Was Titanic's captain drunk when ship hit iceberg?
The captain of the Titanic might have been drunk when the liner hit an iceberg, according to a never-seen-before letter of a survivor. The survivor, Emily Richards, claimed that she saw Captain Edward Smith drinking in the saloon bar of the ship in the run-up to the disaster. History books record the white-whiskered skipperbooks Updated: Mar 09, 2012 11:31 IST
The captain of the Titanic might have been drunk when the liner hit an iceberg, according to a never-seen-before letter of a survivor.
The survivor, Emily Richards, claimed that she saw Captain Edward Smith drinking in the saloon bar of the ship in the run-up to the disaster.
History books record the white-whiskered skipper attending a first class dinner party a few hours before the collision and then retiring to his cabin.
He was woken just before midnight and was last seen alive on the bridge after making the heroic decision to go down with his ship.
One of the many myths surrounding the 1912 tragedy is that the 62-year-old captain was drunk, although no evidence has ever been produced to support this.
However, the newly found account of second-class passenger Richards does appear to support this theory.
Her allegation comes in a letter she wrote home from the rescue ship Carpathia two days after the Titanic sunk.
Richards, from Penzance, Cornwall, and her two sons were saved in the disaster but her brother George was one of the 1,522 people who perished.
The boat struck an iceberg at 11 oclock on Sunday night. The Captain was down in the saloon drinking and gave charge to someone else to steer the ship. It was the Captains fault. My poor brother George... drowned as far as we know now, a grief-stricken Richards wrote to her mother-in-law.
I hope I shall never see no such thing again. It was a dreadful sight. The water was like a mill pool. Me and mother and the children were on the last boat. The poor men had to come after. I hope my poor George is safe. I am thankful to say me and the two dear children are safe, and my dear mother and Ellen. I have lost all my things. I dont care as long as I am safe from a watery grave, she wrote.
The letter, together with a second one she wrote home after arriving in New York, has come to light on the 100th anniversary of the sinking.
They remained unseen in her family for 75 years before being bought by a private collector and have never before been made public.
Richards, who was 24 then, was heading to join her husband James who had already emigrated to Ohio, US, and was taking their two young sons William and Sibley.
She was accompanied on Titanics maiden voyage from Southampton to New York by her younger brother George, 23, sister Nellie and mother Elizabeth.
After the liner struck the iceberg at 10.20 pm on April 14, 1912, the three women and two children were helped into a lifeboat but George remained on board.
In her second letter from the Star Hotel in New York she wrote: George, poor boy, is gone.
Willie was dressed in a ships blanket made into a coat, the baby has got a cold - but Willie is alright.
The Americans were kind concerning clothes for the night. This city is a city of mourning.
The letters are now being sold by Henry Aldridge and Son auctioneers of Devizes, Wilts, with a combined estimate of 20,000 pounds.
This was a woman whose emotions would have been incredibly raw having lost a loved one in the sinking. She would have wanted someone to blame and clearly she blamed the captain. As far as we know there are no other witness reports that put the captain in the saloon drinking on the evening of the sinking, the Sun quoted auctioneer Andrew Aldridge as saying.
So Emily Richards account is not consistent with the dozens of others that exist. It is very controversial, but you cant ignore the fact she was there. It puts a very different perspective on the events if it is true.
Captain Smith was largely exonerated by the British enquiry into the disaster and there are numerous accounts of him dying an Englishmans death by choosing to go down with the ship.
First person accounts written on Carpathia headed notepaper are incredibly rare. I think only a handful have emerged over the last 15 years so there is a great deal of interest in this, he added.
The auction takes place on March 31.
First Published: Mar 09, 2012 11:31 IST