One of the lingering controversies surrounding the tragic sinking of the Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912 concerns the presence of J. Bruce Ismay, president and CEO of the White Star Line (which owned and operated the Titanic), on this voyage. . Although Ismay was nominally only a passenger on the Titanic with no direct control over the ship’s operations, rumors persist that as the “owner” of the ship, Ismay interfered with the commanding authority of the captain. Edward J. Smith in a way that made the ultimate fatality. collision with an iceberg more likely (if not inevitable).
Specifically, it has often been claimed that Ismay pressured Captain Smith to drive the Titanic at a higher speed than necessary – or safely – in order to generate favorable media coverage for White Star. This belief was incorporated into director James Cameron’s hit film in 1997 Titanic, via a brief scene in which Ismay, seated at a dining table with Smith, observes to the captain that the ship is not yet spinning at full speed (because not all of its boilers have been fired yet) and implores Smith that the ” this Titanic’s maiden voyage must make headlines ”:
In 2021, TikTok user “Titanic Guy” @raf_avila took up this scene as an example of the film’s attention to the finest historical detail, noting that the dialogue between Ismay and Smith was taken from an actual conversation overheard. by Elizabeth Lindsey. Lines, a passenger (and survivor) of the Titanic, who can be spotted in the background of the scene:
You can watch 1000 times and always find something new 👀 #jamescameron #titanicmovie #jackdawson #titanicguy
Sneaky Sneaky – Kevin MacLeod
Elizabeth Lindsey Lines was indeed a passenger on the Titanic who (along with her daughter) boarded the No.9 lifeboat as the ship sank and was taken aboard the RMS Carpathia when it arrived at the scene several hours later. And she did give a statement at a liability hearing in November 1913 in which she recounted hearing a conversation between J. Bruce Ismay and Captain Smith on the afternoon of April 13, 1912 (the day before the encounter of the Titanic with the iceberg).
However, Lines’ recollection of that conversation was greatly embellished and dramatized for the 1997 film. She testified that she heard Ismay refer to the distances the Titanic traveled each day of her trip and compare them to those of the Olympic. (the Titanic’s sister ship), but she did not claim to have heard Ismay directly urging Smith to increase speed or demand that the ship “have to make the headlines”:
Q: Are you able to indicate, from your recollection, the words that you heard between Mr. Ismay and Captain Smith on this occasion?
A: At first I didn’t pay attention to what they were saying, they were just talking and I was busy, then my attention was stopped when I heard discussing the day’s race, which I already knew was happening. she had been very good in the before twenty-four hours, and I heard Mr. Ismay – it was Mr. Ismay who spoke – I heard him give the duration of the race, and I heard say “Well we did better today than we did yesterday, we did a better course today than yesterday, we will do a better course tomorrow. Things are working fine, the machines are to the test, the boilers are working fine. ”They continued to discuss it, then I heard him make the statement,“ We’re going to beat the Olympics and get into New York on Tuesday. ”
There were a lot of rehearsals. I heard them discussing other liners, but what I paid attention to the most was when the Titanic passed, and it was just that Mr. Ismay repeated several times “Captain, we did this. and that, we did this and that, everything is working fine. “He seemed to dwell on the fact, and it took quite a while, and then finally I heard this very positive affirmation:” We are going beat the Olympics and we’ll enter New York on Tuesday, ”but he didn’t ask any questions.
They made comparisons in numbers that I cannot repeat, the number of kilometers traveled in several days. Mr. Ismay gave the races performed on certain days by the Olympic on its maiden voyage and compared them to the races performed by the Titanic in the early days.
It was a comparison, and the Titanic was doing just as well, and they seemed to think that a little more pressure could be put on the boilers and the speed increased to make the Titanic’s maiden voyage exceed the maiden voyage of the ‘Olympic in speed.
Is it true, however, that Ismay pressured Captain Smith to steer the Titanic at a faster speed than the latter felt safe? This issue is obscured by the fact that Ismay survived the sinking, but not Smith, so we only have the self-exculpatory words from the first one.
For his part, Ismay argued that “during the trip I was a passenger and did not exercise any greater rights or privileges than any other passenger. I was not consulted by the captain regarding the vessel, its course, speed, navigation or conduct at sea. All these matters were under the exclusive control of the captain.
We can certainly rule out an important rumor, that Ismay wanted the Titanic to win the Blue Riband, an award (metaphorically) or distinction held by the liner that achieved the highest average speed on a crossing to date. of the Atlantic Ocean. Ismay was well aware that the Titanic’s top speed of 23 knots was not able to match that of rival ships of the Cunard line, such as the Lusitania and Mauretania, which exceeded 25 and 26 knots. The White Star Line was aimed at the time to compete with its rivals by offering the most luxurious service, not top speed.
Some evidence suggests that Ismay wanted to see the Titanic beat the average speed that the Olympic achieved on its own maiden voyage, or arrive in New York a day ahead of schedule (that is, Tuesday April 16 instead. than Wednesday April 17). However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this evidence (Lines did not testify until more than a year and a half after the sinking, so it is not known how much her memories may have been influenced by what she had. heard or read during the intervening period), or state definitively that Ismay took actions which contributed to the sinking of the vessel.
For his part, Ismay said during the US and UK inquiries into the disaster that he did not consult Captain Smith about the Titanic’s speed or heading during the voyage, nor did he no longer tried to “splash” the ship when arriving in port a day earlier:
A: I understand it was said that the ship was going at full speed. The ship had never been at full speed. The maximum speed of the ship is 78 rpm. She works up to 80. As far as I know, she never went over 75 laps. She didn’t have all of her boilers on. None of the asymmetric boilers were on.
Q: Did you have the opportunity to consult with the captain about the movement of the ship?
Q: Did he consult you on this?
One never. Maybe I am wrong in saying this. I would like to say this: I don’t know if it was right to consult him on this, to consult me on this matter, but what we planned to do is that we would not try to arrive in New York at the flagship by 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
Q: Was it assumed that you could reach New York at that time without bringing the ship to full operating capacity?
A: Oh, yes, sir. There was nothing to be gained from arriving in New York earlier than that.
Question: [The ship’s revolutions] increased as the distance [traveled] has been increased?
A: Since the Titanic is a new ship, we have gradually improved it. When you take out a new ship, you naturally don’t start it at full speed until everything is running smoothly and satisfactorily underneath.