Madeleine Astor's account of Titanic sinking

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Randy Bryan Bigham

Here is the full account of Mrs. Astor's experiences in the Titanic sinking as they were related to family members and then reported to the press. This is from an unidentified, undated clipping from a New York newspaper, probably the New York Herald or American, of about April 22-25, 1912:



Here is Mrs. John Jacob Astor's story of the sinking of the Titanic and the scenes attending her rescue:

She did not tell it at any one time but bit by bit as her strength permitted. Since she landed from the rescuing steamship Carpathia last Thursday night, her physicians forbade her her talking very much - in fact they preferred that she say nothing until she was strong. But that was too much to ask after her experiences of that awful night and little by little she has related the facts that go to make up the history of her connections to the foundering of the White Star steamship.

To her mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Force, to her sister, Miss Katherine Force, and to her physician, Dr. Reuel B. Kimball, it is known that she has told of being awakened from sleep by the shock of the collision with the iceberg and of being reassured by her husband Colonel Astor, of the preparations for leaving the ship, of Colonel Astor's loving solicitude as she left in a lifeboat, one of the last to leave the sinking vessel, and of his promise to join her in the morning.

She has told how she saw the Titanic take her final plunge and of how a score of drowning men were pulled into her lifeboat, some of them only to die before they were taken on board the Carpathia.


Mrs. Astor's experience was as tragic as any of the women whose stories have been heard and more so than most of them. If it is lacking in details it is because no one has cared to question her at length and so risk adding to her grief, which is of the deepest kind.

It is well known that Colonel and Mrs. Astor were returning from a trip to Europe and Egypt. It was a sort of delayed honeymoon journey as they had taken no other trip since their marriage last September. They crossed to Europe on board the Olympic and were fellow passengers with J. Bruce Ismay, one of Col. Astor's friends. In fact on the way to Europe Mr. Ismay is known to have given up his own suite in order that Mrs. Astor might be more comfortable than in the one the couple had reserved. When they got on board the Titanic at Cherbourg, the Astors were glad that Mr. Ismay was to be a fellow traveller again.

The Astor party consisted of Col. and Mrs. Astor, a trained nurse for Mrs. Astor as well her French maid, the Colonel's valet, Rollins, who had been with him for more than fifteen years, and his chauffer. Then there was Kitty, Col. Astor's favorite Airedale terrier, who had also travelled the world with him. The two had been inseparable companions and they were not to be separated for Kitty went down on the Titanic with her master.

Pathetically, Mrs. Astor told how Kitty had gotten lost in Egypt on their trip up the Nile. She wandered away from Col. Astor's side one day at a landing to go sightseeing on her own account. Col. Astor was greatly distressed by the loss of his dog and spent a great deal of time looking for her. Even when he had to give up the search and start back up the Nile he employed scores of natives to find her, promising a handsome reward for her return. Nothing was heard of Kitty until his return trip when on passing another dehabesh, Col. Astor spied Kitty making herself at home on board. The Astor boat was stopped and Kitty found her master with joyous barks. Kitty wore a collar with her own and the Colonel's names and "No. 840 Fifth Avenue, New York City" engraved on it. She had gone on board the wrong dahabesh, chartered by other wealthy Americans, who knew to whom the dog belonged and were looking for the Astors to return her. After that a closer watch was kept of Kitty and on board the Titanic she even slept in Col. Astor's room.


The Astor's suite was one of the finest on the great Titanic. Mrs. Astor's nurse occupied a room near her own, for she had not been at all well on the trip through Europe and Egypt and needed constant care. The nurse was among the passengers in the first cabin though few fellow travellers knew it or that Mrs. Astor's health was so delicate that she needed the attention of a nurse.

Mrs. Astor spent a good deal of her time in her room and was hardly off the one deck until the accident. Col. Astor and she did take frequent walks and romps with Kitty. He was interested in the maiden performance of the new Titanic for anything mechanical drew him and he even consulted the log and heard directly from Captain Smith and Mr. Ismay on how the ship was behaving.

But no unusual incident marked the voyage until the collision with the iceberg that sent her to the bottom. Col. and Mrs. Astor had both retired at the time. Whether he was awakened by the shock or not Mrs. Astor has not said but, at any rate, he went to his wife's bedside and awakened her.

Gently he told her that something was wrong and that he thought she had better get up and dress. He was ready before she was and said he would go and find out the extent of the ship's injury.

But all the time he was dressing he was reassuring his wife, saying not to be afraid, that the Titanic could not sink. When he left he said he was going to see Captain Smith personally and discover what had happened.

Loud talking in the companionway near Mrs. Astor's room, particularly the cries of stewards awakening other passengers in surrounding staterooms alarmed her but she remained calm as she had the utmost faith in Col. Astor's knowledge of ships and the ways of the sea.

When he came back his face was graver than it had been but still he was sure there was no danger. Mrs. Astor did not know at the time but she has come to believe that her husband must have known that the Titanic and all her passengers were in peril.

The Colonel told his wife that the Titanic had struck a submerged berg and was apparently resting on it. He assisted her in the final details of dressing but without hurry and his calmness encouraged her greatly.

Mrs. Astor did not have all her jewelry with her when they started for the deck. She of course had her engagement ring, a magnificent oblong diamond, and a string of superb pearls. Col. Astor stood by as his wife took these from a jewel case and put them on, along with other less important pieces like a beautiful pin he had recently given her.

When she was ready they went up on the boat deck where there were a few other persons gathering at the time. All put on life preservers which contradicts reports that Col. Astor would not or did not at least take this precaution. He saw especially that his wife's belt was adjusted properly.

His solicitude for Mrs. Astor was then shown in another way. She shivered from the cold and he noticed it. He said: "You are not dressed warmly enough my dear. That suit you have on is too light." He then ordered Rollins, his valet, to return to their suite and get one of his wife's heaviest dresses.

The faithful Rollins quickly returned with the garment and there in the cold of the deck Mrs. Astor changed her gown, putting on the heavier dress. Her nurse and her maid and the Colonel assisted her in this operation.

Her life preserver was again adjusted and her fur coat put over all. By this time most of the lifeboats were being lowered with their human freight and Mrs. Astor was told to get into one. She did so and thinks it was the last or next to the last craft to leave the Titanic. She is of this opinion because other boats were bobbing far out in the dim starlight and she saw no others on the ship.

Emphatically she denies that Col. Astor got into or made any move to enter the lifeboats. He was the calmest man on deck. His last words to her from the deck as the boat was lowered was: "The sea is calm and you will be all right. You are in good hands and I will meet in you in the morning."

Mrs. Astor's boat was launched and put off without incident. After the foundering of the great liner Mrs. Astor assisted in the rowing and bailing of water which had collected in the bottom of her boat. She and others were also instrumental in pulling aboard men who had swam from the wreck. Mrs. Astor has said one or two of these men died of exposure before the boat reached the rescue ship the next morning.

(Some minor points of this account may be erroneous but for the most part it squares with what Astor biographers have maintained)

Edmund Turner

Thanks for typing all that Randy thats brilliant
Maureen Zottoli

Maureen Zottoli

I also would liek to thank Randy for his very interesting post. I had not known much of what you wrote.
Thanks for sharing.
Jason D. Tiller

Jason D. Tiller

Staff member
Thank you Randy for your wonderful and very interesting post. I didn't know too much of that.

Best regards,

Tracy Smith

Tracy Smith

I have a question about Madeleine's family. Her family name was Force, not a terribly common name.
At the present time, there is a highly successful NHRA drag racer named John Force. I've always wondered if John Force is related to Madeleine.

Anyone here know of a connection?

Edmund Turner

I was wondering when Madeline Astors Mother died ??
Phillip Gowan

Phillip Gowan

Edmund--here you go.

(Taken from the New York Times, August 14, 1939, page 15, Column 4).


The Grandmother of John Jacob Astor Dies in Newport

NEWPORT, R.I., Aug 13.

Mrs. Catherine Talmage Force, widow of William H. Force of New York, died today at Chastellux, home of her daughter, Mrs. Lorillard Spencer, after a long illness. Her funeral will take place here on Tuesday.

Mrs. Force, a native of New Jersey, was a daughter of G. van Pelt Talmage and the former Madeleine de Forest. She was brought here from New York early in July.

Surviving are two daughters, Mrs. Spencer and Mrs. Madeleine Force Dick; a sister, Mrs. Frances Dodge of New York, and a brother, William de Forest Talmage of Elizabeth, N.J. There are alto two nephews, Frank and Philip Dodge. Among her grandsons is John Jacob Astor.

Mrs. Force's husband died in May, 1917, at their New York residence, 11 East Sixty-eighth Street. He left his entire estate, estimated at more than $500,000, to her.

Edmund Turner

Thankyou very much for that Phillip, to think she died in 1939 and her poor daughter Madeline only died a year later in 1940 aged 47