Captain Arthur Henry Rostron was born at Astley Bridge, Bolton, Lancashire, England, on 14 May 1869, the son of James and Nancy Rostron. He was educated at the Astley Bridge High School.
At the age of 13 he went to sea joining the Naval training ship Conway. After two years he was apprenticed to the Waverley Line of Messrs. Williamson, Milligan and Co., Liverpool on board the Cedric the Saxon. His work took him to all parts of the world including the America, India and Australia.
After three years Rostron joined the barque Red Gauntlet owned by the same firm. He was now made up to second mate. He would later recall that his nearest brush with death occurred when the Red Gauntlet toppled over on her beam end during a storm off the south coast of New Zealand.
With two a half years experience as second mate Rostron was promoted to mate before leaving the Waverley Line to join the Camphill, a barque trading to the west coast of South America.
Rostron passed the extra master's certificate in December 1894 and served as second mate aboard the steamship Concord to complete the certificate. Joining the Cunard Line in January 1895 he gained the position of fourth officer on the Umbria. It was in this capacity that he made his first visit to New York. In the years that followed he served aboard various Cunard vessels including: Aurania, Etruria, Servia, Cherbourg, Ultonia and Saxonia.
Rostron was made first officer of the Lusitania in 1907 but just a day before departing on the maiden voyage he found himself transferred to the Brescia, in the Mediterranean trade, as Captain. Rostron worked the Mediterranean service for several years on such vessels as the Verria, Pavia, and in 1911, in his first command of a passenger steamer, the Pennonia on the New York - Mediterranean route.
As a Royal Naval Reserve Rostron was obliged to leave Cunard temporarily to serve in the British Navy during the Russo-Japanese War. After his return, on 18 January 1912, he was given command of the 13,555 ton passenger liner Carpathia. For nearly four months Rostron took the Carpathia on her regular service between New York and Fiume. In those days it was common for steamers to carry emigrants from Europe to America and on the return journey, take holidaying Americans to the ports of Europe, therefore when Rostron guided the Carpathia from pier 54 out of New York on 11 April 1912 his vessel carried a large number of tourists among the 125 first class, 65 second class and 550 third class passengers.
On the night of 14 April 1912 Rostron was asleep in his cabin when wireless operator Harold Cottam burst in and told him of Titanic's distress signal. Captain Rostron immediately set course to the the liner's last known position, over 60 miles. A very devout Christian man, after all the orders were issued and the desperate preparations were underway, he was observed walking away to a place where he thought he would be unobserved, and bowed his head for a long prayer. At 4.00 a.m. the Carpathia arrived at the scene after negotiating surrounding ice fields. The Carpathia picked up the survivors and lifeboats from the Titanic. 712 people were saved and 1,503 perished. As there were insufficient resources on board to make it to Europe, Captain Rostron decided to sail back to New York. When the Carpathia arrived at New York the full horror of the Titanic tragedy was learnt. After the last survivor had disembarked and Captain Rostron had completed his statement for the US Senate inquiry the Carpathia returned to its usual service.
Carpathia arriving in New York with the Titanic survivors
For his rescue work in the Carpathia Rostron was awarded a silver cup and gold medal by survivors, the presentation was made by Molly Brown. He was later received by President Taft at the White House, Washington, and presented by him with a letter of thanks signed by the President, and a few months later he was presented by President Taft with the Congressional Medal of Honour, the highest compliment the United States could confer upon him. On the same day Lord Bryce, then British Ambassador at Washington presented him with the American Cross of Honour, awarded by the American Cross of Honour Society, The Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society's medal was presented to him at Liverpool by Lord Derby, and a gold medal was received from the Shipwreck Society of New York.
Captain Rostron receives the thanks of Titanic survivor Molly Brown
After a year in command of the Carpathia Rostron was transferred to the Caronia. Between 1913 and the end of 1914 he would also take command of the Carmania, Campania, Lusitania and Aulania. Rostron was on board the Aulania when war broke out. The ship was hastily requisitioned as a troopship and, under Rostron's command, carried over the first Canadian troops to Plymouth. Rostron then took the Aulania to India and later Rostron and the Aulania were involved in the Gallipoli campaign. Between September 1915 and April 1916 Rostron commanded of the Mauretania, which had been refitted as a hospital ship. He then joined the Ivernia serving in the Mediterranean. Towards the end of 1916, Rostron left the Ivernia at Marseilles, and rejoined the Mauretania, which he took in 1917 to the Tail-of-the-Bank, Glasgow, where the ship was laid up.
Commands of the Andania and Saxonia and Carmania (one voyage only) were followed by a return to the Mauretania, this time as a fully commissioned ship. The vessel had been fitted with six 6 inch guns and flew the White Ensign. The Mauretania transported thousands of troops to Liverpool, but in January, 1919, she was released from war service, and in June of the same year recommenced her regular passenger-carrying activities to New York.
Rostron remained with the Mauretania until July 1926, he then succeeded James Charles as commander of the Berengaria (formerly the HAPAG Liner Imperator) and Commodore of the Cunard fleet.
At the end of December 1918, he was appointed captain on the acting list of the Royal Navy Reserve, and, in 1919, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Sir Arthur was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1926, and news of this was received by him whilst at sea. On arrival at New York he learned that a further signal honour had been awarded to him, namely the Freedom of New York "For his splendid services to humanity to the City of New York and to the people of the United States over many years'. Later he was appointed an aide-de-camp to the King and he was invested by the Admiral in Command at Cherbourg with the Legion of Honour.
Sir Arthur retired from the sea in May 1931, and he told much of his life story in his book "Home From The Sea." published by Macmillan.
After his retirement Rostron remained active. He was a member, and for a time Captain, of the Southampton Master Mariner's Club. He was also actively involved in the British Legion.
Rostron lived at Holmecroft, West End, Southampton. He and his wife had been visiting their daughter Margaret in Calne when Rostron was taken ill. He developed pneumonia and died in Chippenham on 4 November 1940. His funeral service took place at West End Parish Church on Thursday 7 November 1940. His last surviving child was Margaret E. Howman who was still living in England as late as 1993. His wife, Ethel Minnie Rostron died on July 7, 1943 at the age of 69 and is buried beside her husband in the graveyard of West End Church.
(Courtesy of Gary Bown, UK)
THEIR BODIES ARE BURIED IN PEACE