Unsinkable The Full Story

>>In later life Rowe couldn't make up his mind whether rockets were being fired before or after he left the stern! <<

Or what time it was when he saw that boat in the water.
 

Arun Vajpey

Member
I have a request from anyone who owns Butler's book Unsinkable. I have a copy myself and don't think much of it, but there is a particular reference in it that I want to check. Unfortunately, my own copy is sitting in a crate at a shipping office in London, waiting to be shipped to India to our second home with most of my other Titanic books - when Lady Corona allows.

My request is about Irene Harris' supposed encounter with a stranger - presumably another First Class passenger - soon after the Titanic's near miss with the New York just as it left Southampton docks. He reportedly told her that it was a bad omen and although he was booked through to New York, he was going to get off in Cherbourg. Rene Harris never saw the man again and presumed that he had indeed left the ship at the French port.

My point is that in order to be able to meet Irene Harris, the strange man must also have been a First Class passenger. And if such a passenger had indeed broken his transatlantic journey and got off in France, it would have made quite a news story, especially in view of what happened later. But AFAIK, there is no record of any First Class passenger doing that in Cherbourg, unless I have missed it.

So, who was he?

I first read about it in Geoffrey Marcus' The Maiden Voyage first published in 1969. There was no source reference in the book. The incident is also mentioned in Stephanie Barczewski's book A Night Remembered, but she quotes page 42 of Daniel Butler's book Unsinkable as her source of reference.

What I would like to know is exactly what Butler's book says about it, including references; if Butler was quoting off Marcus' book, then we are back to square one.
 

Tim Gerard

Member
I have a request from anyone who owns Butler's book Unsinkable. I have a copy myself and don't think much of it, but there is a particular reference in it that I want to check. Unfortunately, my own copy is sitting in a crate at a shipping office in London, waiting to be shipped to India to our second home with most of my other Titanic books - when Lady Corona allows.

My request is about Irene Harris' supposed encounter with a stranger - presumably another First Class passenger - soon after the Titanic's near miss with the New York just as it left Southampton docks. He reportedly told her that it was a bad omen and although he was booked through to New York, he was going to get off in Cherbourg. Rene Harris never saw the man again and presumed that he had indeed left the ship at the French port.

My point is that in order to be able to meet Irene Harris, the strange man must also have been a First Class passenger. And if such a passenger had indeed broken his transatlantic journey and got off in France, it would have made quite a news story, especially in view of what happened later. But AFAIK, there is no record of any First Class passenger doing that in Cherbourg, unless I have missed it.

So, who was he?

I first read about it in Geoffrey Marcus' The Maiden Voyage first published in 1969. There was no source reference in the book. The incident is also mentioned in Stephanie Barczewski's book A Night Remembered, but she quotes page 42 of Daniel Butler's book Unsinkable as her source of reference.

What I would like to know is exactly what Butler's book says about it, including references; if Butler was quoting off Marcus' book, then we are back to square one.

I just looked in my copy of "Unsinkable" by Daniel Allen Butler. It doesn't give the person's name. It says "Renee Harris, wife of the American theatrical producer, suddenly found a stranger standing at her side." He says to her, as quoted in the book "That was a bad omen. Get off this ship at Cherbourg, if we get that far. That's what I'm going to do." The book says Mrs. Harris never saw the man again, and that's the last he's mentioned on page 42.

There's several sources in the endnotes, including a few newspaper articles, Walter Lord's "The Night Lives On" pages 36-37, Wyn Craig Wade's "Titanic End of a Dream" pages 242-244, and interestingly "Titanic and Other Ships" by Charles Lightoller. I'm not quite sure what the references are actually referring to since there's nothing relevant to it, or the New York incident at all, in my copy of the Wyn Craig Wade book.
 
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Arun Vajpey

Member
Thanks. I have immediate access to The Night Lives On and Titanic: End of a Dream and looked them up. Lord's book gives an account of Rene Harris' life after the Titanic disaster but makes no allusion to her alleged encounter with a stranger in Southampton. Neither she nor her husband is even mentioned in Wade's book.

I also own Lightoller's book but it is among other books packed away. It'll be a few months by the time I can reach it but frankly I doubt if there'll be anything about Irene Harris in there.

Therefore, it looks like the earliest known source of that encounter is Geoffrey Marcus' book The Maiden Voyage, unless it is mentioned in Lord's ANTR. I have read the book a few times and don't recall this incident. Unfortunately, my copy of ANTR is another book that is currently inaccessible.
 

Arun Vajpey

Member
Thanks Julian. That's interesting with quite a few memoirs considering 50 years had passed since the tragedy.

Getting back to Rene's strange encounter with the man in Southampton, do you know if it is mentioned in Lord's A Night To Remember? (Could you check? My own copy is inaccessible at present). If it is, the incident could be true, except that the stranger, whoever he was, did not get off in Cherbourg. The fact that Rene Harris did not see the man again is not proof that he was not on board. She might have persistently missed him or he may even have skillfully avoided her, embarrassed by what he had said to her in Southampton.

But if the incident is not mentioned in ANTR, we have to ask ourselves the source from which Geoffrey Marcus got the information. There is quite a bit of embellishment in his book The Maiden Voyage but they are almost all non-specific superlatives and such related to the ship itself or the atmosphere on board. But since Marcus specifically alludes to Rene Harris, one must assume that he got that information from somewhere. He does not quote any reference to that and as far as I know never interviewed Rene herself.

Any thoughts?
 

Arun Vajpey

Member
it has a bit of nostalgic value but not a lot more; certainly no new information. Without going into specifics, there are a lot of contradictory statements there that would be questioned today. Like some early reviewer commented "A narrative to which one has to allow the latitude normally afforded to an old sea dog reminiscing". That just about sums it up.
 
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It has a bit of nostalgic value but not a lot more; certainly no new information. Without going into specifics, there are a lot of contradictory statements there that would be questioned today. Like some early reviewer commented "A narrative to which one has to allow the latitude normally afforded to an old sea dog reminiscing". That just about sums it up.
That's a good one. I like it. That reviewer must have been a diplomat in another life.
 
Hi Arun,

I linked you what is in the Walter Lord/Macquitty archive at Greenwich, as found/researched by Paul Lee.

I don't have 'A Night to Remember' by Walter Lord, or 'The Night Lives On', but as you can see from what Paul discloses, there is no mention of the incident you mention in the archive.

There are others better placed than me to comment on Titanic survivors' accounts, and no doubt in due course you might get a better reply; but according to Paul Lee's research, the answer is not via Walter Lord.

Cheers,

Julian
 
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