Remembering a Titanic loss

The RMS Titanic.
The RMS Titanic.
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CARLY LEWTHWAITE relives the fateful night, 14th April 1912 when the RMS Titanic sank, and tells the story of one Peterborough family who never made it to their new life in Florida.

On 10th April, 1912, the Titanic set off on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England and headed for both Cherbourg in France and Queenstown in Ireland to collect more passengers.

The RMS Titanic at Southampton dock.

The RMS Titanic at Southampton dock.

The Titanic then set sail for New York with 1,300 passengers and 900 crew members.

Four days into the journey, everything aboard, what was described as a ‘floating palace’, was running like clockwork.

Passengers were split into three categories, first class, second class and third (‘steerage’) class, each kept separate from each other and with their own facilities and entertainment.

The Titanic’s Jacobean style white dining room could cater for 500 people at the same time and food could be ordered from the a la carte menu at any time between eight in the morning and eleven at night.

A ticket for the RMS Titanic.

A ticket for the RMS Titanic.

After dining, the rich businessmen would retire for port and cigars to their first class smoking room, whose hand-painted windows displayed pictures of shipping ports around the world.

The Titanic was indeed a ‘home from home’ for the rich and influential - while the Verandah café had trellises displaying plants, the Parisien had been designed to look like a sidewalk café, complete with French waiters.

The richest person on board was J. J. Astor, an American businessman and investor, who was returning to America with his pregnant wife Madeleine and their entourage.

He helped his wife and their female staff onto the lifeboat, though he and his valet Victor Robbins didn’t make it themselves.

A cafe aboard the RMS Titanic.

A cafe aboard the RMS Titanic.

Isidor Straus from New York had served as a member of the House of Representatives and was on board with his wife Ida.

Although Isidor was offered a place on the lifeboat with his wife, he refused to be saved before men younger than himself. His wife refused to leave the Titanic without her husband and they were reportedly last seen sitting in deckchairs and holding hands on board the sinking ship.

Around 300 passengers made up second class, ranging from clergymen, teachers, athletes and tourists. Of the 178 survivors from 706 passengers in second class, the youngest survivor was two-month-old Millvina Dean.

Though her then 25-year-old father was not one of the survivors, Millvina was saved with both her mother and her one year-old-brother, Bertram. Millvina died on May 31, 2009, the last of the survivors.

Though many of the 700 third class passengers on the Titanic were English, there were also many immigrants, all hoping for a better life in America. They came from far and wide, including Sweden, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Austria, China and Belgium.

The night of April 14 was cold and clear, with starry skies and the sea calm and still.

During the journey, Edward John Smith, the captain, received an iceberg warning and steered a course slightly further south than the original route.

It is believed that at 1.45pm on that fateful day the radio operators received a message from the steamer, Amerika, to inform them of large icebergs within the new course of the Titanic. This message was never relayed.

At 11.40pm while small children slept and adults danced the night away, a large iceberg was spotted immediately ahead by the two lookouts. The order was given to turn the Titanic around but, 37 seconds later, the ship collided with the enormous mass of ice. Titanic’s hull was buckled in several places and six compartments were flooded, two more than the ship was built to withstand.

The captain ordered an immediate halt of the vessel but the weight of the extra compartments that were flooded caused the bow of the Titanic to go down and more water to enter the badly-damaged liner.

Just after midnight, Captain Smith ordered that the lifeboats be uncovered and the order was soon given to fill the lifeboats with passengers, following a ‘women and children first’ rule.

The first successful lifeboat launched from the Titanic carried only 28 of the possible 65 people it could hold - possibly many thought they had a better chance staying on the Titanic than going off in the smaller boats.

By the time it went under there were still two lifeboats that had not been lowered and only one of these landed the right way up, damage resulting from the fall which caused it to half fill with water.

Although the Titanic carried more lifeboats than were stipulated by the British Board of Trade Regulations, they were still only going to be able to rescue 1,178 of the 2,200 on board.

It wasn’t until 12.50am that the first white distress rocket was fired and, although the wireless operators began sending the SOS distress calls, it was four hours before a ship, the Carpathia, arrived at the scene.

At 2.20am, the Titanic disappeared from view.

When the Carpathia arrived at 4.10am, the crew spent four hours picking up lifeboat passengers and any other survivors before it set sail for New York at 8.30am on the 15th.

Out of 2,200 people on board, 1,500 died.

Most were first and second class men, most of the rest were made up of passengers in third class. Locked into their ‘steerage’ area at night, amid the panic no-one thought to unlock the gates.

Although Titanic was fitted with six extra lifeboats than required, they still would not have saved everyone on board, the ‘unsinkable’ dream being put before the very real possibility that a disaster might occur.

Lessons learnt from an inquiry into the sinking called for a change in maritime law, also known as admiralty law and ‘the law of the sea’.

However, even 100 years on, the details of such an incredible disaster still leave questions unanswered and the knowledge that so many lives, filled with hopes and dreams, ended in pain, fear and distress will touch the hearts of generations to come.

The city family who were lost in the tragedy

THE 11-strong Sage family from Peterborough boarded the ship excited about a brand new life in Jacksonville, Florida.

Little did they know that they were soon to become a grim statistic - the worst loss of life of any individual family on board the fateful ship.

John (44) and Annie (44) Sage were travelling with their nine children, Thomas Henry (4), Constance Gladys (7), Elizabeth Ada (10), Anthony William (12), Dorothy (14), Frederick (16), a professional cook, Douglas (18), a baker, George John (19), a barman and Stella (20) who was a dressmaker.

The 1911 census showed them as living at 246 Gladstone Street in Peterborough and it is known that Mr Sage purchased and worked in a bakery at number 237 in the same street.

John later travelled to Canada at the start of 1911 with his son George. They both worked as dining car attendants and later inspectors on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

While they were there, father and son visited Florida and John fell in love with Jacksonville.

John purchased a fruit farm there and then returned to England to plan the move.

At the cost of a little over sixty nine pounds, they purchased ticket number 2343 and arrived at Peterborough station for the first leg of the journey to Southampton.

The train, which was due to leave Peterborough at 3.52pm, did not arrive from the north until an hour later, allowing friends who had come to wish the family God-speed to enjoy a longer farewell. These friends were Mr and Mrs Todd of Walpole Street, and Mr Cracknell and Mr Gibbs, neighbours of Gladstone Street.

Whilst the youths, Douglas, George, and Fred, were engaged in conservation with their companions from the Great Northern Hotel, where at one time they were employed, other members of the party were exchanging farewells, and all spoke of a contemplated return to the old country in years to come. John Sage joked with his friends that he would send them a sample of the pecan nuts which he intended to grow on his farm.

Miss Stella Sage, who was a great personal friend of Mrs Todd’s, was most emphatic in saying she would be back again in a year or two. Amid all the heartiest good wishes, with handkerchiefs waving the emigrants were speeded on their journey, which, alas in a few days was to end in a tragedy swift, sudden, and almost heart-breaking to contemplate.

Although the younger children were excited about the great sea adventure and promise of a new life, 20-year-old Stella was loathe to leave her many friends, and only agreed to leave on the condition that her father paid for a return journey, should she not like Florida.

Annie didn’t welcome the move either. After years of moving around she finally felt settled in Peterborough. She told many friends and neighbours that she was apprehensive about the voyage and was sure that something bad was going to happen.

Preying on her mind was an incident that had happened a couple of years previously when her daughter, Dolly (Dorothy), had fallen into the well in the backyard of their home in Gladstone Street.

Fortunately, her hair was so long and thick that next door neighbour, Tom Gibbs, was able to seize her tresses and pull her out. According to East Coast folklore, a person who had once been rescued from drowning would eventually meet their fate in the same manner.

Friends tried to persuade her that it was just superstition and she eventually relented.

When the ship struck an iceberg just after 11.40pm on April 14, 1912, the HMS Titanic was four days into her journey and 375 miles south of Newfoundland, north Canada.

The panic that ensued saw the staff forget to unlock the gates to the third class area. Despite this, the family somehow made it up to the boat deck and Stella secured a place in a lifeboat.

Upon hearing that her family couldn’t join her, she got back out of the boat to be with them.

The only body of the Sage family to be identified was that of twelve-year-old Anthony William,who was recovered from the freezing waters of the Atlantic by cable steamer SS Mackay Bennett.

His was the 67th body to be found by the vessel and was listed thus: ‘Number 67. Male, Estimated age 14. Hair medium. Clothing: grey suit (knickers), striped shirt, black boots and stockings. No marks on body or clothing. Third Class Ticket, Will Sage on Ticket List No. 20 berth 126.’

William’s remains were committed to the sea again on the same day.

A few days after the sinking, Mrs Todd, a close friend of Stella, received a cheery postcard with a picture of the great vessel on it, posted a few days before the boat went down.

It read: ‘Dear Mrs Todd. Just a postcard of the boat. I am not sea sick yet and hope I shall not be. Will write a long letter while on the boat. Cheer up, I’m coming back soon. With love, Stella.’

Hopes were raised when a little boy, thought to be four-year-old Thomas, was found alone amongst the survivors.

A relative was sent to New York to collect the little boy, only to discover upon arrival that he was the son of a tailor from Nice.

John Sage’s estate was settled in Peterborough, administration was granted on 25 May 1912 to Mary Ann Perrin, one of his sisters.

His effects in England amounted to £347.9.0d.

The ship in numbers:

Construction began in March 1909 and was completed in March 1912.

The grand liner took three years to build at a cost of £2 million pounds, paid for by John Pierpoint Morgan and his International Mercantile Marine Company.

3,000 labourers built the Titanic at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland.

159 coal furnaces powered the three enormous propellers at the rear of the ship.

She had a top speed of 23 knots, or 26 miles per hour.

Designed to hold 3547 passengers and crew, there were only 1,300 passengers and 900 crew on her fateful voyage.

First class passengers paid up to £870 (£64,000 today) for a large suite.

Second class passengers could pay anything up to thirteen pounds (£950 today) for their tickets.

Use of the Turkish, electric or swimming baths cost first class passengers four shillings a session, or one shilling for the swimming baths only.

Use of the squash court and professional coaching cost two shillings per half hour and rugs amd chairs cost four shillings each to hire for the journey.