Miss Annie Jessie Harper, often known as Nana or Nina, was born on 3 January 1906 in Govan, Lanarkshire, Scotland.
She was the daughter of John Harper (b. 1872), an evangelical pastor and a native of Renfrewshire, and the former Annie Leckie Bell (b. 1866), also a native of Govan and who had previously worked as a dressmaker. John and Annie had married in 1903 and Annie was fated to be their only child when her mother died following complications arising from childbirth on 8 January 1906. Her mother's niece Jessie Wills Leitch, a Renfrewshire native who had lived with Annie much of her life, stepped in to help take care of baby Nana. This was imperative as John Harper worked and preached throughout Britain and Ireland, including North America.
Her father later became pastor of the Walworth Road Baptist Church in London and they moved to that city. They were listed on the 1911 census living at 3 Claude Villas, Love Walk, Camberwell.
Nana, her father and her cousin Jessie boarded the Titanic at Southampton as second class passengers (joint ticket number 248727 which cost £33) and they were travelling to the Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. She is listed in the passenger list as Nina Harper.
Jessie Leitch later recalled the events on the night of the sinking:
"... About midnight Mr Harper came to our stateroom and told us that the vessel had struck an iceberg. While I was dressing he went to learn further particulars and returned to say that the order had been given to put on the life belts. We did so, and, picking up Nana in his arms, he took her up to the deck. There the women were ordered to the upperdeck. I had to climb a vertical iron ladder and Mr Harper brought Nana after me up the ladder and the men at the top lifted her up to me again... There was no opportunity for farewell, and, in fact, even then we did not realize the danger, as we were assured again and again that the vessel could not sink, that the Olympic would be alongside at any minute, and that the women and children were to be put into the boats first and the men to follow, and that there were boats sufficient for all. Our boat was well manned--it was the eleventh to leave the vessel... After about half an hour the Titanic went down. We were about a mile away."
Nana's own recollections were sparse but she later recalled sitting on her cousin Jessie's knee as she watched the Titanic sink and she later recalled the noise of those struggling in the water.
Jessie and Nana are believed to have been rescued in lifeboat 11 but Pastor Harper was lost in the sinking. Following their rescue by Carpathia they were not given a cabin but slept in a library aboard ship. Arriving in New York, still in the clothes they wore to leave the Titanic, Jessie and Nana were met by the Reverend Ervine Wooley, the assistant pastor of Moody Church. Jessie elected not to continue to Chicago and decided instead to return to England at the earliest available opportunity and arrived aboard the Celtic on 25 April.
Nana, now an orphan, returned to England and was apparently raised by an uncle and aunt in London. In 1921 she performed the opening ceremony of the Harper Memorial Baptist Church in Glasgow, which was dedicated to her father's memory. During her upbringing, however, discussion of Titanic was discouraged by her family.
She later worked at Riglands Bible College in London and it was there that she met Philip Roy Pont (b. 1903), an alumnus of All Saints Bible College and a native of Heathfield, Sussex, the son of a grocer. The pair were married in London in the closing months of 1934 and they had two children: Gordon and Mary (later Dr Gurling).
The family moved back to Scotland around 1936 where Philip was the pastor at a Baptist Church in Denny, Falkirk before they moved to Shetland followed by Dundee and eventually Glasgow. Philip retired in around 1984 and they settled in Burnside, Lanarkshire.
Nana, known more frequently as Nan in her later years, continued to live in Burnside but had few memories of her time on Titanic. She therefore spoke little about that experience in her life but did keep in regular contact with the Titanic community and with fellow survivor Eva Hart who remembered playing with her on Titanic as a child, past exchanges that Nan had no recollections of.
Nan Harper Pont died at her home on 10 April 1986 aged 80, 74 years to the day when Titanic had departed from Southampton. She was buried in Moffat Cemetery and left behind her husband Philip (who died in 1995) and her two children and their families.
Comment and discuss