Captain E.J. Smith - Ice Warnings and a Dinner Party


Captain Smith leads his officers on an
inspection of the RMS Adriatic, similar to
what it would have looked like aboard
Titanic (Click image to enlarge).

The next few days as Titanic made its way across the North Atlantic were largely uneventful. One routine that occured everyday except Sunday, was an inspection of the ship. This started with a meeting in Smith's cabin, with reports from Chief engineer, Joseph Bell, Purser Hugh McElroy, Assistant Purser  Reginald Barker, Surgeon Dr. William O'Loughlin, Chief Steward Chief Steward Andrew Latimer. Then from 10.30am, along with the deck officers, they would tour the ship, taking note of anything that was amiss or required attention.

Smith made his first appearance at first class a la carte restaurant on Friday 12 April in the evening. He was also seen by a Mrs. Elizabeth Lines in the first class reception room, just after lunch, on both the Friday and Saturday, talking with Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line. According to her deposition at the Limitation of Liability Hearings October 27, 1913 she was sitting four to six feet away and heard Ismay say: "We made a better run to-day than we did yesterday, we will make a better run to-morrow. Things are working smoothly, the machinery is bearing the test, the boilers are working well". They went on discussing it, and then I heard him make the statement: "We will beat the Olympic and get in to New York on Tuesday."

White Star Chairman Bruce Ismay
after the disaster: There have been
implications he influenced Captain
Smith to speed through the icefield;
but Smith's actions were the
norm of the time.

Captain Smith apparently did not say anything in reply other than "nod his head a few times" and Ismay was described by her as "very positive, one might almost say dictatorial. He asked no questions."

It is this conversation that has often led to an inference that Ismay was driving Captain Smith to increase speed through dangerous waters, although Smith's actions of maintaining speed was nothing extraordinary for the time. And Titanic was built for luxury, not speed.

On Sunday, April 14th, in a departure from routine, instead of a ship inspection, Captain Smith decides to lead the 10:30 a.m. first-class interdenominational worship service in the dining saloon. Those assembled sang out the words to “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” The service lasted until 11.15am.

There was also the cancellation of the 11:00 a.m. lifeboat drill, possibly due to the fact he was preoccupied with taking the service. Although according to Lookout Archie Jewell it was cancelled due to the wind being too strong.

But even more serious, on Sunday, Smith started to receive a number of ice warnings:

0900, Caronia - an ice-warning  reporting "bergs, growlers[d] and field ice" was received from the eastbound Caronia, passing on messages that small and large ice was reported in latitude 42°N, between longitudes 49° and 51°W. Smith acknowledged the message which was posted on the bridge.

1342, RMS Baltic relayed a report from the Greek ship Athenia that she had been "passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice".This was passed to Smith, who then happened to meet Ismay and showed it to him. Ismay put it in his pocket, showed it to some of his friends, and returned it only when Smith requested it at about 7.30 that evening.

1345, the German ship SS Amerika,-another warning message, from the German liner Amerika to the US hydrographic office, was passed via the Titanic's radio operators but was put aside as the operators were busy.

1930 from the Leyland liner Californian to the Antillian was picked up and delivered to the bridge. It warned of three large bergs, and advised that the Californian had stopped engines until daylight,

2140 message from the steamship Messaba at 9.40, warning of large icebergs in the immediate area of the Titanic, was laid aside while the radio operators were busy with passengers' signals

2230 A final warning was received at 22:30 from operator Cyril Evans of the Californian, which had halted for the night in an ice field some miles away, but Phillips cut it off and signalled back: "Shut up! Shut up! I'm working Cape Race.

Second Officer Lightoller later testified he was
given a wireless message regarding ice
by Captain Smith

According to testimony at the Board of Trade Enquiry after the disaster, Second Officer Charles Lightoller was sure that Captain Smith was aware of these ice warnings. Lightoller said, referring to Sunday, the 14th of April:

"Lunch is at half-past 12. I relieve the First Officer, who has his lunch at half-past 12, and he comes on deck again about 1 o'clock or five minutes past; then I have mine... Captain Smith came on the bridge during the time that I was relieving Mr. Murdoch. In his hands he had a wireless message, a Marconigram. He came across the bridge, and holding it in his hands told me to read it... when he [Murdoch] came back I mentioned the ice to him... I really could not say, whether it was fresh news to him or not; I really should judge that it would have been, but I really could not say from his expression - not from what I remember." (Board of Trade Enquiry, 21 May, 1912)

Despite these warning Captain Smith did not alter speed, as was the norm of the day. He also turned "The Corner" a course correction taking the ship on a more southwesterly course at 5.50pm. This was not late as some have assumed but according to modern calculations about three nautical miles from the actual location of "The Corner". Titanic was now almost perfectly lined up with the entrance to New York harbour. At 7pm the last three primary boilers were connected to the engines, increasing her speed even further.

The Dinner Party - Did Captain Smith Drink?

A large dinner party was arranged by First Class passengers George and Eleanor Widener, apparently in Captain Smith's honour, in the First Class restaurant. Others at the table included John and Marian Thayer, William and Lucile Carter, Major Archibald Butt, as well as Bruce Ismay.

In 2012 a previously unseen letter was unearthed in which survivor Emily Richards claimed Captain Smith was drinking in the saloon bar before the collision. The 24 year old second class passenger, travelling with her two sons, while her brother George died in the diaster, made the allegation in a letter she wrote home to her mother-in-law, Mrs Richards, from Penzance, Cornwall, while she was board the Carpathia. The letter reads:

"The boat struck a iceberg at 11 o'clock on Sunday night. The Captain was down in the saloon drinking and gave charge to some-one else to stare [sic] the ship. It was the Captan [sic] fault. My poor brother George ... drowned as far as we know now." (Daily Mail, 9 March 2012 news article)

24 year old second class passenger Emily Richards claimed Captain Smith
was drinking in the saloon bar before the collision.

The letter was up for sale, with Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge acknowldeging that 'as far as we know there are no other witness reports that put the captain in the saloon drinking on the evening of the sinking. So Emily Richards's account is not consistent with the dozens of others that exist." (Daily Mail, 9 March 2012 news article)

"Emily Richards's account is not consistent with the
dozens of others that exist."
(Click to enlarge)

Also Una Reilly, the co-founder of the Belfast Titanic Society, questioned why Emily Richards had not made the accusation public if what she had witnessed was true. 'She may have witnessed the captain in the saloon bar but what he was drinking can't be verified. You can't say that she was mistaken because she was the one who was there, but I do find it strange that she did not repeat this accusation later on in interviews and inquiries. I have never heard this accusation being cast upon Captain Smith before. It was never raised at the two official enquiries into the disaster to my knowledge....I can't imagine that he would have been drinking with the passengers.'(Daily Mail, 9 March 2012 news article)

Allegations of drinking had also been discussed soon after the disaster, most notably by a 'Luis Klein', a Hungarian man who alleged he was a surviving member of the crew with some sensational evidence involving officers and crew asleep "drunk or drinking". This resulted in the New York Times running stories such as "Officer on Watch Accused" on April the 22nd, 1912.

However shortly thereafter Klein escaped before giving evidence and his reports were widely discredited. He is not to be found on any crew lists, Second Officer Lightoller testified he did not know him and the evidence Klein did provide does not fit with known evidence. Hence Klein has been widely accepted to be an imposter.

A month after the New York Times ran the first story on Klein, on May 22 1912 they followed it up with the following article:

New York Times May 22 1912
(Click image to enlarge)

DROP TITANIC DRINKING STORY

Wideners Tell Facts of Dinner Party Attended by Capt. Smith.

Special to the New York Times
WASHINGTON, May 27.

An interesting feature about the wreck of the Titanic that will figure in Chairman Smith's report, to be filed with the Senate tomorrow exonerates Capt. Smith of the Titanic from any suspicion of drinking on the evening of the disaster. Facts concerning the dinner party given by the Wideners of Philadelphia that evening, at which the Captain was present, have recently been put at the Chairman’s disposal by members of the Widener family, and they will go into the record. The only charge of intemperance brought against any of the officers of the Titanic came from a Hungarian describing himself as Louis Klein, a member of the crew. Klein made his charges in Ohio, and was brought here as a witness, though he had no papers to show that he had ever served on the Titanic, and could not speak a word of English. After reaching Washington he left the hotel at which he was under surveillance by the Senate's Sergeant at Arms. and has not been heard of since.

More information on false allegations of drinking can be found in the article here.

Those who were actually at the table also agree that Captain Smith did not drink. Saloon Steward Thomas Whitely said that Captain Smith 'talked and joked with Mr Astor' but he 'did not see the captain drink anything; I do not think he even indulged.' (54.) Also a First Class passenger Harry Anderson said that Smith 'refused to drink that... night. When I insisted, he had a small glass of port, sipped once and left it.' (54.). Similarly, in her brief affidavit to the Senate Committee investigating the disaster, Eleanor Widener herself wrote, “Capt. Smith drank absolutely no wine or intoxicating liquor of any kind whatever at the dinner.” Charles Stengel was insistent that captain smoked some cigarettes that night but definitely did not drink.

As Lucien and Mary Smith departed the restaurant the saw that Captain Smith smoked two cigars that evening and enjoyed a cup of after-dinner coffee. (54.) Captain Smith then left and headed for bridge, arriving there at 8.55pm where he found Second Officer Charles Lightoller as officer of the watch.

According to Lightoller, on Day 11 of the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry they had the following conversation about the conditions:

Second officer Lightoller photographed in
August 1912 while serving as First Officer
on board White Star's R.M.S. Majestic
(Click image to enlarge)

At five minutes to nine, when the Commander came on the bridge (I will give it to you as near as I remember.) he remarked that it was cold, and as far as I remember I said, "Yes, it is very cold, Sir. In fact," I said, "it is only one degree above freezing. I have sent word down to the carpenter and rung up the engine room and told them that it is freezing or will be during the night." We then commenced to speak about the He said, "There is not much wind." I said, "No, it is a flat calm as a matter of fact." He repeated it; he said, "A flat calm." I said, "Yes, quite flat, there is no wind." I said something about it was rather a pity the breeze had not kept up whilst we were going through the ice region. Of course, My reason was obvious; he knew I meant the water ripples breaking on the base of the berg….

 I said, "It is a pity there is not a breeze," and we went on to discuss the weather. He was then getting his eyesight, you know, and he said, "Yes, it seems quite clear," and I said, "Yes, it is perfectly clear." It was a beautiful night, there was not a cloud in the sky. The sea was apparently smooth, and there was no wind, but at that time you could see the stars rising and setting with absolute distinctness….

 On the horizon. We then discussed the indications of ice. I remember saying, "In any case there will be a certain amount of reflected lights from the bergs." He said, "Oh, yes, there will be a certain amount of reflected light." …

The Captain said, "If it becomes at all doubtful" - I think those are his words - "If it becomes at all doubtful let me know at once; I will be just inside."

Smith remained on the bridge until around 9.20pm when he then decided to go to his quarters.