Ocean Liner and Cruise History
The descendants of a surgeon who died on the Titanic nearly 100 years ago are appealing for a benefactor to purchase a soon-to-be-auctioned letter he wrote from the doomed ship — and to return it to the city where the vessel was built.
A two-page note John Edward Simpson wrote to his mother days before the ship sank in April 1912 is to expected to fetch at least $50,000 at the auction later this week in Long Island, New York.
Simpson’s great-nephew John Martin said Sunday that the family can’t afford to buy it, but would love to see it back in Belfast.
“It would be great if a donor or benefactor could be found who would purchase and return it to Northern Ireland for public display,” he said.
Simpson’s letter, dated April 11, 1912, is written on notepaper headed RMS Titanic and is addressed to his mother, who was living in Belfast.
In the letter, Simpson, 37, said his cabin was larger than the accommodation on board theTitanic’s sister ship the Olympic, where he had previously worked. He also complained that he had found one of his trunks unlocked and that some money had been stolen from his pocketbook.
The surgeon, who treated second- and third-class passengers, signed off: “With fondest love, John.”
The letter was brought ashore at Cobh (now called Queenstown), Ireland — the Titanic’s last port of call before the ship set sail for America. It was dispatched to Simpson’s mother, Elizabeth, who lived on Belfast’s Dublin Road
Three days later, he died along with 1,500 others after the ship struck an iceberg.
Martin said his family had held onto the letter for generations, but that Simpson’s 81-year-old daughter-in-law gave it to a Titanic enthusiast in Holland 15 years ago. The family lost track of the letter until learning it is to be auctioned by Philip Weiss Auctions.
Simpson’s story will form part of a new Titanic Belfast visitor attraction opening in Belfast next month ahead of the 100th anniversary of the sinking.
Martin said the letter provided a rare insight into the life of one of the ship’s officers.
“There are references within the letter which give a bit of humanity to the man who died, and he did die bravely,” he said. “It puts a human face on what could be another statistic.”
An account of the last moments of the Titanic written by 2nd officer Charles Lightoller, who survived the disaster, is going on sale in the same auction.
In his letter, Lightoller describes Simpson walking calmly along the deck with other officers as the ship sank. Lightoller wrote: “They were perfectly calm in the knowledge they had done their duty,”
He continued: “We exchanged the words, ‘Goodbye, old man.’ This occurred shortly before the end and I am not aware that he was seen by anyone after.”
Lightoller’s letter is expected to fetch $20,000 at the same auction on March 2.