The sinking of RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912 was a defining event of the first half of the 20th century, and the tragic survivor stories from the Titanic continue to fascinate and shock us today.
Out of over 2,200 people that boarded RMS Titanic on that fateful day, only approximately 700 lived, solely due to the bravery and quick thinking of Captain Rostron aboard RMS Carpathia
Many of these survivors were hesitant to talk about what they had experienced aboard the Titanic; however, some did speak out.
These are some of the fascinating survivor stories from the Titanic.
Born on 30 April 1871 in Newburgh, New York, Elizabeth Shutes was 40 years old when she boarded the Titanic.
Known as Liz, she was governess to nineteen-year-old Margaret Graham and boarded the ship at Southampton as a first-class passenger, occupying cabin C-125.
Margaret and Liz felt the collision in their cabin.
“Suddenly a strange quivering ran under me, apparently the whole length of the ship. Startled by the very strangeness of the shivering motion, I sprang up”
Someone knocked on their cabin door and told them that they had just seen an iceburg pass the window, believing the ship had struck one.
Margaret and Liz began to fear the worst.
They looked out into the companionway and saw heads appearing, asking questions from half-closed doors and began to believe something was wrong.
“Margaret was pretending to eat a sandwich, her hands shock so much that the bread kept parting company with the chicken. I saw she was frightened and for the first time, I was too.”
An officer passed the door and told them there was no danger to fear and that everything was in order.
By this time Liz was distrustful of everyone and followed the officer to hear what he was saying to the stewardess. She overheard him informing them that they could only keep the water out for a short while.
“Then, and not until then, did I realise the horror of an accident at sea.”
They quickly dressed in coats and slippers, fitted their life preservers and were taken to Margaret’s mother.
Liz described the scene as they waited to board the lifeboat as ghostly figures standing waiting, all strapped in white life jackets and the quiet look of hope in the brave men’s eyes as the wives were put into the lifeboats.
“We left from the sun deck, seventy-five feet above the water. Mr Case and Mr, Roebling, brave American men, saw us to the lifeboat, made no effort to save themselves, but stepped back on deck. Later they went to an honoured grave”.
Liz boarded lifeboat 3, which had thirty six other woman and children in it. When it was lowered down into the sea, confusion and panic began to break out.
“Rough seamen all giving different orders. No officer aboard. As only one side of the ropes worked, the lifeboat at one time was in such a position that it seemed we must capsize in mid-air”.
However, the ropes finally worked together and the boat was successfully lowered down into the black, oily water.
“The first touch of our lifeboat on that black sea came to me as a last good-bye to life, and so we put off – a tiny boat on a great sea – rowed away from what had been a safe home for five days”.
Most of the people aboard the boat wished to stay near the Titanic, still in disbelief that the impressive vessel could ever sink, Liz believed the danger had been exaggerated and that they would be taken back aboard.
“But surely the outline of that great, good ship was growing less. The bow of the boat was getting black. Light after light was disappearing.”
The men began to row the boat away from the wreckage, asking the passengers if they had a lantern or any source of light to guide them in the pitch black darkness but none were found.
“The life-preservers helped to keep us warm, but the night was bitter cold, and it grew colder and colder, and just before dawn, the coldest, darkest hour of all, no help seemed possible.”
“across the water swept that awful wail, the cry of those drowning people. The stars slowly disappeared, and in their place came the faint pink glow of another day. Then I heard, ‘A light, a ship.’”
Liz was saved by Carpathia as dawn broke.
When the Carpathia arrived she would not try the ladder so she sat in a rope sling and was swept aloft with a mighty jerk. From somewhere above, a man let out “Careful, boys, she’s a light-weight!”
Elizabeth Weed Shutes died, unmarried, in Utica, New York on 27 October 1949.
Shutes was among those who reflected on “needless luxuries” aboard Titanic, which had been prioritised over lifeboats and other safety features.
The Collyer Family
Wishing for a new life on an Idaho farm, the Collyer Family, made up of Harvey and Charlotte and their eight year old daughter Marjorie, had left their home in England and boarded the Titanic.
When the Titanic stopped briefly in Queenstown to pick up more passengers and drop off any mail, Harvey sent a cheery postcard to his folks, saying:
“My dear Mum and Dad, It don’t seem possible we are out on the briny writing to you. Well dears so far we are having a delightful trip the weather is beautiful and the ship magnificent …We will post again at New York…lots of love don’t worry about us.”
When the ship struck the iceburg at 11:40pm on Sunday night, Harvey left the cabin to investigate. When he returned he told a sleepy Charlotte that they had struck a big iceburg but that an officer had told him there was no danger.
But, of course, there was danger and soon the Collyer family were on deck waiting to be loaded into a lifeboat. Charlotte clung to Harvey’s arm, unwilling to get into a lifeboat without him, all around her the sailors were shouting, “Women and children first!”
Suddenly a sailor grabbed Marjorie and threw her into the lifeboat, Charlotte had to be physically torn from her husband and put into the same boat. Throughout all of this, Harvey was trying to reassure her that everything would be okay.
“Go Lotty, for God’s sake be brave and go! I’ll get a seat in another boat.”
Charlotte and Marjorie were rescued by Carpathia and taken to New York safely. As soon as they were on dry land, they began their frantic search for Harvey. However, there were hundreds of women and children searching for their husbands and friends.
“Was the last one among the handful saved? … I had a husband to search for, a husband whom in the greatness of my faith, I had believed would be found in one of the boats. He was not there.”
A week later, Charlotte and Marjorie were still in New York. Charlotte decided to break the sad news to her mother-in-law, Harvey’s mother.
“My dear Mother, I don’t know how to write to you or what to say. I feel I shall go mad sometimes but dear as much as my heart aches it aches for you too for he is your son and the best that ever lived…Oh mother how can I live without him…he was so calm…The agony of that night can never be told…I haven’t a thing in the world that was his, only his rings. Everything we had went down.”
Charlotte and Marjorie did not settle in America as they had planned, they returned to England to be with their remaining family. Sadly, Charlotte died from tuberculosis two years later.
One of the most heartbreaking and haunting survivor stories from the Titanic was from 17 year old Jack Thayer.
A high school senior from an upper class family, he was returning from a trip to Paris with his parents aboard the Titanic.
In the confusion following the collision with the iceberg, Jack became separated from his parents. Jack had decided to go up on deck to investigate something he had seen from the cabin window.
When he reached the port side of the ship, he didn’t notice anything unusual, apart from some ice on the edge. He went back down below to tell his parents, who quickly noticed that the ship was leaning slightly to one side.
They decided to return to their cabin to dress in warm clothes and put their life jackets on, believing something wasn’t right.
In the panic to get women and children on the lifeboats, Jack lost his parents in the crowd. Thankfully, he found a friend he had made during the voyage, Milton Long and together they searched for Jack’s parents, but with no luck.
Jack and Milton stayed together as the ship’s bow sank lower. They discussed whether they should attempt to get into into a lifeboat, but were deterred by the sheer size of the crowd queuing up for one.
As the ship started to rapidly descend into the water, Jack thought about jumping into the water, like so many people at the stern had started to do. Milton was less confident about this, he was aware that the best way to survive was to stay on the ship as long as possible. However, it soon came time for the men to jump.
Saying their goodbyes, Long put his legs over the rails, held on for a minute and said to Jack, “you are coming boy, aren’t you?” to which Jack replied:
“Go ahead, I’ll be with you in a minute”.
Long then made a jump down the long side of the ship. Sadly, Jack never saw his friend again.
Jack jumped soon after Milton, feet first, resulting in him landing well clear of the ship, so he wasn’t sucked under. He later commented that he felt he was pushed away from the ship with some force.
From the icy water, Jack looked up to see Titanic’s second funnel topple into the sea close by, creating suction that pulled him underwater. When he surfaced, he found himself close enough to climb up on top of Collapsible B, a lifeboat which had ended up in the water upside down.
“We were a mass of hopeless, dazed humanity, attempting, as the Almighty and Nature made us, to keep our final breath until the last possible moment.”
From his precarious perch, Jack witnessed the last moments of the Titanic as the stern rose, then sank under the dark, cold water.
It was the desperate cries for help that haunted Jack after he witnessed the death throes of the Titanic as it reared, roared and plunged into the North Atlantic.
The shouts from those thrown into the icy water swelled into one long continuous wailing chant.
“It sounded like locusts on a midsummer night in the woods. This terrible cry lasted for twenty or thirty minutes, gradually dying away, as one after another could no longer withstand the cold and exposure.”
To his shock, the other lifeboats, some of which had plenty of space, never returned to try and rescue those calling for help in the water, because of fears they too would be swamped.
“We could see groups of the almost 1,500 people still aboard, clinging in clusters like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, as the great after-part of the ship, 250 feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a 65 or 70-degree angle.”
Jack was picked up by lifeboat 12, which was commanded by able seamen, Frederick Charles Clench and John Thomas Poingdestre. He was so distracted trying to get into the lifeboat that he failed to notice his mother who was nearby in lifeboat 4.
The Carpathia, a Cunard liner, had received wireless messages and was by now heading towards them. Thayer was on the last lifeboat to be rescued at about 7.30am, and at the top of the ladder, he saw his mother. Her joy was rapidly tempered. “Where’s daddy?” she asked him “I don’t know, mother,” he replied.
Sadly, Jack’s father perished in the wreck and they never saw him again.
Jack went on to a successful career; he married and had two sons. But the toll of that horrific night never left him. In 1945, at the age of 51, Jack Thayer committed suicide after his son, Edward, was killed in World War II. He was the same age his father when he went down with the RMS Titanic.
Rhoda Abbott was returning to America with her two teenage sons, Rossmore and Eugene, they were travelling as third class passengers. After the iceberg had hit, the family managed to reach the boat deck by climbing a steel ladder onto the stern and walking on the slanting deck over ropes left from lifeboats which had already been launched.
They spotted that Collapsible C, one of the lifeboats with canvas sides, was being loaded but only with women and children. At 16 and 13, the Abbot boys would be considered too old and so their mother stepped back to stay with her children.
As the lifeboat was being lowered, J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, jumped in. An action that has been greatly criticised over the years.
In the final moments, Rhoda and her boys knew they needed to jump if they were to survive. Rhoda managed to get into Collapsible A, the only woman in that boat, however her beloved sons never made it to the boat and were lost.
It took a long time for Rhoda to recover from the effects of injuries and exposure she suffered that night. She never recovered from the loss of her sons and sadly died alone in 1946.
Laura Mabel Francatelli
Thirty year old secretary, Laura Mabel Francatelli was born in Lambeth, London and boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg as secretary to Lady Duff-Gordon. Her ticket number was PC 17485 and she occupied cabin E-36.
She was one of the lucky passengers that boarded a lifeboat as the ship began to go under. She famously reflected on the dramatic arrival of the Carpathia when they believed all hope of rescue was lost.
“Oh at daybreak, when we saw the lights of that ship, about 4 miles away, we rowed like mad, & passed icebergs like mountains.”
Finally at about 6:30pm RMS Carpathia picked the passengers up. Laura described the little lifeboat feeling like a speck against the giant ship. Each passenger was hoisted aboard using a rope swing, which Laura found difficult to position herself on.
“Can you imagine, swinging in the air over the sea, I just shut my eyes & clung tight saying ‘Am I safe,?’ at last I felt a strong arm pulling me onto the boat…. “
Laura made it safely to New York aboard the Carpathia.
Many of these stories of bravery and heartache are still remembered today, as the Titanic disaster remains one of the most poignant tragedies in history.
Titanic On The Stage
Smash hit production, Titanic The Musical is coming to Liverpool’s Empire Theatre this summer, telling the heartbreaking story of the disaster and fascinating survivor stories from the Titanic.
Based on real people aboard the most legendary ship in the world, Titanic The Musical is a stunning and stirring production focusing on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of her passengers who each boarded with stories and personal ambitions of their own.
Don’t miss this outstanding production, coming to the city in July and August 2018.
If you’re planning on coming to the city to watch this amazing musical, book a stay at 30 James Street – The Home of The Titanic and really make the most of your visit to Liverpool.
Explore what was once the White Star Offices, brought to life for the public to enjoy as a luxurious hotel and landmark in the maritime history of Liverpool.
Our Titanic-themed hotel rooms are ideal for groups of guests and couples to visit the city together and each room has its own unique decor and theme that relates to a passenger, a destination or places where RMS Titanic was assembled.
Visitors can even dine in the stunning Carpathia Rooftop Restaurant and Champagne Bar which honours the brave rescue ship and her crew who plucked passengers out of the waters.
Call now on 0151 601 8801 or email for more information on firstname.lastname@example.org to book your stay or plan your visit today.