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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 5 – After the Titanic Disaster


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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R.M.S. Carpathia by Scottvisnjic
R.M.S. Carpathia by Scottvisnjic

At full speed it took four hours for the RMS Carpathia, working her way through dangerous ice fields in the dark, to reach the RMS Titanic. When Carpathia arrived at the scene at 4 am on the morning of April 15, 1912, Titanic had already sunk. Carpathia took on around 700 survivors of the disaster from Titanic‘s lifeboats. It rescued the last of the survivors in the lifeboats by 9:15 am.

Members of a rescue crew in a whaling boat attempt to retrieve the floating body of a Titanic victim. Photograph by Joseph H. Bailey. (Source: channel.nationalgeographic.com)
Members of a rescue crew in a whaling boat attempt to retrieve the floating body of a Titanic victim. Photograph by Joseph H. Bailey. (Source: channel.nationalgeographic.com)

Out of the 2,224 people aboard RMS Titanic, 710 were saved, leaving 1,517 dead.

The figures below are from the British Board of Trade report on the disaster.

Passenger category Number aboard Number saved Number lost Percentage saved Percentage lost
Children, First Class 6 5 1 83.4% 16.6%
Children, Second Class 24 24 0 100% 0%
Children, Third Class 79 27 52 34% 66%
Women, First Class 144 140 4 97% 3%
Women, Second Class 93 80 13 86% 14%
Women, Third Class 165 76 89 46% 54%
Women, Crew 23 20 3 87% 13%
Men, First Class 175 57 118 33% 67%
Men, Second Class 168 14 154 8% 92%
Men, Third Class 462 75 387 16% 84%
Men, Crew 885 192 693 22% 78%
Total 2224 710 1514 32% 68%

Captain Edward Smith,  Chief Officer Henry Wilde, First Officer William Murdoch, Thomas Andrews, the naval architect of RMS Titanic, Jack Phillips, the senior Marconi radio operator, were among those lost with the sinking ship.

In this 1912 photo made available by the Library of Congress, Harold Bride, surviving wireless operator of the Titanic, with feet bandaged, is carried up the ramp of RMS Carpathia
In this 1912 photo made available by the Library of Congress, Harold Bride, surviving wireless operator of the Titanic, with feet bandaged, is carried up the ramp of RMS Carpathia

Harold Bride after being picked up by the RMS Carpathia assisted Harold Cottam in dealing with a constant exchange of messages in the following hours.

Lifeboat 12 reached the RMS Carpathia at 8:30 am where Jack was reunited with his mother. A kind passenger on the Carpathia gave Jack his pajamas and a bunk to sleep. Later, Jack Thayer reflected that the brandy he had drunk on that day was his first shot of hard liquor.

After being picked up by the RMS Carpathia, Bruce Ismay was taken to the ship’s doctor, Frank Mcgee’s cabin. Ismay gave Captain Rostron a message to send to White Star Line’s New York office:

Deeply regret advise you Titanic sank this morning after collision with iceberg, resulting in serious loss of life. Full particulars later.

During the entire journey to New York on board RMS Carpathia, Ismay never left Dr. Mcgee’s cabin. He did not eat any solid food and had to be kept under the influence of opiates.

After visiting Ismay, Jack Thayer said:

“[Ismay] was staring straight ahead, shaking like a leaf. Even when I spoke to him, he paid absolutely no attention. I have never seen a man so completely wrecked.”

The RMS Carpathia finally reached New York on April 18, 1912. Guglielmo Marconi, visited his exhausted radio operators on board. He himself had plans to  to cross the Atlantic on the ill-fated RMS Titanic, but had changed his plans. He arrived In New York on the RMS Lusitania.

After their arrival in New York, Jack Thayer, his mother and Miss Fleming took the Thayer’s private train carriage from Jersey City, NJ, back home to Haverford.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Jack Thayer took on banking. A few years later he was appointed Financial Vice-President and Treasurer of the University. He served as an artillery officer in the US Army during World War I. He married Lois Cassatt and they had two sons. Edward C. Thayer and John B. Thayer IV.

In 1940, conceivably, as an attempt to purge some of the memories that still haunted him, Jack Thayer produced a pamphlet relating his experiences with the Titanic’s sinking in vivid detail in a self-published pamphlet. Just 500 copies were printed exclusively for family and friends. Oceanographer Robert Ballard used the details of Jack Thayer to determine the location of the Titanic and proved that the ship had split in half as it sank, contrary to popular belief, as was finally confirmed when the wreck of the Titanic was discovered.

During World War II, both his sons enlisted in the armed services. In 1943, Edward Thayer was a bomber pilot in the Pacific theatre. After his plane was shot down, he was listed as missing and presumed dead. His body was never recovered.  When the news of Edward’s death reached him, Jack Thayer, became extremely depressed.

On the 32nd remembrance day of the RMS Titanic‘s collision with the iceberg, Jack Thayer’s mother Marian died. The loss of his mother depressed him further.

On September 20, 1945, Jack Thayer committed suicide by cutting his throat and wrists in an automobile at 48th Street and Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia.

He is buried at the Church of the Redeemer Cemetery, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

In New York, Bruce Ismay was hosted by Philip Franklin, vice-president of the company. Ismay also received a summons to appear before a Senate committee headed by Republican Senator William Alden Smith the following day and a few weeks later he appeared before the British Board of Trade chaired by Lord Mersey.

Bruce Ismay testified that as the ship was in her final moments, he was working at an oar, his back to the ship so as to avoid watching his creation sink beneath the waters of the North Atlantic. During the United States Inquiry he assured that all the vessels of the International Mercantile Marine Company would be equipped with lifeboats in sufficient numbers for all passengers.

After the inquiry, Ismay and the surviving officers of the RMS Titanic returned to England aboard RMS Adriatic. Ismay’s reputation was irreparably damaged and he maintained a low public profile after the disaster. London society ostracized Ismay for life and labelled him one of the biggest cowards in history.

The American and the British press the American and the British press Bruce Ismay for deserting the ship while women and children were still on board. Some newspapers, even conjectured that Ismay jumped into the boat, despite there being women still near the lifeboat. Some papers called him the “Coward of the Titanic” and others named him as “J. Brute Ismay” and suggested that the White Star flag be changed to a yellow liver.

Ben Hecht, then a young journalist in Chicago, wrote a scathing poem titled “Master and Man” for the Chicago Journal contrasting the actions of Captain Edward Smith, the master of RMS Titanic who had just gone to an icy grave with his ship along with a majority of its passengers, and J. Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line of steamship safe on the rescue ship RMS Carpathia.

Master and Man
by Ben Hecht

The Captain stood where a
Captain should
For the Law of the Sea is grim;
The Owner romped while the ship was swamped
And no law bothered him.
The Captain stood where the Captain should
When a Captain’s ship goes down
But the Owner led when the women fled,
For an Owner must not drown.
The Captain sank as a man of Rank,
While his Owner turned away;
The Captain’s grave was his bridge and brave,
He earned his seaman’s pay.
To hold your place in the ghastly face of Death on the Sea at Night
Is a Seaman’s job, but to flee with the mob
Is an Owner’s Noble Right.

However, some newspapers claimed Ismay’s escape was justified since he was a passenger just like any other passenger on board the RMS Titanic. Some journalists maintained that Ismay bound by the dictum, “Women and children first” assisted many women and children himself. At the inquiry Bruce Ismay and first-class passenger William Carter said they boarded Collapsible C lifeboat only after there were no more women and children near that lifeboat.

On June 30, 1913, Ismay resigned as president of International Mercantile Marine and chairman of the White Star Line, to be succeeded by Harold Sanderson.

The Times Despatch - 2The above news “J. Bruce Ismay Tells in Whispers How He Escaped Death By Leaving Sinking Titanic in Lifeboat With Women” in The Times Dispatch reminds me of an apocryphal account of how Violet Jessop got into the lifeboat:

Violet watched patiently as the crew members loaded the passengers on to lifeboat Later, they called out “Are there any more women before this boat goes out?”

Bruce Ismay, who had already got into the boat loaded with women saw Violet and said: “Come along; jump in.

Violet replied: “I am only a stewardess.

Ismay said: “Never mind – you are a woman; take your place.

Just as the boat was being lowered, an officer of the Titanic gave her a baby to look after.

According to this unsubstantiated account Violet Jessop would have got into lifeboat C along with Bruce Ismay.

Violet Jessop, said later that while on board the RMS Carpathia, a woman without saying a word grabbed the baby Violet was holding and ran off with it; and many years after her retirement on a stormy night Violet received a telephone call from a woman who asked her if she saved a baby on the night the Titanic sank. When Violet replied “Yes,” the caller said, “I was that baby.”

When she told this to John Maxtone-Graham, her friend, and biographer, the latter said it would have been most likely some prankster. Violet replied, “No, John, I had never told that story to anyone before I told you now.”

The above account is a bit enigmatic. Some sources say that Violet Jessop escaped from the sinking Titanic on lifeboat 16. According to available records, the only baby in lifeboat 16 was 5-month-old Master Assad Alexander Thomas/Tannous who was handed over to 27-year-old Miss Edwina Celia Troutt. The infant was later reunited with his mother on the RMS Carpathia. Also, according to available records there were only two stewardesses on that lifeboat: 28-year-old Miss Evelyn Marsden and 41-year-old Mrs. Mary Kezia Roberts.

Many survivors lost all their possessions and became destitute. Many families, those of crew members from Southampton in particular, lost their principal breadwinners and were helped by charitable donations.

Empty holes where rivets gave way (Source: history.com)
Empty holes where rivets gave way (Source: history.com)

Videos taken at the wreck site of the Titanic by recent expeditions, show empty holes where the rivets gave way. Recent investigations by forensic experts reveal the rivets holding the steel plates are the real culprits leading to the Titanic catastrophe. Tests show flaws in the rivets used in the construction of Titanic. Inferior grade iron was used to manufacture the three million odd rivets that were used to hold the steel plates together.

After the demise of RMS Titanic, the SS Majestic was pressed back into service once again, filling the hole in the transatlantic schedule of White Star Line.

Even after the horrendous experience on RMS Titanic Violet Jessop continued to work as a stewardess on ocean-liners. Her next posting as a stewardess was on HMHS Britannica.

Titanic at 100
Click image to view video “Titanic At 100 Mystery Solved 720p HD (full movie)”

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 Previous: Part 4 – Sinking of the RMS Titanic

Next → Part 6 – Aboard the HMHS Britannic

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 4 – Sinking of the RMS Titanic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Maiden voyage of RMS Titanic. (Author: T.V. Antony Raj)
Maiden voyage of RMS Titanic. (Author: T.V. Antony Raj)

On Sunday, April 14, 1912, at 11:40 pm ship’s time, about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from Queenstown and 375 miles (600 km) south of Newfoundland at 41°43’42″N 49°46’49″W, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg directly ahead of the RMS Titanic and alerted the bridge. At that time, the ship was travelling near her maximum speed.

The iceberg suspected of having sunk the RMS Titanic. This iceberg was photographed by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adalbert on the morning of April 15, 1912, just a few miles south of where the “Titanic” went down. The steward hadn't yet heard about the Titanic. What caught his attention was the smear of red paint along the base of the berg, indication that it had collided with a ship sometime in the previous twelve hours. This photo and information was taken from "UNSINKABLE" The Full Story of RMS Titanic written by Daniel Allen Butler, Stackpole Books 1998. Other accounts indicated that there were several icebergs in the vicinity where the TITANIC collided.
The iceberg suspected of having sunk the RMS Titanic. This iceberg was photographed by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adalbert on the morning of April 15, 1912, just a few miles south of where the “Titanic” went down. The steward hadn’t yet heard about the Titanic. What caught his attention was the smear of red paint along the base of the berg, indication that it had collided with a ship sometime in the previous twelve hours. This photo and information was taken from “UNSINKABLE” The Full Story of RMS Titanic written by Daniel Allen Butler, Stackpole Books 1998. Other accounts indicated that there were several icebergs in the vicinity where the TITANIC collided.

First Officer William McMaster Murdoch ordered the ship’s engines to be put in reverse to reduce speed and maneuver the vessel around the obstructing iceberg; but it was too late. The starboard side of the ship grazed the immense iceberg, creating a series of gashes below the waterline. The ship began to founder.

At 12:11 am on April 15, 1912, the radio operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride sent out the first distress signal: “CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD DE MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY” from position 41°44’N 50°24’W, and continued sending the distress signal by wireless.

‘CQD’ transmitted in Morse code as – · – · – – · – – · · is one of the first distress signals adopted for radio use. It is understood by wireless operators to mean, “All stations: distress.” “DE” from French “for” and ‘MGY’ the call sign of Marconi’s wireless telegraph station aboard RMS Titanic.

The crew sent distress signals using rockets and Morse code lamp.

Unfortunately, the ships that responded to her distress call were not near enough to reach her in time.

On the night of Sunday, April 14, 1912, the RMS Carpathia (call sign MPA), a Cunard Line transatlantic passenger steamship commanded by Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, was sailing from New York City to Fiume, Austria-Hungary (now Rijeka, Croatia). Carpathia’s only wireless operator, Harold Cottam, received messages from Cape Race, Newfoundland, stating they had private traffic for the RMS Titanic’s Marconi Room. At 12:11 am on April 15, 1912, he sent a message to RMS Titanic stating that Cape Race had traffic for them. In reply he received the Titanic’s distress signal.

Cottam informed Captain Rostron who immediately set a course at maximum speed of 17 knots (20 mph; 31 km/h) to the Titanic’s last known position – approximately 58 miles (93 km) away. To make as much steam as possible available for the engines, the Captain ordered the cutoff of the ship’s heating and hot water. As RMS Carpathia raced from the southeast, it fired rockets to let RMS Titanic know that help was on the way.

The RMS Titanic was provided with innovative safety features such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors.

At the outset, to accommodate the luxury features in RMS Titanic, Bruce Ismay ordered the number of lifeboats reduced from 48 to 16, the latter being the minimum allowed by the Board of Trade, based on the Titanic’s projected tonnage. However, during the maiden voyage she carried a total of 20 lifeboats: 14 standard wooden Harland & Wolff lifeboats with a capacity of 65 people each and four Englehardt “collapsible” (wooden bottom, collapsible canvas sides) lifeboats (identified as A to D) with a capacity of 47 people each. In addition, she had two emergency cutters with a capacity of 40 people each. So, there were not enough lifeboats to accommodate all on board. Though there were 2,224 people, including the 908 crew members aboard the ship, there were lifeboats enough only for 1,758 people. The RMS Titanic was less than 75% full during her maiden voyage and had room for 1,000 more people.

Lifeboat No. 5

Violet Jessop wrote in her memoirs that she was “comfortably drowsy” in her bunk, but not quite asleep when the collision occurred.

The second boat lowered on the starboard side was lifeboat 5. Third Officer Pitman was sent in charge of the boat, having five other crew with him as well as two stewardesses – most probably Violet Jessop and her roommate Elizabeth Mary Leather. Passengers were still a bit reluctant to enter the boats at this time.

Violet Jessop wrote in her memoirs:

“I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship’s officer ordered us into the boat first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: ‘Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.’ And a bundle was dropped onto my lap.”

There were probably 35 or 36 people in the boat when lowered. Lifeboat No. 5 was one of the first boats to reach the Carpathia.

The collapsible lifeboat C

Bruce Ismay was active on the starboard side all night, urging and assisting passengers into the lifeboats., more or less urging them to get away. Lifeboat No. 1, had left 20-30 minutes earlier. The collapsible lifeboat C had been fitted into a pair of empty davits, a system that is used to lower an emergency lifeboat to the embarkation level to be boarded. The davits had falls of manilla rope to lower the lifeboat into the water.

Ismay was standing close to the collapsible lifeboat C. Those near the boat were third class passengers – many from the Middle East.

Emily Alice Brown Goldsmith and her young son, Frank John William Goldsmith got into the boat with a few younger lady friends from England. After about 25 to 28 women and children had been assisted into the boat, five crew members were ordered in as well as Quartermaster George Rowe, who had been trying to contact ships in the vicinity by assisting with the Morse lamp and with firing rockets.

When there were few seats still free, Ismay and a first class passenger, William Ernest Carter, who had sent his family in lifeboat 4, got on to the lifeboat C as it was about to be lowered. Lifeboat C was probably lowered about 20 minutes before the RMS Titanic sank. It was the ninth and the last boat lowered on the starboard side.

While rowing away from the ship four Chinese third class passengers were discovered in the bottom of the boat and were taken into the lifeboat.

Lifeboat C had the capacity to hold 49 people. Mrs. Goldsmith thought there were 30 women, five crew members and four Chinese and her son in the boat while QM Rowe thought there were 39, and Bruce Ismay estimated between 40 and 45 in the boat. In all likelihood, there were just under 40 people in the boat. They did not pick up any more people from the cold sea and possibly reached the RMS Carpathia as the tenth or twelfth lifeboat.

The Thayers

Two weeks before boarding the RMS Titanic at Cherbourg as first class passengers on April 10, 1912, Second Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 49-year-old John Borland Thayer from Haverford, Pennsylvania, his wife 39-year-old Marian Longstreth Thayer (née Morris) and their 17-year-old son John Borland (“Jack”) Thayer Jrhad been in Berlin as guests of the American Consul General and Mrs. Thackara.

At night on April 14, 1912, while preparing for bed in his cabin C-70 Jack Thayer noticed the breeze through his half-open porthole stop. Pulling an overcoat over his pajamas he called to his parents cabin C-68 that he was ‘going out to see the fun.’ Jack ran up on A deck on the port side, but could see nothing amiss. He went towards the bow where, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could make out the ice on the forward well deck.

Jack Thayer returned to get his parents. They together went to the starboard side of A deck where the father thought he saw small pieces of ice floating around. As they crossed to the port side, they noticed that the ship had developed a list to port. They then returned to their room and dressed. Jack put on a tweed suit and vest with another mohair vest underneath in order to keep warm. Having put on life-belts, with overcoats on top, they went to the deck along with 48-year-old Miss Margaret Fleming, the personal maid of Marian Thayer.

When the order was given to women and children to board the boats, John and Jack said goodbye to Marian at the top of the grand staircase on A-Deck. While Marian and her maid went to the port side, John and Jack went to the starboard side.

A while after, the two men were surprised to learn from Chief Second Steward George Dodd that Marian and her maid were still on board. Reunited, John, Marion and Margaret went on ahead to find a boat. Jack lagged behind and finally lost them, perhaps he was talking to his friend Milton Clyde Long whom Jack had met for the first time, over coffee that evening; or perhaps he just got caught up in the crowd.

Jack searched for his parents for a while, but then, presuming they had probably got into a boat he went forward on the starboard side accompanied by Milton Long.

The boats were leaving rapidly and the crowds were large. The two young men stood by the empty davits of a lifeboat that had left. Here, close to the bridge they watched a star through the falls of the davit to measure the rate at which the ship was going down.

As the ship began to sink more rapidly and deeper, Jack, a strong swimmer, wanted to jump into the sea as others were doing towards the stern. However, Long persuaded Jack against it. Eventually, as they could not wait anymore, saying goodbye to each other, they jumped up on the rail.

Long put his legs over and inquired,, “You are coming, boy, aren’t you?”

Jack replied “Go ahead, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Long then slid down the side of the ship. Jack never saw him again.

Jack then jumped out, feet first. He surfaced well clear of the ship, he felt he was pushed away from the ship by some force.

Later on, Jack Thayer reminisced about the terrifying plunge:

“I was pushed out and then sucked down. The cold was terrific. The shock of the water took the breath out of my lungs. Down and down, I went, spinning in all directions. Swimming as hard as I could in the direction which I thought to be away from the ship, I finally came up with my lungs bursting, but not having taken any water.”

Sinking of RMS Titanic
Sinking of RMS Titanic (Artist: Ken Marschall)

At 2:20 am, two hours and forty minutes after the Titanic smashed into the iceberg and drifting to the south at a rate of one knot per hour equating to a 2.66 mile drift, sea water gushed in through open hatches and grates; her forward deck dipped under water and she started sinking rapidly. After In two hours time after, the ship broke in two and sank. All remaining passengers and crew were plunged into lethally cold water around 28°F (−2°C). Even young and fit people would not last longer than 15 minutes in such a temperature. Almost all of those in the water died from hypothermia within 15–30 minutes.

Jack Thayer  reminisced about the sinking:

“The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare, and stood out of the night as though she were on fire…. The water was over the base of the first funnel. The mass of people on board were surging back, always back toward the floating stern. The rumble and roar continued, with even louder distinct wrenchings and tearings of boilers and engines from their beds. Suddenly the whole superstructure of the ship appeared to split, well forward to midship, and bow or buckle upwards. The second funnel, large enough for two automobiles to pass through abreast, seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks It looked as if it would fall on top of me. It missed me by only twenty or thirty feet. The Suction of it drew me down and down struggling and swimming, practically spent…

“This time I was sucked down, and as I came up I was pushed out again and twisted around by a large wave, coming up in the midst of a great deal of small wreckage. As I pushed my hand from my head it touched the cork fender of an overturned lifeboat. I looked up and saw some men on the top and asked them to give me a hand. One of them, who was a stoker, helped me up. In a short time the bottom was covered with about twenty-five or thirty men. When I got on this I was facing the ship.”

As Jack Thayer and the other survivors balanced precariously on the upturned Collapsible lifeboat B, the cries of those swimming in the water came to them. It sounded to Jack just like the high-pitched hum of locusts back home in Pennsylvania.

“Her deck was turned slightly toward us. We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the greater part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle. Here it seemed to pause, and just hung, for what felt like minutes. Gradually she turned her deck away from us, as though to hide from our sight the awful spectacle.

“I looked upwards – we were right under the three enormous propellers. For an instant, I thought they were sure to come down on top of us. Then, with the deadened noise of the bursting of her last few gallant bulkheads, she slid quietly away from us into the sea.”

Of the last moments, Violet Jessop wrote:

one awful moment of empty, misty darknessthen an unforgettable, agonizing cry went up from 1500 despairing throats, a long wail and then silence…

Violet and the rest of the survivors remained in the boats all night.

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 Previous: Part 3 – Ice Warnings for the The RMS Titanic

Next → Part 5 – After the Titanic Disaster 

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 3 – Ice Warnings for the The RMS Titanic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Violet Jessop said that it was her habit to breathe in fresh air on deck before retiring for the night. Regarding the fourth day of sailing on Titanic she wrote:

If the sun did fail to shine so brightly on the fourth day out, and if the little cold nip crept into the air as evening set in, it only served to emphasize the warmth and luxuriousness within.

Titanic in ice field (Artist: Ken Marschall)
Titanic in ice field (Artist: Ken Marschall)

From the second day on, after leaving Southampton on its maiden voyage, RMS Titanic received reports of ice from ships passing through, or stopped due to heavy ice in the region she would be sailing to New York. On the 11th she received six warnings, on 12th five, on 13th three, and on 14th six. As a matter of fact, the Marconi room of RMS Titanic relayed some of the warnings to the shore.

As a routine, all these messages would have been logged in the radio book as they were received or intercepted and passed on to the officers on the bridge. So, it is unlikely that Captain Edward Smith and his officers, would have been unaware of the dangerous ice that was lying directly in the path of the ship.

Here are the messages received or intercepted on Sunday, April 14, 1912 – four days into the crossing:

At 9:00 am  (“Titanic” time), RMS Caronia (call sign MSF), a Cunard Line ocean liner, Eastbound New York to Liverpool, sent an ice warning message to RMS Titanic:

“Captain, ‘Titanic.’ – Westbound steamers report bergs, growlers and field ice in 42°N from 49° to 51°W, 12th April. Compliments. – Barr.”

Action taken: This message referred to bergs, growlers and field ice sighted on April 12, 1912 – at least 48 hours before the time of transmitting the message. At the time this message was received RMS Titanic was at 43°35’N, 43°50’W. Captain Smith acknowledged the receipt of this message and posted it for his officers to read.

At about 8 am on April 14, 1912, Greek steamer Athinai (call sign MTI) belonging to the Hellenic Transatlantic Steam Navigation Company, Westbound from Piraues and Mediterranean ports to New York, encountered a large ice field containing several large bergs. During the morning she sent an ice advisory to RMS Baltic, an ocean liner of the White Star Line, Eastbound New York to Liverpool.

At 1:42 pm, RMS Baltic (call sign MBC) relayed this report to its sister ship RMS Titanic:

“Captain Smith, ‘Titanic.’ – Have had moderate, variable winds and clear, fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer ‘Athinai’ reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice today in lat. 41°51′ N., long. 49° 52′ W. Last night we spoke German oiltank steamer ‘Deutschland,’ Stettin to Philadelphia, not under control, short of coal, lat. 40° 42′ N., long. 55° 11′ W. Wishes to be reported to New York and other steamers. Wish you and ‘Titanic’ all success. – Commander.”

Action taken: At the time this message was received the RMS Titanic was at about 42°35’N, 45°50W. Captain Edward Smith acknowledged the receipt of this message.

J. Bruce IsmayCaptain Smith showed the message to J. Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, on board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage to let him know that ice was to be expected that night. The latter pocketed the message and showed it later to two ladies; and of course many people on board became aware of its contents. At 7:15 pm, Captain Smith asked for its return, when it was finally posted in the chart room.

At 11:20 am, the German steamer SS Amerika, belonging to the Hamburg America Line of Germany, Eastbound, New York to Hamburg sent an ice advisory telegram message to the Hydrographic Office in Washington, DC via RMS Titanic because Titanic was nearer to Cape Race, to which station it had to be relayed to reach Washington. Here is a facsimile of the message:

File copy from Samuel Barr of the telegram from SS Amerika via SS Titanic on location of two large icebergs 14 April 1912. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
File copy from Samuel Barr of the telegram from SS Amerika via SS Titanic on location of two large icebergs 14 April 1912. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Jack Phillips
Jack Phillips

Action taken: The location of the bergs 41°27’N, 50°08’W was 12.5 miles from where the RMS Titanic later sank. The message does not mention at what hour the bergs had been observed. However, as a message affecting navigation, it should have been taken to the bridge. The two Marconi operators on board Titanic were 25-year-old John George Phillips, better known as “Jack Phillips”, and his Deputy, 22-year-old Harold Sydney Bride. Maybe Phillips waited until the ship would be within call of Cape Race (at about 8:00 or 8:30 pm). No one on board the RMS Titanic knew about this message outside the Marconi room.

The SS Californian, a tramp steamer of The Leyland Line, transporting cargo to whichever port wanted it, commanded by Captain Stanley Lord, left London on April 5, 1912, and was on her way to Boston, Massachusetts. Although she was certified to carry up to 47 passengers, she carried none during this trip. She had a crew of 55 men. At 6:30 pm she sighted three bergs to her southward, 15 miles (24 km) north of the course the RMS Titanic was heading.

At 7:30 pm, Cyril Evans, the only wireless operator of the SS Californian (call sign MWL), sent a wireless message of the ship’s position to their sister ship SS Antillian:

“To Captain, ‘Antillian’, 6.30 pm apparent ship’s time; lat. 42°3’N, long. 49°9’W. Three large bergs five miles to southward of us. Regards. – Lord.”

Action taken: Harold Bride, the other wireless operator on RMS Titanic intercepted the message, but delivered it to the ship’s bridge only at 10:20 pm. Later, Bride said that he could not remember to whom he delivered this message.

.At 9:40 pm, the Marconi station of the MV Mesaba (call sign MMU) belonging to the Atlantic Transport Line sent the following message:

“From ‘Mesaba’ to ‘Titanic’ and all eastbound ships. Ice report in lat. 42°N to 41°25’N, long. 49° to long. 50°30’W. Saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs. Also field ice. Weather good, clear.”

Action taken: This message clearly indicated the presence of ice in the immediate vicinity of the RMS Titanic and was not  delivered to the deck or to any of the officers.

Harold Bride
Harold Bride

This message never left the Titanic’s radio room because the wireless set had broken down the day before, resulting in a backlog of messages that the two radio operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were trying to clear. At the time time this message reached Titanic’s radio room an exhausted radio operator Harold Bride was getting some much needed sleep. Phillips may have failed to grasp the significance of the message as he was preoccupied with transmitting and receiving messages for passengers via the relay station at Cape Race, Newfoundland.

At Longitude 42°05’N, 50°07’W, a position to the south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, SS Californian was confronted by a large ice field. Captain Stanley Lord decided to halt the ship at 10:21 pm and wait until morning to proceed further.

Officers of SS Californian.  Front row, left to right: Captain Lord, Chief Officer Stewart. Back row, left to right: 2nd  Officer Stone, 3rd Officer Groves
Officers of SS Californian. Front row, left to right: Captain Lord, Chief Officer Stewart. Back row, left to right: 2nd Officer Stone, 3rd Officer Groves.

Around 11 pm, Lord saw a light in the east, but thought it could be a rising star.

At 11:10 pm Third Officer C.V. Groves on deck, also saw the lights of a ship 10 or 12 miles away. To him, it was clearly a large liner as he saw brightly lit multiple decks. Fifteen minutes later Groves informed Captain Lord of what he saw.

They tried to contact the other ship using a Morse lamp, but did not see any reciprocal reply. The Captain then asked his wireless operator Evans if he knew of any ships in the area. Evans said: “only the Titanic.” Captain Lord instructed Evans to call RMS Titanic and inform her that the Californian was stopped, surrounded by ice.

When Evans tried to convey the message the RMS Titanic‘s on-duty wireless operator, Jack Phillips, was busy working on a large backlog of personal messages sent and received from the wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland. The relative proximity of SS Californian made signals sent from it loud in Phillips’ headphones. So, Phillips rebuked Evans with: “Shut up, shut up! I am busy; I am working Cape Race!

Evans waited and at 11:30 pm when he did not receive any reply from Phillips he switched off the wireless and went to bed.

Praying the Rosary

Violet Jessop was a firm believer in the power of prayer. As a devout Catholic she always had a rosary in her apron. In her memoirs, Violet says she had taken along with her belongings a copy of a translated Hebrew prayer that an old Irish woman had given her. On that fateful day, after settling down in her bunk she read the strangely worded prayer supposed to protect one who read it against fire and water. Then, she persuaded her roommate, a stewardess (according to editor John Maxtone- Graham, possibly Elizabeth Leather) to read it.

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 Previous: Part 2 – Aboard the RMS Titanic

Next → Part 4 – Sinking of the RMS Titanic

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