PASSAGE HISTORY to
Two South Australians who were aboard the Titanic when it sank 100 years ago lived to tell the tale
Marsden was a traveller. The stationmaster’s daughter left Hoyleton in the state’s Mid-north to explore the world – and her preferred way to see it was from the decks of some of the world’s most magnificent ocean liners. Marsden wasn’t rich, though. She trained as a nurse before finding work as a ship’s stewardess, a career move that allowed her to indulge her passion for new places: Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean.
In 1912, this wanderlust put Marsden in the enviable position of being one of the first to experience the style, opulence and state-of-the-art engineering in one of the wonders of the age – the RMS Titanic.
She was 28 when Titanic sailed. She was also one of the lucky ones. Evelyn Marsden was one of just two Australians to survive history’s most famous shipping disaster. By strange coincidence the other survivor was also from South Australia, while a third local perished.
Now the story and tragedy of the Titanic is about to be extensively re-examined as the 100th anniversary of the liner’s sinking is commemorated around the world, including a spectacular event planned at the Adelaide Convention Centre and an exhibition at the Maritime Museum at Port Adelaide.
The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, and Marsden was one of about 700 survivors out of more than 2200 people who were aboard when the ship struck an iceberg. Marsden is documented as leaving on lifeboat No.16 and helping to row it to the Carpathia, the ship which took many survivors to New York. Family legend has it she was one of the last to leave the sinking ship and used the rowing expertise she picked up as a girl on the River Murray to help guide the craft to the Carpathia. Her hands were reputedly rubbed raw by the oars in the freezing Atlantic night.
But in the days following the disaster her parents believed Evelyn was among those who perished. John Jungfer, from Adelaide’s western suburbs, is Evelyn’s great nephew. His grandmother, Agnes, was Evelyn’s sister, and his father, Wally, relayed the story of how the family discovered she had survived that terrible night. “Everyone assumed everyone was dead,” Jungfer says.
“And he got a telegram five or six days after (the sinking) and the telegram simply said, ‘Evelyn alive’. He was reported, and I don’t know if it’s true, to be running down the main street of Hoyleton screaming ‘she’s alive, she’s alive’ and waving the telegram.”
A picture of Evelyn appeared in The Advertiser on April 20 under the headline, “On the Titanic – A South Australian Lady”. But there wasn’t much news. There were only three lines, which didn’t mention if she was dead or alive, and the names of her parents.
Marsden’s relatives are still scattered around SA. Her great niece, 80-year-old Margaret Haseloff lives in Eudunda on the edge of the Barossa Valley and has a collection of 100-year-old postcards from Evelyn which attest to her relative’s love of travel. The postcards were handed down to Margaret from her mother Isla, who was Evelyn’s niece, and tell a story of a life well travelled. Evelyn was a regular correspondent and all the postcards are addressed to Isla Jungfer in “Greenock, via Adelaide, South Australia”.
There are cards from the Suez Canal, Cairo, Durban in South Africa, London, and Marseille. There is one dated April 4, 1912, just days before the Titanic sailed from Southampton, written to Isla from Evelyn’s fiancé, a doctor called William James. James was also meant to be on the Titanic but a last-minute roster change saw him taken off the doomed ship. Written from Marseille the postcard tells Isla: “I shall see you some day soon.”
Following the Titanic disaster, Evelyn and William married and returned to live in Australia. They visited the Jungfers in Greenock and settled for a while in the city, living at the Ruthven Mansions in Pulteney St. According to some reports Dr James worked for a time at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, although there is no record of this. The couple also lived and worked in Wallaroo on the Yorke Peninsula, before they moved to Sydney where they stayed for the rest of their lives.
But the night on the Titanic left its scars on Evelyn. According to local historian Allan Peters, the horrors Evelyn saw that night “were to haunt her unconscious mind and waken her with fright from the very soundest sleep, night after night, for the rest of her life”. Evelyn died in Bondi on August 20, 1938, aged 54. Her husband died a week later of a broken heart, according to family. They had no children and both are buried in Sydney’s Waverley Cemetery.
Another South Australian, Arthur Mcrae died in the disaster. Mcrae was born in Adelaide in 1880, studied engineering in Sydney and was travelling to Canada aboard the Titanic to see friends. He, like many of the victims, is buried in Halifax, Canada.
The other local stories are harder to piece together. The only other Australian survivor is thought to be Charles Dahl. He was born in Norway in 1866 but moved to Adelaide to work as a joiner in 1882. He was a third class passenger on the Titanic, travelling to the US to visit his mother. After the sinking it is believed he came back to Australia to live, although perhaps not in Adelaide. He died in Norway in 1933.
From here local connections become even more mysterious. At a cemetery in Aldinga there is a headstone marking the resting place of Alan Mcrae (no relation to Arthur) with the memorial “Alan 1889-1912 (missing SS Titanic)”. However, no Alan Mcrae was listed as a passenger or crew on the ship.
There was also a Londoner called Thomas Bell who lived for many years in Adelaide and claimed to be a cabin boy on the Titanic. Again, his name does not appear on official records but local experts were convinced of the veracity of his tale. THE
Titanic was launched in 1911, and its maiden voyage in 1912 from Southampton to New York was one of the events of the age. It was the largest floating object ever built, the most luxurious ship ever devised. It was a technological wonder that was claimed to be unsinkable – although not by its White Star owners.
It departed Southampton on April 10, 1912, stopped briefly at Cherbourg, France, and Cobh, Ireland, before steaming across the Atlantic. Shortly before midnight on April 14 lookouts spotted an iceberg dead ahead. It was too late to avoid impact. The ship swiped the iceberg and the hull was punctured six times over a length of about 90m. Less than three hours later, at 2.20am on April 15, the Titanic slipped below the waves, taking almost 1500 souls with it.
The story slowly filtered through to Australia. The Advertiser first reported it on April 17 under the heading, “An Appalling Marine Disaster”. By April 20, people were looking for explanations and blame. One paragraph reads: “Commenting on the fact that the captain of the Titanic had learned by wireless telegraphy of the proximity of the icefield, The New York Times says the vessel did not attempt to avoid the region but steamed at high speed, a proceeding not merely imprudent and reckless, but criminal.”
It was a terrible tragedy, and the world’s fascination with it continues. Adelaide has its own Titanic and Steamship Historical Society, of which Margie Monk is a keen member. Her enthusiasm for all things Titanic is infectious. Over a coffee near her balloon shop in the city, Monk is all hand gestures and wide-eyed wonder in describing the story and the legacy of the ship.
She traces her fascination back to watching as a young girl the old black and white film A Night To Remember, starring Kenneth More and Ronald Allen which told the story of the sinking. She much prefers it to the James
Cameron’s 1997 effort, Titanic, with Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslett, although she is far too polite to say so outright. “It was made for its time and it was very successful so who am I (to say otherwise)?”
The local Titanic Society boasts about 1000 members and is the co-ordinator for a commemoration event planned for the Adelaide Convention Centre on April 14. Monk is hoping as many as 2000 people will turn up for the Titanic-themed production, which will cost about $500,000 to stage. Billed as 1912 The Event, designers from the US, the UK and New Zealand will be involved in turning the Convention Centre into a mini-titanic. There is a plan for a domed roof mimicking the famous one on the Titanic, as well as a copy of the bow of the ship. As on the Titanic, three classes of tickets are being sold so you can sit in first, second or third class. There will be a world record number of balloons dropped, with an aim for 191,200 to fall, there will be telegraph stations to send telegrams between tables and the room will be cooled later in the evening to replicate the chill of the North Atlantic. “It’s not a cheap production by any means, trust me,” says Monk. “You will go away feeling the whole story of Titanic.”
Monk says the enduring appeal of the Titanic story is multi-layered. It can be seem as a link between the old Victorian world and a newer, technological age. It helped break down class barriers, it was a catalyst for changes in safety, and the use of the Marconi wireless radio to send distress messages, including the relatively new SOS, was seen as a breakthrough. (Marconi himself was said to have been waiting to board the ship in New York). “The very, very wealthy and the very, very poor are locked together for all time,” Monk says. “That was maybe the first time in history that was brought home with such a thud.”
And there are other little oddities involved. The Titanic was supposed to sail a month earlier but after its sister ship, the Olympic, was damaged in an accident, the ship’s owner diverted resources to its repair. By coincidence, Evelyn Marsden was also on the Olympic when it was struck by the Royal Navy warship HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight.
White Star built three of these enormous and luxurious ships. Olympic was the first, followed by the Titanic. A third, originally
called the Gigantic but renamed the Britannic, sank while being used as a hospital ship in World War I after either hitting a mine or being torpedoed.
But it is the Titanic that has lived longest in memory. The discovery of the ship’s final resting place 3600m below the Atlantic by Robert Ballard in 1985 only increased the fascination. Ghostly images of the bow of the ship, still upright on the floor or the sea, stirred the imagination and added another element to the already enthralling story.
To mark the anniversary one tourism operator is offering guided tours to the wreck in Russian Mir submersibles. For $US66,257, you can take a 15-day tour to the site, leaving from Halifax and including the dive. According to the Kensington Tours schedule it takes about 2½ hours to dive to the Titanic. After that, the tourists spend three or four hours exploring the site, with the dive focusing on the bow section, the bridge and promenade areas.
Emily Jateff is one of the few people in SA to have taken that journey. In 2005 she was part of the team assembled by movie director James Cameron, who was making his Last Mysteries of the Titanic documentary. Jateff was 26 at the time and studying marine archaeology at the University of West Florida.
Jateff is now part of the Maritime Museum of South Australia and is curating its Titanic: Voyage of the Century exhibition in Port Adelaide, which opens on March 24. She says the link between organising the exhibition and her experience with Cameron is coincidental and not a Titanic fixation. Indeed she struggles to explain her emotions about seeing the Titanic close up. Partly this is because it was hard to take in through the small windows of the Russian submarine in which she was a passenger and partly because she was there to do job and not just be a sightseer. “I was very conscious of looking at it like an archaeologist, trying to disassociate myself as much as possible from the emotional aspect of the wreck,” she says. She has been more emotionally touched by putting together Titanic: The Last Voyage because it tells the stories of the people involved.
The exhibition chronicles Titanic’s life from inception to build, through media frenzy, the voyage and the disaster. It canvasses the myths and realities of the sinking and has interactive components. Jateff has chased down a variety of Titanic-related memorabilia, including a collection loaned by the grandson of Harold Godfrey Lowe, who was fifth officer on the Titanic. One of the things the exhibition does not have is any relics from the wreck itself. This is an ethical decision by the museum in keeping with recommended standards of the International Congress of Maritime Museums. Many believe the wreck site is a memorial and a museum, and artefacts should not be removed from the Titanic because it is also a mass grave. They see it as looting.
Which leaves one of the other biggest events in the Titanic centenary year under a cloud. A company called RMS Titanic Inc won the salvage rights to the Titanic in 1994 after a long legal battle. It has brought up more than 5000 items from the sea floor, including a 15m slice of hull, and is going to auction the lot in New York in April. The collection is valued at about $180 million but due to the order of a US judge it cannot be broken up and sold piecemeal. It will all have to go to a single bidder.
Educational institutions and museums have been seen as the most likely bidders but according to Jateff none of those bodies “can ethically take it so it will be interesting to see how that turns out”. Outside of the exhibition at Port Adelaide, the Maritime Museum is also getting into the swing of the 100th anniversary. It is holding a Last Drinks on the Titanic party on April 13. Others are also joining in. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is performing the music of Elgar at the Festival Theatre to mark the moment.
But John Jungfer is planning a more low-key acknowledgement. He will probably attend the 1912: The Event but doesn’t want much of a fuss made because of his famous ancestor. “It was interesting to me when my dad told me stories about it,” he says. “And when the film came out there was a tad more interest. But certainly I will be having a thought about her on the day.”
A photograph folder contains postcards Evelyn Marsden sent to her niece, Isla Jungfer, and, below, from The Advertiser of April 17, 1912.
Emily Jateff is curating a Titanic exhibition at the Maritime Museum of SA, and, inset, from The Advertiser of April 20, 1912.