Buying the dead

  • Thread starter Stephen Stanger
  • Start date

S

Stephen Stanger

Guest
Has anyone heard recently of news detailing "shocking new information" concerning the prejudices of those retrieving bodies, how that the way the corpse was dressed not only determined it's class but also determined it's fate.
I figure were all familiar with the fact that those recovered that were too decomposed were buried at sea but, were some deliberately abandoned?
Stokers and obviously steerage, for the majority were left in the water (regardless of decay)and the obviously second and first class (that were decently wardrobed or easily identifiable) were either frozen or coffined.
My whole point for starting this (sorry) was to ask if anyone can confirm that the White Star Line actually charged families (something like 20 pounds) for the return of a corpse that was identified as theirs?
 
Sep 20, 2000
1,072
4
313
Hi, Stephen:

This -- in its full ramifications -- is definitely NOT something I've heard before. It is a fact that the MacKay-Bennett (the first ship sent out) was ultimately sorely under-equipped to deal with the enormity of the task at hand. But of course they *were* relatively well-supplied initially, and had gotten under way fairly soon after the disaster. It's also quite true that they were forced to resort to burial at sea as an alternative, because of the unexpectedly high number of floating victims they actually encountered and their limited ability to properly preserve more bodies. So admittedly there were arbitrary, fairly class-conscious criteria utilized to determine how to deal with the unexpected excess. (But then, class was a prime determinant of *many* things in those days, just as a matter of course.)

But deliberately leaving corpses "abandoned" -- that is, intended to be *permanently* unretrieved -- in the water doesn't sound accurate at all. Aside from basic human decency, any such arbitary neglect would have been incredibly damaging to White Star, which was chartering those efforts and was anxious to sweep the disaster from public consciousness. (Hundreds of floating victims left scattered about the North Atlantic make a pretty terrible advertisement!)

Where did you find this "shocking new information?" And is there any possibility that it may simply represent a mis-communication of the fact that the MacKay-Bennett indeed had to break off its retrieval efforts "prematurely" (but with other ships en route to take up the cause) because they were simply "topped out"?
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Mar 16, 2000
5,055
339
433
Stephen, the preference given to the bodies of the first class passengers had nothing to do with prejudice. Captain Larnder made it quite plain that first class were given preference for legal reasons. It was very desirable to obtain certain proof of their death, because large insurance and inheritance issues were likely to be involved. The sad case of Mrs Penasco is reported on this site. She had endless trouble claiming her inheritance because she could not produce the body of her husband. I have other examples from England of the same problem, though the British courts showed common sense and soon sorted out the cases.

Quite a number of crew and second and third class passengers were recovered, as it happens, so Larnder was obviously doing his best to bring many bodies ashore. With a clergyman on board, he could hardly do otherwise.

This 'new information' doesn't come from Robin Gardiner by any chance? It sounds like his ravings.
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
1,280
12
313
Stephen wrote:

>My whole point for starting this (sorry) was to >ask if anyone can confirm that the White Star >Line actually charged families (something like 20 >pounds) for the return of a corpse that was >identified as theirs?

Hi, Stephen!

It's true. At least one letter exists (written to Sarah Gill, the widow of Joseph Gill) in which White Star claimed that -- since it could not be held responsible for the tragedy -- the Line could not see its way clear to funding the shipment of any victims' bodies to their families without being reimbursed for its expenses. The exact wording of the pertinent sentences went as follows:

"We regret that we do not see our way to bring home the bodies of those recovered free of expense, and in cases where it is desired for this to be done, it can only be carried out provided the body was in a fit state to be returned, and upon receiving a deposit of £20 on account of the expenses.

"The remains of those not returned to England we are arranging to have buried at Halifax, each in a separate grave, with a suitable headstone, and we hope that this latter arrangement will commend itself to you."

However, the letter concluded by telling Mrs. Gill that the Line would "willingly bring your case before the Committee of the Lord Mayor of London's Relief Fund".

All my best,

George
 
May 8, 2001
1,359
15
233
George. Although that still stinks, what you write sounds a little different then what is being claimed ... that the bodies were purposefully discriminated against out at sea. I was going to challenge that claim, based on the unknown child and the last body that was recovered was that of a (bedroom?)steward.
Great to see your input here. It has been missed!
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
1,280
12
313
Hi, Colleen!

It's great to see you again as well -- I missed seeing your postings and enjoying your light-hearted humor. (I hope you've been helping to keep Messrs. Cook and Whitfield in line during my absence; it's a thankless job, but somebody has to do it.) :)

Take care, Colleen, and please accept my best wishes for you, Robert and the kids. :)

All my best,

George
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Mar 16, 2000
5,055
339
433
George, there's something fishy about the Gill letter. Joseph Gill was buried at sea on April 21st. Why discuss bringing his body home? Is a just a case of the left hand of White Star not knowing what the right hand is doing? Could the letter be a fake? Have you a date for the letter?
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
1,280
12
313
Hi, Dave!

>Is a just a case of the left hand of White Star >not knowing what the right hand is doing?

That's one possible explanation.

>Could the letter be a fake?

That doesn't seem to be the case, since the letter went up for auction at the BTS convention along with the pocket watch that was recovered from Mr. Gill's body.

>Have you a date for the letter?

The only info I have is that the letter was dated three weeks after the sinking (which would put it circa May 5 or so.) Perhaps Mrs. Gill had been told that her husband's body was recovered but didn't yet know it had also been 'reburied' at sea.

Sir Geoffrey Whitfield might be able to tell us more. (He was at the convention in question.) :)

All my best,

George
 

Brian Meister

Member
Mar 19, 1999
266
2
263
Hello Everybody

First, I think that the confusion may stem
from the fact that there were two gentlemen
named Gill whose bodies were re-claimed from
the sea. John William Gill was body 155 who
was buried at sea on the 23rd. It was his
personal effects that were auctioned off at
Southampton last year.
The 2nd gentleman was the 49th body
catalogued named Joseph Stanley Gill who
was buried at sea on the 21st. This Mr Gill
was a Bedroom Steward in First Class whose
wife was Edith Alice Gill.The couple had
two daughters.
As to the prioriting of certain bodies
in deciding who was brought back; I think the
evidence is pretty clear. It appears to me
that the selection of bodies to be returned
to land was pretty equitable early on. Amongst
those recovered the first day, first-class
passenger Frederick Sutton and Edward Keeping
were buried at sea on the 21st along with
some steerage and crewmen.
Of those recovered on the 22nd, nearly all
were buried at sea, and this is where the
shift begins. Of this group, both FC passengers
remains were kept, along with a Clerk Rice, and
an unidentified person later buried in the
Jewish Cemetery in Halifax. Of the 81 bodies
recovered on those two days, the majority of
women and childrens bodies recovered were
buried at sea.
Somehwere along the line, after the press
reported burials at sea, the public and many
relatives of the victims threw a fit, insisting
that they be able to claim their family members.
The policy then changed to no burials at sea.
The last recommitted by the MacKay-Bennett
occurred on the 24th.
Minia kept all but two of its recoveries,
but that may have been on account of fewer
bodies being found. Certainly, by then,the
condition of the remains was deteriorating.
In the final analysis, I believe that the
recovery of the victims of Titanic went
virtually hand in hand with the class system.
It was prevalent in the evacuation; why
be surprised that it would be any different
in the body recovery.
 
May 8, 2001
1,359
15
233
Hello Brian. Good analysis! But, they had to get them out of the water, identify them, catalog their belongings, and determine if they were in a condition to take back before deciding to either recommit their bodies to the deep, or put them in a coffin. Not just leave them to bob around and say, "Oh, that's just so-and-so, no one has paid the bounty on him/her, so don't even try." as first suggested. Since it was a volunteer crew, I could bet they just wanted to get the job over with and get back home. I can't even begin to fathom what a grusome site and job it was.
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
1,280
12
313
Hi, Brian!

>John William Gill was body 155 who
> was buried at sea on the >23rd. It was his
> personal effects that >were auctioned off at
> Southampton last year.

Thanks for the correction about Mr. Gill's identity -- I rechecked my information and am properly chastened re: the desirability of reading my source material too hastily. :)

All my best,

George
 
Jul 9, 2000
58,655
854
563
Easley South Carolina
One can only imagine what the market would look like. and can you imagine the sales pitch? (Not buying from us would be a grave mistake!)
wink.gif
 

Brian Meister

Member
Mar 19, 1999
266
2
263
Dear George and Colleen,

George: Had I spent more time on line
yesterday, I would have caught your response
to this thread. I apologize if the tone of
my response seemed strong. It looked to me
like you all were talking about two different
people. Lord knows, I have been typing along
in a reply to someone and suddenly thought,
"Uh Oh, that was somebody, so-and-so." No
harm there, just thought I could lend a hand.
Colleen: You are, of course, correct in
stating that the bodies had to first be re-
trieved in order to establish identity. The
task was, indeed, a gruesome one and I do not
envy the enormity of what they had to deal with.
It makes me think of the World Trade Center
in the respect that these men had the pressure
of feeling the full weight of the historical
importance of the event, and having to perform
a job that they were not necessarily trained
for; that of recovery of remains.
Still, it is important to realize that
company edicts outweighed the fact that, in
the case of body recovery; it was not women
and children first.

My best to you both,

Brian
 
May 8, 2001
1,359
15
233
Thanks again Brian. No apologies necessary. I am with you 100%, and certainly appreciate any information you added to the thread.
The comparison to 9-11. I agree there too. It makes me extremely sad to have such a tragedy to compare it to, but relieved to see that 9-11 was handled so respectfully.
Take care!
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
1,280
12
313
Hi, Brian!

> I apologize if the tone of
> my response seemed >strong.

I didn't think your posting was strongly-worded at all, old chap, so please don't give it another thought. By "chastened" I meant I was critical of myself for making an unnecessary mistake like that. (It's really true that haste makes waste.)

>It looked to me
> like you all were talking >about two different
> people.

We were, and I'm grateful to you for correcting my error. Thanks very much, Brian.

All my best,

George
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
1,280
12
313
>Behe, I'll show you what a strong tone is!!

Hmm. Let me take a quick look in the dictionary.

"Tone: the healthy and vigorous condition of a living body."

"Body: a corpse."

(Gad, I'd better stop before this becomes too horrific.) :)

George
 

Kate Bortner

Member
May 17, 2001
434
4
183
Pleased to see you boys are still playing nice.
Better straighten up. I have Detention slips and I'm not afraid to use 'em.
 

Similar threads

Similar threads