Authors: Archibald Gracie
This was the ship from which two of the six ‘ice messages’ were sent. The first one received and acknowledged by the
was one at 7.30 p.m., an intercepted message to another ship. The next was about 11 p.m., when the Captain of the
saw a ship approaching from the eastward, which he was advised to be the
, and under his orders this message was sent: ‘We are stopped and surrounded by ice.’ To this the
’s wireless operator brusquely replied, ‘Shut up, I am busy. I am working Cape Race.’ The business here referred to was the sending of wireless messages for passengers on the
; and the stronger current of the
eastward interfered therewith. Though the navigation of the ship and the issues of life and death were at stake, the right of way was given to communication with Cape Race until within a few minutes of the
’s collision with the iceberg.
Nearly all this time, until 11.30 p.m., the wireless operator of the
was listening with ‘phones on his head, but at 11.30 p.m., while the
was still talking to Cape Race, the former ship’s operator ‘put the ‘phones down, took off his clothes and turned in.’
The fate of thousands of lives hung in the balance many times that ill-omened night, but
the circumstances in connection with the S.S. Californian
(Br. Rep. pp. 43–46), furnish the evidence corroborating that of the American Investigation, viz., that it was not chance, but the grossest negligence alone which sealed the fate of all the noble lives, men and women, that were lost.
It appears from the evidence referred to, information in regard to which we learned after our arrival in New York, that the Captain of the
and his crew were watching our lights from the deck of their ship, which remained approximately stationary until 5.15 a.m. on the following morning. During this interval it is shown that they were never distant more than six or seven miles. In fact, at 12 o’clock, the
was only four or five miles off at the point and in the general direction where she was seen by myself and at least a dozen others, who bore testimony before the American Committee, from the decks of the
. The white rockets which we sent up, referred to presently, were also plainly seen at the time. Captain Lord was completely in possession of the knowledge that he was in proximity to a ship in distress. He could have put himself into immediate communication with us by wireless had he desired confirmation of the name of the ship and the disaster which had befallen it. His indifference is made apparent by his orders to ‘go on Morseing,’ instead of utilizing the more modern method of the inventive genius and gentleman, Mr. Marconi, which eventually saved us all. ‘The night was clear and the sea was smooth. The ice by which the
was surrounded,’ says the British Report, ‘was loose ice extending for a distance of not more than two or three miles in the direction of the
.’ When she first saw the rockets, the
could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the
. A discussion of this subject is the most painful of all others for those who lost their loved ones aboard our ship.
When we realized that the ship whose lights we saw was not coming towards us, our hopes of rescue were correspondingly depressed, but the men’s counsel to preserve calmness prevailed; and to reassure the ladies they repeated the much advertised fiction of ‘the unsinkable ship’ on the supposed highest qualified authority. It was at this point that Miss Evans related to me the story that years ago in London she had been told by a fortune-teller to ‘beware of water,’ and now ‘she knew she would be drowned.’ My efforts to persuade her to the contrary were futile. Though she gave voice to her story, she presented no evidence whatever of fear, and when I saw and conversed with her an hour later when conditions appeared especially desperate, and the last lifeboat was supposed to have departed, she was perfectly calm and did not revert again to the superstitious tale.
From my own conclusions, and those of others, it appears that about forty-five minutes had now elapsed since the collision when Captain Smith’s orders were transmitted to the crew to lower the lifeboats, loaded with women and children first. The self-abnegation of Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus here shone forth heroically when she promptly and emphatically exclaimed: ‘No! I will not be separated from my husband; as we have lived, so will we die together;’ and when he, too, declined the assistance proffered on my earnest solicitation that, because of his age and helplessness, exception should be made and he be allowed to accompany his wife in the boat. ‘No!’ he said, ‘I do not wish any distinction in my favor which is not granted to others.’ As near as I can recall them these were the words which they addressed to me. They expressed themselves as fully prepared to die, and calmly sat down in steamer chairs on the glass-enclosed Deck A, prepared to meet their fate. Further entreaties to make them change their decision were of no avail. Later they moved to the Boat Deck above, accompanying Mrs. Straus’s maid, who entered a lifeboat.
When the order to load the boats was received I had promptly moved forward with the ladies in my charge toward the boats then being lowered from the Boat Deck above to Deck A on the port side of the ship, where we then were. A tall, slim young Englishman, Sixth Officer J.P. Moody, whose name I learned later, with other members of the ship’s crew, barred the progress of us men passengers any nearer to the boats. All that was left me was then to consign these ladies in my charge to the protection of the ship’s officer, and I thereby was relieved of their responsibility and felt sure that they would be safely loaded in the boats at this point. I remember a steward rolling a small barrel out of the door of the companionway. ‘What have you there?’ said I. ‘Bread for the lifeboats,’ was his quick and cheery reply, as I passed inside the ship for the last time, searching for two of my table companions, Mrs. Churchill Candee of Washington and Mr. Edward A. Kent. It was then that I met Wright, the racquet player, and exchanged the few words on the stairway already related.
Considering it well to have a supply of blankets for use in the open boats exposed to the cold, I concluded, while passing, to make another, and my last, descent to my stateroom for this purpose, only to find it locked, and on asking the reason why was told by some other steward than Cullen that it was done ‘to prevent looting.’ Advising him of what was wanted, I went with him to the cabin stewards’ quarters nearby, where extra blankets were stored, and where I obtained them. I then went the length of the ship inside on this glass-enclosed Deck A from aft, forwards, looking in every room and corner for my missing table companions, but no passengers whatever were to be seen except in the smoking room, and there all alone by themselves, seated around a table, were four men, three of whom were personally well known to me, Major Butt, Clarence Moore and Frank Millet, but the fourth was a stranger, whom I therefore cannot identify. All four seemed perfectly oblivious of what was going on on the decks outside. It is impossible to suppose that they did not know of the collision with an iceberg and that the room they were in had been deserted by all others, who had hastened away. It occurred to me at the time that these men desired to show their entire indifference to the danger and that if I advised them as to how seriously I regarded it, they would laugh at me. This was the last I ever saw of any of them, and I know of no one who testifies to seeing them later, except a lady who mentions having seen Major Butt on the bridge five minutes before the last boat left the ship. There is no authentic story of what they did when the water reached this deck, and their ultimate fate is only a matter of conjecture. That they went down in the ship on this Deck A, when the steerage passengers (as described later) blocked the way to the deck above, is my personal belief, founded on the following facts, to wit: First, that neither I nor anyone else, so far as I know, ever saw any of them on the Boat Deck, and second, that the bodies of none of them were ever recovered, indicating the possibility that all went down inside the ship or the enclosed deck.
I next find myself forward on the port side, part of the time on the Boat Deck, and part on the deck below it, called Deck A, where I rejoined Clinch Smith, who reported that Mrs. Candee had departed on one of the boats. We remained together until the ship went down. I was on the Boat Deck when I saw and heard the first rocket, and then successive ones sent up at intervals thereafter. These were followed by the Morse red and blue lights, which were signalled near by us on the deck where we were; but we looked in vain for any response. These signals of distress indicated to every one of us that the ship’s fate was sealed, and that she might sink before the lifeboats could be lowered.
And now I am on Deck A again, where I helped in the loading of two boats lowered from the deck above. There were twenty boats in all on the ship: 14 wooden lifeboats, each thirty feet long by nine feet one inch broad, constructed to carry sixty-five persons each; 2 wooden cutters, emergency boats, twenty-five feet two inches long by seven feet two inches broad, constructed to carry forty persons each; and 4 Engelhardt ‘surfboats’ with canvas collapsible sides extending above the gunwales, twenty-five feet five inches long by eight feet broad, constructed to carry forty-seven persons each. The lifeboats were ranged along the ship’s rail, or its prolongation forward and aft on the Boat Deck, the odd numbered on the starboard and the even numbered on the port side. Two of the Engelhardt boats were on the Boat Deck forward beneath the Emergency boats suspended on davits above. The other Engelhardt boats were on the roof of the officers’ house forward of the first funnel. They are designated respectively by the letters, A. B. C. D; A and C on the starboard, B and D on the port sides. They have a rounded bottom like a canoe. The name ‘collapsible boat’ generally applied has given rise to mistaken impressions in regard to them, because of the adjustable canvas sides above-mentioned.
At this quarter I was no longer held back from approaching near the boats, but my assistance and work as one of the crew in the loading of boats and getting them away as quickly as possible were accepted, for there was now no time to spare. The Second Officer, Lightoller, was in command on the port side forward, where I was. One of his feet was planted in the lifeboat, and the other on the rail of Deck A, while we, through the wood frames of the lowered glass windows on this deck, passed women, children, and babies in rapid succession without any confusion whatsoever. Among this number was Mrs. Astor, whom I lifted over the four-feet high rail of the ship through the frame. Her husband held her left arm as we carefully passed her to Lightoller, who seated her in the boat. A dialogue now ensued between Colonel Astor and the officer, every word of which I listened to with intense interest. Astor was close to me in the adjoining window-frame, to the left of mine. Leaning out over the rail he asked permission of Lightoller to enter the boat to protect his wife, which, in view of her delicate condition, seems to have been a reasonable request, but the officer, intent upon his duty, and obeying orders, and not knowing the millionaire from the rest of us, replied: ‘No, sir, no men are allowed in these boats until women are loaded first.’ Colonel Astor did not demur, but bore the refusal bravely and resignedly, simply asking the number of the boat to help find his wife later in case he also was rescued. ‘Number 4,’ was Lightoller’s reply. Nothing more was said. Colonel Astor moved away from this point and I never saw him again. I do not for a moment believe the report that he attempted to enter, or did enter, a boat and it is evident that if any such thought occurred to him at all it must have been at this present time and in this boat with his wife. Second Officer Lightoller recalled the incident perfectly when I reminded him of it. It was only through me that Colonel Astor’s identity was established in his mind. ‘I assumed,’ said he, ‘that I was asked to give the number of the lifeboat as the passenger intended, for some unknown cause, to make complaint about me.’ From the fact that I never saw Colonel Astor on the Boat Deck later, and also because his body, when found, was crushed (according to the statement of one who saw it at Halifax, Mr. Harry K. White, of Boston, Mr. Edward A. Kent’s brother-in-law, my schoolmate and friend from boyhood), I am of the opinion that he met his fate on the ship when the boilers tore through it, as described later.
One of the incidents I recall when loading the boats at this point was my seeing a young woman clinging tightly to a baby in her arms as she approached near the ship’s high rail, but unwilling even for a moment to allow anyone else to hold the little one while assisting her to board the lifeboat. As she drew back sorrowfully to the outer edge of the crowd on the deck, I followed and persuaded her to accompany me to the rail again, promising if she would entrust the baby to me I would see that the officer passed it to her after she got aboard. I remember her trepidation as she acceded to my suggestion and the happy expression of relief when the mother was safely seated with the baby restored to her. ‘Where is my baby?’ was her anxious wail. ‘I have your baby,’ I cried, as it was tenderly handed along. I remember this incident well because of my feeling at the time, when I had the babe in my care; though the interval was short, I wondered how I should manage with it in my arms if the lifeboats got away and I should be plunged into the water with it as the ship sank.