Who was the boy with an injured arm put into Lifeboat No.6 by the Captain?
I set out to nail down his identity, only to discover:
a) everyone already knew who he was
b) everybody was wrong
c) the surprising reason everybody was wrong, and
d) the Canadian connection to the prime suspect.
It all started with a brief account in Titanic survivor Archibald Gracie's 1913 book 'The Truth About the Titanic'. He had spoken with fellow survivor Helen Churchill Candee about her experiences on the sinking ship (She left in Lifeboat No. 6). He wrote:
"Just before her boat was lowered away a man's voice said: "Captain, we have no seaman." Captain Smith then seized a boy by the arm and said: "Here's one." The boy went into the boat as ordered by the captain, but afterwards he was found to be disabled..."
Gracie wrote that the boy tried to help row the lifeboat, but "(when) he tried to do so, it was futile, because of an injury to his arm or wrist."
The story appeared to be corroborated by Titanic quartermaster Robert Hichens and lookout Frederick Fleet who were the only two crewmen in the lifeboat and who testified before the American Inquiry that a stowaway who popped up in the boat proved useless in helping row because of an injured arm or wrist. He was, they said, "an Italian."
Even Major Arthur Peuchen, who climbed down a rope to help row the boat, remembered the stowaway and his injured arm.
To top it off, a survivor named Philip Zanni, described by a newspaper (*) as "an exceptionally well-spoken Assyrian", told a reporter he managed to sneak into a lifeboat where he "was placed at one of the oars." He provided a clue (a woman in the boat with a dog) which confirmed he was saved in No. 6.
* Niles Daily News (Ohio), 25 April 1912, Survivor from Titanic Arrives in Niles
Well, that seemed to be that. Mystery solved, right?
But something about the incident kept nagging me. After a few days, I went back to the evidence to determine what it was. It didn't take long.
Zanni said he snuck into the boat. He never mentioned the Captain. Candee said the boy was placed in the boat by the Captain. Being ordered into a lifeboat by the Captain to help row would have made him a more heroic figure, and yet all his life Zanni never said that it happened that way.
Hichens and Fleet said the stowaway was an "Italian". Zanni was middle-eastern, which would make him "Italian" in the eyes of the British crewmen. But Candee told Gracie that she didn't think the boy she saw was "Italian."
Peuchen said the stowaway climbed out from under the womens' skirts a half hour after the lifeboat was afloat on the ocean. Candee said she saw the boy put into the boat "just before the boat was lowered."
I couldn't deny the obvious. They were talking about different people!
But if the boy with the injured arm wasn't the stowaway with an injured arm, who was he?
Major Peuchen provided the determining clue. He told the American Inquiry that the occupants of No. 6 were counted after he got in the boat and apart from him "there were exactly 20 women, 1 quartermaster, 1 sailor and 1 stowaway..."
If all the men and boys in the boat were thereby accounted for, that could only mean that the person put into the boat by the Captain WAS A GIRL!
In fact, it made more sense.
While Mrs. Candee said she heard a man, presumably Hichens, request a seaman, it doesn't make sense that the Captain would pick a boy at random off the deck without a clue as to whether he could row or not.
But, if he was responding to the call "Any more women?", which survivors said was repeated endlessly at every lifeboat, then "Here's one" would be an appropriate answer.
But which girl?
A Google search for anyone with an injured arm in Lifeboat No. 6 serendipitously turned up an interview with one woman in which she said the shock of the collision pushed her into the wall of her cabin, injuring her shoulder. She had an injured arm, I squeaked!
April 19, 1912 Page 3
Some Male Cowards
Who Had to Be Tossed Out of Boats
Meant for Women
New York, April 19---Mrs. Fannie Douglass, of Montreal, said that when it was realized the collision was serious on the Titanic that there was a scramble for the lifeboats. Mrs. Douglass said: "I am only hoping that my reason will hold out. What I have gone through is enough to undermine one's reason. I was in bed at the time, but so powerful was the shock that I was thrown across my stateroom and my arm was injured..."
This contemporary news photo (below) shows Mrs. F.C. Douglas (proper spelling), of Montreal, a young woman with a short, boyish haircut being escorted away from the rescue ship Carpathia.
Though 27, you can see how she could be mistaken for a younger boy at a quick glance. Blow the picture up. Compare with Amelia Earhart's looks.
Suzette Douglas told a reporter for the Montreal Standard that she had spoken with the Captain briefly before she got into the lifeboat.
She "claimed Captain Smith was nearby as they got into the boat, and that he asked her whether her mother was comfortable," wrote author Alan Hustak in "Titanic, The Canadian Story" (Vehicule Press, 1998).
By coincidence, Helen Candee actually sat beside Mrs. Douglas's distraught mother in boat No.6.
And, by even greater coincidence, Senator Alden Smith at the American Inquiry asked both Hichens and Fleet about a "Mrs. Douglas."
You are quite sure that a lady in that boat, a woman, did not have the tiller?
I am sure of it; positive.
Senator SMITH. A Mrs. Douglas?
Nobody. Just the quartermaster who was there all of the time.
Do you recollect whether Mrs. Douglass, of Minneapolis, was in that boat?
I do not know her at all, sir.
Have you had any talk with her about it?
Never have spoken to her or seen her, to my knowledge.
Mrs. Mahala Douglas, of Minneapolis, left the Titanic in lifeboat No. 2. Mrs. F.C. (Frederick Charles) Douglas, of Montreal, left in No. 6. Did Senator Smith ask about the wrong Mrs. Douglas? And why was he asking at all?
Those questions will probably never be answered after all the time that has passed.
And unless a new, more detailed interview with Suzette turns up, we will never know if she was a victim of legendary mistaken identity. Still, Mrs. Candee appears to have heard one thing, saw another, and learned of something different. She then added two and two --- and got five.