Well-mannered Britons took big Titanic toll, research shows

January 28th, 2009 - 6:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Jan 28 (DPA) Politeness might help explain why Britons were 10 percent more likely to be among the 1,517 who went down with the Titanic than those aboard who held United States passports, an Australian researcher said Wednesday.”We think that maybe the British engaged in this queuing behaviour, where they stood back and waited their turn (to get into the lifeboats),” said Queensland University of Technology researcher David Savage. “American society is based on individualistic ideas and we think they were maybe better able to take advantage of the opportunities that came up.”

The Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in 1912 and there were only 1,178 lifeboat places for the 2,223 on board.

Savage, who co-authored the study with Zurich University economist Bruno Frey, found all aboard stood by the ancient maritime rule of “women and children first” and that the crew behaved impeccably.

Women had a 50 percent better chance of survival and a woman with a child having a 70 percent better chance.

“There was no class distinction with females,” Savage told national broadcaster ABC.

“The people loading the boats didn’t care if you were wearing diamonds or rags - if you were a woman or a child.”

But social class did figure in mortality rates, with those in first class having a 42 percent improved chance of staying alive than those in third class.

“It’s about social power,” Savage said. “When they gave a command they expected it to be obeyed. They had an attitude of whatever they wanted they got.”

Savage was at pains to defend US citizens from the charge that they pushed past the more diffident Englishmen to get to the lifeboats.

“What’s acceptable in one society is not necessarily acceptable in another,” he said. “The Americans could say, ‘Hey! It’s stupid to line up. Why would you do that?’.”

Savage said his next study with Frey is of survival rates on the Lusitania, which went down in 18 minutes in 1915. Again, he’ll be looking at gender, nationality, class and age and how these factors played out.

“We’re expecting a vast change in the social groups because you just don’t have time to form your social group,” the behavioural economist said. “So it will be more of the survival-of-the-fittest scenario.”

RMS Lusitania was a luxury ship which was torpedoed by German u-boats in 1915 during the First World War off Ireland, killing 1,198 of the 1,958 people aboard. The sinking of the civil vessel was a major factor behind turning the global public opinion against Germany and the US joining the war in 1917.

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