The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Caroline Mendes on Wed May 30, 2012 2:58 pm

He was one of the White Star Line president gave a great example cowardice leaving his ship one of the boats.Traveler first class.When he noticed that an number of boats were insuficient for all on board found in place in the Ismay detachable c was lowered to 32 people.
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Jim Keller on Wed May 30, 2012 6:09 pm

I find it hard to brand anyone a "coward" for taking a place in a lifeboat that's in the process of being lowered at less than full capacity. It's human nature to take any opportunity that presents itself to stay alive.

That said, I would accept an argument that Ismay was guilty of negligent homicide for creating a situation in which passengers were being turned away from lifeboats due to insufficient space. In that respect the noble thing to have done would have been to have gone down with the ship. But declining to commit suicide is not the same thing as cowardice to my mind.
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Tom McCluskie on Thu May 31, 2012 10:55 am

A coward dies a thousand times a brave man only once. Ismay made his choice :!:
It was like that when I got here
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Dennis Faenza on Thu May 31, 2012 7:26 pm

I believe that J. Bruce Ismay was in a no-win situation. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. I will bet that the same people who condemned him for saving his life would have done the same if he "commited suicide" by staying. They would have argued that other men were saved, why not he ? After all, he had the knowledge that the TITANIC was doomed and did not have enough lifeboats-information that 99% of those on board did not have. Also, they would have said that he "commited suicide" as to not have to face the Inquiry that was to be sure to have taken place.
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Timothy Trower on Thu May 31, 2012 10:39 pm

Ismay certainly had to be aware that the water was not just creeping up the decks of the ship at this point, but actually and visibly climbing towards the Boat Deck. Ismay was by no means the only man to make the decision to climb into a lifeboat (and the evidence does strongly suggest that Ismay was ordered into the boat by Wilde); it was not as if Edith Evans were shoved out of the way to ensure that William Carter and Bruce Ismay kept their feet dry.

The sheer fear of dying had to factor in at the point where Ismay actually got into a lifeboat. We can Monday morning quarterback all day long and never replicate the desire for life that was increasingly felt by those still on the ship. And if he were indeed wavering, then the actions of the chief officer would have tipped the balance.

He truly was damned if he did, and certainly damned if he didn't.
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Tom McCluskie on Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:49 am

Lets be perfectly honest here, how many of us faced with exactly the same set of circumstances would not have acted the same way ? I'm not saying Ismay was a coward but simply that he made a choice and had to live with the consequences of that choice for the rest of his life. :|
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Jeremy Aufderheide on Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:12 pm

He was offered a seat in the boat by Wilde provided that he row. That offer was made to Ismay and another first class passenger, WH Carter. In essence, Wilde granted him survival. So, let's not rush to judgement too quickly.

Further, he was praised by both Carter and other occupants of the boat for rowing and being genuinely concerned about the other occupants' well-being.

By these accounts, he didn't jump into the boat as he's portrayed in movies.

Form your own opinions based on the information that you have, but the above is the information that I have. And it points to someone who didn't sneak off with his tail between his legs. It points to someone saying, "You wanna go?" and Ismay replying, "Sure, I'll go".

I don't see how him getting into a boat brands him as a coward. He had a choice to make. He stands back and dies (yet another death) or he lives to of the few that had the level of information that he had.
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay?

Postby Karen Kamuda on Sat Jun 02, 2012 7:47 pm

Every few years we have to repeat information that has been readily available about Joseph Bruce Ismay in the Commutator and elsewhere. However myths persist. William Randolph Hearst's libel lives on. What follows is excerpted from The White Star Line; An Illustrated History by Paul Louden-Brown and is on our website in the Articles section; ... /ismay.asp
titled Ismay and the Titanic


"Very little first-hand evidence survives of Ismay's involvement or otherwise with the day-to-day running of a ship at sea. Several references to his attitude towards officers that did not obey the company's rules are detailed in Oldham's "The Ismay Line," but these are letters sent by Ismay and the only surviving evidence of his behaviour towards officers comes from Captain William Marshall. Marshall, later to become commodore of the White Star Line, wrote several hundred letters to his wife during his time with the company. Hardly the romantic type, Marshall kept his letters very businesslike and, today provide us with a fascinating insight into how the company was run through the eyes of a serving officer at sea. He sailed with Ismay on a number of occasions and in one particular letter referred to him as "the Big White Chief." Like all servicemen Marshall complained about the strict discipline the company, and particularly Ismay, demanded from employees, but there is never any mention of interference with the navigation of his, or anyone else's, ship.

The newspapers, particularly in the United States, expected Ismay to sacrifice his own life in the sinking. The story of a cowardly shipowner jumping into the first available lifeboat to save his own skin while passengers lost their lives is, from a journalistic viewpoint, an irresistible story to relate to the gullible reader, but like so much of Titanic history is just another myth. True, Ismay did escape in a lifeboat, but only after he had helped with the loading and lowering of several others and only when he was sure that no women were in the vicinity of the starboard Englehardt collapsible did he get in; acquitting himself far better than many other passengers and crew members.

On 23 April 1912 the London Times published Ismay's personal statement cabled from New York: ...Captain Smith gave the order to clear the boats. I helped in this work for nearly two hours as far as I can judge. I worked at the starboard boats, helping women and children into the boats and lowering them over the side. I did nothing with regard to the boats on the port side. By that time every wooden lifeboat on the starboard side had been lowered away, and I found that they were engaged in getting out the forward collapsible boat on the starboard side. I assisted in this work, and all the women that were on this deck were helped into the boat. They were all, I think third-class passengers.

As the boat was going over the side Mr. Carter, a passenger, and myself got in. At that time there was not a woman on the boat deck, nor any passenger of any class, so far as we could see or hear. The boat had between 35 and 40 in it; I should think most of them women. There were perhaps, four or five men, and it was afterwards discovered that there were four Chinamen concealed under the thwarts in the bottom of the boat. The distance that the boat had to lower was, I should estimate, about 20 ft. Mr. Carter and I did not get into the boat until after they had begun to lower it away.

When the boat reached the water I helped to row it, pushing the oar from me as I sat. This is the explanation of the fact that my back was to the sinking steamer. The boat would have accommodated certainly six or more passengers in addition, if there had been any on the boat deck to go.

These facts can be substantiated by Mr. W. E. Carter, of Philadelphia, who got in at the time that I did, and was rowing the boat with me. I hope I need say that neither Mr. Carter nor myself would, for one moment, have thought of getting into the boat if there had been any women there to go in it. Nor should I have done so if I had thought that by remaining on the ship I could have been of the slightest further assistance. It is impossible for me to answer every false statement, rumour, or invention that has appeared in the newspapers.

The Times published the following corroborating Ismay's statement: MR. CARTER'S STATEMENT (From our own correspondent.) Washington, April 22.

Mr. William E. Carter, a well-known Philadelphian, gives the following story of his departure and that of Mr. Ismay from the Titanic. After seeing his wife and children into the boats on the port side of the vessel he went to the starboard side and there found Mr. Ismay with several officers filling boats with women. As the last boat was being filled they looked around for more women. The women in the boat were mostly steerage passengers.

Mr. Ismay and myself and several officers walked up and down the deck crying "Are there any more women here?" We called for several minutes and got no answer. One of the officers then said that if we wanted to, we could get into the boat if we took the place of seamen. He gave us preference because we were among the first-class passengers. Mr. Ismay called again, and after we had no reply we got into the lifeboat. We took oars and rowed with two seamen.

These statements were further corroborated by Augustus H. Weikman, the Titanic's chief ship's barber, who provided the following affidavit to the United States Senate Committee on Commerce inquiry chaired by Senator William Alden Smith:

I helped to launch the boats, and there seemed to be a shortage of women. When I was on E deck I met the Captain returning from G deck, who had been there with Mr. Andrews, and the Captain was on the bridge at that time. I did not think there was any danger. What happened after the orders were given? Instructions were given to get the passengers into lifebelts and get on deck from all the staterooms. Did you see Mr. Ismay? Yes. I saw Mr. Ismay helping to load the boats. Did you see him get into a boat? Yes; he got in along with Mr. Carter, because there were no women in the vicinity of that boat. This boat was the last to leave, to the best of my knowledge. He was ordered into the boat by the officer in charge, I think Mr. Ismay was justified in leaving in that boat at that time.

In the British Inquiry report Lord Mersey defended Ismay writing: As to the attack on Mr. Bruce Ismay, it resolved itself into the suggestion that, occupying the position of Managing Director of the Steamship Company, some moral duty was imposed upon him to wait on board until the vessel had foundered. I do not agree. Mr. Ismay, after rendering assistance to many passengers, found "C" collapsible, the last boat on the starboard side, actually being lowered. No other people were there at the time. There was room for him and he jumped in. Had he not jumped in he would simply have added one more life, namely his own, to the number of those lost.

In June 1913, Ismay retired from the presidency of the IMMC. He had made the announcement of his impending retirement in January 1912 as he wanted to allow his old friend Harold Sanderson, the opportunity of holding the most senior position within the company before he too, retired.

The following statement was published in the Tenth Annual Report of the IMMC:
New York, June 2, 1913

It is with very great regret that the Board of Directors, in accordance with Mr. Ismay's wish expressed in January, 1912, accepted on January 2, 1913, the resignation of Mr. J. Bruce Ismay as President of the Company, effective June 30th, instant.

The Board takes this opportunity to express its high appreciation of the value of the services rendered the Company by Mr. Ismay since its inception, and to acknowledge with gratitude his unvarying devotion to its best interests.

By order of the Board,
Emerson E. Parvin,

Privately, Ismay's request, following the loss of the Titanic, to remain as a director of the White Star Line was rejected by the board of IMMC, due no doubt to the treatment meted out to their former president in the press. He did remain a director of the IMMC and a member of its British Committee, but without the prospect of re election to the board of OSNC, he resigned from these positions in June 1916, severing, after 47 years, the Ismay family connection with the White Star Line.

Another part of the Titanic myth concerns Ismay's life, post-Titanic, which has always been shrouded in mystery, most writers stating that he left public life in disgrace and lived the rest of his life as a recluse on his estate in Ireland. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ismay was certainly a private person, yet from the date of his early retirement from IMMC, virtually to the day he died, he was involved with the chairman and directorships of several important companies in Liverpool and London. Surprisingly one of these companies dealt with the huge number of insurance claims resulting from the disaster, Ismay reliving the disaster at virtually every meeting of the directors. The Liverpool & London Steamship Protection & Indemnity Association Limited had been set up in 1881 by his late father and some of his business friends as a private insurance company or "club" for shipowners; one of the Liverpool & London's largest and most important customers was White Star. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were paid out in insurance claims to the relatives of the Titanic's victims; the misery created by the disaster and its aftermath dealt with by Ismay and his directors with great fortitude, this, despite the fact that he could easily have shirked his responsibilities and resigned from the board. He stuck with the difficult task and during his twenty-five year chairmanship hardly a page of the company's minutes does not contain some mention of the Titanic disaster. J. Bruce Ismay's coat of arms carried the motto "Be Mindful," which in light of the Titanic appears horribly ironic, but one he attempted to live up to throughout the rest of his life."
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Arlene Blundell on Thu Dec 18, 2014 11:07 am

Just finished reading Frances Wilson's "How to Survive the Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay".

One of the amazing things about this book is in the illustration on the very first page of the book. It features a reproduction of a White Star passenger list, said to be in 'possession of Jack Thayer'. This list is blurred, but clearly shows not one person listed as J. Bruce Ismay.

This puts Ismay firmly in the catagory of ships crew. Ismay can be said to have been a 'supernumery' to the Harland and Wolff "Guarantee Group". As the chairman of IMM, Ismay is further senior to EVERY member of the crew, except for the Captain, who has the power to override 'suggestions' made by his superior. Further, Bruce did not pay for a ticket, and it's logical to assume that he never did, either. At one point, in the service of White Star, Ismay had clocked more Atlantic crossings than any other human being alive at the time.

The subject of Ismay's 'cowardice' is so much press hoopla. Any sane man, possessed with the knowledge that the ship would most certainly founder, would have jumped into the first lifeboat that presented itself. Ismay did his bit for the company, and then left. Lots of other First Class male passengers did nothing to save anybody but themselves.

As for his culpability, he did not drive "Titanic" to destruction, sitting in his stateroom.

Also, his allocation of only the few lifeboats was nothing illegal, or immoral by the standards of the day. One may well ask just how many liners were in service in 1912 with sufficient lifeboat capacity for ALL aboard? That would be a short list!

Post "Titanic", Ismay retired exactly when he said he would. He could be said to have suffered a clear cut case of 'survivors guilt', with PTSD rearing its head as well.

Despite her extensive research, and lively narrative comparing Conrad's "Lord Jim" to Isamy's story, I feel Miss Wilson has let her love of gossip determine her final opinion. Wilson makes salient points about Bruce's upbringing, even torpedoing the old myth that Ismay Senior was a hated element in Bruce's life. Rather, she picture's Ismay as distant from everyone around him, including his wife. Once his favourite child was married off, he could not come to terms with that either.

I don't think any of us would liked to have been in his shoes. Caught between a very large rock and a diamond hard place, it's difficult to picture any of us not doing the same thing. Life always choses life. Ismay was well known as a "clear thinker", and only someone thinking absolutely irrationally would have chosen to die. :|
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Re: The cowardice of Bruce Ismay

Postby Arlene Blundell on Thu Dec 18, 2014 12:56 pm

There is an old military axiom that people with hindsight, looking at the decisions of commanders after the fact, have no right to be critical of what was decided on the spot and in the heat of the moment.

This applies to J Bruce Ismay.

It is only with hindsight that we can call his decision to equip "Titanic" with only as many lifeboats (as allowed by the Board of Trade) a criminal act.

It is only with hindsight that we can look back and call him a coward. Prominent survivors like Marian Thayer did not see him as a coward. People who were THERE understood perfectly the motivations of any man to save their lives.

People looking back on Ismay should examine their own feelings. Would they have done any different? Would they, (honestly), have stepped aside and let the lifeboat drop? I think not.

Ismay was a natural target of a very unsavoury and corrupt Hearst Press, of the Senate Inquiry and the publicity seeking Senator Smith, and of the public in general on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is to his credit that he maintained his decorum, continued working and got on with his life.
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