Abby here. Boy am I tired from all of the research I've been doing about RMS Titanic for the centennial observation of her sinking. It certainly is a sad story and it's unfortunate that so many misconceptions and falsehoods have persisted through the century since the ship went down. Movies often tend to take poetic license with the facts in order to enhance the story for film audiences. Tabloid newspapers and gossip columns make for profitable readership. Time should provide us with a chance to reflect on known facts and not the sensationalized chronicles of the time. In the case of J. Bruce Ismay, he is often depicted as "escaping" from the sinking ship disguised as a woman when that is not a documented fact. There are undoubtedly a great many similar follies that have arisen from hearsay to become perceived as facts.
ALLEGATIONS OF COWARDICE
ALLEGATIONS OF COWARDICE
J Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, was a passenger on the Titanic. At the age of 39 he was also president of the International Mercantile Marine Company, a giant combine and owner-operator of several transatlantic business, at the head of which was White Star. The myths surrounding Ismay are many but almost all center on allegations of his cowardice in escaping the sinking ship whilst fellow passengers, notably women and children, were left to fend for themselves. The claims made at the time and repeated today were that he 'saved his own skin' whilst others died.
Ismay's fault was that he survived...
In reality Ismay helped with loading and lowering several lifeboats and acquitted himself better than many of the crew and passengers. He only entered a lifeboat when it was actually being lowered and no other passengers were in the vicinity. Some witnesses stated he was ordered into the lifeboat but, whatever happened, Lord Mersey said at the British inquiry into the loss of Titanic, 'Had he not jumped in he would simply have added one more life, namely his own, to the number of those lost'.
Ismay's fault was that he survived and as a consequence laid himself open to the high and somewhat dubious moral code of the US press. Almost universally condemned in America, when he finally arrived home he was cheered and applauded as he descended the gangway at Liverpool. The British press had treated the whole episode in a far less judgmental way.
In a second, more serious allegation, it was claimed he ordered Captain Edward J Smith, Titanic's commander, to 'make a record crossing' thus indirectly causing the collision with the iceberg. It is unlikely that an experienced shipmaster like Smith, on his last voyage before retirement and the highest paid commander in the mercantile marine, would defer to Ismay on matters of navigation. No firm evidence has ever come to light to suggest that Ismay in any way interfered with the navigation of Titanic and, other than talking with the various heads of departments on the ship, conducted himself like many other passengers. Yet the opposite image of him exists today.
All of the negative stereotypes can be tracked back to the American press...
But where did all these stories come from? All of the negative stereotypes can be tracked back to the American press and in particular to those newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful and influential men in America. Hearst and Ismay had met years before in New York when Ismay was an agent for his company. The shy and private Ismay disliked press attention and the two men fell out as a consequence of his refusal to cooperate.
Hearst never forgot, and in April 1912 his syndicated press prosecuted a vicious campaign against Ismay, who was defenseless in the eye of the hurricane. Stories were invented and witnesses, wishing to strengthen exorbitant insurance claims for lost baggage against the company, declared he had in fact ordered Smith to make a record crossing.