Titanic Medal to be auctioned on 1st August.
The Titanic set sail from Southampton at 12pm on 10th April 1912, and via Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, was due to arrive in New York on 17 April. 400 miles off the Newfoundland coast, at 11.40pm (ship's time), the Titanic hit an iceberg, four days into her journey. Two hours and forty minutes later the ship had sunk with over half of her passengers and crew still aboard.
Soon after the last of the survivors of the sinking of the Titanic had been rescued by SS Carpathia, a group of those survivors including Margaret Brown, who was elected as chairperson, established the Titanic Survivors Committee in order to look after those who had lost everything including husbands in the tragedy, and to thank the captain and crew of the Carpathia who had worked so hard to reach the survivors in time, and for their outstanding care towards the survivors upon their rescue. $10,000 was raised in pledges from the first and second class passengers even before the Carpathia had arrived in New York.
On 29 May 1912 the Carpathia arrived back in New York from Naples, her first journey since the sinking of the Titanic. 250 members of the crew that had been present during the rescue of the Titanic survivors lined up in the first class dining saloon, the officers and captain in dress uniform, the crew in working clothes, along with members of the Survivors Committee, for the presentation of medals, and a silver cup to Carpathia’s captain and crew.
Presented by Mrs J J Brown, (Margaret Brown, who later became known by the Hollywood nom de plume of ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’, and although known as Maggie to her friends, nobody had ever called her Molly), 14 gold medals were awarded to Captain Rostron and the senior officers of the Carpathia, 110 silver medals to the junior officers, with the rest of the crew receiving a medal in bronze. The remaining absent crew members who in the intervening days had been assigned to other ships in the line, received their medals by post. All the medals were issued unnamed leaving it up to the recipient to have it engraved as they wished.
The medals were made by the New York jewellers Dieges & Clust and, it is believed, issued through Tiffany’s at the bequest of Mrs Brown and the Survivors Committee.
Ernest G. F. Brown, Purser on board the SS Carpathia, was born in 1885 in Liverpool, and was 27 years of age when the Carpathia went to the aid of the Titanic on the night of 14 April 1912. He had served on the Cunnard Line steamships for many years, SS Saxonia from at least 1906 as assistant Purser and later SS Ivernia. They were known as the Boston Steamers, passenger ships that crossed the Atlantic between Liverpool, Halifax and Boston. SS Ivernia was the last ship he served on before signing on to the SS Carpathia on the 7 February 1912.
Once the Carpathia had received the wireless distress signal from the Titanic, (the CQD), Captain Rostron quickly instigated preparations for the boarding of the survivors, issuing orders for the lowering of ladders and rigging, preparing the ship’s forward cranes, the making of slings to haul up the children and infirm, blankets, tea, coffee, hot food and sandwiches etc. and Purser Brown was ordered to clear the alleyways of the ship from any obstructions to aid in the smooth running of the operation.
The Carpathia after hitting the top speed of 17 knots, well in excess of her maximum speed, reached Titanic’s last recorded position almost 2 hours after the ship had sunk, around four o’clock that morning, and began taking on board the survivors from the row boats. Purser Brown was now charged with compiling and collating lists of passengers names of those that had survived the sinking, reuniting those family members and relations with each other, informing and comforting those whose relations had not survived, and seeing that they got the medical attention and care that they needed.
Ernest Brown’s outstanding care and service towards the survivors of the Titanic, along with Captain Rostron and the rest of SS Carpathia’s crews was recognised by other institutions besides the Titanic Survivors Committee. Several of the crew members were awarded the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society Presentation certificate and silver medal*, (gold medal in the case of Captain Rostron). The White Star Line, owners of the Titanic, sought and got the agreement of the Cunard Line to award Captain Rostron 100gns ($500), Surgeon McGee, Purser Brown and Chief Steward Hughes 50gns ($250) each, and the rest of the crew each a months wages.
The medal will be auctioned at Bourne End Auction Rooms on 1st August.
*(The Titanic Disaster. Carpathia’s Officers’ Rewards’. The Times 5 July 1912; Jeffery, Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society 66-7)