Rescue of the Titanic Survivors by Captain Rostron - 1913
A feature of the Scribner’s March 1913 number that will attract the attention of the general reader will be Captain Arthur H. Rostron’s own narrative of “The Rescue of the Titanic Survivors.” This impressive story by the captain of the Carpathia will describe how that ship, her crew and passengers responded to the Titanic’s wireless call for help. It is a feature of world interest.
The Cunard Royal Mail Twin-Screw Steamer "Carpathia." Cunard Handbook (May 1905) p. 2. GGA Image ID # 1031a26a51
The Carpathia left New York, April 11, 1912, in fine, clear weather, bound for Gibraltar and other Mediterranean ports.
Saturday and Sunday (13th and 14th), it was very fine but cold weather, and we had remarked that there must be a lot of ice to the northward, as we had then a light northerly breeze.
I turned in about midnight on Sunday and was just dropping off to sleep when I heard the chart-room door open (this door leads directly into my cabin, near the head of my bunk), and I thought to myself: “Who the dickens is this cheeky beggar coming into my cabin without knocking?”
However, I very soon knew the reason. I looked up and saw the first officer and the Marconi operator; the first officer at once informed me “we have just received an urgent distress message from the Titanic that she had struck ice and required immediate assistance.”
You can imagine I was very soon wide awake, and, to say the least, somewhat astonished. I gave orders to turn the ship around, and jumped up getting hold of Marconi operator by the sleeve, and asked: “Are you sure it is the Titanic and requires immediate assistance?”
He replied: “Yes, sir.” Again I asked: “Are you absolutely certain?”
He again replied: “Yes.”
“All right,” I said: “tell him we are coming along as fast as we can.”
I then went into the chart-room and asked if he had given Titanic's position, and then the operator gave me the position on a slip of paper: “Lat. 41° 46' N., Long. 50° 14' W.”
When in chart-room working out the position and course, I saw the boatswain's mate pass with the watch as they were going to wash down the decks. I called him and told him to knock off all work, and get all our boats ready for lowering, and not to make any noise; also that the men need not get excited, as we were going to another vessel in distress.
I had already sent for the chief engineer, and on coming up told him to turn out another watch of stokers and make all speed possible and not to spare anything, as we were going up to Titanic, she being in trouble, having struck ice.
Chief engineer hurried away at once, and I then sent for English doctor, purser, and chief steward.
These officers were soon in my cabin, and I related the circumstances and gave the following instructions:
- English doctor, with assistants, to remain in the first-class dining-room; Italian doctor in second, and Hungarian doctor in the third-class dining-room, and to have a supply of stimulants, restoratives, and everything necessary.
- Purser, with assistant purser and chief steward to receive the people at the different gangways, controlling our own stewards in assisting the Titanic's people to the dining-rooms, etc.
- Also, get Christian and surnames of survivors as soon as possible to send by wireless.
- Inspector, steerage stewards, and masters-at-arms to control our own steerage passengers and keep them out of third-class dining-hall, also to keep them out of the way, and off the deck, to prevent confusion.
- Chief steward that all hands would be called, and to have coffee, etc., ready to serve out to our men. Have coffee, tea, soup, etc., in each dining-room for rescued. Have blankets near gangways, in saloons and public rooms, and also some handy for our own boats.
- To see all rescued cared for and immediate wants attended to, that my cabin and all officials' cabins would be given up for accommodation of rescued; smoke-rooms, libraries, and dining-rooms, if necessary, to be utilized as accommodation.
- All spare berths in steerage to be used for Titanic's third- class, and to get all our own steerage passengers grouped together.
- To all, l I strictly enjoined silence, order, and strict discipline; also to station a steward in each alleyway to reassure our own passengers should they inquire about any noise they might hear.
After receiving their instructions, these officers hurried away to make their preparations.
Captain Arthur H. Rostron of the RMS Carpathia. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 355. GGA Image ID # 102f032c7b
I then went on to the bridge, and soon after the Marconi operator came up and reported he had picked up a message from Titanic to Olympic, asking the latter to have all his boats ready.
(But previous to this the operator had received a message from Titanic, asking when we would be up there. I told him to reply: “About four hours.” We did it in less than three and a half hours.) I told the operator to inform Titanic all our boats would be in readiness, and also all preparations necessary.
After the operator left, I gave the following instructions to the first officer:
- All hands to be called and get coffee, etc.
- Prepare and swing out all boats; all gangway doors to be opened.
- Electric clusters at each gangway and over the side A block—with line rove—hooked in each gangway.
- A chair—slung—at each gangway for getting sick or wounded up.
- Pilot ladders and side ladders at gangways and over the side.
- Cargo falls, with both ends clear and bight secured, along ship's side on deck, for boat ropes or to help people up.
- Heaving lines and gaskets distributed about the decks and gangways, to be handy for lashings, etc.
- Forward derricks rigged and topped, and steam on winches—to get mails on board or as required.
- Pour oil down forward lavatories, both sides, to quiet the sea.
- Canvas ash-bags near the gangways to haul the children up in.
- Ordered company's rockets to be fired from three A. M., and every quarter of an hour, to reassure Titanic.
- Also arranged as to how the officers would work, should the situation require the service of our boats.
About two thirty-five the doctor came on the bridge and reported all my instructions carried out, and everything in readiness.
Titanic Survivors on Lifeboats. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 356. GGA Image ID # 105f27631d
The Sighting of the Titanic Lifeboats Making Their Way Towards the Carpathia.
Captions of Images (left to right):
- Emergency Boat No. 2
- Officer Lowe's Boat Under Sail
- Fourth Officer Lowe Tows a Canvas Collapsible Lifeboat
I was talking to the doctor as to what we might expect, and keeping at the same time a sharp lookout, when quite suddenly —and only for a couple of seconds—I saw a green flare about a point on port bow.
I remarked, “There's his light, he must be afloat still,” as at one-thirty or so the operator had reported to me that he had received a message saying, “Engine-room filling.” So, of course, I knew, on hearing that, of the gravity of the situation.
All our men were quietly but busily making preparations. It was a beautiful, fine, clear night, very cold, and every star in the heavens shining bright, the sea quite calm and no wind.
We were racing along splendidly—attaining a maximum speed of about seventeen knots—our usual speed being fourteen.
The chief engineer had been up to me about one-thirty and reported all hands were working below and doing all they possibly could. It appears some of the stokers can being called—and knowing the reason—had turned straight out of their bunks and rushed below, not even taking time to dress.
Soon after seeing the green light, the second officer reported an iceberg about two points on the port bow. This berg we saw with the reflected light of a star—a star beam—on it.
From now on, we were passing bergs on either side and had to alter course several times to keep well clear of them. You may depend on it, we were keyed up pretty tight, and keeping a bright lookout. I was also fully aware of our danger, knowing what had already occurred to the Titanic. So it can be imagined I was pretty anxious, thinking of my own passengers and crew and ship, as well as those on the Titanic.
We had three and a half rushing, anxious hours, and plenty to think of and plenty to do in the meantime in order to be ready.
We started sending up rockets at intervals of about a quarter of an hour, and when nearer fired the company’s Roman candles (night signals), to let them know it was Carpathia.
We saw the green light at intervals, and what with keeping a lookout for icebergs, vessels' lights, and the green light, we had to keep our eyes skinned and no mistakes to be made.
About three-thirty A. M. the purser and chief steward came up to the bridge and reported all in readiness, enumerating all the orders I had given.
Three-thirty-five or so I put the engines on the “stand by,” so that I should know the engineers would be at the engines for instant action if required.
Titanic's Second Officer Lightoller's Lifeboat. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 357. GGA Image ID # 102f846575
About four A. M., I stopped the engines, knowing we must be somewhere near the position. A few minutes after, I saw an iceberg right ahead, and immediately the second officer reported the same.
We had seen the green flare light lowdown not long before, and so knew it must be a boat. I had intended taking the boat on the port side, which was the lee side if anything, but with the iceberg to consider, I swung the ship around and made to pick up the boat on the starboard side.
Another few minutes and the boat was alongside; a hail came: “We have only one seaman in the boat and cannot work very well.” “All right,” I replied; “I’ll bring the ship alongside the boat.” We got her alongside and found her to contain about twenty-five people, and in charge of an officer.
The Canvas Collapsible Lifeboat from the Titanic. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 357. GGA Image ID # 102f8796cb
Now comes the heart-rending part when we knew for a certainty the Titanic had gone down; I sent word to the gangway to ask the officer to come up to me on the bridge when he came aboard.
On coming up to the bridge, I shook hands and asked: “The Titanic has gone down, I suppose?”
“Yes,” he replied—but what-a-sad-hearted “Yes” it was—“she went down about two thirty.”
Lifeboat Pulling up along Side the Carpathia. An Unloaded Lifeboat Is on the Right. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 358. GGA Image ID # 102fb37c7b
Daylight was just setting in, and soon, in the early dawn, could be seen dozens and dozens of icebergs, large and small, all around us; here and there dotted about the calm sea we could distinguish the other boats, the boats being within a radius of about four to five miles, I should think.
We also saw the iceberg we picked up right ahead; this was about one-third of a mile off our starboard beam. Looking aft we saw a growler—a broken-off lump of ice—about ten to fifteen feet high and twenty-five feet long, a couple of hundred yards off our port quarter.
Giving instructions to junior officer on bridge to count the number of bergs about two hundred feet high—and pointing out several as a guide—he counted twenty-five estimated at from two hundred to two hundred and fifty, and dozens of bergs from fifty to one hundred and fifty, feet high.
Close-Up View of a Lifeboat of Titanic Survivors Unloading. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 358. GGA Image ID # 102fb459db
From now on, we were getting the remainder of the boats alongside, and one's imagination fancied these people shivering for hours during that cold night in their confined space.
We maneuvered about to reach the boats, and by eight o'clock had all the boats alongside, and we were also in the immediate vicinity of the disaster.
I had arranged to hold a short service whilst we were close to the spot—a short prayer of thankfulness for those saved and a short service for those lost. This service was held in the first-class dining-room whilst slowly cruising about.
Bringing Survivors On Board the Carpathia. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 359. GGA Image ID # 10300dc14e
From the deck, we could see little to indicate the terrible catastrophe of a few hours previous. We saw little but bits of small wreckage—some deck chairs, a few life belts and large quantities of cork; for all the world just as one sees on the sea-shore, merely a tide drift.
The Leyland Line SS Californian of 6,223 Gross Tons Appearing on the Scene. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 362. GGA Image ID # 1031be7ef6
At eight o'clock we also saw a steamer coming toward us out of the ice-field. This ice-field stretched as far as the eye could see from northwest to southeast, and we soon found her to be the Californian.
We signaled her and told the news of trouble, and asked her to search around, as we were returning to New York. It was now blowing a moderate breeze and the sea getting up.
About eight-twenty or so, all the people were aboard, and by eight-forty-five all the boats we could take, and then we proceeded to New York.
I had decided to return to New York, as I considered New York the only port possible under the circumstances. We soon found our passage blocked by a tremendous ice-field. Of course, we had seen this ice-field before, but did not know how compact it was, nor the extent of it.
In the field, were many bergs from one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet high, and the general mass of the ice perhaps six to twelve feet high. We sailed round this ice-pack for nearly four hours—quite fifty-six miles—before we could set our course for New York. We also passed several large bergs clear of the pack.
About noon, we passed the Russian steamer Burmah, bound east. We saw him attempt to cut through the ice-pack, but he had to turn out again. And I don't blame him, either.
We had been in wireless communication with several steamers that were coming up to assist, but I sent word we had accounted for all the boats, and it was useless, as we had left the Californian searching. They also were all a long distance off.
Our own passengers began to arrive on deck soon after the first boat was alongside. It was quite remarkable the manner in which everyone behaved. There was absolutely no excitement. Our own passengers did not seem to realize what was happening or the catastrophe which had occurred.
The Carpathia was stopped in mid-Atlantic. The sun was just rising over the horizon, chasing away the last shades of night from a cloudless sky; beneath us a calm sea with scarcely a ripple on its gently heaving swell; everything perfectly still—a perfect sunrise and a picture before us almost impossible to imagine either as regards the color or the subject.
View from the Carpathia of the Ice Field near the Scene of the Disaster, Early in the Morning on 15 April 1912. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 360. GGA Image ID # 1030153139
All around us were dozens and dozens of icebergs, some comparatively close, others far away on the horizon, towering up like cathedral spires or assuming in one's fancy the forms of ships under full sail.
The sun shining on these ice pinnacles seemed to enhance their splendor and belie the hidden truth. Dotted here and there on the quiet sea were to be seen the boats, some in groups of two or three, others singly, pulling in toward a common center—the Carpathia.
Alongside were more boats more or less filled with people, more people climbing up the ship's side, others being pulled up, all having white life-belts on—no noise, no hurry.
The whole might have been an early morning improvised spectacular arrangement for the benefit of our passengers, but withal there was an atmosphere of inability to grasp that which was before them: as if it had been given them too suddenly, and just as if they were looking on at something most unusual, and yet with an indefinable tragedy behind it all; something too great to realize.
In reality, our passengers had a few minutes before been asleep in their beds, and this sudden experience of such a scene and its relative meaning was almost beyond one's comprehension.
Can one wonder, with the immensity of it all thrust on their hardly awakened senses in such an unheard-of and undreamt-of dramatic manner?
However, something of the true nature soon seemed to strike our people. They seemed to understand that they had a part to play and that this was something which was not meant for them to be merely as an audience, but in which they could and ought to act.
The Ice Field Photographed Several Hours Later. Photo by L. C. Stoudenmire. Scribner's Magazine (March 1913) p. 361. GGA Image ID # 103048a954
Our passengers mixed with the new arrivals and tried to comfort and help them; persuading them to take some nourishment or stimulant, arguing with and pressing on them the necessity for such a course.
Our doctors must have been relieved to see our own passengers using their persuasion and common-sense so successfully. Then they saw the survivors required dry and warm clothing, so off they took them to their cabins to fit them out with everything they could do for them.
It was a most busy and stirring scene, our people never overdoing it and showing such excellent tact and sympathy, always ready to help and ready at any moment to do the right thing.
Our men gave up their cabins, and the ladies turned out of theirs—in many instances to double up with other ladies, so leaving their cabins for the use of the survivors.
The ladies were very soon self-appointed nursing sisters, getting some to lie abed, others to rest on deck, and listening to the heart-breaking tales, and doing all women can do to console and try to brighten them up.
As many of the second and third class people who came aboard were but poorly clothed, blankets and sheets were requisitioned, and many of the ladies started in to make clothes, work seeming a relief to their overwrought nerves. Some ladies—both survivors and our own—went amongst the third-class and nursed, bathed, and clothed and fed the children.
The cream of human kindness was surely given with a free hand those three days and a half, and through it all an almost unnatural quietness and lack of all excitement seemed to pervade the whole ship.
Our own doctors did all doctors could do: rest and sleep seemed to be the most desirable thing for those we had taken aboard, and so everything possible was done to induce sleep.
I was astonished and more than thankful and pleased when Doctor McGee, on Tuesday morning, reported to me all the survivors physically well. The doctor had hardly had a minute to himself—day or night—since we commenced embarking the people.
It seemed almost incredible that those hundreds of people who had undergone such trying experiences should not have developed some physical trouble. I knew it meant untiring attention on part of not only the medical staff but everyone, both our own officers and men, and our passengers also, in attending to the people immediately they arrived, and also the preparations made for them on board.
I hardly think it good taste to attempt to picture the sad, heart-rending appearance of those sorely tried people as it impressed us, but I can say how bravely they bore up under their agonizing trouble, and how we one and all felt that we must get them to New York safe and sound and do all we possibly could to keep them from further trouble or anxiety.
About four-thirty Monday afternoon, I received a wireless message from the Olympic asking for information. I gave the bare facts and also sent the official messages to the Cunard Company, etc.
The names of the survivors were then sent, and we continued in communication until about one o'clock on Tuesday morning, when we got out of range.
This was the first opportunity we had had of sending any news of any kind through to shore, as the other steamers we had been in communication with earlier in the day were all too far to the eastward.
It was also the last until Wednesday afternoon—and we afterward learned what an awful suspense the world was enduring those three days, as we had only been able to send the formal official messages of disaster, with approximate number saved, and the names of the first and second class passengers and crew.
Our wireless instrument was only a short-distance one, limited to one hundred and thirty miles—to about two hundred and twenty under most favorable circumstances; also we only had one operator.
It was most difficult to get the names even, and the continuous strain at the instrument, the conditions under which the operator was working, and the constant interruptions made it anything but a simple matter.
I must again refer to the quiet, subdued manner of everyone on board during our return to New York. We had several hours of fog on Tuesday morning early, and again it set in thick Wednesday morning and continued foggy, more or less, all the way to New York.
The dismal nerve-racking noise of the whistle blowing every half-minute must have been very distressing to the survivors especially, and one can quite understand their suspense and agony of mind in having gone through such a terrible experience on that fateful night, and then the other terror of the sea-fog coming to augment their mental suffering.
We had taken three bodies from the boats, and one man died during the forenoon of Monday, all four being buried at four in the afternoon, Protestant and Roman Catholic services being held over them according to their religion.
At half-past eight Monday night, in company with the purser and chief steward, I went all around the ship to inspect the arrangements made for everyone and found all that was possible to be done was either done or being done.
All the public rooms were converted into sleeping accommodations.
Smoking Room on the RMS Carpathia That Was Used as Sleeping Accommodations for the Titanic Survivors. Cunard Daily Bulletin (1908) p. 70. GGA Image ID # 1030fa8337
Fortunately, we had an ample supply of blankets, and all spare mattresses and pillows were served out, everyone having every attention given them that was at our command.
Many of our own stewards were self-appointed watchmen during the night, remaining at their posts in readiness to attend to anyone requiring assistance, and to give moral support—to the ladies especially, who always found someone ready to help or to cheer them.
In speaking of the loyalty and cheerful willingness of every member of the crew, officers and men, from the moment I gave the first order to our arrival in New York (and I know for a certainty that the doctor, pursers, and stewards—even the little bell-boys—had very little rest until the Friday night, that is, the day we left New York again), I must also mention the assistance given by the stewards of the Titanic who were saved; they all turned to and assisted in every way they could.
We heard of many great and noble deeds of self-sacrifice performed by those on the Titanic that night: tales of heroism and bravery of men and women, of men who had everything in this world to live for, men who were sending away in the boats those who were dearest on earth to them, those in the boats leaving on the ship those most dear to them in the whole world.
Men who had so much of this world's honors and riches yet at the great test they showed the world they had still greater gifts—the gift of high and noble self-sacrifice and self-command.
Standing out equal to each or any, and superbly noble, was that of a young girl.
A boat full of women and ready for lowering was found to be too full, and the order was given for someone to get out, as it was considered unsafe. A young lady—a girl, really—got up to leave the boat; then some of the others tried to persuade her to remain. “No,” she said, “you are married and have families; I'm not; it doesn't matter about me!”
This girl-woman, in the highest and noblest sense, got out of the boat and returned to the deck of the ship. Those in the boat were saved; the girl on deck went down with the ship.
From being in a position to be saved she deliberately returned to the uncertainty, and so gave her life willingly that others might have a better chance of being saved.
There were many incidents, almost too numerous to mention,-and incidents one does not care to recall, but one case might be cited, perhaps.
During dinner on Sunday evening, a wireless message was received by some of our passengers from relatives aboard the Titanic.
At four-thirty Monday morning, two of the relatives were brought to the state-room of our passengers, who were then in bed asleep and knew nothing of what was taking place, such was the irony of fate! The surprise—nay, stupefaction—of our passengers so suddenly roused to hear such news can well be imagined.
Wednesday afternoon about one o'clock we were in wireless communication with U. S. S. Chester; dense fog at the time, and through her sent in the remainder of the names of survivors, with corrections also.
We picked up Fire Island light vessel from its fog-horn about four o'clock Thursday afternoon, after which the weather cleared considerably. About six we stopped off Ambrose Channel lightship and picked up our pilot. It was at this time we got some idea of suspense and excitement in the world.
We were met by several powerful tug-boats chartered by the press and full of press men, anxious to get news. Naturally, I did not care to have any of the passengers harassed by reporters seeking information; so I decided not to allow anyone on board the Carpathia.
As we were going up Ambrose Channel, the weather changed completely, and a more dramatic ending to a tragic occurrence it would be hard to conceive.
It began to blow hard, the rain came down in torrents, and, to complete the finale, we had continuous vivid lightning, and heavy, rolling thunder. This weather continued until our arrival off the Cunard dock.
It was astonishing how quiet—apparently stolid—everyone aboard was in their loyalty. Seeing I refused to hold any communication with the press-boats, all the passengers seemed to take the same view, and to all inquiries for news or photographs, or even names, a tense silence was maintained throughout.
Whilst we were stopped off the dock, getting the Titanic's boats away from the ship, a pressman did manage to get on board. It was reported to me, and I had him brought on the bridge.
I explained my reasons for not allowing anyone on board, and that I could not allow the passengers to be interviewed and put him on his honor not to leave the bridge under certain penalties. I must say he was a gentleman.
What with the wind and rain, a pitch dark night, lightning and thunder, and the photographers taking flashlight pictures of the ship, and the explosion of the lights, it was a scene never to be effaced from one's memory.
There were dozens of tugs dodging about the ship, and the lowering away of the Titanic's boats (we could not get into dock until all the Titanic's boats were away from the ship, as seven of them were suspended in our day its and six were on the forecastle head, and so in the way of working the mooring ropes); and these boats leaving the ship in the blackness of the night with two of the rescued crew in each boat and some of the Titanic's officers in charge of them, it brought back to one's mind the manner in which these same boats were last lowered from that great and magnificent ship never to reach New York.
The Carpathia brought into New York Harbor on Thursday night, April 18, the seven hundred and five passengers rescued from the Titanic. The scene at the dock was one which vibrated between episodes of extreme joy and most profound sorrow. The merely curious were kept far away from the dock by the police, but the crush to welcome the survivors was itself difficult to control. Collier's Magazine (4 May 1912) p. 13. GGA Image ID # 1031c857fa.
It did indeed seem a fitting final scene to the most tragic and greatest marine disaster in the history of the sea. At nine twenty we got into dock, and the passengers were now free to land. And so they left us, after being aboard over three and a half days—landed to meet their dear ones and friends, and to feel once more their poignant grief surging uppermost in their minds.
As they landed, we all felt such a relief as only those experience who have for days been under a great strain —keyed up to the highest pitch of anxiety all the time. With such anxiety for the safety of so many people placed in my care under such heart-rending and tragic circumstances, on their landing I was thankful.
With the people landed, the work of the Carpathia was finished, so far as the part, we had taken in the catastrophe.
Of all the remarkable incidents in connection with the whole history of the short life of that magnificent creation of man, not the least was the name of that never-to-be-forgotten ship.
Looking in the dictionary, one finds there the definition of that ill-fated name, “TITANIC: a race of people vainly striving to overcome the forces of nature.” Could anything be more unfortunate or tragic in its significance?
The Leyland Line SS Californian
Designed as a Cargo Ship, the Californian had the capacity to carry 47 passengers and 55 crew members. Launched in 1901, she had a maximum speed of 12 knots. While the intial findings determined that Captain Lord of the Californian may not have done everything possible to help the Titanic, the authorities stopped short of lodging any charges. A 1992 MAIB report concluded that Captain Lord and his crew's actions "fell far short of what was needed." The report did concede that even if "proper action had been taken," the Californian could not have arrived on the scene until "well after the sinking." (Wikipedia)
 The Cunard steamer “Carpathia,” Captain Rostron, which has added another laurel to the Cunard Line by her opportune rescue of the “Titanic's" survivors, resumed her voyage to the Mediterranean on the 20th April 1912. There were no complaints from her passengers who met with such a long delay in their journey. They were happy to be enabled to render aid to the sufferers. The delay and return voyage was a substantial expense to the line, but the cause and results from their assistance to the Titanic survivors more than justify the loss. The Nautical Gazette, 8 May 1912, p. 14.
Captain Arthur H. Rostron, R.D., R.N.R., Photographs by Louis Mansfield Ogden, "The Rescue of the Titanic Survivors by the Carpathia, April 15, 1912," in Scribner's Magazine, Vol. LIII, No. 3, March 1913, p. 354-364. (367}