Tale of 2 survivors

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Two garments from two women who led very different lives but who shared the same harrowing Titanic experience are among the newest items added to the popular TITANICa: The Exhibition at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum.

A stunning and intricate ‘kimono’-style robe belonging to first class passenger Lady Duff Gordon, and worn by her on the night Titanic sank, sits alongside a hat given to third class passenger Bertha Mulvihill when the rescue ship Carpathia docked at New York. Both women survived the sinking.

Lady Duff Gordon was an internationally renowned fashion designer, trading as Lucile Ltd. She and her husband Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon abandoned the sinking ship in what became known as the ‘Millionaire’s Lifeboat’. They later faced accusations of bribery because Sir Cosmo had given members of the crew five pounds each. As the only passengers to testify at the British Enquiry, these are undoubtedly two of the most controversial Titanic survivors.

Bertha Mulvihill was born in Athlone in 1886 and moved to Rhode Island where she worked as a waitress and became engaged to Henry Noon. In 1912, Bertha was in Ireland to attend her sister’s wedding and decided to buy a ticket for the Titanic on a whim to return to Rhode Island. Her family and friends in America were not expecting her. Bertha travelled third class with friends.

William Bell was a Harland & Wolff employee who also experienced life on board Titanic. As a fitter, he accompanied the ship on its maiden voyage from Belfast to Southampton, completing last minute work. His disappointment at being sent home to Belfast instead of onwards across the Atlantic to New York is deeply poignant in light of the subsequent fateful events.

His tool chest and tools, and his Indenture of Apprentice as a Fitter with Harland & Wolff, dated 3 June 1909 are now on display. The chest provides a fascinating insight into William Bell’s life as a H&W apprentice and later a qualified fitter. It contains a vast array of personalised tools, notes and even an authentic piece of Harland & Wolff sandpaper.

William Blair, Head of Human History at National Museums Northern Ireland commented; “The new additions to TITANICa contain powerful and engaging human interest stories that build an extra element of drama into our interpretation of Titanic’s compelling history. The contrasting lives of Lady Duff Gordon and Bertha Mulvihill highlight the difference between first and third class passengers, while William Bell’s tool chest is a vivid reminder of the skill and dedication of the ship yard workers from the time.”

Also new to the exhibition are a series of Marconi grams which provide an account of the tragic event as it happened, a collection of objects relating to the subsequent enquiries into the disaster and three Olympic and Titanic design plans.

William Blair added “The new ship plans focus on the boat deck; the long deck plan gives visitors an insight into the area that was the scene of so much of the activity on the terrible night that Titanic sank. The Harland & Wolff design drawings of the ‘state of the art’ equipment to dis-engage lifeboats highlights how the fatal flaw was simply not having enough lifeboats on board. We look forward to welcoming visitors to this refreshed exhibition to learn something new about the story of Titanic.”

TITANICa: The Exhibition is on display at the Transport Galleries of the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum. Further information can be found at www.nmni.com/uftm.

Post Author: Belfast Times

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