The First Class Stewarding and the Disappearance of Ann Isham

The stewards played a pivotal role soon after the collision; many were asleep, but they were soon pressed into service awakening their passengers. Most stewards were unaware of the damage to the ship and simply relayed their instructions for their charges to don lifebelts and then to come on deck. Even if they had known the extent of the injury to the Titanic, it seems likely that they would not have been alarmed - the ship was unsinkable after all!

How exactly did the stewards act during this period of confusion? And can their behaviour help to solve a mystery? Due to a paucity of data, only the first class stewards, mainly the bedroom stewards, will be considered in this discussion.

Each bedroom steward was allocated a certain number of rooms to tend to; in the event of an emergency, they would be responsible for waking the occupants of the cabins, ensuring that their lifebelts were tied, and then lock their rooms (excellent descriptions of their duties can be found in Henry Etches and Andrew Cunningham testimonies in the US. It may surprise readers to learn that it was commonplace for passengers to not have a key of their own; if they wanted their staterooms locked, a steward would lock your door for them. If the passengers had something valuable they would entrust it to the purser.

Since the locking of doors was performed by different stewards, there would seem to be no set time during which they would do this. Cunningham, as described in the link above, did so for his charges after turning off the lights in the cabins. Algernon Barkworth told the "Hull Daily Mail", that he found his room A-23 locked after he went down for a second time (the first was to fetch his lifejacket). George Rheims in nearby A-21 was able to enter his room just minutes before the end of the ship (although if the timing in his story is right, his cabin would be at least partially flooded!). Steward Fred Ray went below and on his way up, he noticed Martin Rothschild leaving his cabin in the vicinity of the 1st class purser's office; this was after Rothschild saw his wife depart in boat 6, but before Ray got on deck to see boat 9 being filled with women and children. Evidently, he had a key or his room had not yet been locked.

Reading the testimonies and newspaper interviews with the surviving stewards, it is abundantly clear that they were exemplary in waking their passengers expeditiously (at least, those passengers who hadn't woken up prematurely and gone investigating, finding out for themselves what had happened) - but cynics would rightly point out that the stewards were hardly likely to publicise any shortcomings in their duties.

In the event of an impending catastrophe, the imperative role of the stewards was not only the safety of their passengers, but also to prevent a panic. There is ample evidence that very few stewards were aware of the ship's hull being ruptured; some had been told, and some had even seen the Titanic flooding - but they did not necessarily impart this knowledge.

Mary Sloan (turkish bath stewardess) wrote a letter to her sister saying that she had heard from Dr.O'Loughlin that things were "very bad"; Andrew Cunningham (bedroom steward) saw water on F deck and thought it was "pretty bad." Etches was told of water in the mail area; Fred Ray had seen the water near his quarters on E deck and told Mr.Rothschild that things seemed serious - but Rothschild seemed unconvinced. James Johnson called his colleagues thinking it was serious, but did not think that the ship was dangerous.

This is what the stewards said - what did the passengers say?

1st class passenger Elizabeth Shute said she saw an officer pass by her stateroom who tried placating her but, being sceptical, she followed the crewman to a nearby cabin (perhaps the Doctor's section?) where she heard him say, "We can keep the water out for a while." After the collision, the Hoyts went on deck ("Amsterdam Evening Recorder and Daily Democrat", 23/4/12). Dr O'Loughlin whispered in Mr Hoyt's ear that it was serious and that the squash court was flooding. This was kept from Mrs Hoyt.
Henry Harper ("Harper's Weekly", 27/4/12) related how he had felt the collision and saw the iceberg drifting by his porthole. She told his wife to get dressed but she rushed off to the ubiquitous O'Loughlin who returned and told him to go back to bed as there was nothing serious. Harper replied, "Damn it, man, this ship has hit an iceberg! How can you say there's nothing serious?" O'Loughlin left to find out what was amiss and returned soon saying, "They tell me the trunks are floating around in the hold,You may as well go on deck." (When the Harpers did get on deck, another steward said they would be delayed for two hours which seemed to satisfy the crowds congregated there - until about a quarter of an hour later when word came that people were to don lifebelts).
Margarette Spedden ("Devon and Exeter Gazette", 14/5/12) related, "I met our stewardess ... who said the water was already in the baggage room, so we hurried to get all our warm clothes on." Despite this, they could not realise that anything serious was going to happen.
Emily Ryerson's affidavit said, "At the time of collision I was awake and heard the engines stop, but felt no jar. My husband was asleep, so I rang and asked the steward, Bishop, what was the matter. He said, 'There is talk of an iceberg, ma‘am, and they have stopped, not to run into it.' I told him to keep me informed if there were any orders." By about 12.10am, word had filtered through about lifebelts. If there were any orders dispensed by Bishop, Emily and her party were not there to hear them as they had left their rooms to meet their fellow passengers.

Based on this, we can say that the alert was issued fairly efficiently and where mention of water entering the ship was made, it did not elicit any sense of dread. The stewards seem to have acted correctly. And this is reflected in the actions of the 1st class passengers; very few were in "hysterics" (a word used to describe Laura Francatelli, who had seen water creeping along the corridor near her room). There was a sense of decorum - compare this to 2nd class passenger Nellie Becker who asked if she had time to dress and was told somewhat melodramatically, "No, Madame, you have time for nothing."

Which leads us to the raison d'être for this essay; what happened to Ann Isham? She was one of only five females in first class to perish and she is a real lady of mystery, for there is only one possible mention of her on the ship. This was unearthed by researcher Daniel Klistorner some years ago, and was written by survivor Antoinette Flegenheim in May 1912:

"The lady who sat at the next table to mine in the saloon complained she could never obtain room service because the electric button that had been placed to that effect on the panel near her bed didn't function properly. I'm sorry to say the lady never made it to a lifeboat and drowned in the sinking, for we all looked for her in vain on the Carpathia. She was a charming lady in her forties, and apparently she traveled alone."

And that is it. Everything else is silence and conjecture.

I am grateful to George Behe for providing the following, from The New York Times of Wednesday April 17, 1912:

Miss Anne Elizabeth Isham, a passenger on the Titanic and listed among the missing, was a former Chicago girl. She was a daughter of Edward S. Isham who died ten years ago. He was the senior member of the law firm of Isham, Lincoln & Beale.
Miss Isham for the last nine years has been living abroad. Most of the time she has resided in Paris with her sister Mrs. Harry Shelton, formerly of New York. While living in Chicago she was a leader in Chicago society circles. She was a member of the Friday club and the Scribblers club.
Edward S. Isham, a brother, is living in New York. Miss Isham was on her way to spend the summer with him.

This biography does not seem like that of someone who was socially isolated; it seems that, unless her time overseas inhibited her personality, she was gregarious. Unless Isham was a hermit who never ventured outside of her stateroom, it seems likely she must have interacted with someone; but with such a high mortality figure in the disaster, and (judging from the written statements left behind), people tending to mix with people in their own social circle, it may be that she was too incongruous to leave an imprint in people's perception.

It may be instructive to analyse the comments of those near her room, that is, located on C-Deck forward (some, like Hugh Woolner, much later returned to C-52 to fetch his lifejacket). Unfortunately, not every account of survivors in this area are available to this author; indeed, the stateroom allocations are not known with 100% certainty.

The plan below shows C-Deck, forward of the Grand Staircase. Ms.Isham's stateroom is highlighted in yellow.

C-7 : Caroline Bonnell (Decatur Review 19/4/12) said that she lay in bed for ten minutes after collision. Finally she and her roommate Natalie Wick decided to go up but having looked around, they decided to go back to bed when an officer went up to them and another group of people and told them to get their lifebelts. They went below and told their aunt and uncle the news, but Mr Wick laughed and downplayed the danger. Ms.Bonnell went back to their stateroom and a minute or so later there was a knock on the door by an officer and told them to go up to A deck. He said there was no danger.
C-22 to 26 : Alice Cleaver wrote in a letter to Walter Lord, "[Mr Allison, her employer] decided to go and find out the trouble. While he was away I was warned we would have to leave the ship, so prepared the children and Mrs.Allison - but she became hysterical and I had to calm her. About that time an officer came round to close the cabins and advised us to go on deck - here they met Mr.Allison outside the cabin but he seemed too dazed to speak."
C-23, 25 and 27 : The newspaper accounts purportedly originating from the surviving Fortune family members were later repudiated.
C-28 Emma Schabert : in a letter dated April 18th, 1912, she said "[After the collision she went on deck where] women were walking about in evening gowns, talking the matter over. We went forward quite alone in the dark, and watched the sailors working and to see the ice on the lower decks. Suddenly a tall dark figure loomed up and said: "Get on your life preservers right away." We were quite surprised and started downstairs, where pale looking silent stewards were putting life preservers on passengers.
C-32 Ella White : see discussion below
C-51 Archibald Gracie : see discussion below
C-52 Gilbert Tucker (Times Union 19/4/1912) : he felt the collision, walked forward on the promenade and saw ice there. He started back to cabin and in the main companionway ran across Captain Smith with a group of his officers. As Tucker passed Smith was giving orders to call all hands, get lifebelts on them and prepare to lower away the boats. Tucker to his own cabin for some more clothes, some more money and his watch. When he got to the deck everybody was there. Some time later the first boat was lowered.

Ella White testified before the US Senate Inquiry and superificially, her account is damning for she says she wasn't roused and heard no alarm. Marie Young (Washington Post 21/4/12) who was in the same cabin confirmed this, saying that White urged her to go with her immediately to A deck. She made the effort to leave the stateroom "immediately." If they had not done so, Young believes their lives might have been lost, "for it seems certain many passengers perished in their staterooms, as very few report being called."
But these statements are incorrect, for she says that following the sensation of the collision, "We went immediately on deck ourselves." It was at some point later that she heard from Captain Smith, coming down the staircase, to put on their life preservers, which they did and then waited around for another 20 minutes. It seems quite clear that Mrs.White never heard anything from the stewards because she had left her stateroom straight away - unless she expected the alarm to be roused immediately after the collision, which is nonsense. [Footnote] [Footnote]

Archibald Gracie's story is naturally important, as he occupied a stateroom next door to Isham. In his book, he said that after the collision, he went up on the boat deck to see if anything was amiss. Then he went to A deck, and in the companionway he saw Ismay and a member of the crew hurrying up the stairs. At the foot of stairs, Gracie met Clinch Smith who told him of the ice, and word of the collision spread. He went down to his stateroom and he packed. As he passed from the corridor into the companionway, he saw men and women slipping on life jackets, stewards assisting in adjusting them. steward Cullen insisted he returned to his stateroom for his. He did so and Cullen fastened one on Gracie while he brought another one for someone else to use.

There are minor differences between this and his testimony in the US and his newspaper accounts, mainly concerning when he saw Ismay.

Soon after the disaster, Isham's family wrote to Gracie and asked him if he had any information on their lost relative. Gracie wrote,

"Her relatives, learning that her stateroom. No. C, 49, adjoined mine, wrote me in the hope that I might be able to furnish some information to their sorrowing hearts about her last hours on the shipwrecked Titanic, It was with much regret that I replied that I had not seen my neighbor at any time, and, not having the pleasure of her acquaintance, identification was impossible. I was, however, glad to be able to assure her family of one point, viz., that she did not meet with the horrible fate which they feared, in being locked in her stateroom and drowned. I had revisited my stateroom twice after being aroused by the collision, and am sure that she was fully warned of what had happened, and after she lefther stateroom it was locked behind her, as was mine."

Unfortunately, any correspondence that Isham's ancestors may have had with other survivors has not survived.

We can dispense with the suggestion made by some that the faulty call button in Isham's room somehow caused her disappearance. A broken button would not hinder a steward in knocking on the door, and opening it; it would only affect the person in that room calling for assistance.

A discussion on Encyclopedia-Titanica speculates that Faulkner may have been Isham's steward and not Cullen; both stewards survived and more than likely gave depositions upon return to England. But these statements have long since vanished, and if they gave interviews to the newspapers, these have not surfaced either. There is a dearth of data concerning this area of the ship, but Ella White's spurious comments above, it would seem that the rooms were checked before being locked.

However, we cannot discount the faint possibility that she was locked in her room. If she was, it would not be unprecedented.

Lawrence Beesley wrote in his book:

"Below decks too was additional evidence that no one thought of immediate danger. Two ladies walking along one of the corridors came across a group of people gathered round a door which they were trying vainly to open, and on the other side of which a man was demanding in loud terms to be let out. Either his door was locked and the key not to be found, or the collision had jammed the lock and prevented the key from turning. The ladies thought he must be afflicted in some way to make such a noise, but one of the men was assuring him that in no circumstances should he be left, and that his (the bystander's) son would be along soon and would smash down his door if it was not opened in the mean time. "He has a stronger arm than I have," he added. The son arrived presently and proceeded to make short work of the door: it was smashed in and the inmate released, to his great satisfaction and with many expressions of gratitude to his rescuer. But one of the head stewards who came up at this juncture was so incensed at the damage done to the property of his company, and so little aware of the infinitely greater damage done the ship, that he warned the man who had released the prisoner that he would be arrested on arrival in New York."

The hero in this well-known anecdote is Norris Williams, but the identity of the trapped man is unknown. Williams would later reveal that his stateroom was on C-Deck but the number is not know. Walter Lord made notes of his meeting with Williams who had said that he went into the A Deck foyer, stood around, then heard the call to get lifebelts. He went back to his cabin with his father and got their belts. At his father's suggestion, he put it on under his fur coat. Out in the corridor again, he helped release a man locked in stateroom by breaking in door. The steward warned that he must report him for damaging company property.
This is before the rockets went up and before the first boats went away but there is nothing else to narrow the timeline.

There is nothing else to go on. Did the steward lock the door without checking whether there was anyone else in the room? Or was the steward detained nearby, and the incarcerated man who had returned to his room, slip inside unnoticed? Another possibility exists, one proposed by Captain David Brown in his book "Last Log of the Titanic", namely that the Titanic had suffered such bending forces as the hull sagged downwards that the door and/or doorframe had been forced out of shape, sealing it.

Emily Ryerson gave her account to the Senate Inquiry in America. She said that a little time after 12.10am, the word came through from the Captain to get lifebelts and head up to the boatdeck, which they all did; "My husband cautioned us all to keep together, and we went up to A deck, where we found quite a group of people we knew. Everyone had on a lifebelt, and they all were very quiet and self-possessed. We stood about there for quite a long time - fully half an hour, I should say. I know my maid ran down to the cabin and got some of my clothes. Then we were ordered to the boat deck." Her maid, Victorine Chaudanson rushed down and found herself locked into their stateroom. She screamed and the steward (perhaps Walter Bishop, the Ryerson's steward?) let her out. The same comments about Williams applies here - wouldn't the steward have checked the room before locking it?

Very few people returned to their staterooms after they had left with their lifebelts; perhaps if more had done so, more of these incidents might have been reported? however, as soon as the call was made to take to the boats, action shifted from the inside of the ship to the boat deck.

Could Ann have been relocated to another cabin, perhaps because of her faulty call button? If so, we are still left with the same questions; was she overlooked or locked in?

There are stories of passengers transferring to other staterooms. Could one of these have been Isham?

Mrs Bishop told the Dowagiac Daily News of 20/4/12, "The girl who occupied a stateroom across from us refused to get up and the stewards pulled her out of bed, she got back in and sank with the ship." Could this be Ms.Isham? There are problems with this account. First of all, Mrs.Bishop did not mention this in her testimony in the US, but lest it be thought that the interview was an invention by a journalist, there is reasonable agreement with her testimony. To be blunt, Isham has hardly a "girl".

Directly opposite the Bishops were the Snyders. Mr John Snyder said of his wife, "At any rate she made me get up and go out to the companionway to see what was going on. I went out three times before we decided to get up and get dressed." The mystery woman described Mrs.Bishop does not sound like Nelle Snyder. The two cabins nearby - one next to the Snyders and one next to the Bishops do not have any passengers listed in the surviving documentation.

What of any other phantom passengers? May Birkhead talked to many people while the Carpathia ferried survivors to New York. She later related something she had been told; 'A steward who was saved told me that when he went to one of the first cabin passengers - a woman - and told her to dress and put on a life preserver, she merely laughed. "If that little bump is all that has happened, I'll stay right here," she said. "Madam, my orders are from the captain to tell you to dress and put on a life preserver." "My orders to myself are to get back into bed and go to sleep again," said the woman. And she did. She paid for that with her life.'

And as is usual in this story, that is all we have. Was this Isham, or simply a woman who never related her tale to history, but saw sense and did indeed come on deck at some later point? Or was she "missed" on the Carpathia? As an example, Edith Rosenbaum refers to unnamed people in her 1913 recollections in Cassell's magazine who she says were lost. But these people - who have since been identified as Robert Daniels and Virginia Clark - did survive [footnote]. There are undoubtedly other instances.

In conclusion, we simply do not have enough data to say definitely what happened to Ms.Isham. It is this author's opinion that she found her way on to deck, where she became another anonymous face in a sea of bewildered and frightened people as the water rolled on to the deck.

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1. A similar thing can be said for Daisy Minahan. At the US Inquiry she stated in an affidavt that, "the crying of a women in the passageway awakened me. I roused my brother and his wife, and we began at once to dress. No one came to give us warning (my emphasis). We spent five minutes in dressing and went on deck to the port side. The frightful slant of the deck toward the bow of the boat gave us our first thought of danger. An officer came and commanded all women to follow, and he led us to the boat deck on the starboard side." May Birkhead, a Carpathia passenger, related her encounters with Titanic survivors in the New York Herald, April 19, 1912 and she said that, "A woman from Wisconsin said that she was not called at all, and if she had not heard Mrs. Astor out in the passageway crying she would have remained in her stateroom." Minahan was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and she had a cabin right next door to the Astors (though why she did not mention the crying woman at the Senate Inquiry is unknown). Furthermore, Major Arthur Peuchen testified, "There was no alarm sounded whatever. In fact, I talked with two young ladies who claimed to have had a very narrow escape. They said their stateroom was right near the Astor's, I think almost next to it, and they were not awakened ... They slept through this crash, and they were awakened by Mrs. Astor. She was in rather an excited state, and their door being open - and I think the Astor door was open - they think that was the means of their being saved." It is clear that Daisy went on deck well before the stewards had a chance to rouse their charges. The same can be said about Peuchen, for that matter.
There is one more point about Miss Minahan. She was in C-78 and steward Henry Etches talked of this room after he had seen to his passengers: "I then found No. 78 cabin door shut, and I banged with both hands on the door loudly, and a voice answered, "What is it"? Then a lady's voice said, "Tell me what the trouble is." I said, "It is necessary that you should open the door, and I will explain everything, but please put the lifebelts on or bring them in the corridor." They said, "I want to know what is the matter." I said, "Kindly open the door," and I still kept banging." He did't know who the couple were but said that, "It was a shortish name, and I fancy it began with S. They were a stiff-built gentleman and a rather short, thin lady. They were undoubtedly Americans." Very soon afterwards, Etches made his way to the boat deck, in time to see No.7 being loaded. This was about 12.40am - and it is highly likely that Minahan was already on deck. [The Astors were in the company of Mrs Bishop when Captain Smith came down the Grand Staircase and announced that lifebelts should be put on.]

2. There are hints that some passengers were overlooked when the stewards were supposed to be waking passengers and telling them to don lifejackets. Martha Stone, in B-28, related in an interview: "I spoke to a ship's officer standing near my door and asked him if we had not run into an iceberg. "Yes," he answered, "but there is no danger. Go back to bed and go to sleep." All this time the steam was blowing off with a terrible noise, and I asked him why they were doing it. "We have stopped to see what damage is done, but there is not the slightest danger," he reiterated. I was not quite convinced, but it was cold in the corridor, so after a little discussion the woman in the cabin opposite mine, who had also come into the corridor, decided to go back to bed, and we did so. If I had gone to sleep I should not be here. The blowing of steam went on interminably. It got on my nerves at last and I resolved to get up and investigate for myself. I called my maid and she dressed me completely, and then started to dress herself. She had only partially clothed herself when the daughter of the woman opposite came flying down the corridor, crying, "Get on your life-preservers quickly. They say we must get in the boats."" By the time Stone got on deck, the sailors were "getting down the boats".
The emission of steam from the funnels probably started about 11.50-11.55am and the boats were being prepared a little after midnight. If "getting down the boats" means lowering them level with the deck, this puts Stone's arrival on deck even later.
What of Stone's neighbours in adjoining staterooms? Do they confirm her comments? A map showing the area can be found
Directly opposite were Captain and Mrs Crosby. Catherine gave an affidavit to the US Inquiry, but sadly her husband did not survive. She said, "Capt. Crosby got up, dressed, and went out, and came back again and said to me, "You will lie there and drown," and went out again. He said to my daughter, "The boat is badly damaged; but I think the watertight compartments will hold her up." I then got up and dressed, and my daughter dressed, and followed my husband on deck, and she got up on deck, and the officer told her to go back and get on her life preserver and come back on deck as soon as possible. She reported that to me, and we both went out on deck where the officer told us to come." The Crosby's daughter was next door to Stone's.
In B-20 were Mr and Mrs Dick. Sadly, Vera Dick's story (reproduced in "On Board RMS Titanic") contains much that is dubious, but her husband's story was printed in the Calgary Herald of April 30th. After seeing the ice on the forward well deck, he went below to his wife and they both returned on deck where an officer said there was no danger and they should go back to their cabins. They did so, but Mr.Dick was not confident. It seems that Mr Dick remained on the upper decks as he soon heard the cries of the officers for all to come up on deck and put their life belts on. Dick did so and helped others to do the same.
Further down the companionway in B-18 was Mrs Hippach and her daughter. Their story appeared in "The Chicago Tribune" of 22/4/12. After roar of steam started, they went out into corridor and heard people asking what was going on. Someone said the ship had struck an iceberg and the Hippachs decided to go on deck but an officer said they'd catch cold and they should go back to bed. The Hippachs went back, dressed themselves, and met an officer who said to go back and put on life belts.
It is difficult to come to any conclusion. It may be that Stone, the Crosbys and the Dicks left their cabins before the stewards started to go round passing word of the lifebelt order. But if this true, they seemed to have left it fairly late, as there were no visitations even after the steam had been blown off for quite a while and the order was given for people to take to the boats.
Let us also consider Elizabeth Lines, in D28; she testified, "Immediately after the ship struck, at a quarter before twelve, [she] was told [by her steward] then to stay in my state room, that there was no danger." More than half an hour later, she found out that the occupant of a neighboring stateroom was going on deck to seek a life boat. As she left her stateroom, she heard a unidentified voice, shouting "Put on your life belts". She then went immediately on deck, arriving there between 12.30 and 1.00am. The next time Lines saw her steward he was sat dressed at the foot of the stairs when she went up and he said he was not going up. In a nearby cabin, Elizabeth Eustis and Martha Stephenson heard from Jack Thayer about the ice and when they reached the next deck, they heard the announcement that everyone should return for their life preservers. They only time Stephenson saw her steward was soon after the impact when he arrived to close their porthole. It is possible that Stephenson was out of her cabin when her steward came around the next time. Unfortunately there is no other data with which to make a determination.

3. Rosenbaum's account possibly suggests wayward behaviour of a steward - namely hers, Wareham. After going on deck to spot the iceberg, she ventured back indoors after some 45 minutes or more. She was about to get into bed when a neighbour saying that someone had said the order had come through for lifebelts to be put on. Then, as she said, "After dressing and then we went to the lounge on "A" deck, where I was met by my room steward, Wareham, who was fully dressed in his overcoat and Derby hat. He said, "Well, miss, I am very glad to see you up." I replied, "Wareham, do you think there is any danger, or is this just 'English rules' that one has to put on lifebelts?" He answered, "It is a rule of the Board of Trade that in time of danger lifebelts must be put on by passengers. Now I do not think this boat can sink; it is an unsinkable boat; but if it does sink, she can certainly hold out about forty-eight hours."
Surely Wareham would have known Rosenbaum was up if he had checked her room? Or did he just knock on the door, get no answer and then move on? And on, a peripheral note, Wareham was one steward who did venture his opinion of the impending disaster when he told Rosenbaum that she could kiss her belongings goodbye!