The rumours of an officer's suicide on the deck of the sinking Titanic were circulating even before the Carpathia reached New York.
While some (most notable Colonel Gracie) sought to destroy these stories, the rumours persisted and were given added credence by Walter Lord in "The Night Lives On" (1986) when he published details of letters from survivors Eugene Daly and George Rheims. Both of these survivors were on board till the very last. Lord's book finally provided some more compelling evidence of shootings and a suicide in the final frantic minutes. The statements by two named survivors undoubtedly carried more weight than a vague rumour from unnamed witnesses.
However, the evidence has been mischaracterised and mis-stated since then. Without a name attached to a story, we cannot be sure that the accounts are free from embellishment as we have nothing to compare against. It is simply not satisfactory to accept stories from unknown witnesses as true while admitting that they came from an "anonymous" source. To be blunt, such accounts should be regarded as historical curiosities and not as evidence of anything.
The purpose of this short essay is to discuss and describe the accounts provided by the two witnesses. It is not meant to solve the mystery but is intended to provide "food for thought" as to how evidence is presented, analysed and discussed in Titanic circles.
Steerage survivor Eugene Daly gave the following statement to Carpathia passenger Dr.Blackmarr on April 18th;
"I left Queenstown with two girls from my home town who were placed in my charge to go to America. After the accident, we were all held down in steerage, which seemed to be a lifetime. All this time we knew that the water was coming up, and up rapidly. Finally some of the women and children were let up, but as you know, we had quite a number of hot-headed Italians and other peoples who got crazy and made for the stairs. These men tried to rush the stairway, pushing and crowding and pulling the women down, some of them with weapons in their hands.
I saw two dagos shot and some that took punishment from the officers. After a bit, I got up on one of the decks and threw a big door over the side. I caught hold of some ropes that had been used setting free a lifeboat. Up this I climbed to the next deck because the stairs were so crowded that I could not get through.
I finally got up to the top deck and made for the front. The water was just covering the upper deck at the bridge and it was easy to slide because she had such a tip.
[Doctor's note: Here this man fell back on his pillow crying and sobbing and moaning, saying 'My God, if I could only forget!' After a bit he proceeded.]
My God, if I could only forget those women's cries. I reached a collapsible boat that was fastened to the deck by two rings. It could not be moved. During that brief time that I worked on cutting one of those ropes, the collapsible was crowded with people hanging upon the edges. The Titanic gave a lurch downwards and we were in the water up to our hips.
She rose again slightly, and I succeeded in cutting the second rope which held her stern. Another lurch threw this boat and myself off and away from the ship into the water. I fell upon one of the oars and fell into a mass of people. Everything I touched seemed to be women's hair. Children crying, women screaming and their hair in their face. My God, if I could only forget those hands and faces that I touched!
As I looked over my shoulder, as I was stll hanging to this oar, I could see the enormous funnels of the Titanic being submerged in the water. These poor people that covered the water were sucked down in those funnels, each of which was twenty-five feet in diameter, like flies.
I managed to get away and succeeded in reaching the same boat I had tried to set free from the deck of the Titanic. I climbed upon this, and with the other men balanced ourselves in water to our hips until we were rescued. People came up beside us and begged to get on this upturned boat. As a matter of saving ourselves, we were obliged to push them off. One man was alongside and asked if he could get upon it. We told him that if he did, we would all go down. His reply was 'God bless you. Goodbye.'
I have been in the hospital for three days, but I don't seem to be able to forget those men, women and children who gradually slid from our raft into the water.
Signed, Eugene Daly, Collapsible B.A few days after arriving in New York, the following statement appeared in the newspapers, being part of a letter to his family in Ireland; it was printed in the Daily Sketch on May 4th, 1912 (originally appearing in the New York Herald):
I was in compartment 23, Deck C, steerage. Two other men were with me. I was in my bunk asleep on the Sunday night (the night of the disaster). A crash woke me up. It nearly threw me from my bed. I got up and went to the door. I put on my trousers and shoes. I met the steward in the gangway. He said there was nothing serious and that I might go back. I went back for a little while. Then I went up on deck as I heard a noise there. People were running around. Then I went down and went to the room where Maggie Daly and Bertha Mulvihill were.
They came out with me, but a sailor told us there was no danger. He said the ship would float for hours. He also said to go back, and that if there was any danger he would call us.
I went for a lifebuoy in the stern and Maggie and Bertha came with me. I had a scuffle with a man for a lifebuoy. He would not give it to me, but he gave it to Maggie Daly.
There was a great deal of noise at this time and water was coming in. We knelt down and prayed in the gangway. Then the sailor said there was danger. We went to the deck but there were no boats going off. Then we went to the second cabin deck. A boat was being lowered there. It was being filled with women. Maggie and Bertha got in, and I got in. The officer called me to go back, but I got in. Life was sweet to me and I wanted to save myself. They told me to get out, but I didn't stir. Then they got hold of me and pulled me out. Then the boat was lowered and went off.
There was another boat there, but I went up to the first cabin. The steerage people and second cabin people went to the first cabin part of the ship. They were getting women into the boats there. There was a terrible crowd standing about. The officer in charge pointed a revolver and waved his hand and said that if any man tried to get in he would shoot him on the spot.
Two men tried to break through and he shot them both. I saw him shoot them. I saw them lying there after they were shot. One seemed to be dead. The other was trying to pull himself up at the side of the deck, but he could not. I tried to get to the boat also, but was afraid I would be shot and stayed back. Afterwards there was another shot and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him.
Then I rushed across the deck, and there was a sort of canvas craft there. I tried with six or seven men to get it out, but we could not. It was stuck under a wire stay which ran up the mast. The water was then washing right across the deck. The ship lurched and the water washed the canvas craft off the deck into the ocean. I was up to my knees in water at the time. Everyone was rushing around, but there were no boats. Then I dived overboard.
When I struck the water I swam for the boat that had been washed over. When I got to her she was upside down. I helped myself up on her. About 15 people got up on her the same way. At the time I jumped there were a lot of people jumping overboard.
As I stood on the craft I saw the ship go down. Her stern went up and she gradually sunk down forward. Her stern stuck up high. I thought she would fall over on us, and she seemed to be swinging around, but she did not. There was no suction at all that we felt. Our craft was not drawn in at all.The letter was also published in the Daily Telegraph of May 5th, 1912 but it has one interesting inclusion. It includes the statement "At the first cabin [deck] when a boat was being lowered an officer pointed a revolver and said if any man tried to get in, he would shoot him on the spot" (emphasis included). This would seem to be a crucial statement when coupled with the line, "Then I rushed across the deck [after the shooting and suicide], and there was a sort of canvas craft there." The canvas craft proved to be boat A.
Of course, while there are many similarities between his Blackmarr account and the letter to his sister there are differences too, perhaps due to delirium in the aftermath of the disaster? In the earlier account, Daly goes into detail about the steerage trying to rush the stairway after some of the women and children were allowed up on deck. His mention of "two dagos" who were shot would not seemingly be the two men he saw at the boat as he chronologically places this before he went on deck. His earlier account does not mention the shooting on deck or the supposed suicide (although Daly did at some point tell the Doctor about this, as Blackmarr told the Chicago Daily Tribune of April 20th, 1912, "The only panic at the beginning, as I understand it, was in the steerage, where there were many persons who lacked self-control. There was no shooting, as I learn, except that a steerage passenger told me he saw an officer trying to control the maddened rush by shooting two persons. The same officer shot himself a minute later.")
Of interest, but not relevant to this discussion is Daly's reference to the boat deck of the Titanic raising briefly after the initial surge of water onto the deck, a fact that was observed and verified by other witnesses in the vicinity of boat A. Also a matter of curiosity is Daly having to climb the vacant falls of a departed lifeboats, as the stairway was crowded; was he referring to the 1st class forward grand staircase, or one of three crew's "service" stairs that went up to the boat deck and not far from where his ladies escaped?
Quite why there are discrepancies between the Blackmarr and the letter to his family is unknown; Daly was obviously still under great strain at the time of his earlier comments on the Carpathia. Perhaps a few days reflection and cogitation before he penned his letter allowed him to collect his memories. During this time, temporarily forgotten memories (the shooting on deck and the suicide) may have resurfaced, but why not mention the struggle by steerage to ascend the stairs to safety?
This is not to dismiss Daly's claims; indeed he was remarkably consistent about the shooting. He testified at the Limitation of Liability hearings on 25th June, 1915 but unfortunately his testimony has disappeared. All we have is the following, from the New York Times:
"Eugene Daly of Newark, N.J., was awakened when the Titanic struck, but was assured there was no danger. The stewards, he said, ordered all hands on deck, and when he reached there he found some of the stewards laughing and smoking cigarettes. He said he returned below and aroused some of his friends. He saw three lifeboats lowered, and when he attempted to get into one an officer threatened him, although the boats were far from full. He said he heard two shots at this time, and later saw two men lying on the deck, and was told that they had been shot. When the ship listed he jumped into the water and clung to an upturned boat until morning. Eventually he was picked up by the boat in which he was first refused permission to get in. He said several women refused to get into the lifeboats because the officers told them there was no danger."
It is difficult to ascertain how much of the above is due to Daly and how much is a summary by the journalist; he does not mention the body of the officer and now only hears two shots; the brief summary makes it appear that he did not witness the actual shooting. The statement about being picked up the boat (either 4 or 12) he was first refused permission to enter is debateable too. But Daly was adamant about the shooting, as he told his daughter, Marion K.Joyce; "I heard my Dad say he was held back at gunpoint when he tried to board he lifeboats. And that he saw men shot. His confidence in the water, with God's merciful help, went a long way to helping Eugene survive those eight long hours in the sea. He was in the water from his hips down."
Combining the various accounts, we have the following scenario: Daly helps the ladies under his charge into boat 15, and then ascends to the boat deck. He ends up at a boat that is being lowered where an officer shoots two men who try to enter it. The officer then apparently turns his weapon on himself. Daly then rushes across the deck where he helps to free boat "A". He ends up in a boat and is under the mistaken impression that he clambers aboard the same craft he had struggled at moments before, but now overturned.
Daly's shooting incident is customarily placed at boat "A" but that boat was never lowered to the sea. He then goes to the other side of the ship where he does encounter this boat. So, from where did he start? Obviously a port side boat. Boat "B" is an impossibility; mere moments after it had hurled from the roof of the officer's quarters, water washed it from the deck; there was scarcely enough time for Junior Wireless Operator Harold Bride from climbing down and grabbing hold of an oarlock before he, and the boat, went over the side.
The only other logical possiblity is boat "D", which was indeed lowered; furthermore, the timing is right. Anyone leaving "D" and going to port would see the struggle with "A". We know that Daly was on the top deck and the only other boat he could have been at would be No.2; but this introduces a large gap in the timeline before he went to "A", and the conditions on deck at the time don't sound like the situation Daly described. It has been suggested on a Facebook forum that Daly meant "rushed along the deck" rather than "rushed across" but one can be sure that he was sufficiently compos mentis when he wrote the letter to know the difference. Furthermore, if he didn't cross the deck, but stayed on the starboard side, from where was he coming? Boat "C" was launched a few minutes before the attempt at boat "A" but it was at the same locaton. There would be nowhere to "rush" to.
The basis for Rheims's claims comes from a letter to his wife Mary, dated 19th April;
I dined with Joe [Joseph Loring, Rheims's brother-in-law] Sunday evening and went up to my cabin to go to sleep around 11.00 P.M. I felt, being in the front part of the ship, a strong shock and heard a noise that sounded like steam escaping, it was dreadful. I thought we had an accident in the engine. After one fourth of an hour there was an announcement informing us that we had collided with an iceberg but that there was no danger and we should all go back to sleep!!! Since I noticed that the ship wasn't listing I thought nothing of it. Soon after Joe came to join me and we stayed together until the end. Around 11.30 all passengers left their cabins. The ship tilted more and more. An officer came to tell us to put on our life jackets. You can well imagine how this news affected me!
I went down to my cabin to put on some warm clothing and my life jacket. Joe did the same and rejoined me on the boat's deck, where by now a crowd of people gathered. We started lowering the lifeboats down in the ocean – 16 lifeboats for 3,000 people. The men were forbidden to use the lifeboats. A few men – traitors – did not hesitate to jump into the lifeboats just the same. In general the people's attitude was admirable. It took one and a half hours for all 16 lifeboats to be lowered. A few of them were only half full. While the last boat was leaving, I saw an officer with a revolver fire a shot and kill a man who was trying to climb into it. As there remained nothing more to do, the officer told us, "Gentlemen, each man for himself, good-bye." He gave a military salute and then fired a bullet into his head. That’s what I call a man!!!
We were about 1,500 people left on board without any means of escape. It was death for us all. I can not convey how calm everyone was. We said goodbye to all our friends and everyone prepared himself to die properly. Joe took both my hands and said, "George if you survive look after my babies. If I live you will not have to worry about Mary." I then left him for one minute to go back to my cabin and find our photograph, then went up to join Joe on the deck. We then undressed, keeping on only our underwear. I did not lose one second of composure and had decided to jump overboard to save myself by swimming. I can not describe the unbelievable things I saw at that moment. Suddenly the ship started nosediving and I was thrown to the deck by an explosion. I found myself entangled in chairs and ropes. I was able to free myself. Joe wanted to go back in the rear of the ship. I told him it would mean death and that he should follow me. He told me that he could not swim well enough.
Then I took my momentum and jumped overboard. The fall seemed endless, then suddenly icy cold and a long plunge down into the ocean. When I came up again I started swimming vigorously to get away from the ship fearing that I would be dragged down with it. It was frightfully cold. Suddenly I saw the Titanic going straight down with horrible explosions and piercing screams. All the passengers were pressed against the railing like flies. There was a big whirlpool swirling movement, then silence. Suddenly there were pitiful pleas that I will never forget. It was all those who were able to float crying for help. It was atrociously grim, mysterious – supernatural. This lasted for half an hour, then all was quiet. The poor people went down. I swam alone in the night, when at a distance I noticed a raft, half sunk and filled with men. It took me I suppose 15 minutes to reach it. At first they refused to let me come aboard, but I was able to persuade them after all. I stood up on the raft. We were about 20 men and women, with icy water up to our thighs. We had to balance ourselves to avoid capsizing. I stayed six hours in my underwear, shaking with cold. Twice I thought of throwing myself into the ocean and each time the thought of you held me back. I regained courage and resumed – I don't know how – my efforts to stay on the raft. What a horrible night! We had to push back about 10 poor people who wanted to climb aboard. We were filled to the limit. During the night eight people died from cold or desperation. I am sparing you the details for they are too frightful. I had the pleasure to be able to save a poor man, father of nine children, who asked me to give him a picture of myself with a dedication fit for the King of England. At 8.00 in the morning a lifeboat from the Titanic came to pick us up and took us aboard the Carpathia. They took marvelous care of us.
I had some trouble walking, my feet being frostbitten. Here I am settled at Harry's and I think that a little rest of a few days will do me a lot of good.
I affirm that I am a little tired. You must not hold it against me for ending this letter so abruptly.
George RheimsIt is to be seen how close Rheims's letter is to the established facts of the sinking. And he actually claimed to have witnessed the suicide. BUt naturally, there are a few problems with his story:
Like Daly, Rheims places the shooting at a boat that was leaving, which cannot be said of boat "A". But what boat was he talking of? He says it was the last one, which indicates "D" but if he was on the starboard side, he may not have known that there was another boat on the other side of the ship; to him, "C" would seem to be the last. Rheims's mention of men being excluded from entering the boats may point to his presence on the port side of the Titanic, but it is uncertain (we recall that many men were allowed in starboard boats).
Rheims is obviously writing chronologically. He says that after the suicide, he went down to his cabin to fetch a photograph of him and his wife. His cabin was A-21, which was directly below and slightly aft of boat "A." The problem we have now is that if indeed he did see the shooting at boat "A", the water would have been starting to flood onto the boat deck. And this means that A deck forward would be sufficiently flooded to prevent him getting to his room. It is obvious that Rheims is talking about a time before the struggle to free boat "A". Also, it is hard to reconcile the calmness of the situation at that time with the rush aft that occurred when the boat deck dipped under the waves. Unless, of course, Rheims was talking of an occasion before the dip.
He also gave an interview to the New York Herald which appeared in the 20th April issue. It says, "George Rheims, an importer, of No. 19 East Fifty-seventh street, Manhattan, and No. 22 Rue Octave Feuilliet, Paris, who assisted in loading the lifeboats, said yesterday he had seen an officer of the Titanic shoot a man who attempted to get in a boat ahead of a woman. Mr. Rheims feet were badly frozen.
'I was with my brother-in-law, Joseph Loring of No. 811 Fifth Avenue,' said Mr.Rheims. 'The majority of men passengers did not attempt to get in the boats. The men assisted the women. But when the boats began to be lowered some men lost their heads. From the lower deck men jumped into crowded boats and others slid down ropes. One officer shot a man who attempted to get into a crowded boat. Immediately afterward the officer said:- "Well, goodby," and killed himself.'"
It is very close to the account provided in his letter; and whereas a newspaper could be accused of manufacturing a shooting and/or suicide, this sounds convincing as it is backed up by the private letter. Naturally, there are a few extra details in this newspaper interview; could it be that among the men he saw who jumped into crowded boats were Hugh Woolner and his companion Mauritz Björnström-Steffansson who leapt into boat "D" from the next deck down? The men who slid down the ropes could be the crewmen who climbed down boat 4 (launched minutes before boat "D") to help increase numbers in this heavily undermanned craft.
Rheims story would seemingly be definitive. An officer shot someone and then took his own life. But there is one more matter to consider; like Daly, Rheims gave testimony at the Limitation of Liability hearings (on 14th November, 1913), but in this instance, his deposition is available for perusal.
The story he told to his inquisitors can be summarised thus:
On April 14th at about 11.40, as he was coming out of a bathroom on A deck, he felt a slight shock, and turned and looked to his right, seeing an iceberg passing by the ship. 2 or 3 minutes after the shock, he noticed a change with reference to the operation of the engines (they had stopped). By this time, he was in his stateroom, and 10 or 15 minutes later found out ship had struck an iceberg. He went out on to A deck and talked to a steward who said he thought something might have happened to the machinery. Rheims's brother in law came up from his stateroom and met him at the top of the stairway, where they talked for four or five minutes. Rheims didn't have any life preserver on at the time; Thomas Andrews told him to put one on. About 25 minutes after the shock, Rheims went on the boat deck and saw one of the boats, well forward on the starboard side being lowered. The officer who was in command said, "women and children first; men stand back." Some men managed to scramble in at the last minute before they lowered the boats; the first boat was about 3/4s full. He later saw 5 or 6 boats lowered, some on starboard and some on the port, and at least four were not completely filled, being about 1/2 to 3/4 full. Rheims thought three of the boats he saw were on the starboard side, lowered from forward going aft. He heard two pistol shots, about 40 minutes before the ship sank. He jumped off the ship near the gymnasium about 15 minutes before she foundered, when the deck was about 15 feet from the boat deck. He swam away and looked over his shoulder, seeing the Titanic go down. He turned and tried to come back to get hold of some wreckage and came cross boat A and remained there all night.
At least in this case he clarifies that he saw boats on both sides being filled. Consolidating the above with his letter (and from what we know), Rheims probably saw the last of the regular boats forward on the starboard side being filled (as the officer in charge was less inclined to let men in at this point); these boats were filled from aft, going forward. Then he probably went to the rearward four boats, which were, as he said, filled from forward going to aft. There is superficially reasonable agreement between his testimony and his letter, although his Liability deposition contains less detail. One may ask, if he jumped from a location near the gymnasium, would it not be logical to assume that is the side he started from, hinting that he was originally on the starboard side. Perhaps. Maybe he decided to seek "higher ground" given the huge, precarious list to port? Or given that his cabin was on the starboard side, it made sense to go up the stairs on that side? Or there may be other reasons? Perhaps he and his brother moved across the deck after the shooting, an obviously unimportant detail he neglected to mention?
There are two major areas of discrepancy: in 1913, he said that he saw the iceberg travelled aft outside the windows. This detail is absent from the letter to his wife. A study of the ship's deckplans shows this claim to be impossible as his view would be obscured by cabins.
The other divergent matter is more salient to our discussion, viz. the matter of gunshots. The following is recorded:
Q. Did you hear any particular noise?
- Yes I heard two pistol shots.
Q. About how long before the ship sank?
- About 40 minutes before she sank.
Regardless of whether the shots occurred at boats "A", "C" or "D", this estimate of the time is much too soon; the timing is more reminiscent of 5th Officer's Lowe use of his firearm at boat 14 to quell the rising panic (in that instance, it is almost certain that no one was actually hit, however). One may question whether Rheims would volunteer his information about the officer's suicide. Certainly, its omission is puzzling. A disturbing possibility is that he may have realised his earlier comments, made privately to his wife, were in error. Or that he was duty bound to tell the truth while under oath.
The most vital point concerning Rheims's story is his admission under questioning that he lost his memory for about two months; his memory was not as good as it usually was, he stated. If this occurred soon after the wreck, this would encompass the date he wrote the letter to his wife. It is very hard what to make of this; as stated, his detailed letter has much that conforms to our knowledge of the disaster. And would a "lost memory" have helped to conjure up the shootings on the boat deck? This detail of his memory casts a pall over his seemingly convincing assertions in his note to his wife. It is a truism that people's recollections become tainted or fade over time (one only has to look at the correspondence that Walter Lord shared with survivors in the 1950s for some good examples as the proffered recollections can be very poor); perhaps this degradation of memory could help to explain his Limitation of Liability answers? It may just be an artefact of the interrogation process, but the detail gleaned in November 1913 is nowhere near as good as in his April 1912 letter. His later statements show that he was not prone to volunteering information and his answers are mostly terse.
Finally, Edith Rosenbaum wrote in 1913 and in later decades of a conversation that she had with Rheims while on board the "Carpathia." He mentions saying goodbye to his brother and seeing a lady on his lifeboat becoming weaker and eventually succumbing to the cold, her lifeless body being washed overboard. He makes no mention of a suicide and given the detail in Rosenbaum's narratives, it is something that she certainly would have noted. If Rheims kept this information back to himself one must ponder why?
The favoured candidate for the suicide theory is 1st Officer Murdoch; his name was most frequently cited by survivors but the majority were simply repeating a tale they had been told. The point of this essay is to show that different conclusions can be reached by considering the sum total of the evidence. Many books are quite content, with some judicious editing of superfluous material, to repeat the basic statement of shootings and suicide, with the surrounding detail excised. Therefore, it is possible to reach any conclusion. Some books and websites forget to tell the reader that Daly and Rheims saw their incidents as a boat was being lowered, that Daly rushed across the deck, and that Rheims had time to go down to his cabin to fetch a family keepsake all of which detract from the incident occurring at boat "A".
I have no doubt that Daly saw what he claimed; Rheims is slightly harder to believe due to his claimed memory problems; even so, his letter contains much that is known to be true.
If we assume that these two men saw the same incident (and the prospect of two suicides in the same small area within minutes is difficult to credit), then we can say that their letters do not point to boat "A". They fit boat "D" a lot better. On the port side of the ship, predominantly overseeing the embarkation in the boats was Chief Officer Wilde and 2nd Officer Lightoller, with Captain Smith doing some work at the forward boats. Smith can be ruled out as the culprit; he was unmistakable and there could be no debate about the identity of the officer wielding the gun.
Lightoller survived; that leaves Wilde. And it is a fact that Wilde seems to have disappeared in the last few minutes. Rather than helping at boat "B" or "A" after "D" was launched, he is referred to no more. But no one in boat "D" saw anyone shot; Irene Harris and Jane Hoyt in particular left detailed accounts and they mention nothing of the kind happening. The only mishap comes from Hoyt who said that, "seamen started to lower us but the boat suddenly gave a heavy list and the men left us hanging suspended in the air and ran to the upper side to save themselves. Finally one or two men came back and completed the task of lowering us to the water."
How can someone in the boat not noticing a major fracas on the decks? A simple explanation is that if the boat was already being lowered, the solid bulwark would have obscured their view. Certainly, the surviving crew of the Titanic could have wanted to maintain the notion of prevailing calm on deck. Lightoller himself talked of a lack of panic but he admitted privately that he had to fire his gun at "D" when steerage men rushed the boat. A fair portion of his testimony in America and England is regarded as suspect.
But why did no one hear these shots? This is harder to explain, but it is a fact that people did not notice the sound of firearms. Few people, unless they were in the immediate vicinity, heard guns discharging. To give two examples, 5th Officer Lowe's use of his weapon was generally not remarked upon by people who were not in the area. Lightoller's use of his weapon was not heard, or mentioned by Colonel Gracie, who, again, was in the general region. But it should be conceded that there is also the possibility that shots were fired at "A" to calm a boisterous crowd and there are some supporting statements to support this notion.
Apart from Daly and Rheims, there are precious few other accounts of people who witnessed the shootings. Some researchers have asked why more people did not notice the incident, the paucity of data being used as an excuse to proclaim, "it never happened." But the reason is obvious. There were over 1500 people on the Titanic at the end, and only about 40 survived. These 40 would have to be on the right side of the deck to have observed anything; and if it happened on the port side as is hinted above, then the number of conceivable witnesses drops as many of those who managed to find sanctuary from the frigid water were on the starboard side, many of them near boat "A".
Regarding the people in the boats, for them to have seen anything, they would have needed an unobstructed view of the bridge area, and to have been able to discern details at a distance in the gloom; the lights were reported to have been glowing red in the last quarter of an hour. In this category is Laura Francatelli, who wrote on April 18th, "The dear brave officer gave orders to row away from the sinking boat at least 200 yards, he afterwards poor dear brave fellow, shot himself. We saw the whole thing, and watched that tremendous thing quickly sink...." She was in boat 1 which was somewhere off the bow of the Titanic, giving her a good vantage point, allowing for the darkness (although at that distance could she be sure that the officer who gave her orders - Murdoch - was the same as the one she saw committing suicide from a distance?). Albert Horswill was also in boat 1 and he commented on another debatable aspect of the Titanic story; "Asked if he saw anything of the master, Horswell said he saw Captain Smith swimming about with the dead body of a child in his arms." The same report contains much that is consistent with the basic Titanic story. The point of all this is that Francatelli's mention of a suicide is dismissed on the grounds that she was too far away to have seen anything. Coupled with Horswill's comments, the boat could easily have been a lot closer - and there is also the faint possibility that these two witnesses in boat 1 may have remarkably good eyesight which could have assisted in them seeing occurrences at a distance, in the vicinity of the sinking Titanic. Horswill's comment about seeing the Captain in the water should perhaps not be so easily disregarded either. He was one of the very few crewmembers who were willing to attach his name to an interview. For the most part, we have anonymous interviews; while exciting and enticing, the lack of attribution prevents any further corroboration or analysis as I have already stated.
There is one other matter that readers might wish to ponder. Its been said that because the letters of Daly and Rheims were to family members and not statements made to the press they are therefore beyond reproach and should be regarded as factual and accurate. After all, journalists might have felt the need to add salacious and untrue details. Unfortunately, such personal letters are not necessarily hallowed pieces of data: a good example is that many survivors told family and friends that they were rescued by being plucked from the water as opposed to truthfully saying they simply got into a boat. People can and do lie - and the Titanic story is no exception.
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