An Analysis of the Bodies Recovered from the Titanic

 © Bill Wormstedt   1999,2000, 2011    (last updated 6/7/2011)

Crewmen of the Minia recover one of the bodies 3 weeks after the Titanic disaster
(Public Archives of Nova Scotia)

Can an analysis of the bodies recovered after the Titanic disaster tell us anything in terms of whether various groups of  people were trapped below decks during the sinking?

In the following, my source for passenger and crew counts was provided by Lester Mitcham, as included in the upcoming book "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic - A Centennial Reappraisal",  and the list of recovered bodies from Halifax, NS.  Lester's data appears to be the most up to date and correct information.  Other lists are available, such as the US Senate list provided in the final reports of the 1912 US Inquiry.  However, I doubt the use of other lists would substantially alter the results below.

For the Halifax list, I classified the bodies as the list did.  If they guessed a body was an engineer’s, that’s how I counted it.  In the cases of bodies being listed as “1st or 2nd”, I counted it as the higher of the two.

Data includes all bodies picked up or accounted for after the Titanic disaster:

First, the table of lost and saved, as developed by Lester:

Listing of Passengers and Crew

Data provided by Lester Mitchan 2011

On board Saved Lost Per
Men Total Women
Men Total Women
Men Total
148 176 324 143 58 201 5 118 123 62%
2nd 117 167 284 105 13 118 12 154 166 42%
3rd 257 452 709 121 60 181 136 392 528 26%
Total 522 795 1317 369 131 500 153 664 817
Crew 23 868 891 20 192 212 3 676 679 24%

Total 545 1663 2208 389 323 712 156 1340 1496 32%

As shown above, the crew total actually is 891, passengers is 1317, and total passengers & crew is 2208. 

The following table combines men and women, but also breaks the crew into various more detailed groupings.  The totals of the groupings agree back to the above table.  

Total Rescued Perished Bodies 

% Bodies 
found of 

 Deck Dept. (not including Officers)
58 39 19 11 86% 58% 67%
 Officers 8 4 4 0 50% 0% 50%
 Victualing Dept. (not including Ala Carte or Postal) 426 94 332 92 44% 28% 22%
 Ala Carte 69 3 66 11 20% 17% 4%
 Postal 5 0 5 2 40% 40% 0%
 Engine Dept. (not including Engineers) 280 70 210 53 44% 25% 25%
 Engineers 45 2
43 5 16% 12% 4%
324 201 123 39 74% 32% 62%
 2nd (not including Band) 276 118 158 32 54% 20% 43%
 Band 8 0 8 3 38% 38% 0%
 3rd 709 181 528 75 36% 14% 26%
Unknown bodies (bodies unable 
   to be identified)


Total 2208 712 1496 337 48% 23% 32%


Summary of the groups

Average recovery rate - total percentage of bodies recovered to perished 337/1496 = 23%

Deck - 58% (of the perished)  the Deck Department has a very high body recovery rate - we would expect many of these people to have been on deck, loading lifeboats.  Keep in mind that 6 seamen of the 19 seamen who died were sent to open gangway doors by Lightoller, and probably were trapped below decks. 

Postal - 40%   probably flooded out of their area early on, several were reportedly seen on deck before the end.

Band - 38%   on deck to the end, no evidence they went below.

1st Class - 32%   again a 'decent' recovery rate, supported by their easy access to the Boat Deck.

Victualing - 28%

Engine - 25%

2nd Class - 20%

Ala Carte - 17%    could this be an indication that some were being kept below decks, as reports may indicate?

3rd Class - 14%   why isn't this higher - unless many WERE trapped or stayed below decks or had no lifejackets?  Steward Hart at the British Inquiry reported seeing a number of 3rd Class passengers who could not be persuaded to leave their cabins and come up on deck, when he returned below on a second trip to bring up passengers.

Engineers - 12%    appears many either did not make it on deck, or were not wearing lifejackets, due to working inside until the end.

Officers - 0%   low number of members could skew the results, (one body recovered would have given a recovery rate of 25%), and possibility of 'other circumstances' - went down with ship voluntarily, no lifejacket on, suicide?


The results pretty much agree with what can be deduced from other sources. The people we are reasonably sure were on deck at the end, or had easier access to the upper decks at the end, do have the highest body recovery rates.

The Band, who at last reports were on deck, with no reason to go below, have one of the higher recovery rates.  The Deck Department (who you would expect to be primarily responsible for loading lifeboats on deck) also have a high recovery rate.

It has been suggested that the Postal workers died inside the ship in the early stages of sinking.  In addition to little evidence to support this, the Postal workers also have a high recovery rate.  If they had been trapped below in the bow, which did not break open during the sinking, I do not see how their bodies could have been recovered at all.

Regarding the Band and Postal workers and Ship’s Officers - because of the low numbers of people involved, the numbers can be tricky.  If one more postal worker was found, or not found, the percentage would go up to 60% (very high) or 20% (average).

The Engineers - there are varying reports as to whether they were still below, or came on deck at the end.  (Lightoller, in his 1935 biography, mentions seeing them just before the end - but his 1912 British Inquiry testimony specifically states he did not see them - Question 14567)  Their recovery numbers, almost the lowest, could be explained by:  either most were still below decks, or they were not wearing life-jackets (I seriously doubt they would have worn life-jackets below decks, and would have only put them on in the last moments, if they bothered to at all).

The Ala Carte Restaurant personnel - the numbers, a bit lower than average, could indicate many were not on deck at the end.  Or - kept below decks intentionally?  There are a few books that say that the Resaurant personnel may have been intentionally locked in their cabins.  Kitchen Clerk Paul Mauge, one of 3 members of the ala Carte Restaurant who survived, claimed that most of the other members were kept down by stewards blocking the entrances to 2nd Class (British Inquiry - Questions 20125 to 20133). 

The only way I can see to increase the accuracy of this, is if we had specific information regarding the condition of the individual bodies.  For example, did the recovered engineer bodies show any physical damage?   If so, that could indicate they were below, and were defaced in the breakup of the ship.  What about the 3rd class?

It does appear that most bodies were undamaged.  In a statement published in the Halifax Morning Chronicle for May 2nd, 1912, the Mackay-Bennett's ship's surgeon Dr. Thomas Armstrong, related "With the exception of about 10 bodies that had received serious injuries, their looks were calm and peaceful", (related in Ruffman's Titanic Remembered - The Unsinkable Ship and Halifax).  It is unknown as to which of the recovered bodies were of the 10 mentioned, though in Sinking of the Titanic by Jay Henry Mowbray, it is mentioned that the body of Edward Keating (actually Edward Keeping, #45) was damaged by being struck by wreckage, and the face beyond recognition.

Another issue – could whether a victim was on deck at the forward end of the ship make a difference from being at the stern?  Two survivors from the forward end of the Boat Deck (Lightoller and Gracie) report being pulled down by suction – however, suction appears to have been relatively absent at the stern (Baker Joughin being the best case for this).  This is a hard subject to address, as most victims of suction would not have lived to tell their experiences.

Without more data being available, there is no way to guarantee anything – however, the numbers do appear to indicate certain classes of the victims of the disaster either went down inside the ship (forcibly kept below?), or did not have access to, or use lifejackets.

Comments?  Please e-mail me by clicking here.

More information regarding the body recoveries, and the burials in Halfax, may be found in Alan Ruffman's excellent book Titanic Remembered - The Unsinkable Ship and Halifax, and also the web-site for the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic at

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