March 1, 2006

The Hero of the Titanic

By Dr. Frank J. Collazo


Mr. Thomas Andrews clearly seemed to be the most tragic person aboard the Titanic, and his character is only enhanced the more one learns about the real man.  In charge of building the R.M.S. Titanic, he had a very caring and perfectionist nature, fondly regarded and remembered by everyone he encountered.  He took a personal interest in every aspect of his ships and in those who built, served, and sailed on them.  While his grandest creation sank beneath his feet, he worked until he was bathed in sweat to assist passengers to the lifeboats before going down with the ship.


Upon leaving school in 1889 at age sixteen, Andrews began work as a premium apprentice at Harland & Wolff Ltd. shipbuilders in Queen's Island, Belfast.  The apprenticeship he served was designed for one intended to end up quite high in the company.  He began with three months in the joiner's shop, followed by a month in the cabinetmaker's ship and two months actually working on the ships.  Next he spent two months in the main store (warehouse), five months with the shipwrights, two in the molding loft, two with the painters, eight with the iron shipwrights, six with the fitters, three with the patternmakers, and eight with the smiths.  The last eighteen months of his five-year term were spent in the drawing office.  His great talent for mechanical engineering and construction and his growing leadership abilities singled him out for a bright future, possibly as a senior manager.


Andrews became a member of the Institution of Naval Architects in 1901.  After working up through several departments, he became the firm's managing director and head of the drafting department.  During his apprenticeship he had shown that he could meet the physical demands of the work.  He was by this time six feet tall and broad-shouldered. Once, when a red-hot rivet fell from an upper deck and barely missed his head, he merely kicked it away and laughed.  He was also developing a great reputation for integrity, that according to Daniel Allen Butler, "were it not so well documented, would be hard to believe."


An entry in Helen Andrews's diary shows the affection that Andrews felt for the men who worked with him, building the ships he designed.  She writes:  "One evening my husband and I were in the vicinity of Queen's Island, and noticing a long file of men going home from work, he turned to me and said, 'There go my pals, Helen.'  I can never forget that tone in his voice as he said that; it was as though the men were as dear to him as his own brothers.  Afterwards, on a similar occasion, I reminded him of the words, and he said, 'Yes, and they are real pals too.'"  


In 1910, Andrews had occasion to rescue one of his "pals."  Anthony Frost, known as Archie, had climbed 80 feet of scaffolding during a gale in order to secure some loose boards.  While up there, Archie became terrified and Andrews climbed the scaffolding himself to help bring him down before securing the boards.  Archie was a member of the team of eight men from Harland & Wolff who accompanied Andrews on Titanic's maiden voyage, all of whom perished.


Unsinkable Ship:  In fact, Titanic's second sister ship, Britannic, had her building completion delayed until 1914 so that new safety features could be incorporated.  Yet the damage she sustained after striking a German mine during World War I was so extensive that Britannic sank in even less time than Titanic.


The Titanic had been completed and delivered to the White Star Line on 2 April 1912.  By 10 April, activity on the ship grew more and more frenetic as it was prepared for its first Atlantic crossing.  She was not only loaded with commercial cargo being shipped to America, but last minute touches including carpeting, furnishing, and decorating had to be finished.  Supervising all of the activity was Thomas Andrews.  It has been frequently pointed out that he knew every detail of his ship and none escaped him.


Andrews's work was not finished once he and the ship set out from Southampton.  After the voyage began, he continued to help the crew adjust to the new ship.  He carried a notebook with him and was constantly making notes for improvements.  The pebble dashing on the promenade, for instance, was too dark and the stateroom hat racks had an excessive number of screws holding them in.  Still, on 14 April, Andrews remarked to a friend that Titanic was "as nearly perfect as human brains can make her."


The first class stateroom in which Andrews stayed during the voyage, A36, was one of the last minute additions to the ship.  The room does not appear on the ship plans up to January 1912.  It was added at the same time as the forward promenade deck enclosure, a change from the Olympic, that would allow first-class passengers to walk around without worrying about the ocean spray.  The stateroom was located near the first class entrance, palm verandah and fourth smokestack.


The Voyage:  At the time of the collision, Andrews had retired to his stateroom and was working on his notes.  So engrossed in his work was he, that he had not noticed the jar of the iceberg scraping the ship.


Unlike Andrews, Captain Smith did notice the impact and immediately rushed from the chart room to the bridge to inquire of First Officer Murdoch, who had been on duty.  What had happened, Murdoch replied, was that the ship had struck an iceberg.  "I hard-a-star boarded and reversed the engines and I was going to hard-a-port around it, but she was too close.  I could not do any more," he explained.  Fourth Officer Boxhall could not report any damage below decks after his brief inspection, but a carpenter and a mail clerk soon burst onto the bridge announcing that the ship was rapidly taking on water.  Smith then requested that Andrews be summoned to the bridge.


Smith and Andrews began their own inspection of the ship so that the builder could assess the damage.  The pair kept to the crew passageways as much as possible, in order to avoid attention, and kept their expressions unreadable.  Back in his stateroom, Andrews reviewed the damage with the captain: all of the first six watertight compartments were open to the sea.  Though Titanic could float with combinations of up to four of these compartments breached, it could not do so with all six.  As the weight of the water in the forward compartments pulled the ship down, it would spill over the tops of the bulkheads and continue until the ship sank.  How long did they have?  "An hour and a half," Andrews judged, after scribbling out some figures, "possibly two.  Not much longer."  He did not need to point out to Smith that the ship was carrying lifeboats enough for only half of the passengers.


Knowing as he did that there was no time to lose, Andrews set out to do whatever he could to save as many lives as possible.  At first he spent time searching staterooms for passengers to evacuate.  Running into stewardess Annie Robinson on deck a, he told her to put her lifejacket on.  "I thought it rather mean to wear it," she explained.  "Never mind that!" he answered, "Put it on--walk about--let the passengers see you."  When she protested further he told her again, "Put it on! If you value your life, put it on."


Later on the deck he was seen without a lifejacket, or even a warm coat.  In spite of the cold weather he didn't need the latter; he would work himself into a sweat that night. "Ladies you must get in at once!" he cried, moving among the boats.  When he came across two women joking that one boat looked prettier than another, he became exasperated.  "You cannot pick and choose your boat!  Don't hesitate, get in at once, and Get in!" 


One of the people Andrews recognized being hesitant about getting on a boat was stewardess Mary Sloan, who had earlier learned from Andrews's friend Dr. O'Loughlin that "things are very bad."  He personally ushered her to collapsible D, the last boat launched from the davits.  At this point, there was not much left to be done.  Most of those who would be saved were now on the lifeboats.  For the rest, all that was left was to await the inevitable.  Perhaps they would be killed as the ship broke in two; perhaps perish in the icy water of the north Atlantic.  There was little hope.


Having done all the he could--all that anyone could expect--before the sinking, Thomas Andrews retired to the first class smoking room.  He was last seen before the fireplace, gazing at the painting that graced the mantle, Approach to the New World.  It was a new world he would never again truly see.  What his thoughts and feelings were during those last minutes, no one can guess with any certainty.  Great sorrow, perhaps regret, or a sense of futility?  Could he possibly have foreseen--as depicted in the musical--that Titanic would signal the figurative approach of a new world, one that would see more and more over the next few decades the darker side of the technology that was continuing to change the world, that had contributed to the creation of Titanic herself?


Far more likely that Mr. Andrews would have continued to the end of his life as he had throughout it: thinking of others.  His engineering crew, as dedicated as he was, were working to the last moments and would sacrifice themselves so that there might be power and light as long as possible.  The guarantee group, accompanying him from Harland & Wolff on the maiden voyage, would also be unlikely to survive.  Further away, his thoughts would likely wander to his wife and young daughter, whom he had not seen since he boarded the ship nearly two weeks ago, April 2, for her trials.  That farewell had been his last.


Mr. Andrews' body was never found.  The smoking room was near the spot where Titanic was broken in two and it is likely that he was pulled with her to a grave at the bottom of the ocean.  Finally, on April 19, his father received a telegram from his mother's cousin, James Montgomery, who had spoken with survivors in New York, searching for news of Thomas.  The telegram was read aloud by Mr. Andrews Sr. to the staff of the home in Comber: