J. Bruce Ismay was the managing director and chairman of the White Star Line, the company that built the Titanic. Ismay was on board and had seen a warning about ice sent from the Baltic, but went to bed after dinner apparently unconcerned. When the collision occurred at 11:40pm Ismay awoke and went to the bridge. One of a handful of people on board who realised the ship would sink he failed to warn his secretary, valet, dining companion or others of the danger. However, he did help load the lifeboats on the starboard side and was helping load Collapsible C, one of the four life rafts when he claimed, "I helped everybody into the boat that was there, and, as the boat was being lowered away, I got in." On this one action, Ismay was judged by the media as a coward. There were conflicting reports in the confusion - that Ismay was ordered to go, that he was virtually thrown into the boat by an officer, that he left on the first boat, that women already in the boat begged him to accompany them or that he was pressured to leave by members of the crew or the Captain. Ismay himself claimed he only took a seat when no women were there to take a place before him, but his actions were a defining moment in his life. William E. Carter, an American polo-playing millionaire, jumped into Collapsible C at the same time as Ismay and also claimed the deck was deserted and both men got into the lifeboat only after checking no women were there. However, Carter also claimed his wife and children had already left the ship and later, his wife Lucille, sued for divorce claiming he had deserted her and her children to their fate. Other passengers claimed there was pandemonium around the boat and that Ismay pushed his way on. So, was there a crowd, no people in sight, a panic or had Ismay made sure all women and children on his side of the ship had been put into the boats? The general confusion and panic meant that stories conflicted and people remembered things differently.
Ismay certainly did not seem to understand the general mood after the sinking of the Titanic and seemed disconected with people. On the Carpathia he hid in a cabin, refusing to see other passengers and not trying to help. He wanted to return to England as soon as he arrived in New York, but was virtually coerced into remaining for an inquiry led by Senator William Alden Smith. He was questioned on the stand for hours and the press made up their mind he was to blame. Ismay complained, saying "I did not suppose the question of my personal conduct was the subject of the inquiry." Neither Smith nor newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst gave him an easy time. The story of Ismay's survival was bigger than the story of the Titanic itself. The most serious accusation was that he had not wanted the Titanic to slow down in dangerous waters because he wanted to break the speed record to New York. The most common accusation was that he did not behave like a gentleman. Indeed, it was Ismay who was responsible for turning down suggestions for more lifeboats. Although, in his defence, the Titanic carried 10% more than the British Board of Trade's official requirements. A White Star Official said, "If a steamship had enough lifeboats for all there would be no room on deck for the passengers". Instead of lifeboats, there was luxury and the ship was seen as unsinkable - the whole ship was, in effect, a lifeboat.
This then is the story of the unlucky Mr Ismay, who survived one disaster to endure another sinking at the hands of the press and public. It is a fascinating story of his life, career and events leading up to the Titanic disaster and the events which happened afterwards. There is also a very interesting parallel with the story of "Lord Jim" by Joseph Conrad, which the author of the book discusses. The opening chapter, which deals with the night of the actual sinking is brilliantly written and the author is always fair and presents all the evidence and all sides of the arguments. Ismay was, in many ways, an unsympathetic character, but the author always tries to explain why he reacted the way he did to events. It is understandable that survivors, and the families of those lost, felt it was wrong that Ismay did not go down with the ship. In the event of such a disaster, it is impossible to judge someone, and you can't help but feel some sympathy with Mr Ismay when the public was looking for a scapegoat and found one in him. Excellent and very enjoyable book and very highly recommended. Anyone with any interest in the Titanic will enjoy this.