Fifth Officer Harold Lowe
- US and UK Inquiries
United States Senate Inquiry
The Carpathia docked on the evening of 18 April 1912 and upon arrival the surviving officers and crew, and also Bruce Ismay were served with subpoenas. Wasting no time, the hearings began in New York on April 19, 1912, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, the day after the Carpathia had arrived, then later moved to Washington, D.C., concluding on May 25, 1912 with a return visit to New York, taking a total of 18 days. The eight Senators involved in the questioning were not nautical authorities which perhaps explains the exasperated and at times argumentative tones to Lowe's testimony.
Lowe's testimony began on day 5 of the Inquiry, on Wednesday April 24th 1912 and it did not start well with Lowe confused over the date he arrived aboard Titanic in Belfast:
"I joined the Titanic on April 21, in Belfast - March 21, I believe; pardon me - in Belfast….We went around those boats. We arrived there about noon on this 23rd, in Belfast, and on the 24th we went around everything, taking stock of everything on board the ship, and also noting the condition of the things. We took the starboard lifeboats and the other junior officers took the port…We left Liverpool on Tuesday; we arrived on a Wednesday, and we inspected the boat on a Thursday." (US Inquiry, Day 5)
However when Senator Smith noted that the 23rd of March was a Saturday, Lowe then added: "Saturday? Then we are a bit mixed. [Consulting memorandum book.] It was the 26th that I left Liverpool, and I joined the Titanic on the 27th. I think you will find that correct. (US Inquiry, Day 5)
What ensued is generally tense and combative in tone. Senator Smith was clearly frustrated with the number of "I do not know" and "I cannot remember" answers and also in the way Lowe answered some questions, or misunderstood the question. Smith more than once had the court reporter repeat his question.For example on one occasion stating: "Read the question. If you will answer my questions we will make much better progress." To which Lowe responded: "You pull me up about going around explaining matters to you, so I do not see how I can very well get at it if you pull me up on it." When Lowe still did not answer his question - about whether he thought lifeboat no.5 was "properly filled or not" Smith stated bluntly: " Let me say this to you, Mr. Lowe: Nobody is on trial here, and this is not a court; this is an inquiry."
Lowe then said that the lifeboat capacity was "Sixty-five point five" with "point five" being "A boy, or something like that." as if to emphasis his accuracy, perhaps with an element of sarcasm.
Sometime later during questioning on the topic of experienced men manning the lifeboats Senator Smith said to Lowe; "I am not having a very easy time with you, because you do not seem to be willing to answer my questions."
What may have tipped Lowe over the edge was an unfair and ultimately untrue allegation of drinking, something as a teetotaller, he found most upsetting. This occurred on the questioning on day five:
Mr. LOWE. I went to bed at about anywhere between a quarter past 8 and half past 8.
Senator SMITH. Are you a temperate man?
Mr. LOWE. I am, sir. I never touched it in my life. I am an abstainer.
Senator SMITH. I am very glad to have you say that.
Mr. LOWE. I say it, sir, without fear of contradiction.
Senator SMITH. I am not contradicting you, and I congratulate you upon it; but so many stories have been circulated one has just been passed up to me now, from a reputable man, who says it was reported that you were drinking that night.
Mr. LOWE. Me, sir?
Senator SMITH. That is the reason I asked the question.
Mr. LOWE. No, sir, this [indicating a glass of water] is the strongest drink I ever take.
The insinuation was enough that seven days later Lowe requested it to be included on the record that he is a teetotaller:
On Tuesday, April 30th, Day 11 of the Inquiry, the following statement was made:
Senator SMITH. I desire to make a statement to go upon the record:
In my examination of Officer Lowe the other day I asked him with reference to his habits. He informed me that he was a teetotaler. I accepted his statement as final, and congratulated him at that time. There is not the slightest disposition on the part of the committee to cast any reflection upon Mr. Lowe's habits. I think the difficulty arose over the statement of one of the witnesses, who said that he was very intemperate, referring to his disposition rather than to his habits, and I am very glad to make that correction.
After Smith made the correction Lowe replied with "Thank you, sir."
Accusation of Racism
The drinking allegation was not the only aspect to be brough before the inquiry for which Lowe demanded a retraction. On Thursday, the 9th of May, 1912 an additional statement was included in the Inquiry record. It had been made on the 30th of April - the same date of his teetotaller statement, but it was not presented until the 9th of May 1912, long after Lowe and the other officers had departed for England on the 2nd of May.
Senator Smith said the following:
I have also a statement from Officer Lowe, of the Titanic, which I have been requested to put into the record. This comes to me through the Italian ambassador and contains an explanation by Mr. Lowe of the testimony which he gave that he fired his gun, as his boat was being lowered into the water, because of the glaring eyes of Italian immigrants, who he was afraid menaced his safety in lowering the lifeboat. Mr. Lowe wants this statement to go into the record, and the Italian ambassador wants it to go in.
The statement referred to is as follows:
This is to testify that I, Harold Godfrey Lowe, of Penrallt Barmouth, fifth officer of the late steamship Titanic, in my testimony at the Senate of the United States stated that I fired shots to prevent Italian immigrants from jumping into my lifeboat. I do thereby cancel the word "Italian" and substitute the words "immigrants belonging to Latin races.” In fact, I did not mean to infer that they were especially Italians, because I could only judge from their general appearance and complexion, and therefore I only meant to imply that they were of the types of the Latin races. In any case, I did not intend to cast any reflection on the Italian nation. This is the real truth, and therefore I feel honored to give out the present statement. H. G. LOWE,
Fifth Officer late "Titanic."
WASHINGTON D. C., April 15, 1912.
[On the reverse.]
The declaration on the other side was made and confirmed this day by Harold Godfrey Lowe, fifth officer of the late steamship Titanic, in my presence and in the presence of Signor Guido di Vincenzo, secretary of the legal office of the royal embassy. Washington, this 30th day of April, 1912.
The Royal Ambassador of Italy,
THE SECRETARY OF THE LEGAL OFFICE OF THE ROYAL EMBASSY,
G. D. VINCENZO.
In the end, the US Inquiry report concluded that Captain Smith was to blame having shown an "indifference to danger [that] was one of the direct and contributing causes of this unnecessary tragedy." And the lack of lifeboats was the fault of the British Board of Trade, "to whose laxity of regulation and hasty inspection the world is largely indebted for this awful tragedy."(25.)
At midday Thursday May the 2nd, 1912, Lowe, along with the three other surviving officers, thirty crew members, and White Star President Bruce Ismay, were able to depart for England, boarding the Adriatic from New York City. They arrived in Liverpool, UK on 11 May, 1912. There are several photographs of Lowe arriving in Liverpool, where he was met by his father George and sister Ada.
In England, an inquiry was instigated by the British Wreck Commissioner on behalf of the British Board of Trade, overseen by High Court judge Lord Mersey, and held in London from 2 May to 3 July 1912. The hearings took place mainly at the London Scottish Drill Hall, at 59 Buckingham Gate, London SW1. There were a total of 42 days of official investigation.
Lowe was questioned over two days - 13 and 14 (when he was recalled briefly) - which were the 22nd and 23rd of May 1912. This is similar to the days the other officers were questioned. Lightoller appeared at the British Inquiry on day 12, 13 and 14. Pitman on day 13. And Boxhall appeared on days 13 and 14.
So it is perhaps possible that the group studio photograph of all four surviving officers was taken on either the 22nd or 23rd of May 1912 - on the only known occasion all four officers where in the same place upon their return to England.
Unlike the Senate Inquiry, Lowe provided muted, short answers, clearly on the advice of his legal counsel after the issues of drinking and racism had blighted his American evidence.
Early in his testimony he simply ignored a question about Sixth officer Moody being lost:
You went through the boats and their equipment at Belfast?
- Yes, I, in company with Mr. Moody went.
15774. He was lost?
- We went through the starboard boats.
There is a noticeable discrepancy in which lifeboat he was assigned to . Initially, during the Senate Inquiry he stated that his lifeboat station was no.11, starboard side. However by the time of the British Inquiry that had changed:
15804. What was the boat to which you belonged?
- I do not know.
15805. (The Commissioner.) Why do not you know?
- I do not know why, but I do not.
15806. Was it your business to find out?
- I suppose it was.
15807. And you did not do it? - No, Sir.
On Day 14 he was briefly recalled for further questioning about the "chit " with ice on it, but provided no further details.