Answers to Questions About the Titanic and New York

Q. April 15 — this Sunday — is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the . I have read that when the Carpathia picked up the survivors, it also picked up many of the Titanic’s lifeboats. What happened to them?

A. They completed the trip to Manhattan aboard the Carpathia.

That ship, owned by Cunard, had left Pier 54 on the Hudson on April 11, 1912, with 1,035 people aboard, according to John Maxtone-Graham, a maritime historian and author of the newly released “Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner” (W.W. Norton). Mr. Maxtone-Graham said in an interview that when the Carpathia rescued the Titanic’s 703 survivors after a desperate dash to the scene of the sinking, its captain, Arthur Rostron, did not have enough lifeboats for the increased number of passengers he was carrying. Captain Rostron, who was determined not to repeat the Titanic’s mistake, stacked most of the usable lifeboats from the Titanic on the foredeck and hung some over the side, Mr. Maxtone-Graham said.

On arriving in New York Harbor on the evening of April 18, the historian said, the Carpathia first steamed past Pier 54 and maneuvered off the Chelsea piers of the White Star Line, which owned the Titanic. (The Chelsea Piers sports and recreation complex lies there now.) Surviving members of the Titanic’s crew on the Carpathia lowered the lifeboats — identified as the Titanic’s by an iron plate on the bow — into the water. The Carpathia then went to its own pier and let off the survivors.

The next day, the identifying plates on the lifeboats were “picked clean by souvenir hunters,” Mr. Maxtone-Graham said.

The lifeboats themselves presumably went into immediate service on the White Star Line’s other ships, like the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, he said. The Titanic’s sinking had changed shipping policy overnight; suddenly, passenger liners were expected to have sufficient lifeboat space to accommodate all passengers. Mr. Maxtone-Graham said he did not believe that any lifeboats from the Titanic still existed. Anything so identified today is most likely a guess, he said, since all original identifying marks would have disappeared.

A coda to the rescue of the lifeboats came on May 15, 1912, exactly one month after the sinking, according to “Titanic Tragedy.” The Oceanic, steaming west, encountered one of the Titanic’s collapsible lifeboats, riding low in the water with three bodies in it. One was a passenger wearing black tie and a fur-collared overcoat; the others were a coal stoker and a seaman. After Oceanic crew members brought shrouds and a Bible for burying the dead at sea, the boat was hauled aboard and it, too, was taken to New York.

New York’s Own Titanic

Q. I am curious about the Titanic’s ownership. Who was its principal owner?

A. Built in Belfast and designed by a Belfast man (when all of Ireland was considered part of the British Empire), registered in Liverpool to the White Star Line, departing from the port of Southampton on its maiden voyage and operated by a British captain and a British crew, the R.M.S. Titanic (R.M.S. stood for Royal Mail Ship) might seem to have been as British as Big Ben.

In fact, it was American-owned. The White Star Line was one of several ocean shipping companies controlled by a single trust: the International Mercantile Marine Company. The trust was bankrolled by J. Pierpont Morgan, the Wall Street giant whose Madison Avenue library is now a museum. His J. P. Morgan Company financed the formation of the “shipping trust” and the purchase of the White Star Line in 1902.

The trust proved to have been undercapitalized and to have paid too high a price for some of its subsidiaries. It never controlled trans-Atlantic shipping as Morgan had hoped, and he lost a good deal on the venture.

According to testimony at the United States Senate inquiry into the disaster, the Titanic cost £1.5 million to build and was insured for £1 million. The Titanic’s sinking was a disaster for the holding company, which went into receivership in 1915. After a lengthy series of reorganizations and mergers, its remnants became the United States Lines, which survived until 1986.

Morgan, who was in Europe in April 1912, reserved a suite for the Titanic’s maiden voyage; it had been engaged in February 1912 by Henry Clay Frick, the steel baron, who canceled after his wife sprained her ankle on a Mediterranean cruise, according to by a historian of the Titanic, John P. Eaton. At the last minute, Morgan himself canceled when business interests lengthened his stay abroad. The decision may have prolonged his life, but for less than a year; he died March 31, 1913.

The luxury suite was eventually occupied by the president of International Mercantile Marine, J. Bruce Ismay. Ismay, who was managing director of the White Star Line, survived after getting into one of the Titanic’s collapsible lifeboats. Although he testified that all the women and children around him had already been taken care of, he was widely vilified, and stayed out of the public eye for the rest of his life.