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Saved from the Titanic, but the loss too much to bear: A follow-up from survivor Charlotte Collyer (1912)

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Follow-up Titanic survivor Charlotte Collyer (1912)

Response from Charlotte Collyer, saved from the Titanic

Mrs Charlotte Collyer’s article, “How I Was Saved from the Titanic [A Titanic survivor’s story],” printed seven weeks ago in the Semi-Monthly Magazine Section, still holds the record of being the most graphic and most intensely human document relating to that shocking disaster that has yet been published.

We felt that it would be so, when we first heard the story from her lips; and on the spot, we obtained from her the exclusive right to use it for the benefit of our readers.

Other magazines and many newspapers, learning from other passengers something of the dramatic and harrowing nature of her experiences, sought to anticipate us. But Mrs Collyer loyally refused to listen to them. The house where she was staying, before she went West, was besieged by reporters and cameramen. Efforts were made to interview the servants by reporters posing as tradesmen.

Little Marjorie was unable to play in the yard in front of the house on account of the persistent attempts to photograph her. It was under such disturbing conditions that this heartbreaking narrative was written for us.

Titanic lifeboat with survivors about to be brought aboard the rescue ship Carpathia

The telling of the tale

And when it came to us, and we read it, preparatory to having it put in type, we ourselves, who were already familiar with its main outlines and incidents, were so moved by it — so touched by the personal note of tragedy in it — by its unconscious revelation of devoted heroism, that it seemed impossible not to believe that others who read it would be affected in the same way. And we believed that, feeling that way, some, at least, of them would desire to give substantial expression to their sympathy for the writer and her fatherless child.

And so we could not resist the impulse to add to her story of the wreck an editorial note, telling of our readiness to forward to Mrs Collyer any contributions of money that the feelings excited by reading her account might evoke.

It is absolutely contrary to our policy to make appeals of any sort in this Section; and we were careful to make it clear that we were not departing from that policy on this occasion. It was to emphasize that fact that we suggested that only those who could afford to send at least five dollars without self-sacrifice should send at all.

We believed that there were enough persons of abundant means among our readers who would wish to express their sympathy in tangible form, and who could do so without feeling it — who would, in fact, feel it more of a hardship not to be permitted to do so — materially to lighten the burden that the loss of her husband and their fortune, under so distressing circumstances, had thrust upon the none too strong shoulders of that brave woman.

Grateful for the public’s support

Our confidence in this regard has been more than justified. On account of our large edition and the requirements of careful printing, The Semi-Monthly Magazine Section must go to press a month before the date of issue. It is accordingly only three weeks, at the time these words are written, since Mrs Collyer’s article appeared.

MORE: Titanic survivor: No alarm when iceberg first struck

It will, we are sure, be gratifying to our readers — whether they are included in the list of contributors or not — to know that, up to date, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-five dollars have been received by us for the benefit of Mrs Collyer and have been forwarded to her.

It is certainly gratifying to us; and how gratifying this generous and spontaneous outpouring of aid and encouragement has been to Mrs Collyer she tells you in the letter that we print on this same page.

It will, of course, be impossible for Mrs Collyer to acknowledge personally all the letters and checks that she has received. Many of them came without addresses. But everyone who sent a cheek will receive it back through the bank with Mrs Collyer’s endorsement. We print the signature to her letter of acknowledgment in facsimile for purposes of comparison.

On only one point can there be any possible sense of disappointment to those who came forward so liberally to assist Mrs Collyer in her brave determination to carry out her dead husband’s plans, and to make a home for herself and Marjorie in the West.

Mrs Collyer has been compelled to return to the home of her parents in England. Any disappointment that any of our readers may feel on this account is as nothing compared with the disappointment felt by Mrs Collyer herself, when she realized that her strength was not equal to the task that she had set herself, and reluctantly turned her back on the country.

When Mrs Collyer landed from the Carpathia, she was absolutely without a penny and without resources. Everything that she and her husband possessed, with the exception of some furniture, also on the Titanic, had been turned into money, and that money was in a wallet carried by Mr Collyer.

The money we paid for her story, however, gave her the means to complete her journey to Payette Valley, Idaho, where her husband had arranged to go into fruit-farming, and left her enough for her personal expenses for some time to come.

She found there a hearty welcome from her friends from the old country, and every one offering kindly aid and encouragement. The owners of the land that Mr Collyer had contracted to purchase were willing to make every possible concession that would enable the widow to carry the property until it should be on a self-supporting basis; and all her new neighbors were ready to turn to and to help her place it on that basis.

After being saved from the Titanic, her eventual return to Britain

It did not take long, however, for Mrs Collyer to find that not all the help she could expect would suffice to make her task one that she would be able to accomplish.

There was only the bare ground to start with. The forest growth, indeed, had been cut down, and the roots removed; but that was all. There was no house to live in.

There confronted her, then, the problems of housing, of preparing the soil, of buying cuttings and trees from the nurseries, of setting them out, of caring for them, and of support for herself and her child until the trees came into bearing.

It must be remembered that it was his wife’s failing health that was the principal consideration that led Mr Collyer to seek a home in America. He hoped that, in a wholesome, outdoor life in a more congenial climate, she might regain her strength. He had, of course, never contemplated her taking up the active pioneer work of making a fruit farm from the very beginning. He would not have dreamed her equal to it.

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Mrs Collyer, however, did not lack courage. Those who have read her article do not need to be told that. Earnestly she set to work to seek a possible solution to each problem she had to face. Some of them did not appear to be insuperable; but there were others that, with her lack of money and strength, daunted even her. And her strength, none too vigorous when she left England, had been sadly impaired, she soon found by the exposure and the suffering she had been through.

For a time, the excitement of her terrible experiences had given her a nervous energy that she misread as renewed vitality; but, as the excitement wore off under the stern realities she encountered in the West, she began to realize her physical capital had been almost as much depleted as her financial capital.

At last, she received unmistakable warnings that already she was overtaxing her powers. To go on would be surely fatal. Only then did she sadly relinquish her hopes and ambitions and decide to brave again the perils of an ocean voyage, and to return to her own country — there to seek among those nearest and dearest to her, rest for herself, and a home for Marjorie.

Titanic survivor Charlotte Collyer and Marjorie Collyer

Gratitude to many

No one, we are sure, who has sent a check, with the thought, silent or expressed, that it might assist Mrs Collyer in making a home in Idaho, will grudge the gift, under the circumstances just described, now that she has had to abandon that enterprise. The tone of the letters that, in many instances, accompanied the checks, precludes any such possibility. They all breathed a spirit of unconditioned generosity and helpfulness.

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A very great many took the trouble to thank us for the “opportunity” we had afforded them to testify their sympathy for Mrs Collyer and their appreciation of her heroism. More than one check was accompanied simply by the words, quoted from the editorial note: “It is not an appeal, but an opportunity.”

A well-known firm of lawyers sent a check for twenty-five dollars and an offer to conduct, without charge, a suit in her behalf against the steamship company. Not a few checks came in black-bordered envelopes, with a few lines to indicate they were sent in loving memory of dear ones who had passed away.

One woman writes: “My son and his little four-year old bear were saved from the wreck of the Santa Rosa less than a year ago. In thankful appreciation of that, I am glad to send the enclosed check.”

One letter says: “I am only a little baby ten months old, but I am sure that, if I could understand, I should feel a very great sympathy for Mrs Collyer and her little girl.”

Eleven little girls, from three to eleven years old, held a fair, and sent the proceeds to Marjorie in a dear little letter, signed by all of them, with a separate loving message from each one.

Hardly a check came without some sympathizing or appreciative or cheering message. “May God’s blessing go with it”; “It was my birthday, and I was made so happy by my husband and family that I felt I might share it with this less fortunate woman”; “Her story touched a tender chord”; “I want something to make your burden lighter”; “Cheerfully offered, and I trust will be as cheerfully accepted”; “To help my plucky and unfortunate fellow country woman”; “To help brighten the future for you and little Marjorie” — these are but samples picked at random from the hundreds of letters.

The fund that Mrs Collyer has so unexpectedly to herself received will enable her to start a small business and to establish a home. We are sure that the best wishes of all her American friends go with her to England.


Letter from Mrs Collyer

My Dear American Friends:

My heart is too full of gratitude for all the kindness and sympathy and generous help you have showered on me and my little daughter for me to begin to tell you even a part of what I feel. The greatest comfort to me in my sorrow, my greatest support in the struggle I have made to carry out my husband’s wishes and to make a home for myself and Marjorie in this wonderful land, have been the way that God’s love for us has been revealed to me in the loving welcome and aid received from all the dear friends my story has made for us.

I do not feel able to tell you in detail how I was at last compelled to give up my cherished plans and to return to England. I must leave that task to another.

But I could not bear to have one of you feel that I am ungrateful or unappreciative of your goodness. It is only that the experiences I have been through have left me without the necessary strength to make the fight alone. In my dead husband’s name, and Marjorie’s, and from my heart, I thank you all.

New York, June 8, 1912

Top photo: Charlotte Collyer and her daughter, Marjorie, photographed for The Semi-Monthly Magazine Section just before they left New York to go to the Payette Valley, Idaho.

* * *

In 1914, Charlotte succumbed to tuberculosis. Marjorie grew up and married, but before she died in 1965 at age 61, she had been widowed, and her only child died young. In 1955, she wrote of life post-Titanic, “Since that time I have been blessed with bad luck and often wonder if it will ever give me a break, but it just seems to be my lot…”

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