4 Cherbourg To Queenstown

This ship is a monstrous floating Babylon

– Journalist, William Stead

Titanic arrived in Cherbourg, Northern France at 6pm, April 10 1912, at about the same time, the French Liner SS Niagara struck an iceberg, south of New Foundland, while traveling to New York in thick fog. At the time of the collision, the ship had been traveling at a reduced speed as she had been in an ice field since the afternoon. The Niagara Captain Juham, sent out an S.O.S. wireless message immediately after the collision, asking for immediate assistance. Upon inspection of his ship, he found: although water was leaking in due to buckling of the plates below the waterline, it was in no immediate danger. So he sent out another wireless message saying he could make his own way to New York.

Upon Niagara’s arrival in New York, there was little evidence she was badly damaged except for some water in her hold.


As the sun was sinking on the horizon, giving the chalk cliffs of the French coast a reddish glow, a lighthouse perched on the end of a large breakwater indicated Titanic’s entrance into Cherbourg Harbour.

Cap't Smith and his crew.

Captain Smith and the Senior Officers of Titanic.

Back row: Chief Purser Herbert McElroy, 2nd Officer Charles Lightoller, 3rd Officer Herbert Pitman, 4th Officer Joseph Boxhall, 5th Officer Harold Lowe

Front row: 6th Officer James Moody, Chief Officer Henry Wilde, Captain Edward Smith, 1st Officer William Murdoch

Originally scheduled to arrive at Cherbourg, the largest artificial harbour in the world at 5.00pm on 10 April 1912, Titanic was running over an hour late, because of her near miss with the New York while leaving Southampton. After her five-hour journey to Northern France, she finally arrived at 6.30pm. Cherbourg is not a deep-water port, so was not able to accommodate the large steamers. Titanic had to drop anchor in the Roads, just off the Cap de la Hogue, near the Central fort in Cherbourg, while White Star Line’s Tenders Nomadic and Traffic, both built at Harland and Wolff to cater for the large liners at Cherbourg, ferried more passengers, luggage and mail out to Titanic.

A late afternoon squall had built up near Cherbourg Harbour, making the two tenders bounce rather alarmingly towards the massive hull and striking the side of the ship occasionally. Never-the-less, the new passengers, luggage and mail were taken onboard without incident.

Among the 281 new passengers to board at Cherbourg were, the twice married, American billionaire, John Jacob Astor IV with his new wife Madeleine Talmage Astor and Mrs Astor’s nurse. Millionairess Margaret Brown, who is now better known as ‘the unsinkable Molly Brown’ and the Scottish baron and financial director, Sir Cosmo Edmund Duff-Gordon and his wife Lady Lucy Christiana Duff-Gordon also boarded at Cherbourg. At 9.00pm Titanic was ready for the next leg of her journey, the overnight sailing to Queenstown, Southern Ireland.

As Titanic departed, leaving Cherbourg behind her, the more experienced trans-Atlantic travelers settled into familiar routines. While the new travelers wandered the ship, taking in the marvelous splendours of the new ship. As the First class passengers were sipping their after-dinner liqueurs and coffee, the ships orchestra began playing an impromptu concert on A Deck, the first of what was to become a nightly occurrence. By 11.00pm, the concert had run its course. Some of the passengers continued to explore the vessel, and to relax with friends in one of the smoking rooms and lounges, while others decided to retire for the night.

Doug Sweden playing on deck

A child – 6 yr. old, Robert Douglas Spedden, playing with a spinning-top onboard Titanic. Robert survived the Titanic sinking but was tragically killed in a road traffic accident in New York on 8th August 1915.

Titanic’s Mummy

According to this myth, the mummy of an ancient Egyptian Priestess of the Pharaoh Amen-Ra, was placed near the ships bridge in her sarcophagus instead of in the cargo hold. The influence of this ancient priestess affected Captain Smith’s reasoning, subsequently causing him to ignore numerous ice warnings and to fail to order the ship to slow down, before and after the collision with the iceberg thus dooming Titanic to a disastrous end.

During Titanic’s maiden voyage, famous journalist and spiritualist, William T, Stead, told the story of Amen-Ra to a group of passengers who had met to discuss the meaning of life. The story, as told by Stead, was as follows:

After the discovery of the Mummy in the early 1890s in Egypt, the purchaser of the Mummy ran into serious misfortune. The Mummy was subsequently donated to the British Museum where it continued to be the cause of mysteries and problems for both the museum’s visitors and staff. Eventually, the Mummy was purchased by William Thomas Stead, who dismissed the claims of a curse as, quirks of circumstance. According to Stead, he arranged for the mummy to be concealed under his car, fearing that, because of its reputation, it would not otherwise be taken onboard the Titanic.

The meeting spawned curiosity among the attending passengers, who wondered if the Mummy was actually on the vessel. After the disaster, many imagined, fabricated stories were born and published in the press as Titanic’s ‘Mummy Passenger’. The Mummy of the Priestess of Amen-Ra was actually still on display at the British Museum in London – who had owned it since 1889 – at the time of the Titanic sinking.

The only survivor of the group of eight who were told the original story by William T. Stead, was Frederick K. Steward, who had sat next to Stead at Titanic’s saloon table, was later asked about the Mummy story and replied that he would not dare repeat the story told by Stead. After transferring to Carpathia following Titanic’s sinking. Steward recounted his meeting with Stead. He said Stead’s reason for traveling to America was to assist with the New York campaign of ‘The Men And Religion Forward Movement’.

Steward remarked that Stead talked much about spiritualism. He continued, “He told a story of a Mummy case in the British Museum which, he said, had had amazing adventures, but which punished with great calamities any person who wrote its story. He told of one person after another who, he said, had come to grief after writing the story, and added that, although he knew it, he would never write it. He did not say whether ill-luck attached to the mere telling of it.”

Since the ship’s sinking in 1912, an elaborate story has persevered:

“The Princess of Amen-Ra lived some 1,500 years before Christ. When she died, she was laid in an ornate wooden coffin and buried deep in a vault at Luxor, on the banks of the Nile. In the late 1890s, four rich, young, Englishmen visiting the excavations at Luxor were invited to buy an exquisitely fashioned Mummy case containing the remains of Priestess of Amen-Ra.”

“They drew lots. The man who won paid several thousand pounds and had the coffin taken to his hotel. A few hours later, he was seen walking out towards the desert. He never returned. The next day, one of the remaining three men was shot by an Egyptian servant accidentally. His arm was so severely wounded it had to be amputated. The third man in the foursome found on his return home that the bank holding his entire savings had failed. The fourth man suffered a severe illness, lost his job and was reduced to selling matches in the street.”

“Nevertheless, the coffin reached England (causing other misfortunes along the way), where it was bought by a London businessman. After three of his family members had been injured in a road accident and his house damaged by fire, the businessman donated the coffin to the British Museum. As the coffin was being unloaded from a truck in the museum courtyard, the truck suddenly went into reverse and trapped a passer-by. As the casket was being lifted up the stairs by two workmen, one fell and broke his leg. The other, apparently in perfect health, died unaccountably two days later. Once the Priestess was installed in the Egyptian Room, trouble really started. The Museum’s night watchmen frequently heard frantic hammering and sobbing from the coffin. Other exhibits in the room were also often hurled about at night. One watchman died on duty; causing the other watchmen wanting to quit and cleaners also refused to go near the Priestess. When a visitor derisively flicked a dust cloth at the face painted on the coffin, his child died of measles soon afterwards. Finally, the authorities had the Mummy carried down to the basement, figuring it could not do any harm down there. Within a week, one of the helpers was seriously ill, and the supervisor of the move was found dead at his desk.”

“By now, the papers had heard of it. A journalist photographer took a picture of the Mummy case and when he developed it, the painting on the coffin was of a horrifying human face. The photographer went home, locked his bedroom door and shot himself”.

“Soon afterwards, the Museum sold the Mummy to a private collector. After continual misfortune (and deaths), the owner banished it to the attic. A well known authority on the occult, Madame Helena Blavatsky, visited the premises. Upon entry, she was seized with a shivering fit and searched the house for the source of “an evil influence of incredible intensity”. She finally came to the attic and found the Mummy case. “Can you exorcise this evil spirit?” asked the owner. “There is no such thing as exorcism. Evil remains evil forever. Nothing can be done about it. I implore you to get rid of this evil as soon as possible”. But no British museum would take the Mummy; the fact that almost 20 people had met with misfortune, disaster or death from handling the casket, in barely 10 yrs., was now well known.”

“Eventually, a hard-headed American archaeologist – who dismissed the happenings as quirks of circumstance – paid a handsome price for the Mummy and arranged for its removal to New York. In April of 1912, the new owner escorted its treasure aboard a sparkling, new White Star liner about to make its maiden voyage to New York.”

“On the night of April 14, amid scenes of unprecedented horror, the Priestess of Amen-Ra accompanied 1,500 passengers to their deaths at the bottom of the Atlantic. The name of the ship was Titanic…”

What happened next, is not known.

As with many myths, the people mentioned in a good story are not anything other than people. No names are actually mentioned, as names can be verified and confirmed, so when names are not mentioned, verification can never be confirmed, thus making the story just that, a story. One name is mentioned however, the name of Madame Helena Blavatsky. Helena Blavatsky was a scholar of ancient wisdom literature, who was born in the Ukraine, Russia in 1831 and died in the Ukraine in 1891. The previous story placed the Mummy of the Priestess of Amen-Ra as being discovered at Luxor in the 1890s. This makes the chances of a Helena Blavatsky, a Russian citizen, encountering the Mummy in England as being next to impossible.

The Priestess of Amen-Ra, although renowned as ‘The Unlucky Mummy’, is not actually a Mummy at all. It is, in fact, a painted plaster and wood lid or the inner top of a coffin contained within the sarcophagus. This painted lid of an unidentified woman is 162 centimetres or 64 inches long. The painted surface includes a woman’s hands protruding from the plaster covered wooden mummy-board. The original owner is unknown, although the British Museum in London acquired it from someone in 1889. The Mummy board is dated between 950 – 900 B.C. and the only times in its history at the British Museum it was ever removed from display was during WWI and WWII, when it was put into storage for safety. In 1990, it was temporarily displayed at two venues in Australia and also formed part of an exhibition in Taiwan at the Taiwan National Palace Museum between 4 February and 27 March 2007and was also the subject of a press conference at the same time. The Mummy board is generally displayed in room 62 at the British Museum in London, with the identification number of 22542.

Titanic Mummy

The cover of a Pearson’s magazine from 1909, featuring a story of the Mummy

The British Journalist and Spiritualist William T. Stead did not survive the Titanic sinking. He is involved in another Titanic Myth, where he had earlier predicted his own death.

~ ~ ~ ~

In the mid morning of 11 April 1912, the grey mountains of Cork, Southern Ireland came within view of Titanic, the day was partly cloudy and relatively warm. A brisk wind greeted Titanic as she graciously slipped into the Harbour at Queenstown at 11.30am, to pick up a further 113 Third Class and seven Second Class passengers, while seven passengers disembarked, including Father Francis Browne, a Jesuit trainee, who had taken many photographs onboard Titanic, since her departure from Southampton the previous day. The last known photograph of Titanic – that of her departing Cork Harbour is credited to Francis Browne.

Cork Harbour is one of several that lay claim to being the second largest natural harbour in the world, but is unable to cater for large vessels. The two tenders from the White Star office situated at Queenstown, Ireland and America, would have to ferry the boarding passengers and transport the disembarking passengers to shore. The boarding passengers had started gathering at the White Star Line Office hours before Titanic’s arrival. Some trekking as much as twenty miles to reach the ship that was to take them to the New World.

At 1.30pm Titanic’s whistles let out a long blast shortly before weighing Anchor and beginning her westward journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Queenstown was a seafaring port, with the gathering crowd every bit as knowledgeable and eager as the crowd that had seen Titanic off at Southampton. They had watched in admiration as the great ship slid past the heads, then slowly rounded Roche Point, before dropping anchor two miles offshore.

One more, short stop was made at the Daunt Light-ship to drop off the pilot, who had guided the great ship in and out of Cork Harbour. Captain Smith began charting his course into the Atlantic, taking full advantage of the Irish Coast and giving his passengers the full benefit of the glorious view. By mid-afternoon, Titanic had cleared the Stags and Kedge Island. By Teatime the Fastnet Light, about 55 nautical miles or 102 kilometres from Queenstown, was in site.

Last known photo of Titanic

The last known photograph of Titanic as she left Queenstown April 11, 1912

By nightfall, Ireland was behind them, many of the Irish migrants had gathered on the Poop deck and stern to catch the last glimpses of their homeland.

Many passengers were glimpsing the last sight of land before they were to set foot on American soil, not knowing the experiences that awaited them. Before the American coastline would be in sight, many experiences to be faced – experiences and memories that would last a lifetime for those lucky enough to see land again. Many good people and loved ones that would have to be mourned.


TITANIC: The Legend, myths and folklore Copyright © 2013 by Bruce Alpine. All Rights Reserved.

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