Friday, April 13, 2012

Remembering the Victims of the Titanic, 100 Years Later

Iceberg Ahead

Sinking of the Titanic
On Saturday, April 14th, 1912, at 11:40 P.M. the largest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, the Titanic, struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic during her maiden voyage.  At 2:20 A.M. the massive ship disappeared under the icy waters.  Just over a third of the 2,200 passengers and crew were still alive, sitting in the half filled lifeboats, or trying to swim and stay alive in the frigid waters.

Carpathia after rescue
When the Carpathia arrived the next morning to rescue survivors, only 700 remained alive. Over 1,500 people had died that night, most of them second and third class passengers.

Bringing in the Dead

Attending the dead
CS MacKay - Bennett
The White Star Line chartered four ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia to search for remains after the sinking.  Halifax, located 700 miles west of where the Titanic went down, sent out Cable Steamer MacKay-Bennett on April 17th to search for bodies.  CS MacKay-Bennett was carrying an undertaker, a minister, 100 coffins, canvas body bags, embalming fluid, and a cargo of ice. She arrived at the scene on April 20 and remained for 5 days.  306 bodies were found during that time. Of those, 116 had to be buried at sea. 209 were delivered to Halifax – of those 30 were not identified.
CS Minia

The CS Minia relieved the CS MacKay-Bennett of its mission on April 26.  The Minia was loaded with 150 coffins and twenty tons of ice. Due to rough weather, only 17 bodies were recovered, of those two were buried at sea.  

CGS Montmagny
SS Algerine
On May 6, the CGS Montmagny departed Halifax and recovered four more bodies, one that was buried at sea.

The final ship to recover a body was the SS Algerine. It was that of Saloon steward James McGrady, who was interred in Fairview Lawn Cemetery on June 12, 1912.

Retrieving bodies
A month after the sinking, the Oceanic discovered Collapsible A drifting out at sea. The lifeboat contained three bodies.

A total of 340 bodies were recovered in all, 128 were buried at sea, 209 were delivered to Halifax.

Hearses wait for the dead
In death as in life, first class passengers were given the preferential treatment of being placed in coffins.  Second and third class passengers, along with the ship’s crew were placed in canvas bags and unloaded on the Coal or Flagship Wharf of the Naval Dockyard.  Horse-drawn hearses arrived there and carried the bodies to the makeshift morgue set up in the Mayflower Curling Rink in Halifax. 

Come to claim the bodies
Families came to Halifax to collect their dead and 59 were shipped back to their families.  The remaining 150 who were either not claimed, were claimed but families could not afford to ship them home, or those who could not be identified, were buried at three Halifax cemeteries.

Stone for body number 179
Stone for George Swane
The White Star Line purchased plain gray granite markers for the deceased, listing the name and date of death, April 15th, 1912.  For the 30 unidentified remains only the date of death and a marker number is engraved on the stone.

Titanic Section
Fairview Lawn Cemetery
Fairview Lawn Cemetery received the most victims from the Titanic.  One hundred and twenty-one were buried here.  The graves are laid out in a curve, similar to the hull of a ship.  Fairview Lawn was established in 1893 as a public cemetery, located at the North End of Halifax.  Of over 100 passengers, one third have never been identified.  The city of Halifax paid for the burial of 120 of the victims.

Description of child
Sidney Leslie Goodwin
Unknown Child
A grave known for decades as ‘The Unknown Child’ is located here.  Sailors of the CS MacKay-Bennett, the ship that recovered his body, paid for his burial and carried his casket to its resting place.  His headstone reads “Erected to the memory of an unknown child whose remains were recovered after the disaster of the "Titanic" April 15th 1912'   In 2002 the child was tentatively identified as 13-month-old Elno Vijami Panula of Finland.  But after forensic testing in 2007, he was re-identified as 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin from Fulham, England.

Joseph Dawson
Fairview Lawn also contains the remains of “J. Dawson.”  This is the grave of Joseph Dawson, a coal trimmer on the Titanic from Dublin, Ireland.  Oddly enough, this name is similar to the name of the character Leonardo DiCaprio played (Jack Dawson) in the 1997 film, Titanic.  Film director James Cameron said there is no connection between the film’s character and the Irish Joseph Dawson.  But Dawson’s grave it one of the most visited in the cemetery.

Poster of Orchestra
John (Jack) Hume
Also located here is the body of 21-year-old John (Jack) Law Hume of Dumfries, Scotland.  Hume boarded the Titanic at Southampton, traveling with seven other musicians who made up the orchestra for the trip. (Hume played the violin in the orchestra.)  All eight men were traveling as second-class passengers in exchange for their performing during the voyage. Shortly after midnight the band assembled in the First Class Lounge and began to play a variety of music.  When passengers began boarding lifeboats, the band reassembled near the Boat Deck and continued to play until the ship listed, then the band members were gone.

Mt Olivet Cemetery
Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery interred nineteen Titanic passengers.  Established in 1896, this Roman Catholic cemetery has over 25,000 interments.  The graves for Titanic victims include:
Nineteen graves
William Ali, Batiste Bernardi, J. F. P. Clarke, Maurice F. Debreucq, Mansour Hanna, Ignaz Hendekovic, Petril Lemberopoulis, Henru Jalliet, Wenzel Linhart, Thomas Morgan, Servando Ovies, Pompeo Piazzo, Margaret Rice, Georgis Youssif, Hileni Zabour, and the bodies of three women and one man, who remain unidentified.
Frederick W. Wormald
Rabbi with graves
Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery was established in 1893. Ten Titanic victims are buried here. According to reports of the time, Rabbi Jacob Walter of Halifax searched through the rows of victims, trying to locate those of Jewish descent.  He realized that at least ten of the victims had been Jewish and had those bodies interred in Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. All were male but only three were identified; Titanic saloon steward Frederick W Wormald, and passengers Leopold Weisz and Michel Navratil.  It was later discovered that Wormald was of the Church of England, and Navratil, who boarded under the alias Louis Hoffman, was Catholic.

Michel Navratil
The Titanic Orphans
Children reunited with mother
Michel Navratil was traveling under the assumed name of Louis Hoffman for a specific purpose.  Namely, to spirit away his two young sons, Michel Jr, age 4 and Edmond, age 2, to American.  After a recent separation from his wife Marcelle, Navratil took the children for what was to have been a weekend stay in Southampton, England.  Instead, he boarded the Titanic with them, with plans to start a new life in America.  When Navratil realized that no one was coming to the ship’s rescue and the ship Titanic would not survive, he placed his two sons in one of the last lifeboats. The two boys became known as the Titanic Orphans. It took officials and the media over a month of searching and posting photos of the two before their mother was reunited with them in New York.
Grave of Leopold Weisz
His Business Card
Leopold Weisz was a Hungarian born stone carver, just married and on his way to Canada to start a new life.  His new bride, Mathilde Pede, survived the tragedy. Weisz did not.  He had sewn over 50 pounds in gold, his lifesavings, into his coat before they set sail.  His body was recovered from the Atlantic, still wearing the coat, with the gold weighing it down.  The money was to have been used for them to make a new life in Montreal.

Identifying the Dead
Typed description of body
The recovered bodies were numbered as they were retrieved and listed by sex and estimated age.  Hair color, facial hair, any identifying marks such as moles, birthmarks or tattoos were also noted.  A description of what type of clothing each was wearing was given, along with any personal effect found on the body.  The class of passenger or crew title was given, if known, and the person’s name was listed last, if known.

Wendla was identified
Some bodies have been identified in the intervening years.  Take, for example, body number 8 described when found as:
CLOTHING –Red striped skirt; green petticoat, grey ditto, knitted ditto; blue flannelette drawers; black button boots and rubbers, size 8; thick grey stockings.
CHEMISE MARKED ‘ ‘V.H.’ in red on front.
This woman was identified in 1991 as 23 year-old Wendla Maria Heininen of Laitila, Finland, on her way to New York.  Wendla was buried in Fairview Lawn cemetery and her name has been added to the side of her stone.

Although the tragedy occurred one hundred years ago, its impact is still felt –

The Titanic disaster led to the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) held in London on November 12, 1913.

Titanic Lifeboats
During this session it was mandated that there were to be an adequate number of lifeboats (equal to the number of passengers) on board all ships, and that lifeboat drills must held.

Firing Distress Rockets
It was also ruled that the firing of red rockets from a ship must be considered a distress signal.

Ice Patrol
The formation of the International Ice Patrol was ordered so that the Atlantic Ocean would be monitored for icebergs posing a treat to sea traffic.

Titanic Radio Room
The Radio Act of 1912 stated that passenger ships would maintain radio communication 24-hours a day and have a backup power supply.  Ships were also required to maintain contact with vessels in their vicinity and with coastal onshore radio stations.

The tragedy also brought about design changes in the building of ocean liners and ships including double hulls and fully watertight compartments.

New York Herald
This Sunday, April 15th, exactly one hundred years after the Titanic disaster, an interfaith memorial and candlelight procession will be held at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax.  Flares will be set off at the time the Titanic began sinking, and the Nova Scotia provincial government will tweet the Titanic’s final emergency message @!/nsgov  (Final message was sent at 2:17 A.M. but never completed.  Ship sank at 2:20 A.M.)

~ Joy

If you would like to assist with the care and maintenance of the Titanic victims' graves, donations can be made to:
The Halifax Titanic Graves Trust Fund
Halifax Regional Municipality,
PO Box 1749,
Nova Scotia
Canada, B3J 3AS


  1. This was such a tragedy that here we are, still enthralled by it 100 years later. Thank you for such an indepth and interesting account.These are all facts that are usually not relayed.

  2. Thank you for this post! I gladly shared it on twitter, facebook and google+...

  3. What a fantastically interesting post! Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Rebecca, I appreciate the shares!!
    Herding Cats, I'm glad you enjoyed it!!
    Thanks to both of you!