This week it is 100 years since RMS Carpathia was lost. The ship is of course best known for the role it played in the rescue of survivors from one of a much more famous liner – RMS Titanic. In this guest blog, student Hannah Smith from the University of Liverpool explores the story through the nameplate of Titanic’s lifeboat No. 4:
“It is 100 years since RMS Carpathia was struck by three torpedoes from a German U-55, amid the Celtic Sea on 17 July 1918. Just six years earlier, on 15 April 1912 under the captaincy of Arthur Henry Rostron, the Cunard liner undoubtedly experienced its most memorable voyage. When Carpathia’s radio received the Titanic’s distress signal at 12.25 am she turned off her course to travel the 58 mile distance to the wreckage. From 4-8am all 705 survivors were brought aboard the Carpathia. Although sadly 1,503 people were to lose their lives in the sinking, without the Carpathia’s sense of urgency, the cold would have ultimately claimed more.
Some of the medals awarded to Captain Rostron and his crews in the wake of tragedy are available to view in the exhibition Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story at Merseyside Maritime Museum. However, as a history student, the individual human stories behind such important events, have and continue to capture my interest. Therefore, when viewing the collection, the more touching symbol for myself of the Carpathia’s role in the survivor’s recovery, was the nameplate from Titanic’s lifeboat No.4.
The nameplate was given as a memento to the Carpathia’s 20 year old quartermaster Mr John James Kirkpatrick. The Wallasey man was later reported to have said that even though he had been at sea in times of war, he never saw anything that horrified him as much as the loss of the Titanic. The nameplate came to the Museum after Mr Kirkpatrick donated the item to the Mercantile Marine Service Association.
After seeing the nameplate, I wished to discover who the survivors of lifeboat No. 4 were, and if any of these people had Liverpool connections. After reading Dr Alan Scarth’s ‘Titanic and Liverpool,’ (the book in which the exhibition Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story is based upon) there was indeed one tale that stood out. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the tale of the first and second class women or children who made up most of the lifeboat’s passengers, but that of Thomas Patrick Dillon.
What struck my curiosity in Dillon was not only his local roots, being born in Liverpool in 1878, but the traumatic experience he must have endured personally, as his role as a trimmer found him in the engine rooms when the iceberg was hit. His testimony at the British Inquiry not only provides a unique insight into the rising seriousness in the stokehold but also provides details of the sinking itself, having gone down with the ship on the stern side at 2.20am. After being thrown 12 feet underwater he swam for 20 minutes, surrounded by thousands of other people, before being pulled out unconscious into lifeboat no.4. The lifeboat recovered eight other male crew members, unfortunately when Dillon woke he found two of these men had died on top of him.
The combination of Dillon’s own personal luck, the efforts of those passengers boarded in lifeboat no. 4, and the swift response displayed by the Carpathia and her crew members in coming to the rescue of the survivors meant Dillon was able to resume his seafaring career after the disaster. Dillon would go on to live with his sister on Walmsley Street in Liverpool until his death in 1939. For Dillon, the passengers on Lifeboat no.4, and all of the 705 survivors overall, the Carpathia was indeed the saviour and provider of a second chance at life within the Titanic’s catastrophic narrative. A saviour that is still remembered and celebrated 100 years later after her own sinking.
To learn more about the role RMS Carpathia performed in the Titanic’s sinking, and Titanic’s links with Liverpool; you can visit the exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum, or read more information on the Titanic pages on the website.”
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