My thoughts in April always come back to Titanic. It is 101 years since the tragic sinking of the grand ocean liner when it struck an iceberg late on April 14th, 2012. The gashed hull quickly put the ship in peril and it was less than three hours later that the ship slipped beneath the sea, taking with her over 1500 lives. The survivors huddled together agains the freezing area, bobbling about in lifeboats through the night. 705 making it to safety when the rescue ship, the Carpathia came.
Eva Hart’s Mother Recalls Titanic Tragedy
A little girl named Eva Hart was on Titanic with her parents. They had left their home in Ilford, England and were on there way to begin a new life in Winnipeg, Canada. Eva and her mother survived the sinking and much later in her life, Eva did a number of interviews about her experience. Her mother, Esther, was not as anxious to talk to the media, but she did give a harrowing first account to her local paper when she returned to England with Eva. Here is a previous post where you can read Esther’s story about the sinking of the Titanic.
Esther Hart was never very keen on the idea of going to Winnipeg. When her husband Benjamin announced his decision to leave Ilford, England and strike out for a new life in Canada, she was immediately apprehensive. But times were hard in the building industry and her husband’s business was suffering. One fateful day, an old friend stopped in to visit. He was an enthusiastic resident of Winnipeg, who had much to say about the booming economy in the Manitoba capital. Benjamin was instantly taken with the idea that emigration would be the answer to his troubles and would give him the potential of a prosperous future. Winnipeg it would be.
Esther and Benjamin along with their young daughter, Eva Hart, were given a festive send off by their friends in Ilford.
Eva and her mother survived the sinking, having spent a harrowing night in the lifeboats, but Benjamin was lost. Mother and daughter immediately returned to England.
The Tale of the “Titanic” told by a rescued Ilford lady. Mrs Ben Hart’s personal and thrilling Narrative. Exclusive to the “Ilford Graphic”
I can honestly say that from the moment the journey to Canada was mentioned, till the time we got aboard the Titanic I never contemplated with any other feelings but those of dread and uneasiness. It was all done in a hurry. My husband of late had not been successful in business and things looked like going from bad to worse.
He was a very clever carpenter and his chest of tools was considered to be as perfect and expensive as any carpenter could wish for. At any rate he valued them at £100. He was going out to start building with a Mr Wire at Winnipeg. Mr Wire has since written to me expressing his deep regret at Ben’s untimely loss, and adding. “There were five Winnipeg men lost on the Titanic and I might have been one of them.”
The idea seized on Ben’s imagination. “I’ll go out to a new country,” he said. “Where I’ll either sink or swim.” In fact, during the time prior to our leaving Ilford, the latter statement was always in his mouth. I little knew then how sadly prophetic it was to turn out for my poor dear.
I said at the commencement that I viewed the journey with dread and uneasiness, but in saying that I do not wish anyone to think that I ever imagined anything so dreadful would happen as did happen. You see I was leaving my father and mother when they were at fairly advanced age, and neither of them in the best of health and I knew that in saying goodbye, I was saying goodbye forever: but it has pleased God to take my husband and send me back to them. Then I was leaving all the friends I had known in Ilford for so many years: and lastly, I dreaded the sea: the idea of being on the sea at night was bad enough, but for six or seven, I could not contemplate it, it was a nightmare to me.
Well, we said all our “Good-byes” and reached Southampton, and almost the first thing Ben did was take me to see the Titanic. He was always an enthusiastic in anything he was interested in: and he could not have been more enthusiastic over the Titanic had he been a part proprietor of it. “There! old girl,” he said, “there’s a vessel for you! You’re not afraid now.” I tried to share his confidence, but my heart quite failed me when we got aboard and I counted the number of boats there were. I said, “Ben, we are carrying over 2,000 people and there are not enough boats for half of them if anything happens.” He laughed at my fears and said that beyond boat drills he did not expect the boats would come off the davits. But from that moment I made up my mind to one thing, till we were safe on land at New York.
Nothing should ever persuade me to undress, and nothing did, although Ben at times got very cross with me. So each night I simply rested in my bunk, fully dressed and fully prepared. God knows why, for the worst.
We were fortunate in having some very nice people at our table. We were in parties of eight in the second saloon, and our party included a lady and gentleman from the Cape, Mr and Mrs Brown and their daughter, who were on their way to Vancouver. Mr Guggenheim’s (a millionaire) chauffeur, (both Mr and Mrs Guggenheim and he were drowned), a lady named Mrs Mary Mack, whose body has since been recovered, and Mr Hart, myself, and baby.
Mr Brown and Ben got on capitally together. They were the exact opposite of each other. Mr Brown was a quiet, reserved man who scarcely ever spoke, and dadda was fond of talking and so they got on well, -promenaded the deck together, had their mid-day “Bass” together, and smoked their pipes together. Indeed, Mrs Brown said that she had never seen her husband “take” to anyone like he had to my Ben.
Oh dear! Oh dear! To think that of the eight at the table, four were taken and four were left. I can see them bright, happy faces now as we sat round that table at meal times, talking of the future, they were all so confident, so looking forward to a new life in a new land, and well they found it, but in God’s way, not theirs.
Now a very curious thing happened on the Saturday night. We had made splendid progress, and although I was still far from easy in my mind. I was as content as I could be off the land. I heard someone remark with glee that we were making a bee line for New York. I knew we were going at a tremendous speed, and it was the general talk,-I cannot say what truth there was in it- that the Captain and offers were “on” something good if we broke the record.
But on the Saturday night I was resting in my bunk and my husband was sound asleep above me. Everything was quiet, except the throb of the screw and a strange straining and creaking of everything in the cabin, which I had noticed all the voyage. I may have just dozed off when I was awakened by a feeling as if some gigantic force had given the ship a mighty push behind.-I could even hear the swirl of the waters which such a push to such a vessel would cause. I sat up,-no doubt as to my being wide awake, again came the push and the swirl, and yet again a third time. For a few minutes I was dazed, frozen with terror of I know not what. Then I stood up and shook my husband who still sleeping soundly “Ben,” I said, “Ben wake up,-get up,-something dreadful has happened or is going to happen.” He was a little cross, as a man naturally is when he is woke from a sound sleep by the ungrounded fears (as he thinks) of a woman, but he saw that I was upset, and so he got up and partly dressed, and went up on the hurricane deck, and soon returned and assured me that the sea was calm and that the ship was travelling smoothly.
The next morning at breakfast, he laughingly told our table about it, and said what he was going to do that (Sunday night) to keep me quiet. He was going to insist upon my having a strong glass of hot grog to make me sleep. Mr Brown explained explained the creaking and straining by saying that as it was a new vessel everything was settling down into it’s proper place. “Why,” he said “When we get to New York, it’s more than likely that a lot of the paint will have come away, a lot of the joints have started,” and so on. “That’s all very well,” I said, “but what about those awful jerks one after the other?” That he could not explain, nor anybody else. I say it was a warning from God to me, for I think that perhaps I was the only one of the 2,000 odd about who went in daily and nightly dread of the unforeseen. But had I told it to those in authority! Would anyone have listened to a silly, weak woman’s superstitious fears? Would they have gone one hair’s breadth out of their course? Would they have ordered one revolution less per minute of the screw? So I could only do what women have had to do from the beginning, eat my heart out with fear and wait.
Now if I had known that just at this time of the year the icebergs get across the track of the Atlantic liners, a little incident which occurred on this Sunday would have sent me straight to the Captain, even if I’d have had to climb on to his bridge. But the simple things we ought to know we are never told. My husband was always a man who could bear extremes of heat and cold better than anyone I have ever met. All through those trying days of heat last year, when everyone else was melting and parched, he never once grumbled, but kept as cool as a cucumber. And the same with the cold. I have known him, when other people have been hanging over the fires, in and out of the house with his coat off, laughing at the poor shivering ones. And yet at mid day on this fatal Sunday, he suddenly came up to baby and myself, and said rubbing his hands, “How cold it has turned. I feel as if there was not a warm drop of blood in my body. Come and have a romp with daddy,” he said to baby, and together they went off and ran and romped on the hurricane desk.
We were in the iceberg region and the Almighty sent a warning to my husband,-the man who was never cold before now shivered and shook like one stricken with ague.
But, beyond thinking it a curious thing, we took no heed.
And now, I come to a part of my story that I shrink from telling. Indeed, I think I have lingered over the first part because I dread relating the events of that awful night. I have read some where of people living a whole lifetime in a few hours. I know now that I have done so. To have gone through what I went through, to have suffered what I have suffered, to have seen what I have seen, to know what I know, and still to be alive, and above all-thank the Lord-to still preserve my reason, is a great and a growing marvel to me.
We had retired to our cabin about 10, and my husband who thoroughly enjoyed the life aboard ship and drank his fill of the ozone,-he could never get enough of it,-was soon undressed and fast asleep in his bunk. My little Eva too was sound asleep, and I was sitting on my portmanteau with my head resting on the side of my bunk. And then all of a sudden there came the most awful sound I have ever heard in my life,-a dreadful tearing and ripping sound,-how any people were awake at the time can say they scarcely felt a shock I cannot understand,-the sound of great masses of steel and iron being violently torn, rent and cut asunder.
I was on my feet in an instant, for I knew something dreadful had happened. I shook Ben, and he awoke. “Daddy.” I said, “get up at once. We have hit something I am sure and it’s serious.” Poor dear Ben! He was partly asleep still, and he said, “Oh woman,-again! I really don’t know what I shall do with you?” “Ben,” I said,-not loudly, but with a quiet insistence which influenced him far more,-something has happened; go up on deck and find out what it is.” He went up in his nightshirt and bare feet; in a few moments he was back again. He said, “All the men are at the lifeboats,-it’s only a lifeboat drill.” I said, “They don’t have lifeboat drills at 11 at night, I tell you something has happened,-dress quickly and let us dress the baby.” So he hurriedly put on his pants and his overcoat, put his big motor coat over me and then dressed the sleeping little girl. Just then a stewardess, with whom I was on friendly terms came along and said she would soon find out all about it. She knew the Marconi operator and would ask him. So she went away and quickly came back saying that everything was all right. But I said, “Everything is not all right, we have struck something and the water is coming in.” I think by this time Ben had realised,-although he would not say so,-that danger was ahead, for when he got up on “B” deck, he turned away for a few moments, and said his Jewish prayers. The next few minutes were so crowded with events, so fraught with all that matters in this world,-life to a few of us,-death to the majority of us,-that I have no coherent recollection of what happened.
I know that there was a cry of “She’s sinking.” I heard hoarse shouts of “Women and children first,” and then from boat to boat we were hurried, only to be told “already full.” Four boats we tried and at the fifth there was room. Eva was thrown in first, and I followed her. Just then, a man who had previously tried to get in, succeeded in doing so, but was ordered out, and the officer fired his revolver into the air to let everyone see it was loaded, and shouted out, “Stand back! I say, stand back! The next man who puts his foot in this boat, I will shoot him down like a dog.” Ben, who had been doing what he could to help the women and children, said quietly, “I’m not going in, but for God’s sake look after my wife and child.” And little Eva called out to the officer with the revolver “Don’t shoot my daddy,-You shan’t shoot my daddy.” What an experience for a little child to go through! At the age of seven to have passed through the valley of the shadow of death. I wonder if she will ever forget it? I know I shan’t, if I live for a hundred years.
So that was the last I saw of my poor lost dear,-no farewell kiss, no fond word,-but in a moment he had gone and we were hanging over the sea,-fifty or sixty feet above it, and then there were two or three horrible jerks as the boat was lowered from the davits and we were in the water, so crowded that we could scarcely move.
In the midst of all these stunning blows one despairing tact alone seized my thoughts: I knew, and a woman is `never wrong in such matters, that I had seen the last of my Ben, and that I had lost the best and truest friend, the kindest and most thoughtful husband that ever a woman had.
The officer in charge of our boat was standing on that raised part of it right at the end. We were all women and children aboard (at least I thought so then, but we were not, as I will presently tell you) and we were all crying and sobbing; and the officer said, not roughly, but I think with a kindly desire to keep our minds off the terrible time we had gone through. “Don’t cry,-please don’t cry. You’ll have something else to do than cry; some of you will have to handle the oars. For God’s sake stop crying. If I had not the responsibility of looking after you I would put a bullet through my brain.” So we got away from the ship for a safe distance, for there was no doubt now about her sinking. The front portion of her was pointing downwards and she appeared to be breaking in halves. Then with a mighty and tearing sob, as of some gigantic thing instinct with life, the front portion of her dived, for that is the only word I can use properly to describe it,-dived into the sea, and the after part with a heavy list, also disappeared. And then a wonderful thing happened. Apart from the swirl of the water close to the vessel, caused by such a mass sinking, the sea was as smooth as glass; it seemed as if the Almighty, in order that as many should be saved as possible had with a merciful hand, smoothed and calmed the waters. For a few moments we could see everything that was happening, for, as the vessel sank, millions and millions of sparks flew up and lit everything around us. And in an instant the sea was alive with wreckage,-with chairs, pillows, and rugs, benches, tables, cushions, and, strangely enough, black with an enormous mass of coffee beans. And the air was full of the awful and despairing cries of drowning men. And we were helpless to help, for we dared not go near them.
Our officer was busy shouting out till he was hoarse, “Let all the boats keep as near together as possible. That’s our only chance of being picked up. If we separate we are lost. Keep together.” An inky blackness now settled over us, and not a soul in our boat had a match; but the officer found in his pockets an electric torch, which he kept flashing, shouting out all the time,- “Keep together,-it’s our only chance.” The duty that the officer allotted to me was to bale the water out of the boat. While sitting there I had the impression that there was somebody near me who ought not to be there. So, when I could get my elbows free I put my hand down under the seat and touched a human form. It was a poor wretch of a man who had smuggled himself into the boat, and had sat there during all that awful time, under the seat in about six inches of water. When we got him out he was so stiff he could scarcely move.
It had got a little lighter now, and our officer had collected nearly all the boats together; and he called from one to the other, “How many in yours-how many in yours?” and then he discovered that there was room in those other boats to put the whole of our fifty-five in, so we were transferred to them, and the officer now collected a few seaman in his now empty boat and rowed away to see what he could find. So, with proper management another fifty-five people could easily have been saved. I cannot understand why, in the midst of such terrible doings, these boats left the ship without their full number of passengers; fifty-five precious lives lost either through selfishness or carelessness, I know not which.
It was no easy matter for me to get from one boat to the other. I am no light weight at the best of times: but now I was weak from want of sleep,-weak with the terror of the night,-and laden with Ben’s heavy motor coat. Eva had been handed in, and I shall never forget my feelings when I saw her leave, and found myself unable to get a footing on the boat she was in. At last I managed it, how I could not tell. Eva was suffering from a violent attack of vomiting: for, when they had thrown her into the first boat from the Titanic she had hit her stomach on the edge of the boat. And there the poor little thing was, and I could not get near her to wipe her mouth. So there we sat the weary night through until at eight in the morning, the Carpathia came on the scene. I always thought that these ship boats had to be provisioned beforehand, in view of possible accidents, but there was no water, nor were there biscuits in the boat. An oversight I suppose: but one fraught with terrible consequences had not the Carpathia arrived in good time.
Gradually the welcome dawn broke; and as the sun rose and we looked at where the sky and sea met, we saw one of the most wonderful sights that could be imagined. Right away there, stretching for miles and miles, there appeared what seemed to us, an enormous fleet of yachts, with their glistening sails all spread. As the sun grew brighter they seemed they seemed to sparkle with innumerable diamonds. They were icebergs; and, moving slowly and majestically along all by itself, a mile or so in length, in form like the pictures of Gibraltar I have seen, was the monster iceberg, the cause of all our trouble.
And now about 8 o’clock the “Carpathia” came into sight and we were all aboard by 8.30. I cannot say much of my life on board this vessel. It was no small matter for a ship to take on another 700 people, many of them but lightly clad, most of them ill, and all suffering severely from shock; all was done for us that could be done: but I could neither rest nor sleep. My little Eva was still suffering from her vomiting attack and I found my hands full in nursing her; but when at night she was asleep, I could do nothing but walk the corridor, up and down, up and down, and thinking, thinking all the time. So much did I walk about at night that the kind hearted sailors christened me The Lady of the Watch.
Well, eventually we arrived at New York. And what can I say of the kindness of the “Women’s Relief Committee,” and the help they rendered us poor stranded souls. Kindness! that’s but a poor word; and yet I can find no other for their intensely practical sympathy. No formulas, no questions. We had got to be helped and that quickly, and quickly they did it. In a short space of time with a speed that seemed incredible, there was a sufficiency of clothing for every destitute woman and child-my women readers will understand me when I say that everything a woman needed was there in abundance-from a blouse to a safety pin, underclothing, stays, stockings, garters, suspenders, hair pins, boots of all sizes, each pair with laces or a button hook in them as was necessary; I have never heard of such foresight. I have never experienced such real kindness. God bless the ladies of the “Women’s Relief Committee of New York,” say I heartily and fervently. Why, Mrs Satterlee actually drove me in her beautiful car to the hotel where I was to stay pending my return to England, and wanted me to go to lunch with her in her house, but my heart was too full for that. She knew the reason and appreciated it like the lady she is. One touching little incident occurred before I sailed for home on the “Celtic,” and that was the receipt of a letter from little children in New Jersey. They had heard of my Eva and they sent her a Dollar bill with a beautiful little letter. I don’t think that bill will ever be changed; for both it and the letter will be framed.
There is but little to add. I returned on the “Celtic” with five other ladies from the “Titanic,” including Mrs Ada Clarke, of Southampton. We were treated with every kindness and consideration . A lady in the first saloon sent out word that whatever we wanted in the way of fruit or any other delicacies not included in our menu, we were to have.
And now I have only one object in life, and that is the future of my little Eva. My lost Ben had such dreams of her future; he meant to do such things for her; and, whatever money I get, apart from the bare cost of the necessities of life, shall be devoted to her up-bringing in such a way as shall realise, as far as my endeavours and finances can go, his wishes with regard to her.
How exciting it is for me, a Titanic fanatic, that this coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic setting sail on her maiden voyage.
About the book:
Ravenscraig is historical fiction that is of particular appeal to readers interested in Jewish migration to North America, The Titanic, and anyone with an affection for Winnipeg’s history in its boom town years, a century ago.
Nothing is more important to Rupert J. Willows than the image he has built to hide the deep secret of his true identity. A master manipulator, the ruthless and charismatic Rupert schemes his way into the upper class when he purchases the opulent mansion, Ravenscraig Hall. It is the turn of the 20th century in one of the fastest growing cities in North America; a brawling, raucous, frontier boomtown with a taste for fine theatre and loose women. True power is within Rupert’s grasp as long as his secret stays buried.
Malka Zigman is a survivor. Orphaned in London, she has just joined her Uncle Zev and his hardworking Jewish family in Canada. Recent immigrants who escaped from poverty and violence in czarist Russia, the Zigmans struggle to put down roots in the New World. With family resources stretched thin, Malka takes a risk. Everything is about to change as she reinvents herself as Maisie Rosedale and crosses over to the exclusive world of “the English” as the new maid at Ravenscraig.
Tragedies, and triumphs grip the lives of these two families as their futures inextricably twine together to culminate on the Titanic.
Sandi Krawchenko Altner is a Jew by choice who enjoyed a long career in television and radio news in Canada. You may remember her as a reporter for Pulse News at Montreal’s CFCF TV. Sandi was born and raised in Winnipeg, and is a fifth descendent of the first group of Ukrainian immigrants who settled near Vita, Manitoba, in 1896. She grew up with a keen interest in her roots, and a deep love for history. Sandi now lives and writes in Florida. She and her husband, Bob Altner have two daughters and two spoiled dogs. Ravenscraig is her first novel.
Praise for Ravenscraig:
Ravenscraig has been shortlisted for the 2011 Manitoba Historical Society’s prestigious Margaret McWilliams Award in Popular History.
“Wonderful…Welcome to Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs with a Winnipeg Twist.”
-Ron Robinson, Winnipeg Free Press
“Ravenscraig is superb. It is a book that almost seems to have been written specifically for me, involving Jewish immigrants who resemble what my great-grandparents were like, and reflecting the attitude and hope that I have in life.”
—Louis Kessler, past president, the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada
When the Titanic sank, there was both an outpouring of grief and a great public fascination with the passengers.
Only a third of those on board the great ship were rescued. Fifteen hundred people died in the shipwreck.
In Winnipeg, as in other major cities, the stories dominated the headlines for days after the sinking, with reporters scrambling to tell stories of every local connection they could find.
So it was that Winnipeg readers had great interest in a Montreal family, the Allisons. Hudson Allison had lived in Winnipeg for two years.
He lived at the corner of Sherbrook and Westminster and had been friends with fellow Winnipeg Titanic passengers, Mark Fortune, and Thompson Beattie. Hudson Allison was well known and highly regarded in Winnipeg. He had worked as a financier, and was a great supporter of the Broadway Methodist Church
When he married, Hudson Allison and his wife, Bess Waldo Daniels, made their home in Montreal. Prior to traveling on the Titanic they were on an extended holiday in Europe. They were traveling with their two children, Lorraine, and baby Trevor, and were returning to their home on Rosyln Avenue in Westmount, Quebec.
Trevor, survived the sinking. He was in the arms of his newly hired nanny, Alice Cleaver. They were first class passengers and had been ushered to the lifeboats in plenty of time for Bess and her daughter to make their escape.
But, Bess had apparently panicked when she couldn’t find her baby son. She dragged her young daughter Lorraine out of the lifeboat and together with her husband, went in search of Trevor. By this time, the nanny was already away from the ship with the baby.
The following story about the family appeared in the Winnipeg Telegram on April 19, 1912, and is transcribed below.
Among the passengers of the Titanic are Mr. and Mrs. Hudson J. Allison and child. Mr. Allison and his family were residents of Winnipeg for a year, leaving here a little over two years ago to reside in Montreal. Mr. Allison and his wife and two children were returning from England and are among the list of missing. He is one junior member of the firm of Johns, McConnell and Allison, of Montreal, financial agents and was in Winnipeg in the interests of the firm.
While living here he resided on the corner of Sherbrook and Westminster Street. He was a prominent member of the Broadway Methodist Church and was one of the original contributors to the building fund, always taking an active interest in church affairs.
He is a nephew of G.F. Johnston of Montreal, senior member of the firm, and Mrs. Daniel, whose name appears in the list of those saved was his mother-in-law and lived with them in Winnipeg for several months previous to their http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/ to Montreal.
Mr. Allison is well-known in the city and has a large number of personal friends. His interests in the west are great, he personally holding a lot of property. The firm also holds large timber limits and farm properties.
For more information about passengers on the Titanic, please see the Encyclopedia Titanica website. For stories about Canadians on the Titanic, see Alan Hustak’s excellent book.
Only four people from Winnipeg, Canada, made it home after escaping the sinking of the Titanic. In all, there were about thirty people on the ship who were heading for Manitoba. Some were residents, others were immigrants, and still others were planning to stop and visit relatives while on their way further west.
All four survivors from the province of Manitoba were women, all from the same family: Mary Fortune and her daughters, Mabel, Ethel and Alice. Two other family members were lost in the shipwreck. They were Mary’s husband, Mark Fortune, a Winnipeg real estate tycoon, and their youngest child, 19-year-old Charles, affectionately known as Charlie.
The Titanic was the most luxurious ocean liner in the world. It left Southampton, on Wednesday April 10th, amid a great deal of fanfare and celebration for its maiden voyage to New York. The press had widely praised the ship as “unsinkable”.
According to newspaper reports, the Fortune women were incredulous that the Titanic sank before a rescue ship could arrive to save everyone who was on it. Two thirds of the 2,200 people on Titanic died as the vessel drifted down to the bottom of the ocean in a sea filled with icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland. It was a tragedy of colossal proportions.
Shocked and grieving the Fortunes returned to the new home Mary’s husband had so proudly built for his large family. With thirty-six rooms the wood and stone mansion at 393 Wellington Crescent was a very impressive addition to the exclusive Winnipeg neighbourhood on the Assiniboine River. It was a home built for parties and celebrations, and the laughter of grandchildren yet to be born. In the aftermath of the catastrophe it was a huge empty house, painfully silenced by the aching grief that came home with Mary and her daughters. The dramatic change in their lives was nothing they ever could have imagined would happen.
The Fortunes had left Winnipeg three months earlier. They had traveled by train to New York where they boarded the Franconia, bound for Trieste, a popular landing point for tourists, and the main seaport in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were in the company of several friends, who were also well-known in Winnipeg: Thomas McCaffry, J.J. Borebank, and Thompson Beattie. Together the group was embarking on the Grand Tour, a fashionable extended vacation enjoyed by the wealthy class in the Gilded Age.
Throughout the early months of 1912, the Fortunes traveled to many places in Greece, Italy and France and toured exotic locations in the Middle East. The holiday was Mark Fortune’s gift to his family. Charlie had recently graduated from Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec and was planning to continue his studies at McGill. Mark Fortune may well have considered this to be the ideal time, and perhaps his only opportunity, to persuade his adult children to join him and their mother for such a tour. His two eldest children, Robert and Clara had already married and declined the invitation to join them. Two of the Fortune daughters, Ethel and Alice had fiancées waiting for them, and Mabel was said to have been in a serious relationship with a jazz musician her parents did not approve of.
The Fortune family vacation was apparently splendid. They trekked through Egypt to see the pyramids, and toured ruins, museums and chateaus throughout Europe. They stayed at the finest hotels and the ladies shopped for high fashion and the latest in trousseau trends in Paris. It appears they were denied nothing.
Their tour ended in London where they rested for a few days and celebrated Easter with a fantastic dinner at a London hotel. From London, they took the boat train to Southampton and witnessed the Wednesday festivities to launch the magnificent new ship. Titanic fever was running high throughout the country. Alice was even able to persuade a fellow tour companion, William Sloper, to change his ticket from the Mauretania so that he might enjoy her company on the crossing.
From Wednesday through the end of the weekend, the experience on Titanic was everything the passengers had believed it would be. There were sumptuous surroundings, fine entertainments and exquisite meals for the first class passengers. Throughout the ship there was much to admire about Titanic. Even the third class passengers were treated to steerage accommodations that were widely hailed as well superior to the norm.
By Sunday night, April 14th, Titanic was in the North Atlantic approaching Newfoundland. The temperature had plummeted to near freezing. Dark and cold was the night when the ship steamed into the ice field. Warnings of ice had come from ships in the area, but were not heeded by the captain. No order to slow the engines was given.
Many years ago I was on a bus on Graham Avenue, a very well known street in downtown Winnipeg. I was seated next to a man who knew a lot about Winnipeg history. As we passed the Eaton store, he said, “Graham Avenue is named for a man who went down on the Titanic. His name was George Graham and he worked for the Eaton’s Company. Did you know that?”
I didn’t, and said so. I was eleven and terribly impressed by the story. I knew about the Titanic, but to think there was someone from Winnipeg in the great ship disaster was very exciting indeed.
It was decades later that I became truly captivated by the Titanic, in doing research for my novel, Ravenscraig. I read books, articles and old newspapers, watched every movie, documentary and video clip I could find, and I became totally immersed in the articles and discussion boards on the website Encyclopedia-Titanica as I learned the stories of Winnipeg passengers such as Eva Hart and the Fortune Family. I came across the story of the Graham Avenue tribute to the Titanic passenger countless times.
All the while I was adding to my collection of rare books from Manitoba. One day, while visiting Burton Lysecki’s book store in Winnipeg, Burton handed me an old book of maps he thought I would find interesting: Winnipeg in Maps 1816-1972 by Alan F.J. Artibise and Edward H. Dahl.
In peering at the maps in the book I came across the startling revelation that Graham Avenue had nothing to do with George Graham.
The street had been called Graham for forty years or so before the Titanic sank.
The evidence is seen in this map from 1874, “Plan of the City of Winnipeg”.
The map was compiled and drawn in 1874 by John D. Parr and is made available by Manitoba Historical Maps on Flickr.
More on the person for whom Graham Avenue was truly named later, but first, the story of George Edward Graham:
He was born on a farm near St. Mary’s, in southwestern Ontario, on June 11, 1873, the sixth of seven brothers. As the story is told, he was 17 when he went to work as a clerk at a hardware store. He went on to become a salesman in Galt and then, in 1903 he moved to Toronto and began working for the Eaton’s Department Store. Timothy Eaton, the founder of the successful enterprise also had a history in St. Mary’s. It was the location of his first dry goods store before he bought the Toronto store in 1869.
George did well. He married Edith May Jackson from Harriston, Ontario and a year later, in 1906, he moved his bride to Winnipeg, having accepted a promotion and transfer to the big new Eaton’s store on Portage Avenue where he became the manager of the fine china and crockery department. Life was bustling and interesting for the wealthy class in Winnipeg in the years the Grahams lived there. It was a fast growing city filled with vibrant attractions in theatre, fine restaurants, musical societies and many entertainments to be enjoyed.
While George’s career was soaring in Winnipeg, the couple also was made to suffer heartbreaking losses. Their three year old son, John Humphrey, died in 1911. Edith became pregnant again a few months later, but miscarried.
One can imagine the discussion in the Graham home when George was told Eaton’s needed him to go on a buying trip to Europe in 1912. According to family reports, with Edith still frail and recovering, the couple decided it would be best for Edith to stay with her family while he was abroad, so Edith returned to Harriston.
George boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first class passenger. According to family legend, he was scheduled leave on the Mauretania three days later, but changed his ticket to the Titanic to get home sooner. He spent time with other traveling salesmen. They had dinner together, and each signed the back of a menu.
George was one of the many passengers on Titanic who dropped by the wireless room, Sunday, April 14th, to send a marconigram to his wife. The message went out just hours before Titanic struck the iceberg in the North Atlantic.
“New York Wednesday Morning, Wire Me Sandy Hook. Well.”
It was Sunday afternoon when Mrs. Graham received the Marconigram given above. She had come down from Winnipeg a few days previously to meet her husband, and was planning happily the return journey when she retired Sunday night. On Monday morning came the terrible news of the collision. Later despatches roused in her heart a hope–more, almost a certainty–that her husband would be saved. This morning, weeping, sorrowing as bereaved ones alone can sorrow, she has learned what took place off the Newfoundland Banks.
Edith was never to see her husband again. We know that George Graham did take time to strap on a life jacket. His body was recovered by the MacKay-Bennett (#147). He was wearing a black overcoat, and a blue serge suit. He was carrying the following items – Memo book; cheque for $300.00; pocket book; credit book, T. Eaton & Co.; silver pencil case; fountain pen; pencil case; keys; gold watch; fob and locket; 7 shillings and 3 pence; $105.00; 2 pocket knives; 1 gold collar button.
George Graham had also taken time to look after one more piece of business before he set sail on Titanic. He dashed off a quick letter to a business contact and popped the letter into the mail before the ship sailed. The letter was written on Titanic stationary, and is famous for having fetched the largest sum ever paid at auction for a letter associated with Titanic.
To learn more about Canadian passengers, I highly recommend Alan Hustak’s excellent book: Titanic: The Canadian Story, in which he details the lives of 130 Canadian passengers on Titanic.
Now for the matter of Graham Avenue in Winnipeg.
It is named for James Allan Graham, a fur trader who worked for many years with the Hudson Bay Company. The Manitoba Historical Society Website has details of his life and his contributions to Manitoba.
Graham Avenue has its roots in the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Named after an HBC factor, or trader, James Allan Graham, the prominent department store still anchors one end of the avenue. The City of Winnipeg designated the street as a central bus corridor in 1994, and the Graham Avenue Transit Mall was born. Today, 29 of Winnipeg Transit’s 87 routes converge on the avenue. The area is popular with surrounding downtown workers, shoppers, people attending medical appointments, area residents and loyal customers.
In closing, if you are new to Titanic enthusiasm, please do visit the Encyclopedia-Titanica website, which I have found to be tremendously helpful in my research.
Eva Hart was just seven years old when her family left Ilford, England, and boarded the Titanic in Southampton. They were saying good-bye to England to make their future in Winnipeg, Canada. This film clip is from a 2003 documentary called ‘Titanic: The Story’. 55mins. Narrated by Robert Powell.
Eva’s parents were Benjamin Hart, a builder who had fallen on hard times, and his wife, Esther Bloomfield Hart. Eva had often told the story of how her father had made the monumental decision to try their luck in Canada in a single evening based on a lively visit from an old friend. The friend had come to see the Harts on his holiday, and he was brimming with enthusiasm for the many opportunities he had found in Winnipeg. The discussion was apparently music to the ears of Eva’s father.
Despite Esther’s great apprehension, Benjamin immediately set about making plans to move his family to the new world. He sold his business, purchased tickets for travel on the ship called the Philadelphia, and was said to have had intentions of opening a drugstore in Winnipeg. But as their travel date approached, a coal strike prevented the Philadelphia from sailing. As Eva told the story, her father was thrilled when he was informed their tickets had been transferred to a second class cabin on the Titanic. Her mother, however, was terrified.
Benjamin thought Esther would be delighted, because the new ship was said to be unsinkable, but instead, his wife was sick with worry, claiming to have great apprehension about their safety. Eva remembered her mother felt strongly that something very bad was going to happen in the night. She napped in the daytime, and every night she sat up in a chair, fully clothed and forced herself to stay awake.
On the night of the sinking, Eva was asleep in her bed when Titanic struck the iceberg. Her father wrapped her in a blanket and brought her up to the deck with her mother, and saw them into the heavily crowded lifeboat number 14.
“Hold Mummy’s hand and be a good girl,” he told her.
That was the last time she saw her father.
There was pandemonium on the deck as the last of the boats were being loaded. “Women and children only” was the cry that went up as she and her mother were lowered away.
When the Titanic sank a short while later, Eva, a tiny child, could not take her eyes off of the spectacle. With screams in the night as people hit the water and drowned, she watched as the ship broke apart, and then slipped into the sea. The sea was glassy smooth with only the stars casting eery illumination on the death scene. Chairs, debris and bodies floated about.
“The worst thing I can remember are the screams,” Eva said, in a 1993 interview. “And then the silence that followed. It seemed as if once everybody had gone, drowned, finished, the whole world was standing still. There was nothing, just this deathly, terrible silence in the dark night with the stars overhead.”
A few days after the sinking, an article about the Hart family appeared in their home town newspaper, the Ilford Graphic, telling of an April 2nd event that had been held to wish them well in their new country.
“Mr and Mrs Ben Hart were present at the “Cauliflower” in their honour prior to their departure for Canada. During the evening they were the recipients of a beautiful Illuminated Address which included the following words, “And may the Almighty Jehovah send you safe voyage and a prosperous career in the land of your adoption.” Mr Hart was a Jew, and the introduction of the word “Jehovah” into the Address touched him very much. His emotions were easily aroused and he could barely respond with the tears swimming in his eyes. We see from the papers that Mrs Esther Hart and Miss Eva Hart are among the saved, but there is no mention made of Mr Hart, and we fear the worst”.
The body of Benjamin Hart was never recovered. Eva and her mother were taken aboard the rescue ship, the Carpathia, and continued on into New York with all of the survivors. They then returned to England and Esther remarried. Eva suffered from nightmares for years. She remained deeply attached to her mother and sought her out to calm her night terrors. She was 23 when Esther died and finally defeated her fears of ocean travel by taking a long voyage to Singapore and then Australia. Eva never married. She worked in many jobs over her life, which included a career as a professional singer in Australia. She later became, a Conservative party organizer and magistrate in England.
In her later years, Eva also became one of the most outspoken critics of salvage efforts of the Titanic and considered the removal of items from the shipwreck to be grave robbing.
Eva Hart died on February 14th, 1995 at the age of 91. Her death was considered the end of the last living memory of the Titanic, as the remaining survivors at that time were either too frail of memory to be interviewed, or too young at the time of the sinking to have stories to share.
I remain curious about Eva Hart’s father’s connection to Winnipeg. Who was the friend who came to visit and inspired Benjamin Hart to uproot his family? How is it that Benjamin chose to leave his work as a builder and planned to open a drugstore?
If you are interested in learning more about the Titanic, I would encourage you to start with Encyclopedia Titanica. This is an incredible resource on line, with the most intricate of details gathered, debated and presented for those who are dedicated students of Titanic.
You will find them at:
More on that, and what Eva Hart thought of the salvage operation on another day.