When the RMS Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton on April 10, 1912, she was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Tragically, the White Star liner never made it to New York. She collided with an iceberg at 11:40 PM on April 14 and sank into the North Atlantic hours later at 2:20 AM on April 15, 1912. Only 705 people made it out of this unfortunate event in the sea.
The event flabbergasted the world, as many people initially believed the luxury liner was unsinkable. The sad event continues to be a source of interest, with many wondering how the passengers and crew may have acted that fateful night. While we may know the fictional tale of Jack and Rose or are aware of “the Unsinkable Molly Brown,” there are some intriguing stories from the history of the Titanic that many do not know.
1. Jack Phillips
Jack Phillips was a senior wireless operator aboard the Titanic and was joined by Harold Bride, a junior wireless operator. The two men took shifts to send and deliver Morse code messages to and from passengers as well as to relay weather warnings to the captain.
Phillips received numerous iceberg warnings from other ships ahead of the disaster, and Bride delivered many of them to the captain. However, Phillips failed to deliver some to Captain Smith due an influx of passenger messages, and he believed the captain to be aware of the iceberg warnings already. When the SS Californian interrupted him with an iceberg warning, he replied, “Shut up! I’m busy working Cape Race!” Therefore, some people have criticized Phillips’s role in the disaster.
However, when the vessel struck an iceberg 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland, Phillips sprang into action, sending distress signals to ensure the rescue of the passengers and crew. The 25-year-old telegraphist remained at his post, despite the captain relieving him of his duty, tirelessly sending Morse code messages to nearby ships until 2:17 AM—three minutes before the ship descended into the North Atlantic.
His communication with the Carpathia ensured the rescue of 705 passengers. Many ships later reported that there was never a tremor in his messages, despite the chaos surrounding him. Tragically, Jack Phillips died in the maritime disaster, despite having reached a collapsible lifeboat. However, his legacy lives on in the Titanic‘s survivors and their ancestors.
2. James Moody
Another hero aboard the ship was Sixth Officer James Moody, who chose to remain aboard, despite being offered passage to safety. The 24-year-old junior officer received the small sum of $37 for his service aboard the ship and was compensated with his own cabin during his time aboard the Titanic.
Before the Titanic set sail on her first transatlantic voyage, Moody unwittingly saved the lives of six crewmen, as he denied them entry to the gangway when they arrived too late to board the liner. When the ship hit the iceberg, the young officer was on watch and answered Lookout Frederick Fleet’s call, asking, “What do you see?” Fleet responded, “Iceberg, right ahead!”
When the captain indicated that the ship would sink in a matter of hours, Officer Moody launched Lifeboats 12, 14, and 16. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe instructed Moody to man Lifeboat 14, as it was traditional for lower-ranking officers to do so. However, he bravely deferred the passage to Lowe.
Despite his low rank, Moody remained on the ship, assisting First Officer Murdoch until the water started to enter the boat deck. Moody would have undoubtedly been offered the opportunity to man a lifeboat on several occasions, but he valiantly chose to remain on the ship to save as many lives as possible and to see the disaster through to the end. Second Officer Charles Lightoller was the last person to see Moody alive at 2:18 AM, still attempting to launch collapsible lifeboats into the water.
3. The Countess Of Rothes
Some of the world’s wealthiest people chose to voyage across the North Atlantic on the Titanic, and one of the most esteemed passengers aboard the liner was Lucy Noel Martha, the countess of Rothes. She traveled to the US with her cousin, Gladys Cherry, and maid, Roberta Maioni. Her goal was to meet her husband and two children to start a new life in the US.
The countess and her cousin were stirred from sleep when the ship collided with the iceberg and were instructed by Captain Smith to return to their cabin to put on their life belts. At approximately 1:00 AM, the countess, her cousin, and her maid were ushered into Lifeboat 8, which was the first lifeboat launched into the water. Tom Jones, the lifeboat’s sailor, quickly identified the countess as a formidable leader, so he ordered her to steer the boat. She controlled the boat’s tiller and oversaw the steering for more than an hour, before switching places with her cousin so that she could comfort a Spanish bride who had lost her husband aboard the ship.
The countess rowed the lifeboat throughout the night, striving to boost the morale of all the passengers aboard until the Carpathia arrived at the scene.
Her kind spirit was not limited to the lifeboat. She remained aboard the Carpathia when the ship had docked in New York to aid steerage passengers who had lost everything in the disaster. Upon returning to Scotland, the countess of Rothes bought a silver fob watch with the inscription “April 15th 1912, the Countess of Rothes,” which she sent to Tom Jones as a thank you gift for his efforts aboard Lifeboat 8. He responded to her gift with a letter, thanking her for kindness and courage, and included the brass plate from the lifeboat. The sailor and countess corresponded until she passed away in 1956.