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Notes on Life and Letters by Joseph Conrad

Part 4 out of 4

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engineer, "which was floating empty in the distance was cleverly
manoeuvred to our assistance by the steward, who swam off to her
pluckily. Our next endeavour was to release the captain, who was
entangled under the boat. As it was impossible to right her, we
set-to to split her side open with the boat hook, because by awful
bad luck the head of the axe we had flew off at the first blow and
was lost. The rescue took thirty minutes, and the extricated
captain was in a pitiable condition, being badly bruised and having
swallowed a lot of salt water. He was unconscious. While at that
work the submarine came to the surface quite close and made a
complete circle round us, the seven men that we counted on the
conning tower laughing at our efforts.

"There were eighteen of us saved. I deeply regret the loss of the
chief officer, a fine fellow and a kind shipmate showing splendid
promise. The other men lost--one A.B., one greaser, and two
firemen--were quiet, conscientious, good fellows."

With no restoratives in the boat, they endeavoured to bring the
captain round by means of massage. Meantime the oars were got out
in order to reach the Faroes, which were about thirty miles dead to
windward, but after about nine hours' hard work they had to desist,
and, putting out a sea-anchor, they took shelter under the canvas
boat-cover from the cold wind and torrential rain. Says the
narrator: "We were all very wet and miserable, and decided to have
two biscuits all round. The effects of this and being under the
shelter of the canvas warmed us up and made us feel pretty well
contented. At about sunrise the captain showed signs of recovery,
and by the time the sun was up he was looking a lot better, much to
our relief."

After being informed of what had been done the revived captain
"dropped a bombshell in our midst," by proposing to make for the
Shetlands, which were ONLY one hundred and fifty miles off. "The
wind is in our favour," he said. "I promise to take you there.
Are you all willing?" This--comments the chief engineer--"from a
man who but a few hours previously had been hauled back from the
grave!" The captain's confident manner inspired the men, and they
all agreed. Under the best possible conditions a boat-run of one
hundred and fifty miles in the North Atlantic and in winter weather
would have been a feat of no mean merit, but in the circumstances
it required uncommon nerve and skill to carry out such a promise.
With an oar for a mast and the boat-cover cut down for a sail they
started on their dangerous journey, with the boat compass and the
stars for their guide. The captain's undaunted serenity buoyed
them all up against despondency. He told them what point he was
making for. It was Ronas Hill, "and we struck it as straight as a

The chief engineer commends also the ship steward for the manner in
which he made the little food they had last, the cheery spirit he
manifested, and the great help he was to the captain by keeping the
men in good humour. That trusty man had "his hands cruelly chafed
with the rowing, but it never damped his spirits."

They made Ronas Hill (as straight as a die), and the chief engineer
cannot express their feelings of gratitude and relief when they set
their feet on the shore. He praises the unbounded kindness of the
people in Hillswick. "It seemed to us all like Paradise regained,"
he says, concluding his letter with the words:

"And there was our captain, just his usual self, as if nothing had
happened, as if bringing the boat that hazardous journey and being
the means of saving eighteen souls was to him an everyday

Such is the chief engineer's testimony to the continuity of the old
tradition of the sea, which made by the work of men has in its turn
created for them their simple ideal of conduct.



The seamen hold up the Edifice. They have been holding it up in
the past and they will hold it up in the future, whatever this
future may contain of logical development, of unforeseen new
shapes, of great promises and of dangers still unknown.

It is not an unpardonable stretching of the truth to say that the
British Empire rests on transportation. I am speaking now
naturally of the sea, as a man who has lived on it for many years,
at a time, too, when on sighting a vessel on the horizon of any of
the great oceans it was perfectly safe to bet any reasonable odds
on her being a British ship--with the certitude of making a pretty
good thing of it at the end of the voyage.

I have tried to convey here in popular terms the strong impression
remembered from my young days. The Red Ensign prevailed on the
high seas to such an extent that one always experienced a slight
shock on seeing some other combination of colours blow out at the
peak or flag-pole of any chance encounter in deep water. In the
long run the persistence of the visual fact forced upon the mind a
half-unconscious sense of its inner significance. We have all
heard of the well-known view that trade follows the flag. And that
is not always true. There is also this truth that the flag, in
normal conditions, represents commerce to the eye and understanding
of the average man. This is a truth, but it is not the whole
truth. In its numbers and in its unfailing ubiquity, the British
Red Ensign, under which naval actions too have been fought,
adventures entered upon and sacrifices offered, represented in fact
something more than the prestige of a great trade.

The flutter of that piece of red bunting showered sentiment on the
nations of the earth. I will not venture to say that in every case
that sentiment was of a friendly nature. Of hatred, half concealed
or concealed not at all, this is not the place to speak; and indeed
the little I have seen of it about the world was tainted with
stupidity and seemed to confess in its very violence the extreme
poorness of its case. But generally it was more in the nature of
envious wonder qualified by a half-concealed admiration.

That flag, which but for the Union Jack in the corner might have
been adopted by the most radical of revolutions, affirmed in its
numbers the stability of purpose, the continuity of effort and the
greatness of Britain's opportunity pursued steadily in the order
and peace of the world: that world which for twenty-five years or
so after 1870 may be said to have been living in holy calm and
hushed silence with only now and then a slight clink of metal, as
if in some distant part of mankind's habitation some restless body
had stumbled over a heap of old armour.


We who have learned by now what a world-war is like may be excused
for considering the disturbances of that period as insignificant
brawls, mere hole-and-corner scuffles. In the world, which memory
depicts as so wonderfully tranquil all over, it was the sea yet
that was the safest place. And the Red Ensign, commercial,
industrial, historic, pervaded the sea! Assertive only by its
numbers, highly significant, and, under its character of a trade--
emblem, nationally expressive, it was symbolic of old and new
ideas, of conservatism and progress, of routine and enterprise, of
drudgery and adventure--and of a certain easy-going optimism that
would have appeared the Father of Sloth itself if it had not been
so stubbornly, so everlastingly active.

The unimaginative, hard-working men, great and small, who served
this flag afloat and ashore, nursed dumbly a mysterious sense of
its greatness. It sheltered magnificently their vagabond labours
under the sleepless eye of the sun. It held up the Edifice. But
it crowned it too. This is not the extravagance of a mixed
metaphor. It is the sober expression of a not very complex truth.
Within that double function the national life that flag represented
so well went on in safety, assured of its daily crust of bread for
which we all pray and without which we would have to give up faith,
hope and charity, the intellectual conquests of our minds and the
sanctified strength of our labouring arms. I may permit myself to
speak of it in these terms because as a matter of fact it was on
that very symbol that I had founded my life and (as I have said
elsewhere in a moment of outspoken gratitude) had known for many
years no other roof above my head.

In those days that symbol was not particularly regarded.
Superficially and definitely it represented but one of the forms of
national activity rather remote from the close-knit organisations
of other industries, a kind of toil not immediately under the
public eye. It was of its Navy that the nation, looking out of the
windows of its world-wide Edifice, was proudly aware. And that was
but fair. The Navy is the armed man at the gate. An existence
depending upon the sea must be guarded with a jealous, sleepless
vigilance, for the sea is but a fickle friend.

It had provoked conflicts, encouraged ambitions, and had lured some
nations to destruction--as we know. He--man or people--who,
boasting of long years of familiarity with the sea, neglects the
strength and cunning of his right hand is a fool. The pride and
trust of the nation in its Navy so strangely mingled with moments
of neglect, caused by a particularly thick-headed idealism, is
perfectly justified. It is also very proper: for it is good for a
body of men conscious of a great responsibility to feel themselves
recognised, if only in that fallible, imperfect and often
irritating way in which recognition is sometimes offered to the

But the Merchant Service had never to suffer from that sort of
irritation. No recognition was thrust on it offensively, and,
truth to say, it did not seem to concern itself unduly with the
claims of its own obscure merit. It had no consciousness. It had
no words. It had no time. To these busy men their work was but
the ordinary labour of earning a living; their duties in their
ever-recurring round had, like the sun itself, the commonness of
daily things; their individual fidelity was not so much united as
merely co-ordinated by an aim that shone with no spiritual lustre.
They were everyday men. They were that, eminently. When the great
opportunity came to them to link arms in response to a supreme call
they received it with characteristic simplicity, incorporating
self-sacrifice into the texture of their common task, and, as far
as emotion went, framing the horror of mankind's catastrophic time
within the rigid rules of their professional conscience. And who
can say that they could have done better than this?

Such was their past both remote and near. It has been stubbornly
consistent, and as this consistency was based upon the character of
men fashioned by a very old tradition, there is no doubt that it
will endure. Such changes as came into the sea life have been for
the main part mechanical and affecting only the material conditions
of that inbred consistency. That men don't change is a profound
truth. They don't change because it is not necessary for them to
change even if they could accomplish that miracle. It is enough
for them to be infinitely adaptable--as the last four years have
abundantly proved.


Thus one may await the future without undue excitement and with
unshaken confidence. Whether the hues of sunrise are angry or
benign, gorgeous or sinister, we shall always have the same sky
over our heads. Yet by a kindly dispensation of Providence the
human faculty of astonishment will never lack food. What could be
more surprising for instance, than the calm invitation to Great
Britain to discard the force and protection of its Navy? It has
been suggested, it has been proposed--I don't know whether it has
been pressed. Probably not much. For if the excursions of
audacious folly have no bounds that human eye can see, reason has
the habit of never straying very far away from its throne.

It is not the first time in history that excited voices have been
heard urging the warrior still panting from the fray to fling his
tried weapons on the altar of peace, for they would be needed no
more! And such voices have been, in undying hope or extreme
weariness, listened to sometimes. But not for long. After all
every sort of shouting is a transitory thing. It is the grim
silence of facts that remains.

The British Merchant Service has been challenged in its supremacy
before. It will be challenged again. It may be even asked
menacingly in the name of some humanitarian doctrine or some empty
ideal to step down voluntarily from that place which it has managed
to keep for so many years. But I imagine that it will take more
than words of brotherly love or brotherly anger (which, as is well
known, is the worst kind of anger) to drive British seamen, armed
or unarmed, from the seas. Firm in this indestructible if not
easily explained conviction, I can allow myself to think placidly
of that long, long future which I shall not see.

My confidence rests on the hearts of men who do not change, though
they may forget many things for a time and even forget to be
themselves in a moment of false enthusiasm. But of that I am not
afraid. It will not be for long. I know the men. Through the
kindness of the Admiralty (which, let me confess here in a white
sheet, I repaid by the basest ingratitude) I was permitted during
the war to renew my contact with the British seamen of the merchant
service. It is to their generosity in recognising me under the
shore rust of twenty-five years as one of themselves that I owe one
of the deepest emotions of my life. Never for a moment did I feel
among them like an idle, wandering ghost from a distant past. They
talked to me seriously, openly, and with professional precision, of
facts, of events, of implements, I had never heard of in my time;
but the hands I grasped were like the hands of the generation which
had trained my youth and is now no more. I recognised the
character of their glances, the accent of their voices. Their
moving tales of modern instances were presented to me with that
peculiar turn of mind flavoured by the inherited humour and
sagacity of the sea. I don't know what the seaman of the future
will be like. He may have to live all his days with a telephone
tied up to his head and bristle all over with scientific antennae
like a figure in a fantastic tale. But he will always be the man
revealed to us lately, immutable in his slight variations like the
closed path of this planet of ours on which he must find his exact
position once, at the very least, in every twenty-four hours.

The greatest desideratum of a sailor's life is to be "certain of
his position." It is a source of great worry at times, but I don't
think that it need be so at this time. Yet even the best position
has its dangers on account of the fickleness of the elements. But
I think that, left untrammelled to the individual effort of its
creators and to the collective spirit of its servants, the British
Merchant Service will manage to maintain its position on this
restless and watery globe.


To begin at the end, I will say that the "landing" surprised me by
a slight and very characteristically "dead" sort of shock.

I may fairly call myself an amphibious creature. A good half of my
active existence has been passed in familiar contact with salt
water, and I was aware, theoretically, that water is not an elastic
body: but it was only then that I acquired the absolute conviction
of the fact. I remember distinctly the thought flashing through my
head: "By Jove! it isn't elastic!" Such is the illuminating force
of a particular experience.

This landing (on the water of the North Sea) was effected in a
Short biplane after one hour and twenty minutes in the air. I
reckon every minute like a miser counting his hoard, for, if what
I've got is mine, I am not likely now to increase the tale. That
feeling is the effect of age. It strikes me as I write that, when
next time I leave the surface of this globe, it won't be to soar
bodily above it in the air. Quite the contrary. And I am not
thinking of a submarine either. . . .

But let us drop this dismal strain and go back logically to the
beginning. I must confess that I started on that flight in a
state--I won't say of fury, but of a most intense irritation. I
don't remember ever feeling so annoyed in my life.

It came about in this way. Two or three days before, I had been
invited to lunch at an R.N.A.S. station, and was made to feel very
much at home by the nicest lot of quietly interesting young men it
had ever been my good fortune to meet. Then I was taken into the
sheds. I walked respectfully round and round a lot of machines of
all kinds, and the more I looked at them the more I felt somehow
that for all the effect they produced on me they might have been so
many land-vehicles of an eccentric design. So I said to Commander
O., who very kindly was conducting me: "This is all very fine, but
to realise what one is looking at, one must have been up."

He said at once: "I'll give you a flight to-morrow if you like."

I postulated that it should be none of those "ten minutes in the
air" affairs. I wanted a real business flight. Commander O.
assured me that I would get "awfully bored," but I declared that I
was willing to take that risk. "Very well," he said. "Eleven
o'clock to-morrow. Don't be late."

I am sorry to say I was about two minutes late, which was enough,
however, for Commander O. to greet me with a shout from a great
distance: "Oh! You are coming, then!"

"Of course I am coming," I yelled indignantly.

He hurried up to me. "All right. There's your machine, and here's
your pilot. Come along."

A lot of officers closed round me, rushed me into a hut: two of
them began to button me into the coat, two more were ramming a cap
on my head, others stood around with goggles, with binoculars. . .
I couldn't understand the necessity of such haste. We weren't
going to chase Fritz. There was no sign of Fritz anywhere in the
blue. Those dear boys did not seem to notice my age--fifty-eight,
if a day--nor my infirmities--a gouty subject for years. This
disregard was very flattering, and I tried to live up to it, but
the pace seemed to me terrific. They galloped me across a vast
expanse of open ground to the water's edge.

The machine on its carriage seemed as big as a cottage, and much
more imposing. My young pilot went up like a bird. There was an
idle, able-bodied ladder loafing against a shed within fifteen feet
of me, but as nobody seemed to notice it, I recommended myself
mentally to Heaven and started climbing after the pilot. The close
view of the real fragility of that rigid structure startled me
considerably, while Commander O. discomposed me still more by
shouting repeatedly: "Don't put your foot there!" I didn't know
where to put my foot. There was a slight crack; I heard some
swear-words below me, and then with a supreme effort I rolled in
and dropped into a basket-chair, absolutely winded. A small crowd
of mechanics and officers were looking up at me from the ground,
and while I gasped visibly I thought to myself that they would be
sure to put it down to sheer nervousness. But I hadn't breath
enough in my body to stick my head out and shout down to them:

"You know, it isn't that at all!"

Generally I try not to think of my age and infirmities. They are
not a cheerful subject. But I was never so angry and disgusted
with them as during that minute or so before the machine took the
water. As to my feelings in the air, those who will read these
lines will know their own, which are so much nearer the mind and
the heart than any writings of an unprofessional can be. At first
all my faculties were absorbed and as if neutralised by the sheer
novelty of the situation. The first to emerge was the sense of
security so much more perfect than in any small boat I've ever been
in; the, as it were, material, stillness, and immobility (though it
was a bumpy day). I very soon ceased to hear the roar of the wind
and engines--unless, indeed, some cylinders missed, when I became
acutely aware of that. Within the rigid spread of the powerful
planes, so strangely motionless I had sometimes the illusion of
sitting as if by enchantment in a block of suspended marble. Even
while looking over at the aeroplane's shadow running prettily over
land and sea, I had the impression of extreme slowness. I imagine
that had she suddenly nose-dived out of control, I would have gone
to the final smash without a single additional heartbeat. I am
sure I would not have known. It is doubtless otherwise with the
man in control.

But there was no dive, and I returned to earth (after an hour and
twenty minutes) without having felt "bored" for a single second. I
descended (by the ladder) thinking that I would never go flying
again. No, never any more--lest its mysterious fascination, whose
invisible wing had brushed my heart up there, should change to
unavailing regret in a man too old for its glory.


It is with a certain bitterness that one must admit to oneself that
the late S.S. Titanic had a "good press." It is perhaps because I
have no great practice of daily newspapers (I have never seen so
many of them together lying about my room) that the white spaces
and the big lettering of the headlines have an incongruously
festive air to my eyes, a disagreeable effect of a feverish
exploitation of a sensational God-send. And if ever a loss at sea
fell under the definition, in the terms of a bill of lading, of Act
of God, this one does, in its magnitude, suddenness and severity;
and in the chastening influence it should have on the self-
confidence of mankind.

I say this with all the seriousness the occasion demands, though I
have neither the competence nor the wish to take a theological view
of this great misfortune, sending so many souls to their last
account. It is but a natural REFLECTION. Another one flowing also
from the phraseology of bills of lading (a bill of lading is a
shipping document limiting in certain of its clauses the liability
of the carrier) is that the "King's Enemies" of a more or less
overt sort are not altogether sorry that this fatal mishap should
strike the prestige of the greatest Merchant Service of the world.
I believe that not a thousand miles from these shores certain
public prints have betrayed in gothic letters their satisfaction--
to speak plainly--by rather ill-natured comments.

In what light one is to look at the action of the American Senate
is more difficult to say. From a certain point of view the sight
of the august senators of a great Power rushing to New York and
beginning to bully and badger the luckless "Yamsi"--on the very
quay-side so to speak--seems to furnish the Shakespearian touch of
the comic to the real tragedy of the fatuous drowning of all these
people who to the last moment put their trust in mere bigness, in
the reckless affirmations of commercial men and mere technicians
and in the irresponsible paragraphs of the newspapers booming these
ships! Yes, a grim touch of comedy. One asks oneself what these
men are after, with this very provincial display of authority. I
beg my friends in the United States pardon for calling these
zealous senators men. I don't wish to be disrespectful. They may
be of the stature of demi-gods for all I know, but at that great
distance from the shores of effete Europe and in the presence of so
many guileless dead, their size seems diminished from this side.
What are they after? What is there for them to find out? We know
what had happened. The ship scraped her side against a piece of
ice, and sank after floating for two hours and a half, taking a lot
of people down with her. What more can they find out from the
unfair badgering of the unhappy "Yamsi," or the ruffianly abuse of
the same.

"Yamsi," I should explain, is a mere code address, and I use it
here symbolically. I have seen commerce pretty close. I know what
it is worth, and I have no particular regard for commercial
magnates, but one must protest against these Bumble-like
proceedings. Is it indignation at the loss of so many lives which
is at work here? Well, the American railroads kill very many
people during one single year, I dare say. Then why don't these
dignitaries come down on the presidents of their own railroads, of
which one can't say whether they are mere means of transportation
or a sort of gambling game for the use of American plutocrats. Is
it only an ardent and, upon the whole, praiseworthy desire for
information? But the reports of the inquiry tell us that the
august senators, though raising a lot of questions testifying to
the complete innocence and even blankness of their minds, are
unable to understand what the second officer is saying to them. We
are so informed by the press from the other side. Even such a
simple expression as that one of the look-out men was stationed in
the "eyes of the ship" was too much for the senators of the land of
graphic expression. What it must have been in the more recondite
matters I won't even try to think, because I have no mind for
smiles just now. They were greatly exercised about the sound of
explosions heard when half the ship was under water already. Was
there one? Were there two? They seemed to be smelling a rat
there! Has not some charitable soul told them (what even
schoolboys who read sea stories know) that when a ship sinks from a
leak like this, a deck or two is always blown up; and that when a
steamship goes down by the head, the boilers may, and often do
break adrift with a sound which resembles the sound of an
explosion? And they may, indeed, explode, for all I know. In the
only case I have seen of a steamship sinking there was such a
sound, but I didn't dive down after her to investigate. She was
not of 45,000 tons and declared unsinkable, but the sight was
impressive enough. I shall never forget the muffled, mysterious
detonation, the sudden agitation of the sea round the slowly raised
stern, and to this day I have in my eye the propeller, seen
perfectly still in its frame against a clear evening sky.

But perhaps the second officer has explained to them by this time
this and a few other little facts. Though why an officer of the
British merchant service should answer the questions of any king,
emperor, autocrat, or senator of any foreign power (as to an event
in which a British ship alone was concerned, and which did not even
take place in the territorial waters of that power) passes my
understanding. The only authority he is bound to answer is the
Board of Trade. But with what face the Board of Trade, which,
having made the regulations for 10,000 ton ships, put its dear old
bald head under its wing for ten years, took it out only to shelve
an important report, and with a dreary murmur, "Unsinkable," put it
back again, in the hope of not being disturbed for another ten
years, with what face it will be putting questions to that man who
has done his duty, as to the facts of this disaster and as to his
professional conduct in it--well, I don't know! I have the
greatest respect for our established authorities. I am a
disciplined man, and I have a natural indulgence for the weaknesses
of human institutions; but I will own that at times I have
regretted their--how shall I say it?--their imponderability. A
Board of Trade--what is it? A Board of . . . I believe the Speaker
of the Irish Parliament is one of the members of it. A ghost.
Less than that; as yet a mere memory. An office with adequate and
no doubt comfortable furniture and a lot of perfectly irresponsible
gentlemen who exist packed in its equable atmosphere softly, as if
in a lot of cotton-wool, and with no care in the world; for there
can be no care without personal responsibility--such, for instance,
as the seamen have--those seamen from whose mouths this
irresponsible institution can take away the bread--as a
disciplinary measure. Yes--it's all that. And what more? The
name of a politician--a party man! Less than nothing; a mere void
without as much as a shadow of responsibility cast into it from
that light in which move the masses of men who work, who deal in
things and face the realities--not the words--of this life.

Years ago I remember overhearing two genuine shellbacks of the old
type commenting on a ship's officer, who, if not exactly
incompetent, did not commend himself to their severe judgment of
accomplished sailor-men. Said one, resuming and concluding the
discussion in a funnily judicial tone:

"The Board of Trade must have been drunk when they gave him his

I confess that this notion of the Board of Trade as an entity
having a brain which could be overcome by the fumes of strong
liquor charmed me exceedingly. For then it would have been unlike
the limited companies of which some exasperated wit has once said
that they had no souls to be saved and no bodies to be kicked, and
thus were free in this world and the next from all the effective
sanctions of conscientious conduct. But, unfortunately, the
picturesque pronouncement overheard by me was only a characteristic
sally of an annoyed sailor. The Board of Trade is composed of
bloodless departments. It has no limbs and no physiognomy, or else
at the forthcoming inquiry it might have paid to the victims of the
Titanic disaster the small tribute of a blush. I ask myself
whether the Marine Department of the Board of Trade did really
believe, when they decided to shelve the report on equipment for a
time, that a ship of 45,000 tons, that ANY ship, could be made
practically indestructible by means of watertight bulkheads? It
seems incredible to anybody who had ever reflected upon the
properties of material, such as wood or steel. You can't, let
builders say what they like, make a ship of such dimensions as
strong proportionately as a much smaller one. The shocks our old
whalers had to stand amongst the heavy floes in Baffin's Bay were
perfectly staggering, notwithstanding the most skilful handling,
and yet they lasted for years. The Titanic, if one may believe the
last reports, has only scraped against a piece of ice which, I
suspect, was not an enormously bulky and comparatively easily seen
berg, but the low edge of a floe--and sank. Leisurely enough, God
knows--and here the advantage of bulkheads comes in--for time is a
great friend, a good helper--though in this lamentable case these
bulkheads served only to prolong the agony of the passengers who
could not be saved. But she sank, causing, apart from the sorrow
and the pity of the loss of so many lives, a sort of surprised
consternation that such a thing should have happened at all. Why?
You build a 45,000 tons hotel of thin steel plates to secure the
patronage of, say, a couple of thousand rich people (for if it had
been for the emigrant trade alone, there would have been no such
exaggeration of mere size), you decorate it in the style of the
Pharaohs or in the Louis Quinze style--I don't know which--and to
please the aforesaid fatuous handful of individuals, who have more
money than they know what to do with, and to the applause of two
continents, you launch that mass with two thousand people on board
at twenty-one knots across the sea--a perfect exhibition of the
modern blind trust in mere material and appliances. And then this
happens. General uproar. The blind trust in material and
appliances has received a terrible shock. I will say nothing of
the credulity which accepts any statement which specialists,
technicians and office-people are pleased to make, whether for
purposes of gain or glory. You stand there astonished and hurt in
your profoundest sensibilities. But what else under the
circumstances could you expect?

For my part I could much sooner believe in an unsinkable ship of
3,000 tons than in one of 40,000 tons. It is one of those things
that stand to reason. You can't increase the thickness of
scantling and plates indefinitely. And the mere weight of this
bigness is an added disadvantage. In reading the reports, the
first reflection which occurs to one is that, if that luckless ship
had been a couple of hundred feet shorter, she would have probably
gone clear of the danger. But then, perhaps, she could not have
had a swimming bath and a French cafe. That, of course, is a
serious consideration. I am well aware that those responsible for
her short and fatal existence ask us in desolate accents to believe
that if she had hit end on she would have survived. Which, by a
sort of coy implication, seems to mean that it was all the fault of
the officer of the watch (he is dead now) for trying to avoid the
obstacle. We shall have presently, in deference to commercial and
industrial interests, a new kind of seamanship. A very new and
"progressive" kind. If you see anything in the way, by no means
try to avoid it; smash at it full tilt. And then--and then only
you shall see the triumph of material, of clever contrivances, of
the whole box of engineering tricks in fact, and cover with glory a
commercial concern of the most unmitigated sort, a great Trust, and
a great ship-building yard, justly famed for the super-excellence
of its material and workmanship. Unsinkable! See? I told you she
was unsinkable, if only handled in accordance with the new
seamanship. Everything's in that. And, doubtless, the Board of
Trade, if properly approached, would consent to give the needed
instructions to its examiners of Masters and Mates. Behold the
examination-room of the future. Enter to the grizzled examiner a
young man of modest aspect: "Are you well up in modern
seamanship?" "I hope so, sir." "H'm, let's see. You are at night
on the bridge in charge of a 150,000 tons ship, with a motor track,
organ-loft, etc., etc., with a full cargo of passengers, a full
crew of 1,500 cafe waiters, two sailors and a boy, three
collapsible boats as per Board of Trade regulations, and going at
your three-quarter speed of, say, about forty knots. You perceive
suddenly right ahead, and close to, something that looks like a
large ice-floe. What would you do?" "Put the helm amidships."
"Very well. Why?" "In order to hit end on." "On what grounds
should you endeavour to hit end on?" "Because we are taught by our
builders and masters that the heavier the smash, the smaller the
damage, and because the requirements of material should be attended

And so on and so on. The new seamanship: when in doubt try to ram
fairly--whatever's before you. Very simple. If only the Titanic
had rammed that piece of ice (which was not a monstrous berg)
fairly, every puffing paragraph would have been vindicated in the
eyes of the credulous public which pays. But would it have been?
Well, I doubt it. I am well aware that in the eighties the
steamship Arizona, one of the "greyhounds of the ocean" in the
jargon of that day, did run bows on against a very unmistakable
iceberg, and managed to get into port on her collision bulkhead.
But the Arizona was not, if I remember rightly, 5,000 tons
register, let alone 45,000, and she was not going at twenty knots
per hour. I can't be perfectly certain at this distance of time,
but her sea-speed could not have been more than fourteen at the
outside. Both these facts made for safety. And, even if she had
been engined to go twenty knots, there would not have been behind
that speed the enormous mass, so difficult to check in its impetus,
the terrific weight of which is bound to do damage to itself or
others at the slightest contact.

I assure you it is not for the vain pleasure of talking about my
own poor experiences, but only to illustrate my point, that I will
relate here a very unsensational little incident I witnessed now
rather more than twenty years ago in Sydney, N.S.W. Ships were
beginning then to grow bigger year after year, though, of course,
the present dimensions were not even dreamt of. I was standing on
the Circular Quay with a Sydney pilot watching a big mail steamship
of one of our best-known companies being brought alongside. We
admired her lines, her noble appearance, and were impressed by her
size as well, though her length, I imagine, was hardly half that of
the Titanic.

She came into the Cove (as that part of the harbour is called), of
course very slowly, and at some hundred feet or so short of the
quay she lost her way. That quay was then a wooden one, a fine
structure of mighty piles and stringers bearing a roadway--a thing
of great strength. The ship, as I have said before, stopped moving
when some hundred feet from it. Then her engines were rung on slow
ahead, and immediately rung off again. The propeller made just
about five turns, I should say. She began to move, stealing on, so
to speak, without a ripple; coming alongside with the utmost
gentleness. I went on looking her over, very much interested, but
the man with me, the pilot, muttered under his breath: "Too much,
too much." His exercised judgment had warned him of what I did not
even suspect. But I believe that neither of us was exactly
prepared for what happened. There was a faint concussion of the
ground under our feet, a groaning of piles, a snapping of great
iron bolts, and with a sound of ripping and splintering, as when a
tree is blown down by the wind, a great strong piece of wood, a
baulk of squared timber, was displaced several feet as if by
enchantment. I looked at my companion in amazement. "I could not
have believed it," I declared. "No," he said. "You would not have
thought she would have cracked an egg--eh?"

I certainly wouldn't have thought that. He shook his head, and
added: "Ah! These great, big things, they want some handling."

Some months afterwards I was back in Sydney. The same pilot
brought me in from sea. And I found the same steamship, or else
another as like her as two peas, lying at anchor not far from us.
The pilot told me she had arrived the day before, and that he was
to take her alongside to-morrow. I reminded him jocularly of the
damage to the quay. "Oh!" he said, "we are not allowed now to
bring them in under their own steam. We are using tugs."

A very wise regulation. And this is my point--that size is to a
certain extent an element of weakness. The bigger the ship, the
more delicately she must be handled. Here is a contact which, in
the pilot's own words, you wouldn't think could have cracked an
egg; with the astonishing result of something like eighty feet of
good strong wooden quay shaken loose, iron bolts snapped, a baulk
of stout timber splintered. Now, suppose that quay had been of
granite (as surely it is now)--or, instead of the quay, if there
had been, say, a North Atlantic fog there, with a full-grown
iceberg in it awaiting the gentle contact of a ship groping its way
along blindfold? Something would have been hurt, but it would not
have been the iceberg.

Apparently, there is a point in development when it ceases to be a
true progress--in trade, in games, in the marvellous handiwork of
men, and even in their demands and desires and aspirations of the
moral and mental kind. There is a point when progress, to remain a
real advance, must change slightly the direction of its line. But
this is a wide question. What I wanted to point out here is--that
the old Arizona, the marvel of her day, was proportionately
stronger, handier, better equipped, than this triumph of modern
naval architecture, the loss of which, in common parlance, will
remain the sensation of this year. The clatter of the presses has
been worthy of the tonnage, of the preliminary paeans of triumph
round that vanished hull, of the reckless statements, and elaborate
descriptions of its ornate splendour. A great babble of news (and
what sort of news too, good heavens!) and eager comment has arisen
around this catastrophe, though it seems to me that a less strident
note would have been more becoming in the presence of so many
victims left struggling on the sea, of lives miserably thrown away
for nothing, or worse than nothing: for false standards of
achievement, to satisfy a vulgar demand of a few moneyed people for
a banal hotel luxury--the only one they can understand--and because
the big ship pays, in one way or another: in money or in
advertising value.

It is in more ways than one a very ugly business, and a mere scrape
along the ship's side, so slight that, if reports are to be
believed, it did not interrupt a card party in the gorgeously
fitted (but in chaste style) smoking-room--or was it in the
delightful French cafe?--is enough to bring on the exposure. All
the people on board existed under a sense of false security. How
false, it has been sufficiently demonstrated. And the fact which
seems undoubted, that some of them actually were reluctant to enter
the boats when told to do so, shows the strength of that falsehood.
Incidentally, it shows also the sort of discipline on board these
ships, the sort of hold kept on the passengers in the face of the
unforgiving sea. These people seemed to imagine it an optional
matter: whereas the order to leave the ship should be an order of
the sternest character, to be obeyed unquestioningly and promptly
by every one on board, with men to enforce it at once, and to carry
it out methodically and swiftly. And it is no use to say it cannot
be done, for it can. It has been done. The only requisite is
manageableness of the ship herself and of the numbers she carries
on board. That is the great thing which makes for safety. A
commander should be able to hold his ship and everything on board
of her in the hollow of his hand, as it were. But with the modern
foolish trust in material, and with those floating hotels, this has
become impossible. A man may do his best, but he cannot succeed in
a task which from greed, or more likely from sheer stupidity, has
been made too great for anybody's strength.

The readers of THE ENGLISH REVIEW, who cast a friendly eye nearly
six years ago on my Reminiscences, and know how much the merchant
service, ships and men, has been to me, will understand my
indignation that those men of whom (speaking in no sentimental
phrase, but in the very truth of feeling) I can't even now think
otherwise than as brothers, have been put by their commercial
employers in the impossibility to perform efficiently their plain
duty; and this from motives which I shall not enumerate here, but
whose intrinsic unworthiness is plainly revealed by the greatness,
the miserable greatness, of that disaster. Some of them have
perished. To die for commerce is hard enough, but to go under that
sea we have been trained to combat, with a sense of failure in the
supreme duty of one's calling is indeed a bitter fate. Thus they
are gone, and the responsibility remains with the living who will
have no difficulty in replacing them by others, just as good, at
the same wages. It was their bitter fate. But I, who can look at
some arduous years when their duty was my duty too, and their
feelings were my feelings, can remember some of us who once upon a
time were more fortunate.

It is of them that I would talk a little, for my own comfort
partly, and also because I am sticking all the time to my subject
to illustrate my point, the point of manageableness which I have
raised just now. Since the memory of the lucky Arizona has been
evoked by others than myself, and made use of by me for my own
purpose, let me call up the ghost of another ship of that distant
day whose less lucky destiny inculcates another lesson making for
my argument. The Douro, a ship belonging to the Royal Mail Steam
Packet Company, was rather less than one-tenth the measurement of
the Titanic. Yet, strange as it may appear to the ineffable hotel
exquisites who form the bulk of the first-class Cross-Atlantic
Passengers, people of position and wealth and refinement did not
consider it an intolerable hardship to travel in her, even all the
way from South America; this being the service she was engaged
upon. Of her speed I know nothing, but it must have been the
average of the period, and the decorations of her saloons were, I
dare say, quite up to the mark; but I doubt if her birth had been
boastfully paragraphed all round the Press, because that was not
the fashion of the time. She was not a mass of material gorgeously
furnished and upholstered. She was a ship. And she was not, in
the apt words of an article by Commander C. Crutchley, R.N.R.,
which I have just read, "run by a sort of hotel syndicate composed
of the Chief Engineer, the Purser, and the Captain," as these
monstrous Atlantic ferries are. She was really commanded, manned,
and equipped as a ship meant to keep the sea: a ship first and
last in the fullest meaning of the term, as the fact I am going to
relate will show.

She was off the Spanish coast, homeward bound, and fairly full,
just like the Titanic; and further, the proportion of her crew to
her passengers, I remember quite well, was very much the same. The
exact number of souls on board I have forgotten. It might have
been nearly three hundred, certainly not more. The night was
moonlit, but hazy, the weather fine with a heavy swell running from
the westward, which means that she must have been rolling a great
deal, and in that respect the conditions for her were worse than in
the case of the Titanic. Some time either just before or just
after midnight, to the best of my recollection, she was run into
amidships and at right angles by a large steamer which after the
blow backed out, and, herself apparently damaged, remained
motionless at some distance.

My recollection is that the Douro remained afloat after the
collision for fifteen minutes or thereabouts. It might have been
twenty, but certainly something under the half-hour. In that time
the boats were lowered, all the passengers put into them, and the
lot shoved off. There was no time to do anything more. All the
crew of the Douro went down with her, literally without a murmur.
When she went she plunged bodily down like a stone. The only
members of the ship's company who survived were the third officer,
who was from the first ordered to take charge of the boats, and the
seamen told off to man them, two in each. Nobody else was picked
up. A quartermaster, one of the saved in the way of duty, with
whom I talked a month or so afterwards, told me that they pulled up
to the spot, but could neither see a head nor hear the faintest

But I have forgotten. A passenger was drowned. She was a lady's
maid who, frenzied with terror, refused to leave the ship. One of
the boats waited near by till the chief officer, finding himself
absolutely unable to tear the girl away from the rail to which she
dung with a frantic grasp, ordered the boat away out of danger. My
quartermaster told me that he spoke over to them in his ordinary
voice, and this was the last sound heard before the ship sank.

The rest is silence. I daresay there was the usual official
inquiry, but who cared for it? That sort of thing speaks for
itself with no uncertain voice; though the papers, I remember, gave
the event no space to speak of: no large headlines--no headlines
at all. You see it was not the fashion at the time. A seaman-like
piece of work, of which one cherishes the old memory at this
juncture more than ever before. She was a ship commanded, manned,
equipped--not a sort of marine Ritz, proclaimed unsinkable and sent
adrift with its casual population upon the sea, without enough
boats, without enough seamen (but with a Parisian cafe and four
hundred of poor devils of waiters) to meet dangers which, let the
engineers say what they like, lurk always amongst the waves; sent
with a blind trust in mere material, light-heartedly, to a most
miserable, most fatuous disaster.

And there are, too, many ugly developments about this tragedy. The
rush of the senatorial inquiry before the poor wretches escaped
from the jaws of death had time to draw breath, the vituperative
abuse of a man no more guilty than others in this matter, and the
suspicion of this aimless fuss being a political move to get home
on the M.T. Company, into which, in common parlance, the United
States Government has got its knife, I don't pretend to understand
why, though with the rest of the world I am aware of the fact.
Perhaps there may be an excellent and worthy reason for it; but I
venture to suggest that to take advantage of so many pitiful
corpses, is not pretty. And the exploiting of the mere sensation
on the other side is not pretty in its wealth of heartless
inventions. Neither is the welter of Marconi lies which has not
been sent vibrating without some reason, for which it would be
nauseous to inquire too closely. And the calumnious, baseless,
gratuitous, circumstantial lie charging poor Captain Smith with
desertion of his post by means of suicide is the vilest and most
ugly thing of all in this outburst of journalistic enterprise,
without feeling, without honour, without decency.

But all this has its moral. And that other sinking which I have
related here and to the memory of which a seaman turns with relief
and thankfulness has its moral too. Yes, material may fail, and
men, too, may fail sometimes; but more often men, when they are
given the chance, will prove themselves truer than steel, that
wonderful thin steel from which the sides and the bulkheads of our
modern sea-leviathans are made.


I have been taken to task by a friend of mine on the "other side"
for my strictures on Senator Smith's investigation into the loss of
the Titanic, in the number of THE ENGLISH REVIEW for May, 1912. I
will admit that the motives of the investigation may have been
excellent, and probably were; my criticism bore mainly on matters
of form and also on the point of efficiency. In that respect I
have nothing to retract. The Senators of the Commission had
absolutely no knowledge and no practice to guide them in the
conduct of such an investigation; and this fact gave an air of
unreality to their zealous exertions. I think that even in the
United States there is some regret that this zeal of theirs was not
tempered by a large dose of wisdom. It is fitting that people who
rush with such ardour to the work of putting questions to men yet
gasping from a narrow escape should have, I wouldn't say a tincture
of technical information, but enough knowledge of the subject to
direct the trend of their inquiry. The newspapers of two
continents have noted the remarks of the President of the
Senatorial Commission with comments which I will not reproduce
here, having a scant respect for the "organs of public opinion," as
they fondly believe themselves to be. The absolute value of their
remarks was about as great as the value of the investigation they
either mocked at or extolled. To the United States Senate I did
not intend to be disrespectful. I have for that body, of which one
hears mostly in connection with tariffs, as much reverence as the
best of Americans. To manifest more or less would be an
impertinence in a stranger. I have expressed myself with less
reserve on our Board of Trade. That was done under the influence
of warm feelings. We were all feeling warmly on the matter at that
time. But, at any rate, our Board of Trade Inquiry, conducted by
an experienced President, discovered a very interesting fact on the
very second day of its sitting: the fact that the water-tight
doors in the bulkheads of that wonder of naval architecture could
be opened down below by any irresponsible person. Thus the famous
closing apparatus on the bridge, paraded as a device of greater
safety, with its attachments of warning bells, coloured lights, and
all these pretty-pretties, was, in the case of this ship, little
better than a technical farce.

It is amusing, if anything connected with this stupid catastrophe
can be amusing, to see the secretly crestfallen attitude of
technicians. They are the high priests of the modern cult of
perfected material and of mechanical appliances, and would fain
forbid the profane from inquiring into its mysteries. We are the
masters of progress, they say, and you should remain respectfully
silent. And they take refuge behind their mathematics. I have the
greatest regard for mathematics as an exercise of mind. It is the
only manner of thinking which approaches the Divine. But mere
calculations, of which these men make so much, when unassisted by
imagination and when they have gained mastery over common sense,
are the most deceptive exercises of intellect. Two and two are
four, and two are six. That is immutable; you may trust your soul
to that; but you must be certain first of your quantities. I know
how the strength of materials can be calculated away, and also the
evidence of one's senses. For it is by some sort of calculation
involving weights and levels that the technicians responsible for
the Titanic persuaded themselves that a ship NOT DIVIDED by water-
tight compartments could be "unsinkable." Because, you know, she
was not divided. You and I, and our little boys, when we want to
divide, say, a box, take care to procure a piece of wood which will
reach from the bottom to the lid. We know that if it does not
reach all the way up, the box will not be divided into two
compartments. It will be only partly divided. The Titanic was
only partly divided. She was just sufficiently divided to drown
some poor devils like rats in a trap. It is probable that they
would have perished in any case, but it is a particularly horrible
fate to die boxed up like this. Yes, she was sufficiently divided
for that, but not sufficiently divided to prevent the water flowing

Therefore to a plain man who knows something of mathematics but is
not bemused by calculations, she was, from the point of view of
"unsinkability," not divided at all. What would you say of people
who would boast of a fireproof building, an hotel, for instance,
saying, "Oh, we have it divided by fireproof bulkheads which would
localise any outbreak," and if you were to discover on closer
inspection that these bulkheads closed no more than two-thirds of
the openings they were meant to close, leaving above an open space
through which draught, smoke, and fire could rush from one end of
the building to the other? And, furthermore, that those
partitions, being too high to climb over, the people confined in
each menaced compartment had to stay there and become asphyxiated
or roasted, because no exits to the outside, say to the roof, had
been provided! What would you think of the intelligence or candour
of these advertising people? What would you think of them? And
yet, apart from the obvious difference in the action of fire and
water, the cases are essentially the same.

It would strike you and me and our little boys (who are not
engineers yet) that to approach--I won't say attain--somewhere near
absolute safety, the divisions to keep out water should extend from
the bottom right up to the uppermost deck of THE HULL. I repeat,
the HULL, because there are above the hull the decks of the
superstructures of which we need not take account. And further, as
a provision of the commonest humanity, that each of these
compartments should have a perfectly independent and free access to
that uppermost deck: that is, into the open. Nothing less will
do. Division by bulkheads that really divide, and free access to
the deck from every water-tight compartment. Then the responsible
man in the moment of danger and in the exercise of his judgment
could close all the doors of these water-tight bulkheads by
whatever clever contrivance has been invented for the purpose,
without a qualm at the awful thought that he may be shutting up
some of his fellow creatures in a death-trap; that he may be
sacrificing the lives of men who, down there, are sticking to the
posts of duty as the engine-room staffs of the Merchant Service
have never failed to do. I know very well that the engineers of a
ship in a moment of emergency are not quaking for their lives, but,
as far as I have known them, attend calmly to their duty. We all
must die; but, hang it all, a man ought to be given a chance, if
not for his life, then at least to die decently. It's bad enough
to have to stick down there when something disastrous is going on
and any moment may be your last; but to be drowned shut up under
deck is too bad. Some men of the Titanic died like that, it is to
be feared. Compartmented, so to speak. Just think what it means!
Nothing can approach the horror of that fate except being buried
alive in a cave, or in a mine, or in your family vault.

So, once more: continuous bulkheads--a clear way of escape to the
deck out of each water-tight compartment. Nothing less. And if
specialists, the precious specialists of the sort that builds
"unsinkable ships," tell you that it cannot be done, don't you
believe them. It can be done, and they are quite clever enough to
do it too. The objections they will raise, however disguised in
the solemn mystery of technical phrases, will not be technical, but
commercial. I assure you that there is not much mystery about a
ship of that sort. She is a tank. She is a tank ribbed, joisted,
stayed, but she is no greater mystery than a tank. The Titanic was
a tank eight hundred feet long, fitted as an hotel, with corridors,
bed-rooms, halls, and so on (not a very mysterious arrangement
truly), and for the hazards of her existence I should think about
as strong as a Huntley and Palmer biscuit-tin. I make this
comparison because Huntley and Palmer biscuit-tins, being almost a
national institution, are probably known to all my readers. Well,
about that strong, and perhaps not quite so strong. Just look at
the side of such a tin, and then think of a 50,000 ton ship, and
try to imagine what the thickness of her plates should be to
approach anywhere the relative solidity of that biscuit-tin. In my
varied and adventurous career I have been thrilled by the sight of
a Huntley and Palmer biscuit-tin kicked by a mule sky-high, as the
saying is. It came back to earth smiling, with only a sort of
dimple on one of its cheeks. A proportionately severe blow would
have burst the side of the Titanic or any other "triumph of modern
naval architecture" like brown paper--I am willing to bet.

I am not saying this by way of disparagement. There is reason in
things. You can't make a 50,000 ton ship as strong as a Huntley
and Palmer biscuit-tin. But there is also reason in the way one
accepts facts, and I refuse to be awed by the size of a tank bigger
than any other tank that ever went afloat to its doom. The people
responsible for her, though disconcerted in their hearts by the
exposure of that disaster, are giving themselves airs of
superiority--priests of an Oracle which has failed, but still must
remain the Oracle. The assumption is that they are ministers of
progress. But the mere increase of size is not progress. If it
were, elephantiasis, which causes a man's legs to become as large
as tree-trunks, would be a sort of progress, whereas it is nothing
but a very ugly disease. Yet directly this very disconcerting
catastrophe happened, the servants of the silly Oracle began to
cry: "It's no use! You can't resist progress. The big ship has
come to stay." Well, let her stay on, then, in God's name! But
she isn't a servant of progress in any sense. She is the servant
of commercialism. For progress, if dealing with the problems of a
material world, has some sort of moral aspect--if only, say, that
of conquest, which has its distinct value since man is a conquering
animal. But bigness is mere exaggeration. The men responsible for
these big ships have been moved by considerations of profit to be
made by the questionable means of pandering to an absurd and vulgar
demand for banal luxury--the seaside hotel luxury. One even asks
oneself whether there was such a demand? It is inconceivable to
think that there are people who can't spend five days of their life
without a suite of apartments, cafes, bands, and such-like refined
delights. I suspect that the public is not so very guilty in this
matter. These things were pushed on to it in the usual course of
trade competition. If to-morrow you were to take all these
luxuries away, the public would still travel. I don't despair of
mankind. I believe that if, by some catastrophic miracle all ships
of every kind were to disappear off the face of the waters,
together with the means of replacing them, there would be found,
before the end of the week, men (millionaires, perhaps) cheerfully
putting out to sea in bath-tubs for a fresh start. We are all like
that. This sort of spirit lives in mankind still uncorrupted by
the so-called refinements, the ingenuity of tradesmen, who look
always for something new to sell, offers to the public.

Let her stay,--I mean the big ship--since she has come to stay. I
only object to the attitude of the people, who, having called her
into being and having romanced (to speak politely) about her,
assume a detached sort of superiority, goodness only knows why, and
raise difficulties in the way of every suggestion--difficulties
about boats, about bulkheads, about discipline, about davits, all
sorts of difficulties. To most of them the only answer would be:
"Where there's a will there's a way"--the most wise of proverbs.
But some of these objections are really too stupid for anything. I
shall try to give an instance of what I mean.

This Inquiry is admirably conducted. I am not alluding to the
lawyers representing "various interests," who are trying to earn
their fees by casting all sorts of mean aspersions on the
characters of all sorts of people not a bit worse than themselves.
It is honest to give value for your wages; and the "bravos" of
ancient Venice who kept their stilettos in good order and never
failed to deliver the stab bargained for with their employers,
considered themselves an honest body of professional men, no doubt.
But they don't compel my admiration, whereas the conduct of this
Inquiry does. And as it is pretty certain to be attacked, I take
this opportunity to deposit here my nickel of appreciation. Well,
lately, there came before it witnesses responsible for the
designing of the ship. One of them was asked whether it would not
be advisable to make each coal-bunker of the ship a water-tight
compartment by means of a suitable door.

The answer to such a question should have been, "Certainly," for it
is obvious to the simplest intelligence that the more water-tight
spaces you provide in a ship (consistently with having her
workable) the nearer you approach safety. But instead of admitting
the expediency of the suggestion, this witness at once raised an
objection as to the possibility of closing tightly the door of a
bunker on account of the slope of coal. This with the true
expert's attitude of "My dear man, you don't know what you are
talking about."

Now would you believe that the objection put forward was absolutely
futile? I don't know whether the distinguished President of the
Court perceived this. Very likely he did, though I don't suppose
he was ever on terms of familiarity with a ship's bunker. But I
have. I have been inside; and you may take it that what I say of
them is correct. I don't wish to be wearisome to the benevolent
reader, but I want to put his finger, so to speak, on the inanity
of the objection raised by the expert. A bunker is an enclosed
space for holding coals, generally located against the ship's side,
and having an opening, a doorway in fact, into the stokehold. Men
called trimmers go in there, and by means of implements called
slices make the coal run through that opening on to the floor of
the stokehold, where it is within reach of the stokers' (firemen's)
shovels. This being so, you will easily understand that there is
constantly a more or less thick layer of coal generally shaped in a
slope lying in that doorway. And the objection of the expert was:
that because of this obstruction it would be impossible to close
the water-tight door, and therefore that the thing could not be
done. And that objection was inane. A water-tight door in a
bulkhead may be defined as a metal plate which is made to close a
given opening by some mechanical means. And if there were a law of
Medes and Persians that a water-tight door should always slide
downwards and never otherwise, the objection would be to a great
extent valid. But what is there to prevent those doors to be
fitted so as to move upwards, or horizontally, or slantwise? In
which case they would go through the obstructing layer of coal as
easily as a knife goes through butter. Anyone may convince himself
of it by experimenting with a light piece of board and a heap of
stones anywhere along our roads. Probably the joint of such a door
would weep a little--and there is no necessity for its being
hermetically tight--but the object of converting bunkers into
spaces of safety would be attained. You may take my word for it
that this could be done without any great effort of ingenuity. And
that is why I have qualified the expert's objection as inane.

Of course, these doors must not be operated from the bridge because
of the risk of trapping the coal-trimmers inside the bunker; but on
the signal of all other water-tight doors in the ship being closed
(as would be done in case of a collision) they too could be closed
on the order of the engineer of the watch, who would see to the
safety of the trimmers. If the rent in the ship's side were within
the bunker itself, that would become manifest enough without any
signal, and the rush of water into the stokehold could be cut off
directly the doorplate came into its place. Say a minute at the
very outside. Naturally, if the blow of a right-angled collision,
for instance, were heavy enough to smash through the inner bulkhead
of the bunker, why, there would be then nothing to do but for the
stokers and trimmers and everybody in there to clear out of the
stoke-room. But that does not mean that the precaution of having
water-tight doors to the bunkers is useless, superfluous, or
impossible. {7}

And talking of stokeholds, firemen, and trimmers, men whose heavy
labour has not a single redeeming feature; which is unhealthy,
uninspiring, arduous, without the reward of personal pride in it;
sheer, hard, brutalising toil, belonging neither to earth nor sea,
I greet with joy the advent for marine purposes of the internal
combustion engine. The disappearance of the marine boiler will be
a real progress, which anybody in sympathy with his kind must
welcome. Instead of the unthrifty, unruly, nondescript crowd the
boilers require, a crowd of men IN the ship but not OF her, we
shall have comparatively small crews of disciplined, intelligent
workers, able to steer the ship, handle anchors, man boats, and at
the same time competent to take their place at a bench as fitters
and repairers; the resourceful and skilled seamen--mechanics of the
future, the legitimate successors of these seamen--sailors of the
past, who had their own kind of skill, hardihood, and tradition,
and whose last days it has been my lot to share.

One lives and learns and hears very surprising things--things that
one hardly knows how to take, whether seriously or jocularly, how
to meet--with indignation or with contempt? Things said by solemn
experts, by exalted directors, by glorified ticket-sellers, by
officials of all sorts. I suppose that one of the uses of such an
inquiry is to give such people enough rope to hang themselves with.
And I hope that some of them won't neglect to do so. One of them
declared two days ago that there was "nothing to learn from the
catastrophe of the Titanic." That he had been "giving his best
consideration" to certain rules for ten years, and had come to the
conclusion that nothing ever happened at sea, and that rules and
regulations, boats and sailors, were unnecessary; that what was
really wrong with the Titanic was that she carried too many boats.

No; I am not joking. If you don't believe me, pray look back
through the reports and you will find it all there. I don't
recollect the official's name, but it ought to have been Pooh-Bah.
Well, Pooh-Bah said all these things, and when asked whether he
really meant it, intimated his readiness to give the subject more
of "his best consideration"--for another ten years or so
apparently--but he believed, oh yes! he was certain, that had there
been fewer boats there would have been more people saved. Really,
when reading the report of this admirably conducted inquiry one
isn't certain at times whether it is an Admirable Inquiry or a
felicitous OPERA-BOUFFE of the Gilbertian type--with a rather grim
subject, to be sure.

Yes, rather grim--but the comic treatment never fails. My readers
will remember that in the number of THE ENGLISH REVIEW for May,
1912, I quoted the old case of the Arizona, and went on from that
to prophesy the coming of a new seamanship (in a spirit of irony
far removed from fun) at the call of the sublime builders of
unsinkable ships. I thought that, as a small boy of my
acquaintance says, I was "doing a sarcasm," and regarded it as a
rather wild sort of sarcasm at that. Well, I am blessed (excuse
the vulgarism) if a witness has not turned up who seems to have
been inspired by the same thought, and evidently longs in his heart
for the advent of the new seamanship. He is an expert, of course,
and I rather believe he's the same gentleman who did not see his
way to fit water-tight doors to bunkers. With ludicrous
earnestness he assured the Commission of his intense belief that
had only the Titanic struck end-on she would have come into port
all right. And in the whole tone of his insistent statement there
was suggested the regret that the officer in charge (who is dead
now, and mercifully outside the comic scope of this inquiry) was so
ill-advised as to try to pass clear of the ice. Thus my sarcastic
prophecy, that such a suggestion was sure to turn up, receives an
unexpected fulfilment. You will see yet that in deference to the
demands of "progress" the theory of the new seamanship will become
established: "Whatever you see in front of you--ram it fair. . ."
The new seamanship! Looks simple, doesn't it? But it will be a
very exact art indeed. The proper handling of an unsinkable ship,
you see, will demand that she should be made to hit the iceberg
very accurately with her nose, because should you perchance scrape
the bluff of the bow instead, she may, without ceasing to be as
unsinkable as before, find her way to the bottom. I congratulate
the future Transatlantic passengers on the new and vigorous
sensations in store for them. They shall go bounding across from
iceberg to iceberg at twenty-five knots with precision and safety,
and a "cheerful bumpy sound"--as the immortal poem has it. It will
be a teeth-loosening, exhilarating experience. The decorations
will be Louis-Quinze, of course, and the cafe shall remain open all
night. But what about the priceless Sevres porcelain and the
Venetian glass provided for the service of Transatlantic
passengers? Well, I am afraid all that will have to be replaced by
silver goblets and plates. Nasty, common, cheap silver. But those
who WILL go to sea must be prepared to put up with a certain amount
of hardship.

And there shall be no boats. Why should there be no boats?
Because Pooh-Bah has said that the fewer the boats, the more people
can be saved; and therefore with no boats at all, no one need be
lost. But even if there was a flaw in this argument, pray look at
the other advantages the absence of boats gives you. There can't
be the annoyance of having to go into them in the middle of the
night, and the unpleasantness, after saving your life by the skin
of your teeth, of being hauled over the coals by irreproachable
members of the Bar with hints that you are no better than a
cowardly scoundrel and your wife a heartless monster. Less Boats.
No boats! Great should be the gratitude of passage-selling
Combines to Pooh-Bah; and they ought to cherish his memory when he
dies. But no fear of that. His kind never dies. All you have to
do, O Combine, is to knock at the door of the Marine Department,
look in, and beckon to the first man you see. That will be he,
very much at your service--prepared to affirm after "ten years of
my best consideration" and a bundle of statistics in hand, that:
"There's no lesson to be learned, and that there is nothing to be

On an earlier day there was another witness before the Court of
Inquiry. A mighty official of the White Star Line. The impression
of his testimony which the Report gave is of an almost scornful
impatience with all this fuss and pother. Boats! Of course we
have crowded our decks with them in answer to this ignorant
clamour. Mere lumber! How can we handle so many boats with our
davits? Your people don't know the conditions of the problem. We
have given these matters our best consideration, and we have done
what we thought reasonable. We have done more than our duty. We
are wise, and good, and impeccable. And whoever says otherwise is
either ignorant or wicked.

This is the gist of these scornful answers which disclose the
psychology of commercial undertakings. It is the same psychology
which fifty or so years ago, before Samuel Plimsoll uplifted his
voice, sent overloaded ships to sea. "Why shouldn't we cram in as
much cargo as our ships will hold? Look how few, how very few of
them get lost, after all."

Men don't change. Not very much. And the only answer to be given
to this manager who came out, impatient and indignant, from behind
the plate-glass windows of his shop to be discovered by this
inquiry, and to tell us that he, they, the whole three million (or
thirty million, for all I know) capital Organisation for selling
passages has considered the problem of boats--the only answer to
give him is: that this is not a problem of boats at all. It is
the problem of decent behaviour. If you can't carry or handle so
many boats, then don't cram quite so many people on board. It is
as simple as that--this problem of right feeling and right conduct,
the real nature of which seems beyond the comprehension of ticket-
providers. Don't sell so many tickets, my virtuous dignitary.
After all, men and women (unless considered from a purely
commercial point of view) are not exactly the cattle of the
Western-ocean trade, that used some twenty years ago to be thrown
overboard on an emergency and left to swim round and round before
they sank. If you can't get more boats, then sell less tickets.
Don't drown so many people on the finest, calmest night that was
ever known in the North Atlantic--even if you have provided them
with a little music to get drowned by. Sell less tickets! That's
the solution of the problem, your Mercantile Highness.

But there would be a cry, "Oh! This requires consideration!" (Ten
years of it--eh?) Well, no! This does not require consideration.
This is the very first thing to do. At once. Limit the number of
people by the boats you can handle. That's honesty. And then you
may go on fumbling for years about these precious davits which are
such a stumbling-block to your humanity. These fascinating patent
davits. These davits that refuse to do three times as much work as
they were meant to do. Oh! The wickedness of these davits!

One of the great discoveries of this admirable Inquiry is the
fascination of the davits. All these people positively can't get
away from them. They shuffle about and groan around their davits.
Whereas the obvious thing to do is to eliminate the man-handled
davits altogether. Don't you think that with all the mechanical
contrivances, with all the generated power on board these ships, it
is about time to get rid of the hundred-years-old, man-power
appliances? Cranes are what is wanted; low, compact cranes with
adjustable heads, one to each set of six or nine boats. And if
people tell you of insuperable difficulties, if they tell you of
the swing and spin of spanned boats, don't you believe them. The
heads of the cranes need not be any higher than the heads of the
davits. The lift required would be only a couple of inches. As to
the spin, there is a way to prevent that if you have in each boat
two men who know what they are about. I have taken up on board a
heavy ship's boat, in the open sea (the ship rolling heavily), with
a common cargo derrick. And a cargo derrick is very much like a
crane; but a crane devised AD HOC would be infinitely easier to
work. We must remember that the loss of this ship has altered the
moral atmosphere. As long as the Titanic is remembered, an ugly
rush for the boats may be feared in case of some accident. You
can't hope to drill into perfect discipline a casual mob of six
hundred firemen and waiters, but in a ship like the Titanic you can
keep on a permanent trustworthy crew of one hundred intelligent
seamen and mechanics who would know their stations for abandoning
ship and would do the work efficiently. The boats could be lowered
with sufficient dispatch. One does not want to let rip one's boats
by the run all at the same time. With six boat-cranes, six boats
would be simultaneously swung, filled, and got away from the side;
and if any sort of order is kept, the ship could be cleared of the
passengers in a quite short time. For there must be boats enough
for the passengers and crew, whether you increase the number of
boats or limit the number of passengers, irrespective of the size
of the ship. That is the only honest course. Any other would be
rather worse than putting sand in the sugar, for which a tradesman
gets fined or imprisoned. Do not let us take a romantic view of
the so-called progress. A company selling passages is a tradesman;
though from the way these people talk and behave you would think
they are benefactors of mankind in some mysterious way, engaged in
some lofty and amazing enterprise.

All these boats should have a motor-engine in them. And, of
course, the glorified tradesman, the mummified official, the
technicians, and all these secretly disconcerted hangers-on to the
enormous ticket-selling enterprise, will raise objections to it
with every air of superiority. But don't believe them. Doesn't it
strike you as absurd that in this age of mechanical propulsion, of
generated power, the boats of such ultra-modern ships are fitted
with oars and sails, implements more than three thousand years old?
Old as the siege of Troy. Older! . . . And I know what I am
talking about. Only six weeks ago I was on the river in an
ancient, rough, ship's boat, fitted with a two-cylinder motor-
engine of 7.5 h.p. Just a common ship's boat, which the man who
owns her uses for taking the workmen and stevedores to and from the
ships loading at the buoys off Greenhithe. She would have carried
some thirty people. No doubt has carried as many daily for many
months. And she can tow a twenty-five ton water barge--which is
also part of that man's business.

It was a boisterous day, half a gale of wind against the flood
tide. Two fellows managed her. A youngster of seventeen was cox
(and a first-rate cox he was too); a fellow in a torn blue jersey,
not much older, of the usual riverside type, looked after the
engine. I spent an hour and a half in her, running up and down and
across that reach. She handled perfectly. With eight or twelve
oars out she could not have done anything like as well. These two
youngsters at my request kept her stationary for ten minutes, with
a touch of engine and helm now and then, within three feet of a
big, ugly mooring buoy over which the water broke and the spray
flew in sheets, and which would have holed her if she had bumped
against it. But she kept her position, it seemed to me, to an
inch, without apparently any trouble to these boys. You could not
have done it with oars. And her engine did not take up the space
of three men, even on the assumption that you would pack people as
tight as sardines in a box.

Not the room of three people, I tell you! But no one would want to
pack a boat like a sardine-box. There must be room enough to
handle the oars. But in that old ship's boat, even if she had been
desperately overcrowded, there was power (manageable by two
riverside youngsters) to get away quickly from a ship's side (very
important for your safety and to make room for other boats), the
power to keep her easily head to sea, the power to move at five to
seven knots towards a rescuing ship, the power to come safely
alongside. And all that in an engine which did not take up the
room of three people.

A poor boatman who had to scrape together painfully the few
sovereigns of the price had the idea of putting that engine into
his boat. But all these designers, directors, managers,
constructors, and others whom we may include in the generic name of
Yamsi, never thought of it for the boats of the biggest tank on
earth, or rather on sea. And therefore they assume an air of
impatient superiority and make objections--however sick at heart
they may be. And I hope they are; at least, as much as a grocer
who has sold a tin of imperfect salmon which destroyed only half a
dozen people. And you know, the tinning of salmon was "progress"
as much at least as the building of the Titanic. More, in fact. I
am not attacking shipowners. I care neither more nor less for
Lines, Companies, Combines, and generally for Trade arrayed in
purple and fine linen than the Trade cares for me. But I am
attacking foolish arrogance, which is fair game; the offensive
posture of superiority by which they hide the sense of their guilt,
while the echoes of the miserably hypocritical cries along the
alley-ways of that ship: "Any more women? Any more women?" linger
yet in our ears.

I have been expecting from one or the other of them all bearing the
generic name of Yamsi, something, a sign of some sort, some sincere
utterance, in the course of this Admirable Inquiry, of manly, of
genuine compunction. In vain. All trade talk. Not a whisper--
except for the conventional expression of regret at the beginning
of the yearly report--which otherwise is a cheerful document.
Dividends, you know. The shop is doing well.

And the Admirable Inquiry goes on, punctuated by idiotic laughter,
by paid-for cries of indignation from under legal wigs, bringing to
light the psychology of various commercial characters too stupid to
know that they are giving themselves away--an admirably laborious
inquiry into facts that speak, nay shout, for themselves.

I am not a soft-headed, humanitarian faddist. I have been ordered
in my time to do dangerous work; I have ordered, others to do
dangerous work; I have never ordered a man to do any work I was not
prepared to do myself. I attach no exaggerated value to human
life. But I know it has a value for which the most generous
contributions to the Mansion House and "Heroes" funds cannot pay.
And they cannot pay for it, because people, even of the third class
(excuse my plain speaking), are not cattle. Death has its sting.
If Yamsi's manager's head were forcibly held under the water of his
bath for some little time, he would soon discover that it has.
Some people can only learn from that sort of experience which comes
home to their own dear selves.

I am not a sentimentalist; therefore it is not a great consolation
to me to see all these people breveted as "Heroes" by the penny and
halfpenny Press. It is no consolation at all. In extremity, in
the worst extremity, the majority of people, even of common people,
will behave decently. It's a fact of which only the journalists
don't seem aware. Hence their enthusiasm, I suppose. But I, who
am not a sentimentalist, think it would have been finer if the band
of the Titanic had been quietly saved, instead of being drowned
while playing--whatever tune they were playing, the poor devils. I
would rather they had been saved to support their families than to
see their families supported by the magnificent generosity of the
subscribers. I am not consoled by the false, written-up, Drury
Lane aspects of that event, which is neither drama, nor melodrama,
nor tragedy, but the exposure of arrogant folly. There is nothing
more heroic in being drowned very much against your will, off a
holed, helpless, big tank in which you bought your passage, than in
dying of colic caused by the imperfect salmon in the tin you bought
from your grocer.

And that's the truth. The unsentimental truth stripped of the
romantic garment the Press has wrapped around this most unnecessary


The loss of the Empress of Ireland awakens feelings somewhat
different from those the sinking of the Titanic had called up on
two continents. The grief for the lost and the sympathy for the
survivors and the bereaved are the same; but there is not, and
there cannot be, the same undercurrent of indignation. The good
ship that is gone (I remember reading of her launch something like
eight years ago) had not been ushered in with beat of drum as the
chief wonder of the world of waters. The company who owned her had
no agents, authorised or unauthorised, giving boastful interviews
about her unsinkability to newspaper reporters ready to swallow any
sort of trade statement if only sensational enough for their
readers--readers as ignorant as themselves of the nature of all
things outside the commonest experience of the man in the street.

No; there was nothing of that in her case. The company was content
to have as fine, staunch, seaworthy a ship as the technical
knowledge of that time could make her. In fact, she was as safe a
ship as nine hundred and ninety-nine ships out of any thousand now
afloat upon the sea. No; whatever sorrow one can feel, one does
not feel indignation. This was not an accident of a very boastful
marine transportation; this was a real casualty of the sea. The
indignation of the New South Wales Premier flashed telegraphically
to Canada is perfectly uncalled-for. That statesman, whose
sympathy for poor mates and seamen is so suspect to me that I
wouldn't take it at fifty per cent. discount, does not seem to know
that a British Court of Marine Inquiry, ordinary or extraordinary,
is not a contrivance for catching scapegoats. I, who have been
seaman, mate and master for twenty years, holding my certificate
under the Board of Trade, may safely say that none of us ever felt
in danger of unfair treatment from a Court of Inquiry. It is a
perfectly impartial tribunal which has never punished seamen for
the faults of shipowners--as, indeed, it could not do even if it
wanted to. And there is another thing the angry Premier of New
South Wales does not know. It is this: that for a ship to float
for fifteen minutes after receiving such a blow by a bare stem on
her bare side is not so bad.

She took a tremendous list which made the minutes of grace
vouchsafed her of not much use for the saving of lives. But for
that neither her owners nor her officers are responsible. It would
have been wonderful if she had not listed with such a hole in her
side. Even the Aquitania with such an opening in her outer hull
would be bound to take a list. I don't say this with the intention
of disparaging this latest "triumph of marine architecture"--to use
the consecrated phrase. The Aquitania is a magnificent ship. I
believe she would bear her people unscathed through ninety-nine per
cent. of all possible accidents of the sea. But suppose a
collision out on the ocean involving damage as extensive as this
one was, and suppose then a gale of wind coming on. Even the
Aquitania would not be quite seaworthy, for she would not be

We have been accustoming ourselves to put our trust in material,
technical skill, invention, and scientific contrivances to such an
extent that we have come at last to believe that with these things
we can overcome the immortal gods themselves. Hence when a
disaster like this happens, there arises, besides the shock to our
humane sentiments, a feeling of irritation, such as the hon.
gentleman at the head of the New South Wales Government has
discharged in a telegraphic flash upon the world.

But it is no use being angry and trying to hang a threat of penal
servitude over the heads of the directors of shipping companies.
You can't get the better of the immortal gods by the mere power of
material contrivances. There will be neither scapegoats in this
matter nor yet penal servitude for anyone. The Directors of the
Canadian Pacific Railway Company did not sell "safety at sea" to
the people on board the Empress of Ireland. They never in the
slightest degree pretended to do so. What they did was to sell
them a sea-passage, giving very good value for the money. Nothing
more. As long as men will travel on the water, the sea-gods will
take their toll. They will catch good seamen napping, or confuse
their judgment by arts well known to those who go to sea, or
overcome them by the sheer brutality of elemental forces. It seems
to me that the resentful sea-gods never do sleep, and are never
weary; wherein the seamen who are mere mortals condemned to
unending vigilance are no match for them.

And yet it is right that the responsibility should be fixed. It is
the fate of men that even in their contests with the immortal gods
they must render an account of their conduct. Life at sea is the
life in which, simple as it is, you can't afford to make mistakes.

With whom the mistake lies here, is not for me to say. I see that
Sir Thomas Shaughnessy has expressed his opinion of Captain
Kendall's absolute innocence. This statement, premature as it is,
does him honour, for I don't suppose for a moment that the thought
of the material issue involved in the verdict of the Court of
Inquiry influenced him in the least. I don't suppose that he is
more impressed by the writ of two million dollars nailed (or more
likely pasted) to the foremast of the Norwegian than I am, who
don't believe that the Storstad is worth two million shillings.
This is merely a move of commercial law, and even the whole majesty
of the British Empire (so finely invoked by the Sheriff) cannot
squeeze more than a very moderate quantity of blood out of a stone.
Sir Thomas, in his confident pronouncement, stands loyally by a
loyal and distinguished servant of his company.

This thing has to be investigated yet, and it is not proper for me
to express my opinion, though I have one, in this place and at this
time. But I need not conceal my sympathy with the vehement
protestations of Captain Andersen. A charge of neglect and
indifference in the matter of saving lives is the cruellest blow
that can be aimed at the character of a seaman worthy of the name.
On the face of the facts as known up to now the charge does not
seem to be true. If upwards of three hundred people have been, as
stated in the last reports, saved by the Storstad, then that ship
must have been at hand and rendering all the assistance in her

As to the point which must come up for the decision of the Court of
Inquiry, it is as fine as a hair. The two ships saw each other
plainly enough before the fog closed on them. No one can question
Captain Kendall's prudence. He has been as prudent as ever he
could be. There is not a shadow of doubt as to that.

But there is this question: Accepting the position of the two
ships when they saw each other as correctly described in the very
latest newspaper reports, it seems clear that it was the Empress of
Ireland's duty to keep clear of the collier, and what the Court
will have to decide is whether the stopping of the liner was, under
the circumstances, the best way of keeping her clear of the other
ship, which had the right to proceed cautiously on an unchanged

This, reduced to its simplest expression, is the question which the
Court will have to decide.

And now, apart from all problems of manoeuvring, of rules of the
road, of the judgment of the men in command, away from their
possible errors and from the points the Court will have to decide,
if we ask ourselves what it was that was needed to avert this
disaster costing so many lives, spreading so much sorrow, and to a
certain point shocking the public conscience--if we ask that
question, what is the answer to be?

I hardly dare set it down. Yes; what was it that was needed, what
ingenious combinations of shipbuilding, what transverse bulkheads,
what skill, what genius--how much expense in money and trained
thinking, what learned contriving, to avert that disaster?

To save that ship, all these lives, so much anguish for the dying,
and so much grief for the bereaved, all that was needed in this
particular case in the way of science, money, ingenuity, and
seamanship was a man, and a cork-fender.

Yes; a man, a quartermaster, an able seaman that would know how to
jump to an order and was not an excitable fool. In my time at sea
there was no lack of men in British ships who could jump to an
order and were not excitable fools. As to the so-called cork-
fender, it is a sort of soft balloon made from a net of thick rope
rather more than a foot in diameter. It is such a long time since
I have indented for cork-fenders that I don't remember how much
these things cost apiece. One of them, hung judiciously over the
side at the end of its lanyard by a man who knew what he was about,
might perhaps have saved from destruction the ship and upwards of a
thousand lives.

Two men with a heavy rope-fender would have been better, but even
the other one might have made all the difference between a very
damaging accident and downright disaster. By the time the cork-
fender had been squeezed between the liner's side and the bluff of
the Storstad's bow, the effect of the latter's reversed propeller
would have been produced, and the ships would have come apart with
no more damage than bulged and started plates. Wasn't there lying
about on that liner's bridge, fitted with all sorts of scientific
contrivances, a couple of simple and effective cork-fenders--or on
board of that Norwegian either? There must have been, since one
ship was just out of a dock or harbour and the other just arriving.
That is the time, if ever, when cork-fenders are lying about a
ship's decks. And there was plenty of time to use them, and
exactly in the conditions in which such fenders are effectively
used. The water was as smooth as in any dock; one ship was
motionless, the other just moving at what may be called dock-speed
when entering, leaving, or shifting berths; and from the moment the
collision was seen to be unavoidable till the actual contact a
whole minute elapsed. A minute,--an age under the circumstances.
And no one thought of the homely expedient of dropping a simple,
unpretending rope-fender between the destructive stern and the
defenceless side!

I appeal confidently to all the seamen in the still United Kingdom,
from his Majesty the King (who has been really at sea) to the
youngest intelligent A.B. in any ship that will dock next tide in
the ports of this realm, whether there was not a chance there. I
have followed the sea for more than twenty years; I have seen
collisions; I have been involved in a collision myself; and I do
believe that in the case under consideration this little thing
would have made all that enormous difference--the difference
between considerable damage and an appalling disaster.

Many letters have been written to the Press on the subject of
collisions. I have seen some. They contain many suggestions,
valuable and otherwise; but there is only one which hits the nail
on the head. It is a letter to the TIMES from a retired Captain of
the Royal Navy. It is printed in small type, but it deserved to be
printed in letters of gold and crimson. The writer suggests that
all steamers should be obliged by law to carry hung over their
stern what we at sea call a "pudding."

This solution of the problem is as wonderful in its simplicity as
the celebrated trick of Columbus's egg, and infinitely more useful
to mankind. A "pudding" is a thing something like a bolster of
stout rope-net stuffed with old junk, but thicker in the middle
than at the ends. It can be seen on almost every tug working in
our docks. It is, in fact, a fixed rope-fender always in a
position where presumably it would do most good. Had the Storstad
carried such a "pudding" proportionate to her size (say, two feet
diameter in the thickest part) across her stern, and hung above the
level of her hawse-pipes, there would have been an accident
certainly, and some repair-work for the nearest ship-yard, but
there would have been no loss of life to deplore.

It seems almost too simple to be true, but I assure you that the
statement is as true as anything can be. We shall see whether the
lesson will be taken to heart. We shall see. There is a
Commission of learned men sitting to consider the subject of saving
life at sea. They are discussing bulkheads, boats, davits,
manning, navigation, but I am willing to bet that not one of them
has thought of the humble "pudding." They can make what rules they
like. We shall see if, with that disaster calling aloud to them,
they will make the rule that every steam-ship should carry a
permanent fender across her stern, from two to four feet in
diameter in its thickest part in proportion to the size of the
ship. But perhaps they may think the thing too rough and unsightly
for this scientific and aesthetic age. It certainly won't look
very pretty but I make bold to say it will save more lives at sea
than any amount of the Marconi installations which are being forced
on the shipowners on that very ground--the safety of lives at sea.

We shall see!

To the Editor of the DAILY EXPRESS.


As I fully expected, this morning's post brought me not a few
letters on the subject of that article of mine in the ILLUSTRATED
LONDON NEWS. And they are very much what I expected them to be.

I shall address my reply to Captain Littlehales, since obviously he
can speak with authority, and speaks in his own name, not under a
pseudonym. And also for the reason that it is no use talking to
men who tell you to shut your head for a confounded fool. They are
not likely to listen to you.

But if there be in Liverpool anybody not too angry to listen, I
want to assure him or them that my exclamatory line, "Was there no
one on board either of these ships to think of dropping a fender--
etc.," was not uttered in the spirit of blame for anyone. I would
not dream of blaming a seaman for doing or omitting to do anything
a person sitting in a perfectly safe and unsinkable study may think
of. All my sympathy goes to the two captains; much the greater
share of it to Captain Kendall, who has lost his ship and whose
load of responsibility was so much heavier! I may not know a great
deal, but I know how anxious and perplexing are those nearly end-on
approaches, so infinitely more trying to the men in charge than a
frank right-angle crossing.

I may begin by reminding Captain Littlehales that I, as well as
himself, have had to form my opinion, or rather my vision, of the
accident, from printed statements, of which many must have been
loose and inexact and none could have been minutely circumstantial.
I have read the reports of the TIMES and the DAILY TELEGRAPH, and
no others. What stands in the columns of these papers is
responsible for my conclusion--or perhaps for the state of my
feelings when I wrote the ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS article.

From these sober and unsensational reports, I derived the
impression that this collision was a collision of the slowest sort.
I take it, of course, that both the men in charge speak the
strictest truth as to preliminary facts. We know that the Empress
of Ireland was for a time lying motionless. And if the captain of
the Storstad stopped his engines directly the fog came on (as he
says he did), then taking into account the adverse current of the
river, the Storstad, by the time the two ships sighted each other
again, must have been barely moving OVER THE GROUND. The "over the
ground" speed is the only one that matters in this discussion. In
fact, I represented her to myself as just creeping on ahead--no
more. This, I contend, is an imaginative view (and we can form no
other) not utterly absurd for a seaman to adopt.

So much for the imaginative view of the sad occurrence which caused
me to speak of the fender, and be chided for it in unmeasured
terms. Not by Captain Littlehales, however, and I wish to reply to
what he says with all possible deference. His illustration
borrowed from boxing is very apt, and in a certain sense makes for
my contention. Yes. A blow delivered with a boxing-glove will
draw blood or knock a man out; but it would not crush in his nose
flat or break his jaw for him--at least, not always. And this is
exactly my point.

Twice in my sea life I have had occasion to be impressed by the
preserving effect of a fender. Once I was myself the man who
dropped it over. Not because I was so very clever or smart, but
simply because I happened to be at hand. And I agree with Captain
Littlehales that to see a steamer's stern coming at you at the rate
of only two knots is a staggering experience. The thing seems to
have power enough behind it to cut half through the terrestrial

And perhaps Captain Littlehales is right? It may be that I am
mistaken in my appreciation of circumstances and possibilities in
this case--or in any such case. Perhaps what was really wanted
there was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary fender. I care
nothing if possibly my deep feeling has betrayed me into something
which some people call absurdity.

Absurd was the word applied to the proposal for carrying "enough
boats for all" on board the big liners. And my absurdity can
affect no lives, break no bones--need make no one angry. Why
should I care, then, as long as out of the discussion of my
absurdity there will emerge the acceptance of the suggestion of
Captain F. Papillon, R.N., for the universal and compulsory fitting
of very heavy collision fenders on the stems of all mechanically
propelled ships?

An extraordinary man we cannot always get from heaven on order, but
an extraordinary fender that will do its work is well within the
power of a committee of old boatswains to plan out, make, and place
in position. I beg to ask, not in a provocative spirit, but simply
as to a matter of fact which he is better qualified to judge than I
am--Will Captain Littlehales affirm that if the Storstad had
carried, slung securely across the stem, even nothing thicker than
a single bale of wool (an ordinary, hand-pressed, Australian wool-
bale), it would have made no difference?

If scientific men can invent an air cushion, a gas cushion, or even
an electricity cushion (with wires or without), to fit neatly round
the stems and bows of ships, then let them go to work, in God's
name and produce another "marvel of science" without loss of time.
For something like this has long been due--too long for the credit
of that part of mankind which is not absurd, and in which I
include, among others, such people as marine underwriters, for

Meanwhile, turning to materials I am familiar with, I would put my
trust in canvas, lots of big rope, and in large, very large
quantities of old junk.

It sounds awfully primitive, but if it will mitigate the mischief
in only fifty per cent. of cases, is it not well worth trying?
Most collisions occur at slow speeds, and it ought to be remembered
that in case of a big liner's loss, involving many lives, she is
generally sunk by a ship much smaller than herself.



Eighteen years have passed since I last set foot in the London
Sailors' Home. I was not staying there then; I had gone in to try
to find a man I wanted to see. He was one of those able seamen
who, in a watch, are a perfect blessing to a young officer. I
could perhaps remember here and there among the shadows of my sea-
life a more daring man, or a more agile man, or a man more expert
in some special branch of his calling--such as wire splicing, for
instance; but for all-round competence, he was unequalled. As
character he was sterling stuff. His name was Anderson. He had a
fine, quiet face, kindly eyes, and a voice which matched that
something attractive in the whole man. Though he looked yet in the
prime of life, shoulders, chest, limbs untouched by decay, and
though his hair and moustache were only iron-grey, he was on board
ship generally called Old Andy by his fellows. He accepted the
name with some complacency.

I made my enquiry at the highly-glazed entry office. The clerk on
duty opened an enormous ledger, and after running his finger down a
page, informed me that Anderson had gone to sea a week before, in a
ship bound round the Horn. Then, smiling at me, he added: "Old
Andy. We know him well, here. What a nice fellow!"

I, who knew what a "good man," in a sailor sense, he was, assented
without reserve. Heaven only knows when, if ever, he came back
from that voyage, to the Sailors' Home of which he was a faithful

I went out glad to know he was safely at sea, but sorry not to have
seen him; though, indeed, if I had, we would not have exchanged
more than a score of words, perhaps. He was not a talkative man,
Old Andy, whose affectionate ship-name clung to him even in that
Sailors' Home, where the staff understood and liked the sailors
(those men without a home) and did its duty by them with an
unobtrusive tact, with a patient and humorous sense of their
idiosyncrasies, to which I hasten to testify now, when the very
existence of that institution is menaced after so many years of
most useful work.

Walking away from it on that day eighteen years ago, I was far from
thinking it was for the last time. Great changes have come since,
over land and sea; and if I were to seek somebody who knew Old Andy
it would be (of all people in the world) Mr. John Galsworthy. For
Mr. John Galsworthy, Andy, and myself have been shipmates together
in our different stations, for some forty days in the Indian Ocean
in the early nineties. And, but for us two, Old Andy's very memory
would be gone from this changing earth.

Yes, things have changed--the very sky, the atmosphere, the light
of judgment which falls on the labours of men, either splendid or
obscure. Having been asked to say a word to the public on behalf
of the Sailors' Home, I felt immensely flattered--and troubled.
Flattered to have been thought of in that connection; troubled to
find myself in touch again with that past so deeply rooted in my
heart. And the illusion of nearness is so great while I trace
these lines that I feel as if I were speaking in the name of that
worthy Sailor-Shade of Old Andy, whose faithfully hard life seems
to my vision a thing of yesterday.

But though the past keeps firm hold on one, yet one feels with the
same warmth that the men and the institutions of to-day have their
merit and their claims. Others will know how to set forth before
the public the merit of the Sailors' Home in the eloquent terms of
hard facts and some few figures. For myself, I can only bring a
personal note, give a glimpse of the human side of the good work
for sailors ashore, carried on through so many decades with a
perfect understanding of the end in view. I have been in touch
with the Sailors' Home for sixteen years of my life, off and on; I
have seen the changes in the staff and I have observed the subtle
alterations in the physiognomy of that stream of sailors passing
through it, in from the sea and out again to sea, between the years
1878 and 1894. I have listened to the talk on the decks of ships
in all latitudes, when its name would turn up frequently, and if I
had to characterise its good work in one sentence, I would say
that, for seamen, the Well Street Home was a friendly place.

It was essentially just that; quietly, unobtrusively, with a regard
for the independence of the men who sought its shelter ashore, and
with no ulterior aims behind that effective friendliness. No small
merit this. And its claim on the generosity of the public is
derived from a long record of valuable public service. Since we
are all agreed that the men of the merchant service are a national
asset worthy of care and sympathy, the public could express this
sympathy no better than by enabling the Sailors' Home, so useful in
the past, to continue its friendly offices to the seamen of future


{1} Yvette and Other Stories. Translated by Ada Galsworthy.

{2} TURGENEV: A Study. By Edward Garnett.


{4} QUIET DAYS IN SPAIN. By C. Bogue Luffmann.

{5} Existence after Death Implied by Science. By Jasper B. Hunt,

{6} THE ASCENDING EFFORT. By George Bourne.

{7} Since writing the above, I am told that such doors are fitted
in the bunkers of more than one ship in the Atlantic trade.

{8} The loss of the Empress of Ireland.

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