Mr. James Baker

Mr. James Baker, 50, was the director of an oriental carpet company that traded in London, the United States, and the Near East.  Baker had traveled to New York from Liverpool on Lusitania and was returning to Britain on the ship’s last crossing.  He was on the port side of Lusitania during the sinking, assisting with the loading and unloading of lifeboats.  He survived the sinking and testified at the Mersey inquiry.

Lusitania


Baker’s ticket for Lusitania was 14674 and he stayed in cabin B-21.

When the torpedo struck Lusitania, Baker was in his stateroom.  The ship also had a severe list to starboard, which Baker noticed lessened as the sinking progressed.  He went up to the port side Boat Deck, by the reading room, and there he saw that the lifeboats were already lowering.  He stated that did not hear any orders to lower the boats because he was not on deck at the time.

Baker saw lifeboat 8′s ropes stick at the stern and fall by the bow to an angle of 45 degrees.  He saw a young officer in the water trying to climb back into the bow of the boat, but the stern post had been wrenched from the lifeboat, that, upon reaching the water, it could not stay afloat.

Baker then moved on to lifeboat 10, opposite the saloon main entrance, and helped load the boat with women and children.  He and four other men, for a total of five men, were having trouble pushing the boat over the side of the ship because of Lusitania‘s list, and called for more men to help.  They even walked on top of the collapsible boat underneath lifeboat 10 and finally, successfully pushed the boat against Lusitania‘s list and over the side of the ship.  They lowered the boat by one foot when Staff Captain Anderson gave the order, “Stop lowering the boat.  Clear the boat.”

Anderson then proceeded the assure the passengers, announcing, “She’s not going to sink; there is no danger.”

It had been 10 to 12 minutes since the torpedo struck the ship.  Lusitania would remain afloat for only another 6 to 8 minutes.

Baker and the men on deck then proceeded to help the ladies in the lifeboat out of the boat and back on deck.  Baker told the women he had helped out to get their lifebelts.

Baker proceeded to the area by the saloon smoking room where he saw numbers of men attempting to lower a boat (#18).  Baker thought that that lifeboat had enough men assisting and went to help with preparing a collapsible.  As he did so, he heard the lifeboat by the smoking room “run away and collapse and smash up like a matchbox.”  

Baker realized that they did not have the time to lower the collapsibles from the falls, and little was being done to prepare the collapsibles, so, he helped remove the canvas covers over the collapsibles.  He had cut one collapsible free with a penknife and was working on a second collapsible when the water came.

Baker testified that there was “an absence of authority and competent men at the falls,” and that the boats could have been lowered empty to C deck and then filled with passengers, instead of filling them on the boat deck and attempting to push a fully-loaded boat over the side; however, Baker hesitated to call what he saw incompetence, but instead stated that the officers “had an optimistic view that the ship was going to float.”  

He also testified that everyone did the best that they could, and while he personally had not been successful in lowering any port side lifeboats, he was certain that a friend of his (whose name was not given during his testimony) had been successful in lowering a port side boat and held onto the falls himself.

Contributors:
Michael Poirier

References:
Minutes of Evidence as Given at the Mersey Inquiry

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