you know how many people got into that collapsible boat?
Lightoller - I could not say.
14003. Did you fill her?
Lightoller - Yes, I filled her as full as I could.
14004. When that boat was filled ready to go away, as far as you could ascertain were there any other women thereabouts?
Lightoller - None whatever. I am under the impression that I could have put more in that boat and could have put some men in, but I did not feel justified in giving an order for men to get into the boat, as it was the last boat as far as I knew leaving the ship, and I thought it better to get her into the water safely with the number she had in; or, in other words, I did not want the boat to be rushed.
At the American Senate hearings, Senator Smith asked him 'how many people were put into that sixth boat'' and Lightoller answered ''Fifteen or perhaps 20. Between 15 and 20.''
Able Seaman William Lucas had also helped in filling boat D and later got away in it.
1538. Who got into her?
Lucas - About forty women.
1539. And what men?
Lucas - Well, I found three men in the boat afterwards, but I never saw them in the boat when she went away.
1540. Did you go away in that boat?
Lucas - I went away in that boat.
1541. Who were the other men? Were they seamen?
Lucas - One-quartermaster and two foreigners in the boat.
He had first been inside the boat but had been ordered out of it by 2nd Officer Lightoller and had gone to the starboard side of the ship and subsequently did not observe the loading of boat D. He realized there were no more boats on the starboard side and went back to the port side. Some ladies, according to Mr. Lucas, said there were no seamen in the boat and he then jumped into it, the same one he had been ordered out of a few minutes earlier. His impression was that they more or less floated away from the ship. He believed he had been in charge of the boat. He was later transferred to boat 12. The two 'foreigners' mentioned in his testimony may have been Hugh Woolner and Håkan Björnström Steffanson.
Irene Harris was one of three women first class passengers in boat D. She had stayed with her husband until the very last boat was being prepared for lowering. She left the ship together with 'Mrs. Thorne.' She described how they eventually met another boat and the officer in charge asked how many there were in their boat and the quartermaster in charge answered ''19.'' (George Behe, ''On Board the RMS Titanic,'' p. 320 and p. 322)
Irene Harris, Gertrude Thorne, Jane Hoyt
Jane Hoyt was another lady from first class in boat D. She said in The Sun 23 April 1912 that she had been torn away from her husband and had been thrown into the boat. Her husband, Frederick Hoyt, who was not allowed to accompany his wife into the boat, said ''There was no panic at the time. When the last boat was going off the side the ship's band was playing 'Alexander's Ragtime Band. They may have played 'Nearer, My God, to Thee' when ship went down, but they were playing the ragtime air when the last boat left the side...The captain was perfectly calm...'Go down on A deck and see if you cannot get in a boat,' he said to me....when I got below they pushed off the collapsible boat in which Mrs. Hoyt had been placed. There were then 20 persons in it. Just as the boat left the side I jumped into the ocean. The water was terribly cold, but I am used to outdoor life and am a good swimmer. I had been swimming 5 or 10 minutes when I was picked up by the boat. The steward and three officers manned it and there was no excitement. Not a breath of wind was stirring, and the sea was as smooth as a table... The ship broke in two between the middle funnels. The stern slowly settled, and at last sank beneath the waves. We were then not 200 yards away from the vessel, but there was hardly any noticeable suction. All this talk about shooting on the decks of the Titanic is bosh...'' (Springfield Union (Mass.), 20 April 1912, p. 3)
It is not quite clear whether Mrs. Hoyt was separated from her husband near the lifeboat or at an earlier stage; Mr. Hoyt indicated in his interview as per above that he was not there when his wife was helped into the boat.
The last collapsible life boat was getting in readiness to be lowered [by?] the davits when Mr. Hoyt said to me I would have to get in. I did so only after much persuasion and after we had bid each other goodbye, Mrs. Henry B. Harris, Mrs. Thorn and myself were the only first class cabin women passengers in the boat. There were steerage passengers, among them several women, about eighteen of us all in the canvas craft which could not sink but could be easily turned turtle. Seamen started to lower us but the boat suddenly gave a heavy list and the men left us hanging suspended in the air and ran to the upper side so as to save themselves. Finally one or two men came back and completed the task of lowering us to the water.
"My husband walked away from the davits after waving a farewell to us and he afterward told me he went over and talked with Captain Smith about the terrible scenes that were being enacted on all sides. Captain Smith told him that he had better go down on one of the lower decks. The captain thought that perhaps some of the boats might return to the ship’s side and there might be a chance of saving his life. Mr. Hoyt went to the lower deck but there were no boats in sight. He did not know the experience we had gone through in being lowered to the surface of the water and thought we were at a safe distance from the ship. On the other hand we had not got started yet. Mr. Hoyt took off his coat and then jumped into the water. That was just before the ship took its final plunge. He is an expert swimmer and of strong physique and immediately struck out to get away from the ship. He swam in the icy cold water for about ten minutes and then our boat came across him. We could not tell who it was but it was a living human being and there was room in our boat so we took him in. He was nearly exhausted and some of the occupants of the boat who were not otherwise engaged, chafed his hands and lifted his arms to keep up the circulation. Not until he was able to sit up and later hear my voice did either of us know that we were together again.
"When we were leaving the ship’s side I could hear the band playing ’Alexander’s Ragtime Band,’ quite distinctly. Afterward the musicians broke into ’Nearer, My God, to Thee,’ and they were playing this when the Titanic disappeared. It was just like a long groan. I did not hear any hysterical cries, but when the ship started to settle under the surface of the water there seemed to be just one wall of despair from the unfortunate people who still remained on deck. The lights were on until the ship sank and then all was darkness.
"In the bottom of our boat we found a man lurking. There was no objection to this, but when one or two of the men at the oars became exhausted the steward called on him for assistance. He was either ill or so frightened that he could not respond. I assisted the steward in operating one of the oars and Mrs. Harris did likewise. We managed to keep going and got away from the ship as far as possible, so there would be no suction to draw us down. I don’t think there was hardly any suction.
"Fifth Officer Low (sic) of the Titanic was in charge of one of the lifeboats and it was due to his heroic management that a number of people were saved. He yelled to all the lifeboats to keep as close as possible and then he had them lashed together. He ordered all the survivors out of his boat and placed them safely in other boats and then went back to where the ship went down to see if he could pick up anyone in the water. He managed to get three men, all he could see. One afterward died in the boat. He was a man in evening dress, but I could not look close enough to see if I knew him.
"It was bitter cold and the lifeboats were struggling to keep within touch with one another. Finally there was a slight blow and the ocean surface became rough. It was necessary to unlash the boats to keep them from crashing into each other and then it was more difficult than ever to keep within touch with one another. Officer Low got to one of the collapsible lifeboats when it was half filled with water and he was just in time to save the occupants from being thrown into the sea. He directed all the movements while we were drifting about and his coolness and courage were marked throughout.
"At 4 o’clock in the morning, just as a gray mist was beginning to steal in the sky, announcing the approach of day, we could see the lights of the Carpathia in the distance and a prayer of joy and thanksgiving went up on all sides, for we knew help was near at hand. It was 8 o’clock before we were on board the Carpathia, so that made just six hours that we were drifting about on the ocean surface, and it was a long six hours.
"When the Carpathia came up to us the women were hoisted to the deck in seamen’s chairs, while the men who could not go up the rope ladders were hauled up. There was every imaginable kindness shown us by the passengers and crew of the Carpathia. Every man was eager and willing to give over his stateroom, while the women fairly swamped us with favors and attention. Many of us had to take up sleeping quarters in the smoking salon, I among a number of others. It was made very comfortable, however, but there was little sleep after dark. The survivors seemed possessed of an uneasiness at dusk that made it impossible to sleep. I figured that [I had?] five hours’ good sleep and rest out of a total of 96 hours following the collision with the iceberg.
"Of course, there were many things that occurred I did not see, but what I did see impressed me very much. This was true of the bravery and heroism of the officers and crew of the Titanic. I did not see a man flinch from duty, and I candidly think that if the women had followed the advice of Captain Smith and his officers to get into the lifeboats when first directed, the boats would have been filled and many more people saved.
"Dr. O’Loughlin was one of the bravest men on the boat. His fatherly advice was carried out in many instances where he saw opportunities for people to get a chance to save their lives, and he always went away with a 'good-bye and God bless you.'"
Mrs. Hoyt said that she had read a number of statements of survivors and that while some of them might be true she knew that many of them were falsehoods. She was also informed today of the announcement that a ship had passed within five miles of the sinking Titanic but did not stand by to give assistance after being warned with rockets and distress signals. Mrs. Hoyt said that if the lights of a ship had been seen in the distance they were not called to her attention nor did she hear Captain Smith or any of the officers refer to the fact. Many rockets were sent up from the Titanic after the collision and Mrs. Hoyt said that if a ship had been in such close proximity the lookout could not but help see them and immediately guess the grave importance.
She said it was an experience she will not soon forget and after granting the interview to the Recorder representative she said it was the last time she cared to go into any details of the sea tragedy.
Hugh Woolner had jumped into the boat from A deck together with Håkan Björnström Steffanson. Mr. Woolner thought there were 30 women and children in the boat, including a ''French'' child of about 5 years of age. He believed this was one of the Navratil children, but the child may in fact have been one of the Syrian children in the boat. Mr. Björnström Steffanson gave interviews about his escape, but did not describe the scene on the deck where boat D was filled, nor did he state how many people were in the boat, except that there was nobody in the bows of it.
Joseph Duquemin, a third class passenger, said in the Buffalo Morning Express 25 April that the lifeboat was less than half filled. It is not exactly known how Mr. Duquemin got in the boat; he would later say he had swum to it, but boat D only picked up one person from the water, Mr. Hoyt, and subsequently, Mr. Duquemin must have been in the boat when it was lowered away. He did apparently help to drag Mr. Hoyt into the boat and was rewarded for this later on.
It would seem there were relatively few people near boat D when it was filled and subsequently lowered away. No witness mentions there being any sort of crowd near it at the time of loading/lowering. As to the number of people in this last lifeboat which left the ship, Lightoller thought 15-20 had been put into it, Hardy (and Bright, who had not counted but quoted Hardy) thought there were about 25, Irene Harris said there were 19, Mr. Hoyt estimated 20, Mr. Duquemin thought his boat was less than half full (i. e. about 20 people) Mr. Woolner thought there had been at least 30 and AB Lucas said there were 44. Six of the eight witnesses as per above thought there were 15-25 people in it and two thought there were many more.
The people known to have been in the boat when it was lowered away were Mesdames Harris, Hoyt and Thorne from first class, Messrs. Woolner, Björnström Steffanson and Hoyt (who had jumped into it/been picked up by it) from first class, Mr. Duquemin from third class, and a number of Syrians (perhaps half a dozen?), according to John Hardy. There were also five crewmembers; Quartermaster Bright, AB Lucas, Chief Steward Hardy, and two firemen.
Related BiographiesArthur John Bright
Joseph Pierre Duquemin
Frederick Maxfield Hoyt
Jane Anne Hoyt
William Arthur Lucas
Gertrude Mabelle Thorne