THE centenary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15 will have stirred many family memories, and not just in Belfast, where the ship was built, or Southampton, starting point of the Titanic’s maiden voyage to New York, which lost 500 members of the crew among the 1,500 who died.
Beryl Browse, of Ripponden, has a poignant letter from America about her great aunt, Charlotte Ashdown Pearson, and her husband, Silas, originally from Kent but living in London at the time. They were emigrating to the United States in 1912 and might well have travelled on the Titanic – but didn’t because Charlotte thought the liner, the most sumptuously designed ship ever built, was for “rich people, not them”.
Silas was already in the US, where he had gone to find work and a home for Charlotte and the couple’s six children, Silas, Nellie, Frank, Ivy, Florence and Stanley.
When he called on them to join him Charlotte and son Silas went to buy tickets for the voyage. The ticket office tried to sell them tickets for the Titanic, but Charlotte refused them and instead bought berths on the USS Philadelphia, which took them safely to America in August 1912.
The letter was written, only a couple of years ago, by Charlotte’s granddaughter, Penny Ashdown Fox, of Westminster, Mary-land, to a cousin, Tina Lissenden, who lives in Rickmansworth, Herts, and was passed to Beryl via her brother, Brian Calverley.
Penny wrote: “My uncle Silas, who was 16 years old, went with my grandmother to purchase the tickets for the trip. When they got to the ticket office the salesman tried to sell my grandmother tickets on a brand new ship that was setting sail on its maiden voyage.
“Did I mention that the year was 1912? Can you guess what the name of the ship was? That’s right – the Titanic!
“My grandmother would not hear of it, arguing that the ship was too large and was for rich people, not them. She absolutely would not be talked into buying those tickets but bought ones for the USS Philadelphia, which set sail in August that year.
“Good thing Grandmum had that gut feeling about the ship or else I wouldn’t be here!”
Beryl, who lives in Oldham Road, Ripponden, with her husband, Russell, also cherishes a copy of the Daily Mirror for Tuesday, April 16, 1912, the day after the Titanic sank. It was found in her mother, Annie Calverley’s, handbag after she died, aged 101, in 2003. She was 10 in 1012 and Beryl reckons she had carried the newspaper with her for most of her life.
In common with much of the reporting of the time, the paper got some of its information about the Titanic disaster drastically wrong. Over a huge photo of the liner leaving Southampton, only six days earlier, the front page rightly carries the headlines: “Disaster to the Titanic: world’s largest ship collides with an iceberg in the Atlantic during her maiden voyage.”
But then, on page two, the paper announces: “Everyone safe: Morning of suspense ends with message of relief. Passengers taken off.”
The paper reported that the “helpless giant” was being towed to Halifax, Nova Scotia by the Allan Line’s SS Virginian and adds, in a message from Montreal: “It is now confirmed that the passengers of the Titanic have been safely transhipped to the Allan liner Parisian and the Cunarder Carpathia.”
The truth, of course, was appalling, with 1,514 lost out of 2,223 who had set out from Europe.