On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage

On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage

by George Behe


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Life on board the world's most famous ship, in the words of the passengers themselves

Utilizing many documents not seen since 1912, here Titanic's passengers and crewmen are permitted to tell the story of the disaster entirely in their own words via the texts of letters, postcards, diary entries, and memoirs that were written before, during, and immediately after the maiden voyage itself. Many of the presailing documents were written by people who later lost their lives in the sinking, and represent the last communications these people ever had with their friends and loved ones at home. These letters and postcards give an unparalleled description of the events that occurred during the five days that Titanic was at sea, and the communications that were written by survivors after the sinking describe the horror of the disaster itself and the heartbreak they experienced at the loss of their loved ones. This moving book also contains brief biographies of the passengers—victims as well as survivors—who wrote the documents in question.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750982689
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 02/01/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

George Behe is a former vice president of the Titanic Historical Society. He has acted as a consultant for several Titanic documentaries and books, and has written numerous articles about the ship for the Titanic Historical Society's journal. He is the author of Titanic: Safety, Speed and Sacrifice. He lives in Mt. Clemens, Michigan.

Read an Excerpt

On Board RMS Titanic

Memories of the Maiden Voyage

By George Behe

The History Press

Copyright © 2012 George Behe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-8305-4


Prelude: 31 May 1911

JOHN KIRKWOOD Toronto Businessman

In 1912 Mr Kirkwood, the manager of Toronto's Walter Thompson Advertising Agency, wrote a letter describing the launch of the Titanic, an event he witnessed on 31 May 1911:

When the Titanic was launched at Belfast last May, I saw the event from the vantage point of the harbour master's boat.

The occasion was tense with interest and expectation. Countless thousands were gathered to witness the immense hull slip from its steel cage into the sea. A year or so before the Olympic had been similarly launched but no multitudes of citizens and workmen thronged the nearby wharves, for it was feared that these would be submerged by the wave arising from the plunge into the water of so vast a vessel. But there was no wave – only an 18-inch ripple, so gently did the Olympic slide from the slips.

The signal for the liberation of the Titanic was the explosion of a rocket. Almost imperceptibly the black monster began its first short voyage, its easy descent being assured by the use of £300 worth of soap.

Some of us expected to see the huge hull take the water heavily, with splash and foam, but she breasted her element so lightly that we felt no swell, and she was pulled up in her own length. The journey down the slips took only 62 seconds. Without a minute's delay tugs were hauling the Titanic to her berth to be completely fitted up before a year should pass.

Three days previously the Olympic had occupied the place to which the Titanic was being shifted. Before she left Belfast the public were given an opportunity of inspecting the largest and most magnificent ship ever built up to that time. I remember seeing Lord Pirrie, the distinguished head of Harland and Wolff shipbuilders, guiding a little company of friends over the noble vessel. I was told that his firm was given the contracts for the building of the Olympic and Titanic without submitting a tender, only an estimate so implicit is the reliance of the White Star authorities in the integrity of Lord Pirrie's firm and in the thoroughness of their work. I was told also that on the very day named for delivery the Titanic, ready for her maiden voyage, would surely be handed over to her owners.

At the launching of the Titanic there were no forebodings of catastrophe. The skies were blue. The hearts of all were gay, enthusiasm was unbounded. The pride of every citizen of Belfast was at its zenith. Today, less than a year afterwards, on its first brave venturing the great ship shattered and a sepulchre lies two thousand fathoms deep on the ocean's bed.


Pre-Sailing Days

The Titanic's Passengers and crewmen make preparations for their upcoming voyage to America

THOMAS ANDREWS First Class Passenger

On 2 April, after the Titanic completed her trials at Belfast, Ireland and was being delivered to Southampton, Mr Andrews, her chief designer, wrote a letter to his wife in Belfast:

Just a line to let you know that we got away this morning in fine style and have had a very satisfactory trial. We are getting more ship-shape every hour, but there is still a great deal to be done.

After the Titanic arrived at Southampton, on 4 April Mr Andrews wrote a letter to his wife which contained the following statements:

I wired you this morning of our safe arrival after a very satisfactory trip. The weather was good and everyone most pleasant. I think the ship will clean up all right before sailing on Wednesday.

(Andrews also mentioned that Lord Pirrie's doctors refused to allow him to sail on the maiden voyage.)

Mr Andrews inspected the Titanic and wrote two subsequent letters, one of which recorded serious trouble with the vessel's restaurant galley hot press and directed attention to a design for reducing the number of screws in stateroom hat hooks. The other letter agreed with the Titanic's owners that the hue of the pebble dashing on the private promenade decks was too dark, and he noted a plan for staining green the wicker furniture on one side of the vessel. On 9 April Mr Andrews wrote another letter to his wife and stated:

The Titanic is now about complete and will I think do the old Firm credit to-morrow when we sail.

* * *

ROGER BRICOUX Crew (Bandsman)

On 17 March 1912, while serving on board the Carpathia, Mr Bricoux wrote the following letter to his parents in Monaco:

On Board the Cunard RMS Carpathia


Dear Parents, Just a few quick words as the ship is about to reach Gibraltar and I had no time to write from Naples as we left for a tour of the city. You can tell Vissotty that I accept what he proposed me. As for Dad being ill, you told me in your letter your father is slightly ill, but you never told me he was suffering from an illness that could prove grave. As for sending postcards I no longer can. We are going to New-York where I will board the Mauretania, the biggest ship in the world 32,000 tons and when in Liverpool, I will head for Southampton, where I will board the Titanic which will be launched on 10 April and will be the biggest ship in the world 50,000 tons it is a city: Turkish baths, bicycle (yeah, there's a bike on board), gymnasium, a swimming pool that is 100 metres long the ship is 945 metres long (English yard, which means over a French kilometre and only New York harbour can welcome us). I like this life a lot but I will be with you with great pleasure as for marrying, I will only marry a girl who will have money, in order to fit my tastes ... I'd better drown myself. I imagine love in silk linen or at least nothing less than a 'comfortable home' and not in an attic, with fear of starving the day after. Ambitious? maybe and why not and something tells me I ought to be for it is the only way to success. I send you my heart and I kiss you. Roger. Send me your letter on board the Carpathia, New-York (America).

After transferring to the Mauretania, Mr Bricoux sent the following undated letter to his parents:

The Cunard Steamship Company Limited

RMS Mauretania.

Dear Dad, You will certainly think that I took too much time to send this letter but this is not my fault as I've been on the Mauretania for ten days and had no opportunity to post this letter. Well, this is why I'm writing: I want to kiss you very warmly and wish you all my best wishes and wish you good health. Vissotty wrote me that you were a little feeble at the moment but I hope it is nothing important and that my letter will find you in good health or else may it help you recover quickly.

The ship's vibrations are so irritating that I cannot write. Can you imagine, we run 400 miles a day, it is the world's record, one mile is 1837 metres, 5 days from New-York to Liverpool. Well, I'll send you a long letter from the Titanic. Please kiss mom for me and give her all my love. Roger, on board the Titanic, Southampton, England, I expect a letter from you in New York.

* * *

HARRY BRISTOW Crew (Saloon Steward)

On 9 April Mr Bristow wrote the following wife to his wife Ethel:


Southampton 9-4-12

Dearest Et

I have earned my first day's pay on the Titanic and been paid and I may say spent it. Do you know dearie I forgot about towels, also cloth brush so I've to buy two. My uniform will cost £1-17-6, coat plus waistcoat and cap and Star regulation collars and paper front (don't laugh dearie it's quite true) two white jackets etc. so it won't leave me very much to take up. My pay is £3-15s plus tips. I'm in the first class saloon so I may pick up a bit. I've been scrubbing the floor today in saloon, about a dozen of us. I lost myself a time or two, she is such an enormous size I expect it will take me a couple of trips before I know my way about here. I believe we're due back here again about the 4 next month. I am not sure though ... I've to be aboard tomorrow morning 6 o/c sharp, means turning out at 5am. You might send a letter to me addressed as envelope enclosed a day before we're expected in so that I could have it directly I come ashore, now dearie with fondest love to boy and self & be brave as you always are, your ever loving Harry

* * *

ARCHIBALD BUTT First Class Passenger

On 2 March 1912, while sailing to Italy with Frank Millet on the liner Berlin, Major Butt wrote the following letter to presidential secretary Charles Hilles:

Dear Hilles,

I want to come back by the Titanic of the White Star Line which sails from Southampton on the 10th of April. I have splendid rates offered me by the other lines. Could not you or Forster take this up with the White Star people in New York and get them to send me a letter, care of the American Ambassador at Rome, reserving for me good accommodation at same minimum rate.

To my horror I learned from old Kill Joy Cosby last night that when one is on sick leave he has to give up his commutation of quarters [illegible] & fuel allowance and everything that makes one [illegible] a livable allowance. Hence these letters or this note.

Love to all, Mrs Henry Taft is on board. It is beautiful today, cloudy, but I hope it will clear up later. I miss the President badly. It seems so funny to be away from him and all of you. Good bye now, best wishes.

Archie W. Butt

Shortly before he sailed on the Titanic, Major Butt wrote a letter to a relative in Atlanta that contained the following sentence:

My ambition is to die leaving a name that will reflect credit on my family.

Major Butt experienced a premonition of impending disaster throughout his travels in Europe, and not long before he boarded the Titanic he wrote a final letter to President Taft that began with the following phrase:

For fear I may never have an opportunity to report in person, I am committing this to writing ...

* * *

SIDNEY COLLETT Second Class Passenger

On 9 April, before leaving London, Mr Collett mailed an envelope to his parents which contained a smaller envelope addressed to 'Sidney Stuart Collett'. This smaller envelope contained insurance papers and an accompanying letter to his parents which read as follows:

Dear Father and Mother,

In the event of anything unforeseen happening to me in my journey to you, please open the enclosed letter addressed to me. With love from son, Sidney

* * *

MARY DAVISON Third Class Passenger

While preparing to leave her home in Chippenham, England, Mrs Davison wrote the following note to her sister, Mrs Fred Baillis of Marion, Ohio:

We are sailing on the Titanic April 10, so by the time you get this letter we will be well upon our way. We have just finished packing and will get to New York about April 17. So please God we shall soon see you again.

Your loving brother and sister, Harry and Mary

* * *

JACQUES FUTRELLE First Class Passenger

While in London in late March 1912, Jacques Futrelle and his wife May wrote a letter to Mrs Futrelle's brother, John Peele of Atlanta, Georgia. The Futrelles gave Mr Peele power of attorney for the administration of their estates should anything befall them during their travels, and they included a list of banking houses where they had money and securities. Directions were given as to the future care of the couple's children, and Mr Futrelle continued:

You can never tell what will happen. May and I want everything straight for the kiddies if anything should happen.

* * *

ARCHIBALD GRACIE First Class Passenger

On 14 March 1912, while travelling from the United States to Europe, Colonel Gracie sent the following postcard to his wife and daughter in Washington, D.C.:

Blessings on my dear ones. I beg you constantly to pray for me and my safety during this our first extended separation. Do not neglect any opportunity in church or elsewhere to pray for me.

* * *

HENRY FORBES JULIAN First Class Passenger

On 10 April Mr Julian wrote a letter to his wife, and posted it before the Titanic sailed:

On board RMS Titanic
10th April, 1912

I have just been over the ship and seen all the sitting- and saloon-rooms. It is all most luxurious ... The decks are magnificent, and the enclosed ones are fitted up more like smoking-rooms. My cabin is not the one shown ... on the Olympic plan ... It is, however, more like a small bedroom than a ship's cabin ... If only you could have got safely to the ship, I know you would love to have the voyage ... So far there are very few people on board, but the London train has not yet arrived ... I left the hotel at 10 o'clock and walked to the ship, a matter of only ten minutes. My trunks were taken charge of by the South-Western man, who sent them to the ship and put them into my cabin. I want you to take great care of yourself ... Do everything that is possible to get rid of the influenza, and then I shall feel happier about leaving you ...

* * *

ALICE PHILLIPS Second Class Passenger

On the evening of 9 April Miss Phillips wrote a letter to her grandmother which contained the following statement:

Dad and I have been to look at the Titanic. It is a monstrous great boat as high as the Clarence Hotel, and I cannot tell you how long! We are going to embark tomorrow morning soon after breakfast.

* * *

EDWARD J. SMITH Crew (Captain)

On 14 February 1912 the Titanic's Captain Smith wrote the following letter to his nephew Frank Hancock:

On Board RMS Olympic
14th February 1912

My dear Frank,

Yours of the 24th December and the one introducing Miss Brookfield came to hand and I owe you an apology for not answering promptly but I seemed to be kept in a perfect whirl and the days passed so quickly. When I thought of your letter it was somewhere where it was not convenient to write and then it would slip from my memory, so there you are, it was not want of appreciation I assure you. I am pleased to hear you are hopeful of success in your undertakings. Sinclair is in Florida at present but when I meet him again I will just mention you and sound him. You have no doubt heard we are appealing the case [the verdict against the White Star Line in regard to the Olympic–Hawke collision]. I have not much hope as it is hard to upset a verdict in England; however it will let them see we are not going to take it lying down.

The Mallocks crossed with me last trip. We had a poor trip as far as weather was concerned but enjoyed one or two chats at the table. I did all I could for Miss Brookfield's comfort. I had her placed at my table but found she was in the Second Class, so could not have the pleasure of her company, however she was well looked after and I think was comfortable on the trip.

We had disagreeable weather and I had no opportunity of seeing her. We have not had pictures taken for years, you shall have one of the first.

I leave this ship after another voyage and bring out Titanic on April 10 from Southampton. Give my regards to the Gordons and Churchill if you see any of them. With Kindest and best wishes,

Your Affectionate Uncle

Edw. J. Smith

* * *

WILLIAM T. STEAD First Class Passenger

On 9 April Mr Stead sent the following letter to Mr R. Penny, a psychic who had written to Mr Stead warning him of possible misfortune in his future:

Dear Penny,

Thank you very much for your kind letter, which reached me just as I am starting for America. I sincerely hope that none of the misfortunes which you seem to think may happen to myself or my wife will happen, but I will keep your letter, and will write to you when I come back.

I am, yours truly,

W.T. Stead

* * *

EMIL TAUSSIG First Class Passenger

In 1908 and 1909 Mr Taussig wrote letters to the United States Steamship Inspection Service urging the enforcement of regulations that would compel steamships to carry enough lifeboats to accommodate every passenger and crewmember in case of accident. Mr Taussig wrote:

It will certainly be calamitous if at the next disaster, which may occur, any of the passengers have lost their lives simply because there were not lifeboats enough for them to get into. That is a responsibility that nobody would be willing to shoulder.

In lieu of all these matters brought before you and your experience in the service, is the board willing to take the responsibility that in case of an accident to a vessel that a large number of people lose their lives due to the fact that there were lifeboats carried by the ship to save only a small portion of the passengers?

Do you want to take the responsibility in view of the added facilities in the direction of enabling steamships to carry a sufficient number of lifeboats to enable any one to say these people lost their lives owing to the fact that the board of steamship supervising inspectors did not prescribe or compel steamships to carry more boats?

Just as sure as you are living and just as sure as there is a sun above us, this thing will come to pass sooner or later, unless the rules are amended compelling steamships to carry more boats.


Excerpted from On Board RMS Titanic by George Behe. Copyright © 2012 George Behe. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 7

Introduction 9

1 Prelude: 31 May 1911 15

2 Pre-Sailing Days 17

3 10 April 1912: Titanic at Southampton 25

4 10 April 1912: Titanic Sails from Southampton for Cherbourg 31

5 11 April 1912: Titanic Arrives at Queenstown and Sails Onward 45

6 12 April 1912: Titanic at Sea 69

7 13 April 1912: Titanic at Sea 73

8 14 April 1912: Titanic at Sea 75

9 15 April 1912: Disaster 77

10 16 April 1912: On board the Carpathia 79

11 17 April 1912: On board the Carpathia 91

12 18 April 1912: On board the Carpathia 103

13 19 April 1912 and Afterwards 139

14 Passenger and Crew Biographies 407

Notes 499

Index 507

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