Miss Bridget Moran, known colloquially as Bertha, was born in Toomdeely, Askeaton, Co Limerick, Ireland on 1 October 1879 although she developed a habit of downsizing her age, often considerably1.
She was the daughter of Patrick Moran (b. circa 1837), a labourer, boatman and former lighthouse keeper on Ireland’s west coast for several years, and Bridget Nestor (b. circa 1845) who had married in 1867.
Bridget was the sister of ten siblings: Catherine (b. 1 April 1868), Ellen (b. 21 December 1869), Alice (b. 1 July 1872), Michael (b. 19 December 1874), John (b. 24 December 1875), Mary (b. 18 April 1878), Frances (b. 15 February 1882), Daniel (b. 7 July 1883), Patrick (b. 20 December 1885) and Thomas (b. 20 May 1888).
Her mother died on 20 July 1891 from tuberculosis and her widowed father never remarried. Although she herself was absent from both the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses, Bridget's family were listed on the 1901 census living at house 8 in Toomdeely North and on the 1911 census at house 5 in the same locale.
Bridget, who worked in a shirt factory, had emigrated around 1905 and lived in Troy, Rensselaer, New York with four of her siblings; Ellen, Frances, Daniel and Thomas, appearing there on the 1905 census with her family as a resident of River Street and with all the ladies described as collar workers.
Bridget's father died in on 8 October 1909 aged 72 and she returned to Ireland shortly after to help settle his affairs. In November of 1911 she was joined in Ireland by her brother Daniel who, like her, lived in New York where he worked as a policeman. His visit was not only to fetch Bridget but to claim his part of his inheritance, estimated at between $12,000 and $30,000 (the amount varies depending on the source), the amount to be divided between the surviving siblings.
For their return to New York Bridget and Daniel boarded the Titanic at Queenstown on 11 April 1912 as third-class passengers (joint ticket number 371110 which cost £24, 3s). Although financially comfortable enough to travel second class, Bridget admitted that they chose to travel frugally so as not to eat into their newfound riches too much. Joining them on their ticket was a friend, Patrick Ryan and they were also acquainted with another passenger from Askeaton, Margaret Madigan. Daniel carried their inheritance, mainly in banknotes, on his person throughout the voyage.
On the night of the sinking Bridget had been awakened by a jolt and was further roused by a commotion outside her cabin. Her brother Daniel soon arrived telling her that the ship had struck an iceberg and was in trouble and that she had no time to dress. Throwing a coat over her nightclothes, she made her way with the rest of her party to the communal areas but found difficulties getting near the lifeboats and she related how crewmen barred their access to higher decks. With a 'women and children first' rule being applied with access to even the vicinity of the lifeboats, Bridget’s brother and Patrick Ryan were prevented from going to A-deck, from where the aft starboard lifeboats were being loaded, and instead they had to bid their farewells somewhere in the third class areas of the ship, perhaps the aft well-deck. Brother and sister said their farewells and Daniel asked Bridget not to fear for him.
Upon reaching the outer decks she claimed to have encountered Father Thomas Byles who assisted her and Margaret Madigan into one of the lifeboats, she stating that she left in lifeboat 15 which she described as being one of the last to depart and heavily overloaded with what she estimated approached 80 or more bodies. She also described as how when her lifeboat was lowered there were still women and children waiting on the deck to be taken care of.
Whilst Bridget and her friend Margaret were saved, her brother Daniel and their friend Patrick Ryan were lost in the sinking. Arriving in New York aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, Bridget was described as a 28-year-old collar factory worker and her next of kin was listed as her brother Patrick in Ireland. She and Miss Madigan were cared for in St Vincent’s Hospital, suffering from exposure and shock, until her brother Thomas Moran came to fetch her and bring her to Troy.
Travelling up to Troy alongside fellow Irish survivor Edward Ryan, a worse-for-wear and poorly Bridget arrived on the evening of 21 April and immediately went to the home of her sister, Mrs James Abel of 22 Douw Street where she was placed under the watch of a physician. Perhaps still slightly traumatised (or through the embellishment by reporters), Bridget gave a much more fantastical version of events than she would in interviews conducted only days later by different newspapers. In the interview printed in the Knickerbocker Press on 22 April 1912, she said that she and her brother had been on deck at the time of the collision, with frantic crew snatching lifebelts from passengers and hundreds of passengers not being able to find any lifebelts at all. Instead of stepping into a lifeboat she was grabbed by the waist and thrown in and shortly afterwards saw her brother dramatically raise his hands above his head and dive off the ship to meet his death. Few of these details marry with the much more composed version of events she gave just days later. A few weeks after that she gave another version of events when she stated:
“I would have drowned on the Titanic, too, had it not been for Dan. The ship’s officers and crew ordered that all third class passengers keep back. Dan fought his way through them, carrying me with him. He had a furious fight before he got me into a lifeboat. Then he took his place among the men on the deck. That was the last I saw of him. We had expected to have four thousand dollars apiece. Now the money is all gone and the worst of it, Dan’s gone, too.” - The Evening News, 16 May 1912
Following her experiences Bridget would never set foot on a boat ever again and she never returned to Ireland.
With her inheritance lost with her brother, Bridget later filed a claim for loss of property and personal injury but received only a fraction of the amount, having to wait nearly four years for the payout:
TITANIC CLAIMS SETTLED
Troy Survivors Get $500 Each for Injuries In Disaster.
James F. Brearton of Troy yesterday received two checks for $500 each, settling the actions of Miss Bertha Moran and Miss Margaret Madigan against the directors of the White Star Steamship company for their claims for injuries suffered in the Titanic disaster. Miss Moran and Miss Madigan, with Miss Moran’s brother, Patrick [sic] Moran of Troy, were passengers on the steamship when it struck the iceberg in the Atlanic April 15th 1912. Miss Moran’s brother was lost. - Amsterdam Evening Record, 22 March 1916
A year after the sinking Bridget was married in New York on 30 August 1913 to machinist Richard Sinnott (b. 14 May 18892), a fellow countryman and son of Edward Sinnott and Bridget Hanley of Co Wexford who had only arrived in the US in March that year aboard the Columbia.
They went on to have three children: Daniel James (b. 29 August 19143), Eileen Ruth (b. 12 April 19164) and Richard (b. 7 June 19185).
The family moved to Detroit, Michigan around 1916 where Richard garnered another machinist job. With the family only settling into their new surroundings, Bridget was to become a young widow when Richard died tragically on 26 October 1917 in an accident at work. A machine he was working with malfunctioned and he was shot with compressed air directly into the abdomen, puncturing his intestines. He died the same day, his body later being returned to and buried in Troy, New York.
Bridget was pregnant with their youngest child when she was made a widow and her son, whom she named Richard in honour of his late father, arrived on 7 June 1918. She and her children appear on the 1920 census as residents of 800 Porter Street, Detroit and later, to make ends meet, she had a brief spell working as a beautician.
She was remarried to an English widower George Cooper (b. 15 November 1882 in Bradford, Yorkshire), a sausage salesman, who brought to the family three children from his previous marriage: Ernest, Frank and Richard.
Bridget and second husband George welcomed a daughter of their own, Bertha (b. 22 February 19236) and the 1930 census shows the blended family living at 2236 23rd Street, Detroit. By the time of the 1940 census Bertha was again a widow and still at 2236 23rd Street, Detroit (the home she would live at for the rest of her life), her husband George having passed away on 17 November 1936.
Bridget spent her later years tending her garden and her nine grandchildren, to who she taught to speak certain phrases in the Irish language. Over the years she gave occasional interviews regarding her experiences and in 1953 was a guest at a special screening of the Fox movie Titanic, an event she found very emotional.
Bridget Cooper, née Moran, late Sinnott, later battled cancer and died on 15 April 1961, the 49th anniversary of the sinking. She is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Southfield, Michigan (section 20, lot 70 grave 5).