1912 - Margaret Brown (”The Unsinkable Molly Brown”)
The Sinking of the Titanic
Anxious to finish a book, I stretched on the brass bed at the side of which was a lamp. So completely absorbed in my reading, I gave little thought to the crash that struck at my window overhead and threw me to the floor. Picking myself up I proceeded to see what the steamer had struck. On emerging from the stateroom, I found many men in the gangway in their pajamas, whom I had overheard a few moments before entering their staterooms saying that they were nearly frozen and had to leave the smoking-rooms. They, while standing, were chaffing each other, one of them remarked, "Are you prepared to swim in those things?" referring to the pajamas. Women were standing along the corridors in their kimonos. All seemed to be quietly listening, thinking nothing serious had occurred, though realizing at the time that the engines had stopped immediately after the crash and the boat was at a standstill, and as there was no confusion of any kind, the book was again picked up.
On overhearing the occupants of the adjoining stateroom say, "We will go on deck and see what has happened," I again arose and saw six or more stewards and one officer in the corridor forcing an auger through a hole in the floor, while treating the whole thing with levity. Again returning to my book, presently I saw the curtains moving, but no-one was visible.
I again looked out and saw a man whose face was blanched, his eyes protruding, wearing the look of a haunted creature. He was gasping for breath, and in an undertone he gasped, "Get your life-saver." I immediately reached above and dragged all out, as I thought some others might need them. Snatching up furs and placing a silk capote on my head, I hurriedly mounted the stairs to A deck, and there I found possibly fifty passengers, all putting on their life-belts. Strapping myself into mine, I afterwards was told to go up on the storm deck.
My party that I was traveling with had already gone up. On reaching A deck, Mrs. Bucknell approached and whispered to me, "Didn't I tell you something was going to happen?" On reaching the storm deck we found a number of men trying to unravel the tackle of the boats to let them down, which seemed at the time very difficult. We were approached by an officer and told to descend to the deck below. We found the lifeboats there were being lowered from the falls and were at that time flush with the deck. Madame DeVallier, of Paris, appeared from below in a night dress and evening slippers with no stockings, over which she wore a woolen motor coat. She clutched at my arm and in a terrified voice said she was going below for her money and jewels. After much persuasion I prevailed upon her not to go down but to get into the boat. As she hesitated and became very excited, I told her it was all only a precaution and she would be able to return to the then-sinking steamer later. After she got on, I turned and found the lady of my party in a lowering boat. I was walking away eager to see what was being done with the boats on the other side, not fearing any immediate danger, thinking if the worst should happen I could swim out. Suddenly I saw a shadow, and a few seconds later I was taken hold of, and with the words, "You are going, too," I was dropped fully four feet into the lowering life-boat. When I got in, on looking around I saw but one man, who was in charge of the boat.
While being lowered by jerks by an officer from above, I discovered that a great gush of water was spouting through the porthole from D deck, and our lifeboat was in grave danger of being submerged. I immediately grasped an oar and held the lifeboat away from the ship. While being lowered we were conscious of strains of music being wafted on the night air. As we reached a sea as smooth as glass, we looked up and saw the benign, resigned countenance, the venerable white hair, and the Chesterfieldian bearing of our beloved Captain (with whom I had crossed twice before - only three months previous, on the Olympic, our party sat at his table), as he peered down upon us like a solicitous father, directing us to row to the light in the distance, and all boats keep together. With but one man in the boat, and possibly fourteen women, I saw that it was necessary for someone to bend to the oars. I placed mine in the rowlocks and asked a young woman near me to hold one while I placed the other one on the further side. To my surprise she immediately began to row like a galley-slave, every stroke counting. Myself on the other side we managed to pull out from the steamer. All the time while rowing we were facing the starboard side of the sinking vessel. By that time E & C decks were completely submerged, and the strains of music became fainter, as though the instruments were filling up with water. Suddenly all ceased when the heroic musicians could play no more.
The only seaman in our boat was the quartermaster. He was at the rudder, and standing much higher than we were. He was shivering like an aspen. As we pulled away from the boat, we heard sounds of firing, and were told later that it was officers shooting as they were letting down the boats from the steamer, trying to prevent those from the lower decks jumping into the lifeboats. Others said it was the boilers.
The quartermaster in command of our boat burst out in a frightened voice and warned us of the fate that awaited us, telling us our task in rowing away from the sinking ship was futile, as she was so large that in sinking she would draw everything for miles around down with her suction, and if we escaped that the boilers would burst and rip up the bottom of the sea, tearing the icebergs asunder and completely submerge us. We were truly doomed either way. He dwelt on the dire fate awaiting us, narrating at great length the incidents that happened at Liverpool - how two large steamers, the New York and one other, were drawn under and almost capsized, we all the while bending to the oars with a vengeance, tugging on. All occupants of the life-boats remained as mute as the dead, all standing erect clustered in the middle of the boat.
Presently we heard shouts and cries of terror from the fast sinking ship. We were told the shouts were from the trunk men on the collapsible boats. Our quartermaster haggled long and loud. The splash of the oars partly drowned the voices of the perishing men on the doomed steamer. The ladies all seemed terrified. Those having husbands, sons or fathers buried their heads on the shoulders of those near them, and moaned and groaned only.
While my eyes were glued on the fast disappearing ship, I particularly watched the broad promenade deck. It was fully lighted but not one moving object was visible. Suddenly a rift in the water, the sea opened up and the surface foamed like giant arms spread around the ship, and the vessel disappeared from sight, and not a sound was heard.
When none of the calamities that were predicted by our terrified boatman was experienced, we asked him to return and pick up those in the water. Again we were admonished and told how the frantic drowning victims would grapple the sides of our boat and capsize us. He not yielding to our entreaties, we pulled away vigorously toward the faintly glimmering light on the horizon. After three hours of pulling at the oars, the light grew fainter and then completely disappeared. Then our quartermaster, who stood on his pinnacle trembling, with an attitude like someone preaching to the multitude, fanning the air with his hands, recommenced the tirade of evil foreboding, telling us we were likely to drift for days, all the while reminding us that we were surrounded by icebergs, pointing to a pyramid of ice looming up in the distance, possibly seventy feet high, reflected by the myriad stars in the sky, that looked like a black shaft. He most forcibly impressed upon us that there was no water in the casks in the lifeboats and no bread, no compass and no chart. No one answered him. They all seemed to be stricken dumb.
One of the ladies in the boat had had the presence of mind to procure her silver brandy flask. As she held it in her hand, the silver glittered and he being attracted to it implored her to give it
to him, saying he was frozen. She refused the brandy, but re-moved the steamer blanket and put it around his shoulders, while another lady wrapped a second blanket around his head and limbs, he looking "as snug as a bug in a rug."
We asked him to relieve one or the other at the oars, saying to him that we would manage the rudder. He flatly refused and continued to rampoon us at the oars, bursting out, "Here, you fellow on the starboard side, your oar is not being put in the water at the right angle!" No one made any protest to his outbursts, as he broke the monotony, but we continued to pull at the oars, with no goal in sight. Presently he raised his voice, shouting to another lifeboat to pull near and lash to, commanding some of the other ladies to take the light and signal to the other lifeboats. His command was immediately obeyed. That and one other command - that we drop the oars and lie fallow until we were rescued. Some time later, after hearing shouts, a lifeboat hove to and obeyed his orders to throw a rope and be tied to ours. Alongside she dropped oars, and on the cross-seat of that boat stood a man in white pajamas. He looked like a snowman in that icy region. His teeth were chattering, and he appeared quite numb. Seeing his predicament, I told him he had better get to rowing to keep his blood in circulation, which was met with forcible protest from our quartermaster.
We, after the exercise, felt the bluest from the icy fields and demanded that we be allowed to keep warm. Immediately over into our boat jumped a half-frozen stoker, black and covered with coal dust, dressed as he was in thin jumpers. I picked up a large sable stole that I had dropped in the boat, and from his waist down wrapped it around his limbs, tying the tails around his ankles. I handed him an oar and then told the pajama man to cut loose, and a howl arose from our seaman. He moved to prevent it, and I said if he did he would be thrown overboard. Then I felt a hand laid on my shoulder to stay my threats, knowing it would not be necessary to push him over, had I only moved in his direction he would have tumbled into the sea, so paralyzed was he with fright. He had by this time worked himself up to such a pitch of sheer despair, fearing that a scramble of any kind would remove the plug from the bottom of the boat (that it had taken three of us some length of time to feel around, find it and place it in the hole), and if it were displaced the water would sweep in and there was grave danger of filling the boat. The quartermaster became very impertinent and our fur-enveloped stoker, in as broad a cockney as one hears in the Haymarket, shouted, "Soy, don't you know you are talking to a loidy?"
For the time being the seaman was silenced, and we again set at our task.
Two other ladies came to the rescue of those rowing and caught hold of the oars and backed the water. Thus we aimlessly tugged on over the vast waste of water. Lights were flashed from other lifeboats miles away.
While glancing around, watching the edge of the horizon, the beautiful modulated voice of the young English woman at the oar exclaimed, "There is a flash of light!" All looked in the direction pointed out, and our pessimistic seaman said, "That is a falling star." It became brighter and later was multiplied by those on the lighted deck. He was convinced then that it was a ship (or said it was the Olympic, as she had to have passed after midnight; the Olympic passed two days later.) Then he gave a sigh of relief and again ordered us to drop the oars.
We saw this steamer approaching the small lifeboats near her, while we were then possibly six or eight miles off. However, the distance seemed interminable. We saw she was anchored.
Again a declaration was made that we, regardless of what our quartermaster said, would row toward her. Again the young Englishwoman from the Thames got to work, accompanying her strokes with cheerful words to the wilted occupants of the boat.
A little while later dawn disclosed our awful situation. There were fields of ice on which, like points on the landscape, rested innumerable pyramids of icy peaks. Seemingly half an hour later the sun, like a ball of molten lead, appeared at its background. The hand of nature portrayed a scenic effect beyond the ken of the human mind. The heretofore smooth sea became choppy, which seemed to retard our progress. All the while we saw the small lifeboats being hauled aboard.
By the time we reached the Carpathia a heavy sea was running. Our boat being the last to approach, we found it difficult to get close. Three or four unsuccessful attempts were made. Each time we were dashed against the keel and bounded off like a rubber ball. A rope was then thrown to us, which was spliced in four at the bottom, where a wide board was held in four large knots. Feet first, we got on and sat on the seat that formed a swing. Catching hold of the one thick rope, we were hoisted up to where a dozen of the crew and officers and doctors were waiting. Stimulants were given those who needed them and hot coffee was provided for all the survivors.
Articles in Newport Herald, May 28th and 29th, 1912