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Forever Cunard

Guided by a greater hand…

April 5, 2012


Posted in: Forever Cunard

Hello all,

As we approach 15 April, we will all read and hear much about the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  It was a sad and terrible tragedy and I hope that in all the excitement to remember the story people apply a sense of dignity and respect for those who lost their lives.

At Cunard we have chosen not to take part in any of the major events surrounding the 100th Anniversary.  On 15 April on each of our ships, we will have a remembrance service and a remembrance dinner – with a specially prepared menu that will tell the story of the little Carpathia. The Carpathia was the first ship to arrive at the site of the sinking of the Titanic and rescued more than 700 survivors, taking them safely back to New York.

The story of the Carpathia is a fascinating one and one for Cunard Line to be proud of.  I would like to tell you the story;


On Thursday 11 April 1912, Carpathia left New York almost unnoticed just after noon bound for Trieste as usual on a journey which, for momentous reasons, she would never complete. A journey which would take her from insignificance to celebrity. At about the same time on the other side of the Atlantic, a hugely celebrated ocean greyhound was leaving Queenstown and heading west on her Maiden Voyage to New York; she was Titanic, brand-new pride of the White Star fleet commanded by Captain Edward Smith on his last voyage before retirement. Titanic had on board many rich and famous socialites, the celebrities of the day, and her departure from Southampton had been as feted as Carpathia’s had been unnoticed.

In command of the little Carpathia was 42-year-old Arthur Rostron, an officer with Cunard since 1895 and master of Carpathia for just three months. With him were 700 passengers, 150 of them elderly American tourists and most of the rest former emigrants making a visit home.

At 12:15 A.M on the morning of 15 April Carpathia’s wireless operator Harold Cottam was in the process of untying his shoes in readiness for bed. He was ten minutes later than he normally would be in turning in, and providentially his ear phones were still clamped to his head; had he not been, and had they had not been, there would have been no Titanic survivors. On receiving the first SOS from Titanic at 12:15. Cottam raised Captain Rostron who had already retired for the night, and Rostron in turn rose to the challenge of his first maritime emergency with impeccable practical thoroughness.

After a brief moment of disbelief in which he quizzed Cottam about the certainty of his seemingly preposterous claim that Titanic was in distress, Rostron immediately ordered a change of course. Carpathia was 58 miles from Titanic; at 14 knots it would take her over four hours to get there.

The Chief Engineer was ordered to turn off all the heat and hot water so that every ounce of steam could be used to drive the engines. All off duty stokers were raised from their beds to shovel coal into the furnaces as fast as they were able. Next, Rostron ordered his First Officer to begin specific preparations – the lifeboats were to be slung out, lighting rigged along the ship’s sides, all shell doors were opened in readiness, and slings made to haul up the children and the infirm, ladders and rigging lowered, and the ship’s forward cargo cranes made ready to lift aboard luggage, belongings and lifeboats. Meanwhile, all remaining crew were summoned to duty and preparations were made to receive 2,000 Titanic passengers in the public rooms; blankets and warm clothing were gathered to distribute, tea, coffee and soup prepared.

First aid points were established in the three dining rooms, with a doctor in charge of each. When all was ready, the ever-thoughtful Rostron ordered his crew to take hot coffee in preparation for the long night ahead. The ship, meanwhile, strained and shuddered as she edged past her maximum speed as every stoker shovelled coal into the furnaces; fifteen, sixteen and finally seventeen knots were achieved as the ship surged through the dark, without radar, past glistening icebergs visible to the lookouts only by the reflection of the stars.

At 4 A.M Carpathia reached Titanic’s position and Carpathia’s engines were stopped as the crew, together with many passengers now on deck having been alerted both by the hustle of preparations and the increasing cold in their quarters, strained to see some sign of the ship. Suddenly, they saw a green flare fired by Titanic’s lifeboat number 2 – and the first survivors came aboard at 4:10 A.M; by 8:30 A.M Charles Lightoller, the final person of the 706 to be rescued stepped aboard Carpathia. Now carrying double her original complement of passengers, Carpathia steamed slowly among wreckage and icebergs seeking more survivors – but none was found.

Rostron’s next decision was where to go: Halifax was nearest, but the passage would involve travelling through much ice and he felt the Titanic’s survivors had had enough of that; the Azores would have been the best destination to keep Carpathia on course and incur the least cost to Cunard, but the ship had insufficient supplies for such a journey with such greater numbers; so Rostron headed back whence he had come – New York.

Carpathia’s passengers and crew did what they could, giving up beds and clothing to those who had survived near-freezing temperatures often inadequately dressed; but for many inconsolable widows nothing could be done save allow them to cry themselves out.

Carpathia was besieged by calls from the press, which Rostron ordered were to be ignored, and when she finally arrived in New York on the morning of 18 April she was accompanied up river by reporters in hired tugboats shouting questions through megaphones; never had Carpathia been the centre of so much attention.

Eventually she berthed at 9:30 A.M at Pier 54, from which she had set out just seven days earlier.


We have recently been in touch with Captain Rostron’s granddaughter – Rosemary Pettet.  We invited her down to Queen Elizabeth and met with her in the Rostron Suite – it was really nice to meet with her and fascinating to hear her tell stories of her grandfather and to show us some of her prized possessions passed down from her grandfather.  What came across was just how modest Captain Rostron was and it was lovely to be able to meet his granddaughter who told us just how proud all of her family were of the role her grandfather played on Carpathia and in saving so many lives.

If anything positive can come out of such a tragedy – then that positive would be the introduction of SOLAS – Safety Of Lives At Sea.  That is something that we focus on relentlessly today and it is worthy of note that 100 years later Cunard Line still safely carry many thousands of passengers across the Atlantic on Queen Mary 2 – the only Ocean Liner now to do so. I thought you might be interested in a graphic that shows the relative size and scale of our little Carpathia, The Titanic and today’s Queen Mary 2. 

So as we head towards 15 April our thoughts are quietly and respectfully with those who perished in 1912.  And at the same time we remember with pride the role that Captain Rostron and the magnificent crew of Carpathia played in saving so many lives.


I trust you are keeping well and have a peaceful Easter break wherever you may be.


Best Regards,



  1. Pam Towart says:

    Many thanks for posting that story – it brought tears to my eyes because you focused entirely on the basics & human aspect of that terrrible night. I personally think it entirely fitting that Cunard will honour all those people (passengers & crew) in a very quiet & dignified way, to keep the emphasis on what was & is most important in remembering Titanic & Carpathia.

  2. Donna Pancoast says:

    What a fascinating and heartfelt story! I didn’t know that the Carpathia was Cunard ship. What a legacy to a truly great company! I am a loyal Carnival customer and will remain even more loyal after this story. My thoughts are with those that lost their lives that day and the ones who gave up so much to help the survivors.

  3. Alex says:

    What a very well written account Of the little Carpathia. Thanks Peter. I like the way that Cunard is marking the event as well, very dignified.

  4. Rachel Treadgold says:

    A truly moving tribute to the captain and crew of Carpathia. A fitting way to remember that tragic night and the dreadful loss of all those lives. Thank you.

  5. Brandy Meyer says:

    I too am a loyal Carnival customer. I believe that this is a fitting story to tell marking the anniversary of such a tragedy. All the media attention to the Titanic focuses on that tragedy and not on the story of the brave souls who put their own lives in danger to help a fellow ship at sea. John Heald, of the Carnival cruise line, led me to the site and this story and I can’t help but say how grateful I am to have followed the link.

    Thank you and God Bless the families of both the Titanic and the Carpathia passengers and crew.

  6. David A. Walker says:

    Thank you Peter, that was a thoughful, well researched and well written piece giving a really good insight to what Cunard was and what one of their captains could rise to in an emergeny.

    Perhaps you should have continued to note that Roston was awarded a Congessional Gold Medal, and many lifesaving medals and awards on both sidesof the Atlantic. He was appointed to a succesion of ever larger and faster Cunard ships, perhaps the best known – RMS Mauritania. He was made Knight Commander of the Order of the British Enpire and finally, a few years before his retirement in 1928 Sir Arthur Rostron, OBE was appointed Commodore of the Cunard fleet. He remained a retiring gentleman unassuming and little impressed with his fame.

  7. Anthony jr says:

    Long Live Cunard

  8. June Wilson says:

    I too find myself welling up, the comment “but for many inconsolable widows nothing could be done save allow them to cry themselves out.” brings home the tragedy even more. As we often watch Hollywood versions, we never see the inconsolable grief that must have been experienced by the Captain, his crew and those passengers he carried.

  9. Brenda Crabtree says:

    Thank you for publishing this little known story.

  10. Mark Olson says:

    Dear Peter:

    What a great and fitting piece in tribute to Titanic, and those who lost their lives. Cunard can be proud of its historical role in the tragedy, and the exemplary actions of it’s employees on that faithful night. Thank you again for the great column. The only other thing that needs to be said is that the great liner Carpathia lost her life in service to her country off Fastnet on July 17, 1918. May she rest in peace along with the Titanic!

  11. Judith Sayers says:

    What a very moving article. It reflects the spirit of Cunard that the tributes on board will be low key and respectful. Thankyou Peter for sharing it with us.

  12. Beryl Moss says:

    Having always had a fascination with Titanic your story of how Carpathia assisted in saving so many people from Titanic is extremely interesting and very moving. It would have been wonderful if she had been closer to Titanic so she could have saved almost everybody who were sailing on her but unfortunately this was not to be. Cunard have a right to feel proud in their involvement with Carpathis in saving so many people from the ill fated Titanic.

  13. Amanda battman says:

    Thank you for this very emotional piece. I have read it twice & cried for the lost souls and the bravery of the Carpathian crew.

  14. David Jones says:

    A lot is being said and written about the Titanic disaster 100 years on but this is by far the most interesting and poignant.

  15. Bren H says:

    What a wonderful story of an amazing person. I am honored to be travelling in the Rostron Suite for the Jubilee Cruise and shall take time to ponder on his heroism, and that of the crew of the Carpathia.

  16. Cari Mach says:

    Thank you for this beautiful, intensely moving account of Carpathia’s heroic and successful rescue effort. Until I read this, I only knew the name of Carpathia, and had wondered what took them so long to arrive. What a wonderful little ship and brave and resourceful captain and crew.

    We sail on our first Cunard voyage, out of Southampton, on June 29th on Queen Victoria. Looking forward with great anticipation to a memorable voyage on a beautiful ship.

    Thank you again.

  17. Sandra Tomlinson says:

    I read with great pleasure your posts about Cunard and her beautiful ships.
    Thank you very much for sharing the full story of Cunard’s Carpathia – the wonderful and heartfelt account of her actions in assisting the White Star Lines Titanic on that tragic night.

    Sandra Tomlinson (Melbourne, Australia )

  18. Peter, a great write up and could not a gree more, there is also an excellent short piece on the BBC history channel

  19. Robert Alexander says:

    What a fascinating story. Having read many stories of the Titanic this focuses on the heroism of the crew of the Carpathia.

  20. This was truly a great tribute to a great man and his ship and crew. Prior to taking command of the Carpathia, Captain Rostron was the First Officer on the Lusitania. In my book, A Cold Night in the Atlantic, several large segments recall the heroic efforts of Captain Rostron and the Carpathia.
    I learned from this essay that Carpathia was on her way to Trieste. That never seems to be covered in any of the literature and I was pleased to learn that fact. I was also pleased to learn that Captain Rostron’s granddaughter is still alive. That gives a bit of continuity from that time to the present.
    Thanks for writing and sharing that wonderful piece. It was a most fitting tribute.

  21. Chris Frame says:

    Thank you for this blog.

    We are paying tribute to Carpathia at chriscunard.com

    Our take on her impact is here: http://www.chriscunard.com/carpathia.php
    And our short history on Titanic is here: http://www.chriscunard.com/titanic.php

    Thanks again,


  22. EHC says:

    How very well Cunard have addressed this significant anniversary of such a tragedy. The way in which it has been handled is impeccable – which is precisely what we have come to expect of Cunard.

    Thank you for posting this extremely tasteful and appropriate blog.


  23. Alan says:


    As always from Cunard a humble and well-researched response to this tragedy. As a proud Sotonian my family are acutely aware of the impact this tragedy had on Southampton and it is entirely appropriate to focus on the human cost amongst all the glitz and glamour of the anniversary. We’re pretty sure a distant relative was a stoker onboard who perished; just one among hundreds from the Chapel & Kingsland area. What isn’t covered too much is the difficulties faced by those crew who survived and came home – not just what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder these days but also the guilt they felt as survivors and also in many cases they were considered to be cowards by their community.

  24. Carlos Muniz says:

    This was truly a great tribute to a great man and his ship and crew. I honored to part of this great company.

  25. Kelli says:

    To think of the surprise that must have met them that there were only 700 or so survivors when they were preparing for at least 2,000. Reminds me of another tragedy that struck not so long ago when all of the the triage centers were set up in Manhattan after 9/11 waiting for the survivors and there were barely any. The loss of lives during those two tragedies is so sad. It is an honor to be linked in a small way to this, as I work for Princess under the Carnival umbrella…..Thank you Captain Rostron.

  26. Rodrigo Castellanos says:

    Wonderful, simply wonderful.

  27. Thank you so much for sharing, so beautifully told, Wow, thank you to all involved, so proud of Captain Rostron!

  28. dan zaklan says:

    thank you so much for the interesting story of carpathia – as always this is why cunard is so well respected as a true transatlantic shipping company & why i am proud to have sailed on her ships – all her officers & crew aboard all her ships are truely a class act – long live cunard & least we never forget those that lost their lives that fateful night of april 15 1912 aboard a wonderful ship & a hero named rostron – peace

  29. Professor Alan Wilson, historian says:

    A magnificent statement – compassionate, dignified, respectful, beautifully written. Thank you, Peter Shanks. /aw

  30. Bob Engebredtson says:

    What a great story about great Cunarders! I was not aware of this site until now and have instantly become an avid follower. Thanks you so much!

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