The officer who was second in command during the ill-fated Titanic voyage described having a “queer feeling” about the ship, letters due to be sold at auction reveal.
Private letters written by Henry Wilde, who was the No 2 to Captain Edward Smith on the infamous liner, reveal his misgivings about his posting to the ship.
The letters, which are going under the hammer on Saturday in Devizes, Wiltshire are written over a 20-year period and encompass Wilde’s entire career with the White Star Line – from being a junior officer to his transfer to Titanic as Captain Smith’s second-in-command.
The highlight of the collection is the final letter Wilde, who was chief officer, wrote while on board the Olympic before he left for the Titanic.
Written on March 31 1912, Wilde describes how he was to be given command of the Cymric but is disappointed not be taking it and is being transferred to the Titanic.
He says he is “awfully disappointed to find the arrangements for my taking command of the Cymric have altered. I am now going to join the Titanic until some other ship turns up for me”.
In late March 1912, Wilde may have been expecting to remain as chief officer on the Olympic under her new skipper Captain Herbert James Haddock, but instead he was posted to Southampton to await orders.
Wilde only signed onto the Titanic on April 9, and reported for duty at 6am the following morning – the day of sailing.
In a letter to his sister, written onboard Titanic and posted at Queenstown, Wilde gave some indication that he had misgivings about the new ship.
“I still don’t like this ship ... I have a queer feeling about it,” he wrote.
The maiden crossing went smoothly until the Titanic struck an iceberg on the evening of April 14, killing 1,500 crew and passengers, including Wilde.
After the collision, Wilde spoke to bosun Albert Haines and lamp trimmer Samuel Hemmings – who said they could hear air escaping from the tank and that water was getting in, but that the storeroom was dry.
Wilde went up to report this to the bridge and then joined Captain Smith and Thomas Andrews on a brief inspection to see the extent of the damage.
Wilde took charge of the even numbered lifeboats and oversaw their loading and lowering into the water.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge, of Henry Aldridge & Son, said: “It is without doubt one of the finest Titanic-related letters, written by one of the liner’s most senior officers on Olympic stationery.
“This lot reveals previously unknown details and shows Wilde’s obvious disappointment in being transferred to Titanic.
“Wilde is mentioned in survivor recollections of the sinking, but his activities remain something of a mystery.
“What is certain is that he worked diligently to load the boats once the seriousness of the situation was clear to him.
“The archive itself is of unparalleled importantce to both collectors and historians alike as it gives an unprecedented snapshot into the professional life of the second most senior officer onboard Titanic.
“It also includes his thoughts on Titanic’s sister Olympic, whom he describes as a ‘Fine Ship’.”
The collection also covers Olympic’s collision with HMS Hawke.
In a letter written on board the Olympic shortly afterwards, he describes the collision as “unfortunate” and mentions how they will be going to Belfast after making temporary repairs.
The letters also include numerous references to Belfast ship builder Harland and Wolff.
The collection of letters is estimated to fetch between £10,000 and £15,000 and forms part of an auction of more than 250 lots of Titanic, White Star and Ocean liner related collectables.