pproximately 65 minutes after the iceberg collision, Lifeboat No. 7 was the first to be lowered into the water. The official rule for Christian voyages was “women and children first”. While loading the lifeboats, the officers of the Titanic implemented different policies. The second officer at the port side of the boat forbade all men from boarding the boats, letting down only half-filled vessels into the water. It was not easy convincing many of the women to board the lifeboats, as the Titanic still seemed perfectly stable. Women often didn’t want to be separated from their husbands, and for this reason a disproportionate number of crew members went down with the lifeboats (as rowers). The Titanic still seemed a safer bet than the small and brittle lifeboats. When it became apparent that the Titanic would soon go down, panic broke out on board. Instead of “women and children first” it became “every man for himself!” Everyone still on board rushed to secure a seat in one of the few remaining lifeboats. The crew had to prevent the hysterical passengers from crowding into the boats.
The passengers of lifeboat No. 13 had difficulties to tie off their boat, while lifeboat No. 15 was already swinging over their heads. (drawing by François Omont)
he story of the three French bridge players located in the first lifeboat floating in the cold ocean was described in the New York Times: “When the Frenchman´s boat rowed off half a mile, the Titanic presented a fairylike picture, illuminated from stem to stern. Then suddenly the lights began to go out and the stern reared high in the air. A terrible clamor rose on all sides and for an hour anguish cries rang out. It was, say the narrators, like a great chorus chanting a refrain of death with wild persistency. Sometimes the cries died out and then the tragic chorus began again, more terribly and more despairingly. The narrative continues: Those shrieks pursued us and haunted us as we pulled away in the night. Then one by one the cries ceased and only the noise of the sea remained. The Titanic was engulfed almost without a murmur. Her stern quivered in a final spasm, and then disappeared. The Frenchmen and their companions suffered bitterly from the cold. They cried out to attract attention, and a German Baron who was with them, emptied his revolver in the air. When finally the Carpathia appeared a feeble hurrah went up from the small boats, every one of which moved as swiftly as possible toward the liner.”
Sinking Titanic. Painting by Willy Ströwer.1912
lfred Fernand Omont gave a more detailed account to the New Orleans newspaper The Daily Picayune of what happened that night in the icy waters of the Atlantic: “I sat next to a German baron in the lifeboat who, upon seeing lights on the water and shooting rockets, began firing his pistol to attract attention. We distinctly saw the lights of the ship that passed within five miles of the disaster, which could have rescued everybody on the Titanic. At about 4 o´clock we saw her lights. A sickly feeling came upon all as the vessel seemed to be leaving us, for when we first saw her we could discern nothing but her stern. As soon as the Carpathia began blowing her whistle and came to a stop we then knew that we could be saved. Half frozen we climbed up the rope ladders and were taken in charge by the crew of the ship. One hour after the Titanic sank we heard the shrieks and groans of the dying, and this really was the most horrifying of all our experience. As the great ship sank every man in the lifeboat in which I was took off his hat and with bowed heads a silent prayer was offered for the unfortunates who went with her to a watery grave.” Omont continued: “We had no lights in our lifeboat, no compass, no chart, but we had a small cask of water, and I heard that we had a small box of biscuits. After the ship had gone down and before, we saw a light far off, about eight or ten miles. Everyone thought it was another ship – a sailing or steam boat. We saw it plainly. We all cheered up, thinking we were going to be saved; we saw it gradually disappear. We thought it was either a sailing boat that could not move on account of the calm weather, or she was an optical illusion on our part.” Source: www.titanicverein.de
ifeboat No. 7 was lowered into the Atlantic at 12:45 a.m. First Officer Murdoch commanded the boarding of the vessel. Only 26 were on board, while its maximum capacity was officially 65.
The Titanic carried twenty lifeboats which could hold up to 1,178 people. This was four more boats than international law required at the time. Only four lifeboats were lowered at full capacity, the other fourteen boats could have held a good 500 more people.
The Card. Private collection
The three Frenchmen who had been playing cards together (P. R. Chevre, P. Maréchal and A.F. Omont) all made it into the same lifeboat. The fourth player, an American, probably lost his life while looking for his wife in the sinking ship. The three survivors autographed the card on April 14, 1912, while on board the rescue ship Carpathia.