© 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:
Total 337 bodies accounted for
First, the table of lost and saved, as developed by Lester:
Listing of Passengers and Crew
Data provided by Lester Mitchan 2011
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.
Deck Dept. (not including Officers)
|Victualing Dept. (not including Ala Carte or Postal)||426||94||332||92||44%||28%||22%|
|Engine Dept. (not including Engineers)||280||70||210||53||44%||25%||25%|
|2nd (not including Band)||276||118||158||32||54%||20%||43%|
to be identified)
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%
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
Comments? Please e-mail me by
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 https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/
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