In what order did Titanic's lifeboats reach the rescue ship Carpathia? And at what times?
Those question have bedeviled Titanic researchers since the wreckage of the mighty ship was discovered on the ocean floor thirty years ago.
Not that anything turns on the answers. But it's just the kind of loose end that history buffs like to tie off.
Veteran Titanic researchers have taken a shot at unravelling the lifeboats-at-the-Carpathia conundrum, notably Senan Moloney ("A chronology of rescue", Voyage 75, The Official Journal of the Titanic International Society, Inc., Spring 2011) and George Behe ("The Recovery of Titanic's Lifeboats"; Report Into The Loss Of The SS Titanic, A Centennial Reappraisal; The History Press, 2011, reprinted 2012).
But it was a close reading of the address delivered by Washington Dodge before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on May 11, 1912, that's provided the key to at least part of the enduring mystery.
That answer in due time. Let's begin at the beginning...
The first of Titanic's lifeboats to reach the Carpathia, by all accounts, was No. 2. Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall was in charge. No. 2 was the only boat with a working lamp and Boxhall fired flares to attract the Carpathia's attention.
The next boat was No. 1. It reached the Carpathia about a half hour after No. 2, according to Boxhall. The length of time separating these first boats led some to believe that No.1 was actually the first to be rescued.
About how long was it after you arrived before the other boats arrived?
The first boat did not arrive until at least half an hour after I arrived there.
"... I thought we were the first boat aboard, but I found that the boat that had the green lights burning was ahead of us. We were the second boat aboard." Charles Stengel, American Inquiry.
Next came three boats in short order--- No. 5, No. 7 and No. 13.
"I was on the second boat picked up." Passenger Anna Warren, Portland Oregonian, April 27, 1912
How long after your boat was reached by the Carpathia was it before No. 7 was reached?
It may have been 20 minutes. I did not assist in unloading No. 7.
Dr. Washington Dodge was in No. 13.
"We reached this Steamer after about ¾ of an hour and found her taking aboard the occupants of 3 boats that had reached her ahead of us - On boarding her I found my wife & son, who were in the second boat to load received -" he wrote aboard the Carpathia in an unpublished account.
Lifeboats Nos. 1, 5, and 7 were the three boats ahead of his. His wife and son got off the sinking Titanic in No. 5, but changed boats in mid-Ocean to No. 7. The game-changing information provided by Dr. Dodge came in his speech to the Commonwealth Club:
"When our boat reached the ship's side we passed in front of her bow, to reach the port side, where we would have the shelter from the wind, and a smoother sea to disembark. An officer of the "Carpathia" called to us to come up on the starboard side. The vessel was then unloading lifeboats on each side Those of us who were rowing endeavored for five minutes to pull back across the bow of the ship, but so ineffective were our efforts, that we were unable against the wind to make any progress. We finally had to disembark on the port side."
"As the "Carpathia" had taken aboard the occupants of four or five lifeboats before ours arrived, I was naturally consumed with anxiety to ascertain whether my wife and child were aboard. After short search I found them in the dining Loon, where the women and children were being tenderly cared for, and being revived by the administration of warm drinks and the application of warm wraps."
The two points that will prove crucial to determining which boats arrived when are the fact that the sheltered side of the Carpathia was the port side, and that the Carpathia "was then unloading lifeboats on each side."
If four boats--- not counting the earliest, No. 2--- were unloading on the port side, which boats were unloading on starboard?
There was certainly No.9.
"Our boat was the first taken up on our side of the ship," said Second Class passenger Sidney Collett (Syracuse Post Standard, April 24, 1912).
"It was 45 minutes before we reached the Carpathia and while they were picking up boats on one side we went around on the other side." ( COLLETT TELLS HIS STORY, The Auburn (New York) Citizen, Tuesday 23rd April 1912)
And Titanic Boat No. 3 is a prime candidate for arriving shortly after No. 9.
First, its one of the Titanic's forward boats starboard, like Boats 1,5 and 7.
While there are no clues in the accounts of survivors in No. 3 that would help to place the lifeboat in order of arrival, and time references are unreliable (they can range as much as an hour-and-a-half apart in some cases) one measure of placement may do the trick. Ordinal position.
Steward William Ward told the U.S. Senate Inquiry he believed his boat, No. 9, was "About the fourth or fifth boat to be picked up."
Mrs. Margaretta Spedden, saved in No. 3, wrote in her diary "We were about the fifth to reach her, and it didn't take long to get us on board."
That estimate by passenger and crewman jibes well with the actual placements of both lifeboats, without their knowing it. Mrs. Spedden's estimate of being in the fifth boat to reach the Carpathia also shows that the lifeboat was one of the earlier ones to arrive, reinforcing its position after No. 9---or possibly simultaneously.
But is there any evidence that No. 3 unloaded on the Carpathia's starboard side? No. Its only the estimate by occupants of both boats (3 and 9) that they were in the fifth lifeboat to arrive that implies they might have been on the same side of the Carpathia.
The next boats came in clusters. There were No. 14 towing Collapsible D on the port side, and Collapsible C just ahead of No. 11.
It appears Boat 14 and D arrived before C and 11.
Thanks to Dr. Dodge, we know 14 and D were unloaded on the port side of the Carpathia.
Passenger Hugh Woolner was in Collapsible D:
"...eventually we came alongside the Carpathia on her way with a crowd of tourists on their way to Gibralter. Getting under the lee side, we made fast..."
(New York Sun, April 19, 1912)
On the starboard side there was some jockeying for position.
"Getting alongside, 5 empty boats were drifting about. We were the sixth to arrive. They threw us ropes to steady our boat. Just then the collapsible raft, in which Mr. Bruce Ismay sat, came along and almost collided with our boat." said Edith Russell, who was in No. 11, in a 1934 account.
It seems C took precedence.
Stewardess Annie Martin, also in No. 11, was quoted in the Guernsey Press (May 2, 1912):
"We saw him taken onboard the Carpathia. We recall him sitting on his haunches on the stern of the boat that was cleared by the Carpathia just before ours. He just sat there like a statue, blue with cold, and neither said a word nor looked at us. He was nearly dead when taken onboard, for he was wearing only nightclothes and an overcoat."
While its tempting to say that the two pairs of boats were rescued on opposite sides of the Carpathia, there's no real evidence to support that position.
An officer on the Carpathia was quoted in the newspapers saying "Mr. Ismay reached the Carpathia in about the tenth life-boat."
If you assume Boats 14 and D preceeded Collapsible C, you actually get Collapsible C as the tenth (2,1,5,7, 13, 9, 3, 14, D, C) to arrive.
Lifeboat No. 11 would then, coincidentally, be the 11th of Titanic's boats to reach the rescue ship.
That would leave seven more boats.
Steward Charles Mackay testified before the British Inquiry:
10858. Can you tell us in what order your boat reached the "Carpathia" the following morning? Were you the first or the last?
- Now you have got me guessing. I should say we were the last but three or four in.
If he was right, that would mean the remaining boats were almost evenly distributed between Carpathia's port and starboard sides.
There's pathetically little evidence to place No. 15 in the list of lifeboats reaching the Carpathia. But being the only starboard boat still unplaced, and the remaining lifeboats all port boats, its more than likely that No. 15 arrived after No. 11, and before the port boats showed up.
The rest of Titanic's boats are easy to locate.
They can be divided into two groups. Nos. 6,8, and 16 in one; Nos. 4, 10, and 12 in the other.
No. 6 and No. 8 were both port boats on the Titanic and were sent off one after the other. At some point No. 6 tied up to No. 16 and took a stoker from No. 16 to help row. So its no surprise that these three boats would arrive closely bunched together.
Boats 4, 10, and 12 were among the five tied together on Fifth Officer Lowe's orders. Having them show up at the Carpathia's side together also makes sense.
The first grouping was unloaded on Carpathia's starboard side.
The Countess of Rothes (Lucy Noël Martha Dyer-Edwards) was in lifeboat No. 8. A letter she wrote in 1955 to Sir Walter Lord, author of A Night To Remember, provides this enlightening snippet:
I looked & thought I saw dim lights & in a little while we were certain - & told the others - but we were a long way from the Carpathia took us another hour to reach her & then we were dashed against her side as we were too exhausted to get round to her lee side - but one of her sailors jumped into our boat with a rope & we were hauled on board at last
Her maid Roberta Maioni offered a bit more detail in her remembrance:
"We soon reached the Carpathia and were taken up her great side one more time in a kind of a cradle- just a piece of board, strong hands and a willing hands at the top.
This was no easy operation, for the lifeboat was being dashed along the Carpathia's side and while waiting to be taken up we were jerked backwards and forwards by the fury of the waves."
First Class passenger Arthur Peuchen was in Lifeboat No.6. An answer of his at the American Inquiry suggests No. 6 arrived before No. 8.
Did you observe in what manner these boats reached the Carpathia? What position was your boat in, for instance, among the first or the last?
I think there were about two or three after us. We were almost the last. We were about the last, with the exception of two or three.
As for No. 16, the evidence, palty as it is, supports the idea that it, too, landed ahead of No. 8.
Remember, although Nos. 6 and 8 were launched one after the other, No. 6 found itself so undermanned that it needed to tie up to No. 16 to take a rower to help. That might put No. 6 and No. 16 closer together at rescue time.
And the only clue provided regarding lifeboat No. 16 comes from steward Charles Andrews at the American Inquiry:
On the way to the Carpathia we saw some of our boats also proceeding. When we arrived there, there were one or two boats set adrift.
Who set them adrift, and why?
That I do not know sir. I think they were damaged boats, sir.
As it happens, Boat 6 was set adrift after its passengers were taken aboard the Carpathia.
As for the remaining lifeboats...
Steward William Burke was in No. 10. He told the American Inquiry:
"At one time we were tied up with three boats together, until I gave the order myself in that boat to cut us adrift that we might go to a collapsible boat that was in distress. When they cut our boat adrift I found an officer in another boat had come to the aid of this collapsible boat, so we remained there for some hours, drifting about. At daybreak, we made fast to another officer's boat, and we arrived alongside of the Carpathia with these two boats tied together."
Fifth Officer Harold Lowe in No. 14 went to the aid of Collapsible D. The other officer that Burke talks about was Second Officer Charles Lightoller who was rescued himself from overturned Collapsible B in Boat 12.
And that leaves No. 4, which, by elimination, arrived at the Carpathia before No. 10.
To sum up, the order that Titanic's lifeboats reached the Carpathia appears to be:'
( July 15, 2016. The placement of Lifeboat 2 has been changed to starboard. Reader "Jay" pointed out that Carpathia Captain Rostron said in his memoir 'Home from the Sea' that he picked up the first of Titanic's boats on his starboard side. This clarifies (for the landlubber) his statement at the Senate hearing:
"Previous to getting the first boat alongside, however, I saw an iceberg close to me, right ahead, and I had to starboard to get out of the way. And I picked him up on the weather side of the ship. I had to clear this ice.")
Port Undetermined Starboard
But, to complicate matters a little more, it's a little known fact that the Carpathia put at least two of her own lifeboats in the water.
Assistant cook John Collins gave this evidence at the American Inquiry:
"Then the Carpathia blew her horn, and we all seen the Carpathia. She stopped in the one place. We were at this time within a mile of her, and she did not make any sign of coming over near to us. She stopped in the one place, and, I think, lowered two or three of her own boats, and her own boats were kept in the water when one of our boats, the sailboat, went up alongside of her."
Robert Vaughan was a 17-year-old "water and mess boy" on the Carpathia. The Ottawa Citizen (Aug. 26, 1959) carried an interview with him about the rescue of Titanic's passengers. He said:
"When the survivors saw us they cheered. There was no sign of the Titanic herself. We started picking up survivors immediately and only launched two of our own boats."
How the presence of an additional two lifeboats around the Carpathia affected the perceptions of survivors can never be known.