Joseph Bruce Ismay, known as “”Bruce” was born on 12 December 1862 at Enfield House, Waterloo, Lancashire. He was the son of Thomas Henry and Margaret Ismay (nee Bruce). As you may notice, Bruce got his middle name from his mother’s maiden surname. The following is his Birth entry in the Index of Birth, Marriage and Deaths.
Name: Joseph Bruce Ismay
Year of Registration: 1862
Quarter of Registration: Oct-Nov-Dec
District: West Derby
Bruce was the eldest of Thomas and Margaret’s children. His siblings were Ethel, Dora, Ada, Charlotte and Charles. Bruce Ismay was christened on 7 January 1863 aged just under 4 weeks old.
Bruce’s father was the senior partner in Ismay, Imrie and Company, and the founder of the White Star Line.
In 1881, the family were living in Great Crosby, Lancashire. The following is their entry in the 1881 United Kingdom Census:
13 Beach Lawn
The questions asked in the censuse were:
Thomas Hy Ismay, Head, Married, 44, Justice of the Peace, Shipowner, Maryport, Cumberland
Margaret Ismay, Wife,Married, 43 ,Northumberland
Joseph Bruce Ismay, Son, Unmarried, 18, Shipowners Apprentice, Lancashire, Gt Crosby
Ethel Sealby Ismay, Daur, Unmarried, 10, Scholar, Waterloo, Lancashire
Ada Ismay, Daur, Unmarried, 9, Scholar, Waterloo, Lancashire
Dora Ismay, Daur, Unmarried, 9, Scholar, Waterloo, Lancashire
Charles B. Ismay, Son, Unmarried, 7, Scholar, Waterloo Lancashire
Charlotte Ismay, Daur, Unmarried, 7,Scholar, Waterloo Lancashire
Also living in the Ismay household were a governess, butler, page, cook, kitchenmaid, two nurses, a lady's maid and two house maids.
Bruce was educated at Elstree School and Harrow. He was then tutored for a year in France. Upon his arrival in England, he was apprenticed at his father’s office for four years, he then toured the world. Finally, he went to New York where he became the company representative there, and eventually rose to the rank of agent.
After the census, in 1881, Bruce travelled to New York onboard the Republic. The following is his entry on the ships manifest:
12 August 1881 Republic
Name: J.B Ismay
While working in New York, Bruce met Julia Florence Schieffelin of New York. They married on 4th December 1888, they had been engaged since April of 1888. Florence was said to be “The Belle of New York,”
The New York Times.
"MARRIED IN EARLY DECEMBER
Wednesday 5 December 1888
A brilliant and fashionable assemblage gathered at noon yesterday in the Church of the Heavenly Rest, on Fifth-avenue, to witness the marriage of Miss Florence Schieffelin, a daughter of George R. Schieffelin and a great favourite in New-York society, and Mr. J. Bruce Ismay, the Agent of the White Star Steamship Line. Mr. Schieffelin and his family are members of Grace Church, but selected the Church of the Heavenly Rest for the ceremony on account of its proximity to their residence on Forty-fifth-street. The Rev. Dr. Huntington of Grace Church, assisted by the Rev. D. Parker Morgan, the Rector of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, was the officiating clergymen. The bride wore a gown of white brocade richly trimmed with old point lace. A veil of old point also fell over her face, confined by a tiara of diamonds. A diamond pendant hanging from a necklace of pearls sparkled at her throat. She carried a large bouquet of lilies of the valley. Preceding her were the two little maids of honour, her sisters, Miss Sadie and Miss Constance Schieffelin, who wore white silk dresses, white hats, and carried baskets of pink roses. The ushers were Messrs. Bond Emerson, T. J. Oakley Rhinelander, Amory Sibley Carhart, Edward Perry, and Fleming Crooks of England. The groom's best man was Mr. Ernest Bliss. At the conclusion of the ceremony a wedding breakfast was given to the young couple and their intimate friends at the residence of the bride's father, 8 East Forty-fifth-street. Among those present were Mr. John Jay, Mrs. Ernest Crosby, Mr. and Mrs. James Beekman, Mr. and Mrs. William Rhinelander, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Rhinelander, Mr. and Mrs. William Schieffelin, The Misses Rhinelander, Miss Fannie Walker, the Misses Webb, Mrs. W. S. Livingston, Miss Eleanor Robinson, Mrs. Eastman Johnson, Miss Johnson, and Miss Marie Van Deuser Reed."
Together Bruce and Julia had five children:
Margaret Bruce Ismay born 1889
Henry Bruce Ismay born 1891
Thomas Bruce Ismay born 1894
Evelyn Constance Ismay born 1897
George Bruce Ismay born 1902
** All the children except Evelyn had the middle name of “Bruce”. This may seem unusual, especially for Margaret, being female. However, during the era in which these children were born, it was very common for children to have a family surname as their middle name. Usually it is the mother’s maiden name, but Bruce’s children got their middle name from their paternal grandmother’s maiden name (Bruce’s mother.)
In 1891, the family returned to England where Bruce became a partner in his father’s firm, Ismay, Imrie and Company.
Tragedy struck on 1 October 1891, when baby Henry died. He was just six months old.
Following the death of his father in 1899, Bruce became the head of the family business. The White Star Line flourished under his leadership. He also became the Director in many additional companies.
In 1901, he was approached by J.P Morgan who wanted to build an international shipping conglomerate. Bruce agreed to merge his firm into the International Mercantile Marine Company.
In 1906, Bruce met with Lord Pirrie of the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding company of Belfast. They planned to build a steamer that would outdo the RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauritania. These ships were the marvels of the White Star Lines main competitor, Cunard Line.
The White Star Line’s new ship would have to outdo the Cunard Liners not only in size, but in luxury too. Three ships were planned. The first of the ships was the RMS Olympic. The second was the pride and joy of the White Star Line, RMS Titanic and the third was originally going to be named RMS Gigantic, but after the Titanic’s sinking, it was named RMS Britannic.
Titanic began her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10 April 1912.
It was not unusual for Bruce to accompany his ships on their maiden voyages; he travelled on Titanic as a first class passenger.
Onboard, he mingled with the other first class passengers. He also spoke with the Captain and Thomas Andrews about how the ship was running.
On the evening of 14 April, Mrs. Catherine Crosby and her daughter Harriette saw Bruce Ismay and Captain Smith having a meal and some wine in the dining saloon.
When Titanic collided with an iceberg, Bruce met with the Captain, Officers, Mr. Andrews and the ship’s carpenter to assess the damage. After it was decided that the ship could not be saved, He helped with the lowering and loading of the lifeboats.
Fifth Officer Harold Lowe pushed Bruce away from the boat he was lowering. Bruce was apparently panicking and shouting at him to lower the boat. The officer shouted back to Bruce “If you will get to hell out of that, I shall be able to do something!”
Bruce was rescued in Collapsible Lifeboat C. The following is his information on entry to Ellis Island:
Name: J Bruce Ismay
Estimated birth year: abt 1862
Marriage Status: Married
Occupation: Ship Owner
Nationality: Great Britain
Place of Origin: Liverpool, England
Port of Departure: Rescued from shipwrecked Titanic
Ship Name: Carpathia
Port of Arrival: New York, New York
Arrival Date: 18 Apr 1912
His survival of the disaster angered those whose loved ones had died on his ship, while he got to his destination safely. Some people called him a coward for getting into a boat. His colleague, Edward J. Schembri, came to his defence after reading all the harmful material printed about Bruce by the media. In fact, Mr. Schembri was so angered by it, that he sailed from England to New York especially to give a statement in the defence of Mr. Ismay and also captain Smith. The following is an excerpt of what he said about Bruce Ismay. The full article is in the Syracuse Herald, Wednesday April 24 page 3.
..”No man knows Mr. Ismay better than I do.” Mr. Schembri said to a Herald reporter. “The stories that have been told about him are damnable lies, I know that. I knew Mr. Ismay’s father for years. He brought his children up in such a way that they could not do the things some of the papers have said his son did.”
“Talk about Mr. Ismay pushing his way into a boat to save himself at the expense of women and children: Why, its nonsense. It’s ridiculous. Foolish, a lie! Mr. Ismay is a brave man. He is tender-hearted and courageous. He would not let a dog drown to save himself. If he saw a dog on a foundering vessel I know him well enough to know that he would save the animal.
“The reason that he was in the boat and was saved is this. When they had put thirty-seven people into the boat and there was room for five more any way, captain Smith from the bridge called, ‘Why don’t you get in he boat?’ There was no other person around on that deck at the time. There was just one other man in the boat and Mr. Ismay got in and rowed that boat right up to the Carpathia.”
Bruce was called to give evidence at the United States Senate Inquiry. You can read his testimony here:
Day one testimony
Day eleven testimony
Day 11 resumed
The following picture is from the Washington Post, 22 April 1912. It is an artists sketch of “The characteristic poses of J. Bruce Ismay”
He sailed to England onboard the Adriatic on 2 May 1912.
Syracuse Herald 3 May 1912 (Page 20)
ISMAY AND OFFICERS OF TITANIC GO TO EUROPE
New York May 3. - In a state of near collapse, J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the International Mercantile Marine, sailed for England yesterday on the White Star liner Adriatic. He made only this brief statement to the newspaper men:
“I am quite satisfied with the way the senatorial investigation was conducted. I am perfectly willing to give every possible bit of information which I posses regarding the Titanic disaster, both here and in England. I expect to be called during the investigation in London.”…
Bruce did give evidence at the British inquiry. You can read his testimony’s by following the links listed below:
He resigned from the White Star Line at the end of 1912
Syracuse Herald 14 December 1912 (page 1)
ISMAY NO LONGER DIRECTOR OF THE WHITE STAR LINE
His Health Is Broken by After Effects of the Titanic Disaster.
SANDERSON IN CONTROL
Fact That He Was Exonerated by the British Court of Inquiry is Small Comfort to the Steamship Head
London, Dec 14 - J Bruce Ismay, his health seriously impaired by the Titanic disaster and its aftermath, has virtually withdrawn from his position as managing director of the White Star Line. Mr. Ismay has not been In Liverpool in several weeks. He is living in seclusion on his Yorkshire property.
Harold A. Sanderson now is in control of the company, though it is not likely that he will ultimately succeed Ismay as managing director.
The fact that Mr. Ismay was exonerated by the British Court of Inquiry on the popular charge that he influenced the navigation of the Titanic or the speed she attained was small comfort to the steamship head. That came three months after he had been criticized all over the world for turning up among the rescued while so many hundreds of men, women and children, who in the final moments could command no influence because of position, were drowned or frozen to death in the water.
Mr. Ismay was just fifty years of age Thursday, but his friends say that since April 14th, the day of the disaster, he has become physically an old man. Time has done nothing to soften the wounds. A formal announcement that Mr. Ismay has completely severed his connection with the White Star Line is expected within a very short time.”…
The formal announcement came on 31st December 1912 and took effect on 30th June 1913.
He resigned as director of International Mercantile Marine in 1916
Syracuse Herald 29 June 1916 page 24
A Liverpool dispatch says J. Bruce Ismay has resigned as director of International Mercantile Marine and as a member of its British committee.
Bruce lived the rest of his life as a recluse. He died on 15 October 1937.
Below is a obituary for him:
J.B Ismay, “Titanic” Survivor Ex- White Star Chairman, Dies at 74
London. Oct. 18 - Joseph Bruce Ismay, 74, British Shipowner and former chairman of the White Star Line, died here yesterday.
Ismay’s widow, the former Julia Florence Schieffelin, was the American born daughter of George R. Schieffelin of New York.
Ismay was one of the survivors of the Titanic disaster in 1912 and was the target of bitter criticism because as head of the line, he had left the vessel safely in one of the lifeboats.
His conduct was investigated by the United States Senate and the British Board of Trade and he was exonerated in both instances, He resigned as chairman and managing director of the White Star Line the following year.
1. Joseph ISMAY b abt 1804 d 11 Jan 1850
+ (1836) Mary SEALBY b 28 Oct 1806 d 16 Jan 1865
2. Thomas Henry ISMAY b 7 Jan 1837 in Mary Port, Cumberland. d 23 November 1899 Dawpool, Cheshire.
+ (7 April 1859) Margaret BRUCE b 1838 Northumberland, England d 9 April 1907 London.
3. Mary ISMAY b 1860 d 1871
3. Joseph Bruce ISMAY b 12 Dec 1862
+ (4 Dec 1888) Julia Florence SCHIEFFELIN b 1871 New York d 31 December 1963 Kensington, Middlesex.
4. Margaret Bruce ISMAY b 29 Dec 1889 New York
+ (March 1912) George Ronald Hamilton CHEAPE b 1881 died 1957
4. Henry Bruce ISMAY b April 1891 New York d 1 October 1891
4. Thomas Bruce ISMAY b 18 Feb 1894 Mossley Hill, Liverpool d 1954 Westminster, Middlesex
+ Jane Margaret SEYMOUR
4. Evelyn COnstance ISMAY b 17 July 1897 Mossley Hill, Liverpool d 1960
+ Basil SANDERSON
4. George Bruce ISMAY b 4 June 1902 Mossley Hill, Liverpool d 1943 Tunisia
+ FLorence Victoria EDRINGTON
3. Henry Sealby ISMAY b 1864
3. James Hainsworth ISMAY b 4 Mar 1867 Waterloo, Lancashire d 1930
+ (10 Nov 1892) Margaret Alice SEYMOUR b 1869 d 1901
4. Winnifred Margaret ISMAY b 1893 Christleton, Cheshire
4. Dorothy Alys ISMAY b 1895 Christleton, Cheshire
+ *(Second marriage of James Hainsworth Ismay) (1903) Muriel Harriett Charles MORETON b abt 1880
4. Olive Moreton ISMAY b 1904
4. Viola Bruce ISMAY b 1908
4. Pamela Murial ISMAY b 1913
3. Ethel Sealby ISMAY b 1870 d 1952
+ (1896) Geoffrey DRAGE b 1861
4. Thomas I DRAGE b 1897 Belgrave, London
4. Charles H DRAGE b 1897 Belgrave, London
3. Ada ISMAY b 1872 Waterloo, Lancashire d 1955
+ (1908) Harry Anthony CHANDOS-POLE
3. Dora ISMAY b 1872 d 1953
+ (1901) Joshua FIELDEN b 1865 Stansfield Hall, Todmorden
3. Charles Bower ISMAY b 24 Jan 1874 Beach Lawn House, Waterloo, Lancashire d 25 May 1924
+ (13 Jan 1900) Matilda Constance SCHIEFFELIN b abt 1873 New York d 1963
4. Florence Delaphaine ISMAY b 21 July 1909
3. Charlotte ISMAY b 24 Jan 1874 Beach Lawn House, Waterloo, Lancashire. d 1949
+ (1915) Bryan Charles FAIRFAX b 1873 Yorkshire
2. Mary ISMAY b 30 Oct 1838
2. Charlotte ISMAY b 30 Oct 1838
2. John Sealby ISMAY b 19 June 1847
The Hartford Courant - Obituary 19 October 1937
The Washington Post 1912 and various other years
The Syracuse Herald 1912
1881 United Kingdom Census
New York Home Family History Vol 1 - Schieffelin Family
The County Families of the United Kingdom
Armorial Families: A Directory of Coat-Armour