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The sinking of the Titanic (1912)

by Jay Henry Mowbray

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116 Buried at Sea — Nearly all Sailors — No Prominent Men Buried — No Bullet Wounds Found — Halifax's Bells Toll for Dead — Astor's Body Identified — Death Ship's Voyage — The Captain's Story — Canon Hind's Narrative.

  The cable ship Mackay-Bennett which had been sent out to recover as many as possible of the Titanic's dead, reached her pier in the dockyard at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the nearest port, at 9.30 on the morning of April 30, almost exactly two weeks after the disaster.

  Down the gangway to the pier in the sunlight of a perfect April day they carried 190 of those who had started forth on the maiden voyage of the biggest ship afloat.

  In her quest the Mackay-Bennett had found 306 of the Titanic's dead, but only 190 were brought to shore. The rest, the 116, were buried at sea. And 57 of those 116 were among the identified dead.

  Of those who were brought to shore, 60 lay unnamed at the curling rink on the edge of the town. It was believed that the 60 were all members of the Titanic's crew, but the slender hope that their own dead might be among them sent many to the rink.

  One of the sixty was a little baby girl. Five of them were women, but none of the women that were found were from the first cabin passengers. There was no hope that the body of Mrs. Straus was among them. There was practically no hope that Major Butt was among the unnamed sixty. The quest of the Mackay-Bennett bore greater results than were anticipated, and Capt. Lardner believed that his ship recovered about all of those who did not go down in the Titanic.

  The search was continued over five days, sometimes with the ship drifting without success amid miles and miles of wreckage, tables, chairs, doors, pillows, scattered fragments of the luxury that was the White Star liner Titanic.

  At other times the bodies were found close together, and once they saw more than a hundred that looked to the wondering crew of the Mackay-Bennett like a flock of sea gulls in the fog, so strangely did the ends of the life belts rise and fall with the rise and fall of the waves.

  Those whose dead the Mackay-Bennett brought to shore came forward with their claims, and from the middle of the afternoon the rest of the day was filled with the steps of identification and the signing of many papers.

  The first to be claimed was John Jacob Astor and for his death was issued the first "accidental drowning" death certificate of the hundreds who lost their lives in the wreck of the Titanic.

  Vincent Astor and Nicholas Biddle started for New York with the body the next night.


  The second identified was Isidor Straus. The start for New York was made early the next morning. Three went on the same night. These were George E. Graham, Milton C. Long, and C. C. Jones. Lawrence Millett has identified his father.

  Friends quickly took charge of the bodies of E. H. Kent, W. D. Douglass, Timothy McCarty, George Rosenshine, E. C. Ostby, E. G. Crosby, William C. Porter, A. O. Holverson, Emil Brandies, Thomas McCafferty, Wykoff Vanderhoef, and A. S. Nicholson.

  Sharp and distinct in all the tidings the Mackay-Bennett brought to shore the fact stands out that fifty-seven of those who were identified on board were recommitted to the sea. Of the 190 identified dead that were recovered from the scene of the Titanic wreck only 130 were brought to Halifax.

  This news, which was given out almost immediately after the death ship reached her pier, was a confirmation of the suspicion that in the last few days had seized upon the colony of those waiting here to claim their dead.

  Yet it came as a deep, a stirring surprise. It stunned the White Star men who have had to direct the work from Halifax.

  They had been confidently posting the names of the recovered as the wireless brought the news in from the Atlantic.

  When the suspicion arose that some of the identified might have been buried at sea the White Star people said that they did not know, but they were working on the assumption that Capt. Lardner would bring them all to port, and that only the unidentifiable had been recommitted to the sea.


  Then they learned that the Mackay-Bennett had brought in sixty unidentified. The hallway of the curling rink where the dead were removed from the cable ship was thronged all afternoon with friends and relatives eager beyond expression to see those unnamed dead, but the attention of the embalmers was turned to those already identified, for whom the claimants were waiting. For the most part the unidentified could not be viewed until the next morning.

  One of them was thought to be Arthur White, a member of the Titanic's crew.

  The suspense was acute. Yet those who were most anxious for the morrow to come knew that hope was of the slenderest. They knew that the nameless sixty were almost all members of the crew. Capt. Lardner said that he was sure of it. He knew it by the clothes they wore.

  As to the fifty-seven identified dead that were buried at sea, the whole colony was stirred by pity that it had to be, and not a few wonder if it really had to be, a wonder fed by the talk of some of the embalmers. Yet few were immediately concerned, most of those in Halifax were waiting for men who sailed first cabin of the Titanic. It appears that only one of these was among the ones who were buried at sea. This was Frederick Sutton, of Philadelphia. The large majority were either members of the Titanic's crew or steerage passengers.

  Of the 116 that Capt. Lardner thought best to return to the sea, he explained that the unidentified seemed unidentifiable, that the identified were too mutilated to bring to shore.

  "Let me say first of all," he announced when the reporters gathered around him, "that I was commissioned to bring aboard all the bodies found floating, but owing to the unanticipated number of bodies found, owing to the bad weather and other conditions it was impossible to carry out instructions, so some were committed to the deep after service, conducted by Canon Hind."

  Capt. Lardner explained that neither he nor any of his people had dreamed that so many of the Titanic's dead would be found floating on the surface of the Atlantic.


  It was more than his embalmer could handle, for, although the material for embalming seventy bodies, which was all that Halifax sent out with the Mackay-Bennett, was supplemented at sea by materials borrowed from the Minia, the number of dead so preserved for the return to shore was only 106.

  He did not know how long he would have to stay at his grim work on the scene of the wreck. He did not know how long bad weather would impede the homeward voyage.

  He did not know how long he could safely carry the multitude of dead. It seemed best to recommit some to the sea, and so on three different days 116 were weighted down and dropped over the edge of the ship into the Atlantic.

  Then rose the question as to why some were picked for burial at sea and others left on board to be brought home to the waiting families on shore. The reporters put the question to the Captain, and he answered it:

  "No prominent man was recommitted to the deep. It seemed best to embalm as quickly as possible in those cases where large property might be involved. It seemed best to be sure to bring back to land the dead where the death might give rise to such questions as large insurance and inheritance and all the litigation.

  "Most of those who were buried out there were members of the Titanic's crew. The man who lives by the sea ought to be satisfied to be buried at sea. I think it is the best place. For my own part I should be contented to be committed to the deep."

  To emphasize the uncertainty of the task he directed, Capt. Lardner pointed silently to the forward hold, where an hour before those on the pier had seen the dead lying side by side on the floor, each in the wrapping of tarpaulin.

  "They were ready for burial," the Captain said. "We had weights in them, for we didn't know when we should have to give them up."


  To those who hoped to find their own among the unidentified in the curling ring to-morrow Capt. Lardner held out little encouragement except the prospect that the quest of the Minia may result in a few more bodies being recovered. He believed that his own ship gathered in most of those who were kept afloat by the lifebelts.

  Almost all of the rest, in his opinion, went down with the rush of waters that closed over the Titanic, driving them down in the hatchways and holding the dead imprisoned in the great wreck.

  Survivors told of many pistol shots heard in those dark moments when the last lifeboats were putting off, and though the pier on the night the Carpathia landed was astir with rumors of men shot down as they fought to save their lives, not one of the bodies that were recovered yesterday had any pistol shots, according to Capt. Lardner and the members of his crew.

  The mutilations which marked so many were broken arms and legs and crushed skulls, where the living on the Titanic were swept against the stanchions by the onrush of the sea.

  The little repair shop on the Mackay-Bennett was a treasure house when she came to port. Fifteen thousand dollars in money was found on the recovered bodies and jewelry that will be worth a king's ransom. One of the crew related his experience with one dead man whose pockets he turned inside out only to have seventeen diamonds roll out in every direction upon the littered deck.

  It was a little after 9.30 that the Mackay-Bennett was sighted by those waiting for her since the break of day. For it was in the chill of 6 o'clock on a Canadian Spring morning that the people began to assemble on the pier in the dockyard.

  They were undertakers for the most part, mingling with the newspaper men who hurried to and fro between the water's edge and the little bell tent set up a few yards back to guard the wires that were to flash the news to the ends of the continent.


  The dockyard was patrolled by twenty members of the crew and four petty officers from H.M.C.S. Niobe and by a squad of men from the Dominion police, who were instructed to keep out all without passes countersigned by the commandant, and who were particularly vigilant in the watch for men with cameras.

  Just as the death ship reached her pier, and in the midst of the eager movement forward to learn what news she brought from the scene of the Titanic's wreck, a little tug was spotted near by, and Commander Martin, in charge of the dockyard, scented a moving picture man.

  In a very few moments he was putting out for the tug in the little patrol launch. Again a few moments and he was standing on the pier with a complacent smile on his face.

  "I have the films," he said in explanation, so the privacy was guarded.

  The friends and relatives of those who were lost when the great liner went down were urged not to assume the ordeal of meeting the Mackay-Bennett. Almost without exception they followed this advice, and only a scattering few could be seen among those waiting on the pier.

  In all the crowd of men, officials, undertakers, and newspaper men, there was just one woman, solitary, spare, clasping her heavy black shawl tightly around her.

  This was Eliza Lurette, for more than thirty years in the service of Mrs. William August Spencer, who was waiting at her home on East Eighty-sixth Street, New York, while Miss Lurette had journeyed to Halifax to seek the body of Mr. Spencer, who went down with the Titanic.

  So the crowd that waited on the pier was made up almost entirely of men who had impersonal business there, and the air was full of the chatter of conjecture and preparation.

  Then, warned by the tolling of the bells up in the town, a hush fell upon the waiting people. The gray clouds that had overcast the sky parted, and the sun shone brilliantly on the rippling water of the harbor as the Mackay-Bennett drew alongside her pier.


  Capt. Lardner could be seen upon the bridge. The crew hung over the sides, joyously alive and glad to be home. But in every part of the ship the dead lay. High on the poop deck coffins and rough shells were piled and piled.

  Dead men in tarpaulins lined the flooring of the cable-wells both fore and aft, so that there was hardly room for a foot to be put down. And in the forward hold dead men were piled one upon another, their eyes closed as in sleep, and over them all a great tarpaulin was stretched. Those that pressed forward to see were sickened and turned back.

  The business of moment was to discharge that freight, and this was done with all possible dispatch.

  The uncoffined dead were carried down in stretchers, placed in the rough shells that were piled upon the pier, and one by one driven up the slope and into the town in the long line of hearses and black undertaker's wagons that had been gathered from every quarter. It was speedily done, but quietly and without irreverent haste.

  For two hours this business proceeded before anyone could go upon the pier and the sounds were like the hum of a small factory. There were the muffled orders, the shuffling and tramping of feet, the scraping as of packing boxes drawn across the rough flooring and the eternal hammering that echoed all along the coal sheds.

  Two hours it was before any one could go on board, and then came another hour when the coffins were swung down from the deck and piled up on the wharf ready for the removal that took until well into the middle of the afternoon.

  Few of the relatives were allowed to pass beyond the cordon that stretched all about the pier at which the dead were landed. One of the first to get through the lines and the first of all the waiting crowd to make his way aboard after the ship reached her pier was Capt. Richard Roberts, of the Astor yacht, who was filled with a great concern at the news that had come from the Widener party.


  For long before the Mackay-Bennett reached her pier it was established as definitely as it may ever be established that the man who was picked up at sea for George D. Widener was not Mr. Widener, but his man-servant Edward Keating.

  Although the name was sent in by wireless, a later examination of the dead man's clothing and effects proved that it was Keating's body. A letter in the pocket was addressed to Widener, but the coat was labeled "E.K." and the garments were of an inferior quality. Identification by features was out of the question, for the dead man had been struck by some spar or bit of wreckage, and the face was mutilated past recognition. He was buried at sea, and the news sent on to the waiting family. Young Mr. Widener, who had been waiting here for a week with a private car to carry the body of his father home to Philadelphia, had heard of the uncertainty, and in a fever of impatience he met the Mackay-Bennett at Quarantine, went over the effects with Captain Lardner, and was satisfied that it was Keating whose body was found and who was later committed to the deep.

  The haunting fear that this same error might have been made in the case of Colonel Astor had possession of the whole Astor party and grew acute as the Widener story went out. That was what sent Captain Roberts hurrying to the ship. He was admitted and saw for himself. The coffin top was removed oil board.

  The plain gold ring with the two little diamonds set deep, the gold buckle on the belt that Colonel Astor always wore, and a sum amounting to nearly $3000 in the pockets settled the uncertainty. Twenty minutes after he had boarded the ship Captain Roberts was hurrying through the crowd to reach the nearest telephone that he might speed the news to waiting Vincent Astor.


  Beyond these two cases the questions of identity were taken up at the Mayflower Curling Rink at the edge of the town, where the line of hearses had been trundling since the Mackay-Bennett landed. As they passed the crowds were hushed, men bowed their heads, and officers saluted.

  At the rink the great main floor was given over to the coffins and shells containing the identified dead, and as soon as the embalmers had done their work the friends and relatives came forward and claimed their own.

  Upstairs in the large, bare room the packets of clothing were distributed in rows upon the floor.

  There the oak chests of the Provincial Cashier were opened for the sorting of the canvas bags that contained the valuables, the letters and the identifying trinkets of the dead. It was all very systematic. It was all very much businesslike, and while a lunch counter served refreshments to the weary workers, and while the Intercolonial set up a desk for railway tickets, the Medical Examiner was busy issuing death certificates, and the Registrar was issuing burial permits, all to the accompanying click, click of several typewriters.

  A satisfactory arrangement was reached as to the disposition of the personal effects. A man would claim his dead, take the number, make his way to the representatives of the Provincial Secretary, and there claim the contents of the little canvas bag by making affidavit that he was the duly authorized representative of the executor or next of kin.

  The little crimson tickets that are the death certificates were printed for the tragedies of every day in the year. Their formal points and dimensions seemed hopelessly inadequate for even the briefest statement of the tragedy of the Titanic.


  The first body claimed and removed from the rink was that of John Jacob Astor. The certificate, the first issued for one of the Titanic dead, reads:

  Name of deceased — John Jacob Astor. Sex — M. Age — 47. Date of death — April 15, 1912. Residence, street, etc. — 840 Fifth Av.,. N.Y.C. Occupation — Gentleman. Married. Cause — Accidental drowning. S. S. Titanic at sea. Length of illness — Suddenly. Name of physician in attendance.

  Such details as these filled the day.

  After the greater part of the Titanic's dead had been shifted from the Mackay-Bennett to the pier, Captain Lardner descended to the dining saloon, and with the reporters from all over the country gathered around the table, he opened the ship's log and, slowly tracing his fingers over the terse entries, he told them the story of the death ship's voyage.

  Lardner is English by birth and accent, and tall and square of build, with a full brown beard and eyes of unusual keenness.

  "We left Halifax," he began, "shortly after noon on Wednesday, April 17, but fog and bad weather delayed us on the run out, and we did not get there till Saturday night at 8 o'clock.

  "We asked all ships to report to us if they passed any wreckage or bodies, and on Saturday at noon we received a communication from the German mailboat steamship Rhein to the effect that in latitude 42.1. N. longitude 49.13, she had passed wreckage and bodies.

  "The course was shaped for that position. Later in the afternoon we spoke to the German steamship Bremen, and they reported having passed three large icebergs and some bodies in 42 N. 49.20 W.

  "We arrived on the scene at 8 o'clock Saturday evening, and then we stopped and let the ship drift. It was in the middle of the watch that some of the wreckage and a few bodies were sighted.

  "At daylight the boats were lowered, and though there was a heavy sea running at the time, fifty-one bodies were recovered

  The Rev. Canon K. C. Hinds, rector of All Saints' Cathedral, who officiated at the burial of 116 bodies, the greatest number consigned to the ocean at one time, tells the story of the Mackay-Bennett's trip as follows:


  We left Halifax shortly after noon on April 17, and had not proceeded far when fog set in so that our journey was slow. We reached the vicinity of the wreckage on Saturday evening. Early on Sunday morning the search for bodies began, when the captain and other officers of the ship kept a lookout from the bridge.

  Soon the command was given "Stand by the boat!" and a little later the lifeboat was lowered and the work begun of picking up the bodies as they were pointed out in the water to the crew.

  Through the day some fifty were picked up. All were carefully examined and their effects placed in separate bags, all bodies and bags being numbered.

  It was deemed wise that some of them should be buried. At 8 P.M. the ship's bell was tolled to indicate all was in readiness for the service. Standing on the bow of the ship as she rocked to and fro, one gazed at the starry heavens and across the boundless deep, and to his mind the psalmist's words came with mighty force.

  "Whither shall I go then from Thy spirit, or whither shall I go then from Thy presence? If I ascend up to heaven Thou art there, I make my bed in the grave, Thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me."

  In the solemn stillness of the early night, the words of that unequaled burial office rang across the waters: "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in Me shall never die."

  When the time of committal came these words were used over each body:


  "Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God to take upto Himself the soul of our dear brother departed, we, therefore, commit his body to the deep to be turned to corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body (when the seas shall give up her dead) and the life of the world to come, through Jesus Christ' Our Lord, who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto His glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself."

  The prayers from the burial service were said, the hymn "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," sung and the blessing given.

  Any one attending a burial at sea will most surely lose the common impression of the awfulness of a grave in the mighty deep. The wild Atlantic may rage and toss, the shipwrecked mariners cry for mercy, but far below in the calm untroubled depth they rest in peace.

  On Monday the work began again early in the morning, and another day was spent in searching and picking up the floating bodies and at night a number were buried. On Tuesday the work was still the same until the afternoon, when the fog set in, and continued all day Wednesday.

  Wednesday was partly spent in examining bodies, and at noon a number were committed to the deep. Thursday came in fine and from early morning until evening the work went on. During the day word came that the cable ship Minia was on her way to help and would be near us at midnight.

  "Early on Friday some more bodies were picked up. The captain then felt we had covered the ground fairly well and decided to start on our homeward way at noon. After receiving some supplies from the Minia we bid good-bye and proceeded on our way.

  "The Mackay-Bennett succeeded in finding 306 bodies, of which 116 were buried at sea, and one could not help feeling, as we steamed homeward, that of those bodies we had on board it would be well if the greater number of them were resting in the deep.

  "It is to be noted how earnestly and reverently all the work was done and how nobly the crew acquitted themselves during a work of several days which meant a hard and trying strain on mind and body.

  "What seems a very regrettable fact is that in chartering the Mackay-Bennett for this work the White Star Company did not send an official agent to accompany the steamer in her search for the bodies.


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