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Charles Haas on: The Transfer of Passengers
Charles Haas Q: Tell me about this transfer.

CH: In 1909, passenger life boat drills were not required by law. So as a result of that, when the evacuation of the "Republic" begins, there's a tremendous amount of disorder and confusion. You didn't have a particular life boat assignment, you simply went up on deck and you followed instructions. At one point, Captain Sealby, through his megaphone calls down to the assembled passengers and he says, we think the ship is going to be all right. But as a matter of precaution we're going to evacuate you off to the "Florida." And then he makes a rather classic statement. He says, remember it is women and children first, then the first cabin passengers, and then all the others. So you actually have class distinction being followed very rigidly on the "Republic" and the third-class passengers were the last ones to leave before the crew. Once the evacuation begins, what they basically do is use the "Republic's" pilot ladder and accommodation ladder which, in happier times, would have been used to take people ashore. Instead they are aimed down into the lifeboats and the lifeboats are basically filled with only 15 or 20 people a piece because they don't want to overburden the boats with the extra weight of full capacity. And what now begins is a whole series of ferryings from the "Republic" to the "Florida" which has luckily come back into view immediately after the collision. The "Florida" backs out of the hole that she has created and disappears in the fog and Captain Sealby immediately pulls the learned of the whistle on the "Republic" and issues a very very long blast while there's still steam to do it. And the "Florida" creeps back into the picture and that's, of course, the way that the life boats are able to find the "Florida." So literally back and forth these little lifeboats go and remember, it's in the middle of the night. There are no lights on the "Republic" so the only lights that are available are the ones that the "Florida" is putting out onto water--search lights and things. And it was a very difficult task. Lowering the lifeboat is fairly difficult. The davit equipment in those days wasn't especially good. And let's face it, now you're at night, your passengers have not been prepared to do this in any way and you also have a very very heavy sea to deal with as well. So there are a lot of factors there that really made the evacuation very difficult. And yet when you look at the "Republic's" passengers, they have no sense of panic even now. We actually have a report of some people sitting on deck playing card games waiting for their turn to go into the boats. So it seems to be very nonchalant. Stewards went down and fetched some more clothing and it was rather remarkable because the clothing that they were fetching was being put on in the middle of the night with no lights on board and when light came up men discovered that they were wearing ladies' corsets and shawls and so forth. It was a wonderful case of mixed gender dressing that evening.

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