Fifth Officer Harold Lowe
- Collapsibles and Carpathia
In the end, Lowe was satisfied that he could not find anyone else alive to rescue: "I left my crowd of boats somewhere, I should say, about between half past 3 and 4 in the morning, and after I had been around it was just breaking day, and I am quite satisfied that I had a real good look around, and that there was nothing left." (US Inquiry, Day 5)
AB Frank Evans said that Lowe told the men: "Have a good look around, and see if you can see anybody alive, at all."... The officer said, "Hoist the sail forward." I did so, and made sail… on the foremast; and we altered the course into the direction of this collapsible boat which had been swamped. On the way down we picked up another collapsible that had some women and children in it, and took her in tow, and then we sailed to this sinking boat." (US Inquiry)
Lowe described taking collapsible D in tow: "And by and by, I noticed a collapsible boat, and it looked rather sorry, so I thought, "Well, I will go down and pick her up and make sure of her." So I went about and sailed down to this collapsible, and took her in tow." Lowe recognised one passenger in the collapsible - "Mrs. H. B. Harris, of New York. She had a broken arm" (US Inquiry, Day 5)
John Hardy, who was in collapsible D, that was towed by Lowe:
Officer Lowe then returned with his crew back to the ship to pick up all he could. I found out afterwards he had picked up some. We hung around then until dawn, until we sighted the Carpathia, pulling now and again. We were towed up by Mr. Lowe with a sail to the Carpathia, not having enough men in the boat to pull. There was only just this quartermaster and myself, two firemen, and about four gentlemen passengers, and the balance were women and children….Bright was the quartermaster, and he took the tiller. He was using an oar to steer by. I myself pulled with all my might... He [Lowe] returned, I think, with seven. I think three died.(US Inquiry)
First class passenger Hugh Woolner also described Lowe approaching him while he was in collapsible D, after spotting the Carpathia:
She [the Carpathia] seemed to come up very slowly and then she stopped. Then we looked out and we saw that there was a boat alongside her, and then we realized that she was waiting for us to come up to her instead of her coming to us, as we hoped. Then, just at that time, when we began to row toward the Carpathia, Mr. Lowe came down with his boat under sail, again, and hailed us and said, "Are you a collapsible?" We answered, "Yes." He said "How are you?" I said, "We have about all we want." He said, "Would you like a tow?" We answered, "Yes we would." So he took our painter and towed us away from the Carpathia, and then we looked and saw that there was another little group of people standing up in the sea who had to be rescued, and there were about… They were standing on an upturned boat."
Collapsible A and Gunfire
The "little group of people standing up in the sea who had to be rescued" as described by Woolner were the occupants of collapsible A, the last lifeboat that First Officer Murdoch had attempted to launch but it was not fitted into the davits in time and was swamped by the rising water as the boat deck went under. It was thus partially submerged.
"In the morning, after we picked up all that was alive, there was a collapsible boat we saw with a lot of people, and she was swamped, and they were up to their knees in water. We set sail and went over to them, and in a brief time picked up another one."(US Inquiry)
Lowe described seeing collapsible A:
"I had taken this first collapsible in tow, and I noticed that there was another collapsible in a worse plight than this one that I had in tow. I was just thinking and wondering whether it would be better for me to cut this one adrift and let her go, and for me to travel faster to the sinking one, but I thought, "No, I think I can manage it"; so I cracked on a bit, and I got down there just in time and took off; I suppose, about 20 men and 1 lady out of this sinking collapsible….I left three bodies on it….As to the three people that I left on her - of course, I may have been a bit hard hearted, I can not say - but I thought to myself, "I am not here to worry about bodies; I am here for life, to save life, and not to bother about bodies," and I left them…The people on the raft told me they had been dead some time. I said, "Are you sure they are dead?" They said, "Absolutely sure." I made certain they were dead, and questioned them one and all before I left this collapsible... they were all up to their ankles in water when I took them off. Another three minutes and they would have been down"(US Inquiry, Day 5)
Evans mentioned this was the second occasion in which Lowe used his personal revolver, in this case warning the occupants of collapsible A not to swamp them:
"He fired four shots when we went to this boat that was in distress. She was half full of water, and they were up to their ankles in water. There was one collapsible boat that we had in tow, and we went over to this one that was swamped, sir. Three dead persons were left there, besides our taking two other people into our boat, and one woman." (US Inquiry)
According to Evans, Lowe pointed his revolver "in the air….He told people in this boat it was to warn them not to rush our boat when we got alongside." Evans described collapsible A as being spotted "about a mile and a half" away and Lowe firing his shots from "about 150 yards…he just mentioned the fact that they must not rush the boat, as it was liable to capsize her." (US Inquiry)
Alternatively, Scarrott said Lowe fired into the water:
"After we came back from the wreckage where we had taken one of those rafts in tow, Mr. Lowe emptied his pistol into the water; as regards the number of rounds left in it I cannot say, but I think he emptied five rounds out of it." (British Inquiry)
Quartermaster Bright, in collapsible D being towed by Lowe, described coming across collapsible A:
"We saw a boat, one of the collapsible boats, that was awash, just flush with the water…and the same officer, Mr. Lowe, came back and took my boat in tow, because we had very few men to pull, and towed us down to this one that was just awash, and took 13 men and 1 woman off that…They had been singing out in the dark. As soon as it got daylight we could see them."
Bright also mentioned that they left the boat with "two dead bodies" and turned the swamped boat adrift - "there was no way to do anything with it. We left it there…With two dead bodies. They were covered up with a life belt over their faces."(US Inquiry)
Lowe also mentioned leaving "three bodies... I made the men on that collapsible turn those bodies over before I took them into my boat. I said, “Before you come on board here you turn those bodies over and make sure they are dead,” and they did so." (British Inquiry)
As daylight appeared, Lowe noticed his surroundings, with approximately 20 icebergs all around 4 to 5 miles away "all along the horizon... averaging from 20 feet in height up to 100 feet in height" (US Inquiry, Day 5)
The Cunard Liner, the RMS Carpathia under Captain Arthur Rostron, had been steaming at full speed for Titanic's last distress position, arriving at 4am. For the next four and a half hours, the ship collected survivors from the wreck area.
Lowe then describes spotting the Carpathia and making haste towards her with Collapsible D in tow:
"[The] thought flashed through my mind, 'perhaps the ship has not seen us in the semigloom'….I could see her coming up, and I thought, 'Well, I am the fastest boat of the lot,' as I was sailing, you see. I was going through the water very nicely, going at about, well, I should say, four knots, five knots, maybe; it may have been a little more; it may have been six; but, anyhow, I was bowling along very nicely…And I thought, 'I am the fastest boat, and I think if I go toward her, for fear of her leaving us to our doom' - that is what I was scared about, and you will understand that day was dawning more and more as the time came on. "(US Inquiry)
Lowe described at the British Inquiry putting the sail up, as he had likely done numerous times during his time on the Welsh coast:
"A breeze sprang up… I kept the sail up from then until I got alongside the “Carpathia,” and towed the collapsible and picked up the other collapsible - the sinking one…The sail might be improved…they be made without a dipping tack - that the tack be lashed abaft the mast, the same as ordinary lugsails…Besides that you want a man that knows something about dipping tack. You have to lower the sail and slacken the sheet before you can dip it." (British Inquiry)
Evans believed that after sighting the Carpathia they were alongside her in "about 20 minutes" (US Inquiry). Lowe proudly stated that upon meeting the Carpathia "I landed everybody…And the corpse included."( US Inquiry)
Once all passengers were safely onboard Lowe met some of those he helped rescue and exchanged contact details:
I have lots of addresses here; but they are addresses of people who were in my boat… when we were on board the Carpathia I would go around and see - well, I don't know. I suppose you might deem them your friends; I suppose you could. They were very suddenly brought together, and all that. I used to go around among them; and I knew my boat crew. (US Inquiry, Day 5)
After all the lifeboats had been recovered, Captain Rostron made the decision to sail for New York, rather than Halifax, Titanic's intended destination.
That was not the end of Lowe's 'heroic efforts.' According to the April 23rd edition of Liberty magazine in an article written by survivor Renée Harris, a first class passenger who ended up in Collapsible D, who Lowe had taken in tow towards the Carpathia, the following occurred:
The day following I was put on deck with a few of the women who had tried, as I had, to be left to themselves. We were given a secluded corner. Two sailors with life belts on them came toward us. One of the women said, "Good God! What has happened now?" One of the sailors replied, "Nothing, lady. Someone wants to take pictures." And there, with a camera pointing toward us, were the aforementioned lord and lady.
Again the one to come to my rescue was the same officer who had manned the lifeboat that had saved the collapsible from sure destruction. In no uncertain words he told the titled couple what an Englishman thought of his own countrymen. Of course the pictures were not taken. If by some freak circumstance Fifth Officer Lowe should read these lines, he will know that through all the years he has stood out in my memory as one of the finest men it has been my privilege to meet." (Liberty magazine, "Her Husband Went Down with the Titanic" by René Harris, 23 April 1932
However the accuracy of her statement has been questioned by authors Gregg Jasper and Randy Bigham, who have written a biography of her life entitled "Broadway Dame: The Life & Times of Mrs. Henry B. Harris." An Encyclopedia Titanica article that accompanied the book concluded that "not all of it is factual....It’s doubtful that Fifth Officer Lowe would have done or said any of what Renée claimed. It was not his job to make a judgment about people taking pictures or to stop them from doing so. In fact, the photos were taken, but the Duff Gordons did not organize these lifeboat pictures or the wearing of the life jackets." (Encyclopedia Titanica)
Nonetheless, her wish that "Fifth Officer Lowe should read these lines" about his heroism was certainly at some point granted - in 2020 it was revealed at an auction of Lowe's family heirlooms that he owned a copy of her Liberty article.
Even if Renée Harris' story is not entirely accurate, she appeared in several newspaper articles shortly after the sinking, proclaiming Lowe as the "Real Hero of the Titanic" and perhaps revealing some bias: "If Great Britain had only such seaman as Fifth Officer Lowe, there would be no such disasters. He is the hero of the survivors of the Titanic. He is a brave, splendid man, whom Great Britain should reward by instant promotion. When I praised him for his courage, he said:'I have only done my duty. I only hollored. Anybody can holler'" (New York Evening Journal, May 11, 1912)
The day after arriving aboard the Carpathia, on April 16 1912, Hoyt's body was buried at sea from Carpathia according to The New York Times of 27 April 1912. Collapsible A, that Lowe allowed to drift away with three bodies in it, was recovered by the White Star Line's Oceanic almost a month later, on the 13th of May 1912. When it was recovered, there were three bodies still inside, described by an Oceanic passenger as 'two fireman and a passenger in evening dress.' (The Sun, 20 April 2016)