J. Bruce Ismay
(December 12, 1862 – October 15, 1937)
Background of J.Bruce Ismay
Joseph Bruce Ismay was president and one of the founders of the International Mercantile Marine. He made it custom to be a passsenger on the maiden voyage of every new ship built by the White Star Line. It was Mr Ismay who, with J.P. Morgan, consolidated the British steamship lines under International Mercantile Marine's control. It was also Ismay's idea, along with Lord Pirrie's (of the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding company of Belfast), to build the Titanic. In fact they wanted to build three enormous ships to outdo their chief competitor Cunard Line, who had recently unveiled the RMS Lusitania and the RMS Mauretania. Ismay's dream was to build a series of ships who's luxury was unparalleled in the history of ocean going steamships. The ships were to be named the RMS Olympia, the RMS Titanic and the RMS Gigantic (later built as HMHS Britannic).
That Sinking Feeling!
When the Titanic struck the iceberg Ismay's heart must have sunk, too. His "unsinkable" was about to make headlines around the world and all eyes would be on him for answers. As the great ship was sinking Ismay boarded Collapsible Lifeboat C whilst women and children perished, an action which haunted him for the rest of his life. It was reported that he was so distraught during the time in the lifeboat, that he turned away as his great ship sunk.
Fighting His Demons
Ironically he was rescued by one of Cunard Liner's ship, RMS Carpathia, the company he so feriously wanted to outdo. Once on board the Carpathia, Ismay retired to the cabin (belonging to the ship's doctor),never to emerge until his arrival in New York. It is believed he ate very little during the journey and was rumored to be under the influence of narcotics the entire time.
Hero To Zero
The homecoming for Ismay was not a joyous one, he had a lot of explaining to do. He was instantly labelled the villian of the tragedy and was savaged by both the American and the English press for deserting the ship while women and children were still on board. Some went so low as to call him "J. Brute Ismay," and suggested that the White Star flag be changed to a yellow liver. In London, where he was once so revered, he was ostracized, with many labelling him one of the "biggest cowards in history". The newspaper onslaught was headed by William Randolph Hearst, who was rumored to have had a personal vendetta against Ismay. Ismay was later called to testify at the Titanic disaster inquiry hearings held by both the U.S. Senate (chaired by Senator William Alden Smith) and the British Board of Trade (chaired by Lord Mersey). In 1913, he resigned as president of International Mercantile Marine, to be succeeded by Harold Sanderson.
Defending His Actions
As the Titanic was sinking, Ismay stated that he helped assist the crew with the loading and lowering of the lifeboats. Believing there were no more female passengers on the deck, he and another first-class passenger (William Carter) were invited to board collapsible lifeboat C. The two men took the place of one of the seamen. To his knowledge he was unaware there were still women and children still on the ship. His personal servant, Richard Fry, and secretary William H. Harrison remained on board and perished when the ship sank.
There were several rumors circulating that Ismay had been pressuring Captain Edward J. Smith to make the Titanic go faster, in order to arrive in New York ahead of schedule. One passenger had said he even saw Ismay wave around a iceberg warning message at the dining table. Many believed he was intent on breaking the speed record for crossing the Atlantic, to get some free press. None of the claims have ever been proven.