Tragic Titanic was carrying Yarmouth cargo
15:59 17 February 2017
The enormity of the Titanic legend guarantees that it will never die. People all over the world remain fascinated by the epic saga of the huge liner striking an Atlantic iceberg and sinking on her maiden voyage in 1912, resulting in the deaths of 1,513 of her 2,224 crew and passengers.
Without doubt, the Titanic exhibition at Great Yarmouth’s Time and Tide Museum soon will attract big attendances.
Occasionally the ill-fated liner has featured in this column. For example, in 1988 there was a suggestion that one of her lifeboats had been found on the Norfolk Broads!
Norwich historian Geoffrey Goreham and friend John Wright were excited to discover that the 30ft Girl Madge II, moored at Upton, bore an emblem on her side resembling that of the White Star Line, the Titanic’s owner. Other factors included her basic design.
Those Titanic lifeboats picked up by the rescue ship Carpathia never went back in the water but rotted away in a Brooklyn boatyard in America, it was claimed. But Geoffrey maintained that although White Star would not have re-used the lifeboats because of their sad history, “nobody destroys anything and I cannot believe that any commercial firm would let 13 lifeboats – which are worth quite a bit – just rot.”
It was feasible some might have come to England and been converted to various uses, he argued; at the time the Girl Madge II belonged to Colin Angel, of South Walsham, who used her for taking sea anglers out from Yarmouth.
Then avid port-watcher Kenneth Kent declared that the Girl Madge II was built at Yarmouth in 1924, 12 years after the Titanic disaster, and had once been a pleasure tripper from the beach!
Undisputed is the fact that the Titanic’s lost cargo included 700-800 yards of black silk mourning crepe manufactured by Grout & Co at their mill in central Yarmouth and worth £108, covered by insurance. The consignment was intended for a New York store.
Caister’s Gordon Berry, Grout’s historian, once told me: “It is an ironic thought that as the Titanic sank, the passengers were accompanied by a quantity of mourning crepe intended to be used at American funerals. Mourning crepe was in great demand as part of the ritual attached to death.”
There was an allegation that Titanic’s master, Captain Edward Smith, was given command only because of boardroom politics. The man expected to be at the helm for her maiden voyage was the White Star Line’s senior master, Charles Bartlett, nicknamed Iceberg Charlie because of his apparent uncanny ability to sniff out lurking icebergs. But the command was given to Captain Smith.
In 1898, long before that fateful voyage, Charles Bartlett married Edie Ellis, a member of a noted Yarmouth family. Her nephew was Ted Ellis, a man who became well-known throughout Norfolk as a naturalist, writer of books and newspaper articles (often signing himself EAE), broadcaster and founder of the county’s Wheatfen Broad nature reserve.
Within three years of the Titanic disaster, another great liner sank to the Atlantic seabed within 45 minutes with the loss of 1,198 of her 1906 passengers and crew. The Cunard liner Lusitania had almost completed her voyage from New York to Liverpool when she was torpedoed by a German submarine.
The attack on an unarmed passenger ship provoked outrage and it was suggested that the death of 124 Americans prompted the United States to enter the war.
The loss of the Lusitania featured in this column in 1997 because retired drifterman Matthew Utting, of Caister, showed me a breakfast menu from her transAtlantic crossing the previous month in which the choices included “Yarmouth Bloaters”!
Also, I published a photograph of a 6ft scale model of the Lusitania built by businessman Bob Pendle, of Russell Road, Yarmouth – a remarkable achievement for a man with only a right arm; the other was lost through gangrene 40 years earlier.