Dr. J. F. Kemp
“A boy and one of the last of the children to be taken from the Titanic told me that he saw Capt. Smith put a pistol to his head then fall down.."
There is little biographical information presently available on Dr. J. F. Kemp, other than the fact that he was "the Carpathia’s physician" (The Denver Post, April 19, 1912). However according to The New York Times "he was starting on the last lap in a tour of the world". (April 19, 1912 The New York Times) The same newspaper described him as a "surgeon in the United States Army service before becoming a medical instructor" in the University of the Phillipines at Manila.
The account of a suicide involving Captain Smith was printed in the April 19, 1912 edition of the New York Times, page 4:
Dr. J. F. Kemp's Account
"A boy and one of the last of the children to be taken from the Titanic told me that he saw Capt. Smith put a pistol to his head then fall down."
The passenger on the Carpathia who told this last night to a New York Times reporter was Dr. J. F. Kemp of the University of the Phillipines at Manila. He was starting on the last lap in a tour of the world when his ship was called by wireless. Dr. Kemp was a surgeon in the United States Army service before becoming a medical instructor in the university.
"Of course," he said, "I cannot tell whether the boy told me the truth, but it seems to me hard to believe that the little fellow would invent such a tale. I was talking with him on the deck of the Carpathia when he voluntarily told me."
"Was there any other report to substantiate it?" he was asked. "A number of passengers spoke of the use of pistols and the firing of shots," he replied, "but we were all too busy with the rescued and those who suffered from exposure to follow up any investigation of that sort."
Who was the boy? According to Bill Wormstedt "The only 'boy' who left the Titanic late enough in the sinking to have actually seen this, would have had to have been Jack Thayer, who escaped on Collapsible B." ((12.)) Thayer's published accounts have never made this statement." However the youngest survivor account of a suicide is that of 14 year old Johan Svensson who mentioned an officer who "put his gun right in his mouth and shot." (refer to his account here) It is most interesting to also note that Dr Kemp states that it is "hard to believe that the little fellow would invent such a tale. I was talking with him on the deck of the Carpathia when he voluntarily told me." Also he notes that "a number of passengers spoke of the use of pistols and the firing of shots but we were all too busy with the rescued and those who suffered from exposure to follow up any investigation of that sort."
Dr Kemp's other accounts seem accurate enough, such as the following in the Denver Post:
How the wireless operator on the Carpathia, by putting in an extra ten minutes on duty, was a means of saving 745 lives was told by Dr. J. F. Kemp, the Carpathia’s physician, to-day.
“Our wireless operator,” said Dr. Kemp, “was about to retire Sunday night when he said jokingly: I guess I’ll wait just ten minutes , then turn in.”
“It was in the next ten minutes that the Titanic’s call for help came. Had the wireless man not waited, there would have been no survivors.”
Dr. Kemp described the iceberg that sank Titanic as at least 400 feet long and 90 feet high. He declared that one of the boats that the Carpathia picked up was filled with stokers from the sunken liner. “It had just two women aboard,” he said. The doctor said that the Carpathia cruised twice through the ice field near the spot where the Titanic sank and picked up the bodies of three men and one baby.
“On Monday at 8:30 o’clock in the evening we held a funeral service on board the Carpathia,” continued Dr. Kemp. “At this service there were thirty widows, twenty of whom were under twenty-three years of age, and most of them brides of a few weeks or months. They did not know their husbands were among the dead of the disaster. The Californian and the Burmah, the last named a Russian steamship, cruised about the scene of the wreck for some time in a futile search for the bodies of the victims.
“Mrs. John Jacob Astor,” the Doctor said “had to be carried aboard. She had to be taken into a cabin and given medical attention. She was more completely attired than many of the women who were rescued.” (The Denver Post, April 19, 1912)
There is no reason to doubt Dr Kemp as a witness himself; the doubt lies with the account from the boy, who possibly was the 14 year old Svensson, as yet remains unidentified.