Herbert John Pitman (November 20th, 1877 - December 7th, 1961) was the Third Officer of the Titanic. He was sent away by First Officer Murdoch to take charge of one of the first lifeboats, so his role in the disaster was minimal.
Herbert (also known as "Bert") Pitman was born November 20th, 1877 in the village Sutton Montis, Somerset. He was the son of a farmer, Henry Pitman, and his wife Sarah.
His father died soon after he was born, and, on the 1881 census, 3 year old Bert was living with his widowed mother and his younger sister Ida on Sutton Road in the village of Sutton Montis. He also had an elder brother, William and an elder sister who eventually married and became Mrs. W. Taylor.
Later, he moved to the Somerset town of Castle Cary. In 1895, at the age of 18, Bert joined the Merchant Navy. On shore, he received nautical training in the navigation department of the Merchant Venturers' Technical College. In May 1900, he passed his second mate's examination and in June of 1902, he passed his examination for first mate. In August 1906, he qualified as a master mariner.
He served a four year apprenticeship with James Nourse Ltd. Following that, he spent five years as a deck officer. In 1904, he served one year as a deck officer with the Blue Anchor Line, serving on ships making voyages between England and Australia. Following that year, he moved to Shire Line, to serve for six months as a deck officer on a route from England to Japan.
He was nearing the end of a holiday home in Castle Cary when he was sent a telegram from the White Star marine superintendent. The telegram ordered him to report to the company's Liverpool office at 9 am on 26 March to collect a ticket for Belfast, where he would join the Titanic and report to the then Chief Officer William Murdoch.
He was with the ship on April 2nd, 1912 for her sea trials in Belfast Lough. At 8 pm on April 2nd, the trials were completed and Titanic sailed for Southampton.
On April 10nd, 1912; Officer Pitman was with Officer Murdoch at their station on the docking bridge, located at the stern of the ship. He was later able to recall the breaking of the hawsers holding the SS New York as a result of the backwash of Titanic's starboard propeller. This incident caused a half hour delay in departure, but they were able to proceed to Cherbourg, France, with no trouble.
On board Titanic, Pitman's duties consisted of working out the ship's position through celestial observation, finding the deviation of the ship's compass, general supervision around the decks, and looking after the quartermasters in the wheelhouse, using a compass to make sure that the ship didn't deviate from its set course.
At the time of the collision, Pitman was in his bunk. The noise woke him - "I thought it seemed like the ship coming to anchor", "the chain running over the windlass." After walking just outside his door and finding nothing, he returned and lit a pipe. Since it was near his watch, he began dressing. Then Fourth Officer Boxhall, who had been sent by Captain Smith to find Pitman, looked in his cabin and told him there was water in the mail room. Pitman asked what had happened. "We struck an iceberg," was Boxhall's terse reply. Presumably Pitman then went to the bridge to receive orders. He would later testify at the US Inquiry that after the impact with the iceberg, the Titanic reversed her engines which brought the ship to a full standstill - by this time, past the point of collision.
Pitman was ordered to report to his boat station on the starboard side of the ship immediately. He rushed to the after end of the ship where he met Sixth Officer Moody, who told him there was ice on the forward well deck. As Pitman was returning from the well deck, he saw a group of firemen coming up with their bags of clothes. "I said, 'What's the matter?" and they said, 'The water is coming in our place!'" Then he looked down No. 1 hatch and saw water flowing over it. He immediately went to the boat deck and assisted in uncovering the lifeboats.
On arriving at his boat station Pitman proceeded to load lifeboat 5, he was assisting Murdoch. When lowering the boat to the level of the deck he noticed how much of an improvement the new davits were over older models.
- "I lowered No.5 boat to the level with the rail of the Boat Deck. A man in dressing gown said that we had better get her loaded with women and children. I said: 'I wait the commander's orders' to which he replied: 'Very well' or something like that. It then dawned on me that it might be Mr Ismay, judging by the description I had had given me."
Pitman had not had instructions to lower the boat. Like Second Officer Lightoller, he went to the Captain to get the order.
- "I went to the bridge and saw Captain Smith and told him that I thought it was Mr Ismay that wanted me to get the boat away with women and children in it and he said 'Go ahead; carry on.' I came along and brought in my boat. I stood in it and said: 'Come along, ladies.' There was a big crowd. Mr Ismay helped get them along. We got the boat nearly full and I shouted out for any more ladies. None were to be seen so I allowed a few men to get into it. Then I jumped on the ship again. Mr Murdoch said: 'You go in charge of this boat and hang around the after gangway.'"
Murdoch shook hands with Pitman saying "Good-bye; good luck," Pitman then said "Lower away" and Bruce Ismay took up the call swinging his arms and shouting "lower away, lower away." Fifth Officer Lowe, who was supervising the lowering, told him to "If you'll get the hell out of the way... You want me to lower away quickly,? You'll have me drown the whole lot of them." a chastened Ismay said nothing and moved away.
After a struggle to fit the lifeboat's plug they rowed in search of the gangway Murdoch had told them to wait by. Finding the doors shut Pitman ordered the lifeboat pull away from the ship. It was only an hour later and some distance away that Pitman realized the Titanic was sinking. "I thought she still had about three of the compartments and still would remain afloat."
A count of his boat showed there were two firemen, two stewards, one sailor and Pitman himself for crew members; the rest were passengers, including an estimated four gentlemen, according to Henry Samuel Etches, one of the stewards in the boat. It was found that the lifeboat had biscuits and water but no light (After reaching the Carpathia, Pitman made a check of all the lifeboats and found there was bread and water in all of them.) In his boat, the women "...all behaved admirably." He also reported that the Titanic did not break in two when it sank.
- "The ship turned right on end and went down perpendicularly. She did not break in two. I heard a lot of people say that they heard boiler explosions, but I have my doubts about that. I do not see why the boilers would burst, because there was no steam there. They should have been stopped about two hours and a half. The fires had not been fed so there was very little steam there. From the distance I was from the ship, if it had occurred, I think I would have known it."
He did however describe hearing four load bangs, like gunshots, emanate from the rapidly sinking ship.
Pitman said he saw no one in the water from the time he left the Titanic until he reached the Carpathia, although he did hear "Crying, shouting, moaning."
- "As soon as the ship disappeared I said: 'Now, men, we will pull toward the wreck.' Everyone in my boat said it was a mad idea because we had far better save what few I had in my boat than go back to the scene of the wreck and be swamped by the crowds that were there. My boat would have accommodated a few more - about sixty in all. I turned No. 5 boat around to go in the direction from which these cries came but was dissuaded from my purpose by the passengers."
Shortly after this, they made fast to Lifeboat 7 and transferred a woman, child and two men into the other boat. Then lifeboat 7 detached from lifeboat 5.
- "My idea of lashing Nos. 5 and 7 together was to keep together so that if anything hove in sight before daylight we could steady ourselves and cause a far bigger show than one boat only. I transferred two men and a woman and a child from my boat to No. 7 to even them up a bit."
About 3:30 they saw the lights of the Carpathia and, after ascertaining it was a steamer, rowed toward it - approximately 5 miles. Once there, Pitman helped discharge the boats of passengers onto the Carpathia.
After the sinking
In the aftermath of the sinking, Pitman noticed his eyes were deteriorating quickly and accepted a job as purser.
Pitman passed away on December 7th, 1961, aged 84, as a result of a subarachnoid hemorrhage. He was interred in the Parish Churchyard of Pitcombe, Somerset.
Pitman is the least important officer to be portrayed in popular culture, because he left the ship in one of the very first lifeboats.
He also appears in the 2012 Miniseries Titanic played by another extra. In Episode 2, he gets mentioned. In Episode 3, Second Officer Lightoller is checking the provisions when a discussion between fireman Sandrini and Fifth Officer Lowe distracts him. He asks Pitman to take over.
In the musical Titanic: The Musical, he has a larger part, with at least ten sung lines.