Margaret Brown’s Titanic Experience in her Own Words

 The Sailing of the

Ill Fated Steamship

May 28, 1912 –  Mrs. James J. Brown of Denver, well known as a summer resident of Newport, has written for the Herald a comprehensive story of the first and last voyage of the steamer Titanic on which she was a passenger.  As Mrs. Brown is a keen observer as well as a woman of strong intellect, the story, it is believed, will be the most interesting that has yet been prepared upon the subject.  It is so full that it would cover a page and a quarter of the Herald and for this reason it will be presented in sections.

A special boat train (train deluxe) from Paris reached Cherburg[sic] at 5 p.m. April 10th.  When we arrived, no steamer in sight.  She was late, having met with some difficulties in leaving the docks at Liverpool.  We all boarded the tender that was waiting to covey the hundreds of passengers to the master palace of the sea, that proved later to be the tomb of many of them.

After an hour or more of waiting in the cold, gray atmosphere, the funnels of the Titanic, the worlds greatest masterpiece of modern ocean liners appeared over the other side of the breakwater.

In a few minutes more this wonderful floating palace hove in sight around the curve of the dike and dropped anchor.  The tender put on the steam, and after half an hour in a running sea we were alongside the keel of the Titanic.  The tossing of the small craft in the choppy sea caused most of the passengers to be uncomfortable and actively ill.  All were chilled through.

On boarding the vessel, the great number of the passengers immediately sought their staterooms.  The bugle for dinner sounds a half-hour later, but it was unsuccessful in calling forth many to its magnificent dining saloon.  The electric heater and warm covering were found to comfortable to be deserted even for the many course dinner, even at the craving of the inner man.

The second day out broke clearer and less crisp, and half-after twelve found most of the passengers promenading the deck or basking in the warm sun outside the Palm Garden.  There were long benches on the long bow of the boat for those who found the sway-back steamer chairs uncomfortable.

The last half-hour lapsing between the first and second gongs, when all take their exercise before descending into the dining hall, most of the passengers are to be found walking enveloped in heavy wraps.  The women were in luxurious furs, and the men in heavy overcoats buttoned closely around their necks and partly disguised in steamer caps.  In passing to and fro they discovered old friends on board, and some made new ones.  Small groups were standing here and there, discussing the ship and its marvelous, its possibility for speed, and all its wonderful advantages over anything of its kind heretofore put afloat.  Each and all seemed to have consulted the log as to the distance covered that day at noon, and was the topic of conversation on deck and at the table at the luncheon hour.

After luncheon, or about two-thirty, the favorite and popular place was the reading room, where the passengers settled themselves comfortably with some chosen book from the well-equipped library on the ship.  Others were taking a quiet siesta on the deck, wrapped in heavy steamer rugs.  Few remained in their staterooms, for the sea was perfectly calm and no vibration was felt.  Consequently, there was little or no mal-de-mer.

Thus Thursday, Friday and Saturday were passed.

Sunday services were held at ten-thirty, quite one-half of the passengers attending. Later the….promenade on deck, but much more briskly as the temperature had dropped perceptibly lower.  After luncheon a few remained on deck, but all were restlessly searching for a warm place.  The comfortable chairs in the lounge held but a few, as a shaft of cold air seemed to penetrate every nook and corner, and chill the marrow.  Heavy furs and warm clothing were donned.

Dinner time found few inclined to shed their warm clothing for dinner dress.  Even the innumerable brides, who on various occasions appeared in a different Paris creation each night, could not be induced to change.  Though the board groaned with viands, the passengers found it uncomfortable to sit through the many course dinner.  Many sought their staterooms immediately afterwards.

The writer sought some exceedingly intellectual and much traveled acquaintances, a Mrs. Bucknell, whose husband has founded the Bucknell University of Philadelphia, and Dr. Brew of Philadelphia, who had done much in scientific research.  During our conversation that I had had with her on the tender while waiting for the Titanic, she said she feared boarding the ship, she had evil forebodings that something might happen.  We laughed at her premonitions, and shortly afterwards sought or quarters.

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 hearing 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 the 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 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 worse 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 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 the time E and 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 the 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 lifeboats 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 boat.  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. – written by Mrs. James J. Brown for The Newport Herald

2012-04-03T16:50:13+00:00