When his ship hit the iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912, J Bruce Ismay, President of JP Morgan's International Mercantile Marine, the company who owned the Titanic, helped to load the women and children into the lifeboats before jumping into the third-to-last boat to leave on the starboard side.
He subsequently became, as a British headline put it, "The Most Talked-of Man in All the World." "The humblest immigrant in steerage," ran an editorial in John Bull, the newspaper of the working man, "had more moral right to a seat in a lifeboat than you."
There are various other versions of Ismay's departure from the Titanic. Some witnesses believed he quietly slipped into in the first lifeboat to be launched, others say he fought his way through the crowds and gun-fire to squeeze onto the very last boat to leave. Ismay himself insisted that the deck was empty when he left the Titanic, that he saw no sign of the 1,500 people still remaining on the ship.
His survival was regarded as not only cowardly, but criminal. Ismay was revealed to have been the man responsible for limiting the lifeboats on the ship to sixteen (the Titanic was fitted with davits which could hold three times that number)--Why clutter the decks, he is said to have asked at planning meetings, when the ship is herself a lifeboat?
He was known, on the day of the accident, to have been given by Captain E J Smith a Marconigram carrying an ice warning, which Ismay glanced at before absent-mindedly putting in his pocket. It was rumored that he had ordered the Captain to maintain the ship's speed as they entered the ice region, and following his rescue, Ismay admitted that he had not inquired into the number of people who had died nor into the state and condition of those who had survived.
Messages he then sent to his New York office from the rescue ship, the Carpathia, suggested that Ismay was trying to avoid giving evidence at the American Inquiry. "Mr. Ismay cares for nobody," concluded the New York American. "He cares only for his own body, his own stomach, for his own pride and profit."
The right to survive the Titanic depended on the passengers' status on the ship. Ismay's defense was that he was travelling neither as the captain nor as a member of the crew, but an ordinary First Class passenger and that he was therefore entitled to save his own life. His argument was weakened by the admission that he had not paid for his ticket, and by the revelation that he conducted himself on board as the ultimate authority. Ismay was, according to the British Inquiry into the Titanic, a "Super Captain."
But Ismay wasn't the only passenger on The Titanic to be scrutinized for surviving: women, children, and lifeboat captains were also regarded as cowardly and irresponsible.
Here are nine ways that you could have survived the Titantic.
All images from the new book, How to Survive the Titanic, or The Sinking of J Bruce Ismay by Frances Wilson.
The law of the sea is women and children first. CATCH: Given that women on land were currently campaigning for their suffrage, the fact that those at sea were happy to accept the privileges of inequality was seen by many as iniquitous. 'What do women want?' asked the press - 'Votes or Boats?' One newspaper suggested that 'henceforth, when a woman talks women's rights, she be answered with the word Titanic, nothing more. Just "Titanic." 'Real' women stood by their men, and the heroine of the night was Ida Straus who stayed on board with her husband of fifty years, the owner of Macy's Department store. "Where you go, I go," Mrs. Straus is reported to have said. When it became known that the same women who had allowed themselves to be handed into the half-empty lifeboats then refused to return to rescue the drowning bodies of the men who had shown such gallantry, the fairness of the fairer sex was further questioned. Mrs. Stuart White, a first class passenger who lived at the Waldorf-Astoria, then put the cat amongst the pigeons by stating that the women who went down seventy feet to float on a frozen sea had been braver than the "heroes" who stayed on board the "unsinkable" ship. "I do not think that there was any particular bravery," she said, "because none of the men thought it was going down." Of the 705 people who survived, 140 were women in First Class, 80 were in women in Second Class, and 76 were women in Third Class. Of the twenty-three female members of the crew, twenty survived.
CATCH: What constituted a child? Aged 12, children were able to leave school and begin work. Second Officer Lightoller tried to prevent 13-year-old John Ryerson from getting into a lifeboat with his mother. Mr. Ryerson, who would die that night, persuaded Lightoller that his son was a child and not an adult. "No more boys," the Officer was heard to mutter as he reluctantly allowed young John to leave the sinking ship. Of the 109 children on the Titanic 52 died, all from third class.
Edward Ryan, a third-class Irish passenger, put a towel over his head before stepping into a lifeboat. To prevent him from being detected, one woman threw a shawl over a passenger called Daniel Buckley who was hiding in her boat. Several men, including Ismay, were falsely accused of having dressed as women in order to save their lives. CATCH: None. It later became a point of pride to say that you survived the Titanic because you were dressed as a woman.
Stowaways stood a good chance of surviving because they were in the lifeboats already. Ismay shared his lifeboat with four Chinese stowaways who had been hiding beneath the cover. CATCH: Deportation on arrival in New York.
The lifeboats needed men to do the rowing; if there was not an available member of the crew, a male passenger was required to do their duty. CATCH: Accusations of cowardice still applied. Major Peuchen, a Canadian passenger who volunteered himself to man a boat because he was an experienced yachtsman, was afterwards maligned. One taunt that circulated about Peuchen was that, "he said he was a yachtsman so he could get off the Titanic, and if there had been a fire, he would have said he was a fireman."
While all the women in First Class, except those few who chose to stay with their husbands, survived, a blind eye was turned to the morality of the 56 other men in First Class who (apart from Ismay) had found their way into the lifeboats. Ismay shared his boat with an American First Class passenger called William E Carter, who was not called as a witness at the US Inquiry and whose survival was never questioned. CATCH: William Carter's wife and two children were apparently still on board when he left the ship; Mrs Carter later divorced her husband on grounds of deserting his family while they were on the Titanic. Of the 175 First Class men on board, 118 died.
Survival was legitimate if you had been ordered by an Officer to get into a lifeboat. CATCH 1: It was unclear to the passengers who had the authority to issue such an order. Ismay was apparently ordering passengers of both sexes into the lifeboats, but as no one knew who he was they ignored him. CATCH 2: Being given permission to survive left you with a sense of responsibility. The Titanic's barber swore on oath that he had seen Ismay being 'practically thrown' into a lifeboat by Chief Officer Wilde, a claim Ismay vehemently denied despite the fact that it would exonerate him from accusations of cowardice. Ismay preferred to be branded a coward than to be seen as the appointed spokesman for the disaster.
"Be British, my boys, be British," Captain Smith reminded the shipload of international men and women. Recent research has shown that being British - in other words, letting the ladies go first and not pushing in a queue - meant that the British men on board were 7% less likely to survive, while the more assertive American male was 8.5% more likely.
The only legitimate way to survive the Titanic was to have initially gone with the ship. After loading the lifeboats on the port side, Second Officer Lightoller had taken a dive from the rapidly sinking vessel and been drawn, by a rush of water, to the wire mesh of a giant air shaft on which he became glued by the pressure of the sea. A blast of hot air from the shaft then blew Lightoller back to the surface of the water. He was pulled under again, this time resurfacing by a up-turned lifeboat. Holding a piece of rope, he floated alongside the boat until one of the ship's giant funnels fell, missing him by inches and causing both Lightoller and the raft to be flung fifty yards clear of the ship. He balanced on the boat all night until being rescued. CATCH: Lightoller's survival was seen by no one, except his own wife, as heroic. He was subsequently treated by the inquiries as a stooge of Ismay, who expected him to defend the White Star Line. Having spoken up for his employer, Lightoller was neither thanked nor promoted by the company. He had been used, he later said, as a scapegoat. Thirty men survived the Titanic by straddling Collapsible A.