MR. ISMAY AND THE ICE: Some Candid Evidence



Mr. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, went into the witness box this week before Lord Mersey’s Court of Enquiry into the loss of the Titanic. He told the Attorney- General that he was on board as an ordinary passenger. Lord Mersey: Did you pay your fare? No, sir, I did not. Sir Rufus Isaacs: That rather disposes’ of the ordinary passenger theory. Mr.lsmay I think I should cross the Atlantic on the same terms on any other ship; On a Cunarder? Yes. Just before lunch on the Sunday, Captain Smith handed Mr. Ismay the following wireless message from the Baltic,’ timed 11.50 a.m. “Captain Smith, Titanic. Have had moderate variable winds, and clear fine weather since evening. Greek steamer reports passing icebergs and large quantity of field ice to-day, latitude 41.51 N. and longitude 49.52 W.” Good wishes to the Titanic were added. The answer given by the Titanic was “Thanks for your message and good wishes. Had fine weather since leaving. —Smith.” The message was handed him simply as a matter of information,” and he put it in his pocket. “Later he spoke to one or two passengers about it. Turning to the question of speed, Sir Rufus Isaacs elicited the information that the engine revolutions were increased by degrees from 68 to 75 as the voyage progressed. The maximum speed was 78. The Attorney-General: Your intention was to get to the maximum speed before you reached New York?—The intention was, if the weather was suitable, on Monday or Tuesday to drive her for a few hours at full speed. There was no slowing down of the vessel after that ice report was read? Not that I know of. You knew, of course, that the proximity of icebergs was a danger? There is always more or less danger with ice. “ANSWER THE QUESTION.” Mr. Ismay was discussing matters relating ‘to’ navigation when Sir Rufus Isaacs put the question: “More particularly it you were approaching ice in the night it would be desirable to slow down, would it not?” “I am not began the witness, hesitating. “Answer the question,” said Lord Mersey, sharply. “I say no”, came the reply, still with some hesitation. Sir Rufus Isaacs: Mr. Ismay, be frank with us. Sir Robert Finlay (for the White Star Line): He is frank. Sir Rufus Isaacs: I don’t think he is. (To Mr. Ismay): Then apparently you did not expect your captain to slow down when he had the ice report? No, certainly not. The President: That is the evidence of one witness. Of course, if you had a perfect lookout and nothing to prevent you from seeing there is no occasion to slow down. Sir Rufus Isaacs: What is the object of continuing the full speed through the night if you expect to meet ice? . Why do you do it? I presume the man would be anxious to get through the ice region. He would not want to slow down with the chance of a fog coming on. The witness denied emphatically that when on the Sunday he showed the Baltic’s Marconigram to Mrs. Ryassou, of Philadelphia, that lady said: “Of course you will slow down,” and that he replied, “Oh, no, we will put on more boilers to get out of it.” “It seems to have been rather in “accordance with your views,” remarked, the Attorney-General, “that the faster you could get out of the ice region the better.” “Assuming the weather is perfectly fine,” was the reply, “1 say the captain is quite justified in getting through it.” After further questions the president asked: “Is your position this, that in clear weather, whether it be day or whether it be night, there should be no reduction or need be no reduction of speed, although the master of the ship knows that he is in the ice region?” That is right, sir.


Then came the question: Did all the women and children on deck get into the boat? Mr.Ismay folded his arms “All the women I saw on deck got onto the boats” The Attorney -General persisted: “Did you realise there were any other women and children on board the ship?” I did not. How long did you remain on the Titanic alter feeling the impact?— l think about an hour and a half, or .longer. Did you notice the vessel was going down by the head? I did. Did you think the ship was sinking?— Mr. Ismay inclined his head. Did you tell anybody? I did not. As far as you know, were any passengers told the vessel was sinking? Not as far as I know. Would you tell us what happened after you had got the women and children into the boats? After all the women and children— after all the people on deck— had got in I got into the boat as she was being lowered away. Before you left the Titanic was any attempt made to call up other passengers to the boat deck?— That I do not know. You did not hear any such order given, and did not enquire whether such an order had been given? No, I did not


Replying to Mr. Scanlon, Mr. Ismay declared that during the voyage ho had no conversation with Captain Smith as to speed, or upon any other point of navigation. He said nothing as to the time of landing and gave no instructions whatever. When you had a conversation with reference to the speeding-up, who was present?—Mr. Bell (chief engineer) and  my secretary. Is your secretary a survivor? He is not. After further questions as to speed, Mr. Scanlon asked: “What right had you as an ordinary passenger to decide the speed of the ship?” Lord Mersey: I can answer that. None. It is no good asking him something that is quite obvious. “Don’t you think,” Mr. Scanlon asked presently, “that if those in charge of the ship knew that she was sinking they should have given that information to the passengers?” That is not a question to ask him. That is a question for me,” interposed Lord Mersey.


Mr. Clem Edwards (for the Dockers’ Union) elicited the information that before the disaster Mr. Ismay firmly believed the Titanic to be unsinkable. Mr. Edwards: If you had not held the view that the Titanic was unsinkable, would you have insisted upon provision being made for a larger number of lifeboats? No, I think not. She had all the Board of Trade required in fact, largely in excess of the Board of Trade required; in fact, largely in excess of the Board of Trade requirements.  So that the number of boats in your view had nothing at all to do with the relative sinkability of the Titanic? No. You were one of those responsible for determining the number of boats?— Yes, in conjunction with the shipowners. Do you agree that apart from the captain, you, as the responsible managing director, owed your life to every other passenger on that ship? Lord Mersey said he did not think that was a question, which should be put to the witness. It was an observation, which Mr. Edwards could make when he made his speech. Mr. Edwards: You say you took an active ‘part in giving directions for women and children to be placed in the boat? I did it as far as 1 could. If you took an active part at that stage, why did you not continue the active part and give instructions or go yourself to the other decks to see if there were other people you could find a place for in your boat?- I presumed there were people down below who were sending them up. The President: Your point, Mr. Edwards, is that according to his position it was his duty to remain on the ship until she went to the bottom? Mr. Edwards: Yes (after a. pause). Frankly, that is so. I don’t flinch from it a little bit.


 Mr. Ismay said he thought the distress rockets of the sinking Titanic were, “judging by the evidence,” seen by the liner Californian. The Attorney-General put questions as to the number of boats in the Titanic, and- elicited the fact that Mr Ismay knew when he left the Titanic that many people were still on board. He assumed, as he could not see them on the boat deck, that they were in the stern of the ship.


Mr Harold Sanderson, a director of the White Star Line, stated that the object of carrying boats in ocean liners was not to be able to embark all the passengers at once in them, but to enable them to be transferred, if necessary, in batches, to other ships or to the shore.  Some of the Olympics extra lifeboats had to be taken off. “We started to have a number on board equal to the number of souls the vessel carried, but we saw that was absurd, so we reduced them”.

Article sourced from National Library of New Zealand [Evening Post issue 22, 25 July 1912]

See The Titanic Enquiry site – electronic copies of the documents involved in investigating the disaster: for both British & U.S. inquiries.

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