"The Trunks and Valises And All That With Them": Ludwig Muller

With the advent of the 20th century arrived a more enlightened perception of immigration. Steamship companies sought to capitalize on the ever-increasing number of steerage passengers boarding their European vessels for the United States.

Among the first to boast elevated accommodations for its Third Class was the White Star Line.

The following was published as a review of the White Star liner RMS Baltic, which underwent her maiden voyage in June 1904 under the command of Captain Edward J. Smith, who would command the RMS Titanic less than a decade later.

But the most significant feature of the new ship is the splendid accommodations provided for the third-class passengers, the emigrants. Nothing could show more clearly the value which the great steamship companies place upon the privilege of carrying the common people... the newer ships cater distinctly to their comfort and each new boat makes distinct advances in this direction.

Translators, most often to as "interpreters," were employed on board passenger liners such as the Baltic, Olympic, and Titanic.

Typically, a single interpreter was assigned per voyage, and this individual was responsible for assisting and otherwise managing the mass of immigrants in the steerage class. Many emigrating groups were families from northern and central Europe; thus, interpreters often seem to have been fluent in Germanic languages alongside English.

The "Interpreter Steward" acted as a liaison between passengers and crew, facilitating communications between parties that included non-English speakers. The on-board interpreter could be prevailed upon to aid in any number of circumstances, from the most mundane of matters to the downright whimsical.

In 1906, for instance, the interpreter of the White Star Line's RMS Majestic was called upon to assist in officiating the at-sea wedding of a "youthful runaway couple" from Norway who were unable to get married before boarding, as they had intended.

This ceremony was, incidentally, arranged with great diligence and evident joy by Chief Purser Hugh McElroy. He would, six years hence, serve in the same role on Titanic.

At the opposite end of the spectrum were interpreters who were reported as idle, morally compromised ne'er-do-wells. The following account regarding an unidentified White Star interpreter was published in 1909.

An interpreter who spoke English, Swedish, Norwegian, and some German was on board to serve when needed. He was, however, not at all conscientious in the performance of any duties and evidently not very capable. His price for granting privileges, performing favors and overlooking abuses was a mug of stout... he did not hesitate to solicit free drinks from everyone... he was generally present in the dining room during meals, though he did nothing. To young women passengers his manner could be most friendly and gracious. To others he was positively rude.

© "Guide to the Crew of the Titanic: The Structure of Working Aboard the Legendary Liner" by Gunter Babler, 2017.

By all survivor accounts, however, this description does not characterize the interpreter of RMS Titanic.

Ludwig Muller, also called Louis, was German by birth. He had already operated as the Third-Class interpreter on Titanic's older sister Olympic. He presumably spoke an assortment of northern European languages.

Ludwig embarked on Titanic at Southampton on April 10, 1912. His last recorded address was a hotel called the Hooper's Temperance, an establishment on Oxford Street in Southampton that was frequented by transient mariners from all around.

On board, Ludwig found himself bunked in a rare two-bunk cabin on E Deck. His sole cabinmate was a Third-Class Steward named Sidney Sedunary.

A typical Third-Class cabin on the RMS Olympic, Titanic's older sister, circa 1911.


Ludwig's experience on board Titanic prior to the iceberg strike is not recorded. Considering that he was acting as the sole interpreter for over 700 steerage passengers, it is fair to presume he was continually on the clock.

His movements during the sinking, however, were noted in multiple survivor accounts.

During the sixth day of the British Board of Trade's Inquiry into the disaster, Chief Baker Charles Joughin testified to that he had spotted Muller during the sinking.

Joughin also spoke in detail about the hindrances that Ludwig Muller dealt with as he endeavored to do his duty. Specifically, the steerage passengers whom the interpreter was attempting to direct insisted upon hauling all of their luggage with them, and Ludwig could not dissuade them.

6174. So that, unless on this particular occasion special instructions were given to [Third-Class passengers] as to the route they should follow they would not know where to go, would they?
- They would not know unless they were given instructions.

6175. Did you hear any such instructions given?
- Yes.

6176. By whom?
- I saw the interpreter passing the people along that way, but there was a difficulty in getting them along because some of the foreign third class passengers were bringing their baggage and their children along.

6177. Who was the interpreter?
- I do not know his name.

6178. You do not know his name?
- No.

6179. Where was he standing?
- He was standing just abaft this emergency door leading into the third class.

6180. He was pointing or directing those who came to the door?
- Passing them along.

6181. That is at the door, but my point is this. Did you see or know of anyone going to the third class quarters and giving instructions there to the third class passengers?
- No, Sir, I did not. I am out of that altogether.

6182. As to the course they should follow in order to escape?
- I did not hear any orders.

6183. You did not hear any directions being given to these people to go to this door, when further instructions would be given to them?
- I only saw and heard the interpreter doing his business.


6193. You say at the time this passage seemed to be obstructed by third class passengers bringing their luggage?
- Yes.

6194. Would that lead to any confusion?
- It would.

6195. Did it, as a matter of fact?
- There did not seem to be much confusion, only it hampered the steward; it hampered the interpreter and the men who were helping him, because they could not prevail on the people to leave their luggage.

During this same testimony, the Solicitor-General was compelled to circle back to the professional conduct of the interpreter and his efforts to aid the Third-Class passengers.

6350. You spoke of seeing an interpreter in the third class part of the ship trying to get the third class people to come along and go up to the deck?
- Yes.

6351. Did I catch you rightly to say the interpreter was doing it and men were helping him?
- I could see two or three stewards.

6352. You could?
- Yes.

6353. Third class stewards?
- I suppose they were, I am not quite sure.

6354. Trying to persuade the people?
- Yes.

During the British Inquiry, a Mr. Clement Edwards solicited further information from surviving First-Class bathroom steward Samuel Rule regarding Ludwig Muller's actions during the disaster.

Rule's account aligned seamlessly with Joughin's testimony three days prior. In fact, he indicated that Ludwig Muller had been proactive in spite of an apparent lack of instruction from superiors, endeavoring in the absence of leadership to direct the Third-Class passengers. It is also worth noting that a significant number of those immigrants on board did not hail from countries that spoke Scandinavian languages.

And yet, it would seem that Muller did his damnedest anyway.

Rule also corroborated Joughin's account that said passengers were adamant in carrying their possessions along with them, and that this impeded Muller and the Third-Class stewards who were attempting to aid the situation.

9769. Did anyone give the stewards' department any orders what to do?
- They gave me no orders.

9770. Did you see any orders given by any of these people in position?
- No.

9771. Did you see any stewards going forward or aft to the third class?
- As I passed out on E deck, Muller, the interpreter, was getting all his people from forward aft, and they were taking their luggage with them on E deck.

9772. He was getting them from forward to aft?
- Yes, the afterend of the ship.

9773. Were there any women among them?
- No, all men.

9774. They were passing the men along E deck?
- All the foreigners.

9775. And they were bringing the baggage along?
- Yes, the trunks and valises and all that, with them.

9776. Was there any chaos in the alleyway?
- None whatever; you would think they were landing on the tender taking their baggage to New York.

While Samuel Rule stated that he did not see any chaos mounting in that moment, the staggering pressure that Ludwig Muller faced is irrefutable and harrowing to imagine. Eyewitness testimony affirms that, as Titanic sank, he remained with the steerage passengers in his charge.

And for that, he died.

The Third-Class promenade deck on RMS Olympic, circa 1914.


Ludwig Muller's corpse, if recovered, was unidentified.

He was 37 years old.

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