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Authors: Archibald Gracie

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BOOK: Titanic: A Survivor's Story
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According to Lightoller’s testimony before the Senate Committee he put twenty to twenty-five women, with two seamen to row, in the first boat and thirty, with two seamen, in the second.

Our labors in loading the boats were now shifted to the Boat Deck above, where Clinch Smith and I, with others, followed Lightoller and the crew. On this deck some difficulty was experienced in getting the boats ready to lower. Several causes may have contributed to this, viz., lack of drill and insufficient number of seamen for such emergency, or because of the new tackle not working smoothly. We had the hardest time with the Engelhardt boat, lifting and pushing it towards and over the rail. My shoulders and the whole weight of my body were used in assisting the crew at this work. Lightoller’s testimony tells us that as the situation grew more serious he began to take chances and in loading the third boat he filled it up as full as he dared to, with about thirty-five persons. By this time he was short of seamen, and in the fourth boat he put the first man passenger. ‘Are you a sailor?’ Lightoller asked, and received the reply from the gentleman addressed that he was ‘a yachtsman.’ Lightoller told him if he was ‘sailor enough to get out over the bulwarks to the lifeboat, to go ahead.’ This passenger was Major Arthur Peuchen, of Toronto, who acquitted himself as a brave man should. My energies were so concentrated upon this work of loading the boats at this quarter that lapse of time, sense of sight and sense of hearing recorded no impressions during this interval until the last boat was loaded; but there is one fact of which I am positive, and that is that every man, woman, officer and member of the crew did their full duty without a sign of fear or confusion. Lightoller’s strong and steady voice rang out his orders in clear firm tones, inspiring confidence and obedience. There was not one woman who shed tears or gave any sign of fear or distress. There was not a man at this quarter of the ship who indicated a desire to get into the boats and escape with the women. There was not a member of the crew who shirked, or left his post. The coolness, courage, and sense of duty that I here witnessed made me thankful to God and proud of my Anglo-Saxon race that gave this perfect and superb exhibition of self-control at this hour of severest trial. ‘The boat’s deck was only ten feet from the water when I lowered the sixth boat,’ testified Lightoller, ‘and when we lowered the first, the distance to the water was seventy feet. We had now loaded all the women who were in sight at that quarter of the ship, and I ran along the deck with Clinch Smith on the port side some distance aft shouting, ‘Are there any more women?’ ‘Are there any more women?’ On my return there was a very palpable list to port as if the ship was about to topple over. The deck was on a corresponding slant. ‘All passengers to the starboard side,’ was Lightoller’s loud command, heard by all of us. Here I thought the final crisis had come, with the boats all gone, and when we were to be precipitated into the sea.

Prayerful thoughts now began to rise in me that my life might be preserved and I be restored to my loved ones at home. I weighed myself in the balance, doubtful whether I was thus deserving of God’s mercy and protection. I questioned myself as to the performance of my religious duties according to the instructions of my earliest Preceptor, the Revd Henry A. Coit, whose St. Paul’s School at Concord, N.H., I had attended. My West Point training in the matter of recognition of constituted authority and maintenance of composure stood me in good stead.

My friend, Clinch Smith, urged immediate obedience to Lightoller’s orders, and, with other men passengers, we crossed over to the starboard quarter of the ship, forward on the same Boat Deck where, as I afterwards learned, the officer in command was First Officer Murdoch, who had also done noble work, and was soon thereafter to lose his life. Though the deck here was not so noticeably aslant as on the port side, the conditions appeared fully as desperate. All the lifeboats had been lowered and had departed. There was somewhat of a crowd congregated along the rail. The light was sufficient for me to recognize distinctly many of those with whom I was well acquainted. Here, pale and determined, was Mr. John B. Thayer, Second Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Mr. George D. Widener. They were looking over the ship’s gunwale, talking earnestly as if debating what to do. Next to them it pained me to discover Mrs. J.M. Brown and Miss Evans, the two ladies whom more than an hour previous I had, as related, consigned to the care of Sixth Officer Moody on Deck A, where he, as previously described blocked my purpose of accompanying these ladies and personally assisting them into the boat. They showed no signs of perturbation whatever as they conversed quietly with me. Mrs. Brown quickly related how they became separated, in the crowd, from her sisters, Mrs. Appleton and Mrs. Cornell. Alas! that they had not remained on the same port side of the ship, or moved forward on Deck A, or the Boat Deck! Instead, they had wandered in some unexplained way to the very furthest point diagonally from where they were at first. At the time of introduction I had not caught Miss Evans’ name, and when we were here together at this critical moment I thought it important to ask, and she gave me her name. Meantime the crew were working on the roof of the officers’ quarters to cut loose one of the Engelhardt boats. All this took place more quickly than it takes to write it.

Meantime, I will describe what was going on at the quarter where I left Lightoller loading the last boat on the port side. The information was obtained personally from him, in answer to my careful questioning during the next few days on board the
, when I made notes thereof, which were confirmed again the next week in Washington, where we were both summoned before the Senate Investigating Committee. ‘Men from the steerage,’ he said, ‘rushed the boat.’ ‘Rush’ is the word he used, meaning they got in without his permission. He drew his pistol and ordered them out, threatening to shoot if they attempted to enter the boat again. I presume it was in consequence of this incident that the crew established the line which I encountered, presently referred to, which blocked the men passengers from approaching the last boat loaded on the port side forward, where we had been, and the last one that was safely loaded from the ship.

During this very short interval I was on the starboard side, as described, next to the rail, with Mrs. Brown and Miss Evans, when I heard a member of the crew, coming from the quarter where the last boat was loaded, say that there was room for more ladies in it. I immediately seized each lady by the arm, and, with Miss Evans on my right and Mrs. Brown on my left, hurried, with three other ladies following us, toward the port side; but I had not proceeded half-way, and near amidship, when I was stopped by the aforesaid line of the crew barring my progress, and one of the officers told me that only the women could pass.

The story of what now happened to Mrs. Brown and Miss Evans after they left me must be told by Mrs. Brown, as related to me by herself when I rejoined her next on board the
. Miss Evans led the way, she said, as they neared the rail where what proved to be the last lifeboat was being loaded, but in a spirit of most heroic self-sacrifice Miss Evans insisted upon Mrs. Brown’s taking precedence in being assisted aboard the boat. ‘You go first,’ she said. ‘You are married and have children.’ But when Miss Evans attempted to follow after, she was unable to do so for some unknown cause. The women in the boat were not able, it would appear, to pull Miss Evans in. It was necessary for her first to clear the four feet high ship’s gunwale, and no man or member of the crew was at this particular point to lift her over. I have questioned Mr. Lightoller several times about this, but he has not been able to give any satisfactory explanation and cannot understand it, for when he gave orders to lower away, there was no woman in sight. I have further questioned him as to whether there was an interval between the ship’s rail and the lifeboat he was loading, but he says, ‘No,’ for until the very last boat he stood, as has already been described, with one foot planted on the ship’s gunwale and the other in the lifeboat. I had thought that the list of the ship might have caused too much of an interval for him to have done this. Perhaps what I have read in a letter of Mrs. Brown may furnish some reason why Miss Evans’ efforts to board the lifeboat, in which there was plenty of room for her, were unavailing. ‘Never mind,’ she is said to have called out, ‘I will go on a later boat.’ She then ran away and was not seen again; but there was no later boat, and it would seem that after a momentary impulse, being disappointed and being unable to get into the boat, she went aft on the port side, and no one saw her again. Neither the second officer nor I saw any women on the deck during the interval thereafter of fifteen or twenty minutes before the great ship sank.

An inspection of the American and British Reports shows that all women and children of the first cabin were saved except five. Out of the one hundred and fifty these were the five lost: (1) Miss Evans; (2) Mrs. Straus; (3) Mrs. H.J. Allison, of Montreal; (4) her daughter, Miss Allison, and (5) Miss A.E. Isham, of New York. The first two have already been accounted for. Mrs. Allison and Miss Allison could have been saved had they not chosen to remain on the ship. They refused to enter the lifeboat unless Mr. Allison was allowed to go with them. This statement was made in my presence by Mrs. H.A. Cassobeer, of New York, who related it to Mrs. Allison’s brother, Mr. G.F. Johnston, and myself. Those of us who survived among the first cabin passengers will remember this beautiful Mrs. Allison, and will be glad to know of the heroic mould in which she was cast, as exemplified by her fate, which was similar to that of another, Mrs. Straus, who has been memorialized the world over. The fifth lady lost was Miss A.E. Isham, and she is the only one of whom no survivor, so far as I can learn, is able to give any information whatever as to where she was or what she did on that fateful Sunday night. Her relatives, learning that her stateroom, No. C, 49, adjoined mine, wrote me in the hope that I might be able to furnish some information to their sorrowing hearts about her last hours on the shipwrecked
. It was with much regret that I replied that I had not seen my neighbour at any time, and, not having the pleasure of her acquaintance, identification was impossible. I was, however, glad to be able to assure her family of one point, viz., that she did not meet with the horrible fate which they feared, in being locked in her stateroom and drowned. I had revisited my stateroom twice after being aroused by the collision, and am sure that she was fully warned of what had happened, and after she left her stateroom it was locked behind her, as was mine.

The simple statement of fact that all of the first cabin women were sent off in the lifeboats and saved, except five – three of whom met heroic death through choice and two by some mischance – is in itself the most sublime tribute that could be paid to the self-sacrifice and the gallangry of the first cabin men, including all the grand heroes who sank with the ship and those of us who survived their fate. All authentic testimony of both first and second cabin passengers is also in evidence that the Captain’s order for women and children to be loaded first met with the unanimous approval of us all, and in every instance was carried out both in letter and in spirit. In Second Officer Lightoller’s testimony before the Senate Committee, when asked whether the Captain’s order was a rule of the sea, he answered that it was ‘the rule of human nature.’ There is no doubt in my mind that the men at that quarter where we were would have adopted the same rule spontaneously whether ordered by the Captain, or not. Speaking from my own personal observation, which by comparison with that of the second officer I find in accord with his, all six boat loads, including the last, departed with women and children only, with not a man passenger except Major Peuchen, whose services were enlisted to replace the lack of crew. I may say further that with the single exception of Colonel Astor’s plea for the protection of his wife, in delicate condition, there was not one who made a move or a suggestion to enter a boat.

While the light was dim on the decks it was always sufficient for me to recognize anyone with whom I was acquainted, and I am happy in being able to record the names of those I know beyond any doubt whatever, as with me in these last terrible scenes when Lightoller’s boats were being lowered and after the last lifeboat had left the ship. The names of these were: James Clinch Smith, Colonel John Jacob Astor, Mr. John B. Thayer and Mr. George D. Widener. So far as I know, and my research has been exhaustive, I am the sole surviving passenger who was with or assisted Lightoller in the loading of the last boats. When I first saw and realized that every lifeboat had left the ship, the sensation felt was not an agreeable one. No thought of fear entered my head, but I experienced a feeling which others may recall when holding the breath in the face of some frightful emergency and when ‘vox faucibus hæsit,’ as frequently happened to the old Trojan hero of our school days. This was the nearest approach to fear, if it can be so characterized, that is discernible in an analysis of my actions or feelings while in the midst of the many dangers which beset me during that night of terror. Though still worse and seemingly many hopeless conditions soon prevailed, and unexpected ones, too, when I felt that ‘any moment might be my last,’ I had no time to contemplate danger when there was continuous need of quick thought, action and composure withal. Had I become rattled for a moment, or in the slightest degree been undecided during the several emergencies presently cited, I am certain that I never should have lived to tell the tale of my miraculous escape. For it is eminently fitting, in gratitude to my Maker, that I should make the acknowledgement that I know of no recorded instance of Providential deliverance more directly attributable to cause and effect, illustrating the efficacy of prayer and how ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I should have only courted the fate of many hundreds of others had I supinely made no effort to supplement my prayers with all the strength and power which He has granted to me. While I said to myself, ‘Goodbye to all at home,’ I hoped and prayed for escape. My mind was nerved to do the duty of the moment, and my muscles seemed to be hardened in preparation for any struggle that might come. When I learned that there was still another boat, the Engelhardt, on the roof of the officers’ quarters, I felt encouraged with the thought that here was a chance of getting away before the ship sank; but what was one boat among so many eager to board her?

BOOK: Titanic: A Survivor's Story
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