Joseph Bruce Ismay
Joseph Bruce Ismay
Bruce (by Molly)
December 12, 1862
October 17, 1937 (age 74)
Thomas Ismay (father)
Julia Schieffelin (married)
New York, U.S.A.
Passenger, ship owner
Survived on Collapsible Lifeboat C
Joseph Bruce Ismay was a rich British businessman and first-aboard the RMS Titanic. He served as Managing Director of the White Star Line. Hoping to boost Titanic's reputation, he strongly encouraged Captain Edward Smith to speed up and arrive in New York ahead of schedule, despite the Captain's protests. This was mostly an effort to fuel his own ego, the only thing he really cared about. His hubris may have contributed to the Titanic's failure to avoid hitting the iceberg as she was travelling near her maximum speed.
Right after the collision he was only concerned with how immediately they could start up the engines again, and reacted with incredulity when Thomas Andrews stated that Titanic was doomed.
He was one of the survivors of the shipwreck later collected by the RMS Carpathia, but was grimly looked upon by the other survivors. He was branded by public opinion as a coward for the rest of his life.
Although cleared by the investigation, it was alleged he tried to cover-up his insistence of cutting financial corners to meet deadlines. He refused to listen to engineers who protested against using weak steel, not buying enough life boats. The fire which Ismay knew was slowly burning in the bowels of the ship caused even more damage to the already weak steel. New photos of the Titanic reveal discoloration of the warped steel. Passengers did not know that the ship was still burning as they excitedly boarded the ill-fated vessel. Once rescued, Ismay made sure to order the firemen who had been hired to battle the fire on board to "scatter inland". He told them they would not be questioned in the investigation. The judge did not understand the engineering issues and overlooked the fire damage as inconsequential. Instead, he was looking for a tidy, speedy trial and blamed the captain and crew for sailing through an iceberg field with wanton haste. The captain was unable to relay the information that it was Ismay who ordered "full speed ahead" in order to preserve the precious, expensive coal. His family claim American and English conspiracy in blaming Ismay. They claim the many survivors who saw him in woman's dress were in on the conspiracy to tarnish their name.
Behind the scenes
He was portrayed by Jonathan Hyde in James Cameron's film, Titanic. It is noteworthy that Ismay's real-life quarters, the promenade suite of B-52-53-56, were assigned to Rose DeWitt Bukater's family in the film.
Ismay is portrayed as quite ignorant, such as when he fails to understand Rose's reference to Sigmund Freud.
The myths surrounding Ismay are many and unsurprisingly he is portrayed in a negative light in the film.
The scene where he suggests to Smith to push the Titanic's speed to 'make a record crossing', thus indirectly causing the collision with the iceberg, is based on one of the historical controversies around Ismay.
Another variant of the controversy claims that Ismay pushed Smith to maintain speed after hitting the iceberg, causing the ship to sink faster. It is highly unlikely that an experienced shipmaster like Smith, on his last voyage before retirement and the highest paid commander in the mercantile marine, would defer to Ismay on matters of navigation.
It is notable that the film remains silent as to whether Smith complied or not. No firm evidence has ever come to light to suggest that Ismay in any way interfered with the navigation of Titanic and, other than talking with the various heads of departments on the ship, conducted himself like many other passengers. Yet the opposite image of him exists today.
In the film Ismay appears to discreetly board a lifeboat. This scene obviously is based on allegations centered on his cowardice in escaping the sinking ship whilst fellow passengers, notably women and children, were left to fend for themselves. In reality Ismay helped with loading and lowering several lifeboats and acquitted himself better than many of the crew and passengers.
He only entered a lifeboat when it was actually being lowered and no other passengers were in the vicinity. Some witnesses stated he was ordered into the lifeboat but, whatever happened, Lord Mersey said at the British inquiry into the loss of Titanic, 'Had he not jumped in he would simply have added one more life, namely his own, to the number of those lost'.
The negative stereotypes can be tracked back to the American press and in particular to those newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful and influential men in America. Ismay had met Hearst in New York when he was an agent for his company. The shy and private Ismay disliked press attention and the two men fell out as a consequence of his refusal to cooperate. Hearst never forgot, and in April 1912 his syndicated press prosecuted a campaign against Ismay. Stories were invented and witnesses, wishing to strengthen exorbitant insurance claims for lost baggage against the company, lied by saying he had in fact ordered Smith to make a record crossing.
As Ismay survived he laid himself open to the high and somewhat dubious moral code of the US press. Almost universally condemned in America, when he finally arrived home he was cheered and applauded as he descended the gangway at Liverpool. The British press had treated the whole episode in a far less judgemental way.
Ismay's actor found the portrayal of his character unfair and biased. He stated that more scenes were filmed which would've featured Ismay prominently throwing luggage overboard and helping more women and children get into a lifeboat. He called the act of deleting Ismay's redeeming scenes 'a cheap shot' and doesn't hold Ismay responsible for the disaster in anyway.