Sinking of the Titanic

Shan Bullock


ON the night of Sunday, 14th April, at 11-40 ship’s time, in clear fine weather, near Latitude 41° 46' N., Longitude 50° 14' W., the Titanic collided with the submerged spur of an iceberg and ripped her starboard side ten feet above the level of the keel for a length of about three hundred feet, thereby giving access to the sea in six of her forward compartments.

The calamity came with dreadful swiftness. In the vivid words of a stoker, on duty at the time of collision some two hundred and fifty feet from the stem: “All of a sudden the starboard side of the ship came in upon us; it burst like a big gun going off; the water came pouring in and swilled our legs.” Within ten minutes the water rose fourteen feet above the keel in five of the compartments; afterwards it rose steadily in all six; and by midnight had submerged the lower deck in the foremost hold. Yet so gentle apparently was the shock of contact that among the passengers, and probably among most of the crew as well, it was only the stopping of the engines that warned them of some happening; whilst for a considerable time, so quietly the great ship lay on the flat sea, such confidence had all in her strength, and so orderly was everything, that to many, almost to the last, it seemed impossible that disaster had come.*

“At first we did not realise,” says Mr. Albert Dick, “that the Titanic was mortally wounded. … I do not believe that anyone on her realised she was going to sink.” Mr. Dick goes on to record that, in his view, nothing deserved more praise than the conduct of Andrews after the ship had struck. "He was on hand at once and said that he was going below to investigate. We begged him not to go, but he insisted, saying he knew the ship as no one else did and that he might be able to allay the fears of the passengers. He went.

"As the minutes flew by we did not know what to do or which way to turn. … Captain Smith was everywhere doing his best to calm the rising tide of fear. . . But in the minds of most of us there was … the feeling that something was going to happen, and we waited for Mr. Andrews to come back.

"When he came we hung upon his words, and they were these: ‘There is no cause for any excitement. All of you get what you can in the way of clothes and come on deck as soon as you can. She is torn to bits below, but she will not sink if her after bulkheads hold.’

“It seemed almost impossible that this could be true hellip; and many in the crowd smiled, thinking this was merely a little extra knowledge that Mr. Andrews saw fit to impart. …”

It is almost certain that Andrews, who knew the ship as no one else did, realised at his first sight of her wounds—a three hundred feet gash, six compartments open to the sea and perhaps twenty feet of water in one or more of them—that she was doomed. Possibly with some of his faithful assistants, probably with Captain Smith, he had made a thorough examination of the damaged side, reporting to the Captain as result of his examination that the ship could not live more than an hour and a half, and advising him to clear away the boats.

How this order was carried out, with what skill and unselfishness on the part of Captain Smith and his officers, has been told elsewhere in full detail; nor is it necessary to record further here than that eventually, after two hours of heroic work, a total of 652 lives left the Titanic in eighteen boats. Subsequently 60 more were rescued from the sea, or transferred from the collapsibles, making a sum total of 712 rescued by the Carpathia. 712 out of 2,201: it seems tragically few! Yet at midnight it may have seemed to Andrews that fewer still could be saved, for not even he hoped that his ship could live for two hours and twenty minutes more.

As he came up from the grim work of investigation he saw Miss Sloan and told her that as an accident had happened it would be well, just by way of precaution, to get her passengers to put on warm clothing and their life belts and assemble on the Boat deck. But she read his face, “which had a look as though he were heart broken,” and asked him if the accident were not serious. He said it was very serious; then, bidding her keep the bad news quiet for fear of panic, he hurried away to the work of warning and rescue.

Another stewardess gives an account of Andrews, bareheaded and insufficiently clad against the icy cold, going quietly about bidding the attendants to rouse all passengers and get them up to the boats.

Overhearing him say to Captain Smith on the Upper deck, “Well, three have gone already, Captain,” she ran to the lower stairway and to her surprise found water within six steps of her feet. Whereupon she hurried above to summon help, and returning met Andrews, who told her to advise passengers to leave the Upper deck.

Ten minutes went. The water had crept further up the stairway. Again Andrews came to her and said, “Tell them to put on warm clothing, see that everyone has a lifebelt and get them all up to the Boat deck.”

Another fifteen minutes went. The top of the stairway was now nearly awash. A second time Andrews came. “Open up all the spare rooms,” he ordered. “Take out all lifebelts and spare blankets and distribute them.”

This was done. Attendants and passengers went above to the Boat deck. But returning for more belts, the stewardess again met Andrews. He asked her whether all the ladies had left their rooms. She answered “Yes, but would make sure.”

“Go round again,” said he; and then, “Did I not tell you to put on your life-belt. Surely you have one?”

She answered “Yes, but I thought it mean to wear it.”

“Never mind that,” said he. “Now, if you value your life, put on your coat and belt, then walk round the deck and let the passengers see you.”

“He left me then,” writes the stewardess, “and that was the last I saw of what I consider a true hero and one of whom his country has cause to be proud.”

In how far Andrews’ efforts and example were the means of averting what might well have been an awful panic, cannot be said; but sure it is that all one man could do in such service, both personally and by way of assisting the ship’s officers, was done by him. “He was here, there and everywhere,” says Miss Sloan, “looking after everybody, telling the women to put on lifebelts, telling the stewardesses to hurry the women up to the boats, all about everywhere, thinking of everyone but himself.”

Others tell a similar story, how calm and unselfish he was, now pausing on his way to the engine-room to reassure some passengers, now earnestly begging women to be quick, now helping one to put on her lifebelt—“all about everywhere, thinking of everybody but himself.”

It is certain also that on the Boat deck he gave invaluable help to the officers and men engaged in the work of rescue. Being familiar with the boats’ tackle and arrangement he was able to aid effectively at their launching; and it was whilst going quietly from boat to boat, probably in those tragic intervals during which the stewardess watched the water creep up the stairway, that he was heard to say: “Now, men, remember you are Englishmen. Women and children first.”

Some twenty minutes before the end, when the last distress signal had been fired in vain, when all that Upper deck and the Fore deck as well were ravaged by the sea, there was a crush and a little confusion near the place where the few remaining boats were being lowered, women and children shrinking back, some afraid to venture, some preferring to stay with their husbands, a few perhaps in the grip of cold and terror. Then Andrews came and waving his arms gave loud command:

“Ladies, you must get in at once. There is not a minute to lose. You cannot pick and choose your boat. Don’t hesitate. Get in, get in!”

They obeyed him. Do they remember to-day, any of them, that to him they, as so many more, may owe their lives? A little way back from that scene, Miss Sloan stood calmly waiting and seeing Andrews for the last time. She herself was not very anxious to leave the ship, for all her friends were staying behind and she felt it was mean to go. But the command of the man, who for nearly two hours she had seen doing as splendidly as now he was doing, came imperatively. “Don’t hesitate! There’s not a moment to lose. Get in!” So she stepped into the last boat and was saved.

It was then five minutes past two. The Titanic had fifteen minutes more to live.

Well, all was done now that could be done, and the time remaining was short. The Forecastle head was under water. All around, out on the sea, so calm under those wonderful stars, the boats were scattered, some near, some a mile away or more, the eyes of most in them turned back upon the doomed ship as one by one her port lights, that still burnt row above row in dreadful sloping lines, sank slowly into darkness. Soon the lines would tilt upright, then flash out and flash bright again; then, as the engines crashed down through the bulkheads, go out once more, and leave that awful form standing up against the sky, motionless, black, preparing for the final plunge.

But that time was not yet. Some fifteen minutes were left: and in those mintues we still have sight of Andrews.

One met him, bareheaded and carrying a lifebelt, on his way to the bridge perhaps to bid the Captain goodbye.

Later, an assistant steward saw him standing alone in the smoking-room, his arms folded over his breast and the belt lying on a table near him. The steward asked him, “Aren’t you going to have a try for it, Mr. Andrews?”

He never answered or moved, “just stood like one stunned.”

What did he see as he stood there, alone, rapt? We who know the man and his record can believe that before him was home and all the loved ones there, wife and child, father and mother, brothers and sister, relatives, friends—that picture and all it meant to him then and there; and besides, just for a moment maybe, and as background to all that, swift realisation of the awful tragedy ending his life, ending his ship.

But whatever he saw, in that quiet lonely minute, it did not hold or unman him. Work—work—he must work to the bitter end.

Some saw him for the last time, down in the Engine-room, with Chief engineer Bell and Archie Frost and the other heroes, all toiling like men to keep the lights going and the pumps at work.

Others saw him, a few minutes before the end, on the Boat deck, our final and grandest sight of him, throwing deck chairs overboard to the unfortunates struggling in the water below.

Then, with a slow long slanting dive, the Titanic went down, giving to the sea her short-spanned life and with it the life of Thomas Andrews.

So died this noble man. We may hope that he lies, as indeed he might be proud to lie, in the great ship he had helped to fashion.

* Mersey Commission Report,; Sir William White’s letter to the Times, dated May 14th.

New York Herald, April 20th, 1912.

E.g., Mersey Commission Report, pp. 39-41