RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in the early morning of 15 April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK, to New York City, US. The RMS Titanic, the largest ship afloat at the time it entered service, carried 2,224 passengers and crew. The ship’s passengers included some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of emigrants from Great Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia and elsewhere throughout Europe seeking a new life in North America. The sinking resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers and crew, making it one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history. The disaster was greeted with worldwide shock and outrage at the huge loss of life and the regulatory and operational failures that had led to it. Although Titanic had advanced safety features there were not enough lifeboats to accommodate all of those aboard due to outdated maritime safety regulations. Titanic only carried enough lifeboats for 1,178 people. Public inquiries in Britain and the United States led to major improvements in maritime safety. One of their most important legacies was the establishment in 1914 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which still governs maritime safety today.
The wreck of Titanic remains on the seabed, split in two and gradually disintegrating at a depth of 12,415 feet (3,784 m). Since her discovery in 1985, thousands of artefacts have been recovered and put on display at museums around the world.
Mrs Charlotte Collyer (nee Tate, 1881-1919) was born in Cobham, Surrey, England. By the time of the 1901 census Charlotte had left home and was working as a domestic cook in a church in Fanfield Hill, Leatherhead. In 1905 she married Harvey Collyer (b. 1880) who was a church sexton and verger. The couple had a daughter, born in 1904 and whom they named Marjorie Lottie.
Friends of the family had gone to Payette, Idaho several years before and made a success of the fruit farm they bought there. They wrote glowing accounts of the climate to the Collyers and advised them to come seek their fortune in Idaho. The Collyers did not seriously consider the proposition until Mrs Collyer began having respiratory problems (she was afflicted with tuberculosis), at which point they decided to buy a farm in the same valley as their friends in America (Mrs Collyer later felt guilty that it was her own health problems that eventually caused the death of her husband).
The Collyers went to Southampton, where Mr Collyer drew from the bank the family’s life savings (including the money from the sale of their store in Bishopstoke). He took the money in banknotes instead of a draft, and put the money in the inside breast pocket of his coat. In the Titanic’s hold were the few personal possessions that the family had kept after the sale of their home — which meant that everything the Collyers owned was on board the Titanic.
When the Titanic collided with the iceberg Charlotte was in bed feeling nauseous. Her husband went out to investigate and reported back, saying: “We’ve struck an iceberg – a big one – but there’s no danger. An officer told me so!”
Charlotte and Marjorie were rescued in lifeboat 14, but Harvey Collyer died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.
Following her arrival in New York, Charlotte wrote to her mother:
My dear Mother and all,
I don’t know how to write to you or what to say, I feel I shall go mad sometimes but dear as much as my heart aches it aches for you too for he is your son and the best that ever lived. I had not given up hope till today that he might be found but I’m told all boats are accounted for. Oh mother how can I live without him. I wish I’d gone with him if they had not wrenched Madge from me I should have stayed and gone with him. But they threw her into the boat and pulled me in too but he was so calm and I know he would rather I lived for her little sake otherwise she would have been an orphan. The agony of that night can never be told. Poor mite was frozen. I have been ill but have been taken care of by a rich New York doctor and feel better now. They are giving us every comfort and have collected quite a few pounds for us and loaded us with clothes and a gentleman on monday is taking us to the White Star office and also to another office to get us some money from the funds that is being raised here. Oh mother there are some good hearts in New York, some want me to go back to England but I can’t, I could never at least not yet go over the ground where my all is sleeping. Sometimes I feel we lived too much for each other that is why I’ve lost him. But mother we shall meet him in heaven. When that band played ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ I know he thought of you and me for we both loved that hymn and I feel that if I go to Payette I’m doing what he would wish me to, so I hope to do this at the end of next week where I shall have friends and work and I will work for his darling as long as she needs me. Oh she is a comfort but she don’t realise yet that her daddy is in heaven. There are some dear children here who have loaded her with lovely toys but it’s when I’m alone with her she will miss him. Oh mother I haven’t a thing in the world that was his only his rings. Everything we had went down. Will you, dear mother, send me on a last photo of us, get it copied I will pay you later on. Mrs Hallets brother from Chicago is doing all he can for us in fact the night we landed in New York (in our nightgowns) he had engaged a room at a big hotel with food and every comfort waiting for us. He has been a father to us. I will send his address on a card (My Horder) perhaps you might like to write to him some time. God Bless you dear mother and help and comfort you in this awful sorrow.
Your loving child Lot.
Charlotte and Marjorie did not settle in the USA as planned and returned to England where, towards the end of 1914, she was remarried a Liverpool-native named James Ashbrook Holme (b. 1885), a licensed victualler, and the couple lived in Surrey.
Charlotte finally succumbed to the tuberculosis which had plagued her in 1916, aged 35. Her second husband died less than three years later, leaving little Marjorie to be raised by her uncle Walter Collyer and his family who lived on a farm in Surrey.
Marjorie’s time there is not believed to have been a happy one but she remained there until she was married in 1927 a London-born mechanic named Royden Bernard Bowman Dutton (b. 1901). The couple were wed in the same church Marjorie’s parents had married in. Marjorie and Roy settled in Chilworth, Surrey and, whilst there is suggestion that they had one child who died in infancy, there is no known record for this child. Marjorie was widowed in 1943 when her husband Roy died aged only 41. She was not remarried and continued to live in Chilworth where she worked as a doctor’s receptionist. During the 1950s she corresponded with Walter Lord during his research for A Night to Remember and was a special guest at one of that book-turned-film’s screenings in London alongside several other Titanic survivors.
In 1955, she wrote of life post-Titanic, “Since that time I have been blessed with bad luck and often wonder if it will ever give me a break, but it just seems to be my lot…”
She died in Alverstoke, Hampshire following a stroke in 1965 aged 61.
Sources / More to Read:
Wikipedia: RMS Titanic
Encyclopedia Titanica: Mrs Charlotte Caroline Collyer
Wikipedia: Sinking of the RMS Titanic
Wikipedia: Passengers of RMS Titanic
Click Americana: Saved from the Titanic: A woman’s story
Click Americana: Follow-up: Titanic survivor Charlotte Collyer
Titanic Historical Society Forum: Charlotte Collyer, Her Chicago Link
Online Titanic Museum