6. The Final Moments Of Thomas Andrews
Shipbuilder Thomas Andrews is rightly seen as one of the heroes of the Titanic disaster. However, despite this common conception of the man, it’s interesting that legend has accepted his final moments as a romanticized snapshot of him standing alone in the first-class smoking room, staring morosely at a painting of Plymouth Harbor, a life belt draped over a chair, symbolizing a loss of hope rather than a chance of life. It’s certainly an evocative image, and the moment itself comes from eyewitness testimony. But is it really the way Thomas Andrews met his end?
The eyewitness in question was a steward named John Stewart, and while no one really has any reason to doubt his recollection, the timing of this sighting challenges what we think of as the last moments of Thomas Andrews. Stewart was likely saved in Boat 15, which left the ship around 1:40 AM. This means that his sighting of Andrews in the smoking room occurred at least 40 minutes before the ship actually sank.
There are accounts of later sightings of Andrews that give us a better idea of the man’s final moments. One unnamed survivor recounted seeing Andrews on the boat deck during Titanic‘s final moments, tossing deck chairs overboard to provide something for those still trapped aboard to cling to in the icy water. Mess Steward Cecil William N. Fitzpatrick saw Andrews on the bridge with Captain Smith as Titanic took her final plunge. Reportedly, the captain told him, “We cannot stay any longer—she is going!” They dived into the water together.
It seems, then, that rather than being lost in his own sense of hopelessness, Thomas Andrews actually spent his last moments trying to save the lives of others. As Andrews biographer Shan F. Bullock put it back in 1912, “Whatever he saw in that quiet, lonely minute it did not hold or unman him. Work—work, he must work to the bitter end.”
5. Third-Class Passengers Were Locked Belowdecks
Third-class passengers simultaneously fighting for their lives and fighting the class system is a staple of Titanic movies. Once again, this notion evolved from a spark of truth. Indeed, we know that out of approximately 700 third-class passengers, only around 180 were saved, and there are some accounts of small groups deep inside the ship being prevented from reaching the boat deck. That in itself sounds shocking, but it’s important to remember the context of the situation.
In 1912, immigration laws dictated that ships be strictly divided by class in order to prevent the spread of disease. On open decks, there were low-hinged gates to keep things separate as well as signs throughout the ship. In deeper sections of the ship, some tall Bostwick gates (like you see in the James Cameron movie) were used due to the fact that class sections were interchangeable. The gates provided an easy way to keep things divided. However, how often these gates were actually locked is another issue. Stewards would be expected to make sure that no one found their way into the wrong part of the ship.
On the night of the sinking, many passengers, crew, and even some of the officers were unaware of the seriousness of the situation. Even those who knew Titanic was sinking were hearing rumors that ships were on their way to save them (as soon as within an hour in some cases). In other words, many thought that normal rules still applied. In addition, many chose to stay in their own part of the ship rather than wander around, assuming the situation was under control.
The concept of a deliberate attempt to keep all third-class passengers from reaching the boat deck is easy to believe if we imagine that these few Bostwick gates blocked their only route out of the depths of the ship, but that simply isn’t the case. Third-class passengers had easy access to open decks. Indeed, common areas such as the third-class smoking room, which passengers would have been fully aware of, were located near open decks. Eyewitnesses reported seeing great numbers of third-class passengers making their way up to these open decks.
Unfortunately, there were very few signs directing passengers to the upper decks, a problem only compounded by the amount of third-class passengers who couldn’t speak English. While there are a number of accounts of stewards helping third-class passengers navigate their way through the ship, it’s easy to see how difficult this would have been and how much harder it would have been for passengers attempting to do it alone. Nevertheless, many managed it. The real problem came when trying to access the second- and first-class parts of the ship on the upper decks, and this is where we hear some of the accounts of people being prevented from getting to the boat deck. The evidence we have suggests a great number of third-class passengers did make it up to the boat deck—but not until the last hour of the disaster.
The idea that there was some sort of conspiracy to let third-class passengers die is, frankly, absurd. The truth is that a mixture of mistaken belief in the safety of the ship from both passengers and crew, difficulty in navigating the maze-like layout of the ship, language barriers, and poor organization were the main causes of the disproportionate loss of life in third class.