Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Aftermath: Lifeboat-Rescue; Halifax, Paying our Respects

In my last blog all of us had a chance to remember those who perished and who struggled to survive but most important it was a time to reflect on how precious our lives are. Perhaps what I shared with you might have given you that moment to reflect.  If not, perhaps you can take that moment now.

The Lifeboat – Rescue – New York
I left you where Margaret was in Lifeboat #6.  I am not sure what was going through her mind other than survival.  She had endured an experience neither she nor any of the other over 700 survivors would ever forget. 

In excerpts paraphrased from museum documents; she started rowing with the others and encountered criticism and frustration from the crewman in charge of the lifeboat, Quartermaster Hichens.   He was at the rudder, and standing much higher than everyone.  The quartermaster in command of the boat burst out in a frightened voice, and warned every one of the fate that awaited them, telling them their task in rowing away from the sinking ship was futile, as Titanic was so large that in sinking it would draw everything for miles around down with her suction.  The ship was still fully lighted, but not one moving object was visible. Suddenly there was a rift in the water, the sea opened up, and the surface foamed like giant arms spread around the ship, and the vessel disappeared from sight.  Then, not a sound was heard.  Margaret spent the remaining four hours rowing with others, arguing with the Quartermaster regarding directions and actions to take, and tried to keep everyone as positive as possible that they would be saved.  

       While glancing around, watching the edge of the horizon, the voice of the young woman at the oar exclaimed, “There is a flash of light!” All looked in the direction pointed out, and the quartermaster said “That is a falling star.” It became lighter, and later was multiplied by others on the lighted deck. Finally, he was convinced then that it was a ship. He said it was the Olympic, as she was to have passed after midnight (the Olympic actually passed two days later). Then he gave a sigh of relief, and again ordered everyone to drop the oars.

By the time they reached the Carpathia, the heavy sea was running.  A rope was then thrown to them, which was spliced in four at the bottom, where a wide board was held together by four large knots. Feet first, they got on and sat on the seat that formed a swing. Catching hold of the one thick rope, they were hoisted up to where a dozen of the crew and officers and doctors were waiting. Stimulants were given to those who needed them, and hot coffee was provided. Everything was done for their comfort; the Carpathia passengers shared their staterooms, clothes, and toilet articles. The passengers then retired to the far corner of the ship where the deck-chairs were placed, giving the lounge up completely to the survivors.

When Margaret was on board the Carpathia, she found people speechless, half-clad, their eyes protruding and hair streaming down.  The overflow beds were made on the couches in the lounge, and pallets or blankets were made on the floor.  Margaret felt it was her duty to help those less fortunate.  She first assisted in the communication with those who spoke a different language.  Over the years from her traveling and schooling she had learned around five languages.  She hoped that she might assist and reassure those that they were being taken care of.  She then started a group, along with a few of her other first class passengers, called the Survivors Committee and was elected chairperson.   The mission was to raise money for the less fortunate, to make arrangements for communicating to their families that they had survived and were safe, to listen to their stories and concerns, and to make sure that some means of housing were available for them when they reached New York.  The day before reaching New York, Margaret was told that $10,000 had been raised.  The Titanic Survivors Committee continued to check that the company was keeping their promise and that all were cared for.

Margaret also recognized the significance of the hard work and heroic efforts that the crew and Captain Rostron had made for their rescue.  She started making provisions to provide for an honorary recognition of the captain and the crew to show the survivor’s gratitude for saving so many lives.

After three days, as the Carpathia was nearing the harbor, it was surrounded by smaller boats that went out to meet it, filled with newspaper men and photographers.  After arriving, White Star Line officials and general aid corps left the ship. The survivors found it was necessary to improvise beds in the lounge, so Margaret remained with them on board all night. There were many who had friends on the dock, but did not know it, so with each one an escort was sent and the names called out, and those finding their friends would return to the ship and report.  They kept a list of their whereabouts. For some of those remaining, telegrams were sent that night and the next morning.

     The next morning on the ship, Margaret was joined with five members of the committee, who brought on $5,000, so they said, in funds to be distributed among the much overworked crew of the Carpathia. This being done, an order was given to create a loving-cup to be presented to the captain on the return of his ship from Naples. Having taken a list of those of the survivors who were to be assisted, a copy was made and given to the White Star agents who came on the boat. 

When I have the opportunity I tell this portion of Margaret’s life and contribution to assist with the aftermath of the Titanic.  It demonstrates to me how truly strong she was.  She always seemed to know the right thing to do.  She never considered herself a heroine; she felt it was her duty as a human being.   I will continue with her story when we get to New York in a few days.

Arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia

We were told that Halifax is sometimes known as the City of Sorrows.  After arriving, we woke to a very foggy and emotionally depressing morning.  It seemed that the Halifax weather was matching our mood.  We had been to the emotionally wrenching service at the ship’s location, and now had arrived at the site that accepted the few recovered bodies.  All the Titanic related cities we have seen were either a part of the creation or the launching of the ship of dreams.  This city is a place to pay respects for the few recovered perished souls that were the only human remains left from the tragedy.

Originally, White Star officials in New York first believed that the damaged Titanic would sail to Halifax, the closest major port and trains with relatives and immigration officials departed from New York to Halifax.  Hours after the Titanic sinking was confirmed, White Star Line commissioned cable ships (used to lay trans-Atlantic telephone cables) based in Halifax to recover the bodies of victims.  On April 17, the White Star Line released Canadian steamer Mackay-Bennett with coffins and canvas bags to recover bodies.  306 bodies were recovered, 116 buried at sea, and Mackay-Bennett returned to Halifax April 26th with 190 bodies. The White Star Line released the Minia, April 22nd which recovered 17 bodies, two of which were buried at sea.  Victims were unloaded at the Coal of Flagship Wharf and brought by horse drawn carriage to a temporary morgue (at the Curling Ice Arena).

Victims were buried in three cemeteries between May 3rd and June 12th.

Mount Olivet Cemetery was for Catholics – 19 victims were buried there.
Baron De Hirsch Cemetery was for Jewish- 10 victims were buried there.
The other 121 victims were presumed protestant and buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery. 
Another 59 bodies were sent by train to their families.

Many stories have been told about the victims, but there is one special one that I believe everyone holds dear to their hearts.  A child was found in the water with no marks or injuries.  The crew of the Mackay-Bennett was so moved that they paid for his memorial and insisted on a memorial service.   He had been given identification No. 4.  He was wearing a gray coat with fur, brown serge frock, flannel garment, petticoat, pink woolen singlet, brown shoes and stockings.  For many years the child became the symbol of all the lost children on the Titanic. The child was finally identified after many years as 19 month old Sidney Leslie Goodwin.  The Goodwin’s were traveling from Southampton as third class passengers with their 6 children- Sidney was the youngest.  His entire family died.   


The tour of Titanic related Halifax history included a drive by and short discussion of both the Catholic and Jewish cemeteries and a stop at the Fair View Lawn Cemetery.   It was a respectful display with the three rows of headstones placed in the shape of the prow of a ship (although it isn’t known if that was intentional).  The weather, site, and the quietness, seemed to bring a sense of serenity and closure to the tremendous loss of life.  So many lives lost, and such a relatively small number recovered and buried in this site.  Halifax is a wonderful seaport city that has accepted a heavy burden, and can stand tall for its contribution to the Titanic legacy.  
Margaret made multiple trips to Halifax with her nieces to lay wreaths on the graves here.  I could picture her sharing a moment with those that perished.   In my Chasing Molly journey, I know in my heart that this is something she would have done.  She continued to support the Survivors Committee until her death in 1932.
This is the first time I think the disaster of the Titanic became truly real to me.    It really did happen, it still feels very fresh to me, and the memorial service seemed to me like 100 years had not passed since the tragedy.  I can feel the pain and anguish everyone must have felt, survivors, family of the perished, the unknown, the searching, and the heartache.  I am sure after 100 years so many of us feel this way, no wonder it changed Margaret’s life forever.  We all hate to see suffering, someone who has lost a loved one, watching the grief.

I have become very close to this tragedy more than I ever thought I would…we felt that we paid our respects... But I don’t believe you can ever truly pay enough after a tragedy of this enormity.

We are on to our last stop in Chasing Molly… New York City


  1. Dear Janet,
    I have to say that reading this portion of your blog, in the quiet of a beautiful morning, I felt tears and sorrow, just as you and your fellow travelers have done. The accident and sinking were so intensely devestating, from a grand ship of dreams to a monumental horrific tragedy. The aftermath, on a cold sea or in a drizzly gray seaport, the quiet of those who could no longer speak, the sorrow and tears and loss of loved ones, unbearable. Thank you and to thanks to all who participated to make the memorial tour so respectful to the tragedy. Thank you for taking us along with you.

  2. Very nice, Janet. I enjoyed reading this. We will be visiting the Molly Brown House Museum on July 20th for an 11AM Titanic Tour. Our docent is a "Janet", and I hope it's you.