DR. WASHINGTON DODGE
GIVES HISTORY OF
TITANIC DISASTER AT COMMONWEALTH CLUB
Breaks Down in Telling of the
Cries of the Drowning in Icy Waters
Dodge read a description of the Titanic disaster at the luncheon of the
Commonwealth Club yesterday. The attendance established a record, and the
interest in Dr. Dodge's words was manifest by the close attention which
he received. When he came to speak of the cries of the drowning, Dr. Dodge
broke down, and with difficulty proceeded with the narrative. After describing
the first moments of the collision and telling how he placed his wife and
child in the second boat to be launched from the starboard side, Dr. Dodge
continued, in part, as follows:
"Many expressed their determination
to take their chances with the steamer rather than embark in the lifeboats.
This unusual circumstance may be accounted for by the fact that the officers
had insisted that under the worst conditions possible the Titanic could
not sink in less than eight or ten hours, and that a number of steamers
had been communicated with by wireless and would be standing by to offer
relief within an hour or two.
PORT SIDE CROWDED
"I watched all boats on the starboard
side, comprising the odd numbers from 1 to 13 as they were launched. Not
a boat was launched which could not have held from ten to twenty five more
"At no time were there many people
on the starboard side that night., Why was that? The most plausible reason
I can give is that the captain was in charge of the launching of the boats
on the port side.
"Now in times of danger the captain
always draws a crowd. The more notable men on board, who were known by
sight to the other passengers, knew Captain Smith personally, and remained
near him. These men attracted others. In this way the crowd grew and grew
on the port side while at no time was there anything like a crowd on the
starboard side. Again, the orders for the women and children to go to the
port side greatly increased the number there.
"Now this condition may explain
many things. It may explain why the boats were launched from the starboard
side so much more quickly and successfully, and why, when the last boats
on this side reached, Nos. 13 and 15, there were practically no women around,
and not many men. When the order to launch the boats was given, Captain
Smith took command of the port side and never left there. Chief Officer
Murdock took command on the starboard side.
NO WOMEN IN SIGHT
"Boats Nos. 13 and 15 were swung
from the davits at about the same moment. I heard the officer in charge
of No. 13 say `We'll lower this boat to deck A.' Observing a group of possibly
fifty or sixty about boat No. 15, a small proportion of which number were
women, I descended by means of a stairway close at hand to the deck below,
Deck A. Here, as the boat was lowered even with the deck, the women, about
eight in number, were assisted by several of us over the rail of the steamer
into the boat. The officer in charge then held the boat and called repeatedly
for more women. None appearing, and there being none visible on the deck
on this side, which was then brightly illuminated, the men were told to
tumble in. Along with those present I entered the boat.
"As there seems to be in the minds
of a few of the people in this community a question as to why any of the
eighty men saved from the first-class passengers should have been,
when later events disclosed the fact that there were women remaining on
board, I would like to quote here from an article of the New York Times
of recent date by Lawrence Beesley."
WAITED FOR VALUABLES.
Dr. Dodge then read from this statement,
which substantiated his account of the situation,
"In view of these conditions,
the query arises, why were any women lost. The list of survivors shows
that of the first-class women passengers only fifteen were lost. Of these,
nine were ladies' maids traveling with their employers. What follows may
account for so many of the latter being lost. It was related to me by a
women in my lifeboat that just before who came on deck and got onto the
boat, she saw a purser's office surrounded by a crowd demanding their valuables
which the purser and his assistant were endeavoring to hand out as quickly
as possible. In this crowd were many women. I believe, further, that there
were some women on some of the lower decks who were not awakened at all.
NO SAILORS IN BOAT.
"After we had been afloat possibly
half an hour I observed, on looking at the steamer, that the line of lights
from the portholes showed that the vessel had settled forward into the
water, but to no great extent. This was a matter of considerable surprise
to me at the moment. Watching the vessel closely, it was seen from time
to time that this submergence forward was increasing. No one in our boat,
however, had any idea that the ship was in any danger of sinking. In spite
of the intense cold, a cheerful atmosphere pervaded those present, and
they indulged from time to time in jesting and even singing `Pull for Shore
"Our boat contained no lantern,
as the regulations require. Nor was there a single sailor or officer in
the boat. Those who undertook to handle the oars were poor oarsmen almost
without exception, and our progress was extremely slow. Together with two
or three other lifeboats which were in the vicinity, we endeavored to overtake
the lifeboat which carried the light, in order that we might not drift
away and possibly become lost. This light appeared to be a quarter of a
mile distant, but in spite of our best endeavors we were never able to
approach any nearer to it, although we must have rowed at least a mile.
HEARD DEATH'S WAILS
"Any impression which I had had
that there were no survivors aboard was speedily removed from my mind by
the faint, yet distinct cries which were wafted across the waters. Some
there were in our boat who insisted that these cries came from occupants
of the different lifeboats. which were nearer the scene of the wreck than
we were, as they called one to another. To my ear, however, they had but
one meaning, and the awful fact was borne in upon me that many lives were
perishing in those icy waters.
"With the disappearance of the
steamer a great sense of loneliness and depression seemed to take possession
of those in our boat. Few words were spoken. I heard the remark: 'This
is no joke; we may knock about here days before we are picked up, if at
all.' And the hours between this and daylight were spent in ceaselessly
scanning the ocean for some sign of a steamer's light, It was recalled
how we had been told that four or five steamers would be standing by within
an hour or two, and every pair of eyes were strained to the utmost to discover
the first sign of approaching help.
"Out of the twenty lifeboats there
were probably four or five that carried lanterns. The occupants of the
other boats were, from time to time, apparently burning a piece of paper,
as were we in our boat. These facts led several in our boat to assert many
times that they saw a new light, which certainly must be a steamer's light.
With each disappointment added gloom seemed to settle upon our little company,
as they began to realize the seriousness of our situation.
"About this time quite a breeze
began to spring up and ocean became more rough. It was apparent that we
were drifting with the wind, being only partially able to keep the bow
of the boat headed into the wind. TELL HARROWING TALES.
"From the preceding narrative
it is seen that those who escaped in the lifeboats had little or no knowledge
of the terrible events which transpired with the sinking of the ship. As
near as I can fix the lapse of time, an hour or an hour and a quarter elapsed
after the lifeboat in which I left the vessel was launched up to the time
of the sinking of the steamer.
"My idea is that when the stern
of the ship was lifted high out of the water by the bursting of the watertight
compartments in the forward end of the vessel the vast weight of the machinery
caused the framework and the plates of the ship to give way, thus allowing
the great inrush of water to complete her destruction.
"The tales told me, however, by
those men who were on board the vessel, or in the water, as she sank, are
almost too harrowing for repetition. These men, for hours after their arrival
on the Carpathia, would burst forth in tears lamenting over the terrible
scenes through which they passed.
"Those who swam from the sinking
steamer at the last moment had no idea that the vessel was in danger of
sinking until her bow suddenly sank deeper in the waters a few moment before
she sank. As they stated, had they believed the vessel was in any danger
of sinking, they would have had sufficient time, following the launching
of the lifeboats, to have prepared temporary life rafts sufficient, in
that calm sea, to have saved the lives of hundreds.
"There were on the decks stacked
against the cabins over 800 folding steamer chairs made of heavy oak frames.
A few of these lashed together would have formed an emergency raft capable
of sustaining one or more persons indefinitely. Hundreds of heavy wooden
doors and dining-room tables and other material was easily available for
the same purpose.
"These survivors stated, however,
that until the sudden downward dip of the vessel forward, coincident with
the rush on to the boat deck of the steerage passengers, they did not apprehend
that there was any danger of the vessel sinking for hours.
"There can be no question of the
fact that the steamer was running at an warranted rate of speed after it
received the warning it had. Neither can there be any question of the fact
that the lifeboats were not sufficient to carry all of those aboard. The
number of seamen was positively insufficient. Owing to this great insufficiency,
there being but sixteen lifeboats to launch and man twenty lifeboats, the
lifeboats appeared to be filled and lowered consecutively rather than simultaneously.
The seriousness of this point is apparent when we consider that when the
ship sank, nearly three hours after she struck, there still remained three
collapsible boats, each capable of holding thirty or more persons, unlaunched.
As to the searchlight, it is not disputed that the steamer was without
"These chances of disaster have
been taken thousands of times previous to the disaster of the Titanic,
but, unfortunately, here the chance was taken once too often. The Titanic
encountered the only thing in the ocean which was capable, in my opinion,
of sinking her.
"There is no doubt that the catastrophe
will result in the adoption of rules regarding the equipment of ocean-going
steamers and their navigation which will make the repetition of such a
San Francisco Chronicle
May 12, 1912
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