Encyclopedia Titanica

A Titanic Upgrade

Which second class Titanic passengers upgraded to first class?

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When it comes to the story of the Titanic, certain numbers have become ingrained in the minds of enthusiasts.  For decades, we were told there were 1,503 – or, vaguely – “over 1,500” victims of the tragedy.  There were 705 survivors, or “about 700,” depending upon which source one read.  As it turned out, these commonly-referenced numbers were wrong.  Painstaking calculations conducted independently by several driven Titanic researchers revealed the most accurate figures as 1,496 victims and 712 survivors.

Similarly, but with much less variance, the number of passengers aboard Titanic after departing Queenstown, Ireland, on April 11, 1912, has been recorded as 324 first-class, 284 second-class, and 709 third-class.  However, a document recently uncovered calls two of these established class figures into question.

This author came across the document in question, “Lists C & D, Passengers Drowned,” while perusing The National Archives in a completely different line of research.

The document, as available, consists of an incomplete Titanic passenger list comprising all three classes.  It appears that the list was used by the White Star Line in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy to denote which passengers had been confirmed as lost or saved.  There are numerous handwritten notations inscribed by persons unknown; presumably, they were White Star Line or Board of Trade officials.  The names of passengers known to have survived the disaster are marked-through, whereas many victims have a small checkmark beside their names.  In a number of cases, a victim’s port of embarkation, as recognized by the Board of Trade, is written in black ink beside the individual’s name.

Altogether, this is a fascinating document.  But what truly caught this author’s eye was the following mathematical figure, dated May 21, 1912, written in red pencil at the bottom of one of the pages of the first-class passenger list: 201 Saved + 124 Missing = 325.  Even more intriguing was a second figure, also written in red pencil, to the left of the first figure: Sailed 323 + Transferred on board from 2nd Class 2 = 325.

Figure 1
Dated May 21, 1912, the first handwritten figure states there were 325 first-class passengers aboard Titanic at the time of the disaster, and that 124 of them were lost.
(The National Archives)
Figure 1
A second handwritten figure shows that the voyage commenced with 323 first-class passengers, with two second-class passengers transferring afterwards.
(The National Archives)

The second figure clearly states two passengers transferred their accommodations from second to first class once onboard the Titanic.  In turn, this would decrease the established number of second-class passengers from 284 to 283.  Readers familiar with Titanic’s passengers will know that Alfred Nourney, a 20-year-old German travelling in second-class under the pretentious pseudonym “Baron von Drachstedt,” upgraded his passage to first class once the voyage commenced.  It was a move that likely saved the young man’s life.

Baron von Drachstedt's Entry
Baron von Drachstedt's entry on the document’s second-class passenger list.
(The National Archives)

Thus, we know with certainty the identity of one of these transfers from second to first class.  But who was the second transferee?  Simply put, we do not know.  Titanic historian Charles Haas explained: “If a person moved from second- to first-class, an additional fare would have had to be paid directly to the purser.  Likely the ship’s passenger manifest, created onboard, would have been amended prior to landing at New York, with the extra-fare payments noted in the purser’s voyage account record, which would be turned in to the company upon Titanic’s return to Southampton.”  He concluded: “As a result, during the limitation of liability hearings, when White Star tallied its receipts from the ship, these figures wouldn’t have been known to the company’s accountants and therefore are not reflected in that court’s records.”

The long-accepted figure of 324 first-class passengers already includes Alfred Nourney.  In the document in question, he remains on the second-class passenger list under his pseudonym.  As there are no names listed in the document’s available first-class passenger list which are not already established as such, it may be presumed that his fellow transferee also remains listed in second-class.  Nourney is also included in the accepted figure of 201 first-class survivors.  It should be noted that this number corresponds with the number of first-class survivors written on the document in question.  However, this document states that the number of victims from first class was 124, one number higher than the previously-accepted figure of 123.  So, we can deduce that whoever this mysterious second transferee was, they did not survive the Titanic’s sinking.

The present author briefly speculated that the unknown individual could have been Alexander Cairns, manservant to William Carter.  Cairns perished in the disaster, whereas Carter survived.  In this document, Alexander’s name is completely penciled-in on the first-class passenger list beneath the Carters.  However, it was quickly determined that Alexander Cairns was included in the accepted figure of 324 first-class passengers.  It could not have been him.

Alexander Cairns' Entry
Alexander Cairns entry on the first-class list
(The National Archives)

There is a precedent in Titanic literature for an additional transfer from second to first class.  In his 1986 book, The Night Lives On, historian Walter Lord stated: “Others were not on the Passenger List, but definitely on the Titanic.  Mrs Henry B. [sic] Cassebeer boarded the liner as a Second Class passenger.  She was an impecunious young widow, but a very experienced traveler.  Knowing that expensive cabins often went begging in the off-season, she visited the Purser’s Office.  At the cost of a few pounds under the counter, she upgraded herself from Second Class to one of the best First Class staterooms on the ship.”  Frustratingly, Lord did not cite his source for this story, which Mrs Cassebeer did not mention in her surviving letter to him from 1955.  Regardless of the source, Eleanor Cassebeer could not have been our second transferee, as not only did she survive the sinking, but in the document in question, she is already listed in first-class.

 Eleanor Cassebeer
Eleanor Cassebeer
(The Binghamton Press)

No further details regarding the second transfer can be gleaned from studying the document.  Unless the individual sent a letter or postcard from Titanic to a loved one in which they spoke of their transfer, and this correspondence one day comes to light, it is most likely that this person took the knowledge of their transfer from second-class to their grave.  Barring the hypothetical correspondence turning up, the loved one to whom it was sent might have spoken to a reporter and mentioned the individual’s transfer.  This author has been unable to locate any such interview as of this writing.

As with all mysteries, we must, at a certain point, descend into speculation.  From the first handwritten figure, we know that this second transferee died in the sinking.

With only thirteen adult males originally booked in second-class having survived the disaster, the odds strongly favor our mystery passenger having been a male.  Of course, it is possible that they were a lady, although this is unlikely, as only four ladies travelling in first class died in the sinking, with at least two of those making the decision to stay onboard.  As there were, according to this document, only two transfers, with one being Alfred Nourney, we could make the argument that the second individual was also travelling alone.  To summarize, our mysterious transferee was most likely a male, travelling alone, who lost his life when Titanic went down.

The uncovering of this document has shown once again that there is so much about the Titanic story of which we can never truly be certain.  It is hoped that additional research or another chance find will one day enlighten us as to the identity of this unknown additional transferee from second to first-class.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Michael Poirier, George Behe, Don Lynch and Bill Wormstedt for their valued opinions on this find.  Don Lynch also reminded the author of the Walter Lord passage quoted herein.  Charles Haas took the time to explain the process a Titanic passenger would have gone through to upgrade their passage, and he is greatly appreciated.

References

Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Agreements and Crew Lists, Series III: Titanic, BT 100/259 and 100/260, The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.
“Eleanor Cassebeer, First Class Passenger,” Dr. Paul Lee’s Website, Titanic Pages, http://www.paullee.com/titanic/ecassebeer.php.

Bibliography

Walter Lord (1986) The Night Lives On: Thoughts, Theories and Revelations about the Titanic, London, Penguin. ISBN 0 140 27900 8
Samuel Halpern et al. (2011) Report into the Loss of the SS Titanic: A Centennial Reappraisal, The History Press

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2023) A Titanic Upgrade (Titanica!, ref: #722, published 8 May 2023, generated 21st May 2024 08:00:28 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/a-titanic-upgrade.html