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Australia & Titanic – April 2012

Southampton, 10th April 1912. Harry Sutehall lit another cigarette, glanced up at the clock and sighed again. Still no sign of Howard, damn him. The 25-year-old London-born violinist ran his fingers over the two third class tickets he’d purchased earlier in the week, one for himself and one for his buddy, Howard Irwin, the fiery tempered New Yorker with whom he had been travelling the world for the past two years. They’d funded much of their adventures through music; Harry with his violin and Howard the clarinet.

This Atlantic trip was supposed to be the final leg and what a ship to voyage upon – the largest vessel afloat in the whole darned globe! Harry mind was already focused on somehow getting back to Australia, marrying the girl he loved in Sydney and becoming a concert violinist. Maybe Howard would join him. Only now Howard had vanished, leaving Harry holding onto his trunk and clarinet, as well as his own luggage and violin. Where the hell was he?

A few hundred metres away, Thomas Brown squeezed his wife’s hand as the dockers winched up 1,000 rolls of fresh bed linen into Titanic’s hold.[i] For the Browns and their 15-year-old daughter Edith, this was part of a long journey from South Africa to Seattle where they intended to open up a new hotel. Thomas liked to plan ahead. Hence, all the linen.

The Browns were in second class. So was Arthur Gordon McCrae, a bespectacled 32-year-old Australian engineer planning to reunite with friends in Canada. For the past few years, McCrae had been assistant manager at the Spasskii copper-mine in Siberia. On his finger was a diamond and emerald ring, symbolic of his recent engagement to the mine manager’s daughter. Arthur’s father was an inspector at the Bank of Australasia in Sydney. Arthur was a 10-year-old schoolboy at Sydney Grammar School when his grandmother died. She was an illegitimate daughter of the 5th and last Duke of Gordon and she’d left enough money for him to go to St Paul’s College in Sydney, and from there to Siberia.[ii]

Evelyn Marsden discreetly watched the passengers gliding into the magnificent First Class Saloon. For the next week, the 28-year-old stewardess would be at their beck and call.[iii] It was all a far cry from the tiny railway town of Hoyleton in South Australia where Evelyn was born and where her father was the stationmaster.[iv] Her active youth involved rowing boats up the Murray River and riding through the rolling vineyards of the Clare Valley.

Leonard White was already fully acquainted with the elaborate decorative work of the First Class Saloon where he too would be stewarding for the upcoming voyage.[v] He’d sailed on Titanic’s delivery trip from Belfast, arriving in Southampton ten days earlier. It was the 31-year-old from Sydney’s first job with the White Star line and it was certainly one up from the RMS Osterley, the steamship he’d previously served on. By the end of the month, he’d be due his first pay of £3 and 15 shilling.

It was also Donald Campbell’s debut with the White Star line. The 28-year-old bachelor from Melbourne had signed onto Titanic’s staff roster as a 3rd class clerk the previous day for a monthly wage of £5.[vi]

A fiver was all well and good for a single man but, up on deck, the Sydney-born boatswain Alfred ‘Big Neck’ Nichols was glad his monthly wage was now up to £8 10s.[vii] That ought to make Mrs. Nichols a little happier.[viii]

Will McMaster Murdoch, Titanic’s 39-year-old First Master, knew a thing or two about Australians. A decade earlier, the burly Scot had served for the White Star Line’s Australia service and he regularly stayed with cousins in Williamstown, outside Melbourne.[ix]

Charles Lightoller, Titanic’s fun-loving second mate, worked alongside Murdoch during the Australia days and married Sylvia Hawley-Wilson from Sydney. The pipe-smoking Lancastrian caused considerable trouble to the White Star Line when, during the time of the Boer War, he and four midshipmen rowed out to Sydney’s Fort Denison early one morning, ran up a homemade Boer flag and loaded the fort’s canon with gunpowder connected by a long fuse. The resultant bang blew the fort windows out and awoke everyone in the vicinity. Lightoller was exceedingly lucky to retain his job after the White Star Line paid damages and issued an apology.

Travelling down in 3rd class was Karl Dahl, a 45-year-old Norwegian joiner who’d been operating between Adelaide and Oceania for the past 25 years. Dahl was having a midlife crisis. He’d initially decided to leave Australia and return to Norway but, since arriving in England, he’d changed his mind and opted to sail for America where his mother was living in South Dakota.

On 10th April, Titanic sailed from Southampton to Cherbourg, France, where they collected another 274 passengers including the New York millionaire John Astor and the mining tycoon Benjamin Guggenheim. Then onwards to Queenstown (Cobh) on the south coast of Ireland where she collected the last of her 1,317 passengers. Amongst them was Margaret Rice, a widowed housekeeper who was making the journey along with her five sons, the eldest of whom was ten. They were returning to America after their first visit home since their father’s death in a railway accident two years earlier.

As one passenger later recalled, “The last we saw of Europe was the Irish mountains dim and faint in the dropping darkness.” Three and a half days later, just before midnight, Titanic struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland with such force that it ripped a 300-foot long series of punctures along her hull.[x]

Precisely two hours and 40 minutes later, at 2:27 a.m., Titanic split and sank. To borrow some words from Derek Mahon’s poem ‘After the Titanic’, she went ‘thundering down in a pandemonium of prams, pianos, sideboards, winches, boilers bursting and shredded ragtime.’

Edith Brown was asleep in her cabin with her mother when the ship struck the iceberg. Her father appeared in the room a few minutes later. ‘You’d better put on your life jackets and something warm’, he said. ‘It’s cold on deck. It’s just a precaution. The steward in the corridor says it’s nothing to worry about.’

On the floor below, Karl Dahl was hurled out of bed by the impact. He managed to make his way to the boat deck where he and found a scene of utter panic as the crew tried to get the women and children onto the lifeboats. Dahl plunged into the icy water and began swimming for the nearest lifeboat.[xi]

‘We waited for ages on the boat deck for someone to tell us what to do’, recalled Edith Brown. ‘The ship’s band was playing ragtime. They played to keep our spirits up. Everybody kept saying: ‘She’s unsinkable. She won’t go down. Father kissed us and saw us into Lifeboat 14.’

Evelyn Marsden was frantically boarding women and children onto Lifeboat 16 when Bruce Ismay, manager of the White Star Line, ordered her to jump into it. ‘I’m only a stewardess’, she protested. But Ismay was insistent. ‘Never mind’, he replied, ‘I’ve seen you give way to several others. It’s your turn now’. One of her fellow passengers later recalled how ‘Miss Marsden rowed all night with the men’. The experience of rowing against the tides and currents of the Murray River stood her in good stead but it was nearly a week before her parents received a cablegram from New York stating that she had arrived safely.[xii] Six months after the tragedy, Evelyn visited her relation’s at Murray Bridge and thanked them for teaching her how to handle a boat properly.[xiii]

Will Murdoch took charge of the starboard evacuation and launched ten lifeboats, containing almost 75% of the passengers who survived. Charles Lightoller – the most senior officer to survive the disaster – saw him trying to launch Collapsible Lifeboat A from the falls on the Boat Deck just before the bridge went under. A huge wave washed him overboard and his body, if recovered, was never identified.[xiv]

The moustachioed Alfred ‘Big Neck’ Nichols was last seen leading a team of six seamen to open some of the lower gangway doors to load lifeboats. None of them were ever seen again. Nor was Donald Campbell or Saloon Steward Leonard White.

Margaret Rice was last seen holding her three-year-old son Eugene while her other four children clung onto her skirt. None survived.

Arthur McCrae was still wearing a blue suit, flannel shirt, white canvas shoes and his diamond and emerald ring when his body was recovered.[xv]

Out at sea, Karl Dahl claimed that when he clambered onto Lifeboat 15, some of its occupants tried to push him back overboard claiming there was no room for him. It was pitch black and the boat had no provisions.[xvi]

Nearly fifty people were crammed into Edith Brown’s lifeboat including a man dressed as a woman. As the ship rowed away, Edith could still hear the band playing. Only now they were playing hymns instead of ragtime. She spent six hours in the lifeboat, without food and water, before the two big green lights of rescue ship Carpathia broke through the early morning mist. Edith, who later lived in Brisbane, and died aged 100 in 1997, recalled how all she could think of was her father, last seen smoking a cigar and sipping brandy on deck, dressed in his Edwardian best.[xvii]

Thomas Brown’s body was never recovered. Nor was that of Harry Sutehall who either sank to the ocean floor with the stern, or was one of the hundreds washed off the rear deck as it plunged into the water. Eight decades later, divers found Howard Irwin’s trunk, cracked it open and discovered his diary, which revealed the details of their world trip. As for Howard’s failure to make Titanic, he was knocked out during a scuffle with some English sailors in Southampton the night before. When he came to, he’d been shanghaied onto a ship bound for Turkey.[xviii]


Titanic & Australia by Turtle Bunbury (The Australian, April 2012)

Titanic & Ireland by Turtle Bunbury (Ireland of the Welcomes, March 2012)

Titanic & South Africa by Turtle Bunbury (Mail & Guardian, South Africa, 13 April 2012 – see online version here)

Who sank the Titanic? by Turtle Bunbury

Violet Jessop – The Luckiest Stewardess Afloat by Turtle Bunbury (Irish Daily Mail, 12 April 2012)

See also my article in The Australian about Titanic Belfast.

[i] The powers that be in Sydney knew about the ship because, with its record-breaking 202 foot mast, they were going to have to seriously consider the height of the new bridge.

On 6th April, the Sydney Morning Herald told readers how ‘the recent successful dry-docking, of the giant White Star liner Titanic at Belfast’ was ‘a timely reminder of the fact that no other port in the world could find such accommodation for her (says the London “Financial News”). Not only so, but the harbour commissioners there are taking steps for the purpose of enlarging their Alexandra Dock, where the Titanic is lying, so as to provide room for even bigger vessels.

On 10th April 1912, readers of The West Australian had this: ‘ The Titanic, which was the largest vessel launched in 1911, has an approximate tonnage of 46,000 tons. The advent of this vessel into the Atlantic trade is now being looked forward to with the keenest interest. The masts and all four funnels are now erected, and the machinery on board and the ironwork of the superstructure well advanced. The inside work is also proceeding apace. An interesting feature is the cementing and tiling of the swimming pond, which is progressing rapidly, as also the elaborate decorative work in the magnificent saloon, smokeroom, restaurant, and other public apartments. Great public interest is shown in the enterprise of the White Star Line in providing this second edition of the Olympic.’

[ii] Arthur Gordon McCrae, a great-grandson of the Duke of Gordon, was born in Adelaide on 7 January 1880, the youngest son of Farquhar Peregrine Gordon McCrae (1838-1915), a former inspector of the Bank of Australasia, Sydney, Australia, and Emily Aphrasia Brown. Arthur’s grandmother was Georgiana Huntly McCrae (1804-1890) the (illegitimate) daughter of George, 5th Duke of Gordon and Jane Graham. Georgiana migrated to Australia with her husband Andrew (1800-1874). They had nine children, the fourth was Farquhar Peregrine R. McCrae, Arthur’s father. The bespectacled Arthur was educated at the Sydney Grammar School and at St Paul’s College, Sydney University, and graduated as a Bachelor of Engineering. After completing his studies he received an appointment at a gold-mine in West Africa, from which he proceeded to the post of assistant-manager of the Spasky copper-mine, Akmolinsk, Siberia. He became engaged to the daughter of the mine manager.

[iii] Miss Marsden and some 246 Titanic crew-members previously served ex on the Olympic, Titanic’s sister-ship. Evelyn had been on Olympic when the ship collided with a British warship off the Isle of Wight the previous September. The blame game was still in motion but Captain Edward Smith who’d commanded Olympic was now in charge of Titanic.

[iv] Mrs Evelyn Marsden was born on 15 October 1883 at Stockyard Creek, Dalkey, South Australia. She was the daughter of railway worker Walter Henry Marsden and Annie Bradshaw. Stockyard Creek is about 80 km north of Adelaide and is now in ruins. By 1912, her father was the Stationmaster at Hoyleton, a tiny town about 20 km further north. She was in the Victualling Crew. Like some 246 other crew members, Evelyn had previously served on the Olympic and was on her when she collided with HMS Hawke in Sept 1911. She signed-on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912 she gave her address as 7 West Marlands Terrace (Polygon, Southampton). As a stewardess she was paid monthly wages of £3 10s.

[v] The Saloon Steward Mr Leonard Lisle Oliver White was on board the Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast to Southampton on Monday 1st April so knew the ship better than most. When he signed-on again, in Southampton, on 4 April 1912, he gave his address as 248 Romsey Road, (Southampton). His last ship had been the Osterley. As a saloon steward he received monthly wages of £3 15s. White died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified. He was a married man.

[vi] When Donald S. Campbell signed-on to the Titanic, on 9 April 1912 the only address he gave was “White Star Line, Southampton”. His last ship had been the Ulimaroa.

[vii] Like Donald Campbell, little is known about Mr. Nichols. As Boatswain he received monthly wages of £8 10s. When he signed-on again, in Southampton, on 6 April 1912, he gave his address as St. Cloud Oak Tree Road, (Shirley, Southampton).

[viii] Like Miss Marsden, the 42-year-old Nichols had previously served on Olympic. And, like Leonard White, he’d sailed on the Belfast to Southampton delivery.

[ix] Will McMaster Murdoch married a school teacher from New Zealand. He had actually been demoted by Captain Smith as the Titianc prepared to sail, when Henry Wilde became First Officer.

[x] The calamity has since been blamed on everyone from Captain Smith to the moon which apparently fired out an unusual gravitational pull that yanked the icebergs out of position. The story exploded into Australian papers on Tuesday 16th April. A typical report ran as follows: ‘Alarming news has been received concerning the White Star s.s. Titanic, which shares with her sister ship, the Olympic, the distinction of being the largest type of vessel afloat. An urgent message from Cape Race (S.E. of Newfoundland) states that the Titanic is sinking by the head, and that the women passengers are being removed from her. The Titanic, which was only launched in May last, was on her maiden voyage. She left Southampton for New York on Wednesday with nearly 3,000 passengers on board. (The Argus, Tuesday 16 April 1912, p. 7).

The Mercury (Wednesday 17 April 1912, p. 3) added that Captain Fletcher, aide-de-camp to the Governor of South Australia (Sir Day Bosanquet), was making ‘anxious inquiries today about the fate of the Titanic. He has every reason to believe that his brother, Mr. E. L. Fletcher, was aboard the vessel. The latter has been manager of the Australian department of the White Star Co. at Liverpool.’ Fletcher was actually fine and had not boarded.

[xi] Born in 1866, Karl Dahl was one of eight children born to a Norwegian fisherman from Finnmarkens. At the age of 26, he emigrated to Australia where he found work as a Joiner in Adelaide, later moving to Oceania. After 30 years in Australia, he decided to return to Norway, via London. While in London, he changed his mind and instead purchased a third class ticket on Titanic, aiming to see his mother in Fingal, North Dakota. On the night of the sinking Karl claimed that the impact threw him out of his bunk. According to one account, he changed into warmer clothing and headed to the aft well-deck and from there to the boat deck where he stood in prayer lead by Father Byles. However, another statement by him goes as follows: “I was in bed when the crash came. Without stopping to dress, I rushed up on deck, and in some way, I don’t know how, found myself in the water. I must have jumped. The sight was terrible. Men were fighting with women to get in boats. I heard several shots fired around me. I was picked up by one of the boats.”

[xii] According to a report on the enquiry in New York, published in the Daily Mirror on April 30 (and carried in The Advertiser on 7 June 1912, p. 8), Miss Marsden was busy boarding women and children onto a lifeboat when Mr Ismay, manager of the White Star Line, said “Jump into that boat please”. She replied, ‘I am only a stewardess’ but he persisted and said, Never mind, I have seen you give way to several others. It’s your turn now’. She duly boarded lifeboat 16.According to Mrs. A. Martin of Portsmouth, ‘Miss Marsden rowed all night with the men’ until they were picked up by Carpathia, reaching New York on Thursday 18th April. In Australia, residents were recalling Miss Marsden as ‘one of the cleverest horsewomen in the district’ and ‘there was certainly no lady ride more graceful when mounted’, said The Advertiser (23 April). The Advertiser published the news of her safe arrival on 22nd April

[xiii] The James’s arrived back in Adelaide, South Australia at the Semaphore anchorage in November 1912. Her husband took up residence as a doctor at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and they moved into a new apartment in Ruthven Mansions on Pulteney Street. The couple then moved to the South Australian coastal town of Wallaroo and lived and worked there for 15 months before they moved to the Sydney suburb of Bondi where William continued to practice as a doctor. They had no children. Evelyn died 30 August 1938, her husband died soon after. His grand nephew said Dr James arranged to die when he did as he could not bear to live without his beloved Evelyn. They are buried at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney. The grave was unmarked until 2000 when a stone was finally erected on the site.

[xiv] Within days of the disaster, there was talk of a suicide that occurred near the end of Titanic’s sinking. Some claimed it was Murdoch but several members of the crew, including the ship’s lamp trimmer, Samuel Hemming, and Second Officer Charles Lightoller said they saw Murdoch swept away while attempting to free Collapsible A from the. Surviving wireless operator Harold Bride later stated that he saw Murdoch in the water nearby Collapsible Lifeboat “B,” but that he was already dead.

[xv] He was recovered by the MacKay Bennett and buried at Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 10 May 1912.

[xvi] Dahl was rescued in lifeboat 15 after being allowed to climb down the falls. He claimed that the people in the already crowded boat tried to throw him overboard. He lost a wallet which contained all the money he had in the world. “I jumped into one of the Titanic’s boats as it was being loaded into the sea, and was thus rescued. There were no provisions or water in any of the boats. We didn’t even have a lantern.’

When they were picked up by Carpathia, he recalled how the rescue ship also had a tricky time zigzagging through the treacherous icy sea. “No ship could have driven a straight course through that field of ice,” said Karl Dahl. “If the Titanic had missed one floe she would have struck another. At the high speed of the boat, the disaster was inevitable. In the morning I counted nineteen icebergs within a radius of ten miles. One of them was five miles long. If there had been more life boats every soul on the vessel might have been saved. There was time to have launched a hundred more boats.”

Karl Dahl was sent to St Vincent’s hospital after his arrival in New York for recuperation. After visiting his family in North Dakota and Minnesota he didn’t return to Australia but travelled extensively for two years. He did return to Tromsø, Norway in 1914 where he had an illegitimate son to Kristine Helgesen. Dahl was married to another lady, Hansine Kristine Pedersen, in 1916 and the couple moved to Oceania, Australia. He died on 13 February 1933 aged 76 while visiting Tromsø. He is buried there.

[xvii] In 1917, Edith Brown married Frederick Thankful Haisman, with whom she had ten children. After his retirement in 1965, they moved to Brisbane, Australia, where they spent five years before returning to England. She died aged 100 in 1997 in the port of Southampton where she had boarded Titanic in another age entirely.

[xviii] 25-year-old London-born Harry Sutehall embarked at Southampton. His family had emigrated to Buffalo, New York, when he was a boy, and his father, a plasterer, helped build Buffalo’s cathedral. Harry worked as a coach-trimmer, installing and repairing upholstery in carriages and early automobiles. While there he befriended the fiery Howard Irwin and in 1910, the two young men embarked on a world tour. Both men were musicians – Harry was a violinist and Howard the clarinet – and earned some money that way, as well as odd jobs like picking peaches in California. Like early Kerouacs, they criss-crossed 28 states and reputedly met a heap of amazing people from Jack London to Mahatma Gandhi and a girl called Pearl Shuttle who Howard fell in love with.

According to Howard’s memoirs, Henry was “Popular among his own set. He was quiet, honest, unassuming and upright. He did not drink, smoke, swear or cast an evil eye upon the beautiful young ladies that crossed his path.” By 1911, they were both coach trimming in Australia and Harry fell in love with a young woman in Sydney. Although her name was never established, Sutehall family lore holds that it was Harry’s intention to return to Sydney to marry her when his globe-trotting was finished. He had plans to complete his training and become a concert violinist.

While in Australia, Harry won a sweepstake that helped fund the rest of their trip. Harry spent some time in England before Titanic sailed visiting relatives. He sent post cards home, bragging about his intended passage on the newest super ship in the world. He and Howard united and bought third class tickets for the final leg of their amazing adventure. When he boarded at Southampton, he had some of Howard’s belongings also. However, Howard did not board.

Howards luggage included his clarinet and a stash of 18 love letters from a young woman called Pearl Shuttle who he met touring the US with a band, playing the cornet. He later told how he had gone drinking in a rough part of Southampton called the Gut with some American college boys and got into a fight with some English sailors. He was knocked out cold and when he awoke, he had been Shanghaied against his will and was signed on as a crew-member on board an Egypt-bound freighter and there are also curious tales of a friendship with Lenin! He was in Port Said when he heard the ship had sunk, taking his best friend and all his earthly possessions.

Harry died in the sinking, his body, if recovered, was never identified and all of his possessions were lost. He either sank to the ocean floor with the stern, or was one of the hundreds washed off the rear deck as it plunged into the water. The first claim paid for the loss of a life in the Titanic disaster was recorded when the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company paid $1,000 to his brother.

Howard Irwin returned to America and continued an adventurous life until he died in 1953. Forty years later, letters to Irwin from Pearl were salvaged from the ocean floor. It is not known whether he ever knew that Pearl died of pneumonia in 1911.