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
In the immediate aftermath of the collision, he initially refused to believe that the ship could sink, despite Thomas Andrews' assurance that the ship sinking was a "mathematical certainty".
He was one of the few 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.
Behind the scenesEdit
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.