Authors: Archibald Gracie
‘In a couple of hours she began to go down more rapidly…. Suddenly the ship seemed to shoot up out of the water and stand there perpendicularly. It seemed to us that it stood
upright in the water for four full minutes
Then it began to slide gently downwards. Its speed increased as it went down head first, so that the stern shot down with a rush.’
Harold Bride, who was swept from the Boat Deck, held on to an oarlock of the Engelhardt boat (which Clinch Smith and I had left a few moments before, as has already been described). I have cited his account of coming up under the boat and then clambering upon it. He testifies to there being no suction and adds the following:
I suppose I was 150 feet away when the
, on her nose with her after-quarter sticking straight up into the air, began to settle – slowly. When at last the waves washed over her rudder, there was not the least bit of suction I could feel. She must have kept going just so slowly as she had been.’ Second Officer Lightoller too, in his conversation with me, verified his testimony before the Senate Committee that, ‘The last boat, a flat collapsible (the Engelhardt) to put off was the one on top of the officers’ quarters. Men jumped upon it on deck and waited for the water to float it off. The forward funnel fell into the water, just missing the raft (as he calls our upset boat). This was the boat I eventually got on. About thirty men clambered out of the water on to it.
Seventeen year old ‘Jack’ Thayer was also on the starboard side of the ship, and jumped from the rail before the Engelhardt boat was swept from the Boat Deck by the ‘giant wave.’ Young Thayer’s reported description of this is as follows:
I jumped out, feet first, went down, and as I came up I was pushed away from the ship by some force. I was sucked down again, 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. My hand touched the canvas fender of an overturned lifeboat. I looked up and saw some men on the top. One of them helped me up. In a short time the bottom was covered with twenty-five or thirty men. The assistant wireless operator (Bride) was right next to me holding on to me and kneeling in the water.
In my conversations with Thayer, Lightoller and others, it appears that the funnel fell in the water between the Engelhardt boat and the ship, washing the former further away from the
’s starboard side.
Since the foregoing was written, the testimony before the United States Senate Committee has been printed in pamphlet form, from which I have been able to obtain other evidence, and particularly that of Second Officer Lightoller in regard to the last quarter of an hour or so on board the ship and up to the time we reached the upset boat. I have also obtained and substantiated other evidence bearing upon the same period. Mr. Lightoller testified as follows: ‘Half an hour, or three quarters of an hour before I left the ship, when it was taking a heavy list – not a heavy list – a list over to port, the order was called, I think by the chief officer, “Everyone on the starboard side to straighten her up,” which I repeated. When I left the ship I saw no women or children aboard whatever. All the boats on the port side were lowered with the exception of one – the last boat, which was stowed on top of the officers’ quarters. We had not time to launch it, nor yet to open it. When all the other boats were away, I called for men to go up there; told them to cut her adrift and throw her down. It floated off the ship, and I understand the men standing on top, who assisted to launch it down, jumped on to it as it was on the deck and floated off with it. It was the collapsible type of boat, and the bottom-up boat we eventually got on. When this lifeboat floated off the ship, we were thrown off a couple of times. When I came to it, it was bottom-up and there was no one on it. Immediately after finding that overturned lifeboat, and when I came alongside of it, there were quite a lot of us in the water around it preparatory to getting up on it. Then the forward funnel fell down. It fell alongside of the lifeboat about four inches clear of it on all the people there alongside of the boat. Eventually, about thirty of us got on it: Mr. Thayer, Bride, the second Marconi operator, and Col. Gracie. I think all the rest were firemen taken out of the water.’
Compare this with the description given by J. Hagan in correspondence which he began with me last May. J. Hagan is a poor chap, who described himself in this correspondence as one who ‘was working my passage to get to America for the first time,’ and I am convinced that he certainly earned it, and, moreover, was one of us on that upset boat that night. His name does not appear on the list of the crew and must not be confounded with ‘John Hagan, booked as fireman on the steamer, who sailed for England April 20th on the
,’ whereas our John Hagan was admitted to St. Vincent’s hospital on April 22nd. In describing this period John Hagan says it was by the Captain’s orders, when the ship was listing to port, that passengers were sent to the starboard side to straighten the ship. He went half-way and returned to where Lightoller was loading the last boat lowered. Lightoller told him there was another boat on the roof of the officers’ house if he cared to get it down. This was the Engelhardt Boat B which, with three others, he could not open until assisted by three more, and then they pushed it, upside down, on the Boat Deck below. Hagan cut the string of the oars and was passing the first oar down to the others, who had left him, when the boat floated into the water, upside down. He jumped to the Boat Deck and into the water after the boat and ‘clung to the tail end of the keel.’ The ship was shaking very much, part of it being under water. ‘On looking up at it, I could see death in a minute for us as the forward funnel was falling and it looked a certainty it would strike our boat and smash it to pieces; but the funnel missed us about a yard, splashing our boat thirty yards outward from the ship, and washing off several who had got on when the boat first floated.’ Hagan managed to cling to it but got a severe soaking. The cries of distress that he heard near by were an experience he can never forget. It appeared to him that the flooring of the ship forward had broken away and was floating all around. Some of the men on the upset boat made use of some pieces of boarding for paddles with which to help keep clear of the ship.
John Collins, assistant cook on the
, also gave his testimony before the Senate Committee. He appears to have come on deck at the last moment on the starboard side and witnessed the Engelhardt boat when it floated off into the sea, he being carried off by the same wave when he was amidships on the bow as the ship sank, and kept down under water for at least two or three minutes. When he came up, he saw this boat again – the same boat on which he had seen men working when the waves washed it off the deck, and the men clinging to it. He was only about four or five yards off and swam over to it and got on to it. He says he is sure there were probably fifteen thereon at the time he got on. Those who were on the boat did not help him to get on. They were watching the ship. After he got on the boat, he did not see any lights on the
, though the stern of the ship was still afloat when he first reached the surface. He accounts for the wave that washed him off amidships as due to the suction which took place when the bow went down in the water and the waves washed the decks clear. He saw a mass of people in the wreckage, hundreds in number, and heard their awful cries.
Italics are mine. – Author.
‘O God of our salvation, Thou who art the hope of them that remain in the broad sea …’ – Ps. 65:5, 7.
ll my companions in shipwreck who made their escape with me on top of the bottom-side-up Engelhardt boat, must recall the anxious moment after the limit was reached when ‘about 30 men had clambered out of the water on to the boat.’ The weight of each additional body submerged out lifecraft more and more beneath the surface. There were men swimming in the water all about us. One more clambering aboard would have swamped our already crowded craft. The situation was a desperate one, and was only saved by the refusal of the crew, especially those at the stern of the boat, to take aboard another passenger. After pulling aboard the man who lay exhausted, face downward in front of me, I turned my head away from the sights in the water lest I should be called upon to refuse the pleading cries of those who were struggling for their lives. What happened at this juncture, therfore, my fellow companions in shipwreck can better describe. Steward Thomas Whiteley, interviewed by the
New York Tribune
, said: ‘I drifted near a boat wrong-side-up. About 30 men were clinging to it. They refused to let me get on. Somebody tried to hit me with an oar, but I scrambled on to her.’ Harry Senior, a fireman on the
, as interviewed in the
London Illustrated News
of May 4th, and in the
New York Times
of April 19th, is reported as follows: ‘On the overturned boat in question were, amongst others, Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of the
; Col. Archibald Gracie, and Mr. J.B. Thayer, Jr., all of whom had gone down with the liner and had come to the surface again’; and ‘I tried to get aboard of her, but some chap hit me over the head with an oar. There were too many on her. I got around to the other side of the boat and climbed on. There were thirty-five of us, including the second officer, and no women. I saw any amount of drowning and dead around us.’ Bride’s story in the same issue of the
New York Times
says: ‘It was a terrible sight all around – men swimming and sinking. Others came near. Nobody gave them a hand. The bottom-up boat already had more men than it would hold and was sinking. At first the large waves splashed over my clothing; then they began to splash over my head and I had to breathe when I could.’
Though I did not see, I could not avoid hearing what took place at this most tragic crisis in all my life. The men with the paddles, forward and aft, so steered the boat as to avoid contact with the unfortunate swimmers pointed out struggling in the water. I heard the constant explanation made as we passed men swimming in the wreckage, ‘Hold on to what you have, old boy; one more of you aboard would sink us all.’ In no instance, I am happy to say, did I hear any word of rebuke uttered by a swimmer because of refusal to grant assistance. There was no case of cruel violence. But there was one transcendent piece of heroism that will remain fixed in my memory as the most sublime and coolest exhibition of courage and cheerful resignation to fate and fearlessness of death. This was when a reluctant refusal of assistance met with the rigning response in the deep manly voice of a powerful man, who, in his extremity, replied: ‘All right, boys; good luck and God bless you.’ I have often wished that the identity of this hero might be established and an individual tribute to his memory preserved. He was not an acquaintance of mine, for the tones of his voice would have enabled me to recognize him.
Collins in his testimony and Hagan in his letter to me refer to the same incident, the former before the Senate Committee, saying: ‘All those who wanted to get on and tried to get on got on with the exception of only one. This man was not pushed off by anyone, but those on the boat asked him not to try to get on. We were all on the boat running [shifting our weight] from one side to the other to keep her steady. If this man had caught hold of her he would have tumbled the whole lot of us. He acquiesced and said, ‘that is all right, boys; keep cool; God bless you,’ and he bade us good-bye.’
Hagan refers to the same man who ‘swam close to us saying, ‘Hello boys, keep calm, boys,’ asking to be helped up, and was told he could not get on as it might turn the boat over. He asked for a plank and was told to cling to what he had. It was very hard to see so brave a man swim away saying, “God bless you.”’
All this time our nearly submerged boat was amidst the wreckage and fast being paddled out of the danger zone whence arose the heart-rending cries already described of the struggling swimmers. It was at this juncture that expressions were used by some of the uncouth members of the ship’s crew, which grated upon my sensibilities. The hearts of these men, as I presently discovered, were all right and they were far from meaning any offence when they adopted their usual slang, sounding harsh to my ears, and referred to our less fortunate shipwrecked companions as ‘the blokes swimming in the water.’ What I thus heard made me feel like an alien among my fellow boatmates, and I did them the injustice of believing that I, as the only passenger aboard, would, in case of diversity of interest, receive short shrift at their hands and for this reason I thought it best to have as little to say as possible. During all these struggles I had been uttering silent prayers for deliverance, and it occurred to me that this was the occasion of all others when we should join in an appeal to the Almighty as our last and only hope in life, and so it remained for one of these men, whom I had regarded as uncouth, a Roman Catholic seaman, to take precedence in suggesting the thought in the heart of everyone of us. He was astern and in arm’s length of me. He first made inquiry as to the religion of each of us and found Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians. The suggestion that we should say the Lord’s Prayer together met with instant approval, and our voices with one accord burst forth in repeating that great appeal to the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, and the only prayer that everyone of us knew and could unite in, thereby manifesting that we were all sons of God and brothers to each other whatever our sphere in life or creed might be. Recollections of this incident are embodied in my account as well as those of Bride and Thayer, independently reported in the New York papers on the morning after our arrival. This is what Bride recalls: ‘Somebody said “don’t the rest of you think we ought to pray?” The man who made the suggestion asked what the religion of the others was. Each man called out his religion. One was a Catholic, one a Methodist, one a Presbyterian. It was decided the most appropriate prayer for all of us was the Lord’s Prayer. We spoke it over in chorus, with the man who first suggested that we pray as the leader.’