British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 2

TESTIMONY OF JOHN FREEMAN

Examined by the SOLICITOR-GENERAL.

1183. You. I think were on this voyage as a second class passenger?
- Yes, I was with my wife.

1184. You heard the explosion I think?
- Yes.

1185. Where were you when heard it?
- We were sitting on the promenade deck looking at the coast of Ireland and t here was this explosion. It seemed to me to be in front near the first funnel and I said to my wife, "that is a mine" - thinking we were running on to a mine, I did not think that we should be torpedoed without any warning. We stood looking, and immediately there was a second explosion, and that was followed by hot water and steam, and it seemed to me that there were cinders as well. The second explosion took place near to the first one, and that caused a little confusion and alarm, and we stepped into the lounge to get out of the way of the steam and hot water. The second lunch was on, and the passengers came rushing up from the dining saloon, and they had only just started lowering the boats.

1186. There was a little confusion but no panic?
- No real panic. There was a little screaming amongst them.

1187. I think your wife suffers very much from the cold, and you thought it was useless to get a lifebelt for her?
- Yes, our berth was in the lowest deck.

1188. Your wife suffered from cold, and so you did not attempt to get a lifebelt for her, but took her to the promenade deck - is that right?
- Yes.

1189. And you had arranged, I think, beforehand for that?
- I had already said that in the event of any disaster we would make for it.

1190. What did you find out when you got to the promenade deck?
- As soon as we crossed the gangway the people went up towards the port side almost every one of them, and I said to my wife "We will go the other way," and we lost our foothold immediately going down from the gangway of the vessel, and we slid down the side of the vessel.

1191. I think that was within about three minutes of the explosion?
- Yes.

1192. What did you see?
- I saw about half-way down the first class promenade deck some sailors preparing to lower the boat. I thought they seemed to know their business and I noticed, that they were regular seamen, at least so it seemed to me from their jerseys. We got our feet again but the list was so great that we fell down again although we were only walking on the promenade deck, but I held on to the railing and supported my wife and got her into the boat.

1193. Then having got her into the boat immediate anxiety for her was ended, and you went and looked for a lifebelt for yourself?
- Yes, there was no great crowd getting into the boat at that time. I thought she would be all right so I got a life jacket for myself.

1194. I think you have heard the allegation that has been made by some person - I do not recall who at the moment - that some of the port-holes were open?
- Yes. When I had got my life jacket I thought I would like to see how the passengers were getting on and I went back to the second class portion of the vessel and found that there was no panic whatever, people were just standing there, and I saw a young man and woman with no life jackets.

1195. That was on deck "E," was it not?
- Yes.

1196. I want you to tell us what you saw when you went to deck "E"?
- When I went to deck "E" it was in darkness owing to the electric light being out, apart from a little light which came in from the port-holes on the port side of the vessel. The starboard side was entirely in darkness. I did not realise at the time that the vessel was under water, but these port-holes normally are just above the water-line.

1197. Were they shut or open?
- They must have been shut because there was no water to be seen running in anywhere.

1198. You saw no port-holes open?
- None, whatever.

1199. Then you went back on deck and looked to see if your wife's lifeboat was being got on with all right?
- Yes; I got some life jackets and gave them to one or two people and then I went to see how my wife's lifeboat was getting on.

1200. She was saved, I think?
- She was.

1201. And then I think you returned to the stern of the vessel and you saw that she was sinking very rapidly?
- Yes.

1202. What did you do then?
- Well, I jumped overboard just before she went under.

1203. From the starboard side?
- Yes.

1204. I think you were only just in time?
- Yes.

1205. And then you saw a collapsible boat floating near and you swam to it?
- I saw two collapsible boats caught together one on the top of the other.

1206. And you swam to it and obtained some help?
- Yes.

1207. And then you pulled about some dozen people from the wreckage on to one or other of the boats?
- Yes.

1208. How long was it before you were picked up?
- About three hours. We got the collapsible boats free.

1209. I think the witness Quinn was on this collapsible boat, was he not?
- Yes, steward Quinn.

1210. I think it was between 8 and 9 o'clock at night when you got to Queenstown - is that right?
- Yes.

1211. Now you saw the whole of this occurrence or nearly all of it. Are there any other observations or complaints or criticisms of any kind that you want to make?
- Well, I saw a lifeboat on the starboard side lowered a little way and then it got jammed apparently at one end where some men had lost control of the boat and the people were being shot out into the sea and was suspended in the air.

1212. I suppose the whole thing was done under great pressure?
- Undoubtedly.

Examined by Mr. JOSEPH COTTER.

1213. Did you see any of the crew after the vessel was struck by the torpedo?
- I saw two of the sailors starting to get ready to lower the boat into which I put my wife. Those are the only ones I saw while I was on that side.

1214. Did you not see any stewards or stewardesses on the way going up from E deck to the boat deck?
- No, I did not.

1215. Did you not see anybody when you crossed the gangway, as you call it, the second cabin portion of the boat deck to the promenade deck - the first class - did you see any of the crew there?
- No.

1216. Did you go to the port side at all?
- We were at the port side when the explosion occurred. I returned to the port side when I went back to the second class portion of the vessel, after seeing my wife safely into the boat.

1217. Was it the starboard side boat, or the port side boat that your wife got into?
- The starboard side.

1218. Then you went to the port side?
- Yes.

1219. What was the condition of the boats then when you got on to the port side?
- I did not notice, but I noticed that none were being lowered or could be lowered, the people were just standing there, crowded up on the deck.

1220. Did you notice the condition of the boats at all?
- I cannot say I noticed the condition of the boats at all, because I went below to get three life jackets immediately.

1221. And when you went down a second time did you see any stewards or stewardesses?
- No, there was nobody on the deck then - there was nobody down below at all only on the decks.

1222. And you never saw any of the stewards or stewardesses on your journey twice down the companion?
- Almost by the time I got my wife safely in the boat everybody had left the decks. This was only a few minutes before the vessel went under, and I was the last man down below and that is why I referred to the port holes being shut.

1223. And your contention is that practically the whole of the 600 second class passengers had come up on deck?
- Every one except any who had fainted in the drawing-room or saloon.

1224. Did you have any difficulty in finding your lifebelt?
- I got my lifebelt out of a first class cabin myself, but I had to go into several cabins down below on E deck before I found them because it was dark.

1225. You got your lifebelt out of a first class room?
- I did.

1226. How did you get down there; did you go down the first class companion way?
- I got into one of the deck cabins of the first class. I got my lifebelt just after seeing my wife into the boat.

1227. You did not get into the boat yourself?
- No.

1228. You jumped over the side of the ship?
- Yes.

1229. Did you hear any orders being given on the deck when you were there?
- No, I did not.

1230. Did you see any boat lowered?
- No, I did not see one actually lowered, not one, but I saw one on the water just after it had been lowered.

1231. Can you tell us approximately how many boats there were, when you were on the starboard side putting your wife into the boat, still swinging in the davits?
- I took my wife to what I thought was the first boat into which people were getting. This was about half-way down the promenade deck; doubtless there were others being lowered at the same time, but this was the first one along that deck that was being filled.

1232. Which deck are you speaking of?
- The first class promenade deck.

1233. You did not go on to the boat deck?
- I mean the boat deck. I thought that big promenade deck was the boat deck.

1234. The boat deck is the top deck of all where the boats were swung out?
- That is right. I went on to the promenade deck afterwards to see if I could see my wife in the water because there were a lot of people in the water on that side.

Examined by Mr. CLEM EDWARDS.

1235. After the ship was struck then you noticed a list did you not?
- Yes.

1236. That list was over to the side of where the ship had been struck?
- Yes.

1237. Did you notice in which direction she was settling in relation to her head?
- I noticed that her bows were going under.

1238. They were going under rapidly were they not?
- Yes.

1239. Now at any time between the moment that you noticed she was settling down and the time that she disappeared was it a slow gradual process or were there any jumps in the movement?
- A slow gradual process.

1240. All the time?
- Yes.

1241. And more or less by the head?
- Yes.

1242. More to starboard?
- Yes.

(The witness withdrew.)