TIP | Limitation of Liability Hearings

Limitation of Liability Hearings


With the release of James Cameron's film "Titanic" many families and museums came forth publicly with their collections and information pertaining to the disaster. Prior to that time such things had to be sought out by researchers and historians. In the 1970's and 1980's the discovery of another living survivor or cross-channel passenger, or a museum with a Titanic collection, elicited great excitement in the Titanic community.

One of the most notable discoveries was in the mid-eighties when it was found that the New York branch of the National Archives had a large collection of material pertaining to the lawsuit against the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, the parent company of the White Star Line. Correspondence, depositions, claims, printed material and even photographs were housed in Bayonne, New Jersey.

Soon after learning of this material, historian George Behe and I made the journey to Bayonne to see this collection for ourselves. We were amazed to see how casually the staff there treated such documents. Bags and briefcases were not checked, we were allowed to handle the most fragile of items without the standard cotton gloves used by most museums, and it took two days for the employees to ask us not to use pens near the documents. Our suggestion that a microfilm be made of the collection so that the many researchers to come would view it in that manner rather than constantly handle this delicate material fell on deaf ears.

Our desire to see it protected stemmed from our excitement at what a find this was. The claims for the loss of personal items was a glimpse into the personal lives of the people whom we had studied over the years. A diagram of the first class dining saloon initialed by Bruce Ismay confirmed that the large center table was not that of the captain. There were lists of the contents of each recovered lifeboat, lists of what each passenger paid for his or her passage, and a diagram showing what type of cargo was stored in which hold of the ship.

Perhaps the most significant part of the collection was the handful of depositions pertaining to the legal proceedings. The actual witness testimony has not yet been located, but these depositions, taken separately, were invaluable. The normally flamboyant Emily Ryerson seems so subdued in describing her voyage spent in mourning, yet gives a wonderful description of many haunting details, as well as her important encounter with J. Bruce Ismay when he described the Baltic's ice warning. Elizabeth Lines has perhaps the only known testimony where someone heard Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay, the latter more than the former, together discuss the speed of the ship. Unlike Mrs. Ryerson or George Rheims, Mrs. Lines lost no one in the sinking and had less reason to fabricate such a story, something her family today is assured she would not do. Repeatedly she quotes Bruce Ismay as saying, "We will beat the Olympic and get into New York on Tuesday."

I am so pleased that these transcripts are available on the Titanic Inquiry site. When George and I had the idea of them being microfilmed, it was the technology of twenty years ago. But the intent was the same - that they be made available for many people to access them without having to journey to the East Coast of the United States and repeatedly handle the original documents. Hopefully one day we will see the actual testimony of the witnesses here as well.

Don Lynch


TIP NOTE: We are currently working on obtaining and transcribing additional Limitation of Liability materials. However, as the materials are held in the National Archive's New York office this task is going to take time to complete. As time and funding permits we will add to this section of the site. If you yourself have any of these materials not presented here and would like to share them for placement on the site, please contact us.