Friday, January 25, 2013

'Abandon Ship' said the Captain to the boiler room crew

A strong trail of eyewitnesses and the clock reveals a page of Titanic history that's been waiting to be written for a hundred years.

The story: the fateful order to abandon the last of the major boiler rooms powering the sinking ship was given in person by Capt. Edward Smith himself in a heretofore unknown  visit to the engine rooms.

Seaman Robert Hopkins was helping to lower Lifeboat No. 11. As reported in the New York Times, April 23, 1912, Hopkins bent over to straighten out a tangle in the falls. Capt. Smith stopped, slapped him on the shoulder and said," What's the matter here my lad?"

"Hopkins said that Capt. Smith displayed wonderful self-possession and executive ability to the end," said the Times.

Bertha Mulvihill arrived on the boat deck just as Lifeboat No. 13 was being lowered to the deck below to take on more passengers.  On her way up from steerage, she had seen the Captain.

"Some of the Italian men from way down in the steerage were screaming and fighting to get into the lifeboats. Capt. Smith stood at the head of the passageway. He had a gun in his hand.

"Boys," he said,"you've got to do your duty here. It's the women and children first, and I'll shoot the first man who jumps into a boat."  (Providence Journal, April 20, 1912/ reprinted in The Irish Aboard Titanic, Senan Molony, P. 157)

Edward Dorkings realized he might have to jump from the Titanic into the ocean.  He headed to the steerage quarters to find a lifebelt.

"As I passed the engine room, I saw Captain (Edward) Smith, standing in the doorway, giving orders to the crew," Dorking said. "The perspiration was pouring down his face in streams, but he was calm and collected, and as I recollect him now, he appeared like a marble statue after a rain."  (Bureau County Republican, May 2, 1912)

Lillian Bentham, 17,  left the ship in Lifeboat No. 12.

"Just as our boat was being launched, the Captain called,"Now, every man for himself. She's going down."  (Rochester Union and Advertiser, April 19, 1912, P.1)

Its a perfect cluster of sightings. Capt. Smith stopped at No. 11,  seen in a passageway, seen in the boiler room, and then on the boat deck again giving the order to abandon ship.

But its the timing that's significant.

Smack dab between the launching of Boat No. 11 and Boat No. 12 came the order to abandon Boiler Room 4.  It was at 1:20 a.m. (April 15) according to stokers who managed to enter lifeboat No. 14 and so escape the sinking ship with their lives.

So when Dorking saw Capt. Smith in the engine room, it was likely at the very time when he had given the order to abandon Boiler Room 4.

Its not hard to imagine the conversation that had taken place between the captain and the engineers.  The ship will sink in a very short time.  How many men are necessary to keep the bare minimum power flowing?

 The captain had to decide which engine crew would be given a chance to live and which would be sacrificed, kept at their posts to the last minute.  Only he could make this life-and-death order.  And he did it in this never-before-known personal trip to the boiler rooms.

Titanic's secrets unfold.

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