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Titanic: Finding the Dead

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Jennifer O'Dell
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« on: June 17, 2007, 08:24:45 pm »

The White Star Line took prompt steps as reports of the huge death toll came from the Carpathia. The Mackay-Bennett, a ship of the Commercial Cable Company, was commissioned to retrieve the bodies of passengers and crew. Commanded by Captain F.H. Lardner and a crew of volunteers (who received double wages for the duration of their task), the cable ship was rapidly stocked with coffins, dried ice, embalming materials, plus canvas and burlap sacks. She set sail towards the Titanic’s last reported position at Noon on April 17th.

 

Nobody could speculate how many bodies would be recovered - but since over 1,500 people had lost their lives, it was necessary to prepare for potentially large numbers of corpses. John Snow & Company, Ltd. of Halifax, was hired as the primary funeral firm; in addition, forty other members of the Funeral Directors' Association of the Maritime Provinces stood ready to embalm and prepare the dead for burial. Canon Hind of All Saints Cathedral and a professional embalmer joined the crew of the Mackay-Bennett to take care of spiritual and preservation matters

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Jennifer O'Dell
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« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2007, 08:26:20 pm »

Sea Of Death

Ships crossing between Europe and the USA had good reasons for avoiding the area where the Titanic foundered. It made sense not to tempt fate by sailing through an ice-infested region which had provided a fatal obstacle for the Worlds largest vessel. It was also logical to spare passengers from the possibility of being subjected to dead bodies bobbing on the waves. However, some ships did cross the paths of floating corpses and pieces of wreckage.

Scandinavian immigrants heading for Minnesota had this kind of traumatic experience; a report of what they’d seen was sent to President Taft: "In several instances," the passengers stated "bodies were struck by our boat and knocked from the water several feet into the air.".

First class passengers on the German liner Bremen saw a dead woman in her night dress, clasping a baby to her breast. Nearby was the body of another woman who had her arms around a shaggy dog. Other passengers saw the bodies of three men in a group, all clinging to a chair. A little further on, they beheld dozens of bodies, “wearing life belts and clinging desperately together as though in their last struggle for life”. The ocean around these sad scenes was thickly littered with deck chairs and other kinds of floating wreckage. Another German liner Rhein reported more bodies and debris at latitude 42.01° N, 49.13' W. The Bremen sent a message that she had sighted more than a hundred bodies at latitude 42.00° N, 49.20' W.; her captain offered to halt and take corpses aboard, but he was informed that the Mackay-Bennett was nearing the scene to perform that task. 

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Jennifer O'Dell
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2007, 08:29:22 pm »

Corpses Divided According To Class & Status

The Mackay-Bennett arrived at the site on Saturday, April 20, 1912 at 8 P.M. Around 4:30 a.m. the next morning, crew members manned a boat and began to retrieve the water-logged corpses. Fifty-one bodies were recovered during first day’s work - two children, three women and forty-six men.


 

As each body came aboard, a square of canvas with a stencilled number was attached to it. Items of personal property were placed in canvas bags bearing the same number. Many of the bodies were in poor condition. In fact, a lot were were damaged beyond recognition - some bore injuries sustained during the Titanic’s death throes; others had been disfigured by sea creatures or by colliding against ice and/or wreckage. Fortunately, this factor had been anticipated; all the bodies were painstakingly catalogued - a full description of the victim (including hair colour, height, weight, age, birthmarks and scars) was entered into a ledger next to his or her number. It was hoped that this information would aid the identification of victims who could not be immediately given names.   


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Jennifer O'Dell
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« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2007, 08:35:28 pm »

April 21, 1912: The ocean is strewn with woodwork, chairs and bodies, and there are several growlers about, all more or less dangerous, as they are often hidden in the swell. The cutter lowered, and the work commenced and kept up all day, picking up bodies. Hauling the soaked remains in saturated clothing over the side of the cutter is no light task. Fifty-one we have taken on board to-day, two children, three women, and forty-six men, and still the sea seems strewn.

Unidentified bodies were buried at sea:

8 P.M. The tolling of the bell summoned all hands to the forecastle where thirty bodies are to be committed to the deep, each carefully weighted and carefully sewed up in canvas. It is a weird scene, this gathering. The crescent moon is shedding a faint light on us, as the ship lays wallowing in the great rollers. The funeral service is conducted by the Reverend Canon Hind, for nearly an hour the words "For as much as it hath pleased...we therefore commit his body to the deep" are repeated and at each interval comes, splash! as the weighted body plunges into the sea, there to sink to a depth of about two miles. Splash, splash, splash.

April 22nd: All around is splintered woodwork, cabin fittings, mahogany fronts of drawers, carvings, all wrenched away from their fastenings, deck chairs, and then more bodies. Some of these are fifteen miles distant from those picked up yesterday.

8 P.M: Another burial service.

April 24th: Still dense fog prevailing, rendering further operations with the boats almost impossible...Noon. Another burial service held and seventy-seven bodies follow the others. The hoarse tone of the steam whistle reverberating through the mist, the dripping rigging, and the ghostly sea, the heaps of dead, and the hard weather-beaten faces of the crew, whose harsh voices join in the hymn tunefully rendered by Canon Hind, all combine to make a strange task stranger. Cold, wet, miserable and comfortless, all hands balance themselves against the heavy rolling of the ship as she lurches to the Atlantic swell, and even the most hardened must reflect on the hopes and fears, the dismay and despair, of those whose nearest and dearest, support and pride, have been wrenched from them by this tragedy.

Names of the bodies that could be identified were transmitted back to shore. The rest would have to wait until relatives or friends could make positive identifications.

More Vessels Join The Search

Captain Lardner contacted the White Star's New York office and reported that his ship needed help. On April 21, the company chartered another vessel - Minia, a cable ship owned by the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, Ltd and commanded by Captain W.G.S. De Carteret. A shortage of coffins delayed her departure, but once similarly-equipped to the Mackay-Bennet, she left at midnight on April 22nd to join the search.

 

The corpse of millionaire John Jacob Astor bore the number 124. He was allegedly badly crushed and covered in soot, indicating that he was killed when the Titanic's funnel collapsed (though this hypothesis has since been refuted). His body was the first to be claimed. After it's return to Halifax. Identification had been easy in Astor's case. His record noted that he wore a blue serge suit, a blue handkerchief with 'A.V.' on it, a belt with gold buckle, brown boots with red rubber soles, and a brown flannel shirt with 'J.J.A.' in its collar. Astor's effects included a gold watch, gold cuff links with diamonds, a diamond ring with three stones, £225 in English bank notes, $2,440 in American bank notes, £5 in gold, 7 shillings in silver, 50 francs, a gold pencil and a pocketbook.

Wallace Hartley, the bandleader was found with his music case still strapped to his side. The band's violinist, John Law Hume, was also found and buried in Halifax, his body was listed as Number 193.


By April 23rd, the Mackay-Bennett had 80 bodies on board. A passing liner provided extra supplies of canvas and burlap; the search resumed and continued for 14 straight hours. Eighty-seven more victims were recovered, searched, tagged and catalogued. Further burial services took place that night and at noon on the 24th. Seventy-seven bodies followed the others to watery graves.

6.15 a.m. , Friday, April 26th: The Minia and the Mackay-Bennett began their joint search. Fourteen more bodies were found by noon. These were placed aboard the Mackay-Bennett ; she was filled to capacity - her crew had found 306 bodies. Of these, 116 had been buried at sea. The cable ship now returned to Halifax with 190 victims on board. One hundred passengers were in all the available coffins; the rest lay in canvas bags on her forecastle deck.

The Minia remained searching, but bad weather and storms intervened - making the retrieval of more bodies almost impossible. Captain De Carteret advised the White Star Line that the gales had swept the remaining bodies into the Gulf Stream. With dificulty, the Minia did manage to retrieve some bodies and she brought fifteen corpses to Halifax on 6th May.

 

As the Minia headed to Halifax a third ship was dispatched by the White Star Line to continue the search. The Canadian Ministry of Marine and Fisheries' Montmagny left Sorel, Quebec. The Montmagny's efforts were thwarted by the elements. A dense fog still covered the area and she only recovered 4 corpses. On Monday, May 13th, the Montmagny crew off-loaded 3 coffins at Louisburg, Nova Scotia, for shipment to Halifax. Within a day she returned to the Titanic site to pick-up where she had left off - but only small pieces of wreckage, scattered to the east of the disaster site, were to be found. Reaching the edge of the Gulf Stream, the Montmagny left the area and headed for home without any more victims.

« Last Edit: June 17, 2007, 08:39:56 pm by Jennifer O'Dell » Report Spam   Logged
Jennifer O'Dell
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« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2007, 08:37:38 pm »

Collapsible ‘A’ & Its Grisly Cargo

The White Star Line made a final attempt to locate the passengers’ remains. On May 14th, the Bowring Brothers' vessel Algerine departed from St. John's, Newfoundland. The next day, the body of saloon steward James McGrady was found. At the time, it was believed that Grady would be the last victim of the Titanic to be recovered. However, mid-May brought a gruesome discovery.


 

 


A month after the sinking, 200 miles from the Titanic's last reported position, the Oceanic came upon collapsible boat "A." It contained three bodies, a passenger from Chicago - Mr. Thompson Beattie (who’d occupied Canin C- 6) and two crew members. The canvas sides of the boat had never been raised and there was a foot of water in the bottom. A group of volunteers rowed over from the Oceanic and prepared the bodies for burial. Passengers on the liner watched the scene in morbid fascination. The luncheon bugle was sounded during the volunteers’ activities, but it is said that none of the onlookers stirred until the last canvas-wrapped body was dropped into the sea.
 
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