[Note: the following interview with Lawrence Beesley appeared in the New York Tribune on April 20, 1912 at a time when many rumors about the disaster were being spread by survivors and newspapers alike. In the following article readers will note that Captain Smith and Chief Engineer Joseph Bell are both alleged to have taken their own lives before the ship went down (an allegation for which there is little or no evidence), and that the Titanic’s iceberg was said to be only fifty feet high (although passengers’ dim view of the iceberg as it disappeared astern of the vessel apparently disguised the fact that it actually extended twenty or thirty feet higher than the ship’s boat deck.) Nevertheless, we present the following interview with Lawrence Beesley as our way of contributing to the historical record. – George Behe]
Lawrence Beesley, twenty-five years old, whose name did not appear among the list of survivors transmitted by the Carpathia, was one of those who would tell the tale.
“It was soon after half past eleven Sunday night that we struck the ice,” he said. “All day we had been steaming at full speed through a clear and beautiful sea. We had seen no ice that day and none the day before. The weather had been fine and clear ever since we left Liverpool.
“Many of the passengers had walked the deck after dinner Sunday night, but at that hour most of them were in bed. Only a few men were in the smoking room. Captain Smith was not on the bridge, but the ship was in charge of the first office, who was on the bridge.
“It was not the force of the collision that aroused me, but the stopping of the engines, and I went out on deck to see what was the matter.
“I found some men there who had been in the smoking room, and they told me that we had rammed a low iceberg. They said it stood only fifty or a hundred feet out of the water, and they did not think it was a berg, but a small floe.
“When I reached the deck, the ice was not to be seen, and the men told me that they had rushed out of the smoking room immediately, and had barely been able to distinguish the ice, which disappeared from view in less than ten minutes after we struck it.
“We struck it on the starboard bow and ripped a great hole in the side of the vessel. The vessel did not seem to begin to sink or settle, and there seemed no danger.
“I think most of the passengers were asleep, and few of them knew that we had been in collision until the officers went through the ship and aroused the passengers and told them to put on life preservers and come on deck. Even then there was no fear that the ship would sink. We were told by the officers that there was no danger. We were told that the Titanic was unsinkable and that we had nothing to fear.
“Of course, there was some nervousness. But there was no panic, and no real fear, because we were so sure that the Titanic could not sink.
“Half an hour later the officers ordered us into the lifeboats, and then there began to be signs of fear, but still no panic in the first or second cabin. There was the beginning of a panic, at least, in the steerage. Some of the men from the steerage tried to rush the lifeboats and I heard several shots fired. I was told that half a dozen fell and that Major Archibald Butt had killed them. I was told, also, that he had stood in the passage with an iron bar and saved the women of the first and second cabins, and the steerage too, from the mad rush of the men of the steerage.
“We soon found that the lifeboats would hold less than one-third of the passengers and crew, and at once, without orders from anyone, the men stood back to make way for the women.
“There were the most painful and pitiful scenes then. Many of the women refused to go without their husbands, and some of them climbed back to the deck of the Titanic and refused to be saved. The lifeboats went away with only about three-fourths of those they could carry because the women refused to be saved and leave the men to drown.
“It was about quarter after twelve when the passengers were told to get into the lifeboats, and fifteen minutes later they had been lowered to the sea and were pulling away from the ship.
“The men stood on the decks and watched the lifeboats go and cheered the women.
“I think few of the passengers, even then, realized what had happened. I think few of them knew that as those small boats drew away from the side of the great liner, they were leaving fifteen hundred souls to perish in the sea.
“The men on the ship did not realize, unless it was those few panic-stricken souls in the steerage.
“They stood on the decks and crowded to the rail and cheered and waved farewell to the small boats. I think most of them had the feeling that they were safer where they were on the great ship than in the tiny lifeboats, and their fears were not for themselves, but for those who had put out on that perilous journey in the tiny boats, with no power but the muscles of the men who pulled at the oars.
“We wondered how the women in the lifeboats were getting along. We thought of the cold and their cramped positions. Most of them were warmly dressed. There had been no excitement that brought men and women to the decks half-dressed. All or nearly all got into the lifeboats warmly clad.
“But we realized then that they were in a far worse position than we were, or so it seemed to us. For they, at least, must look on our position as a dangerous one. They must think they had given us up to our doom.
“It was then that we began to think that, perhaps, we were not to have such a joyful reunion in the morning. We began to notice the settling of the ship. Even then, to us, she seemed to be settling slowly - so slowly that, in our minds, it was certain she would sink only so far and then remain helpless, perhaps, but safe.
“The lights were burning. The engines had stopped, but so far as we knew they had stopped while the damage was repaired. Most of us thought that with the fires still in the boilers and the lights on there could be no real danger.
“It was about 2 o’clock that the vessel began to sink so rapidly that there could be no more doubt in the minds of any of us that she was lost.
“The band was called out and began to play ‘Nearer, My God to Thee.’
“Some of the men in a desperate effort for life, as they knew at last that there was no hope for them on the ship, threw themselves into the sea. It was only a few minutes more, and but few of the swimmers had time to get away from the suction of the ship when the boilers exploded, the decks amidships were torn apart, the lights went out. and in less than five minutes more the bow of the Titanic sank rapidly, her stern rose in the air, and with the band still playing ‘Nearer, My God to Thee,’ the ship sank.
“Just before she sank there was a desperate effort to force Captain Smith into one of the collapsible boats. Once he was in the boat, but he struggled back again to the bridge, and as the Titanic went down Captain Smith and the chief engineer took their lives on the bridge.”