Famous Passengers of the Titanic
Sailing from the docks of Southampton, England, the British passenger ocean liner RMS Titanic set sail for her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912, bound for New York City. Operated by the shipping firm White Star Line and led by Captain Edward John Smith, the ship, holding 2,224 souls on board, sailed easily through the frozen North Atlantic seas until it struck a huge iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, causing irreparable damage. A few hours later, what was known as the “Unsinkable Ship” was floating and crashing into the water, bringing over 1,500 people down with it.
Here are some of the most famous passengers who either survived or were the victims of the tragedy:
Captain Edward John Smith – Victim
Even in death, Captain Edward John Smith could not escape becoming a source of controversy. Many blamed him for the death of Titanic. Critics had faulted him for allowing the ship to move close to its normal speed amid reports of ice in the region, but it was later noted that Smith was following standard maritime procedure. At the time, the ice was considered to be relatively harmless, and even though previous ocean liners had suffered head-on collisions, the damage was recoverable.
Comments differ widely on how Smith, played by Bernard Hill at Titanic, responded to the sinking ship. Some eyewitnesses say that he assisted women and children on lifeboats and did his best to avoid panic, while others suggest that he had been overcome with fear and had been unsuccessful during the evacuation.
In the end, he was believed to have made a final sweep of the ship’s deck and gave this straightforward advice to his crew: “Alright, girls, do your best for women and children, and look out for yourself.”
His body was never found.
Bruce Ismay – Survivor of Titanic
As the highest-ranking official on the White Star Side, the English businessman J. Bruce Ismay jumped into Collapsible C, the last and ninth lifeboat that had sunk into the Atlantic until the Titanic sank 20 minutes later … And he paid for the rest of his life.
The American Press crucified Ismay, calling him “J. Brute Ismay” and “Coward of the Titanic.” Reports circulated that he was to blame for the sinking, supposedly forcing the crew of the ship to raise Titanic’s pace to get ahead of their scheduled arrival and attract positive attention.
However, this exchange was deemed unlikely to have taken place, and the scathing criticism of him in America was most likely due to his falling out with newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst before the tragedy.
Despite an official British inquiry affirming Ismay’s argument that he had only boarded the last lifeboat after all available women and children had been rescued, London society still rejected him, and he had lived his life as a coward. Still, Ismay, played by Jonathan Hyde in Titanic, did not shy away from his responsibilities: he spent the rest of his life making insurance premiums to family members who had lost loved ones to the Titanic. His family today assert he was unfairly persecuted.
Benjamin Guggenheim – Victim
Mining magnate Benjamin Guggenheim boarded the Titanic with his workers and his mistress, French singer Léontine Aubart. Sharing a cabin with his valet Victor Giglio, the two of them slept through the initial iceberg collision and did not fully understand the extent of the circumstances at hand.
After getting dressed and helping his lover and some of his staff in Lifeboat No. 9, he told his worried maid, “We’ll see each other again soon. It’s just a repair. The Titanic will carry on again tomorrow.”
After discovering that there were no more lifeboats and that no one was going to save them, Guggenheim and Giglio returned to their cabin and dressed in their evening clothes. The two men reached the area of the Grand Staircase, and Guggenheim was said to have commented, “We’ve dressed our best and are ready to go down like gentlemen.” The bodies of Guggenheim and Giglio were never found.
Molly Brown – Survivor
An American socialite whose husband was a wealthy miner, Molly Brown was known for her flamboyant hats and friendly personality. Though she enjoyed her fortune, she spent her life giving back, campaigning for the rights of women and children and the value of education.
While she was known as Maggie by those closest to her, after her death, the world should have recognised her as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” for her courage during the Titanic tragedy.
According to numerous accounts, Brown helped survivors board lifeboats during the evacuation and later helped to steer her boat (Lifeboat No. 6). Brown, portrayed by Kathy Bates in the 1997 film, was said to have pleaded with the Quartermaster to go back to the debris to find more survivors and even threatened to throw him and his crew overboard if they didn’t go back. (It’s not clear if her boat has ever returned to rescue survivors.)
John Jacob Astor IV – Victim
As the richest passenger on the Titanic, the real estate developer John Jacob Astor IV was worth $87 million when he met his fate on the sinking ship. He and his pregnant wife, Madeleine, had booked a trip to the Titanic to return and the U.S. and ensure that their baby was raised in America.
According to eyewitnesses, Astor clung to the surface of the ship, but as his body froze to death at subfreezing temperatures, he let go and drowned. When the rescuers rescued his body, $2,400 was found on him.
Cosmo and Lucy Duff-Gordon – Survivors
Like Ismay, the British couple Sir Cosmo and Lucy Lady Duff-Gordon were famous for surviving the Titanic. The first-class couple were some of the first people to get a Lifeboat No. 1. Lady Duff-Gordon, who was a popular British fashion designer, described her memories of her experience: “Everyone seemed to be running for that boat. A few people who crowded in were turned back at the point of Captain Smith’s revolver, and several of them fell before the order was restored. I remember being pushed to one of the boats and being helped in.”
Thanks to the American press, Cosmo was blamed for not adhering to the “women and children first” scheme, but the wealthy landowner argued that there were no women and children to be seen while the boat was in the sea. He was also ill-advised to send the crewmen money on his lifeboat.
Some sources suggested that he was trying to bribe them not to save people from the water for fear that they would tip the boat over (only 12 people were on their boat when it was intended to carry 40), but again, Cosmo said that he only gave the crew members money to make up for their material losses. Lady Duff-Gordon avoided another ocean liner disaster in 1915 when she scrapped her voyage to Lusitania, which would be torpedoed by the Germans.
Thomas Andrews – Victim
Thomas Andrews wasn’t just a Titanic passenger – he was the architect of the Titanic.
The object of Andrews’ travel on the ship’s maiden voyage was to make observations and to make suggestions for improvement. However, when the hull of the ship collided with the iceberg, the shipbuilder realized the Titanic’s fate had been sealed.
While the story has it that Andrews, played by Victor Garber in the 1997 film, was last seen standing in the first-class smoking room looking at the Plymouth painting, other eyewitness reports suggest that he was last seen actively helping women and children in lifeboats and tossing chairs into the water for others to use as flotation devices. His body has never been found.
Isidor and Ida Straus – Victims
Before his death, Isidor Straus, born in Germany, rose from poverty to become co-owner of Macy’s department store and a Representative member of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 15th district of New York.
When the Titanic disaster struck, Isidor could board a lifeboat but declined to do so, demanding that every woman and child should be rescued first. His devoted wife, Ida, stood by her husband and denied his appeal to get on a cruise, telling him, “We’ve been living together for many years. Where you go, I go.” It was just the body of Isidor that was found, as the two of them perished together in Titanic.
The Musicians – Victims
Travelling as second-class passengers, the eight performers on the Titanic are perhaps some of the most prominent victims of the disaster.
Driven by the violinist Wallace Hartley, the band members played uplifting music over a long, cold night to comfort the passengers as they hurriedly fled to the lifeboats.
Despite getting the same rights as everyone else on board, the band promised to stick together and perform until the very end. A second-class passenger said, “Many brave things were done that night, but none of them was braver than the men who played minute after minute while the ship sank softly lower and lower in the sea.
Millvina Dean – Last Survivor of Titanic
Millvina Dean was the youngest survivor at the age of two months. Also, the longest-lived survivor – who died in 2009 – Dean, her older brother and her parents boarded the doomed ship as a third-class passenger. The British family decided to emigrate to Wichita, Kansas, where Dean’s father would co-own a tobacco shop with relatives.
However, when the iceberg struck the Titanic, their lives had changed. Although Dean, her mother and brother were some of the first third-class passengers to board the lifeboats, Dean’s father had lost his life and his body had never been found.
Instead of going on with the initial plan, Dean’s fearful mother returned to England with her two small children, and Dean had been a media star for some time.
Later in her career, Dean was helpful in commemorating the victims of the Titanic. She died in 2009 at the age of 97, the last survivor of one of the most devastating and prominent maritime shipping accidents in the world.