Monday, April 16, 2012

Titanic Week - The Titanic and Halifax Connection

Recovery Operations
While Halifax's services were better, St. John's was closer to the sinking and ships could get to the site quicker. In the end, however, Halifax was selected because of its mainland rail connection to the rest of North America. (Page 83)
CS MacKay-Bennett
The Cable Ship MacKay-Bennett was the first ship sent out from Halifax to recover as many bodies as they could find from the Titanic sinking. She was commanded by Captain Frederick Harold Larnder.  John Snow and Company Limited were also hired to prepare any bodies found for burial. Canon Kenneth Cameron Hind was also aboard to conduct any burials at sea. She would recover 306 bodies, bury 116 at sea, and return home with 190. She searched for bodies from April 21-26, 1912.

CS Minia
The Cable Ship Minia was the second ship sent out to recover bodies. She was commanded by Captain William deCarteret. When they arrived, the debris and bodies were all ready starting to be pulled away by currents. Her crew found 17 bodies, 2 of them were buried at sea, and 15 were taken to Halifax. She searched from April 26 - May 3.

CGS Montmagny
The Canadian Government Ship Montmagny was the third ship sent out. She was under the command of Francois-Xavier Pouliot. She was from Quebec, but stopped off in Halifax for supplies and to pick-up undertakers and clergy men. She was also joined by east coast captain Peter Johnson. While the bodies had been being number all along, for some reason they skipped 324-325. They only recovered 4 bodies, buried 1 body at sea, and sent the other 3 from Louisbourg in Cape Breton by train to Halifax. She went out to search twice, but only found bodies on May 9 and 10.

Algerine and Florizel
The last ship chartered for recovery operations was the Algerine. She came from St. John's and was under the command of Captain John Jackman. She searched for 3 weeks, but only found 1 body. They took the body back to St. John's and transferred it to the Florizel who then brought it to Halifax.

Other Ships

The Carpathia recovered anywhere from 4 bodies to 10 depending on where you look when she recovered the lifeboats on April 15. The bodies were all buried at sea. The Oceanic discovered Collapsible A on May 13. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe had found the lifeboat on the night of the sinking and transferred those still alive, and one who was not, over to his lifeboat. He believed these 3 to be dead, so he left them in the ship. When Oceanic found them she buried them at sea. There was some debate, though. Lowe was convinced they were dead, but there was evidence of someone attempting to eat cork. The SS Ottawa and SS Ilford also discovered one body each in June. Both bodies were buried at sea.

In the end, of the 209 bodies recovered to Halifax, 59 were shipped tp other parts of Canada (7), the United States (39), Britain (8), and even further afield (5: 1 each to Uruguay, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, and Norway) for burial. (Page 112)
150 bodies were buried in 3 cemeteries in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Fairview Lawn Cemetery
Photo Credit
Fairview Lawn Cemetery was for non-denominational burials. The city continues to maintain the Titanic graves today. 121 bodies from the Titanic were buried in this graveyard. For this reason, I have always thought of it as the Titanic Graveyard even though bodies were taken to two other grave sites. In most cases, the grave stones are simple with 'Died April 15, 1912' at the top and the body number at the bottom. For those that were identified, the name comes at the top. These is the graveyard where 'J. Dawson' is buried. Following the successful movie he got a lot of visitors. Some gravestones are more elaborate being paid for by their family. There were also two that were paid for my J. Bruce Ismay. They are a bit more elaborate as well. There are a lot less unidentified bodies in the graveyard now than there were at the time of the burial thanks to more detective work and scientific advances.

Mount Olivet Roman Catholic Cemetery
Mount Olivet has 19 bodies from the Titanic buried in their grounds. In order to decide where the bodies were to be buried, the officials went by rosaries, crosses, etc. found amongst the belongings. 

Baron De Hirsch Cemetery
There was a lot of guessing involved in who should be buried in the Baron De Hirsch Cemetery. The Rabbi only had 3 days to identify the bodies before the Sabbath began on the Friday. In some cases his mistakes were discovered before the bodies were buried and returned to Fairview, but a couple bodies were later found to be in the wrong cemetery and remain there. One man was sailing under a different name that sounded Jewish, but when his real identity was discovered he was Anglican. In the end 10 bodies were buried in this cemetery.

The Unknown Child
One of the subjects that has always interested me in relation to the bodies recovered from the Titanic was the Unknown Child. The toddler was the fourth body found by the MacKay-Bennett, but there was nothing to identify the identity. He would be the youngest body found by any of the recovery ships and would remain a mystery for years. The funeral for the child was paid for by the crew of the MacKay-Bennett and held on May 4, 1912. The best guess for the babies identity was Gosta Leonard Palsson travelling with his mother from Sweden. His mother, Alma, is buried in Fairview Cemetery and the baby was located close by to what was presumed to be his mother. In many ways this tiny body represents the 53 children who were lost when the Titanic went down.

In 2001, the body of the baby, as well as two other bodies, were exhumed causing a bit of a stir. I remember reading about it in the paper at the time and getting caught up in the story. There was enough of the baby left to begin the search for his real identity. The first thing they did was prove that it was not Leonard Palsson. The DNA did not match. This left five other possibilities: Gilbert Danbom, Alfred Peacock, Sidney Goodwin, Eino Panula, and Eugene Rice. They managed to find descendants of all five of these babies and it came down to being either Panula or Goodwin. Their initial results were that it was Eino Panula, but this proved wrong. In a museum in Halifax, there is a set of children's shoes that belonged to this child. While the clothes of all the bodies were burned, these shoes were held on to. They were too big to fit the 13-month-old child. In 2011, it was announced that the Unknown Child was 19-month-old Sidney Goodwin. It took 99 years, but the mystery was solved.
Photo Credit
Sidney Goodwin, 1911
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Halifax, Nova Scotia

One of the more impressive exhibits dedicated to the Titanic is found at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. I have seen the exhibit before, but not recently. It is this museum that houses, for example, the shoes that belonged to Sidney Goodwin. You can see pictures of all of their artefacts on their website found here. They also have an impressive archives collection including letters, pictures, and other pieces of history. Through the museum website, you can view them all by clicking here.

More Information

Halifax and Titanic by John Boileau (The two quotes are from this book.)
Titanic Victims in Halifax Graveyards by Blair Beed
Titanic: The Canadian Story by Alan Hustak
Titanic Remembered: The Unsinkable Ship and Halifax by Alan Ruffman
... and probably many more...



  1. Amazing. Thank you for sharing this information!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Michelle! I hope you learned something new. :)

  2. Great post, Kailana - it adds more info to the TV documentary I watched last night about the wonderful part the Halifax officials played in the recovery and identification of the Titanic victims.

    1. I would have liked to see that documentary. I have only caught a few here and there.

  3. Fascinating stuff!!! Thank you!

  4. What an informative post! I have to get ready for work otherwise I would keep on reading! I will read more tonight!

    1. I hope you learn something new. :)

  5. I had a look at the Titanic exhibit in Halifax last month. Seeing the objects, like the baby shoes, was a moving experience. Thanks for providing all this info!

    1. I know. I have seen the baby shoes a couple times and they stick with me. I haven't made it to the museum this year unfortunately.

  6. A wonderful article. I have always wondered about how the bodies were brought back - I knew of the one "Titanic Cemetery" but hadn't heard about how they got there. I didn't know about the mystery child and the effort to identify. This is similar to Little Miss 1565, the little girl who was killed in the Hartford Circus Fire and left unidentified although she was almost completely untouched by the fire. Thanks for this post.