White Star Lines–Titanic Connections at the ABL–Charles Sumner and the RMS Baltic

by Melinda Creech
Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company.  Founded in 1845, The White Star Line, operated a fleet of clipper ships that sailed between Britain, Australia, and America. The ill-fated Titanic was perhaps their most famous ship. The Armstrong Browning Library has a few connections to the Titanic. One connection relates to a set of postcards that disappeared with the Titanic and another relates to the author of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the song that was purportedly playing as the Titanic sank. The Armstrong Browning Library’s collection includes a letter with the White Star logo in its heading and several letters written on board ships or while individuals were preparing to board ships. The letters, written between 1841 and 1912, are lines from people who were passengers on S S (Steamer Ships), RMS (Royal Mail Steamers), or HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship). It is interesting to note that one of the first purposes of steamers crossing the Atlantic was to deliver the mail. These lines, written from steamer ships, may shed some light on the adventure and danger presented by steamer travel in the late nineteenth century.

Charles Sumner

Charles Sumner (1811-1874) was an American politician, a senator from Massachusetts, and leader of the anti-slavery forces in the state. He traveled to Europe in 1872 for the last time and returned on SS Baltic.

RMS Baltic

The following letter was written while he was aboard the SS Baltic. It is addressed to Lily Benzon.

Charles Sumner to Lily Benson, 17 November 1872.

In the letter Sumner mentions the Smalleys, John Bright, and the Storys. The Benzons, Smalleys, and Storys were correspondents of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, and Sumner himself had been acquainted with Brownings in Florence in 1859[1].

Sumner described the beginning of his trip thus:

The steamer is moving with dignified calm, like a [Lord] [Morgan’s] [panama], & we have the promise of a pleasant voyage. I breakfasted this morning at the table. In no former voyage from Liverpool have I seen the table from the leaving of the Mersey to the sight of Boston Light.

However, the trip did not continue so peacefully. According to the records of the White Star Line (http://www.norwayheritage.com/p_ship.asp?sh=balt1) he arrived in New York on the morning of November 27 with severe storms having been reported.

The SS Baltic was an ocean liner owned and operated by the White Star Line, one of the first four ships ordered by the White Star Line from shipbuilders Harland and Wolff after Thomas Ismay bought the company. The Baltic was originally to be the Pacific, but her name was changed at the time of her launching due to another vessel, owned by a different shipping line, named the Pacific that had recently struck an iceberg and sank resulting in multiple deaths. White Star quickly changed the name to the Baltic, or most likely no one would have booked passage on her, because people were quite superstitious in those days. The Baltic was a state-of-the-art ship for her day, carrying 1,000 passengers and accommodating 1st, 2nd and 3rd class passengers. In 1888, this vessel came under the command of Edward J. Smith, later the Captain of the Titanic. It was his first command in the White Star Line. In 1889, after the SS Teutonic entered service, the Baltic was sold to the Holland America Line and renamed the Veendam after the Dutch city of that name. On 6 February 1898, the Veendam hit a derelict ship and sank, with all on board saved.

In 1903 another ship was built by the White Star Line and named the Baltic.

RMS Baltic (1903)

That ship sailed from 1904 until 1933. At 1.40 p.m. on 14 April 1912 the SS Baltic sent this message to RMS Titanic:

Captain Smith, Titanic. Have had moderate variable winds and clear fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer Athinai reports passing icebergs and large quantity of field ice today in latitude 41.51 N, longitude 49.52 W.

At 1:15am on 15 April the SS Baltic responded to the distress call, turned around and made its way to help with the recovery effort after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. After the ship had traveled 134 miles, it was advised to turn around and return to Liverpool. The Carpathia had picked up the 20 boatloads of survivors from the Titanic and was returning to land.

[1] Browning, Robert. Selections from the Poems and Plays of Robert Browning. Scott. Foresman, 1919, 23.

White Star Lines–Titanic Connections at the ABL–Rose Kingsley and the S S Shannon

By Melinda Creech
Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company.  Founded in 1845, The White Star Line, operated a fleet of clipper ships that sailed between Britain, Australia, and America. The ill-fated Titanic was perhaps their most famous ship. The Armstrong Browning Library has a few connections to the Titanic. One connection relates to a set of postcards that disappeared with the Titanic and another relates to the author of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the song that was purportedly playing as the Titanic sank. The Armstrong Browning Library’s collection includes a letter with the White Star logo in its heading and several letters written on board ships or while individuals were preparing to board ships. The letters, written between 1841 and 1912, are lines from people who were passengers on SS (Steamer Ships), RMS (Royal Mail Steamers), or HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship). It is interesting to note that one of the first purposes of steamers crossing the Atlantic was to deliver the mail. These lines, written from steamer ships, may shed some light on the adventure and danger presented by steamer travel in the late nineteenth century.

Rose Kingsley. Courtesy of The Kingsley School. This girls’ school, still in operation today, was begun by Rose Kingsley in 1884 as the Lemington High School for Girls.

Rose Georgina Kingsley (1845-1925) was the oldest daughter of Charles Kingsley, nineteenth-century clergyman and novelist. In 1869 she joined her father on a trip to Trinidad. The Kingsley’s trip is recorded in At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies. Harper & Bros, 1871. They spent seven weeks exploring the island of Trinidad before their return to England.

SS Shannon

Their trip began on the SS Shannon. The SS Shannon was built in 1854 as a paddle-wheel steamer by Napier and Sons of Glasgow. The first paddle-wheel steamers had begun crossing the Atlantic in 1838. The Cunard Line (the company that later built the Titanic) began their first regular steamer service with the RMS Britannia in 1840, sailing from Liverpool to Boston. The SS Shannon was a successful mail steamer for the West India Line until she was withdrawn and refurbished some time around 1875. She was converted to a screw steamer and lengthened. Her maiden voyage as a refurbished ship broke all records of speed and she only consumed 635 tons of coal. However on her second trip the SS Shannon went aground on the Pedro Bank, southwest of Jamaica and was lost. Passengers, crew, and mail were all saved. (The Shipwrecked Mariner. Vol. 23, 1876, 45)

The Armstrong Browning Library has three letters from Rose to mother, brother, and sister, written during her trip to Trinidad.

The first letter was written on board the SS Shannon.

Writing Room on board the SS Shannon

Rose Georgina Kingsley to Fanny Kingsley. 12 December [1869].

In this letter Rose describes the “fairest ever” voyage, gives accounts of her seasickness, and tells of her father’s Sunday sermon in the Saloon. The family was always very interested in natural history, and the other letters, written after they arrived in Trinidad, are filled with Rose’s descriptions and illustrations of frangipani, bougainvillea, shells, coral, poison trees, monkeys, toucans, parrots, kinkajous, ocelots, mosquitos, and giant spiders.

Rose Kingsley to Grenville Kingsley, 24 December [1869].

In this letter Rose draws a picture of a spider, life-size. She writes: “I found […] spider in my room as big as this but that is considered quite tiny here!!”

In the final letter Rose wrote from Trinidad she says, “we are coming in the Neva & that I hear she is most comfortable & the fastest ship in the Service.” In fact, the RMS Neva was a new ship, built in 1868 by the Caird and Company shipyard, accommodated 272 first class passengers, and boasted an oak and gilded saloon, furnished in walnut. The RMS Neva replaced the RMS Rhone, which was wrecked in a hurricane in October 1867 (Jampoler, Andrew. Black Rock and Blue Water: The Wreck of the Royal Mail Ship Rhone in St. Narciso’s Hurricane of October 1867. Naval Institute Press, 2013).

Rose was quite a pioneer. She traveled across the Atlantic the next year and joined her brother, Maurice, as a new member of the Colorado Springs community in Colorado. In 1872 she travelled with General William Jackson Palmer exploring the possible route of a railway from Texas to Mexico City. Her adventures are recorded in her writings, which include South by west: or, Winter in the Rocky Mountains and Spring in Mexico, Rides and Drives in the Far West, and Ulay, the Chief of the Utes.

 I could not find a biography of this rather amazing woman. Perhaps this is a project that needs to be undertaken.

White Star Lines–Titanic Connections at the ABL–Captain Crozier and the HMS Terror

By Melinda Creech
Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company.  Founded in 1845, The White Star Line, operated a fleet of clipper ships that sailed between Britain, Australia, and America. The ill-fated Titanic was perhaps their most famous ship. The Armstrong Browning Library has a few connections to the Titanic. One connection relates to a set of postcards that disappeared with the Titanic and another relates to the author of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the song that was purportedly playing as the Titanic sank. The Armstrong Browning Library’s collection includes a letter with the White Star logo in its heading and several letters written on board ships or while individuals were preparing to board ships. The letters, written between 1841 and 1912, are lines from people who were passengers on SS (Steamer Ships), RMS (Royal Mail Steamers), or HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship). It is interesting to note that one of the first purposes of steamers crossing the Atlantic was to deliver the mail. These lines, written from steamer ships, may shed some light on the adventure and danger presented by steamer travel in the late nineteenth century.

This post relates the story of another earlier steamer disaster. The remains of this wreck, HMS Terror, were found recently.

On September 12, 2016 the wreck of the HMS Terror was discovered in Terror Bay, King William Island, in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Wreck of the HMS Terror

The HMS Terror had began her career as a bomb vessel, engaged in the War of 1812. In fact, it was the vision of the HMS Terror bombarding Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner.” In 1836, the ship was refurbished for exploration, making trips to the Arctic (1836) and to the Antarctic (1839). After her trip to the Antarctic, she was again refurbished at Woolwich for a trip to the Arctic through the Northwest Passage.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, the two ships used by Sir John Franklin on his 1845 ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage. The ships became trapped in ice at King William Sound (Victoria Strait) for three years, leading to the deaths of all 135 men.

The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were the two ships used by Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) on his 1845 ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage. The ships became trapped in ice at King William Sound (Victoria Strait) for three years, leading to the deaths of all 135 men.

The HMS Terror set sail on 19 May 19 1845 but never returned. A message, dated 22 April 1848, and signed by Captains Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier (1796-1848) and James Fitzjames (1796-1848?), was found at Point Victory on Prince Regent Inlet stating that they were abandoning both the Terror and the Erebus.

Sketch of HMS Terror by George Back. Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library

Mystery enveloped the fate of the ship and her crew until the discovery last year. Visit the Royal Museum Greenwich to find out more about the discovery of the HMS Terror.

Photograph of Captain F. R. M. Crozier

The Armstrong Browning Library has a fragment of a letter probably possibly written by Captain Crozier in 1842, shortly before he began his fateful voyage.

Letter from Captian F. M. R. Crozier to Sir Thomas. 28 March [1842]. Page 1.

Letter from Captain F. M. R. Crozier to Sir Thomas. 28 March [1842]. Page 2.

The letter states:

My dear Sir Thomas,

Thanks for yours of 26th which I received this day on my return from Ireland. I was before perfectly satisfied, and believe me my confidence has not been in the least shaken by Commander Beadons test, and very strange…

…write him so soon as I get a little of my bustle over.

It is possible that Sir Thomas was Sir Thomas Hamilton, 9th Earl of Haddington, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. Commander Beadon was conducting tests of lifebuoys in February and March of 1842 (Transactions of the Society, Instituted at London, for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce Royal Society of Arts Great Britain, Vol 54 (1843), 121). However, part of the letter is missing.

There is another interesting inscription in pencil in another hand at the bottom of the page:

Capt. Crozier —who commanded the same ship as Sir John Franklin’s expedition & was lost with him in 1843-6 . My brother was lost with him.

This letter was found with other letters removed from an album of letters and autographs collected by Mr. Lewis R. Lucas. However, no one with the surname Lucas was found among the crew lists of either the Terror or the Erebus.

Mystery still shrouds the letter fragment. Who was Sir Thomas? Can we date the letter by Commander Beadon’s lifebuoy tests? What was very strange? What was Captain Crozier’s bustle? Who has the rest of the letter? Whose brother was lost in the expedition of the Terror?

White Star Lines–Titanic Connections at the ABL–Sarah Flower Adams and “Nearer, My God, To Thee”

By Melinda Creech
Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company.  Founded in 1845, The White Star Line, operated a fleet of clipper ships that sailed between Britain, Australia, and America. The ill-fated Titanic was perhaps their most famous ship. The Armstrong Browning Library has a few connections to the Titanic. One connection relates to a set of postcards that disappeared with the Titanic and another relates to the author of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the song that was purportedly playing as the Titanic sank. The Armstrong Browning Library’s collection includes a letter with the White Star logo in its heading and several letters written on board ships or while individuals were preparing to board ships. The letters, written between 1841 and 1912, are lines from people who were passengers on SS (Steamer Ships), RMS (Royal Mail Steamers), or HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship). It is interesting to note that one of the first purposes of steamers crossing the Atlantic was to deliver the mail. These lines, written from steamer ships, may shed some light on the adventure and danger presented by steamer travel in the late nineteenth century.

This post, although not directly related to the steamers, draws a connection between the author of “Nearer My God to Thee,” the song reported to have been played on the sinking Titanic, and the Armstrong Browning Library’s collection.

Postcard of “Nearer my God to Thee and the Titanic

It was purported by several passengers, including Mrs. Vera Gillespie Dick (1894-1973), that “Nearer my God to Thee” was the song that the band was playing as the Titanic sank. Able to board a lifeboat, Mrs. Dick later reported

Even in Canada, where we have such clear nights . . . I have never seen such a clear sky. The stars were very bright and we could see the Titanic plainly, like a great hotel on the water. Floor after floor of the lights went out as we watched. It was horrible, horrible. I can’t bear to think about it. From the distance , as we rowed away, we could hear the band playing ‘Nearer , My God To Thee.’

        Logan, 238

The bandleader on the Titanic, Wallace Hartley (1879-1912), was reported to have said to a friend that if he were on a sinking ship, “Nearer, My God, to Thee” would be one of the songs he would play (Barczewski, Stephanie. Titanic: A Night Remembered. Bloomsbury Academic, 2006, 132). There are, of course, arguments against the “Near my God to Thee” story, and it is likely that the tune, which might have been either Horbury or Propior Deo, was not the one that we recognize today, written my Lewis Carey.

Image of Sarah Flower Adams

However, the words, based on the story of Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:11–12, were written by Sarah Flower Adams in November of 1840

Sarah Flower Adams.”Nearer My God To Thee” from Conway, Moncure Daniel. Centenary History of the South Place Society:Based on Four Discourses given in the Chapel in May and June, 1893. London, 1894.

and first published in Hymns and Anthems by W. J. Fox, 1841. Sarah Flower Adam had eleven hymns published in the book, and “Nearer My God to Thee” is No. 85.

“Nearer My God to Thee” in  Hymns and Anthems by W. J. Fox, 1841.                         Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Robert Browning was a childhood friend of Sarah and her sister Eliza. They often discussed religion. Robert Browning writes in a letter to Eliza, Sarah’s sister, circa 1841, that “all this music I shall be so thoroughly gratified to hear,” referring to the Hymns and Anthems. Robert Browning himself had a hymn in the book, No. 146, based on his poem Paracelsus:

                                                             I stoop
into a dark tremendous sea of cloud,
It is but for a time ; I press God’s lamp
Close to my breast ; its splendour, soon or late,
Will pierce the gloom : I shall emerge one day

The Armstrong Browning Library has a letter written by Sarah Flower when she was twenty-two years old and Robert Browning was fourteen.

Sarah Flower to William Johnson Fox, 31 May 1827.

Sarah Flower to William Johnson Fox, 31 May 1827.

Sarah Flower to William Johnson Fox, 31 May 1827.

Sarah Flower to William Johnson Fox, 31 May 1827.

The very large letter written on one sheet of paper begins: “What in the name of fortune is the girl going to do with this tremendous sheet of paper?” She then proceeds to fill the entire sheet with words, front and back. In the letter Sarah says: “I wonder what I am to be when I go into that other state, —whatever it is? I have often fixed on a bird, a blossom, a star, it all depends on my mood—.” This resonates with the words she later wrote in her hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”—

Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly,

This letter is important to the Armstrong Browning Library, because it also contains Sarah’s transcript of two of Robert Browning’s earliest poems.

Sources:

Marshall, Logan. The Tragic Story of the Empress of Ireland: An Authentic Account of the Most Horrible Disaster in Canadian History Constructed from the Real Facts Obtained from Those on Board Who Survived and Other Great Sea Disasters. John C. Winston Company, 1914.

Conway, Moncure Daniel. Centenary History of the South Place Society:Based on Four Discourses given in the Chapel in May and June, 1893. London, 1894.

White Star Lines–Titanic Connections at the ABL–The Fano Club

By Melinda Creech
Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company.  Founded in 1845, The White Star Line, operated a fleet of clipper ships that sailed between Britain, Australia, and America. The ill-fated Titanic was perhaps their most famous ship. The Armstrong Browning Library has a few connections to the Titanic. One connection relates to a set of postcards that disappeared with the Titanic and another relates to the author of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the song that was purportedly playing as the Titanic sank. The Armstrong Browning Library’s collection includes a letter with the White Star logo in its heading and several letters written on board ships or while individuals were preparing to board ships. The letters, written between 1841 and 1912, are lines from people who were passengers on SS (Steamer Ships), RMS (Royal Mail Steamers), or HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship). It is interesting to note that one of the first purposes of steamers crossing the Atlantic was to deliver the mail. These lines, written from steamer ships, may shed some light on the adventure and danger presented by steamer travel in the late nineteenth century.

This first post is directly connected to the Titanic and tells the story of a unique link between Robert and Elizabeth Browning and the sunken Titanic.

In the spring of 1912, one hundred years after the birth of Robert Browning, William Lyon Phelps, Yale professor and Browning scholar, and his wife made a trip to the little Italian town of Fano. Dr. Phelps and his wife had boarded the S. S. Cleveland on 1 July 1911 for their second sabbatical trip from Yale University, visiting England, Sweden, Russia, Germany, France, and were now ending up their travels in Italy. Dr. Phelps and his wife knew that the poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning had visited Fano in the summer of 1848. The Phelpses travelled there with the expressed purpose of walking in the poets’ footsteps.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, aged 47. Oil painting by Thomas Buchanan Read, Florence, November 1853. Robert Browning, aged 41. Oil painting by Thomas Buchanan Read, Rome, November 1853.

In the summer of 1848 the Brownings had travelled to Fano, Italy, hoping the cool sea breeze of the east coast of Italy would provide a respite from the stifling heat they had been experiencing in their home in Florence. They found Fano even hotter than Florence. Looking for some shade they entered the Church of San Agostino and discovered a large painting, The Guardian Angel, by a seventeenth-century artist known as Guercino. In a letter to Mary Russell Mitford, 24 August [1848], Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

excerpt of letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford. 24 August [1848].

we found it uninhabitable from the heat.. vegetation scorched into paleness, the very air swooning in the sun, and the gloomy looks of the inhabitants sufficiently corroborative of their words, that no drop of rain or dew ever falls there during the summer . . . —yet the churches are beautiful, and a divine picture of Guercino’s is worth going all that way to see.

When the Brownings returned to their hotel in Ancona, Robert composed a poem inspired by the painting, which he titled “The Guardian Angel: A Picture at Fano.”

The Guardian Angel by Guercino

I.
Dear and great Angel, wouldst thou only leave
That child, when thou hast done with him, for me!
Let me sit all the day here, that when eve
Shall find performed thy special ministry,
And time come for departure, thou, suspending
Thy flight, mayst see another child for tending,
Another still, to quiet and retrieve.
II.
Then I shall feel thee step one step, no more,
From where thou standest now, to where I gaze,
—And suddenly my head is covered o’er
With those wings, white above the child who prays
Now on that tomb—and I shall feel thee guarding
Me, out of all the world; for me, discarding
Yon heaven thy home, that waits and opes its door.
III.
I would not look up thither past thy head
Because the door opes, like that child, I know,
For I should have thy gracious face instead,
Thou bird of God! And wilt thou bend me low
Like him, and lay, like his, my hands together,
And lift them up to pray, and gently tether
Me, as thy lamb there, with thy garment’s spread?
IV.
If this was ever granted, I would rest
My head beneath thine, while thy healing hands
Close-covered both my eyes beside thy breast,
Pressing the brain, which too much thought expands,
Back to its proper size again, and smoothing
Distortion down till every nerve had soothing,
And all lay quiet, happy and suppressed.
V.
How soon all worldly wrong would be repaired!
I think how I should view the earth and skies
And sea, when once again my brow was bared
After thy healing, with such different eyes.
O world, as God has made it! All is beauty:
And knowing this, is love, and love is duty.
What further may be sought for or declared?
VI.
Guercino drew this angel I saw teach
(Alfred, dear friend!)—that little child to pray,
Holding the little hands up, each to each
Pressed gently,—with his own head turned away
Over the earth where so much lay before him
Of work to do, though heaven was opening o’er him,
And he was left at Fano by the beach.
VII.
We were at Fano, and three times we went
To sit and see him in his chapel there,
And drink his beauty to our soul’s content
—My angel with me too: and since I care
For dear Guercino’s fame (to which in power
And glory comes this picture for a dower,
Fraught with a pathos so magnificent)—
VIII.
And since he did not work thus earnestly
At all times, and has else endured some wrong—
I took one thought his picture struck from me,
And spread it out, translating it to song.
My love is here. Where are you, dear old friend?
How rolls the Wairoa at your world’s far end?
This is Ancona, yonder is the sea.

Standing before the painting on Easter day, 7 April 1912, in the church of San Agostino, Phelps wondered why few Browning enthusiasts visited Fano. To encourage such visits, Phelps instituted the Fano Club. Anyone could become a life member by visiting Fano, seeing the painting, and sending him a picture postcard postmarked from Fano. He and his wife bought seventy-five postcards and addressed them to various friends in America. Unfortunately, the postcards never reached their destinations as they were among the cargo on board the Titanic.

But in spite of the first failed attempt, the idea caught on. In his Autobiography with Letters, published in 1939, Phelps reported that over 500 scholars, students, and lovers of Browning had been inspired to make the pilgrimage.

The administration of the Fano Club was passed on to Dr. A. J. Armstrong (1873-1954), founder of the ABL, after the death of William Lyon Phelps in 1943, and has been carried on by each succeeding library director. Today there are over 200 members of the Fano Club from around the world. Each year members are invited to the ABL around May 7, which is Robert Browning’s birthday, for a dinner and a meeting. Members share stories about seeing the painting (now in the Civic Museum in Fano) and the youngest member present reads “The Guardian Angel: A Picture at Fano” to the group.

Perhaps one day those postcards will be found among the remains of the shipwrecked Titanic.