Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|April 17, 2022|5 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

A Titanic Tragedy

One bright spring morning, more than a century ago, my great-grandfather stood impatiently in a queue near his home in Southampton, on Englands south coast to buy a third-class ticket on the Titanic. It was a long queue with people jostling to get to the front for the maiden voyage of what the White Star Line called the ship of dreams - that turned out to be the vessel of nightmares.

Yards from the ticket office, the boom came down in front of my great-grandfather – tickets sold out.

By all accounts, he was fed up at the time and felt he had been cheated of his dream of becoming an entrepreneur; like millions around the world, in 1912, he planned to sail to New York, to get the lie of the land, before sending for his family.  In his disappointment, little did he know many, of the people yards ahead of him in the queue were marked to die.

On April 15, it was 110 years since the Titanic hit the iceberg and sank beneath the freezing waters of the Atlantic, with too few lifeboats leaving hundreds of passengers to die in the cold darkness. Every year I think about it. I wonder what my great-grandfather thought of his narrow escape from disaster. He would have almost certainly  perished.

That  would have meant  my grandmother would never have been born and I would not be writing this piece now.

Charles Dear, my great-grandfather was a fiery, feisty, little man and a strict no-nonsense teetotaller. He was a man who locked the door at 8 pm on Christmas Eve; if you weren’t home by then, you were never invited again.

He had worked in the gas works on the Southampton docks most of his life – it was a living, but his dream was to go to the United States and seek his fortune as an entrepreneur chasing the American dream.

Yet the White Star Line was to usher  tragedy into my family’s world 20 years later. In 40 years as a journalist, I have never ceased to be amazed by how deliverance and cruel fate can emanate from the same source.

My great uncle, also called Charles, was a merchant seaman who worked as a steward for the White Star Line for years. It was the glory days of the 1920s and 30s when luxury liners were competing for the Blue Riband;  the fastest time between Southampton and New York.

Charles, strong, tall, dark and handsome, cut a dashing figure in his white unform, with gold buttons. Yet, as much as he loved the life,  he called time on his days at sea when he fell in love with a young lady back home in Southampton .

The two were to marry and become entrepreneurs with a sweet shop in Southampton. My great-grandfather – notoriously careful with his pennies – put the money up to set up the shop.

Young Charles went for one last, fateful, trip to New York on the luxury liner- the Mauretania; the deal was, when he returned, he was to marry and settle down on dry land.

The trip to New York went swiftly and smoothly. In New York Harbour the crew relaxed on the ship, in the blazing summer sun, before the long journey home.

My great uncle Charles and a couple of shipmates dived from the Mauretania to cool off in the waters of the harbour. Sadly, for young Charles, it was a leap to his death as cruel as the demise his father escaped on the Titanic 20 years before.

The shock of his hot body hitting the cold water stopped his heart, killing him stone dead. His body never came home, we don’t even know where he is buried. My great grandfather signed the sweet shop over to the bereaved fiancé.

When I finally arrived in New York Harbour in 2015 – also on board a ship – we cruised in a similar blazing sunset under the stony gaze of the Statue of Liberty. I said a small prayer in memory of my great uncle Charles. I am a sentimental soul that way. May he rest in peace.