Irene Corbett

  • Thread starter David Matthew Stewart (Titanicus)
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David Matthew Stewart (Titanicus)

Hello! I was just wondering, what all do we know about her? I read the thing about second-class women, and how she is the only one they are almost totally unsure of what happened to.

ALSO: In a letter to her family, back in Utah, she mentioned about two-LDS missionaries who would also be sailing on the ship. Do we know who they were, and what happened to them? Any information would be GREATLY apreciated.

James Smith

Dec 5, 2001
Hi all--

Does anyone have any additional information on Irene Corbett beyond what is in her bio on the ET website?



Renae Barrett Salisbury

I have quite a bit of information about Irene. She's my favorite Titanic passenger. Our paths crossed while guiding my 7th grade students through a Titanic project in 1997. I had the opportunity of interviewing her grandson Don Corbett, and he gave me copies of numerous materials, as well as pictures of this amazing woman. In fact, one of my goals is to compile my research and submit it for publication with ET. She was intriguing, to say the least.

Irene went to London in the fall of 1911 to study obstetrics at the Lying In Hospital there as it was reputed to be among the best. Her decision to do this brought about discord in her family because her husband, Walter, did not want her to study so far away. His great uncle was Joseph F. Smith, President of the LDS Church, and he, too, advised her to study in the East, but Irene and her father, Bishop Colvin of Lehi, decided she would go forth with her plans to train in London. Her parents not only mortgaged their home to help pay for her education, they also cared for her three children while she studied abroad.

While in London she shared her experiences with the Provo Harold, which they published upon occasion. These articles reflected how much she loved her work administering to the poor women and children of London and also how much she appreciated her own homeland. Anxious to return to her family, she was happy to purchase passage aboard the Titanic because it would get her home quickly.

As an interesting sidelight, Irene reassured her family that Mormon missionaries would be aboard the ship, thus insuring her safety. Elder Alma Sonne was one of the missionaries that had plans to return to the U.S. on the Titanic. Held up else where, he got word to his fellow missionaries to go ahead without him. They did not want to do that, however, so they waited for Elder Sonne to join them and passed up the opportunity of sailing on the maiden voyage of the most luxurious ship of its time. Elder Sonne, who became a general authority in the LDS Church, spoke and wrote of this "near miss" several times. Unfortunately, Irene did board.

Hope this helps. Wish I had seen it sooner. I immerse myself in Titanic at least once a year when my students read and research this topic. I am fascinated by it. By the way, I noticed that Irene has a "Salisbury" in her family history.

Best wishes,

James Smith

Dec 5, 2001
Hi Renae--

Thanks for the info, it was very helpful indeed!

I had wondered about the Mormon missionaries Irene mentioned. I came across a letter some time ago from one Cornelius Asmus, a resident of Salt Lake City but originally born in the Netherlands. In the letter, Asmus states that his emigration to the US was organized by the British Mission of the LDS Church, and that he was originally slated to go on the Titanic. However (supposedly), British Mission President (and LDS Church Apostle) Rudger Clawson was in attendance of a meeting of White Star Line bigwigs where someone toasted the Titanic as the "unsinkable ship." Clawson supposedly saw this as an affront to God, and cancelled all passages on the Titanic purchased by the British mission.

It's a nice story, but I don't think it's true since the British mission office was located in Liverpool and most of the Mormons who went to America from Britain went via Liverpool. In addition, Clawson's biography makes no mention of his attending any such meeting. The Mormon church was experiencing considerable difficulties with the British government at the time, and Clawson was probably far too preoccupied with legal troubles to be attending a lot of social events.

Incidentally, Clawson was headed home on the Allen Line's Virginian at the time the Titanic sank.

By the way, I'm currently living in Utah Valley and would be glad to try to dig up some old copies of the Provo Daily Herald, if that would be of any use to you. You can e-mail me at [email protected].


James Smith

Dec 5, 2001
From the Ogden Standard-Examiner, posted here by permission:
A tale of Titanic proportions

Utah woman among those lost on ship's maiden voyage

Sun, May 23, 2004

Standard-Examiner staff
[email protected]

After six months of studying nursing in a London hospital, Irene Colvin Corbett was ready to come home.

The 30-year-old wife and mother of three dashed off a quick postcard to her family in Provo.

"Leave London soon -- am going to sail on one of the biggest ships afloat; the Titanic, an American liner," she penned in elegant script.

The postcard made it home to Provo. Not so Irene Colvin Corbett.

The nurse -- the only Utah resident aboard the Titanic -- perished when the ship hit an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912.

Today, 92 years later, her faded London postcard is one of Don M. Corbett's treasured mementos of his grandmother.

"She was an adventuresome soul," says Corbett, of Salt Lake City, who knows "Grandmother Irene" only through her letters, family writings and photographs.

Although she was a former schoolteacher, Irene's first love was medicine, Corbett says. She received a nursing degree from the Brigham Young Academy and, at the encouragement of Utah doctors she had assisted, traveled to England to study midwifery.

"I see her as a courageous, valiant woman who was really avant-garde, ahead of her time," says Corbett.

The stories of Irene Corbett and other Titanic passengers -- those who drowned and those who survived -- are part of a traveling exhibit opening Saturday in Salt Lake City.

"Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" includes hundreds of items retrieved from the wreckage of the White Star Line's "ship of dreams," now lying in pieces on the ocean floor.

The ship's whistles, a felt hat, a porcelain cup and a suitcase are some of the items from one of history's most infamous disasters.

Many of the artifacts represent "pieces of people's lives," says exhibit designer Mark Lach, and that makes them the most powerful element of Titanic's story.

Each of us can easily imagine ourselves as one of those 2,228 passengers on the night the ship went down, says Lach.

"That could have been me," he says. "That could have been us."

Lost at sea

Entering the exhibit, each visitor gets a boarding pass bearing a passenger's name, be it the rich and famous John Jacob Astor or an unknown nurse from Utah.

At the end of the exhibit, folks search for their passengers' names on a memorial wall to discover whether the travelers lived or died.

"People will not leave the exhibit until they find their name on that wall and find out their fate," Lach says.

Irene Colvin Corbett's name, of course, is listed as among the more than 1,500 victims. The Payson native was one of just 14 women traveling in second class who didn't survive.

Why didn't she get into one of the lifeboats?

No one knows for certain, but Don Corbett's hunch is that, as a nurse, Irene was trying to help other passengers.

The Utah woman's body was never found.

But last year, Corbett, 67, and his wife, Linda, traced Irene's route across the Atlantic Ocean. They set sail for New York City from Southampton, England, just as she did, and passed within five miles of where the Titanic went down.

While in the vicinity, the Corbetts had their own little ceremony at the back of the ship, in memory of Grandmother Irene.

To Corbett's surprise, the ship's grave site off the Canadian coast is about equidistant from New York, and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"They were almost there," Corbett says.

Getting the news

Word of the Titanic's sinking reached a younger sister of Irene's on April 15, 1912, when she picked up a newspaper in the waiting room of a Provo dentist's office.

"I remember thinking I would not know any of the people listed and I didn't even read the list," Nellie Colvin wrote in a 1963 biography, part of Corbett's mementos.

"It was not until I arrived home and began to tell Mother about it that she remarked, 'What ship did Irene say she was coming home on?' "

The two found Irene's letter, and their fears were confirmed. For a time, the family held out hope that Irene hadn't boarded the ship, since some missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she hoped to travel with had changed their plans and didn't take the Titanic.

But on April 19, according to Utah newspaper accounts, Irene's parents received two telegrams about their daughter, the first stating her name was not on Titanic's passenger list.

A second telegram from the White Star Line arrived just minutes after the first and contained the bad news.

"Now find name of Mrs. Irene C. Corbett is on the list of passengers having sailed from Southampton but regret is not a survivor on Carpathia (a rescue ship)."

The family also received a letter from nurses at the General Lying-In Hospital in London, where Irene studied.

"They had escorted her to the ship and had seen her off," Nellie Colvin wrote. "They told how they all loved her . . . "

Those left behind

Irene's death left husband Walter H. Corbett a widower, and their three children -- Walter, 5; Roene, 3; and Mack, 22 months -- motherless.

The tragedy also caused a long-standing rift in the Colvin and Corbett families, says Don Corbett, son of youngest child Mack.

"Her husband was against her going," Corbett says, and even today, some family members believe she should have remained home.

While Irene was in England, the children were cared for by her parents. Levi and Alice Colvin supported their oldest daughter's ambitions and even mortgaged their farm to help pay her expenses.

His grandmother's desire to further her education so far from home may have been threatening to her husband, Corbett says.

A suffragette, Irene had the ability to be not only a wife and mother but also a humanitarian through her nursing.

"She shouldn't have been denied the opportunity to do both," says Corbett.

The family split came about, in part, because the president of the LDS Church at the time -- who was also a relative of Irene's husband -- had advised Irene against going to England, Corbett says.

When Irene died, there was talk in the close-knit, small town that, "That's what happens when you go against the prophet."

Corbett thinks the advice was more an "in-law response" than anything else but wishes the church leader had been more understanding of his grandmother's interests.

Irene's husband later remarried, but the couple's children remained with Irene's parents. The children were orphaned in 1917, just five years after their mother's death, when Walter was injured in a mining accident and died of surgical complications.

Payson connections

Irene Corbett's fate on the Titanic is remembered at a museum in Payson, where she taught school in the early 1900s.

At the Peteetneet Academy, visitors find Irene's photograph in a re-created schoolroom and her name printed neatly on the blackboard. Photocopies of 1912 newspaper articles tell of her untimely death on the Titanic.

Irene taught at Peteetneet from about 1902 to 1904, leaving when she got married, says museum volunteer Gloria Barnett. At that time, married women weren't allowed to teach school.

Irene's father, Levi Colvin, was a trustee at the school; his name is inscribed on a marble plaque inside the academy's front doors.

On a Titanic Web site (, former Utah teacher Renae Salisbury writes that Irene Corbett is "my favorite Titanic passenger."

Irene is one of the ship's ordinary yet extraordinary passengers, says Salisbury, who now lives in Lawrenceville, Ga., and requires her students to research Titanic travelers.

"She was a woman who had great intentions and a great heart and maybe a little too much pride -- but don't we all," Salisbury says in a phone interview.

She adds, "She went against everybody's advice; she was determined to do what she wanted to do."

Countless stories

In one postcard home, Irene Corbett wrote about her nursing work in London, visiting homes in the slums where even the children had "little fleas or black bugs."

"Am giving one mother 2 pence every time she has the baby washed because when I take it on my lap they jump on me," she wrote.

Irene also wrote a few words about her youngest son, Mack -- Don Corbett's father.

"Can just hear little Mack," she said to her sister. "How I do love that baby."

Corbett says his father seldom talked about his mother, although "he always kind of wondered why she went ... wondered how it would have been if his mother stayed."

Irene's story is one Corbett grew up hearing, and one he has passed on to his own children and grandchildren.

"She was just a grand lady," he says. "I just would have loved to have known her, been able to connect with her, known of her spirit and her desire to serve her fellow human beings."

And the Salt Lake City man realizes this tale of a Utah nurse is only one of many from a ship with "an unbelievable destiny."

As Corbett says, "There are countless stories like ours, times how many people were on that ship."
Apr 27, 2003
James - Great report - thanks.
In case you haven't seen it here is the Red Cross Report on her:
(From The Emergency and Relief booklet by the American Red Cross, 1913).
No. 89. (American). A wife was lost while returning from England, where she had take a nurse's training in order to help support the family. Her husband, a farmer, is left with three small children, for whose care he must provide, and is deprived of his wife's prospective earnings. he is a man of good morals and habits and is paying for his farm. ($1,000).

Best regards - Brian
Sep 26, 1999
I noticed a postcard of hers is being offered on Ebay for $5000.00. There seems to be some mistakes in the listing. She was not a first class passenger and she did not board the Titanic in Queenstown.
Apr 8, 2003
Hello--I am doing a little research on Irene Corbett-- Thanks to the people here I have quite a bit of info on her--but would love to view a picture of her--can anyone help?
Thanks in advance--
Vickey Gearring

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