Valley Links to the Titanic Sinking
by Robert Novak Jr.
Originally written February 25, 1998 (with a couple updates since)
“CQD. SOS. FROM MGY (TITANIC). WE HAVE STRUCK ICEBERG. SINKING FAST. COME TO OUR ASSISTANCE.” -General distress call sent from the steamship RMS Titanic’s wireless telegraph, at 12:45 AM, on Monday, April 15, 1912. She sank less than two hours later, taking 1,503 lives with her.
“TITANIC BADLY DAMAGED BUT IS STILL AFLOAT” “It is probable that all of the passengers of the Titanic are safe…the Titanic is reported to be making her way toward Halifax under her own steam…” “…the wireless telegraph. By this means of mystic communication the world was informed of the peril of over 2000 human souls, and its anxiety is somewhat lessened by the assurance that such other ships a-sea are rushing (to assist)”. “The interest in the accident that happened to Titanic last night was considerably increased this morning when it became known that among the passengers on the steamship were Philip Mock, and his sister Mrs. Paul Schabert (both of Derby)”. -Front page headline and text from the local newspaper Evening Sentinel, April 15, 1912, over twelve hours after the Titanic sank.
“1,350 LIVES LOST WITH THE ILL-FATED TITANIC – INDIGNATION FELT” “…the anxiety of the friends of Mrs. Paul Schabert and Philip E. Mock, which were allayed yesterday upon the receipt of the reassuring news, was increased many fold. It was not until a list of the passengers that had been rescued had been received and found to contain these names that these fears all quieted…To Mrs. Ellen Elliot (of Seymour) and members of her family the news was of special and painful interest because of the fact that William Murdoch, chief officer of the Titanic, is Mrs. Elliot’s cousin. Mr. Murdoch paid a visit to Mrs. Elliot…only about a month ago”. -Headlines and text from The Evening Sentinel, April 16, 1912. The New York newspapers first began receiving the truth about the disaster from the White Star line that morning.
Anyone who saw the recent blockbuster movie “Titanic” will remember William Murdoch. He was at the helm of the Titanic when the iceberg was struck. It was he who ordered “full reverse!”, which while seeming to make the most sense at the time, actually became part of the tragic chain which doomed the ship, as it caused her to make a wider turn than she would have under full speed. Moviegoers will also remember the Murdoch character as the one who threw a bribe back at a first class passenger at the lifeboats, as the man who lost his cool and shot a steerage passenger, then in remorse saluted another officer and shot himself. There is no evidence that Murdoch, or anyone else shot passengers on the Titanic, and there is some, but very little evidence stating that Murdoch shot himself. The Titanic director was, at best, taking creative liberties with the character.
The real William Murdoch was one of the best officers in the White Star Line, which is why he was placed second in command of their grandest ship. On April 19, word came to the Valley that Murdoch had not survived. The Evening Sentinel reported he was “well known here”, and said he “…did all that could be done in the emergency and died feeling that he had not been found wanting when the crisis came”. In addition to having family relations in Seymour, he had two life-long friends in Ansonia. Occasionally, he would visit the Valley to visit friends and family.
It’s interesting to note that in 2004 Historical Society member Merritt Clark of Derby visited the United Kingdom, and returned with a newspaper clipping from the July 22, 2004 Daily Mail, which headlined “Director apologises for Titanic slur”. Apparently while visiting Southampton, James Cameron stated “I think I have come to the realisation that it was probably a mistake to portray a specific person, in this case First Officer Murdoch, as the one who fired the weapon. First Officer Murdoch has a family, and they took exception to that, and I think rightly so”.
The same morning William Murdoch’s fate became known, the New York Tribune wrote Mrs. Schabert’s story: “I was awakened by the shock of the collision and went out on deck. There was no great excitement and persons were coming out of their rooms and asking what had happened. Suddenly from the bridge or from some officer came the cry: “Ladies first”. This was my first inkling that we had that the ship was in danger. We went back to the stateroom and dressed. Then came the horrifying cry that women must leave their husbands and brothers and that no men should go in the boats. (She later said that Bruce Ismay, the president of White Star Line, told her to get into a boat. When she asked if there would be other boats, he said yes, but later he returned and told the Derby woman she probably made a mistake in not getting on a boat sooner). I refused to leave my brother and remained on deck until the next to last boat was leaving. They looked around and saw that I was the only woman. I told them I would not go on without my brother and then they took me and my brother. I thus saved him. We left the ship about twenty five minutes before she sank…As we left the ship, it was the most remarkable and brilliant sight I ever witnessed in the water. All the lights were burning and the band was playing as if a concert”.
On April 23, Mrs. Schabert and Mr. Mock returned to Derby, their journey finally at an end. Mr. Mock was Secretary of the Sterling Company, a factory which manufactured pianos and player pianos in Derby. His sister’s husband, Paul Schabert, was Treasurer of the same firm. Both men and their wives shared a home on Elizabeth Street.
The next evening the Valley was treated to Philip Mock’s exclusive story of his experiences on the Titanic. He stated that Titanic was the finest ship he had ever sailed upon, being so large that it didn’t even seem like they were on board a ship at all.
He recalled the night the ship struck the iceberg was very cold. People in the first-class lounges wore their coats and furs, and complained a great deal about why the ship wasn’t more comfortably heated. Mock overheard a woman ask a steward why it was so cold told that the ship is soon “going to be surrounded by ice”.
Dinner was served at 7:00. By 8:30, most had retired to the grand lounge. Mock recalled they were “sitting around on tables or on the lounges, talking, the men smoking, and everyone happy and interested…the women seeming more vivacious than usual and the men merry and contented”. After dinner, most first-class passengers went to the grand lounge until about 10:00 PM. At that time, some, like his sister, went to bed, while others went to smaller, private lounge rooms. Mock stayed awake until 11:00 PM, went to sleep immediately, and was shaken awake by the collision at 11:45.
He rushed to the deck, where he met his sister. A number of people were asking what happened, but no one seemed to have a satisfactory answer (his cabin was on the opposite side from where the iceberg struck). He and his sister then went back to their cabin to get dressed. When they returned to the deck, some of the stewards were telling passengers nothing was the matter, and advising them to return to bed, which many did.
Mock and his sister then went to an upper deck, to get a better idea of what happened. As they went upstairs they learned the ship struck an iceberg. Looking down, they could see ice on the deck, and heard people commenting on such insignificant things as where the iceberg had came from, what they would do with the things that had fallen down and broken, etc.
At 12:05, crewmen began handing out life preservers, courteously stating that they are ordered to put them on as a precaution. There was no panic, many joked about the strange silhouettes the life preservers made on others’ bodies. Even as the boats began to be lowered, no one wanted to get on them, as they still did not believe the ship was to sink. To make matters worse, because of the inexperience of the crew in lowering the new lifeboats on the Titanic, the first two were rather roughly lowered into the water, further discouraging people from leaving the deceptive safety aboard the ship.
Mock and his fellow passengers began to get a sense that something was seriously wrong after the second boat was lowered. Four times he and his sister tried to board a life boat, each time crew members told him they’d take her but he’d have to stay. After a while all boats on his part of the ship had been lowered, and the crowd had largely thinned out. With her lights brilliantly blazing, and few people around, Titanic reminded him “of a deserted ballroom” at that point. He was advised that a boat was about to be lowered in the rear of the ship. From a distance, there were only six or seven people around the boat, but by the time they reached it a crowd had gathered and it was filled beyond capacity.
Meanwhile, steam was rushing out of the forward-most smokestack with a roar, and rockets were being fired into the sky. From the flickering light of the rockets, he could see lifeboats on the water rowing away as fast as possible. Although Mock admitted he was getting increasingly nervous, he fought the urge to panic, and recalled that all passengers on his part of the ship were remarkably calm as well.
They tried to make their way forward on the sloping deck again, but stopped and told to try to get a lifeboat one deck below. When they initially reached it, there were very few people, but the number increased very quickly. His sister got on the boat, under the impression that he was to follow, but he did not. Instead, with the lone steward remaining, he assisted other women in boarding the lifeboat, as they had to actually climb over the railing to get in. In many cases, the women used his knee and leg to step over the railing, and then basically fell into the boat. The boat was mostly filled with passengers from the lower classes, but two first-class passengers from the deck above actually jumped down into the boat, while another was found hiding under the seats.
When the boat was filled, Mock told the Sentinel that he was “left sitting on the railing looking at the sea 60 feet below. It did not occur to him that this would be the last chance for him. He knew the boat was full, at least it seemed to be, and was about to put off. Suddenly an officer sang out that there was room for one more, and asked if there were any more women. There were no more women, and only six or seven men left standing around, the others having gone off in the boats or to other parts of the ship. Someone in the boat said to him ‘come on old man!’, and gave him a pull into the boat, and it was lowered away”. There were over 70 people in the boat, which was over its rated capacity.
As soon as the boat hit the water all ropes connecting it to the ship were cut. Mock took one of the ten oars and began rowing for dear life, fearing the boat would be caught in the suction when Titanic went down. He recalled “They could see Titanic alight from stem to stern, brilliant in that cold air, as it rowed away, and while it was a wonderful sight they could only think of the many who would lose their lives through the disaster. They could see the ship going down by the bow. Suddenly, when a long distance out, they heard and explosion…followed by three others, and the lights went out. A huge column of steam, Mr. Mock supposes, shot high into the air, and mushroomed against the sky. Then arose a cry, which he says he shall always remember, as the survivors on the boat were thrown into the water. The cries continued, he thought, for fifteen minutes, some say for an hour. The boat in which he was in could do nothing, as it was already loaded to the danger point with women and children. He heard afterward from a survivor on the Carpathia that the Titanic had broke in two at this explosion, and the two parts slid into the water so quietly that hardly a ripple was left (note: this statement is quite remarkable, as most claimed the Titanic had held together when it sank, and that was how most books and all movies depicted it. It wasn’t until the wreck was discovered in the mid-1980s that it was proven that the ship did in fact split in half. The recent movie is the only one to depict the sinking this way). The majority of passengers on deck were thrown forward, sliding downward into the water”.
Mock and the others on the lifeboat spent the next two hours searching for food, water, and lights, but couldn’t find any. They were able to signal where they were by lighting the end of one of the ropes on fire. Once they felt they were safe from the suction, they stopped rowing, and the boat simply drifted for two hours. Very little was said, no one complained about the cold. Occasionally other lifeboats would quickly flash lights to reveal their location. Eventually, one steady light became brighter and brighter, until it revealed itself to be a ship steaming full speed to the rescue, causing an overwhelming feeling of relief. The ship, the Carpathia, stopped, and the boat rowed to it. It took an hour and a half to carefully load all passengers from Mock’s overloaded boat onto the ship.
On the Carpathia, Mock recalled “the scene was very affecting, for there were people watching each passenger eagerly to see if it were some loved one, some husband, brother, sister. The women who were waiting and watching frequently fainted, and the groans and shrieks that came forth were heart-rending”. Mock also recalled the survivors were treated “splendidly” on the Carpathia. On April 18 Mr. Mock send a Marconi telegram to Derby to notifying his brother in law of their survival. The Sunday after the catastrophe, every church in the Valley held memorial services for Titanic’s dead. The catastrophe affected many, as there was little precedent by 1912 of over 1500 people dying so rapidly in peacetime. The Titanic catastrophe eventually moved from front page headlines. Newspaper vendors, who had seen demand for the New York dailies double after the disaster, noted they were selling at the normal rate again. The wreck of the Titanic faded into Valley residents’ memories. But as time went on, some who before the disaster were looking upon the new 20th century with such optimism and hope may have recalled the Sentinel’s prophetic editorial of April 17th, the day they finally reported the Titanic had actually sank with a heavy loss of life: “The largest steamship in the world is but little more than an egg-shell after all, when compared with the tremendous power of the iceberg, and the fate of the Titanic today comes as an illustration of man’s littleness when battling with forces of immensity of which he has no control”.