Friday, 13 April 2012

Titanic: how the story unfolds in Cheshire

This week marks 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic and the tragic deaths of 1,514 people on board. In the days after the sinking, as details about the accident emerged, the story was pieced together for Cheshire residents through the local papers. Before the scale of the disaster was realised, the Chester Courant reported on 17th April that,
‘... immediately after the collision wireless messages were broadcast, the operator signal “S.O.S”, the urgent call for assistance. There was no panic on board, and the liners Baltic, Virginian and Carpathia ultimately arrived on scene and transferred passengers. Nothing but the watertight compartments and the invaluable wireless telegraphy, however, prevented the most appalling disaster, for the collision was a severe one, and to an ordinary vessel would have been immediately disastrous’.
As later telegrams were received, the true extent of the accident was revealed and further additions to the article present the bleaker outcome of the collision. The latest telegram reported that: ‘At two o’clock this afternoon...there is no information as to the remaining 1,300 persons on board, and unofficially it is feared that the latter have perished’. By the 20th April the Chester Chronicle recorded, ‘... the Titanic sank at 2.20 on Monday morning, that is to say about four hours after the collision. Of those on board, numbering about 2,200, by far the larger portion perished’.

Of those who died, a number had Cheshire connections. Mr Austin Aloysius Ashcroft aged 26, a ship’s clerk from Seacombe, died as did Charles Frederick Morgan, a ship’s storekeeper from Birkenhead. The Chester Chronicle reported on ‘Cheshire Victims’ and recorded that a Mr William Henry Parr, an electrical engineer, was unaccounted for after the accident – it later emerged he had not survived. His wife was from Northwich and the couple had been married there only twenty months earlier.

Others were luckier. The Chester Chronicle reported on 20th April that the whereabouts of Mr Joseph Thomas Wheat, Ship Steward, of Rock Ferry, were unknown. However, passenger lists show that he survived and was taken to New York aboard the Carpathia. Further survivors included Sarah Agnes Stap, aged 46, a Ship’s Matron, who told her story to the Birkenhead News on 4 May 1912. We found her in the 1911 census residing at 41 Bidston Avenue in Birkenhead. The census information reveals the extent of her seafaring life, her father was a retired Master Mariner and Sarah is listed as being ‘born at sea’.