How I was saved from the Titanic
by Charlotte Collyer
A survivor of the most dramatic marine disaster in the world’s history — told exclusively to readers of the San Francisco Call’s semi-monthly Magazine Section
Of the many shocking things that I remember in connection with the lost Titanic, there is one impression that will never leave me. It is the irony of the faith that I had in the big ship. “She is unsinkable,” I had been told, “she is the safest boat afloat.”
I had never been on an ocean voyage, and I was afraid of the sea. But I listened to the people who said: “Take the new Titanic. She can not come to any harm. New inventions have made her safe; and then, the officers will be extra careful on her first trip.” That sounded as if it must be true; and so Harvey, my husband, and our eight-year-old daughter, Marjorie, and I decided to go to America that way. Marjorie and I are here, safe, but we are alone. For my husband was drowned, and with the Titanic there went to the bottom of the Atlantic all that we had in the world.
Our story before the Titanic
I must first tell how we came to leave England. We lived in Bishopstoke, a little village near Southampton, Hampshire. My husband kept a grocery store; in fact, although only thirty-five years old, he was the principal grocer in the village and was liked by all the neighbors. He was clerk of the parish, by which I mean that he was that member of the church vestry who helped the vicar to keep his accounts, to fill on marriage licenses, birth certificates, and so forth. He was also in charge of our chime of bells, which are more than one hundred years old, and are thought to be among the best in England.
Some friends had gone a few years before to the Payette Valley, in Idaho. They had bought a fruit farm, and had made a success of it. They wrote us wonderful accounts of the climate, and advised us to join them.
We did not think that we would go; but last year my health began to get very poor — my lungs are weak — and in the end, we made up our minds to sell our business, and to buy a farm in the same valley where our friends had settled. I can never forget that it was for my sake, and for the sake of Marjorie, that my dead husband decided to do this. He would have been better off in England.
The day before we were to sail, our neighbors in Bishopstoke made much of us. It seems as if there must have been hundreds who called to bid us good-bye; and in the afternoon, the members of the church arranged a surprise for my husband. They led him to a seat under an old tree in the church that they knew. It took more than an hour, and he was very pleased. But, somehow, it made me a little sad. They gave the solemn old tunes, as well as the gay ones, and to me it was too much of a farewell ceremony. Why cannot people help those who are going away to forget that they are leaving behind the things that they hold dear? It is a question that I often ask myself.
The next morning, we went to Southampton; and there my husband draw from the bank all his money, including the sum we had received for our store. It came to several thousand dollars in American money, and he took all it all in bank notes. The clerk asked him if he did not want a draft; but he shook his head and put the notes in a wallet which he kept, to the end, in the inside breast pocket of his coat.
We had already sent forward the few personal treasures that we had kept from our old home; so that, when we went on board the Titanic, our every earthly possession was with us.
We were traveling second cabin, and from our deck, which was situated well forward, we saw the great send-off that was given to the boat. I do not think there had ever been so large a crowd in Southampton, and I am not surprised that it should have come together.
The grand Titanic
The Titanic was wonderful, far more splendid and huge than I had dreamed of. The other craft in the harbor were like cockle-shells beside her, and they, mind you, were the boats of the American and other lines that a few years ago were thought enormous. I remember a friend said to me, just before visitors were ordered ashore: “Aren’t you afraid to venture on the sea?” But now it was I who was confident. “What, on this boat!” I answered. “Even the worst storm couldn’t harm her.”
Before we left the harbor, I saw the accident to the New York, the liner that was dragged from her moorings and swept against us in the channel. It did not frighten anyone, as it only seemed to prove how powerful the Titanic was.
I don’t remember very much about the first few days of the voyage. I was a bit seasick, and kept to my cabin most of the time.
But on Sunday, April 14, I was up and about. At dinnertime, I was at my place in the saloon, and enjoyed the meal, though I thought it too heavy and rich. No effort had been spared to serve even to the second cabin passengers on that Sunday the best dinner that money could buy. After I had eaten, I listened to the orchestra for awhile; then, at perhaps nine o’clock, or half-past nine, I went to my cabin.
I had just climbed into my berth when a stewardess came in. She was a sweet woman, who had been very kind to me. I take this opportunity to thank her; for I shall never see her again. She went down with the Titanic.
“Do you know where we are?” she said pleasantly. “We are in what is called The Devil’s Hole.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“That it is a dangerous pert of the ocean,” she answered. “Many accidents have happened near here. They say that icebergs drift down as far as this. It’s getting to be very cold on deck, so perhaps there’s ice around us now!”
She left the cabin, and I soon dropped off to sleep. Her talk about icebergs had not frightened me; but it shows that the crew were awake to the danger. As far as I can tell, we had not slackened our speed in the least.
It must have been a little after ten o’clock when my husband came in and woke me up. He sat about and talked to me, for how long I do not know, before he began to make ready to go to bed.
And then, the crash!