index sitemap advanced
site search by freefind

"We're taking on the grim task of body recovery"

  (Excerpt from a letter written by a MacKay-Bennett crew member to his mother)



The grave marker of The Unknown Child, adorned with stuffed animal toys, marks the burial site of an unidentified child who perished in the Titanic disaster, at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)


Immediately after Titanic's sinking, the White Star Line hired ships to recover the bodies of victim's remaining in the water. Cable ships were hired because they were readily available and quite familiar with the North Atlantic and its harsh conditions.

Being the closet port to the disaster site, Halifax, Nova Scotia was chosen to be the center of operations for processing the recovered bodies. This included identification, embalming, a place for family members to claim their loved ones, and internment for those unidentified or that had no families come to claim the bodies. The victims that remained in Halifax were buried in one of three cemeteries;  Mount Olivet, Fairview Lawn, or Baron de Hirsch. Fairview lawn has the largest number of victim's.

Of the 4 ships hired by the White Star Line, the CS Mackay-Bennett recovered 306 bodies of the 328 bodies that were found.

On May 13, 1912, a day shy of 1 month after the disaster, the last recovered Titanic victim's were discovered and buried at sea by the White Star Liner Oceanic (II) that was making a transatlantic crossing. The Oceanic just happened up on Collapsible A, which was the last boat to leave the starboard side of Titanic.  This was the boat that First Officer Murdoch had struggled with freeing from the roof of the officer's quarters. He successfully pushed it down to the boat deck and connected it to lifeboat 1's falls but Titanic's forward section went under the surface of the sea before the boat could be loaded and lowered. (This was Murdoch's last action before he perished) As it floated away, a handful of swimmers reached it and were able to climb aboard but they were unable to completely raise the canvas sides of the boat; so it remained partially awash. The survivors stood in knee-deep seawater until they were taken off by Boats 4 and 12 hours later.  When Collapsible A was abandoned, 3 bodies were left behind; 2 unidentified crew member's and 36-year old 1st class passenger Thomas Beattie from Manitoba, Canada. The bodies were buried at sea by crew members of the Oceanic and the life boat was pulled aboard ship.

Other transatlantic liners reported seeing a few more bodies in the water as late as June of 1912, some as far as 300 miles from the site of the sinking, but no effort was made to retrieve or bury them. The location where Collapsible A was found by Oceanic was 160 miles southeast of where Titanic sank.



The Four Ships Hired by White Star Line to Recover Bodies


(Above Left) The cable ship (CS) MacKay-Bennett (Above Right) and the Canadian Ministry of Marine and Fisheries vessel CGS Montmagny chartered by the White Star Line to recover bodies.



(Above Left) The SS Algerine and (Above Right) the SS  Minia also charted by the White Star Line to recover bodies




(Above Left) Body preparation aboard the SS Minia. (Above Right) Crew members of the CS MacKay-Bennett retrieve a man still wearing his life vest















News paper article from the Yorkshire Post, Tuesday, April 23, 1912.








(Above) SS Minia crew members partake in a body recovery.

Standing between two of the CS Mackay-Bennett's officers (captain in the foreground), The Reverend Kenneth Hind, Canon of the All Saints Cathedral of Halifax, gives final rights to recovered Titanic victims in front of a solemn crew. Bodies are stacked on the deck as crew members (right) commit one to the sea. 116 of the 306 bodies recovered had to be buried at sea due to their advanced decomposition and only 56 were identified. This photo was taken on April 24, 1912, 9 days after Titanic's sinking.

The bodies were assigned a number in order of how they were recovered. Below the minister in the photo is a tag reading "177" on the body bag. This was 28-year old William Mayo who was one of the lead firemen aboard Titanic. The photo, kept in the possession of the family of the Mackay-Bennett's 4th officer, R. D. Westy, who took the photo, didn't surface until 2012. It sold at auction in 2013 for approximately $7,500. (£5000)





(Left) Chronicle Herald, April 30, 1912 (Above right) Hearses and coffins at the dock in Halifax awaiting the CS MacKay-Bennett and the Montmagny.





(Left) Page from log book kept by CS Mackay-Bennett mechanic, Clifford Crease.

Courtesy: Nova Scotia Archives






















Titanic's last lifeboat found a month after the sinking revealed a gruesome discovery (Source: New York Times May 15, 1912)

On 13 May [1912] 2-days short of a month after Titanic’s sinking, the White Star Liner Oceanic, enroute to New York, came up on a Titanic  collapsible lifeboat floating in the water. It's believed to be the last remaining Titanic lifeboat and it had drifted 200 miles from where Titanic foundered. This was most likely to be last boat to leave the ship at around 2:15 am on the morning of April 15. 

It contained 3 severely decomposed bodies consisting of a Titanic seaman, fireman, and 37 year old first class passenger Thomson Beattie, still wearing his dinner jacket. Oceanic lowered a boat and ordered crew members to check the collapsible boat. To the horror of the Oceanic crew members it was obvious to them that at least one or all three of the Titanic passengers had died from starvation and dehydration in the lifeboat. One of the cork filled life vests had been ripped open and pieces of chewed cork were found in the bottom of the boat. The bodies were collected and a sea burial was immediately performed.

(Above) RMS Oceanic crew members complete a sea burial of the last three remaining Titanic passengers found in boat Collapsible A. This was a month after the Titanic sank and it had drifted over 200 miles from the site of the sinking.


Items found in Collapsible A boat included other Titanic passenger clothing and a wedding ring belonging to Mrs. Elin Gerda Lindell, an immigrating third class passenger traveling with her husband Edvard from Sweden. Neither Elin or Edvard Lindell survived the disaster. In the final moments as Titanic was sinking by the bow, (prior to it breaking in half) the boat deck was sloped down on an a steep angle. According to survivor accounts, the Lindell's were attempting to make their way to Collapsible A, the last boat. Edvard Lindell tried to haul his wife into the boat but being weakened by the cold he was forced to let go of her. Her ring apparently slipped off her hand as he was pulling her. Heartbroken over loosing his wife Edvard later died in Collapsible A awaiting rescue. It's believed his body was dumped into the sea by the other passengers onboard to lighten the load on the collapsible boat.






First class passenger Thomson Beattie. Found in Collapsible "A". Beattie shared a first class cabin with a friend, Thomas McCaffry, who also didn't survive.






 (Above left) RMS Oceanic crew burying 3 bodies discovered in Collapsible "A" on May 13. (Above right) a correctly assembled collapsible boat.


Halifax: The City of Sorrow



"The Story is Far from Finished"

by Johan Tötterström (Guest author)

"Touchdown", I said silently to myself and smiled smartly as the aircraft took ground. It was the 24th of June 1994. Outside, the weather was cloudy, yet, as I stepped out of the plane, I could feel the fresh and salty air of Nova Scotia greeting me.
After a very delayed flight I was finally here, about to embark on my very own tour into history. A tour that was to take me to a few of those Titanic related places within the city of Halifax. Because of the delays, however, serious changes had to be made in my schedule, resulting my entire tour to be postponed one day.

 Early in the morning of June 25, I started towards the city centre, mind focused on what lie a ahead. I walked up to a taxi, but when I asked the driver of the "Titanic graves", he simply shook his head. Great, I thought the locals knew this tragic place. Obviously, I was wrong. "Fairview Cemetery", I then said and he replied "get in".

I felt the excitement grow inside me. After such a long time of planning and dreaming I was finally about to enter a dark piece of Titanic history. As we talked, his memory seemed to improve and he suddenly uttered: "I took a few people to where you are going... once".

As we headed up the driveway to Fairview Lawn Cemetery, he pointed and said: "The Titanic  graves are over there". He seemed determined now, and I wondered if this was the same man as I had first approached only fifteen minutes earlier. I stepped out of the car and started walking towards the site. And there, suddenly, out of the mist a white sign appeared. Printed in black capitals, the sole name "TITANIC" confirmed I was there. From this moment on I continually took notes, but I quickly realized there just wasn't a way of describing what I felt, in words. It was a moving experience as row after row of victims of this haunting disaster appeared before my eyes. It wasn't until now, that the full impact of this tragedy hit me.


As we headed up the driveway to Fairview Lawn Cemetery, he pointed and said: "The Titanic graves are over there". He seemed determined now, and I wondered if this was the same man as I had first approached only fifteen minutes earlier. I stepped out of the car and started walking towards the site. And there, suddenly, out of the mist a white sign appeared. Printed in black capitals, the sole name "TITANIC" confirmed I was there. From this moment on I continually took notes, but I quickly realized there just wasn't a way of describing what I felt, in words. It was a moving experience as row after row of victims of this haunting disaster appeared before my eyes. It wasn't until now, that the full impact of this tragedy hit me.

At Fairview Cemetery 121 victims of the Titanic disaster are resting. The other 29 victims buried in Halifax can be located at Mount Olivet Cemetery and Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. All in all, 150 victims were put to rest here, in the so-called "City of Sorrow".



Two lists, compiled shortly after the disaster, exist to this day. One contains information about the 306 victims retrieved by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett, during its two-week search for bodies drifting around Titanic's last known position. The other one contains information about those victims that were identified on site and in Halifax; shipped further or buried here. Among the identified is Alma Pålsson, 26, of Malmöhus Sweden, who emigrated with her four children. Her husband Nels, had left earlier, in order to prepare for the family's arrival in the States. Alma and her children perished as the ship sank; however the story does not end here... The crew of the Mackay-Bennett, were so touched when they came upon the body of a two-year-old boy, that they personally arranged for the child a stone at Fairview with the inscription: "Erected to the memory of an unknown child whose remains were recovered after the disaster to the Titanic April 15th 1912."



Little did they know at that time, that the boy actually was one of Alma's children, Gösta Leonhard Pålsson. By examining the list, one finds: "NO. 4. Male. Estimated age, 2. Hair, fair. Clothing-Grey coat with fur on collar and cuffs; brown serge frock.../... brown shoes and stockings. No marks whatever. Probably third class." In the updated version of this list, from May 1912, you find at the bottom of that page added in ink: "Possibly child of Mrs. Paulsson." This was indeed the fact, but why the name has not been inscribed on the gravestone, I do not know. Perhaps it was felt at the time it was not appropriate to change the beautiful inscription on the stone. For those interested, the list from May 1912 now contained the true identity of the "unknown child" anyway. Perhaps it all came down to "financial greed"; to change an inscription was a matter of money to the ones paying for it, which of course was White Star Line. By sheer coincidence, mother and son have come to rest only a few feet apart from each other.

Another fascinating read is the life of John Henry Chapman, known in the list as NO. 17. It reads: "Male. Estimated age, 30-40. Hair, dark. Effects - .../... Lady's handbag."

John Henry Chapman was of British origin, but had left Cornwall in 1906 and emigrated to Canada. He later moved to America, where he settled in Spokane, Washington State. Here he was employed at the local cemetery. In 1911, however, Chapman decided to return to his native England, in order to marry his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elizabeth Lawry. They were wed on December 26th, but obviously John felt their home should be in Spokane. On April 10th 1912, they boarded Titanic as second class passengers, and evidence strongly indicates that they were at each other's sides until the end. Sarah was never found. John's body was found, his hand still clinging to a lady's handbag... His real age was 30 years.

There I was, walking around Fairview Cemetery eagerly documenting everything I came upon. At this time, I only had information on some of the victims; this was long before I even got hold of copies of the two lists. Now, almost three years later I can look back at this remarkable journey into history, and still my memories are so vivid. It feels like I was there yesterday. Suddenly, I stumbled upon the grave of George Swane, the driver to the rich Hudson J Allison family. (For more information on Hudson J Allison, read the excellent story in the book "Titanic, An Illustrated History", by Lynch & Marschall.)



He traveled second class with the family's cook Mildred Brown, and two other servants. Earlier in the night of the disaster, Swane and his roommates had had a violent pillow fight, which had made it almost impossible for Brown and co. to sleep in the adjacent cabin. When Titanic collided with the iceberg, Swane was quick to realize the seriousness of the situation. He got up and alarmed the neighboring girls. But Brown did not feel like getting out of bed. It was first when the others exclaimed that "she was probably the last person still in bed", that she got up, got dressed and went up top. What happened then? Well, Mildred Brown survived, but George Swane did not make it. Obviously they were good friends, and there could have been a little love between the two of them. Some facts support that theory. In the letter to her mother, Mildred is very concerned and wonders what happened to the "poor" George after she boarded a lifeboat. Further on, they both worked for Allison, and had adjacent cabins on board the Titanic... Well, these are only speculations, of course, we will never know.

At Fairview Cemetery, there are quite a few graves with newly made "white inscriptions". These graves have been subject to thorough research over the years, and as a result of that, TI (Titanic International) re-unveiled these graves in 1991; the previously "unknowns" finally had a name. Thrilling, that after so many years, a new chapter in the Halifax story could be written. One of these newly identified, was Wendla Maria Heininen, who came from Finland. She was 23-years-old at the time of the disaster. In the list she is known as body NO. 8, retrieved by the Mackay-Bennett on her first day on the scene.

[IMAGE]Perhaps the most interesting with Heininen, is the fact that she carried 150 Finnish marks with her. She had also had her initials "V.H." carefully sewn into her blouse. This was all documented in 1912. We must therefore ask ourselves why she was not identified then. They had the data, yet she became just one more "unknown"...Why? Did it all fall on the fact that she belonged to the lowest of categories, steerage. Was her life just one more life? Was there no time to dig deeper into the case? I think it was all about sheer ignorance. People just didn't care. Titanic was gone, and no one wanted to remember the terror of that night. The ship and her passengers were all still so close in peoples' minds, that they somehow chose to "let it go".

Claes-Göran Wetterholm, maritime expert in Stockholm, stated in the first edition of his excellent Swedish book on the ship, that he clearly thought NO. 8 was Heininen, when no other person existed with those initials in the passenger list. And so it was. With the help of international relations, in 1991, Heininen finally left the unknown, and became the known.

Many find the fate of the Titanic's Chief Deck Steward fascinating. If you look at this grave below, you may find the text at the bottom surprising you. "Erected by Mr. J. Bruce Ismay. To commemorate a long and faithful service." Yes, the scapegoat of the Titanic disaster himself arranged the inscriptions on Freeman's grave. Why? Because Freeman wasn't just the Chief Deck Steward aboard the Titanic. He was also Ismay's personal secretary... Obviously this man had meant a lot to Ismay.


In the third row you find one of the Titanic's real heroes, John Law "Jock" Hume, violinist in the ship's orchestra. John's grave is like most graves at Fairview. Besides his name, it only contains: "Died April 15, 1912. 193" (193 was the number of John's body.)

During my visit to Halifax, I also toured the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which has the most wonderful collection of ship models and memorabilia. Not very strange; Sir Samuel Cunard was born here in 1787, and the upper floor of the museum has been dedicated to his life and world famous shipping line.

So many resting at Fairview are there, that it would probably take a lifetime to document them all. Information on many victims has yet to be discovered. In too many cases, however, there won't be any...

At Fairview Cemetery, the birds sing again, their own song of sorrow. For the spectator, they add special weight to the history of the men, women and children resting peacefully beneath the ground. Halifax has become their monument, though the story is far from finished.

Johan Tötterström, Swedish Titanic Enthusiast.

If you have any interesting information on victims buried in Halifax, feel free to e-mail the author at:

Text: ©copyright Johan Tötterström 1997.
Photos: ©copyright Johan Tötterström 1997.

Assorted bibliography:

"Record of Bodies and Effects, Passengers and crew S.S. Titanic. Recovered by Cable Steamer Mackay-Bennett, Including Bodies Buried at Sea, and Bodies Delivered at Morgue in Halifax, N.S."
Public Archives of Nova Scotia, April/May 1912.

"List of Bodies Identified and Disposition of Same"
Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Halifax, N.S.

"A Guide to the Halifax Cemeteries"
Michael Findlay/Brian Meister
Titanic  International 1991.

Lynch, Don & Marschall, Ken: "Titanic, An Illustrated History"
Hodder & Stoughton / Madison Press Book, U.S.A. 1993.

Tötterström, Johan: "Halifax, sista viloplatsen"
Specialarbete vid Katedralskolan, Lund 1996.

Wetterholm, Claes-Göran: "Titanic"
Båtdokumentationsgruppen, Skärhamn 1988.

Recent Identification

Bodies of Three Titanic victims exhumed

AP Photo



A research team observes a minute of silence as they prepare to exhume the graves of three unidentified victims of the 1912 Titanic  disaster at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, N.S. on Thursday. The team plans to use DNA tests on the bones to help determine the identities of the remains.


   Photo Credit: Lisa Stone


HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) -- After a moment of silence, a research team on Thursday exhumed the graves of three unidentified victims of the 1912 Titanic disaster in hopes of helping three families find lost relatives.

The three graves were marked with stones bearing only numbers -- 4, 240, and 281 -- and the date the luxury liner went down, April 15, 1912.

The team will carry out DNA tests on the remains in the graves belonging to a woman in her 30s, a man in his 20s and a young child which the families hope will prove to be those of relatives lost in the disaster.

About 150 of the 1,500 people who died when the ocean liner sank off the Newfoundland coast after hitting an iceberg were buried in Halifax. Forty-three of them were never identified.

Article Credit - Southern Daily Echo, Southampton, UK

Titanic Child's True Identity Finally Solved

On August 1, 2007, 5 years after the "Unknown Titanic Baby" had been announced to be Finnish child Eino Panula,  it was reported that further testing on the child's HVS1, a type of mitochondrial DNA molecule, did not provide an exact match to the Panula family.

LiveScience article by Wynne Parry

Five days after the passenger ship the Titanic sank, the crew of the victim recovery ship Mackay-Bennett pulled the body of a fair-haired, roughly 2-year-old boy out of the Atlantic Ocean on April 21, 1912. Along with many other victims, his body went to a cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the crew of the Mackay-Bennett had a headstone dedicated to the "unknown child" placed over his grave.

When it sank, Titanic took the lives of 1,497 of the 2,209 people aboard with it. Some bodies were recovered, but names remained elusive, while others are still missing. But researchers believe that they have finally resolved the identity of the unknown child -- concluding that he was 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin from England.

Sidney Goodwin (Formerly referred to as the "Unknown Titanic Baby")

Though the unknown child was incorrectly identified twice before, researchers believe they have now conclusively determined the child was Goodwin. After his recovery, he was initially believed to be a 2-year-old Swedish boy, Gösta Leonard Pålsson, who was seen being washed overboard as the ship sank. This boy's mother, Alma Pålsson, was recovered with the tickets for all four of her children in her pocket, and buried in a grave behind the unknown child.

The effort to verify the child's identity using genetics began a little over a decade ago, when Ryan Parr, an adjunct professor at Lakehead University in Ontario who has worked with DNA extracted from ancient human remains, watched some videos about the Titanic. [disaster]

"I thought 'Wow, I wonder if anyone is interested or still cares about the unidentified victims of the Titanic,'" [disaster] Parr said.

A name for the unknown child?

In 2001, with permission from the Pålsson family, the unknown child's remains were exhumed from Fairview Lawn Cemetery, one of the Halifax cemeteries where Titanic victims were interred. Parr had hoped to investigate the identities of other victims as well, though decomposition interfered. Two of the coffins held only mud, and only a 2.4-inch-long (6 centimeter) fragment of an arm bone and three teeth remained of the unknown child. But this was enough.

From these remains, Parr and his team extracted DNA from a section of mitochondria (energy-producing centers of the cells) that rapidly accumulates mutations, called HV1. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to offspring, so the team compared the unknown child's DNA sequence with samples from the maternal relatives of the Pålsson child. These didn't match.

They broadened their search to include five other boys under age 3 who had died in the disaster. Alan Ruffman, who became involved in the project as a research associate of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, ultimately tracked down the maternal lines of all six children (including the Pålsson child) with help from genealogists, historians, Titanic researchers, translators, librarians, archivists and members of the families.

By comparing the unknown child's HV1 with these other young Titanic victims, the researchers eliminated all but two of the boys -- Eino Viljami Panula, a 13-month-old Finnish boy, and Sidney Goodwin.

An expert analysis of the child's teeth put his age somewhere between 9 months and 15 months -- seeming to eliminate Goodwin, who was older. So, the researchers concluded the boy was Panula and, in 2004, published their results.

A second try

But doubts remained. Ultimately, a pair of leather shoes recovered from the unknown child and held in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic caused the researchers to question the identification.

The shoes had been saved by Clarence Northover, a Halifax police sergeant in 1912, who helped guard the bodies and belongings of the Titanic victims, according to the museum's website. A letter from Northover's grandson, Earle, recounts how the victim's clothing had been burned to stop souvenir hunters. Clarence Northover couldn't bring himself to burn the little shoes, and when no relatives claimed them, he put the shoes in his desk drawer at the police station. In 2002, Earle Northover donated them to the museum. These shoes were too large for a 13-month-old to wear.

Parr and his team attempted the identification again, this time with the help of the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.

They looked at another, less mutation-prone section of the mitochondrial DNA, where they found a single difference that indicated that Goodwin might actually be the unknown child. The Armed Forces lab confirmed this when they found a second, single difference in another section of the DNA.

"Luckily, it was a rare difference, so that is what gives you 98 percent certainty the identification is correct," Parr said.


A photograph of the other members of the Goodwin family, all of whom perished when the Titanic went down on April 15, 1912.
Photo credit: Carol Goodwin


The loss of a family

Before he died, Sidney Goodwin was traveling on the Titanic with his parents, Frederick and Augusta, and five siblings from England to Niagara Falls, N.Y.   

Carol Goodwin, a 77-year-old Wisconsin resident, heard about the ill-fated family from Frederick Goodwin's sisters, one of whom was Carol's grandmother.

"I can't say that it really startled me or amazed me," Carol Goodwin said of the news that the unknown child was her relative. "I guess maybe it had been so long in coming."

As a child, she learned about Frederick Goodwin's family by eavesdropping on conversations between her grandmother and her great aunt.

"They didn't talk about the children that much," Carol Goodwin told LiveScience. "It was their brother who was a favorite brother, how kind he was to them growing up."

Goodwin's interest in family history didn't spark until her 13-year-old granddaughter Becky saw a Titanic exhibit and wrote an essay for school. When her teacher wanted to submit the article to the magazine "Junior Scholastic," Goodwin wanted to check the facts first.

Now Goodwin is working on two books on the subject, a smaller one about the unknown child and a larger book she has titled "The Goodwins Aboard the Titanic: Saga of a Third-Class Family." (The family was traveling third class.) And, in a year, she and her husband plan to take a centennial cruise in memory of the Titanic.]

On Aug. 6, 2008, relatives of the Goodwin family held a memorial service in Fairview Lawn Cemetery where they now believe Sidney Goodwin was buried under the unknown child's headstone. A cousin read the names of about 50 children who had also perished when the Titanic went down and a bell was rung for each, she said.

A soft, drizzling rain began to fall as the first name was read, and stopped when the list was finished, she recalled. Ultimately, the family left the headstone and the grave as it was. 

"The tombstone of the unknown child represents all of the children who perished on the Titanic, and we left it that way," she said.

The remains of the rest of the Goodwin's family have never been recovered.

"From those (unidentified bodies) that were buried in Halifax, I have read the coroner's reports for each of them, and nothing fits," she said.

An article describing the genetic analysis that led to the final identification of the unknown child's remains is scheduled to be published in the June 2011 issue of the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics and is already available online.


Return to Home