Boat No. 1 is one of the most controversial boats due to many reasons and in doing so, has become infamous in the Titanic story. To this day, people wonder why a boat that could take 40 people was lowered with 12 occupants. Maybe even more controversial was why Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon ended up paying the crew in the boat money.
Boat No. 1 was one of 2 boats called "emergency boats." It had a capacity for 40 and was ready at all times. It was swinging over the gunwale on the foremost davits and was on the starboard side.
Putting together what exactly happened that night is difficult. It became clear to me as I read the testimonies of the passengers and crew in the British and American Inquiries that several occupants were scared, saying they were the heroes in trying to convince the others to go pick up those in the water while the others were practically the villains in an effort to save their own reputations from the press who were hungry for villains and scapegoats. The Duff-Gordons did what they could to salvage their reputations and it appears they tried to convince the others in the boat to testify favorably towards them. I've tried my best and hopefully what I say will be satisfactory to the evidence and close to what happened that night.
Boat No. 1 was an Emergency Cutter lifeboat meaning that it was smaller than most of the other lifeboats. It was 25 feet and 2 inches long, 7 feet and 2 inches wide, and 3 feet deep. It had a capacity for 40 people and had 4 thwarts. It was one of two lifeboats hanging in suspension over the water, always ready to be lowered in case of an emergency (man overboard, damage to the ship, etc.).
This famous photograph taken by Father Browne of the Titanic and Captain Smith shows Boat No. 1 hanging in suspension over the side where it was for most of the voyage.
At 11:40 P.M., the Titanic struck the iceberg and began sinking. At 12:15 A.M., Captain E.J. Smith gave the order to prepare the boats for lowering. 1st Officer Murdoch took charge of the Starboard side and began uncovering the boats. Among those that uncovered and readied Boat No. 1 were Samuel Collins, George Symons, and Charles Hendrickson.
Boat No. 1 was the third boat launched on the starboard side. Murdoch and his crew after they launched Boats 7, 5, and 3, went over to Boat No. 1 and began loading it. Murdoch turned to his crew and asked, "Who is assigned to this boat?" Lookout George Symons remembered seeing his name on the list of crew assigned to this boat on the Bridge and said, "I am." Murdoch asked, "Are you a sailor?" Symons replied, "Yes." Murdoch told him, "Jump in and see the plug is in." Symons was the first person to get into the boat and plugged the drainage hole on the bottom of the boat. Murdoch then asked, "Are there any more sailors?" Seaman Albert Horswill also remembered seeing his name on the list and said, "I am assigned to this boat." Murdoch told him, "Jump in." Then 1st class passengers Sir Cosmo, Lady Duff-Gordon, and their secretary, Laura Francatelli, came up. Sir Cosmo asked, "May we get in the boat?" Murdoch replied, "Yes; get in." After that, 1st class passenger Charles Stengel came up after putting his wife into another lifeboat and asked if he could get in. Murdoch gave his permission. Stengel was unsure of getting into the lifeboat and scared he might make the boat tip over or that he might slip. He rolled into the boat, thinking that it was the safest way to get in. Murdoch watched Stengel get in and said, "That's the funniest thing I've seen all night!" laughing. Immediately after Stengel got in, 1st class passenger Abraham Salamon asked to get in and was granted permission. Then Murdoch asked, "How many sailors are in this boat?" Symons replied, "Two." Murdoch turned around and saw that the rest of the crew were uncovering Collapsible C nearby and getting it ready to be launched by the same davits Boat No. 1 was attached to. Murdoch asked for six more sailors. Five answered the call and got in.
They waited for 3-5 minutes in the hopes others would come. "The Loss Of The SS Titanic: Centennial Reappraisal" points out that people might have avoided that area since 4th Officer Boxhall was nearby firing rockets. No one came nearby from what they could see and so 1st Officer Murdoch gave the order to lower away. A rocket was fired just as they began to lower the boat. As the boat started to go down, Murdoch asked, "Who is in charge of this boat?" George Symons who was at the rudder, thus making him in charge said, "Symons, the look-out." Murdoch replied, "Symons, take charge of this boat; make all the people in the boat obey you; make them do what you tell them." Symons replied, "All right." As they were on their way down, they got caught in something and began to tip over. The crew on the Boat Deck stopped lowering and someone was sent down to get the boat loose. It caused a delay, but eventually the boat was lowered. When the boat reached the water or almost was to that point, Murdoch called down and gave orders. Each of the survivors varied in recalling what he said, but the jist of his orders were to row away, but stay nearby and come back if called upon. Symons said that when the lifeboat was lowered, the water was up to the second row of portholes under the Forecastle Deck.
Before we continue, it's interesting to note that the survivors in Boat 1 specified where they were sitting. So, I decided to show you where they were sitting when the boat was lowered in the hopes it will help you to visualize what went on. Sadly, even this is hard to reconstruct because of inconsistencies. But I've done my best. Please forgive the crudity of the drawing.
They rowed away about 100-150 yards and stopped and rested on their oars. At about 1:20 A.M., Captain Smith used his megaphone and called for the boats to come back. None of the occupants of Boat No. 1 stated that they heard anything like that, which leads me to believe that they likely didn't hear him as some of the closer boats did. As the Titanic got lower in the water and those in the boat realized the terrible truth that the Titanic was actually sinking, Symons ordered the rowers to row further away out of fear that they might potentially be sucked down with the ship. They stopped at about 200-250 yards away and watched the Titanic go down. One of the people in the boat said that it was broadside to the ship. Laura Francatelli said that she saw 1st Officer Murdoch shoot himself, though she was too far away and it was too dark for her to be able to see that. She may have thought the shot-like sounds from the breakup was the officer's suicide the survivors talked about later on the Carpathia. They heard the explosion-like sounds which were caused by the ship splitting in and steel hull ripping apart and saw her sink. As the Titanic disappeared, Lady Duff-Gordon leaned over in between her vomiting over the side due to seasickness and told Laura Francatelli, "There's your beautiful nightdress, gone." Then Robert Pusey said, "Nevermind about your night dress madam, as long as you have your life."
Following the sinking, the screams and cries of the people left in the freezing water were heard from the distance. What happened next is not known for sure in Boat No. 1.
According to Charles Hendrickson, he said even yelled, "It is up to us to go back and pick up anyone in the boat." But the women objected with their fears that the boat might be swamped and Sir Cosmo backed them up by saying, "It is too dangerous to go back. We might get swamped."
According to George Symons, no one said anything. They just continued to row.
According to Collins, nothing was said aside from Symons' order to keep rowing. Eventually, he turned the boat towards the screams.
According to Sir Cosmo, he was too absorbed with his wife's well being and telling her things to comfort her that it never crossed his mind to go back.
According to James Taylor, a man in front of him suggested that they go back. But Lady Duff-Gordon objected due to the danger of being swamped. The two gentlemen backed her up by saying, "We shall be swamped if we go back. It would be too dangerous to go."
According to Albert Horswill, nothing was said about whether or not they would go back.
Charles Stengel never really talked about any conversation aside from mentioning that they couldn't go back because the people were too far away for them to get back in time.
It seems to me based on reading these accounts that there was some covering up, with people attempting to protect their reputations and defend their actions and particularly the Duff-Gordons. What I find very interesting is that both James Taylor and Charles Hendrickson's accounts match up almost perfectly, including the quote from Sir Cosmo about it being to dangerous to go back due to the fear they may get swamped. It is my personal belief that Hendrickson and Taylor's versions is what happened, though I leave it up to your judgment since there is no way of confirming exactly what happened and what was said.
According so several people, they were rowing towards the Californian. Dr. Paul Lee gives an excellent analysis of where the Californian was located in comparison to the Titanic at this link: http://www.paullee.com/titanic/TitanCalif2.html.
According to the survivors, they rowed away from the Titanic and then once the cries died down, several claimed that they headed for the "lights" (S.S. Californian). Changing direction and heading towards the Californian could possibly explain why some said they turned around after the cries died down and headed towards those in the water. While I don't discount the possibility that they were lying to salvage their reputations, their turning around and going in sort of the general direction of the cries towards the Californian could have given them that impression especially since it was so dark and there was no general sense of direction.
They rowed in darkness. Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon said that Charles Stengel would shout, "Go here!" "Go there!" and when a splash was heard, he would yell, "Boat ahoy!" At first, it seems that the passengers and crew tolerated it. It was possibly because they were too cold, numb, and shocked to do much else. Finally, Sir Cosmo lost his patience and turned around and asked Stengel to be quiet. At some point during the night, James Taylor who was sitting next to Sir Cosmo got tired of rowing and so he switched places with Charles Hendrickson. Those that could lit their cigarettes. Hendrickson mentioned he borrowed a cigarette from Sir Cosmo.
At some point (probably about 3 a.m.), they came alongside Boat No. 13. Someone in Boat No. 13 asked the people in Boat No. 1, "Are you all right?" Symons replied, "Yes." Someone in the other boat said, "All right." After that, 2 other boats came around. Symons called out, "Keep as close together as we possibly can!" Someone in another boat asked, "Is there an officer in your boat?" Symons replied, "No." Then the person asked, "Are you all right?" Symons replied, "Yes."
They continued rowing for the Californian until they saw a green flare (which was lit by 4th Officer Boxhall in Boat No. 2) which indicated another boat. Dr. Paul Lee talks about the green flare here: http://www.paullee.com/titanic/mysteryship.html. George Symons changed course started to head for the boat with the green flare. They never reached Boxhall because while they were rowing, the rockets from the R.M.S. Carpathia appeared in the night sky. Symons changed the course again, and they arrived alongside the Carpathia at about 4:45 A.M.
By then, it was broad daylight. They came alongside the Carpathia's hull and climbed up a rope ladder. Samuel Collins said he carried a coat of an unidentified man up to the Carpathia from the lifeboat. I believe it was Abraham Salamon's coat because a later photograph (below) showed him wearing one on the Carpathia. Eventually, Charles Hendrickson and Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon were the last two on the boat. Sir Cosmo turned to Hendrickson and said, "Are you the man who was sitting next to me?" Hendrickson replied, "Yes." Sir Cosmo said, "If you will get the men's names I will see that they get some money in a few days or give them a cheque shortly." They left the boat and Hendrickson put the names of the occupants of the boat down on paper and gave the list to Sir Cosmo that day. The crew of the Carpathia got Boat No. 1 up onto the Boat Deck of the Carpathia where it was stored until it was unloaded in New York. It was later taken back to Southampton along with many of the other boats from the Titanic and what happened afterwards to them is unknown. Sir Cosmo paid the crew with coutts, true to his word, and later regretted it. They were accused of bribing the crew to not go back and ostracized by society for the rest of their lives. In addition, Sir Cosmo had a photograph taken of the people from Boat 1. I've taken the liberty to identify each person.
Boat No. 1 seems to be the most controversial lifeboat out of all the lifeboats. The fact a boat with the capacity of 40 was lowered with 12 people has caused sadness, thinking of the lives that could have been saved. The fact they made no attempt to save lives even though they couldn't have if they tried because they were too far away has caused people to wonder and ask why. The fact so many were attempting to cover their tracks and salvage their reputations during the inquiries makes it nearly impossible to accurately recreate what happened. But what's clear to me is that these were people living their everyday lives, placed in a situation that nobody expected, and made their decisions based on what little they knew. It's easy for arm-chair historians and the rest of us to look back and condemn them, but I suspect it would be a whole other issue for us if we like them were in a cold, dark lifeboat alone in the middle of the North Atlantic.
2012 Time Magazine (Laura Francatelli's account)
On A Sea Of Glass
The Loss Of The SS Titanic: Centennial Reappraisal
A Night To Remember