Iconic Ships 15: Carpathia

April 2022

Image: Profile and Deck Plan for Carpathia, 1902 from the archives of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation

Carpathia is the vessel that earned her historical fame by coming to the rescue of the stricken Titanic in April 1912. She is often glossed over in the history books but Carpathia herself was a remarkable ship with a fascinating history, and one that also ends in disaster with the vessel at the bottom of the Atlantic. Carpathia was a Cunard Line transatlantic passenger ship, launched in 1908. Her dramatic story is one of innovation, competition, immigration, courage, shipwreck and war. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Dr Jay Ludowyke an author and academic who teaches writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Queensland and the author of Carpathia: The extraordinary story of the ship that rescued the survivors of the Titanic.

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    Sam Willis  00:09

    From the Society for Nautical Research, in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis. And this is the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history.


    Sam Willis  00:24

    Hello everyone, and welcome to the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast. Today, we are going to hear all about the Carpathia, the vessel that most famously came to the aid of the stricken Titanic in April 1912, shortly after she had struck an iceberg, leading to the loss of over 1500 souls. Now, the Carpathia often appears as a bit of a footnote in the Titanic story, but she’s a fascinating vessel in her own right and with a wonderful history. This episode features as part of sub series of episodes we are running on iconic ships, so do please go back through our back catalogue and check out all of the other wonderful vessels we have covered in our Iconic Ships series. If you’re interested in naval history, we’ve covered the likes of HMS Bellerophon, the Ark Royal, the Hood, and the Barham, and the tiny HMS Pickle that brought back news of the Battle of Trafalgar. You can find out about old favourites like the Cutty Sark, Mary Rose, the USS Constitution, the Mauritania; you can even find out about iconic ships that you may well have never heard of like the wonderful San Juan, a Basque whaler. It’s one of my favourite episodes. But now, back to the Carpathia, the Cunard Line transatlantic passenger liner laid down in Tyne and Wear in those carefree early years of the 20th century, but which ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic off Land’s End, in 1918. To tell us more, I spoke with the excellent Dr. Jay Ludowyke, an author and academic who specialises in narrative nonfiction. She teaches writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Queensland. Jay is a past Australian postgraduate award recipient, and her book, Carpathia: the extraordinary story of the ship that rescued the survivors of the Titanic was published by Hachette, Australia. Of Sri Lankan and Australian heritage, Jay, irritatingly for those of you listening in the freezing northern hemisphere in what is supposed to be spring, lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I hope you enjoy listening to her as much as I enjoyed talking with her. Here is Jay.


    Sam Willis  02:43

    Jay, thank you so much for speaking with me today.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  02:46

    Oh, thank you, Sam. My pleasure.


    Sam Willis  02:49

    So Carpathia. Why was she built?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  02:53

    Well, back in 1900, Cunard had a ship called Corinthia. She was transporting meals during the Boer War when she ran aground off Haiti. A couple of months after that, Cunard was thinking about replacing her so they discussed building a new ship to carry passengers and cargo. And from there, they put out a tender. They actually refused everyone that attended at first and they ended up asking Swan Hunter to submit an offer because they’d built a vernier for Cunard in the past.


    Sam Willis  03:32

    I love the name Carpathia – where did that come from? Do we know?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  03:34

    Yeah, it’s actually named after the Carpathian Mountains. Cunard was naming all of their ships after geographical features and regions across Europe during that period. That’s actually one of the things that I had wondered as well when I was researching the book. Why Carpathia?


    Sam Willis  03:55

    Did you go and visit the Carpathian Mountains?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  03:57

    I did not visit the Carpathian Mountains. I would have liked to have done so but I went to a lot of archives and museums in the UK. I was a little bit more interested in the places that held all the historical records that would help me write the book than the mountains. Although the most, I suppose, unexpected place that I did visit was Las Vegas because I went to see the Titanic exhibition and all the artefacts are there. So, that’s where they were held at the time.


    Sam Willis  04:26

    Sounds like a great place to go on a historical research trip. Cunard builds this ship, builds Carpathia. What sort of ship does he want her to be; a super luxurious one or more of an everyman ship?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  04:40

    Well, she was designed to carry immigrant passengers, primarily, so when she was built, it was for cargo and primarily third-class passengers looking to come to America to start a new life, but also for second-class passengers because this is about the time when holiday cruising emerged. So, they were looking to take some middle-class Americans over to do the whole Mediterranean tour.


    Sam Willis  05:07

    What do we know about how she was fitted out on the inside? It’s maybe even easier for us to imagine what the Titanic was like, because we know it was so unbelievably opulent. But what was a normal ship like, like the Carpathia?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  05:24

    Well, actually, interestingly, Carpathia, when she was built, was actually the best fitted-out ship for third-class passengers at the time, so the accommodations on board were far better than you could expect to find on any other ships of the period. For example, the steerage passengers actually had births. There were four, three and two class two berth cabins, instead of just large dormitory areas. They had a large dining room, the men had a smoking room, and that was all hardwood-panelled. They even have their own promenade deck, which was quite unusual at the time. For the second-class passengers, it was certainly nothing, nothing like the luxury that we know White Star was famous for with Titanic, but it was very nicely fitted out. They had a beautiful library – that one was oak-panelled, if memory serves, and that had lounges and writing tables and gold tapestry curtains, and even the gentleman’s smoking room for the second-class passengers had a skylight and was panelled in walnut. So, I think there was a lot of wood panelling a board. She also fully had electric lighting, a heating ventilation system. And then, actually, a few years after that, they did a refit in about 1905 for first-class cabins as well. So, they just reconfigured to add private first-class cabins on the uppermost deck, but they didn’t reconfigure any of the saloon areas.


    Sam Willis  07:01

    So, it’s still very socially, rigidly defined.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  07:06

    Oh, yes.


    Sam Willis  07:07

    Even though it’s not this top end of society, there’s still a lot of division, isn’t there?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  07:12

    It’s interesting that you say that because, I mean, we’ll talk about the rescue of the Titanic passengers, but certainly for a normal voyage, if you were in steerage, you had steerage sections, and there were gates along the promenade areas you could not cross over if you were a steerage passenger. You couldn’t go into the second-class or the saloon-class passengers’ areas. And that was true of all ships during that period. It was quite strict because social classes were still very much observed during that time.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  07:13

    And what about the building of her? Where was she actually built? Do we know much about that whole process and experience?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  07:55

    Yeah, she was built in Swan and Hunter shipyards, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and the process began with was September 1901. And so, they laid the keel down, and what they do is they construct the hull of the ship in these massive wooden gantries. And there’s actually a photo. If you just Google Carpathia, you can see it online. There’s this wonderful photo that I’ve seen where there’s the ship being constructed in this massive wooden gantry, and there’s this plank scaffolding going up to the deck. You have to look really, really closely, and there’s this really tiny man standing on the scaffolding to give you an idea of the scale. So, they built these ships alongside the river. And when they were ready, they’d launch them. She was launched in August of 1902, and then there was a period of fitting out, so that’s when they’re constructing the superstructure and doing all the internal fittings. That was actually delayed a little while because there was a joiners strike during the period that held things up. But she was eventually ready by May 1903. Then she went on her C trails and her maiden voyage, which was to Boston.


    Sam Willis  09:14

    Oh, very nice, a nice trip through Boston. From Liverpool?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  09:18

    Yes. So set out from Liverpool, and she went all the way up around the top of the UK doing a sort of sightseeing voyage, and then all the way down across to Boston.


    Sam Willis  09:29

    Lovely. And then did she go into this kind of immigrant, migration-helping service straightaway?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  09:36

    Yeah, essentially, that’s what she did. For most of the years of her service, she was carrying passengers back and forth from the continent across to America, and then taking those second-class passengers off holidaying around the Mediterranean in Naples and Paloma and Trieste and doing the whole sort of Mediterranean sightseeing trip. During that period of time, it was actually a really popular thing to do.


    Sam Willis  10:06

    So, it’s like a chapter in the early history of going on a cruise?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  10:11

    It was! What you have to remember is, there was a certain period of time when transatlantic steamships were the main form of transportation between continents. But the more that the flight industry evolved, the more we relied on flight rather than ships to take us anywhere. So now, we use cruising primarily as a leisure activity. But that was the transition period when they were going from a form of transportation to a form of entertainment.


    Sam Willis  10:42

    It would be fascinating to go back to onboard that ship as they were cruising around the Med in that period – quite extraordinary, before the wars. So, let’s move on to Titanic. We’ve painted a picture of just how different Titanic was to Carpathia.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  11:01

    Oh, just about as different as you could get. You have to remember that when Titanic was built, we’re talking more than a decade later. During that period, we actually enter the era of the super liners. So, Titanic was not just far, far more opulent, she was significantly larger than other ships. So, by the time we get Olympic and Titanic, we’re talking these super liners which were the first of their kind, ships that big. It’s almost like a little city; they were carrying thousands of passengers. Titanic was designed to attract the wealthiest of the wealthy to give that luxurious experience. And by this time, you know, Carpathia, as comfortable as she was, she’s an older ship by this time. She’s much smaller, much slower. Carpathia is a 14-night ship. Titanic’s up there at 24 nights or there abouts. It’s like comparing – I want to make a car analogy here but I don’t know my cars well enough – a Ferrari to a Ford.


    Sam Willis  12:15

    Yeah, or a Bentley to a Volvo maybe. But it does make Carpathia such a fascinating subject, actually, when you realise there are these sorts of everyday ships, and it touched the lives of so many people. So, how does Carpathia fit into the Titanic story?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  12:36

    Profoundly shocking. It does make me wonder about what we would call PTSD now, and how long it would take people to actually get over the whole experience, the physical one as well as the psychological.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  12:36

    During Titanic’s maiden voyage, the day that Titanic departed from Queenstown, as it was, was the day that Carpathia actually departed New York, so they were on opposite sides of the ocean. Now, as we know, Titanic was full of those, essentially, the movie stars of the time. They weren’t movie stars, but they were the upper crust of society. They were on route to New York on this maiden voyage of the most extraordinary, the most luxurious, and the largest ocean liner in the world at the time. What should have happened is they should have just been two ships passing in the night. But, as we all know, Titanic struck the iceberg. So, that’s happened late on Sunday night. For Carpathia, Sunday was a really ordinary day. The guests aboard were playing deck games, enjoying their leisurely time. The captain had conducted an inspection of the ship. They’d even done a boat drill. About 9am on that morning, they had actually received a message that there was ice about, but there was nothing to be concerned about. They were far enough south that it wasn’t actually an issue for them. And so that evening, their wireless operator, a young man by the name of Harold Cottam. It was after midnight, his shift had just ended, and he was due to go to bed. He had been up to the bridge just a few minutes earlier to deliver the final report of the day. During that time, the way wireless works aboard ships at this time, if you weren’t wearing your headset, you didn’t get the messages; you had to actually have your headset on. So, when Titanic hit the iceberg, they didn’t immediately send a distress call, they first inspected the ship and when they realised they were sinking, that’s when they sent that first distress call. And Carpathia actually missed it, because Harold Cottam was on the bridge during his end-of-day report. It was only when he went back; if you actually read a poem from the sea captain Rostron, his memoir, he has this lovely anecdote of what happened. So, Harold goes back to the wireless shack, because that’s actually where they sleep at the time; they have a little berth in their shack. And he’s getting changed, so the story goes, and he actually puts his headphones on to just listen to everyone: the chatter that’s about. And he recalls that he’d had some messages come through earlier that day for Titanic. Because of the way wireless worked at the time, ships had to convey messages from ship to ship if their receivers weren’t strong enough to go from ship to shore, so they pass those messages along. And so, he dialled up Titanic and he said, “Oh, I’ve got some messages for you from Cape Race.” And Titanic replies and says, “We have struck ice.” And how Cottam, bless him, says, “Should I tell my captain, Captain Rostron?” And the operator says, “yes, tell your captain.” So, Harold Cottam rips off his headphones, he races up to the bridge, and he reports to the officer of the watch. Officer of the watch tears down, goes through the chart room, bursts into the captain’s cabin – without knocking, mind you. And in his memoir Captain Rostron actually says he remembers thinking who was this cheeky beggar bursting into the captain’s cabin without knocking. But of course, as soon as they explained that there had been a distressful call from Titanic, Captain Rostron didn’t hesitate. And this is what really captured me about this story. He straight away turned Carpathia about and they sailed full steam ahead, through pitch black night directly towards ice trying to reach Titanic before she sank. Now that wasn’t actually a perilous journey, and if you read the transcripts at the British and American Inquiries, when Captain Rostron testified, you’ll actually see that he says, if he had realised how much ice was actually about, he would have had second thoughts. As it was, they took all the precautions they could: they put extra watches out, but they actually had some close calls themselves. In the testimony, Captain Rostron actually underplays it a bit, but there are various sources where they did actually have to take evasive action to avoid ice, particularly as they arrived on scene. So 12:35 was when they got the first distress call. And they arrived at the location at 4am. It was still dark when they arrived. They had seen a green light as they approached, and they had actually thought it was one of Titanic’s lights. But as they got closer and closer, Captain Rostron had said that doubt had become to creep in because they know what a ship at night looks like as their approach from a distance. But all they saw was this single green light. Fortunately, that green light led them to the lifeboats. So, they found the first life boat, and they brought that lifeboat aboard at 4 or 5am. And it was then that dawn broke, and when that light hit the surface of the water, they actually saw that they were surrounded by icebergs; for all the world it looked like they were in Antarctica. Dotted among those icebergs, were all of those lifeboats with the survivors who were making towards Carpathia. I recall reading some of the passengers’ recounts and it was like an angel coming out of heaven that they had seen this ship. If you put yourself in the position of those people in the lifeboats, they had been on what had been touted as an unsinkable ship, and that ship had just sunk. They’d spent the night in the dark with the rising swell, not knowing if help was coming, not knowing if they were going to join those people who died aboard Titanic when she sank.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  18:56

    Yes. And in fact, when Carpathia was travelling back to New York, they actually encountered a storm, late Tuesday night, Wednesday night. There’s a wonderful compilation of letters and articles from the passengers who are aboard Carpathia who actually recount their experiences with all of those survivors. Some of them really tell how, that storm, people were terrified because they kept thinking every thunderclap was ice hitting the ship.


    Sam Willis  19:33

    Yeah, very difficult indeed. Do we know how many passengers actually came on board Carpathia?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  19:39

    So they rescued 712.


    Sam Willis  19:41



    Dr Jay Ludowyke  19:43

    When they did the count on board, the count that they did on board was 705. But the official survivor count later was 712.


    Sam Willis  19:53

    They managed to fit them in. Were their descriptions of them being bunked down in the corridors? How did they fit them in?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  20:00

    Well, the Carpathia’s passengers, many of them actually gave up their cabins or those people they bunked together into cabins. And in fact, there’s one account where a young honeymooning couple had given up their cabin. They hadn’t told any of the survivors that they were on their honeymoon because they didn’t want them to feel bad about the fact that they had actually given this cabin to them. But the people have bought Carpathia were the soul of kindness. If you can imagine what it must have been like on that ship: the shock, everyone must have felt, the grief because most people had lost someone that they loved, and the most terrible thing had happened to them; the feeling of surviving and then having to leave that site. So, a lot of people were actually hoping against hope that there were going to be more lifeboats bringing passengers and, as the survivors were filling up, Carpathia and all the passengers from Carpathia were on deck when they were rescuing the survivors from the lifeboats, which was finished by 8am, people were still hoping that there would be more survivors. But at 8am, Carpathia had accounted for all of the lifeboats and the California had arrived on the scene by that time, and had stayed behind just in case, but then they had to turn that ship around and leave for New York and that feeling of turning the ship around and knowing that there is no more hope, that must be a terrible feeling. So, the passengers aboard Carpathia, they were the soul of kindness. There are accounts of not just them giving up their cabins and sleeping in the corridors and on the tables in the dining halls, but also the women was sewing clothes and they were donating clothes. They were sewing clothes out of sackcloth, out of hessian, for the children because this had been the dead of night, some people arrived wearing their night clothes with nothing more than what was on their back. They’d lost everything. And for the wealthy, those things could be replaced, but for the poor, for those people who were immigrating, a lot of them actually lost everything that they had, and they only escaped with their lives. They were going to a new world, and they had to start from scratch.


    Sam Willis  22:26

    It does really resonate, just at the moment, because watching the news and seeing all of these poor Ukrainian refugees, it’s a very similar example. We’ve got some real maritime refugees who are completely desperate and need all the support and help they can get.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  22:44

    Yeah, that’s a really apt comparison. I think we’re going through some really difficult times at the moment; the idea that those people were leaving their homes, and those people in Ukraine are leaving their homes, and they don’t know what the future holds for them. People, the survivors aboard Carpathia, many of them didn’t know what the future would hold for them as well. And so many of them had lost loved ones as well.


    Sam Willis  23:15

    And so, Carpathia then sort of goes back to work, essentially. You have to kind of carry on almost as if nothing has happened. That would be another very difficult thing, indeed, I suspect, for Carpathia’s crew. Tell us about her history up to the First World War.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  23:33

    So, after rescuing the survivors, Captain Rostron was actually the first person to testify at the American inquiry, because, as you said, she’d had to literally turn around and resume her voyage. And that voyage was actually quite a remarkable voyage. So, directly after returning the survivors to New York, when she reached the Mediterranean, by that time, news had made its way all the way across to Europe. She was celebrated at every port that she went to. Over 100,000 people boarded Carpathia during that voyage at all of the ports because they wanted to see this rescue ship. But after that event, she just faded back into obscurity over time; over the last century. So, the First World War, that you mentioned, when that broke out, she was still in service, and she was carrying transporting cargo and troops. She was requisitioned by the Admiralty under the agreement that they had with Cunard at the time. the Admiralty paid a subsidy to Cunard and in return, they were allowed to requisition ships during times of need. During that period when they requisitioned her, she was mostly transporting troops, like Canadian troops, and supplies. It was mostly uneventful, her war service, until she sank during the First World War. And that story in itself is actually quite fascinating aspect of her history. It was July 1918, and she was docked at Huskisson Dock in Liverpool. She’d been waiting for a convoy to form because, during that period, it was safe for ships to travel in convoys. And so, they set out on what was the 15th of July 1918. They had an escort of seven naval vessels, so there were some destroyers, minesweepers, and a patrol gunboat. They were guarding them through the Southwest Approaches because that’s where the U-boats mostly hunted. But the convoy departed on the 17th of July. They departed first thing in the morning, about 8:15, and it wasn’t actually long after that, that the convoy split in two. Half the convoy was headed towards the Mediterranean and half were going to New York. Carpathia was the only armed ship on the convoy headed to a big part of North America. During that period, they travelled in formations and there was actually – it’s so interesting – there was actually a small tanker by the name of British Major who was at the head of the first column in the convoy, but she was struggling to make up the speed – the convoy’s agreed speed was 10 knots. And she was also belching black smoke. Her captain at the time was William Prothero, and he writes in his affidavit that they were quite concerned about this because that smoke was like a beacon to any U-boats that were around. And sure enough, soon after the escort departed, Carpathia was struck by a torpedo. The really interesting thing is that the reason the torpedo struck Carpathia is because British Major, that tanker, was actually out of formation. They’d fallen behind the convoy, and the torpedo, which should have hit British Major, actually went straight through and hit Carpathia.


    Sam Willis  27:21

    How severe was the damage? Did she sink immediately?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  27:25

    No. The first shot didn’t actually sink the ship. She stayed afloat for a couple of hours; there was enough time for everyone to disembark into the emergency boats. Unfortunately, that first torpedo did actually kill five men. So, three trimmers and two stokers were killed in the engine room during that, either through an explosion or from drowning when they had to isolate that section of the ship. Because of the way the U-boats wanted to conserve torpedoes, they didn’t immediately fire again. Carpathia stayed level enough for them to safely deploy all the lifeboats. So, Captain William Prothero destroyed all the confidential documents and made sure that everyone who had survived that initial torpedo blast was able to disembark safely. It was a couple of hours later, while everyone was in those lifeboats, that two more torpedoes slammed into Carpathia. She sank very soon after that, and there’s actually another image that was taken from the German U-boat, U55, that actually shows the very stern of Carpathia above the water as she’s sinking. It’s actually a really incredible image. But this story doesn’t end there because now we’ve got all of these survivors in the lifeboat, and Carpathia has just sunk. Now, when she was hit by the first torpedo, the rest of the convoy had immediately scattered because none of those ships were armed. There was nothing they could do. Carpathia’s wireless system had actually been damaged in that first torpedo strike, so they hadn’t been able to send out a distress call. They had signalled to the other ships requesting that they send a distress call, but they didn’t know if help was coming. Now, Carpathia has sunk and the U-boat has surfaced and is approaching the lifeboats. Now U55, to put this into context for you, had just a few months earlier sunk a ship by the name of Belgian Prince, and they had a similar situation – everyone had escaped into lifeboats. But what the captain of that U-boat had actually done was they’d taken everyone from the lifeboats, put them on the deck of the submarine, taken away their life jackets, and then they had submerged the submarine. And there were only three survivors from the Belgian Prince. And now that’s the same vessel, same captain that’s approaching our survivors in the lifeboats. William Prothero, the captain, he knows they’re coming for him because they would always take the captain away to be interrogated. But the fate of the other passengers, they didn’t know what was going to happen to them. But given what had happened to the crew of the Belgian Prince, I think it’s safe to assume the same thing would have occurred. But fortunately, just as the U-boat was approaching, one of the military vessels that had originally been in the convoy returned. So, this was HMS Snowdrop. She had received a distress call from one of the other vessels in the convoy that had been fleeing, and so she came to the rescue. Even though she was out of range of the U-boat, what she did was she fired towards the U-boat to keep the U-boat from actually opening fire with their machine guns on deck onto the survivors in the lifeboats. And so, she approached and she went straight past our lifeboats. U55 submerged, and she actually circled for an hour dropping depth charges, trying to sink U55. Now, they didn’t sink U55 but they did rescue all of the survivors from the lifeboat. So, there was only those initial five casualties.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  27:50

    What a dramatic, dramatic event. Let’s move on now to finding the wreck because I think this is an extraordinary story. How did that all come about?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  31:39

    In 1999, Clive Cussler, who helped found NUMA, became really interested in the idea of locating the wreck of Carpathia and also the California, but the Californian sank in much deeper waters. Obviously, because these two ships are very famous in connection with Titanic, he wanted to find her wreck. Now, there were a few expeditions. The first expedition, they had some charts that indicated what was thought to be the wreck of Carpathia. So, they sent out an expedition and they found this ship. But it’s really interesting because they actually announced that they had found Carpathia but it was not Carpathia they had found; it was another vessel called ISIS, so they’d misidentified her. That failed expedition then led to a second expedition in May of 2000. And this time, because that first vessel that they had had on that chart had not turned out to be Carpathia, what they actually did was: they looked at the logs of U55, also of Snowdrop (the ship that rescued the Carpathia survivors), and also the records that William Prothero made. All three of them listed coordinates where Carpathia sank. Now obviously, at the time, they’re all using dead reckoning so those coordinates are very general. What that did was give them a 500 square kilometre search area that was just a couple of 100 miles south of Ireland. They went and they searched that section of the ocean looking Carpathia’s wreck. Now they weren’t actually having much luck.


    Sam Willis  33:26

    That’s no small challenge, is it?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  33:29

    No, it’s huge.


    Sam Willis  33:30

    You said 500 square kilometres. And it’s incredibly deep, that water, as well, isn’t it?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  33:34

    Yes, so when her wreck was discovered, it’s over 500 feet down. When they were searching, it was been unsuccessful so far. A storm was coming, so they had decided that they would put into port at Baltimore, in Ireland. And while they were in port waiting out the storm, they actually visited one of the local dive shops there. There’s a really great documentary on this because they filmed this expedition. It’s part of the Sea Hunters series. When they talked to the dive shop owner, he gave them the coordinates of 17 areas where the local trawlers all avoided because the nets always got snagged there, so they would mark those areas as areas to be avoided. There’s a good chance that some of those snags are potentially shipwrecks. So, when the storm abated, they actually went back out, and then had no success over that. They’ve done a grid search of that 500 square kilometre area. They’d started at the top of the grid and because it is so large, they’d missed out the middle section, because, based on their calculations, it was more likely to either be sort of at the north or the southern end of that search area. They’d not found it, so what they then did was this jigsaw pattern going from these locations that they had of these 17 areas that these trawlers avoided. It’s so interesting because they’d searched all of them, and they just searched the 16th one and they had not found Carpathia. They’re losing hope, and they come to this 17th coordinate, and they find something on the sonar. So, there’s obviously a vessel there. They send down their remote operating vehicle to get pictures of it. But there’s a fault with the ROV.


    Sam Willis  35:32



    Dr Jay Ludowyke  35:32

    And they can’t actually get any images. No, they can’t. So, they think they’ve found Carpathia. But they actually couldn’t confirm it until a couple of months later when they did a third expedition. And that’s when they were actually able to confirm that the wreck was Carpathia, and they did that through a comparison based on the ship’s blueprints and identifying the corresponding features on the wreck.


    Sam Willis  36:08

    I love the way that it all ties together with the discovery of the wreck and the original story. When you were researching it, how did you find getting access to archives? Did you have a good variety of material to work with?


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  36:21

    I did. I remember being really nervous about this because I’m coming from Australia and, because I was writing this as part of my doctoral thesis, the university was paying for all of my research and expenses. So, I had done all this research about where I thought particular sources might be, and I looked at archival guides, and so I identified a number of places: the National Archives National Maritime Museum, the Cunard Archives at the University of Liverpool, Merseyside Maritime Museum, which had the ship’s arrangements, Tyne and Wear Archives. I had this massively long spreadsheet of all these documents I wanted to look at. But the problem with archival guides is they’re very general. So they’ll say, oh, we have a file about, for example, we were talking about the name of the ship Carpathia, they said, “well, we have a file about Cunard ship named X,” but you don’t know what you’re going to find in that file until you have the file in front of you and you’re looking through it. So, I was very nervous about what I was going to find. But oh my gosh, it was an amazing experience going to those archives and seeing all of those historical records and actually getting to touch and hold documents that were more than a century old in some cases, and uncovering those stories. In fact, one of the one of the things that I found, because we were talking about the name earlier which I think is really fascinating, is a letter in a file at the Cunard Archives at the University of Liverpool. I had a file of ship names and, like I said, I was curious about why Carpathia. In that file, I found a handwritten letter which had been addressed to the New York Superintendent of Cunard. And in it, it gave extracts from the Encyclopaedia Americana and the Encyclopaedia Britannica about what was listed under the names Carpathia, Mauritania, and Lusitania. It was really interesting. It was like a handwritten letter. All of these three very famous ships were grouped together on this letter. Obviously, this was before the ships were famous, and these extracts were from this encyclopaedia, but that’s not the most fascinating part. The most fascinating part is who wrote the letter. It was signed by a man called Charles H Marshall. And I recall as I read the name, it sounded a little bit familiar to me, but I couldn’t place where I had heard it before. It was only a little bit later when I was rereading an account from some of the passengers aboard Carpathia that I realised. The Charles H. Marshall who had written this letter in 1901 was the same Charles H. Marshall who was aboard Carpathia during the rescue mission, and whose nieces had actually been aboard Titanic. There’s a very famous story about how he had been woken on the morning of the rescue by a steward who had knocked on his door and had said, “Sir your nieces wish to see you.” And he had replied and said, “My nieces are on Titanic” because he’d actually slept through the rescue mission. So, Charles H. Marshall had written this letter in 1901 with the names of Mauritania, Lusitanian, and Carpathia and these extracts, and he had been on Carpathia during that rescue mission years later, and his nieces had been aboard Titanic. That was one of those times when research leads you into very unexpected but exciting places.


    Sam Willis  40:04

    It happens so often with chips because there are so many people on these ships that you’re looking at and you can find yourself going down very many rabbit holes. Jay, thank you so much for sharing this story. It’s been absolutely fascinating, I really enjoyed it.


    Dr Jay Ludowyke  40:15

    Oh, thank you, Sam. It’s been my pleasure


    Sam Willis  40:22

    Thank you all so much for listening. Now do please check out the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast on YouTube, where you will find some fabulous and innovative video material telling our maritime past in ways you have never seen before. That’s guaranteed. Most recently, a wonderful video showcasing one of the finest ship models ever made: HMS Royal George made for King George III in the 1770s. It has been filmed with the very latest camera technology and it’s absolutely extraordinary. For those of you interested in the Titanic part of this story, we have a lovely little animation of what we call the Titanic in miniature, explaining how a steam engine over time worked, and also an astonishing flyover of a 3D model of the Titanic which has been built using the ship’s original drawings. It’s all very much worth looking at. Best of all, however, do please join the Society for Nautical Research. It doesn’t cost you very much at all, but it supports this podcast. You receive four copies a year of the Mariner’s Mirror Journal. You can access all of the previous episodes of the Mariner’s Mirror Journal and it’s been published for over a century. You can come to the Society for Nautical Research’s annual dinner on board HMS Victory. I think that’s the best bit about membership. And, you get to support the world’s maritime heritage. There’s no better way to spend a little bit of your spare change. You can find everything we do at snr.org.uk.

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