Joseph Bruce Ismay was born on 12 December 1862 to parents Thomas Henry and Margaret Ismay. Less than seven years later the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company was founded by Thomas Ismay, with the company officially registered on 6 September 1869. The company soon expanded with vessels sailing on routes from Liverpool to New York and the Pacific. In 1888 Joseph Ismay married Julia Florence Schieffelin and they would go on to have two sons and two daughters.
On 23 November 1899 Thomas Henry Ismay died at the age of 72. Subsequently Joseph Ismay succeeded his father in charge of the company. Within three years the American International Mercantile Marine acquired the White Star Line for £10 million. Joseph Ismay served as Managing Director of the White Star Line and under his tenure the company developed its plans for the Olympic, Titanic and Britannic.
Joseph Ismay joined the Titanic at Southampton for her maiden voyage to New York. Travelling in first-class, he occupied a prominent suite on B-Deck, with its own private promenade. However, the tragedy that unfolded on the night of 14 April 1912 changed lives forever. In surviving the sinking of the Titanic Joseph Ismay unwittingly became one of the most controversial figures of the Titanic story. His reputation was unfairly tarnished by the tragedy. He died on 17 October 1937, aged 74.
The grave of Joseph Bruce Ismay is the form is a tomb and separate headstone. The tomb is a large, rough-cut block of stone. The sides of the tomb are decorated with representations of sailing ships with a chevron pattern beneath. The south-facing side of the tomb carries a decorative sun-burst motif. The top of the tomb carries two inscriptions, a dedication to Joseph Bruce Ismay and his wife and the words of Psalm 107, verses 23, 24:
To The Glory of God and In Memory of Bruce Ismay Died October 17th 1937 His Wife Julia Florence Ismay Died December 31st 1963
They that go down to the sea In ships: and occupy their Business in great waters These men see the works of the Lord: and his wonders in the deep.
The headstone, which is intricately carved on its south-facing side, carries the following inscription on the other side:
Behold also the ships which though they be so great and are driven of fierce winds yet are they turned about with a very small helm whither so ever the governor listeth.
It is by the decisions and actions that Joseph Bruce Ismay made that night that he has since been judged. The narrative of the Titanic disaster is one that had been told and retold so many times, such that it is difficult to know, in many cases, the undisputed facts. Even as the Carpathia headed to New York judgements were already being made in the press.
The following facts are undisputed. During the sinking Joseph Ismay was present on the starboard side of the ship, assisting passengers into the lifeboats; unlike many passengers he was uniquely aware of the situation. Collapsible C was the ninth and last lifeboat launched from the davits on the starboard side, just twenty minutes before the Titanic sank. Only three more lifeboats were launched after Collapsible C. The boat was already near to capacity and it was being lowered before Joseph Ismay stepped aboard.
In a sworn affidavit given to the US Senate Inquiry on 24 April 1912 Augustus H Weikman, a barber aboard ship, was present as Mr Ismay was helping load collapsible lifeboat C. "He got in along with Mr. Carter, because there were no women in the vicinity of the boat. This boat was the last to leave, to the best of my knowledge. He was ordered into the boat by the officer in charge. I think that Mr. Ismay was justified in getting in that boat at that time."