7. J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, was blamed for the sinking of the Titanic and for his survival of the ship’s calamitous fate
Joseph Bruce Ismay (December 12, 1862 – October 17, 1937) was an English businessman most remembered for his tenure as the chairman and managing director of the White Star Line: the shipping company behind the RMS Titanic. Demanding a rival vessel to their competitor, Cunard Line, Ismay was an early advocate of the luxury ocean steamship later known as the Titanic and journeyed aboard the ship on its maiden voyage in April 1912; Ismay survived the sinking of the Titanic after it collided with an iceberg 400 miles south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, departing the doomed vessel on “Collapsible C” which launched less than 20 minutes before the submersion of the ship.
Despite Ismay’s clear emotional distress at the events, reportedly eating nothing during the remainder of the journey after rescue by the Carpathia and with one survivor stating that “I have never seen a man so completely wrecked”, the blame for the sinking was quickly attached to the businessman. Summoned before both Congress and a British inquiry, Ismay was tarred as the “Coward of the Titanic” and publicly shamed, depicted as a cruel tyrant and brutal murderer in the newspapers of the day. Rumors emerged that he had encouraged Captain Smith to attempt a faster voyage for greater publicity, a fact later debunked and was responsible for the lack of safety features aboard the ship. As a result of this popular belief, Ismay was forced to resign his positions, with his last official act ensuring all subsequent vessels of the International Mercantile Marine Company would carry sufficient lifeboat space for all passengers, and became a pariah within London society before dying in seclusion in 1937.
In all subsequent representations of the sinking of the Titanic this narrative has been maintained, including an infamous depiction of Ismay in dressing as a woman to sneak into a lifeboat and Paul Louden-Brown, consultant to the 1997 James Cameron directed-film, strongly protested the villainous portrayal in the blockbuster picture; Louden-Brown was informed that “under no circumstances are we prepared to adjust the script” because “this is what the public expect to see”. However, historical evidence strongly suggests Ismay was not, in fact, to blame for the sinking of the Titanic. The British inquiry led by Lord Mersey in the aftermath of the event found that Ismay categorically followed the “women and children first” policy and that “after rendering assistance to many passengers, found ‘C’ collapsible, the last boat on the starboard side, actually being lowered. No other people were there at the time. There was room for him and he jumped in. Had he not jumped in he would have merely have added one more life, namely his own, to the number of those lost”.