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“They Told Me the People Were Singing”: Elizabeth & Madeleine Mellinger

"They Told Me the People Were Singing": Elizabeth & Madeleine Mellinger

Elizabeth Maidment was born in 1870 in Middlesex, England, and records indicate that she had five siblings. 

She married Claude Mellinger in 1895, at age 25.

But they did not move much further. 

By 1901, Elizabeth and Claude are reflected on the census as living at separate addresses: Claude at the registered family address, and Elizabeth and her children listed as visitors at a friend’s home.

They had five children, all in all. The first in 1895; the last, 1904.

It is not clear when the couple became estranged, but Claude sent their middle daughter, who appears to have gone by her middle name of Madeleine, a final letter from New Zealand in 1909.

By 1910, Claude Mellinger was registered as a resident of Australia.

Claude was reportedly a journalist of great accomplishment and talent. Per Madeleine, her father was “a genius whose extravagant high living brought the family to ruin.” But her mother never elaborated further on the “mistake” he’d made that finally expelled him from England.

Elizabeth clearly struggled an enormous amount in the years following Claude’s vanishing act. They had to auction off the furniture and the prized family heirlooms. And then lost their home altogether. And despite acting as a nanny/travel companion, finances forced her to ship her children off to relatives.

In 1911, her oldest daughter Eugenie Claudine is recorded as living with her, but her remaining children seem to have gone into the system… her son Alexander and Madeleine were both listed as inmates in children’s homes.

But in 1912, Elizabeth caught a break.

She was hired on as a housekeeper at Fillmore Farms, an estate in Bennington, Vermont, that was owned by the Colgate family—yes, of toothpaste fame.

She and Madeleine boarded Titanic at Southampton as Second-Class passengers. Elizabeth was 42 years old; her daughter was 13. 

It is unclear why none of Elizabeth’s other children accompanied her.

Also on Titanic and also headed to Fillmore Farms was First-Class passenger Charles Cresson Jones, who was the estate’s superintendent. He had been in the UK to purchase sheep from a Dorset-based farmer by the name of James Foot, and to attend a livestock sale as well. 

While it not definitively proven how Elizabeth came to snare the job of housekeeper at the Colgate estate, it is certainly reasonable to assume that she may have made the acquaintance of the superintendent during his travels.

And they clearly were acquainted. Mr. Jones is reported to have visited Elizabeth and her daughter in Second Class to show them photos of Fillmore Farms and Bennington. 

He came to our table—which was reserved… He had on a fur coat, full length, and I had never seen such a thing on a man. He gave me a golden sovereign (another first). Sunday, before lunch, he came over to our cabin in second class to bring pictures of lovely Bennington in spring, and to tell us what to do upon landing. We never saw him again alive.

Later in life, Madeleine admitted that, not knowing of Mr. Jones’s marital status, she fancied that that Mr. Jones might fall in love with Elizabeth and become Madeleine’s new father.

According to an interview with the Toronto Star, Madeleine answered the cabin door shortly after the collision with the iceberg.

We were asleep in our berths when a man banged on our door and told us to put on warm clothes and lifebelts and to get on deck.

As an adult, Madeleine realized that, had she not been there to answer that knock upon the door, that she might very well have ended up motherless in addition to already being fatherless. Because when the steward knocked, Elizabeth was sleeping, and the loud sounds did not rouse her.

And that was because Elizabeth was hard of hearing.

Elizabeth and Madeleine vacated the room in a hurry—so much so, that upon reaching the deck, Madeleine realized that her mother was not wearing any shoes. 

The pair found themselves on the port side. They were lucky enough to enter Lifeboat 14, which was launched by Second Officer Charles Lightoller and overseen by Fifth Officer Harold Lowe. 

Officer Lowe would go on to experience a hero’s welcome at subsequent hearings due to his brave conduct and no-nonsense attitude.

Madeleine later described the sinking. Other passengers apparently tried to shield her from the trauma, but she was 13 years old and clearly knew better.

I could see the lights of the ship starting to go under water, then soundlessly, perhaps a mile away, it just went down. It was gone. Oh yes, the sky was very black and the stars were very bright. They told me the people in the water were singing, but I knew they were screaming.

Officer Lowe eventually transferred the passengers of Lifeboat 14 into other boats so he could return to search for survivors in the water. Elizabeth and Madeleine were moved into Lifeboat 12.

This lifeboat would succeed in the rescue of survivors on the capsized Collapsible B. And one of those survivors was Second Officer Charles Lightoller.

Lightoller’s coat was white with ice. And so Elizabeth Mellinger, who was still barefoot, removed her wool cape and placed it on Lightoller’s shoulders. Elizabeth then took his hands and rubbed them between her own to do what she could to warm him.

Once on board Carpathia, Elizabeth’s hypothermia finally caused her to pass out. And so she was removed to the infirmary to treat the frostbite in her feet.

Madeleine had been hauled up on deck separately from Elizabeth. By the time she settled, her mother had already been taken away. By people Madeleine did not know, who did not know Elizabeth or anything about her daughter.

Madeleine proceeded to wander the decks, calling out her mother’s name through tears. This desperation was later seized upon by newspapers as a the pitch-perfect embodiment of Titanic’s sorrow.

Elizabeth and Madeleine eventually found each other later that day. And then Second Officer Lightoller found them, too.

He wanted to give Elizabeth a token, to thank her for her kindness to him during the rescue. But he lamented that all he had on him was his “little tin whistle,” that he had used to call for help, balancing on the back of Collapsible B in the dark.

But that was more than enough for Elizabeth Mellinger. And so she accepted it gladly.

And all her life, Officer Lightoller’s whistle was one of Elizabeth’s most coveted possessions. When she died in 1962, Madeleine was responsible for bestowing it upon another in accordance with her mother’s last wishes.

And the giftee was Walter Lord, famed Titanic historian.

“The whistle has a curious pitch,” Lord told Madeline during a phone conversation, mentioning this only in passing.

    “What do you mean?” Madeline asked.

    “It’s not the sort of sound I would have expected it to make,” Lord replied. Sensing, then, that something was wrong on the other end of the line, he tried to explain further just how pleased he was to have Lightoller’s whistle. “And, of course,” he added, “the first thing I did was to blow it.”

    “Oh, no,” Madeline said. “We had never blown the whistle, Mother or I—and in fact no one has—in all the years we owned it. And always, always, we believed Lightoller should have been the last one to do so.”

Walter Lord claimed he had no idea about the sanctity of the whistle, but it did not matter. Madeleine reportedly did not speak to him again for 7 years.

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“He Kept Bravely On, With Nothing to Guide Him”: David Blair, Titanic’s Lost Officer

"He Kept Bravely On, With Nothing to Guide Him": David Blair, Titanic's Lost Officer

In the course of his civil and military service to the Crown, David Blair was awarded a King’s Gallantry Medal, a British Empire Medal, a Royal Navy Reserve Decoration, the French Cross of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and the Officer of the Order of the British Empire Award, bestowed upon him by King George V and signed by Prince Edward.

And yet, David Blair is only remembered as That Guy Who Took That Important Key.

That Guy Who Forgot the Binoculars.

The Man Who Sank Titanic.

And that, dear reader, is horse excrement.

David Blair had originally been assigned as Second Officer on Titanic, and until April 4, that was the circumstance under which the crew operated. This arrangement was in place from the start, and was in operation during Titanic’s sea trials on April 2, 1912.

RMS Titanic docked in Belfast. It is believed that one of the figures standing on the bow is then-Second Officer David Blair.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (Copyright expiration, re: in excess of 70 years after author's death)

The assignments of Titanic’s top officer ranks were as follows:

And yet, whether by White Star’s will or at the behest of Captain Smith himself, Henry Wilde was suddenly lined up to take over as Titanic’s Chief Officer. It’s generally understood that the reasoning was because Mr. Wilde was already Chief on Titanic’s elder sister, Olympic. Since it was temporarily berthed, it seemed like Wilde’s experience could be better used on Titanic’s maiden voyage.

Interestingly, Henry Wilde, although aware of the so-called reshuffle as early as March 30, did not receive a proper telegram until April 9, 5 days after Blair’s notice of reassignment.

Charles Lightoller, who was David’s mate, addressed it in his writings, which were published in 1935.

The ruling lights of the White Star Line thought it would be a good plan to send the Chief Officer of the Olympic [Henry Wilde], just for the one voyage, as Chief Officer of the Titanic, to help, with his experience of her sister ship. This doubtful policy threw both [William] Murdoch and me out of our stride; and, apart from the disappointment of having to step back in our rank, caused quite a little confusion Murdoch from Chief, took over my duties as First I stepped back on Blair's toes, as Second, and picked up the many threads of his job, whilst he - luckily for him as it turned out - was left behind.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935. As cited (in part) in "Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage", by High Brewster, 2012.

So Murdoch and Lightoller were each demoted, and David was pushed off the roster entirely.

He wrote a postcard home to his daughter on April 4, 1912, expressing his disappointment at the decision.

“4th, Southampton

Arrived on 'Titanic' from Belfast today. Am afraid I shall have to step out to make room for [the] Chief Officer of the Olympic who was going in command but so many ships laid up he will have to wait. Hope eventually to get back to this ship...
Been home all day and down on board tonight on watch.
This is a magnificent ship, I feel very disappointed I am not to make the first voyage.”

The word “very” was underlined. 

It would seem that David stuck around Southampton to witness Titanic’s departure. It has since been confirmed by facial construction experts and David’s family that the gentleman in black walking along the dock is, in fact, David Blair.

Knowing that, one can’t help but see dejection in his stance.

RMS Titanic docked in Southampton. The man in black walking toward the camera has been identified as Former Second Officer David Blair.


But many people seem to believe that David Blair’s removal from the crew had disastrous consequences. Because when David disembarked, he accidentally took something that should have remained on board.

It was a tiny iron key, with an oval-shaped brass tag that read “Crow’s Nest Telephone Key.”

In the locker opened by that key were David Blair’s looking glasses. And it is speculated that, because the key that David Blair took was of course missing from the ship, that Titanic’s lookouts were without binoculars.

To spot things like icebergs in the distance.

The speculation about the impact of the lost binoculars is not novel—in fact, began in the Senate Inquiry immediately after the disaster. Lookout George Hogg attested to binoculars being on board during Second Officer Blair’s tenure, but that they became unavailable for use before leaving Southampton.

17494. Do you remember when the "Titanic" was leaving Belfast - you signed on the "Titanic" as look-out man, we know - were a pair of glasses given you?

- Yes.

17495. For the crow's-nest?

- Yes.

17496. Who gave them to you, do you remember?

- Mr. Blair, the acting Second Officer then.

17501. When you left the ship at Southampton, what did you do with those glasses?

- Mr. Blair was in the crow's-nest and gave me his glasses, and told me to lock them up in his cabin and to return him the keys.

17503. As far as you were concerned, the glasses, you were told, were to be locked up in the cabin of the second Officer?

- I locked them up.

17504. And they were locked up. When the ship left Queenstown were there any glasses in the crow's-nest?

- There were none when we left Southampton.

George went on to testify that newly appointed Second Officer Lightoller seemed none too bothered by their absence.

17507. Did you ask for them at all after you left Queenstown?

- After I left Queenstown.

17508. You personally asked for them?

- I personally asked.

17509. Whom did you ask?

- Mr. Lightoller.

17510. Will you tell us what you said to him, quite shortly, about it?

- I said, "Where is our look-out glasses, Sir?" He made some reply, I did not exactly catch it. "Get them later," or something like that.

17511. At any rate, you did not get any?

- I did not get any.

But, despite the sensationalism regarding David Blair’s supposedly fatal moment of forgetfulness, Lightoller’s response to Hogg was neither damning nor surprising. Lightoller would not be troubled by the lack of binoculars because he had his own pair on board with him.

Moreover, the White Star Line was anecdotally the only line of vessels to even provide binoculars to lookouts, as it was unnecessary for spotting endangering objects and was therefore completely against industry practice. And George Hogg’s testimony immediately following, as well as those of his colleagues, attest to as much. Notable captains experienced in disaster, such as Captain Walter Lord of the SS Californian and Ernest Shackleton, were of the same opinion.

17513. Have you had experience of glasses; have you used them much?

- Never before; only in the White Star Line.

17514. But had you used them before you were on this voyage?

- On another ship.

17515. Of the White Star Line?

- In the "Adriatic."

17516. You had never had them in any ship you have been on except in the "Adriatic," which was another ship of the White Star Line you had sailed in?

- No other ship except the White Star.

17517. Did you find them of use?

- Well, I believe in my own eyesight.


17522. What it comes to, if I understand that, is you pick it up with your eyesight, and then if you want to see as well as you can what it is you would use the glasses?

- That is what they are handy for, Sir.

17523. But not for picking up things, you mean?

- No, I pick up things with my own eyesight.

And it was understood that George Hogg’s testimony was accurate—binoculars were never intended to spot distant objects. Just to ascertain details.

Additionally, Senator Smith, who conducted the American Inquiry, was in no way familiar with this fact because he was not a mariner in the slightest—a fact that deeply vexed multiple surviving officers who he interrogated, including Second Officer Lightoller and Fifth Officer Harold Lowe.

So, when contemplated within the context of contemporary maritime practice, David Blair’s mistake resulted in nothing more than a perplexity.

Summarily: David Blair did not “doom” Titanic at all.

The RMS Majestic (left) and RMS Olympic, docked in Southampton.


In July of 1912, aboard the RMS Majestic, David was reunited with his friend and Titanic colleague, Charles Lightoller. In a repetition of Titanic’s original assignments, Lightoller was First Officer; Blair, Second.

In 1913, following a stint on the Teutonic during which David had been promoted to First Officer, he returned to the Majestic with his newly acquired superior rank, which he maintained for four months.

But fate was determined to intervene on behalf of The Man Who Doomed Titanic.

On the morning of May 6, 1913, a trimmer (id est, a fireman) chose to attempt suicide by jumping overboard. He was only 27 years old.

David was laying down in his cabin when he heard the cries of alarm. He hastily dressed in his uniform and ran up on deck.

As the fog lifted the officer saw Keoun [the man who jumped ship], apparently very weak, bobbing up and down on the swell, and without a moment's hesitation he dived from the rail of the promenade deck into the water.

David Blair, without a thought as to his own person, swan-dove 40 feet down into 44-degree water, his sight obscured by ocean fog.

According to the New York Tribune's report, the fireman was crazed with heat and recently bereaved. "Keoun lost his wife a month ago, and brooded over her death.  Worry, augmented by the heat of the fire room, affected his mind temporarily, and on Tuesday he ran up to the main deck and jumped."


Passengers Cheer David Blair, Who Risked Life in Fog to Save Fireman
Women Weep as Gallant Sailor and Man for Whom He Jumped Are Helped Over Side


Everybody on board except Blair himself, wanted to tell about the rescue yesterday, and  Captain Kelk said he felt mighty proud of his chief officer.


Mr. Blair, who had been roused from sleep by the cry of "Man overboard!" pulled his trousers over his pajamas and grasping his binoculars rushed forward to a place on the promenade deck just under the bridge.  He never took his eyes from the sea until he shouted to the skipper that he saw the helpless fireman.

The passengers said Blair made a perfect dive.  When he came to the surface he looked to the bridge, and seeing Kelk pointing in the direction of the fireman, got his bearings and struck out for the man he could not then see.

Once he got a glimpse of the unconscious Keoun as the  fireman was tossed up on a wave, and from that tie until he himself was rescued Blair saw nothing but sea and mist.

Thought of Fireman First

He kept bravely on, with nothing to guide him, until the lifeboat came by in search of the fireman.  Those in the boat called to Blair to climb in, but he shouted: "I'm all right.  Get that fireman first.  He should be somewhere about here."

David was celebrated as a hero for this act. But the accolades were short-lived.

On September 8, 1914, on board the RMS Oceanic—and acting as Second Officer alongside First Officer Lightoller once again—David was acting as navigator as the monstrous liner crept in between mainland Scotland the Faroe Islands.

And she ran aground on a reef renowned for its treachery, called the Shaalds of Foula. Fortunately, all souls were saved and the Oceanic was left to her fate.

RMS Oceanic docked in New York, circa 1903. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


On September 29, a gale turned Oceanic over to the sea. Once visible from shore, local islanders awoke to discover that she had utterly vanished.

David Blair shouldered the blame at the subsequent court martial. Lightoller, however, disagreed entirely with this.

The Oceanic was really far too big for that patrol and in consequence it was not long before she crashed on to one of the many outlying reefs and was lost. The fog was as thick as the proverbial hedge when she ripped up on the rocks; and in all fairness one could not lay the blame on the navigator—my old shipmate of many years, Davy Blair—trying as he was to work that great vessel amongst islands and mostly unknown currents.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935.

But Lightoller had a bit of frivolity planned for them both, while his dear, unlucky friend was in town for the court martial: they were to patrol the coastline disguised as fishermen for the Royal Navy.

Davy Blair, my old Oceanic pal, and I volunteered for a job that we had got wind of in the Flag Lieutenant’s office. The main qualification for the men who were to get it, we were told, was that they should be “Hard Cases.” Well, Davy and I had both done the Western Ocean, and knew it in its worst moods these many years… We were accepted… A visit down sailor town soon completed the outfit, blue jersey, smock, rough serge pants, heavy weather cap, and seaboots, making us the imitation of a perfect fisherman.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935.

David Blair’s subsequent Naval service during the First World War garnered him a number of the afore-stated accolades from the British and French governments. In 1918, he was promoted by the Crown to Lietenant Commander.

In 1923, David was employed as the Commanding Officer on the schooner St. George, leading an immense scientific expedition on a Pacific tour, including the Isthmus of Panama and many of the islands, including the Galapagos.

The steam yacht St. George, docked in Sydney Harbor, Australia, circa 1982. Courtesy of the Australian national Maritime Museum, from the William Hall Collection.


David Blair passed away at 80 years old on January 10, 1955. 

Do note that, despite occasional false reports, that David Blair was NOT killed in action in 1917 in a U-Boat encounter during  the First World War. This is nothing but irresponsible and lazy reporting. The lost soldier in question was David Blair Chalmers, an Assistant Steward in the Mercantile Marines, aged 26, from Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2007, the infamous key to the crow’s nest sold at auction for £90,000.


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“Titanic Behaved Splendidly”: Titanic’s Sea Trials

"Titanic Behaved Splendidly": Titanic's Sea Trials

Titanic’s sea trials—when the ship’s many safety features were tested in real time—were scheduled to begin on Sunday, April 1, 1912, but poor weather conditions and a detrimental northwesterly wind caused the trials to be postponed to Monday morning.

Aboard were just over 40 crewmembers. They were compensated an extra five shillings for the delay.

Captain Edward J. Smith.


The roster of officers reporting to Captain Smith for sea trials were as follows.

Chief Officer William McMaster Murdoch

First Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller

Second Officer David Blair

Third Officer Herbert John Pitman

Fourth Officer Joseph Groves Boxhall

Fifth Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe

Sixth Officer James Pell Moody

The four junior officers received telegrams from the White Star marine superintendent to report to the Liverpool offices at 9am on March 26th, to pick up their trains tickets for their trip to Belfast.

They arrived around noon the next day on March 27th and reported on board to Chief Officer Murdoch. Notably, in his deposition later, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe attested to a March 29th arrival.

Fifth Officer Lowe and Sixth Officer Moody were instructed to inspect the totality of starboard-side lifeboats, including the collapsibles. Together, they conducted an inventory of life-saving materials such as oars, sail riggings, and tarp; he also recalled that he noted one empty "bread tank" in each of the lifeboats but none in the collapsible boats, nor emergency lanterns in any of the boats at all.

Captain Edward J. Smith boarded on April 1st, and with him came an officer arrangement that upended the ship's commanding hierarchy. At the last minute, he announced his intention to bring on Henry Tingle Wilde as Chief Officer.

So William Murdoch and Charles Lightoller were both demoted to First and Second Officers, respectively.David Blair was dismissed from command altogether, which safeguarded the remaining junior officers from a reshuffle themselves.

Titanic Chief Officer Henry Tingle Wilde in Royal Naval dress.


When Former-Second Officer Blair disembarked in Southampton, he disembarked with his keys... including the key to the locker for the Crow’s Nest. This secure cabinet is where implements were housed for the lookouts.

Including binoculars.

George Hogg, a surviving lookout on Titanic, testified to the Senate regarding David Blair's actions as he was set to depart at Southampton, having been dismissed from his duties.

Mr. Blair was in the crow's-nest and gave me his glasses, and told me to lock them up in his cabin and to return him the keys... I locked [the binoculars] up... There were none when we left Southampton.

It is sometimes implied that Blair did this nefariously as some Shakespearean act of revenge due to his dismissal, but in reality, it was industry practice to lock up the binoculars when a ship was docked.

Other accounts state that David Blair took the binoculars with him because they were his own personal pair.

Regardless, Now-Second Officer Lightoller could not provide the lookouts with binoculars. He didn’t think too much of it, as there were other glasses on board somewhere and the lookouts could spot without them, being at such a height as the lookouts were, so he promised to pick up a new pair in New York City.

And that was that.

Charles H. Lightoller, who was demoted to Second Officer on Titanic.


Titanic was the second sibling in a set of triplets; her elder sister, Olympic, underwent her sea trials beginning on May 29, 1911, and ran for two days. They were not without difficulties.

According to Tom McCluskie, a historian for Harland & Wolff, “The extensive sea trials found that there was a number of problems. Chief architect Thomas Andrews himself wrote in his design notebook that Olympic’s hull was observed to “pant.”

As McCluskie describes it, “[Panting] means the hull—instead of being rigidly straight—is going in and out. Now it’s not a vast movement, it’s not going out three, four feet and coming in; it’s a matter only of inches. But really, it shouldn’t do that on a calm sea.”

This discovery led architect Thomas Andrews to implement changes to his nearly identical work-in-progress, Titanic. Per McCluskie, Andrews “made reference to it on the shell drawing which he modified for Titanic to include extra stiffening.”

Sister ships Olympic (close to dock) and Titanic. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Despite these changes and the flaws in Olympic that incited them, Titanic only undertook a single day of sea trials.

J. Bruce Ismay, White Star’s chairman, could not attend, nor could Lord William Pirrie owing to a bout of pneumonia. So he sent his nephew, Thomas Andrews—conveniently the ship’s lead designer—in his stead.

Around 6 a.m., Harland & Wolff’s own tug boat, called Hercules because he was mighty strong, arrived and cast the first line aboard Titanic as it slept in its berth. The four tugs assisting Hercules, which were owned by the Alexandra Towing Co.—and named Huskisson, Horby, Herald, and Herculaneum—moved into their positions, and at Hercules’s whistle, the H-Team pulled Titanic to the center of the River Lagan.

Titanic on her way to sea trials accompanied by her fleet of tugs. Courtesy of U.S. N.A.R.A.


The behemoth liner eased her way down the river toward Belfast Lough, escorted by the five tugs. Around noontime, and about two miles off Carrickfergus, the herd of vessels slowed to a stop, and the tugs all dropped their ropes and pulled away.

Boilers were lit one by one, and smoke began to bloom from Titanic’s three functional funnels (the fourth was false, for aesthetical purpose).

Captain Smith ordered the blue-and-white burgee, which is more commonly recognized as a triangular mariner’s flag. This type of burgee, known as Signal Flag A, announced that its ship was undergoing sea trials.

As the water churned at her stern and her dapper burgee clapped above her, Captain Smith ordered a three-blast sounding of Titanic’s horn and her trial-run officially began. As Titanic took its first metaphorical steps, the officials and officers on-board took lunch in the First Class Dining Room to compare notes.

Rear view of Titanic being pulled toward Belfast Lough. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Titanic was revved up to nearly 20 knots, then drifted to a stop. Isolated turn maneuvers, such as rudder-only and propeller-only, were performed. The ship’s wheel was ordered “hard over” while Titanic was traversing a straight path, creating a circular path with a diameter of approximately 3,850 yards.

More stopping tests followed, including running right toward a buoy at full speed.

She then traveled about 40 miles toward the Irish Sea, turned about to head back to Belfast Lough, and performed some twisty-turns to port and starboard along the way, and got back home in the evening time.

One more test was then advised by Francis Carruthers, the ship surveyor sent by the British Board of Trade: Anchor up, and anchor down.

Carruthers found Titanic’s performance satisfactory and issued the mandatory certificate to Thomas Andrew and his deputy, Edward Wilding. The ship was officially good for one year to the day.

With the sea trials done and dusted, the crew on board resumed their daily operations. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe set aside some time to write back to his wife, Nellie. He helped himself to a spare menu card from the day, April 2nd, and scrawled on its back along the bottom edge: "first meal ever served on board" and posted it to Nellie.

R.M.S. "Titanic."

April 2, 1912.

Hors D'Ouvre Varies


Consomme Mirrette

Cream of Chicken



Roast Chicken

Spring Lamb, Mint Sauce

Braised Ham & Spinach

Green Peas                                Cauliflower

Bovin & Boiled Potatoes

Golden Plover on Toast


Pudding Sans Souci

Peaches Imperial


Dessert                          Coffee

Later, sworn under oath before the American inquiry of Titanic's sinking, Harold Lowe testified that Titanic did not even reach her full potential for speed during the sea trials. He stated that he believed that she could "easily do 24 or 25 knots,” instead of the 20 knots achieved that day.

Furthermore, in his deposition sworn before the British Consulate General in May of 1912, Harold Lowe attested that "on the trials the Titanic behaved splendidly and manoeuvred very well."

Titanic being pulled toward Belfast Lough. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Titanic departed Belfast for Southampton at approximately 8:00pm that evening. She encountered fog in the wee hours of April 3rd, though it dissipated by noon.

And shortly after midnight, on April 4th, another tugboat gang of classical gods and guys—this time Hercules, Neptune, Ajax, Hector, and Vulcan of the Red Funnel line—drew Titanic into Berth 44 at Southampton, where she was "docked by moonlight," per Sixth Officer James Moody.

Titanic would spend the Easter weekend there, waiting for her maiden voyage to begin. James Moody wrote to his older sister Margaret that, at 8:00am on the morning of April 4th, Titanic's crew “hoisted a huge rainbow of flags right over the ship, 220 flags [altogether and] 9 feet apart” to salute the Southampton

There was less than a week to go.

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“Our Brightest Star”: First Officer William Murdoch

"Our Brightest Star": First Officer William Murdoch

On a list of men on Titanic who have been unjustly maligned in the years since it sank, William McMaster Murdoch would certainly be toward the top of that list.

William McMaster Murdoch, taken sometime in 1907.


William Murdoch was born in Dalbeattie, Scotland, into a multi-generational seafaring family.

By the time of his appointment on Titanic, Will had a long and sterling resume of his extended career at sea himself, including surviving a hurricane sinking of the St. Cuthbert off the coast of Uruguay in 1903, a near-miss collision on the Adriatic in which his decision to override his commanding officer's orders saved the vessel, and the Olympic's collision with the H.M.S. Hawke.

William Murdoch (standing separately, far-left) with fellow R.M.S. Olympic officers & Captain E.J. Smith. Taken in 1911.


In 1904, he met Ada Banks, a schoolteacher from New Zealand, while serving on board either the Runic or the Medic. Their fond correspondence led to their wedding in 1907.

Murdoch was described as a "canny and dependable man." Survivor Charlotte Collyer described him as "a bull-dog of a man who would not be afraid of anything."

Speaking even further to the content of his character, when Murdoch was asked to sign a menu on board the Medic in 1900, he quoted Scottish writer, Charles Mackay.

Will wrote, "Whatever obstacles control, go on, true heart, thou'lt reach the goal."

William Murdoch on board the S.S. Medic circa 1900-1902.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (taken & published prior to 1923)

Murdoch was First Officer on Titanic when she set sail, but was originally assigned as Chief Officer before being bumped down by Captain Smith's abrupt installation of Henry Tingle Wilde as Chief Officer.

Will was therefore demoted to First Officer, and Charles Lightoller to Second Officer.

This change was so last-minute that Murdoch didn't even have time to alter the stripes on his uniform. This led to confusion even among crewmembers, with many referring to him as Chief Officer throughout the voyage and in their survivor testimonies.

Fatefully, Will was the officer on duty and on the bridge when Titanic collided with the iceberg. And according to Quartermaster Robert Hitchens, who was helmsman, Murdoch commanded, "Hard a-starboard."

Some have speculated that Murdoch's order was unclear or otherwise misinterpreted.

Bridge of R.M.S. Olympic, Titanic's elder sister.


Regardless of Will's orders and the concentrated effort that was made, Titanic made contact with the iceberg about 37 seconds after it was sighted.

If it gives insight into the acute panic those men on the bridge must have felt in that moment, an iceberg was typically sighted more like 30 minutes out.

First Officer Murdoch was one of the first to have a true understanding of the damage, as Second-Class Chief Steward John Hardy testified.

I had great respect and great regard for Officer Murdoch, and I was walking along the deck forward with him, and he said, ‘I believe she has gone, Hardy,’ and that’s the only time I thought she might sink –when he said that.

Captain Smith ordered Murdoch to load starboard-side lifeboats, and Second Officer Charles Lightoller to load port-side.

Crucially for those who survived, Captain Smith gave the orders of "women and children."

Lightoller took this to mean "women and children ONLY," whereas Murdoch took it as "women and children first." So once all the ladies and children in sight were loaded, he permitted men aboard without difficulty.

Last photo of William Murdoch (bending) with Second Officer Charles Lightoller as Titanic prepared to depart Queenstown.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (taken & published prior to 1923)

Will's less rigid approach, along with the perceived tensions between Lightoller and Chief Officer Wilde, led to Murdoch's lifeboats being turned out, hung, and sent off in a more efficient fashion: First Officer Murdoch launched multiple lifeboats in the time it took for Second Officer Lightoller to launch one.

First Officer Murdoch has been unduly criticized for this, as his early boats were not launched to capacity. But consistently across survivor testimony, Murdoch ordered those in charge of the boats to wait by the gangway to pick up more passengers, and to come back promptly when hailed.

Additionally, Willwas quoted as saying upon counting approximately forty in a lifeboat, "That’s enough before lowering. We can get a lot more in after she’s in the water. Lower away!" During the British inquiry, Lookout George Symons testified regarding a half-full lifeboat.

Because, I suppose, he had looked around the deck for other people, as well as I did myself, and there was not another passenger in sight, only just the remainder of the crew getting the surf boat ready... I saw Mr. Murdoch running around there [presumably looking for more passengers.]

Will's priority was clearly getting the boats off the divets and into the water, and yet regularly held accountable for the dereliction of duty of his crewmembers once removed from his command.

By all accounts, First Officer Murdoch was unflappably cool and calm as he launched the boats, although he still had some absurd moments while loading. For instance, while launching Lifeboat 5, he saw Dr. Henry Frauenthal and his brother jump down into the lifeboat and land on Mrs. Annie Stengel, thereby breaking her ribs.

Following that misfortune, her husband Henry Stengel, who was a portly man, had approached Will Murdoch and was told to jump into Lifeboat 1. He obeyed and in so doing, rolled over into the lifeboat, which inspired some laughter. Mr. Stengel himself testified to as much at the American inquiry.

The railing was rather high--it was an emergency boat and was always swung over toward the water--I jumped onto the railing and rolled into it. The officer then said, 'That is the funniest sight I have seen to-night,' and he laughed quite heartily. That rather gave me some encouragement. I thought perhaps it was not so dangerous as I imagined.

Also at Lifeboat 1, Murdoch seemed either exceedingly polite or supremely snide to First-Class passengers Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon.

I said, 'May we get into the boat?' and he [Murdoch] said 'Yes. I wish you would' or 'Very glad if you would' or some expression like that. There were no passengers at all near us then. He put the ladies in and helped me in.

Will then moved to launch Lifeboat 10 and the nearby collapsibles amidst mounting chaos.

Pantryman Albert Pearcey testified to a small moment that spoke to First Officer Murdoch's calm authority and conscientiousness.

ATTORNEY GENERAL: When you got to the boat deck will you tell us what you saw?
PEARCEY: I saw two babies on the deck; I picked them up in my arms and took them to the boat.
AG: Do you know what boat it was you took them to?
PEARCEY: A collapsible boat.
AG: Was there any Officer there?
AG: Who?
PEARCEY: The Chief, Mr. Murdoch.
AG: Did Mr. Murdoch give you any order?
AG: What was it?
PEARCEY: He told me to get inside with the babies and take charge of them.

Then there's the issue of the supposed shootings of passengers as they rushed Collapsible C, and which officer pulled the trigger. Survivor Eugene Daly believed that First Officer Murdoch fired the shot, as Mr. Daly thought he recognized his voice.

Others, including Jack Thayer, believed Chief Purser Hugh McElroy fired warning shots using his own pistol.

And Fifth Officer Harold Lowe was quite clear in his own United States Senate testimony about the alleged use of pistols, stating, "I heard them and I fired them."

Which leads naturally to one of Titanic's most disputed mysteries: the reported suicide of an officer.

As was attested to by a few survivors and immortalized in the 1997 film, First Officer Murdoch shot himself through the temple.

Despite this, a number of witnesses also spoke to Chief Officer Wilde and even Captain Smith doing the same.

Henry Tingle Wilde, who was made Chief Officer on Titanic, thus causing William Murdoch's demotion.


Even more witnesses speak to three steerage men being shot dead by an unknown officer. And while Titanicophiles could debate endlessly about whose character would lend itself more to suicide, since none of the main suspects were recovered, a definite answer will most likely never be determined.

It is most reasonable to turn to the most reliable of the firsthand accounts, such as those by Second-Class survivor Lawrence Beesley and First-Class survivor Colonel Archibald Gracie. Gracie said that he last saw First Officer Murdoch when he was washed away, while they were working in tandem to cut the falls to launch Collapsible A.

Furthermore, Second Officer Lightoller wrote the following to Murdoch's widow Ada.

Dear Mrs. Murdoch,

I am writing on behalf of the surviving officers to express our deep sympathy in this, your awful loss. Words cannot convey our feelings, - much less a letter.
I deeply regret that I missed communicating with you by last mail to refute the reports that were spread in the newspapers. I was practically the last man, and certainly the last officer, to see Mr. Murdoch. He was then endeavouring to launch the starboard forward collapsible boat...

...Having got my boat down off the top of the house, and there being no time to open it, I left it and ran across to the starboard side, still on top of the quarters. I was then practically looking down on your husband and his men. He was working hard, personally assisting, overhauling the forward boat’s fall. At this moment the ship dived, and we were all in the water.Other reports as to the ending are absolutely false.

Some dispute Lightoller's evidence because he was a company man, and because some insist that he would be disinclined to tell a newly bereaved widow that her husband had killed himself. But that is speculative at best.

Archibald Gracie, who had been in the immediate vicinity of First Officer Murdoch, also wrote in his account that, while Gracie and Second Officer Lightoller were both balancing for their lives on Collapsible B, that Lightoller actually spoke of seeing William Murdoch washed off the deck.

There is also, of course, the pervasive confusion about Murdoch being First Officer versus Chief Officer.

It should be noted that most passengers would not have known the names of the officers, their ranks recognized only based upon the stripes on their uniforms. William Murdoch did not have time to adjust his insignia due to his last-minute demotion upon Henry Wilde's installation as Chief Officer.

Multiple eyewitness accounts, therefore, appear to mistake Henry Wilde and William Murdoch for one another.

Moreover, some have proposed the Henry Wilde might have been more predisposed to suicidal tendencies under his personal circumstances. Specifically, Wilde was described thusly by John Smith, who wrote to his brother Hugh about what he overheard in Charles Lightoller's private conversations at the New York-located club of the International Mercantile Marine, in what is known by Titanicophiles as the Portrush Letter.

The last seen of Mr Wilde he was smoking a cigarette on the bridge. I expect he was hoping the water wouldn't put it out before he finished it. His wife died about sixteen months ago, and I have heard him say he didn't care particularly how he went or how soon he joined her. He leaves three children.

He would have been Captain of the Cymric two trips ago, only the coal strike and the tying up of some of the ships altered the company's plans.

But no matter who may have killed himself that night--William Murdoch, Henry Wilde, or another officer entirely--it is imperative to remember that the nautical culture at the time was to die an honorable death at sea having fulfilled one's duties, and suicide often fell under that sentiment. It was not a character flaw nor even cause for much alarm, as it seems to be taken today.

It was considered a noble and gallant Final Act.

Take, for instance, the account by First-Class survivor George Rheims, who wrote to his wife on April 19, 1912, of an unnamed officer's suicide with effusive admiration.

While the last boat was leaving, I saw an officer with a revolver fire a shot and kill a man who was trying to climb into it. As there remained nothing more to do, the officer told us, "Gentlemen, each man for himself, good-bye." He gave a military salute and then fired a bullet into his head. That’s what I call a man!!!

Regardless of his cause of death, First Officer William McMaster Murdoch is remembered as a hero in his hometown of Dalbeattie.

Sir Bertram Hayes, the Commodore of the White Star line, eulogized Titanic's First Officer.

"William Murdoch was our brightest star."



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“Like Locusts on a Midsummer Night”: Jack Thayer

"Like Locusts on a Midsummer Night": Jack Thayer

Jack Thayer boarded Titanic at all of 17 years old, as a First-Class passenger with his parents John and Marian, and Marian's maid Margaret Fleming.

Jack Thayer in his youth.


On April 14, at 11:40 p.m., Jack was winding his watch and preparing for bed when he felt the breeze coming from his open window stop altogether, and the engines ceased their turnings.

He wrote, "The sudden quiet was startling and disturbing. Like the subdued quiet in a sleeping car, at a stop, after a continuous run."

Throwing on a coat over his pajamas, Jack hollered to his parents he was "going out to see the fun" and went up to the boat deck, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary. He moved toward the bow and, as his vision became accustomed to the night, saw pieces of ice on the well deck.

Jack retrieved his parents. On the way, they all noted that Titanic was listing to port.

The Thayers returned immediately to their stateroom and dressed. Jack, in a fit of clarity, put on two vests and a coat to try to safeguard himself from the cold.

Jack, his parents, and Miss Fleming banded together on boat deck until the Women-And-Children-First decree, when they parted ways with Marian and her maid at the top of the Grand Staircase.

Jack and his father assumed Marian and Margaret were safely off the ship, until a steward informed them otherwise. They chased the ladies down, and while John, Marian, and Margaret wandered off looking for a lifeboat, Jack was left behind.

Jack's mother Marian circa 1900, taken when Jack was 6 or 7 years old.


It's possible that Jack was caught up in conversation with Milton Long, an acquaintance he'd only made earlier that same evening over coffee.

Jack and Milton went searching for boats, but the boys were impeded by the melee and missed out. At one point, they paused in between a set of empty lifeboat davits and traced a star's movement as it rose in between the davits, to determine how quickly the ship was going down.

Two collapsible boats were available, but the boys felt uneasy, having seen how precariously the traditional, all-wood lifeboats had been launched.

So they elected to remain on board Titanic instead of seeking placement in any of the collapsible lifeboats.

As Jack and Milton went back and forth on how to proceed, a man came out through a nearby door and staggered by, pounding down an entire bottle of gin as he went. Jack recalled thinking, "If I get out of this, that's one man I'll never see again."

Jack's father, John.


As the ship's angle grew more drastic, the boys heard "deadened explosions" within. Jack was haunted by the sound of it all.

It was like standing under a steel railway bridge while an express train passes overhead, mingled with the noise of a pressed steel factory and wholesale breakage of china.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

Jack wanted to jump in and swim for it as he saw people doing down by the stern, but Milton was reticent as he was not a strong swimmer. Eventually, though, Milton relented.

Milton climbed over the railing, and with his legs dangling down, paused and called back, "You are coming, boy, aren't you?" Jack said he'd be right behind him, and Milton slid down the side of the ship.

Jack never saw him again.

Milton Long's corpse was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett, and listed as follows.

CLOTHING - Black clothes; flannel vest, and black and white vest; white shirt marked "M. C. L."; handkerchief marked "M. C. L." (monogram), and brown boots.
EFFECTS - Gold wrist watch; gold ring with crest; three gold studs; keys; pocket box; £30.00 in gold; 12s. 1 1/2d. in purse; letter of credit.

Jack jumped in feet first almost immediately after Milton disappeared in the water. He guessed in his account that Milton was sucked in by the deck, instead of pushed out by the backwash as he himself had been only moments later.

Jack surfaced a fair distance away from the ship, and was transfixed by the sight.

The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare and stood out of the night as though she were on fire. I watched her. I don’t know why I didn’t keep swimming away. Fascinated, I seemed tied to the spot. Already I was tired out with the cold and struggling, although the life preserver held my head and shoulders above the water.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

Jack Thayer's survival is particularly notable because he was one of the minority who insisted that Titanic had broken in half, and never faltered in his assertions.

Suddenly the whole superstructure of the ship appeared to split, well forward to midship, and blow 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 20 or 30 feet. The suction of it drew me down and down.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

When Jack managed against all odds to resurface, he struck his head on the overturned Collapsible B lifeboat.

Jack was pulled up onto the back of the upside-down "canvas craft," where there were, he guessed, four or five other men already on board.

[Titanic's] deck was turned slightly toward us. We could see groups of the almost 1,500 people still aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly...

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.

We had an oar on our overturned boat. In spite of several men working it, amid our cries and prayers, we were being gradually sucked in toward the great pivoting mass. I looked upwards — we were right underneath the three enormous propellers.

For an instant, I thought they were sure to come right 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...

I don’t remember all the wild talk and calls that were going on on our boat, but there was one concerted sigh or sob as she went from view.

Probably a minute passed with almost dead silence and quiet. Then an individual call for help, from here, from there; gradually swelling into a composite volume of one long continuous wailing chant, from the 1,500 in the water all around us. It sounded like locusts on a midsummer night, in the woods in Pennsylvania.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

Jack wrote that, after the sinking, 28 men ended up on the back of Collapsible B.

Every moment was spent desperately trying to keep the upside-down lifeboat from going completely underwater by maintaining a precarious balance on its back.

For hours, all the men on board held utterly still in the oddest and most painful of positions, to keep from slipping into the lethally cold water.

We were standing, sitting, kneeling, lying, in all conceivable positions, in order to get a small hold on the half-inch overlap of the boat’s planking, which was the only means of keeping ourselves from sliding off... I was kneeling. A man was kneeling on my legs with his hands on my shoulders, and in turn somebody was on him. Once we obtained our original position we could not move.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

The men prayed.

They sang hymns.

And when daylight finally broke, the Carpathia followed slowly. The men moved to stand, shifting their weights to and fro to the counter the swells as the air pocket that kept the lifeboat afloat continued to diminish. Every moment, more water overtook it.

Finally, hearing the cries from Collapsible B, Lifeboats 4 and 12, which were lashed together, crept over to take the surviving men on board.

Jack's mother was on Lifeboat 4.

He did not notice her. She did not notice him.

The recovery of Collapsible B by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett.


When Jack reunited with his mother on Carpathia, she was reported to have embraced him and asked, "Where's daddy?"

Jack told her that he did not know.

John B. Thayer, Sr., did not survive, and his corpse was not recovered. For the remainder of his life, Jack was dogged by shame and remorse about his father. "I only wish I had kept on looking for my father. I should have realized that he would not have taken a boat, leaving me behind."

Jack was loaned pajamas and a bunk, and before crumpling into bed, he took a desperate shot of brandy, only then realizing it was his first encounter with hard liquor.

Once rested and in possession of his full faculties, Jack spoke with Carpathia passenger L.D. Skidmore, who, while listening to Jack's story, sketched his recollections of Titanic's break.

Jack Thayer's account of Titanic breaking, sketched by Carpathia passenger L.D. Skidmore as Jack spoke to him.


Jack kept a stiff upper lip and by all accounts, persevered to honor Titanic. When Colonel Archibald Gracie--a man whom Jack had shared space with on Collapsible B--passed away in December of 1912, Jack and his mother attended the funeral services.

And when Jack received a letter from the bereaved father of Milton Long, the friend that he had made while on board Titanic, Jack wrote the following reply.

My dear Sir:

I received your letter this morning. Mother and I were very touched by it. Words cannot express how much we sympathise with you and Mrs. Long.

...Your son was perfectly calm all the time and kept his nerve, even to the very end. I wish I had more to tell you, but I hope this will be of some comfort to you. I am sending you my picture, thinking you might like to see who was with him at the end. I would treasure it very much if you could spare me one of his.

With our heartfelt sympathy, believe me,

Sincerely yours, John B. Thayer, Jr.

Jack went on to graduate from UPenn and pursue a banking career, get married, and have six children: three daughters and three sons, although one boy did not survive infancy. Both of Jack's surviving sons, Edward and John, served in the Second World War.

Edward Thayer had signed on as a bomber pilot, and was lost in the conflict when his plane was shot down in the Pacific theater in 1943. His remains were never recovered.

And the following year, on April 14--the anniversary of Titanic's collision with the iceberg--Jack's mother died. Doubly and profoundly bereaved, Jack's depression deepened.

He went missing in September of 1945, when he was 50 years old. He hadn't been seen for days. When he was finally found, he was dead in his car, parked alongside a trolley loop in Philadelphia.

He had slit his wrists, as well as his own throat.

When Jack's belongings were posthumously sorted, a small booklet was discovered; produced in 1940, it was one of 500 copies made for family and friends.


Cornwall, Thomas [compiled & edited by.] "Titanic: The John B. "Jack" Thayer Jr. Chronicles." 2019.

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“Not Damn Likely!”: Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller

"Not Damn Likely!": Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller

If there's only one way to describe Charles Lightoller, it's this: the man was a goddamned survivor.

Charles Lightoller, circa 1920s.


Charles Herbert Lightoller was born to a family of cotton millers in England; his mother died shortly after birth, and his father abandoned him to live in New Zealand. So at all of thirteen years old, Charles looked to a life at sea, because he wanted to avoid being fated to factory labor.

But after surviving a shipwreck on a desert island, a cyclone, a fire at sea, and malaria, Charles said goodbye to the sea, and tried his luck in the Yukon for the gold rush.

This plan didn't come to fruition. So he then became a cowboy.

That didn't work either, so he became a hobo, riding the train rails back across Canada.

Then he bartered passage across the Atlantic as a cattle wrangler on a cattle boat. When he got back to England in 1899, Charles Lightoller was destitute.

Then, at last, in January of 1900, he began working for the White Star Line.

A glimpse of what Lightoller's pre-Titanic career may have looked like: miners waiting to register their claims in the Klondike Gold Rush. Courtesy of the Canadian National Archives.


Lightoller signed onto Titanic two weeks before departure as First Officer, and acted in that capacity during sea trials. Captain Smith, however, renamed his Chief Officer, bumping Officer William McMaster Murdoch to First Officer, and consequently, Lightoller to Second Officer. His on-board nickname quickly became "Lights."

On the night of April 14, 1912, Lightoller was stationed at the helm for the 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. watch. He retired to bed after First Officer Murdoch reported to replace him, and he advised that the lookouts had been instructed to keep a weather eye for ice.

At 11:40, Lightoller felt a grinding motion in the ship, and ran to the boat deck in his pajamas, where he was met by Third Officer Herbert Pitman, also disturbed from sleep. But there seemed to be no alarm on the bridge, so they returned to their cabins.

But not ten minutes later, Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall ran into Lightoller's room saying there was "water up to F Deck in the Mail Room." Lightoller threw clothes over his pajamas and reported to the bridge.

Lightoller (smoking) with Third Officer Pitman outside the Senate Inquiry.


Lightoller, a veteran of shipwrecks, took the situation seriously, but he later admitted that at the time, he did not believe the ship would founder. He took to loading the even-numbered lifeboats on the port side; Murdoch took the odd-numbered boats, starboard.

Lightoller took the "Women and Children First" decree literally, and rarely let any men aboard lifeboats--the sole exception was Major Arthur Peuchen into Lifeboat 6 because he was a yachtsman. He even tried to eject a thirteen-year-old boy from Lifeboat 4, but was persuaded by the boy's father.

Lightoller worked so fervently that despite the freezing air, he was sweating through his clothes. As the water reached C Deck, Lightoller briefly joined Dr. John Simpson, Chief Purser Hugh McElroy, and others, where Dr. Simpson teased in greeting, "Hello, Lights. Are you warm?"

In the chaos, Chief Officer Wilde found Lightoller and demanded to know where the firearms were kept. Lightoller led them to the locker in the First Officer's quarters, where Wilde slapped a gun into Lightoller's hand, insisting he might need it. Later, a group of men swarmed Lifeboat 2; Lightoller jumped in, brandished his gun, and threatened them all to get out.

With the help of Captain Smith and First-Class passenger Archibald Gracie, Lifeboat 2 was launched just before 2:00 a.m., 20 minutes before submersion; it took a mere fifteen feet for the lifeboat to hit the water.

It should have taken seventy feet.

Chief Officer Henry Wilde, who Lightoller openly defied multiple times during the sinking.


While launching Collapsible Lifeboat D, Chief Officer Wilde ordered Lightoller to accompany it. Defying his senior officer, Lightoller yelled over the melee.

I stood partly in the boat, owing to the difficulty of getting the womenfolk over a high bulwark rail just here. As we were ready for lowering the Chief came over to my side of the deck and, seeing me in the boat and no seaman available said, “You go with her, Lightoller.”

Praises be, I had just sufficient sense to say, “Not damn likely,” and jump back on board; not with any idea of self-imposed martyrdom—far from it—it was just pure impulse of the moment, and an impulse for which I was to thank my lucky stars a thousand times over, in the days to come. I had taken my chance and gone down with the rest, consequently I didn’t have to take any old back-chat from anyone.

As Lightoller was trying to free Collapsible B, Titanic plunged forward; water washed the boat deck and the lifeboat floated away upside down.

Charles Lightoller stayed on board until there was no board. This moment later served as a dramatic highlight during the American Senate Inquiry.

SENATOR SMITH: What time did you leave the ship?

LIGHTOLLER: I didn't leave it.

SENATOR SMITH: Did the ship leave you?


The falling first funnel almost crushed him. Then Lightoller was sucked down with the ship and pinned against a grate, but by some miracle, when there was an explosion within the ship, the force of it shot him back to the surface.

And there he found, and clung to, the overturned lifeboat Collapsible B.

Recovery of Collapsible B by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett.


About thirty men, many crew, found their way onto the hull of Collapsible B. The boat was already partially submerged, so Lightoller immediately took charge.

At Lightoller's direction, the men each balanced on its back, staggered and moving this way and that, to keep it functionally above water as the air bubble beneath it diminished. Harold Bride, the junior Marconi operator, even suffered frostbite to one foot for it, and his other foot was crushed in the lifeboat's mechanisms.

Junior Marconi operator Harold Bride being carried off Carpathia due to injuries to his feet sustained on Collapsible B. Courtesy of Library of Congress.


Throughout the night, Lightoller called out the names of potential rescue ships to try to bolster the other survivors.

Still, one by one, men died.

The men on Collapsible B united in rounds of prayer. Around dawn, after Lightoller relentlessly blowing on his whistle for other lifeboats to come about, Lifeboats 4 and 12 approached, and the remaining survivors of Collapsible B were transferred to safety.

There is still debate about who may have lived and died on Collapsible B.

Second Officer Charles Lightoller was the very last Titanic survivor to board Carpathia, only after having ensured that all surviving passengers and crew were secure on deck.

Tthe surviving officers of the sinking of the Titanic (Lightoller center, standing.)


Charles Lightoller was the highest ranking officer to survive Titanic's sinking, and testimony at the subsequent inquiries was vital, especially as he was not only testifying, but also defending himself, his employer, and his departed crewmates.

Lightoller went on to serve in the First World War, during which he was awarded with both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Reserve Decoration, and was promoted to Commander.

He saw combat again in World War II, when he crossed the English Channel to aid the Dunkirk evacuation, rescuing over 120 soldiers in his yacht, called "Sundowner." On the way back, Commander Lightoller encountered enemy aircraft and was attacked with gunfire, which he miraculously evaded thanks to a technique he had learned from his youngest son, who was R.A.F. and had been killed in action in 1939.

Still, Lightoller--like most surviving crewmembers--found that Titanic was still a black mark on his record, and encountered financial difficulties. Lightoller went on to try his hand at property speculation, boatyard management, inn-keeping, and chicken farming.

In 1934, he released his autobiography at the insistence of his wife.

Charles Lightoller died at 78 years old.

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