Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters, The



IN the anxious hours of uncertainty, when the air cracked and flashed with the story of disaster, there was never doubt in the minds of men ashore about the master of the Titanic. Captain Smith would bring his ship into port if human power could mend the damage the sea had wrought, or if human power could not stay the disaster he would never come to port. There is something Calvinistic about such men of the old-sea breed. They go down with their ships, of their own choice.

Into the last life-boat that was launched from the ship Captain Smith with his own hand lifted a small child into a seat beside its mother. As the gallant, officer performed his simple act of humanity several who were already in the boat tried to force the captain to join them, but he turned away resolutely toward the bridge.

That act was significant. Courteous, kindly, of quiet demeanor and soft words, he was known and loved by thousands of travelers.

When the English firm, A. Gibson & Co.9 of Liverpool, purchased the American clipper, Senator Weber, in 1869, Captain Smith, then a boy, sailed on her. For seven years he was an apprentice on the Senator Weber, leaving that vessel to go to the Lizzie Fennell, a square rigger, as fourth officer. From there he went to the old Celtic of the White Star Line as fourth officer and in 1887 he became captain of that vessel. For a time he was in command of the freighters Cufic and Runic; then he became skipper of the old Adriatic. Subsequently he assumed command of the Celtic, Britannic, Coptic (which was in the Australian trade), Germanic, Baltic, Majestic, Olympic and Titanic, an illustrious list of vessels for one man to have commanded during his career.

It was not easy to get Captain Smith to talk of his experiences. He had grown up in the service, was his comment, and it meant little to him that he had been transferred from a small vessel to a big ship and then to a bigger ship and finally to the biggest of them all.

"One might think that a captain taken from a small ship and put on a big one might feel the transition," he once said. "Not at all. The skippers of the big vessels have grown up to them, year after year, through all these years. First there was the sailing vessel and then what we would now call small ships—they were big in the days gone by—and finally the giants to-day."


A view of the torpedo destroyer Tiger, taken in drydock after her collision with the Portland Breakwater last September; the damage to the Tiger, which is plainly shown in the photograph, is of the same character, though on a smaller scale, as that which was done to the Titanic.}

{illust. caption = A VIEW OF THE OLYMPIC

The sister-ship of the Titanic, showing the damage done to her hull in the collision with British war vessel, Hawke, in the British Channel.}


Only once during all his long years of service was he in trouble, when the Olympic, of which he was in command, was rammed by the British cruiser Hawke in the Solent on September 20, 1911. The Hawke came steaming out of Portsmouth and drew alongside the giantess. According to some of the passengers on the Olympic the Hawke swerved in the direction of the big liner and a moment later the bow of the Hawke was crunching steel plates in the starboard quarter of the Olympic, making a thirty-foot hole in her. She was several months in dry dock.

The result of a naval court inquiry was to put all the blame for the collision on the Olympic. Captain Smith, in his testimony before the naval court, said that he was on the bridge when he saw the Hawke overhauling him. The Olympic began to draw ahead later or the Hawke drop astern, the captain did not know which. Then the cruiser turned very swiftly and struck the Olympic at right angles on the quarter. The pilot gave the signal for the Olympic to port, which was to minimize the force of the collision. The Olympic's engines had been stopped by order of the pilot.

Up to the moment the Hawke swerved, Captain Smith said, he had no anxiety. The pilot, Bowyer, corroborated the testimony of Captain Smith. That the line did not believe Captain Smith was at fault, notwithstanding the verdict of the board of naval inquiry, was shown by his retention as the admiral of the White Star fleet and by his being given the command of the Titanic.

Up to the time of the collision with the Hawke Captain Smith when asked by interviewers to describe his experiences at sea would say one word, "uneventful." Then he would add with a smile and a twinkle of his eyes:

"Of course there have been winter gales and storms and fog and the like in the forty years I have been on the seas, but I have never been in an accident worth speaking of. In all my years at sea (he made this comment a few years ago) I have seen but one vessel in distress. That was a brig the crew of which was taken off in a boat by my third officer. I never saw a wreck. I never have been wrecked. I have never been in a predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort."


Once the interviewer stopped asking personal questions, Captain Smith would talk of the sea, of his love for it, how its appeal to him as a boy had never died.

"The love of the ocean that took me to sea as a boy has never died." he once said. "When I see a vessel plunging up and down in the trough of the sea, fighting her way through and over great waves, and keeping her keel and going on and on—the wonder of the thing fills me, how she can keep afloat and get safely to port. I have never outgrown the wild grandeur of the sea."

When he was in command of the Adriatic, which was built before the Olympic, Captain Smith said he did not believe a disaster with loss of life could happen to the Adriatic.

"I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to the Adriatic," he said. "Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that. There will be bigger boats. The depth of harbors seems to be the great drawback at present. I cannot say, of course, just what the limit will be, but the larger boat will surely come. But speed will not develop with size, so far as merchantmen are concerned.

"The traveling public prefers the large comfortable boat of average speed, and anyway that is the boat that pays. High speed eats up money mile by mile, and extreme high speed is suicidal. There will be high speed boats for use as transports and a wise government will assist steamship companies in paying for them, as the English Government is now doing in the cases of the Lusitania and Mauretania, twenty-five knot boats; but no steamship company will put them out merely as a commercial venture."

Captain Smith believed the Titanic to be unsinkable.


And though the ship turned out to be sinkable, the captain, by many acts of bravery in the face of death, proved that his courage was equal to any test.

Captain Inman Sealby, commander of the steamer Republic, which was the first vessel to use the wireless telegraph to save her passengers in a collision, spoke highly of the commander of the wrecked Titanic, calling him one of the ablest seamen in the world.

"I am sure that Captain Smith did everything in his power to save his passengers. The disaster is one about which he could have had no warning. Things may happen at sea that give no warning to ships' crews and commanders until the harm comes. I believe from what I read that the Titanic hit an iceberg and glanced off, but that the berg struck her from the bottom and tore a great hole."

Many survivors have mentioned the captain's name and narrated some incident to bring out his courage and helpfulness in the emergency; but it was left to a fireman on board the Titanic to tell the story of his death and to record his last message. This man had gone down with the White Star giantess and was clinging to a piece of wreckage for about half an hour before he finally joined several members of the Titanic's company on the bottom of a boat which was floating about among other wreckage near the Titanic.

Harry Senior, the fireman, with his eight or nine companions in distress, had just managed to get a firm hold in the upturned boat when they saw the Titanic rearing preparatory to her final plunge. At that moment, according to the fireman's story, Captain Smith jumped into the sea from the promenade deck of the Titanic with a little girl clutched in his arms. It took only a few strokes to bring him to the upturned boat, where a dozen hands were stretched out to take the little child from his arms and drag him to a point of safety.

"Captain Smith was dragged onto the upturned boat," said the fireman. "He had a life-buoy and a life-preserver. He clung there for a moment and then he slid off again. For a second time he was dragged from the icy water. Then he took off his life-preserver, tossed the life-buoy on the inky waters, and slipped into the water again with the words: "I will follow the ship."


Nor was the captain the only faithful man on the ship. Of the many stories told by survivors all seem to agree that both officers and crew behaved with the utmost gallantry and that they stuck by the ship nobly to the last.

"Immediately after the Titanic struck the iceberg," said one of the survivors, "the officers were all over the ship reassuring the passengers and calming the more excitable. They said there was no cause for alarm. When everything was quieted they told us we might go back to bed, as the ship was safe. There was no confusion and many returned to their beds.

"We did not know that the ship was in danger until a comparatively short time before she sank. Then we were called on deck and the life-boats were filled and lowered.

"The behavior of the ship's officers at this time was wonderful. There was no panic, no scramble for places in the boats."

Later there was confusion, and according to most of the passengers' narratives, there were more than fifty shots fired upon the deck by officers or others in the effort to maintain the discipline.


A young English woman who requested that her name be omitted told a thrilling story of her experience in one of the collapsible boats which had been manned by eight of the crew from the Titanic. The boat was in command of the fifth officer, H. Lowe, whose actions she described as saving the lives of many people. Before the life-boat was launched he passed along the port deck of the steamer, commanding the people not to jump in the boats, and otherwise restraining them from swamping the craft. When the collapsible was launched Officer Lowe succeeded in putting up a mast and a small sail. He collected the other boats together, in some cases the boats were short of adequate crews, and he directed an exchange by which each was adequately manned. He threw lines connecting the boats together, two by two, and thus all moved together. Later on he went back to the wreck with the crew of one of the boats and succeeded in picking up some of those who had jumped overboard and were swimming about. On his way back to the Carpathia he passed one of the collapsible boats which was on the point of sinking with thirty passengers aboard, most of them in scant night-clothing. They were rescued just in the nick of time.


There were brave men below deck, too. "A lot has been printed in the papers about the heroism of the officers," said one survivor, "but little has been said of the bravery of the men below decks. I was told that seventeen enginemen who were drowned side by side got down on their knees on the platform of the engine room and prayed until the water surged up to their necks. Then they stood up, clasped hands so as to form a circle and died together. All of these men helped rake the fires out from ten of the forward boilers after the crash. This delayed the explosion and undoubtedly permitted the ship to remain afloat nearly an hour longer, and thus saved hundreds of lives."

In the list of heroes who went down on the Titanic the names of her engineers will have a high place, for not a single engineer was saved. Many of them, no doubt, could not get to the deck, but they had equally as good a chance as the firemen, sixty-nine of whom were saved.

The supposition of those who manned the Titanic was that the engineers, working below, were the first to know the desperate character of the Titanic's injury. The watch called the others, and from that time until the vessel was ready for her last plunge they were too hard at work to note more than that there was a constant rise of water in the hull, and that the pumps were useless.

It was engineers who kept the lights going, saw to the proper closing of bulkhead doors and kept the stoke hole at work until the uselessness of the task was apparent. Most of them probably died at their post of duty.

The Titanic carried a force of about sixty engineers, and in addition she had at least twenty-five "guarantee" engineers, representatives of Harland and Wolff, the builders, and those who had the contract for the engineering work. This supplementary force was under Archie Frost, the builders' chief engineer, and the regular force was under Chief Engineer William Bell, of the White Star Line.

On the line's ships there is the chief engineer, senior and junior second, senior and junior third, and senior and junior fourth engineers. The men are assigned each to his own task. There are hydraulic, electric, pump and steam packing men, and the "guarantee" engineers, representing the builders and the contractors.

The duty of the "guarantee" engineers is to watch the working of the great engines, and to see that they are tuned up and in working order. They also watch the working of each part of the machinery which had nothing to do with the actual speed of the ship, principally the electric light dynamos and the refrigerating plant.


"But what of the bandsmen? Who were they?"

This question was asked again and again by all who read the story of the Titanic's sinking and of how the brave musicians played to the last, keeping up the courage of those who were obliged to go down with the ship.

Many efforts were made to find out who the men were, but little was made public until the members of the orchestra of the steamship Celtic reached shore for the first time after the disaster. One of their first queries was about the musicians of the Titanic. Their anxiety was greater than that of any New Yorker, for the members of the band of the Celtic knew intimately the musicians of the ill-fated liner.

"Not one of them saved!" cried John S. Carr, 'cellist on the Celtic. "It doesn't seem possible they have all gone.

"We knew most of them well. They were Englishmen, you know—every one of them, I think. Nearly all the steamship companies hire their musicians abroad, and the men interchange between the ships frequently, so we get a chance to know one another pretty well. The musicians for the Titanic were levied from a number of other White Star ships, but most of the men who went down with the Titanic had bunked with us at some time."

"The thing I can't realize is that happy 'Jock' Hume is dead," exclaimed Louis Cross, a player of the bass viol. "He was the merriest, happiest young Scotchman you ever saw. His family have been making musical instruments in Scotland for generations. I heard him say once that they were minstrels in the old days. It is certainly hard to believe that he is not alive and having his fun somewhere in the world."

At least he helped to make the deaths of many less cruel.

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