Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters, The



PUBLIC sentiment with regard to the Titanic disaster was reflected in the prompt action of the United States Government.

On April 17th the Senate, without a dissenting vote, ordered an investigation of the wreck of the Titanic, with particular reference to the inadequacy of life-saving boats and apparatus. The resolution also directed inquiry into the use by the Titanic of the northern course "over a route commonly regarded as dangerous from icebergs."

Besides investigating the disaster, the committee was directed to look into the feasibility of international agreements for the further protection of ocean traffic.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, in whose charge the investigation was placed, immediately appointed the following sub-committee to conduct the gathering of evidence and the examination of witnesses:

Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan, chairman; Senator Francis Newlands of Nevada, Senator Jonathan Bourne, Jr., of Oregon, Senator George C. Perkins of California, Senator Theodore E. Burton of Ohio, Senator Furnifold McL. Simmons of North Carolina and Senator Duncan U. Fletcher of Florida.

The Senate Committee began its investigation in New York on Friday, April 19th, the morning after the arrival of the Carpathia.

Ismay, the first witness, came to the witness chair with a smile upon his face. He was sworn and then told the committee that he made the voyage on the Titanic only as a voluntary passenger. Nobody designated him to come to see how the newly launched monster would behave on the initial trip. He said that no money was spared in the construction, and as she was built on commission there was no need for the builders to slight the work for their own benefit. The accident had happened on Sunday night, April 14th.

"I was in bed and asleep," he said. "The ship was not going at full speed, as has been printed, because full speed would be from seventy-eight to eighty revolutions, and we were making only seventy-five. After the impact with the iceberg I dressed and went on deck. I asked the steward what the matter was and he told me. Then I went to Captain Smith and asked him if the ship was in danger and he told me he thought she was."

Ismay said that he went on the bridge and remained there for some time and then lent a hand in getting the life-boats ready. He helped to get the women and children into the boats.

Ismay said that no other executive officer of the steamship company was on board, which practically made him the sole master of the vessel the minute it passed beyond the control of the captain and his fellow-officers. But Ismay, seeming to scent the drift of the questions, said that he never interfered in any way with the handling of the ship.

Ismay was asked to give more particulars about his departure from the ship. He said:

"The boat was ready to be lowered away and the officer called out if there were any more women or children to go or any more passengers on deck, but there was none, and I got on board."


Captain Rostron, of the Carpathia, followed Mr. Ismay. He said the first message received from the Titanic was that she was in immediate danger. "I gave the order to turn the ship around as soon as the Titanic had given her position. I set a course to pick up the Titanic, which was fifty-eight miles west of my position. I sent for the chief engineer, told him to put on another watch of stokers and make all speed for the Titanic. I told the first officer to stop all deck work, get out the life-boats and be ready for any emergency. The chief steward and doctors of the Carpathia I called to my office and instructed as to their duties. The English doctor was assigned to the first class dining room, the Italian doctor to the second class dining room, the Hungarian doctor to the third class dining room. They were instructed to be ready with all supplies necessary for any emergency."


The captain told in detail of the arrangements made to prepare the life-boats and the ship for the receipt of the survivors.


Then with tears filling his eyes, Captain Rostron said he called the purser. "I told him," said Captain Rostron, "I wanted to hold a service of prayer—thanksgiving for the living and a funeral service for the dead. I went to Mr. Ismay. He told me to take full charge. An Episcopal clergyman was found among the passengers and he conducted the services."


Captain Rostron said that the Carpathia had twenty lifeboats of her own, in accordance with the British regulations.

"Wouldn't that indicate that the regulations are out of date, your ship being much smaller than the Titanic, which also carried twenty life-boats?" Senator Smith asked.

"No. The Titanic was supposed to be a life-boat herself."


Why so few messages came from the Carpathia was gone into. Captain Rostron declared the first messages, all substantially the same, were sent to the White Star Line, the Cunard Line and the Associated Press. Then the first and second cabin passenger lists were sent, when the wireless failed.

Senator Smith said some complaint had been heard that the Carpathia had not answered President Taft's inquiry for Major Butt. Captain Rostron declared a reply was sent, "Not on board."

Captain Rostron declared he issued orders for no messages to be sent except upon orders from him, and for official business to go first, then private messages from the Titanic survivors in order of filing.

Absolutely no censorship was exercised, he said. The wire-less continued working all the way in, the Marconi operator being constantly at the key.

Guglielmo Marconi, the wireless inventor, was the next witness.

Marconi said he was chairman of the British Marconi Company. Under instructions of the company, he said, operators must take their orders from the captain of the ship on which they are employed.

"Do the regulations prescribe whether one or two operators should be aboard the ocean vessels?"

"Yes, on ships like the late Titanic and Olympic two are carried," said Marconi. "The Carpathia, a smaller boat, carries one. The Carpathia's wireless apparatus is a short-distance equipment."


"Do you consider that the Titanic was equipped with the latest improved wireless apparatus?"

"Yes; I should say that it had the very best."

"Did you hear the captain of the Carpathia say, in his testimony, that they caught this distress message from the Titanic almost providentally?" asked Senator Smith.

"Yes, I did. It was absolutely providential."

"Is there any signal for the operator if he is not at his post?'{'}

"I think there is none," said Marconi.

"Ought it not be incumbent upon ships to have an operator always at the key?"

"Yes; but ship-owners don't like to carry two operators when they can get along with one. The smaller boat owners do not like the expense of two operators."


Charles Herbert Lightoller, second officer of the Titanic, followed Marconi on the stand. Mr. Lightoller said he understood the maximum speed of the Titanic, as shown by its trial tests, to have been twenty-two and a half to twenty-three knots. Senator Smith asked if the rule requiring life-saving apparatus to be in each room for each passenger was complied with.

"Everything was complete," said Lightoller. "Sixteen life-boats, of which four were collapsible, were on the Titanic," he added. During the tests, he said, Captain Clark, of the British Board of Trade, was aboard the Titanic to inspect its life-saving equipment.

"How thorough are these captains of the Board of Trade in inspecting ships?" asked Senator Smith.

"Captain Clark is so thorough that we called him a nuisance."


After testifying to the circumstances under which the life-boats were filled and lowered, Lightoller continued. "The boat's deck was only ten feet from the water when I lowered the sixth boat. When we lowered the first, the distance to the water was seventy feet."

"If the same course was pursued on the starboard side as you pursued on the port, in filling boats, how do you account for so many members of the crew being saved?" asked Chairman Smith.

"I have inquired especially and have found that for every six persons picked up, five were either firemen or stewards."


Thomas Cottam, of Liverpool, the Marconi operator on the Carpathia, was the next witness.

Cottam said that he was about ready to retire Sunday night, having partially removed his clothes, and was waiting for a reply to a message to the Parisian when he heard Cape Cod trying to call the Titanic. Cottam called the Titanic operator to inform him of the fact, and received the reply. 'Come at once; this is a distress message. C. Q. D.' "

"What did you do then?"

"I confirmed the distress message by asking the Titanic if I should report the distress message to the captain of the Carpathia."

"How much time elapsed after you received the Titanic's distress message before you reported it to Captain Rostron?"

"About a couple of minutes," Cottam answered.


When the committee resumed the investigation on April 20th, Cottam was recalled to the stand.

Senator Smith asked the witness if he had received any messages from the time the Carpathia left the scene of the disaster until it reached New York. The purpose of this question was to discover whether any official had sought to keep back the news of the disaster.

"No, sir," answered Cottam. "I reported the entire matter myself to the steamship Baltic at 10.30 o'clock Monday morning. I told her we had been to the wreck and had picked up as many of the passengers as we could."

Cottam denied that he had sent any message that all passengers had been saved, or anything on which such a report could be based.

Cottam said he was at work Monday and until Wednesday. He repeated his testimony of the previous day and said he had been without sleep throughout Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and until late Wednesday afternoon when he had been relieved by Bride.

"Did you or Bride send any message declaring that the Titanic was being towed into Halifax?"

"No, sir," said the witness, with emphasis.


In an effort to determine whether the signal "C. Q. D." might not have been misunderstood by passing ships, Senator Smith called upon Mr. Marconi.

"The 'C. Q.,'" said Marconi, "is an international signal which meant that all stations should cease sending except the one using the call. The 'D.' was added to indicate danger. The call, however, now has been superseded by the universal call, 'S. O. S.'"


Harold S. Bride, the sole surviving operator of the Titanic, was then called.

Bride said he knew the Frankfurt was nearer than the Carpathia when he called for assistance, but that he ceased his efforts to communicate with the former because her operator persisted in asking, "What is the matter?" despite Bride's message that the ship was in distress.

Time after time Senator Smith asked in varying forms why the Titanic did not explain its condition to the Frankfurt.

"Any operator receiving 'C. Q. D.' and the position of the ship, if he is on the job," said Bride, "would tell the captain at once."

Marconi again testified to the distress signals, and said that the Frankfurt was equipped with Marconi wireless. He said that the receipt of the signal "C. Q. D." by the Frankfurt's operator should have been all-sufficient to send the Frankfurt to the immediate rescue.


Under questioning by Senator Smith, Bride said that undoubtedly the Frankfurt received all of the urgent appeals for help sent subsequently to the Carpathia.


The first witness when the investigation was resumed in Washington on April 22d was P. A. S. Franklin, vice-president of the International Mercantile Marine Company.

Franklin testified that he had had no communication with Captain Smith during the Titanic's voyage, nor with Ismay, except one cable from Southampton.

Senator Smith then showed Mr. Franklin the telegram received by Congressman Hughes, of West Virginia, from the White Star Line, dated New York, April 15th, and addressed to J. A. Hughes, Huntington, W. Va., as follows:

"Titanic proceeding to Halifax. Passengers probably land on Wednesday. All safe.



"I ask you," continued the senator, "whether you know about the sending of that telegram, by whom it was authorized and from whom it was sent?"

"I do not, sir," said Franklin. "Since it was mentioned at the Waldorf Saturday we have had the entire passenger staff examined and we cannot find out."

Asked when he first knew that the Titanic had sunk, Franklin said he first knew it about 6.27 P.M., Monday.

Mr. Franklin then produced a thick package of telegrams which he had received in relation to the disaster.

"About twenty minutes of two on Monday morning," said he, "I was awakened by a telephone bell, and was called by a reporter for some paper who informed me that the Titanic had met with an accident and was sinking. I asked him where he got the information. He told me that it had come by wireless from the steamship Virginian, which had been appealed to by the Titanic for aid."

Mr. Franklin said he called up the White Star docks, but they had no information, and he then appealed to the Associated Press, and there was read to him a dispatch from Cape Race advising him of the accident.

"I asked the Associated Press," said Mr. Franklin, "not to send out the dispatch until we had more detailed information, in order to avoid causing unnecessary alarm. I was told, however, that the story already had been sent."

The reassuring statements sent out by the line in the early hours of the disaster next were made the subject of inquiry.

"Tell the committee on what you based those statements," directed Senator Smith.

"We based them on reports and rumors received at Cape Race by individuals and by the newspapers. They were rumors, and we could not place our finger on anything authentic."


"At 6.20 or 6.30 Monday evening," Mr. Franklin continued, "a message was received telling the fateful news that the Carpathia reached the Titanic and found nothing but boats and wreckage; that the Titanic had foundered at 2.20 A.M. in 41.16 north, 50.14 west; that the Carpathia picked up all the boats and had on board about 675 Titanic survivors—passengers and crew.

"It was such a terrible shock that it took me several moments to think what to do. Then I went downstairs to the reporters, I began to read the message, holding it high in my hand. I had read only to the second line, which said that the Titanic had sunk, when there was not a reporter left—they were so anxious to get to the telephones.


"The Titanic's equipment was in excess of the law," said the witness. "It carried its clearance in the shape of a certificate from the British Board of Trade. I might say that no vessel can leave a British port without a certificate that it is equipped to care for human lives aboard in case of accident. It is the law."

"Do you know of anyone, any officer or man or any official, whom you deem could be held responsible for the accident and its attendant loss of life?"

"Positively not. No one thought such an accident could happen. It was undreamed of. I think it would be absurd to try to hold some individual responsible. Every precaution was taken; that the precautions were of no avail is a source of the deepest sorrow. But the accident was unavoidable."


J. B. Boxhall, the fourth officer, was then questioned.

"Were there any drills or any inspection before the Titanic sailed?" he was asked.

"Both," said the witness. "The men were mustered and the life-boats lowered in the presence of the inspectors from the Board of Trade."

"How many boats were lowered?"

"Just two, sir."

"One on each side of the ship?"

"No, sir. They were both on the same side. We were lying in dock."

The witness said he did not know whether the lowering tackle ran free or not on that occasion.

"In lowering the life-boats at the test, did the gear work satisfactorily?"

"So far as I know."

In lowering a life-boat, he said, first the boat has to be cleared, chocks knocked down and the boat hangs free. Then the davits are screwed out to the ship's side and the boat lowered.

At the time of the tests all officers of the Titanic were present.

Boxhall said that under the weather conditions experienced at the time of the collision the life-boats were supposed to carry sixty-five persons. Under the regulations of the British Board of Trade, in addition to the oars, there were in the boats water breakers, water dippers, bread, bailers, mast and sail and lights and a supply of oil. All of these supplies, said Boxhall, were in the boats when the Titanic left Belfast. He could not say whether they were in when the vessel left Southampton.

"Now," repeated Senator Smith, "suppose the weather was clear and the sky unruffled, as it was at the time of the disaster, how many would the boat hold?"

"Really, I don't know. It would depend largely upon the people who were to enter. If they did as they were told I believe each boat could accommodate sixty-five persons."

Boxhall testified to the sobriety and good habits of his superior and brother officers.


Boxhall said he went down to the steerage, inspected all the decks in the vicinity of where the ship had struck, found no traces of any damage and went directly to the bridge and so reported.


"The captain ordered me to send a carpenter to sound the ship, but I found a carpenter coming up with the announcement that the ship was taking water. In the mail room I found mail sacks floating about while the clerks were at work. I went to the bridge and reported, and the captain ordered the life-boats to be made ready."

Boxhall testified that at Captain Smith's orders he took word of the ship's position to the wireless operators.

"What position was that?"

"Forty-one forty-six north, fifty fourteen west."

"Was that the last position taken?"

"Yes, the Titanic stood not far from there when she sank."

After that Boxhall went back to the life-boats, where there were many men and women. He said they had been provided with life-belts.


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"After that I was on the bridge most of the time sending out distress signals, trying to attract the attention of boats ahead," he said. "I sent up distress rockets until I left the ship, to try to attract the attention of a ship directly ahead. I had seen her lights. She seemed to be meeting us and was not far away. She got close enough, so she seemed to me, to read our Morse electric signals."

"Suppose you had a powerful search light on the Titanic, could you not have thrown a beam on the vessel and have compelled her attention?"

"We might."

H. J. Pitman, the third officer of the ship, was the first witness on April 23d. By a series of searching questions Senator Fletcher brought out the fact that when the collision occurred the Titanic was going at the greatest speed attained during the trip, even though the ship was entering the Grand Banks and had been advised of the presence of ice.

Frederick Fleet, a sailor and lookout man on the Titanic, followed Pitman on the stand. Fleet said he had had five or six years' experience at sea and was lookout on the Oceanic prior to going on the Titanic. He was in the crow's nest at the time of the collision.

Fleet stated that he had kept a sharp lookout for ice, and testified to seeing the iceberg and signaling the bridge.

Fleet acknowledged that if he had been aided in his observations by a good glass he probably could have spied the berg into which the ship crashed in time to have warned the bridge to avoid it. Major Arthur Peuchen, of Toronto, a passenger who followed Fleet on the stand, also testified to the much greater sweep of vision afforded by binoculars and, as a yachtsman, said he believed the presence of the iceberg might have been detected in time to escape the collision had the lookout men been so equipped.


It was made to appear that the blame for being without glasses did not rest with the lookout men. Fleet said they had asked for them at Southampton and were told there were none for them. One glass, in a pinch, would have served in the crow's nest.

The testimony before the committee on April 24th showed that the big steamship was on the verge of a field of ice twenty or thirty miles long, if she had not actually entered it, when the accident occurred.

The committee tried to discover whether it would add to human safety if the ships were fitted with search lights so that at night objects could be seen at a greater distance. The testimony so far along this line had been conflicting. Some of the witnesses thought it would be no harm to try it, but they were all skeptical as to its value, as an iceberg would not be especially distinguishable because its bulk is mostly below the surface.

One of the witnesses said that much dependence is not placed upon the lookout, and that those lookouts who used binoculars constantly found them detrimental.

Harold G. Lowe, fifth officer of the Titanic, told the committee his part in the struggle of the survivors for life following the catastrophe. The details of this struggle have have already been told in a previous chapter.


In great detail Guglielmo Marconi, on April 25th, explained the operations of his system and told how he had authorized Operator Bride of the Titanic, and Operator Cottam, of the Carpathia, to sell their stories of the disaster after they came ashore.

In allowing the operator's to sell their stories, said Mr. Marconi, there was no question of suppressing or monopolizing the news. He had done everything he could, he said, to have the country informed as quickly as possible of the details of the disaster. That was why he was particularly glad for the narratives of such important witnesses as the operators to receive publication, regardless of the papers that published them.

He repeated the testimony of Cottam that every effort had been made to get legitimate dispatches ashore. The cruiser Chester, he said, had been answered as fully as possible, though it was not known at the time that its queries came from the President of the United States. The Salem, he said, had never got in touch with the Carpathia operator.

Senator Newlands suggested that the telegrams, some signed by the name of Mr. Sammis and some with the name of Marconi, directing Cottam to "keep his mouth shut" and hold out for four figures on his story, was sent only as the Carpathia was entering New York harbor, when there was no longer need for sending official or private messages from the rescuing ship. There had been an impression before, he said, that the messages had been sent to Cottam when the ship was far at sea, when they might have meant that he was to hold back messages relieving the anxiety of those on shore.


Ernest Gill, a donkey engineman on the steamship Californian, was the first witness on April 26th. He said that Captain Stanley Lord, of the Californian, refused later to go to the aid of the Titanic, the rockets from which could be plainly seen. He says the captain was apprised of these signals, but made no effort to get up steam and go to the rescue. The Californian was drifting with the floe. So indignant did he become, said Gill, that he endeavored to recruit a committee of protest from among the crew, but the men failed him.

Captain Lord entered a sweeping denial of Gill's accusations and read from the Californian's log to support his contention. Cyril Evans, the Californian's wireless operator, however, told of hearing much talk among the crew, who were critical of the captain's course. Gill, he said, told him he expected to get $500 for his story when the ship reached Boston.

Evans told of having warned the Titanic only a brief time before the great vessel crashed into the berg that the sea was crowded with ice. The Titanic's operators, he said, at the time were working with the wireless station at Cape Race, and they told him to "shut up" and keep out. Within a half hour the pride of the sea was crumpled and sinking.

Members of the committee who examined individually the British sailors and stewards of the Titanic's crew prepared a report of their investigations for the full committee. This testimony was ordered to be incorporated in the record of the hearings.

Most of this testimony was but a repetition of experiences similar to the many already related by those who got away in the life-boats.

On April 27th Captain James H. Moore, of the steamship Mount Temple, who hurried to the Titanic in response to wireless calls for help, told of the great stretch of field ice which held him off. Within his view from the bridge he discerned, he said, a strange steamship, probably a "tramp," and a schooner which was making her way out of the ice. The lights of this schooner, he thought, probably were those seen by the anxious survivors of the Titanic and which they were frantically trying to reach.


Steward Crawford also related a thrilling story in regard to loading the life-boats with women first. He told of several instances that came under his observation of women throwing their arms around their husbands and crying out that they would not leave the ship without them. The pathetic recital caused several women at the hearing to weep, and all within earshot of the steward's story were thrilled.


Stories that Mr. Andrews, the designer of the ship, had tried to disguise the extent of danger were absolutely denied by Henry Samuel Etches, his bedroom steward, who told the committee how Mr. Andrews urged women back to their cabins to dress more warmly and to put on life-belts.

The steward, whose duty it was to serve Major Butt and his party, told how he did not see the Major at dinner the evening of the disaster as he was dining with a private party in the restaurant. William Burke, a first class steward, told of serving dinner at 7.15 o'clock to Mr. and Mrs. Straus, and later Mrs. Straus' refusal to leave her husband was again told to the committee. A bedroom steward told of a quiet conversation with Benjamin Guggenheim, Senator Guggenheim's brother, after the accident and shortly before the Titanic settled in the plunge that was to be his death.

On April 29th Marconi produced copies of several messages which passed between the Marconi office and the Carpathia in an effort to get definite information of the wreck and the survivors.

Marconi and F. M. Sammis, chief engineer of the American Marconi Company, both acknowledged that a mistake had been made in sending messages to Bride and Cottam on board the Carpathia not to give out any news until they had seen Marconi and Sammis.

The senatorial committee investigating the Titanic disaster has served several good purposes. It has officially established the fact that all nations are censurable for insufficient, antiquated safety regulations on ocean vessels, and it has emphasized the imperative necessity for united action among all maritime countries to revise these laws and adapt them to changed conditions.

The committee reported its findings as follows:


No particular person is named as being responsible, though attention is called to the fact that on the day of the disaster three distinct warnings of ice were sent to Captain Smith. J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, is not held responsible for the ship's high speed. In fact, he is barely mentioned in the report.

Ice positions, so definitely reported to the Titanic just preceding the accident, located ice on both sides of the lane in which she was traveling. No discussion took place among the officers, no conference was called to consider these warnings, no heed was given to them. The speed was not relaxed, the lookout was not increased.

The supposedly water-tight compartments of the Titanic were not water-tight, because of the non-water-tight condition of the decks where the transverse bulkheads ended.

The steamship Californian, controlled by the same concern as the Titanic, was nearer the sinking steamship than the nineteen miles reported by her captain, and her officers and crew saw the distress signals of the Titanic and failed to respond to them in accordance with the dictates of humanity, international usage and the requirements of law. Had assistance been promptly proffered the Californian might have had the proud distinction of rescuing the lives of the passengers and crew of the Titanic.

The mysterious lights on an unknown ship, seen by the passengers on the Titanic, undoubtedly were on the Californian, less than nineteen miles away.

Eight ships, all equipped with wireless, were in the vicinity of the Titanic, the Olympic farthest away—512 miles.

The full capacity of the Titanic's life-boats was not utilized, because, while only 705 persons were saved, the ship's boats could have carried 1176.

No general alarm was sounded, no whistle blown and no systematic warning was given to the endangered passengers, and it was fifteen or twenty minutes after the collision before Captain Smith ordered the Titanic's wireless operator to send out a distress message.

The Titanic's crew were only meagerly acquainted with their positions and duties in an accident and only one drill was held before the maiden trip. Many of the crew joined the ship only a few hours before she sailed and were in ignorance of their positions until the following Friday.

Many more lives could have been saved had the survivors been concentrated in a few life-boats, and had the boats thus released returned to the wreck for others.

The first official information of the disaster was the message from Captain Haddock, of the Olympic, received by the White Star Line at 6.16 P. M., Monday, April 15. In the face of this information a message reporting the Titanic being towed to Halifax was sent to Representative J. A. Hughes, at Huntington, W. Va., at 7.51 P. M. that day. The message was delivered to the Western Union office in the same building as the White Star Line offices.

"Whoever sent this message," says the report, "under the circumstances, is guilty of the most reprehensible conduct."

The wireless operator on the Carpathia was not duly vigilant in handling his messages after the accident.

The practice of allowing wireless operators to sell their stories should be stopped.


It is recommended that all ships carrying more than 100 passengers shall have two searchlights.

That a revision be made of steamship inspection laws of foreign countries to conform to the standard proposed in the United States.

That every ship be required to carry sufficient life-boats for all passengers and crew.

That the use of wireless be regulated to prevent interference by amateurs, and that all ships have a wireless operator on constant duty.

Detailed recommendations are made as to water-tight bulkhead construction on ocean-going ships. Bulkheads should be so spaced that any two adjacent compartments of a ship might be flooded without sinking.

Transverse bulkheads forward and abaft the machinery should be continued watertight to the uppermost continuous structural deck, and this deck should be fitted water-tight.

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