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Titanic's heroes and villains from the North West

J. Bruce Ismay, boss of the White Star Line Photo:

The Titanic tragedy was one of the biggest maritime disasters. After being launched in a blaze of publicity, the shock of the shipwreck meant people wanted answers about what had happened - and who was to blame. Heroes and villains emerged, and in some cases it wasn't until decades later that the truth became known. Many of those individuals were from the North West.

J. Bruce Ismay

Cast as perhaps the biggest villain - was Liverpool’s J Bruce Ismay, the boss of the White Star Line. Climbing on board one of the last lifeboats, he survived the disaster but he was made a scapegoat by the American press who were keen to pin the blame on him.

"In a major tragedy people are always looking for someone to blame and he was the perfect victim for this whole thing to be pinned on. He was portrayed as the most cowardly man in the world for having got off the ship when women and children were still trapped on board. He was a social pariah; friends closed their front doors on him. It was felt he should have gone down with the ship - that would have been within the chivalric code of Edwardian England. It was a living death for him." (Peter Elson, Shipping Correspondent, Liverpool Post and Echo)

Captain Stanley Lord

But Ismay wasn't the only villain of the story. Captain Lord from Bolton was in charge of the ship the Californian. He was wrongly accused of ignoring Titanic's plea for help. It was only decades later that his account of being 23 miles away was found to be true.

Captain Edward Smith

One of White star's most experienced seaman - Captain Smith had been based in Liverpool more than 40 years. Titanic's Skipper would not survive the disaster, going down with his ship. But he's often blamed for many of the mistakes that led to her downfall.

"Smith is often accused of not slowing the ship down enough, he didn’t react to the warnings of ice, maybe his judgement in the run up to the tragedy was off slightly. There was confusion in the aftermath about his death, reported to have taken his own life on the bridge although there were many witnesses who said that wasn’t the case. In the newspapers in the days after he was then portrayed as an heroic figure who saved people from the wreck so a very controversial figure in that respect." (Ian Murphy, Merseyside Maritime Museum)

Charles Lightoller

But a figure universally celebrated is 2nd officer Charles Lightoller from Chorley. A man credited with saving many hundreds of lives that night:

"Lightoller was instrumental in dispatching a lot of the lifeboats from the ship as Titanic was sinking - he was very strict on the rule of women and children first - to the point that he did actually remove some of the men at gunpoint. I think if Charles hadn't led like he did a lot more people would have been killed when Titanic sank."

(Stuart Clewlow, Local Historian)

Captain Arthur Rostron

But the man seen as arguably the biggest hero that night wasn't even on board Titanic. Captain Arthur Rostron was the Captain of the steamship Carpathia who came to their rescue. Born in Astley Bridge in 1869, he went to Bolton School before starting his seafaring career at the age of 13. Because of him - more than 700 survivors were rescued that night.

Anne Edwards from Newton-le-Willows has followed Rostron’s story avidly. Her grandfather was in the same school as Rostron and she herself also went to Bolton school. She is now launching a campaign to raise his profile.

"I'm very proud to say I've walked in the footsteps of such a great man who was born in my home town of Bolton and was at school with my grandfather. It was extremely brave (what he did that night) because there were other ships in the area which had had to stop for the night because the ice was so densely packed but he decided that he would go and he would answer that SOS. It was very brave what they did...very brave. The Carpathia had to traverse an ice field which was 6 to 12 feet of ice from the water line interspersed with that were icebergs soaring 200 feet about 2 dozen of them, but they went through this without the assistance of radar through the night and it took the Carpathia four hours to reach the survivors from the Titanic who were in the lifeboats." (Anne Edwards, Grandfather went to school with Rostron)

Rostron was highly decorated for his bravery. His family have nothing but pride for what he did but say he remained an unassuming hero:

"I was aware but not until I came older did I realise it was certainly heroic. He would be thinking of the people he could not save - so all this is a celebration but its also a memorial and a gigantic lesson." (John Rostron, Rostron’s grandson)

His former school, Bolton School, have a display dedicated to their famous old boy. They are keen to keep his name alive for the generations to come:

"The Captain Rostron story has been to a degree pushed to one side and we in Bolton and esp Bolton school want to make sure we get his achievements brought to public notice and raise his profile. We want the world to know what Captain Rostron did - what this old Bolton school boy did and not be forgotten." (Eric Fairweather, Bolton school archivist).

At one of the many inquiries into the Titanic disaster, one inspector concluded that ‘there were no villains in this story; only human beings with human characteristics.’

J. Bruce Ismay, boss of the White Star Line Credit: National Museums Liverpool
Captain Edward Smith, who went down with Titanic Credit: Gaumont
Second Officer Charles Lightoller, who save hundreds of lives
Captain Arthur Rostron, captain of rescue ship Carpathia Credit: Bolton School

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