Life on Board: Greetings From the Titanic

Letters, Postcards, and Telegrams From the Titanic

Photo: Wireless Telegraph from 1915

by Patrick J. Kiger

Before, during, and after the disaster, the Titanic's passengers were in communication with their families and business associates, both by letter and wireless telegraph. Some passengers posted letters from Southampton as they awaited departure, utilizing the ship's fancy stationery, which was emblazoned with the White Star symbol and the inscription: "On board R.M.S. TITANIC." Messages, from both the passengers and Captain Smith himself, were sent by the ship's Marconi wireless telegraph equipment office from the middle of the Atlantic to other ships. That same equipment enabled the Titanic to notify nearby ships of its desperate plight on the night of April 14. Finally, survivors wrote letters that were posted from the Carpathia, the ship that brought them to the U.S. Here are a few excerpts from the messages that have survived.

"I travelled from Liverpool on Monday by the 12 o'clock train to board and arrived at 10 p.m., and I am feeling pretty tired. I am very well, and I am gradually getting settled in my new cabin, with is larger than my last. This seems all the time as if it were the Olympic and I like it very much."

— letter from John Edward Simpson to his mother, dated April 11.

"After leaving at noon we had quite a little excitement, as the tremendous suction of our steamer made all the hawsers of the S.S. New York snap as we passed her and she drifted on to our boat, a collision being averted by our stopping & our tugs coming to the rescue of the 'New York'. You will probably have read of the occurrence in the papers…'The weather is calm and fine, the sky overcast. There are only 370 First Class passengers. So far the boat does not move and goes very steadily. It is not nice to travel alone and leave you behind. I think you will have to come next time."

— an April 10 letter from passenger Adolphe Saafeld to his wife.

"I hope that you will accept my good wishes now even if they are a bit late. I hope to see you next year."

— Passenger George Graham, a department store salesman, in an April 10 letter to a business associate

"Just a letter line to let you know that I am quite safe & happy. I am enjoying this trip immensely & am not looking forward to see the coast of old Ireland. They say we shall have some fun at Queenstown for as soon as we arrive the people flock out in shifts to sell their goods. I am having plenty to eat & have to press a button & up comes the steward ready to do anything I wish. This morning the steward of my room came in & asked if I wanted my breakfast in bed..."

— an April 11 letter from passenger William J. Mellors to his mother

"Queer lot of people on the ship. There are a number of obnoxious, ostentatious American women, the scourge of any place they infest and worse on shipboard than anywhere…Many of them carry tiny dogs, and lead husbands around like pet lambs."

— a letter from Frank D. Millet to a friend, posted at Queenstown.

"Captain Noordam. Many thanks had moderate variable weather throughout. Compts. Smith."

— a wireless message sent by Captain Smith, on the afternoon of the disaster.

"We are sinking fast passengers being put into boats."

— a message transmitted by the Titanic's wireless operators on the night of the disaster

"Deeply regret advise your Titanic sunk this morning fifteenth after collision iceberg resulting serious loss life further particulars later."

— an April 17 telegram sent by J. Bruce Ishmay from the Carpathia to the company's New York office

"...we went down into the blackness of the water. Which never shall I forget. There wasn't a light, or a lamp in the boat...We rowed away from the ship, which was sinking fast so to get away from the swell or suction. Then all the rest is too terrible for me to write. The screams of the hundreds of dear women, children and the bravest of men fighting in the icy cold waves, I still hear."

— Survivor Laura Mabel Francatelli, in a letter written shortly after the disaster.

"We have been through a most terrible experience---the Titanic and above a thousand souls sunk on Monday about 3 o'clock in the morning. Margaret and I are safe, although we have lost everything. One of our party, also, Mr. Kenyon, was lost. He was such a charming man---so honorable and good. I sat talking to him a little before the accident---and a little later he was dead. His wife is crushed by the blow. I can say one thing, nothing could part me from my husband in time of danger. After floating about for four hours we were taken on board the steamer that was bound for Naples---but she is now taking us to New York."

— Survivor Alice Leeder in an April 16 letter to her friend Sarah Babcock, written on the Carpathia

Titanic Facts

1

USA TODAY and NGC Present

  • USA Today Titanic Cover

    Special Edition

    The 2012 Titanic special edition is a historical look back to that terrible day 100 years ago on April 15, 1912. Click here to purchase (also available on newsstands).

Buy Now on USAToday.com »