WITH 2012 being the centenary year of Titanic’s maiden voyage and tragic sinking, it is no surprise that our fascination with this most famous of ships is being resurrected.
And yet, in many ways, our obsession with Titanic never really went away. From novels to TV documentaries to Hollywood blockbusters, just about every conceivable aspect of the Titanic story has been written about, acted out or debated. But among the many incredible stories to emerge from the disaster, it is, perhaps, the stories of the children who sailed aboard Titanic which are the most poignant.
For the five children on board travelling first class, the trip to America was the return leg of a European vacation with their parents and nurses. The first-class decks were the perfect place for the children to play with their balls, dolls, spinning tops and jumping jacks.
They were allowed to use the gymnasium and were encouraged to try out the innovative mechanical horses and rowing machines.
It is reported that one of the veranda cafes was used as a playroom by these privileged children. Eleven- year-old William Carter II and his sister Lucile are considered to have been the richest children on board.
Although the 22 children travelling second class didn’t have the same privileges, they were free to roam the decks and corridors and had simple toys, as well as a library.
Among the children travelling on a second class ticket were French toddlers Michel and Edmond Navratil, who were secretly being taken overseas by their father, who was divorced from their mother.
Their father was lost in the sinking but both children survived. Being toddlers and unable to speak English, they could not identify themselves and became known as Titanic’s Orphans, being the only children to survive without a parent or guardian.
A first class passenger, Margaret Hayes, cared for the boys until their mother was located in the May following the incident.
The youngest bride on Titanic , Adele Nasser, 14, was also a second class passenger, as was Eva Hart, 7, perhaps the best-known of Titanic’s children, who lived to the age of 91. It is thought the famous porcelain doll’s head discovered in the wreck of Titanic may have belonged to Eva.
In third class the children, mainly immigrants, did not have toys or private playrooms, but they must still have been amazed by the proper mattresses on the bunk beds, running water and electricity in their cabins.
Among the third-class passengers was Titanic’s most famous and longest-living survivor, Millvena Dean, who died in 2009 at the age of 97. She was a nine-week- old baby when she, her two-year -old brother and her mother were rescued, Millvena being lifted into a lifeboat in a canvas mail sack because she was so small. Sadly, her father perished on the ship.
Annie Kelly, 17, was part of a group of 14 Irish emigrants who travelled from Co Mayo and boarded Titanic at Queenstown.
She was one of only three from the group who survived. “I went in the very last boat and I was the very last passenger. The officer said there was room for just one more.”
It was famously reported that Annie found a $25 bill pinned to her nightdress in the New York hospital where she was recovering from her ordeal and that this was recompense from the White Star Line for her suffering. The Mayo group later became known as The Addergoole Fourteen.
One of the most tragic stories of Irish families is that of Margaret Rice, a widow who boarded Titanic at Queenstown with her five young children, aged between two and 10. After the collision, another passenger recalled how she had seen Margaret in the third class area holding her youngest child, Eugene, with the other children holding onto her skirt. The entire family was lost — the biggest Irish family tragedy in the disaster. None of the children’s bodies was recovered.
Margaret’s story is featured in one of a series of short films commissioned by The Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Dr Michael Martin, author and creator of the Titanic Trail in Cobh, wrote and produced the film.
“The Margaret Rice story is one of the most tragic of Titanic’s stories and is also a very important human and Irish story,” he said.
“I mention it each day on the tour. Margaret’s body was recovered after being in the water for five days and was, remarkably, identified by a bottle of pills which she had in her pocket.
“The address of the pharmacy in Athlone which had issued the pills was eventually traced through a serial number on the bottle and, when contacted, the pharmacist confirmed that the prescription belonged to Margaret,” he added.
* Visit www.the-titanic.com or www.titanic.ie to view Michael Martin’s short film about Margaret Rice.
* Hazel Gaynor’s Titanic novel The Girl Who Came Home, which was inspired by The Addergoole Fourteen, is available now on the Kindle store.
* Titanic: 100 Years, a special supplement, is free with tomorrow’s Irish Examiner