I’m sure, by now, every one of us must have
seen a film about the sinking of RMS Titanic. Whether it be ‘A Night to
Remember’ in 1958, which was a docudrama starring Kenneth More & Honor Blackman,
or the 1998 multi-Oscar-winning box-office hit ‘Titanic’ starring Kate Winslet &
But how many of us realized that we were watching stories relating to people from Mexborough and its area?
At the beginning of the 20th Century the Mexborough and Swinton Times, later to become the South Yorkshire Times, was not just a newspaper.
Its offices on High Street were used by W. Turner, the proprietor, as a Booking Office for ships used in travel, tourism and emigration, and he became an agent for the Emigration Office.
It was at this time that two important personalities, to this story, appear in the form of advertisements in the Mexborough & Swinton Times. The first being that of a small mail steamer which carried only 2nd & 3rd class passengers, the majority of which were emigrants to the new world. This being the heroine of our story the Cunard Liner Carpathia.
The other couldn’t be more different to her homely sister. On 22nd April 1911 they carried another advertisement this time for the construction of a huge new luxury liner, by Cunard’s rival ‘The White Star Line’, The Titanic.
On 10th April 1912, the palace of the seas, as some called her, setting a southerly route to avoid seasonal icebergs, began her maiden voyage to New York, calling firstly at Cherbourg and then Queenstown, in order to pick up additional passengers.
The journey went well, with everyone excited to be part of a new venture, and first class passengers thrilled to hear the ships’ officers, at dinner, stating that the magnificent ship was the safest ever built and was so high out of the water that no heavy sea could wash over her and that she was unsinkable.
Four days into the voyage, on Sunday 14th April 1912, a beautiful spring day dawned bright, warm, and calm, without a breath of wind then suddenly, as darkness approached, the temperature plummeted. This alerted the highly experienced seaman in Captain Smith, as although he had ordered the ship to take a route below the southern limit of icebergs, he realised that their presence could make the temperature drop in such a way.
At 6.55p.m., having received radio messages that icebergs had been seen in the vicinity, he went to the bridge where he stayed for some time, at last leaving instructions that he was to be contacted immediately “if you are in the slightest degree doubtful”. At 11.40p.m., after a warning from the crows nest, a shudder went through the ship as she hit a ‘Blackberg’.
This is a particular type of iceberg which is almost impossible to see being clear, reflecting the dark sky like a mirror. Captain Smith, who had been resting fully clothed on his bunk, ran straight to the bridge where he demanded to know what had happened. He then ordered all watertight doors to be closed and sent for Thomas Andrews, the chief designer.
Together they went below decks to survey the damage and Andrews’s verdict, after much calculation, astounded the Captain; the ship would sink in approx. one and half hours. Captain Smith went into action immediately; he rushed to the Wireless Room where he ordered the Wireless Operator, using the new powerful Marconi Wireless, to send a distress message to all ships in the vicinity.
Luckily, just 58 miles away, was the little Carpathia who, on hearing the Titanic’s distress call made a heroic all-out dash to her aid. The Captain then gave the shocking orders to prepare all lifeboats and to abandon ship
Walter Francis Fredricks, of Southampton, was a member of the ‘Black Gang’, who shoveled coal to the stokers. He was preparing to go onto the midnight shift and, dressed for the heat in shorts and a sleeveless shirt was descending the staircase leading to the Fireman’s Corridor when the ship violently jolted and a groaning of metal could be heard, and then the bottom of the staircase was suddenly flooded with water.
Walter fled on deck, where the air was freezing, lifeboats were being got ready and two seamen were needed, for each, as oarsmen and Walter was allocated to Boat 15. The temperature was below zero and Walter was dressed only in thin shorts and top, he thought of returning to his quarters to obtain warm clothing but instead climbed into the lifeboat and rowed.
It was probably this decision which saved his life as many who did return were lost. Instead he rowed franticly, getting his blood circulating and staving off hyperthermia. 2nd Class passengers Mr. & Mrs. Collyer and their daughter Marjorie, who had been asleep in the cabin at the time of the collision, were at the time queuing in their nightwear on the boat deck, for a lifeboat, when the cry went out ‘women and children first’. She stubbornly refused to leave her husband clinging to him, but as a member of the crew tore Marjorie from her arms and threw her into the boat she allowed herself to be pulled from him and to follower her daughter into the lifeboat.
Mrs. Stanton Abbot of Albanshurst, wife of the ex English Lightweight Champion, and her two sons were 3rd Class passengers. By the time they had climbed the flights of stairs to their collection point on ‘A’ Deck, and then moved to the boat deck to get into a lifeboat, the Titanic was taking her final plunge. Mrs. Abbot and her sons jumped from the deck into the icy waters where she quickly found herself in a collapsible lifeboat which had been swamped; the people inside trying to balance it in water to their knees. After a while they were transferred to another lifeboat but three bodies were left behind. Her two sons were lost.
Captain Arthur Rostron, of the Carpathia, tried to coax as much speed out of the old steam ship as he could. He ordered: lifeboats to be readied; electric lights hung around the ship; all gangway doors, in the ship’s side, to be opened; ladders, nets and ropes to be dropped over the side; hot drinks, including soup, to be made; blankets and warm clothing collected; then lastly first aid stations to be set up in the dining rooms with doctors in each.
At 4.00a.m., after a search, a green light was seen from the deck of the Carpathia and the first of the lifeboats was discovered. Walter Fredricks, who had stalwartly kept rowing for three hours, saw rockets on the horizon and the passengers cheered, as dawn approached, and the Carpathia came into view. Walter was almost exhausted and after coming on board, clutching a blanket, he slept for most of the following day.
Mrs. Collyer and Marjorie heard that Mr. Collyer had died and, still dressed in their nightwear, were taken, weeping and in agony, for medical care. Whereas Mrs. Abbot, who’s legs, had been badly damaged by standing in the freezing water of the lifeboat, was laid on a padded sheet in the smoke room.
Battling bravely, through a thunderstorm, the little Carpathia, carrying the survivors of the tragedy, plus her own passengers, docked in New York on Thursday 18th April 1912 and most of the Titanic’s passengers, included Mrs. Abbott, Mrs. Collyer and Marjorie were instantly whisked away to received medical care, but not so the crew. Walter Fredricks, who, dressed in only shorts and top, who had rowed for hours, almost to the point of exhaustion, to get the passengers of his lifeboat to safety, was left to stand waiting, wrapped only in a blanket, until the following day when he and other survivors of the crew were walked to Pier 61 where they were put aboard the Red Star ship ‘Lapland’ and given a 3rd class berth.
The following day they were again marched to attend a memorial service and it was only then that Walter received any dry, warm clothing. The Lapland set out for England on Saturday 20th April and arrived at Plymouth nine days later.
The surviving crew believed, after their ordeal, that they would be allowed to go home, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. They were ferried to the docks, where following a wait of five hours, were marched by dozens of police, like a string of convicts for transportation, to a 3rd class waiting room isolated from outside contact.
Here they were kept until every one of them had given a statement. Still they were not released and had to sleep in a made up dormitory until the 30th April when eighty-five of the surviving crew were shepherded onto a train bound for Southampton.
At last at 9.00p.m. on 30th April 1912, 12 days after the Carpathia docked in New York, Walter was home and in the arms of, a now heavily pregnant, tearful wife. Mrs. Abbott spent two weeks in hospital and then left for Providence, Rhode Island.
Some of the passengers returned to England when the White Star Line offered free return passage, but Mrs. Collyer and Marjorie were not among them as they tried to live, as Mr. Collyer had wished, in Kansas, but found it impossible without him and came home to their family in Bishopstoke. It didn’t take long for the terrible news of the sinking of such a beautiful, new, luxury liner, with the loss of 1,503 souls, to reach the Times Office in Mexborough. News that the largest vessel afloat, had sunk with such tragic loss of life, reached British Shores before Walter Fredricks did.
The Mexborough & Swinton Times which had: been the local agent for the White Star Line through which residents had booked their tickets; promoted the Titanic by broadcasting news of its construction, launch, trials, and maiden voyage, only a few days previously; now had the horrific prospect of telling its readers that most of the 2,200 passengers and crew, some of which must have been local, had died.
The journalist, in his article dated 20th April 1912 states “ the disaster to the biggest liner yet known has commanded the attention of a horror-struck universe” he also goes on to say “The Titanic and her sister-vessels were scientifically judged gale-proof; but when they were pronounced unsinkable, the experts were probably thinking of typhoons”.
The news of the sinking of the pride of a seafaring nation particularly in an area like Mexborough, where so many still worked on the waterways, sent shock waves through the populous. Our local citizens mobilized immediately, the following Sunday memorial services were held in all our local churches and chapels, to packed congregations. Following which meetings were held in order to plan how they could help the survivors. Funds were established locally to help the widows, orphans and dependent relatives, the proceeds of which were sent to the Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund, London.
Their generosity was not wasted on Mrs. Collyer, now trying to raise her daughter single handed in Bishopstoke. She applied to the fund and received a weekly pension of £1 3s (£1.15) to enable her to raise her daughter. Unlike many of the suriving crew of the Titanic Walter Fredricks went back to sea and in 1914 joined the Merchant Navy where he was, for a time on hospital duties. Following demobilization in 1920 he again went to sea, serving for a time on the Titanic’s sister liner the Olympic. In 1939 he again enlisted, working on troop transporters and, still living in Southampton, died in 1960 aged 69 years.
But what became of the Carpathia, the heroine of our story? Shame to say she ended her days, in the same way as the Titanic, laid on the sea-bed of the Atlantic. She sank on 17th July 1918, off the east coast of Ireland, the victim of a German U boat. In the Mexborough area rescued passengers from the Titanic Disaster must have began to filter back and I have received information, from two sources, that a survivor lived in, or close to, Adwick Road and also heard, from one person, another survivor of the tragedy lived in Swinton.
In an endeavor to discover what survivors returned to the Mexborough area I have consulted www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor, which gives a complete list of survivors, but only mentions their addresses at the time they embarked on the Titanic. This is where I need your help. Can you inform me of more survivors, or information as to who these people, mentioned above, may have been?
The Encyclopedia Titanica Website carries a list of all passengers and crew, which has been printed off for the benefit of all those looking for lost family members. If you wish to research them please contact our Chairman J.R. Ashby.
Copyright. This newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety, without the permission of J.R. Ashby.
Information Obtained from: Harold Alderman MBE, International & National Boxing Historian. Mexborough & Swinton Times: 20th April 1912, 30th March 1912, 27th April 1912, 18th Nov. 1911, 22nd April 1911. www.eszlinger.com/titanfacts.html www.titanis-nautical.com/titanic-facts.html www.compas.dircon.co.uk/1titanic.htm www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/charlotte-annie-collyer.html www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/walter-francis-fredricks-a-biography.html www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/eva-georgetta-dean.html www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/mary-davis.html www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/rhoda-mary-rosa-abbott.html www.titanic-titanic.com/carpathia_found.shtml www.titanic-titanic.com/carpathia.shtml