The boat in which Mrs J.J. Brown was saved contained only three men in all and only one rowed. He was a half-frozen seaman who was tumbled into the boat at the last minute. The women wrapped him in blankets and set him at an oar to get his blood started. The second man was too old to be of any use. The third was a coward (later to be identified as Quartermaster Hichens).
Strange to say there was room in this boat for ten other people. And they would have received the welcome of their lives if they had been there and could have helped the women to row. The coward, being a quartermaster and the assigned head of the boat sat in the stern and steered. He was terrified and the women had to fight against his pessimism while they tugged at the oars.
The women sat at each oar. One held the oar in place while the other did the pulling. Mrs Brown coached them and cheered them on. She told them that the exercise would keep the chill out of their veins and she spoke hopefully of the likelihood that some vessel would answer the wireless calls. Over the frightful danger of the situation, the spirit of this woman soared.
And the coward sat in his stern seat, terrified, his tongue loosened with fright. He assured them there was no chance in the world. He had 14 years’ experience and he knew. First, they would have to row one and a half miles at least to get out of the sphere of the suction, if they didn’t want to go down. They would be lost and nobody would ever find them.
“Oh, we shall be picked up sooner or later,” said some of the braver ones. No, said the man, there was no bread in the boat, no water; they would starve, all that big boatload wandering the high seas with nothing to eat, perhaps for days. (Ironically every lifeboat had tins of biscuits and water on board, it was just that no one knew they were there!).
“Don’t,” cried Mrs Brown. “Keep that to yourself if you feel that way. For the sake of these women and children, be a man. We have a smooth sea and a fighting chance. Be a MAN.”
But the coward only knew that there was no compass and no chart aboard. They sighted what they thought was a fishing boat (smack) on the horizon, the light showing dimly in the early dawn. The man at the rudder steered towards it and the women took up their oars again. They covered several miles before the lights of the vessel faded into the distance. With this, the coward remarked that everything was over.
They rowed back nine weary miles. Then the coward thought they must stop rowing and lie in the trough of the waves until the Carpathia arrived. The women tried it for a little while before everyone began to feel the cold creeping into their bodies. Though they were exhausted from the hard physical labor they thought keeping active was better than freezing.
“Row again!” commanded Mrs Brown.
“No, no, don’t,” said the coward.
“We shall freeze,” cried several of the women in unison.
“We must row. We have rowed all this time. We must keep on going or freeze.”
When the coward still resisted, they told him plainly, once and for all, that if he persisted in wanting to stop them rowing, they were going to throw him overboard and be done with him for good. Something about the look in the eye of the Mississippi-bred oarswoman, who seemed such a force among her fellow passengers, told him that he better keep his mouth closed or else. And he did.
Later, when the rescue ship arrived, the coward insisted the Carpathia was only there to pick up the dead bodies and not to rescue them. At this stage, Molly Brown was close to wringing his neck! It was Molly Brown’s level-headedness in such a stressful situation that earnt her praise and hero status in the Titanic drama. She was later acknowledged through books, movies and even a musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
* It was newspapers which began referring to “Margaret” Brown, as Molly, long after the Titanic incident.
Mrs Lucien Smith
Mrs Smith’s whose husband perished was another heroine. It is related by survivors that she took turns at the oars and the, when the boat was in danger of sinking, stood ready to plug a hole with her finger if the cork stopper came loose.