Titanic rescue ship’s heroism marked on centenary of the sinking of the Carpathia

Judith Owens and Aidan McMichael commemorate Carpathia at Titanic Belfast
Judith Owens and Aidan McMichael commemorate Carpathia at Titanic Belfast

This summer is the centenary of the sinking of RMS Carpathia, the plucky little ship that rescued over 700 survivors after RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg on the night of Sunday, April 14th 1912.

Carpathia was in service from 1903 to 1918 when she was sunk by a German U-boat on July 17th.

RMS Carpathia

RMS Carpathia

Not only to commemorate, but to celebrate Carpathia and her crew, Titanic Belfast, along with the Belfast Titanic Society, has teamed up with the great granddaughter of Carpathia’s skipper to spotlight the heroic and historic Titanic rescue mission.

Although less recounted than RMS Titanic and Captain Smith, RMS Carpathia and Captain Rostron played a profound role in Titanic’s tragic tale.

Carpathia braved icebergs, at full steam ahead, racing to the sinking Titanic.

It took over four hours to take on board 705 survivors.

Captain Arthur H Rostron on RMS Carpathia, 1912

Captain Arthur H Rostron on RMS Carpathia, 1912

Captain Arthur Henry Rostron was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in America and appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

His great granddaughter Janet Rostron said recently: “I’m keen to find out what happened to those who were saved and those who did the saving on that fateful night. I’m asking for relatives of both the passengers who were rescued and the crew members of the Carpathia to send their stories to media@titanicbelfast.com before 30 June 2018 to be part of an exhibition.”

The exhibition will be curated by historians from the Belfast Titanic Society and a selection of archive material will be displayed on board SS Nomadic, Titanic’s “little sister”, beside the Titanic Belfast building, from July 17th July until August 17th.

Judith Owens, Titanic Belfast’s chief executive, said: “We want Carpathia, the action she took and the lives she saved, to take centre stage. We want relatives of passengers and crew to get in touch and share their families’ stories of what happened after they were saved by RMS Carpathia so that we can share them not only with Janet but with visitors from throughout the world this summer.”

Captain Rostron (seated centre) with RMS Carpathia's officers

Captain Rostron (seated centre) with RMS Carpathia's officers

The exhibition will recount Carpathia’s historic rescue mission along with the rest of her sea-going career as a passenger ship, through her service in the First World War to her sinking when she was serving as a troop transporter when she was torpedoed.

Aidan McMichael, chairman of Belfast Titanic Society, commented: “It’s fitting to take time this year to remember Carpathia’s role, including Captain Rostron and his crew and passengers, in the dramatic rescue of Titanic’s survivors…and we look forward to sourcing new accounts of the rescue story.”

On the first day of United States Senate Inquiry into the tragedy Captain Rostron vividly recalled arriving at Titanic in the early hours of Monday morning April 15th 1912.

He was standing on Carpathia’s bridge. His crew and medical staff were meticulously well-prepared for a major rescue mission.

“At 2.40 I saw a flare, about half a point on the port bow, and immediately took it for granted that it was the Titanic itself, and I remarked that she must be still afloat…soon after seeing the flare I made out an iceberg about a point on the port bow… knowing that the Titanic had struck ice, of course I had to take extra care and every precaution to keep clear of anything that might look like ice.”

Captain Rostron’s evidence to the Inquiry revealed the terrible dangers which he and his crew and passengers faced – “Between 2.45 and four o’clock, the time I stopped my engines, we were passing icebergs on every side and making them ahead and having to alter our course several times to clear the bergs. At four o’clock I stopped. At 4.10 I got the first boat alongside.”

“Previous to getting the first boat alongside, however, I saw an iceberg close to me, right ahead, and I had to (steer) starboard to get out of the way. And I picked him (the first boat) up on the weather side of the ship.”

Carpathia was now in the midst of tragedy.

Captain Rostron described the first lifeboat: “In the charge of an officer. I saw that he was not under full control of this boat, and the officer shouted out to me that he only had one seaman in the boat, so I had to manoeuvre the ship to get as close to the boat as possible, as I knew well it would be difficult to do the pulling. However, they got alongside, and they got them up all right. By the time we had the first boat’s people in, it was breaking day, and then I could see the remaining boats all around within an area of about four miles. I also saw icebergs all around me. There were about 20 icebergs that would be anywhere from about 150 to 200 feet high and numerous smaller bergs; also numerous what we call ‘growlers.’ You would not call them bergs. They were anywhere from 10 to 12 feet high and 10 to 15 feet long above the water.

“I manoeuvred the ship and we gradually got all the boats together. We got all the boats alongside and all the people up aboard by 8.30.

“I was then very close to where the Titanic must have gone down, as there was a lot of hardly wreckage but small pieces of broken-up stuff, nothing in the way of anything large.”

For more details about the Carpathia exhibition visit www.titanicbelfast.com.