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Titanic hero

10 November 2008 by stepheng

Black and white photo of two men (one in a sailor's uniform) and a woman on the deck of a ship

Mr and Mrs Ogden with Captain Rostron. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

If anyone deserved a medal it was Captain Arthur Henry Rostron – a man I have always admired because he kept cool and saved hundreds of lives in the Titanic disaster. Recently I went to have a look at his house in Crosby, Liverpool, not far from where the Titanic captain Edward Smith lived. It’s strange to think that these two major players in one of the greatest sea dramas were near-neighbours.

The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 continues to fascinate people and Captain Rostron of the Cunard liner Carpathia is remembered as the shining hero of the rescue operation. The Titanic hit an iceberg on her maiden voyage to America and sent out frantic distress signals as she began to sink. More than 1,500 people were to die in the icy waters.

Harold Cottam, the wireless operator on the Carpathia, left his headset on while dressing for bed – in those days there wasn’t 24-hour radio cover. He heard the distress signal and alerted the captain who immediately ordered Carpathia to race towards Titanic. Capt Rostron showed great skill and courage in moving his ship so quickly through vast ice fields to rescue all 712 survivors.  It took more than three hours to reach Titanic but Rostron made good use of the time. A list of 23 orders was successfully implemented by the crew to prepare Carpathia for taking on survivors. These included getting accommodation, food, drink and blankets ready and ordering his medical crew to stand by. Rostron, a devout Christian, was seen praying quietly.

Six of Capt Rostron’s awards are on display at Merseyside Maritime Museum, loaned by members of his family. There is a huge inscribed silver loving cup presented personally to him by a heroine of the disaster, ‘The Unsinkable’ Molly Brown, on behalf of Titanic survivors.  A stunning gold medal of the US Congress was presented by President William Howard Taft in the name of the American people. There are also gold medals from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society and the Life Saving and Benevolent Society of New York, a US Cross of Honor and a bronze medal presented to the captain, officers and crew of Carpathia by the survivors.

Capt Rostron is pictured here relaxed and smiling after the task of picking up survivors was complete. He is seen standing between Mr and Mrs Ogden who took photos of Titanic’s lifeboats approaching Carpathia.

There’s more on the Titanic and related objects in our collection on our main site.  

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).

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