NEW YORK, NY -- In the weeks before the maiden voyage of the Titanic, posters in various sizes hung in railway stations and White Star Line ticket offices introducing the “First Sailing of the Latest Addition to the White Star Fleet ... The Queen of the Ocean ... TITANIC.” The broadside touts the might behind Titanic’s construction, noting the ship's 45,000 tons, its 882 1/2 foot length, its 92 1/2 foot cross beam, and the triple-screws used to build “This, the Latest, Largest and Finest Steamer Afloat.” While the poster clearly advertises Titanic as the White Star Line’s greatest marvel to date, it also provides some specific information indicative of its target audience: third-class rates for passage on Titanic from Southampton, England or Queensland, Ireland to New York departing April 10, 1912.
Besides advertising the ship, in this specific size of 11 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches, the broadside also found practical usage among third-class ticketholders. This poster is sometimes described as a “railway warrant,” a kind of permit given at railway stations and ticket offices to purchasers of third-class tickets, and it provided train transport to the passenger’s port of departure. With the current broadside, a third-class passenger was offered rail transport from London or Liverpool to Southampton or if in Ireland to Queenstown, Titanic’s final port of call on April 11th. While most first-class passengers boarded Titanic at Southampton or at Cherbourg, France on April 10th, at Queenstown it is known that 113 of the 123 people who boarded held third-class tickets, many of whom also would have held railway warrants.
Only a handful of these small broadsides are extant today, somewhat surprising given the public fanfare over Titanic and the fact these were posted in offices on land. But perhaps as railway warrants more of these were carried onto the ship by third-class passengers than previously realized. Two railway warrants tied to specific passengers who died on Titanic are worthy of discussion here.
David John Bowen was a 20 year Welsh boxer who along with another boxer, Leslie Williams, boarded Titanic at Southampton as third-class passengers bound to America for a series of championship fights. The two were originally scheduled to cross the ocean on the Lusitania the week before but were delayed in waiting for a suit for Williams to be completed. Bowen received his railway warrant at Tenby Station which was subsequently heavily stenciled with ticket numbers by agents. At Queenstown on the morning of April 11th while the ship boarded the passengers mentioned above, Bowen wrote a letter to his mother and enclosed the warrant. His body was never recovered.
Another railway warrant is known to have been issued to the 21 year Scottish violinist – and now famous Titanic band member – John “Jock” Law Hume, who "In Liverpool ... collected a rail warrant for the last leg of the journey" to Southampton. Hume had played on five transatlantic voyages already and was recruited to perform on Titanic. When the iceberg was hit, Hume joined members of the band playing in the first class lounge, but eventually the group put on scarves and moved to the deck where it is known the band played until the end. Hume’s body was recovered and he is buried at Nova Scotia.
So from the boxer to the band-member, Titanic railway warrants humanize those who carried them. It is ultimately unknown how many railway warrants were issued and carried onto Titanic and went down with the ship. The railway warrants become quite evocative of a passenger’s final moments both on land and at sea: we can imagine a third-class passenger collecting the railway warrant on land and hurriedly folding it and stuffing it into the pocket of an overcoat. We can also imagine the railway warrant being discovered as the demise of Titanic became imminent and used to dash off a final note to a loved one which hopefully was then spirited away on a descending lifeboat by a survivor promising to make the delivery. We can also imagine them carried to the bottom of the sea by the 76% of third-class passengers who died aboard Titanic.
Titanic artifacts continue to thrill collectors as the enormity of the event, from the promise of the unsinkable ship to the disaster that caused over 1,500 to perish, ignites the imagination. Titanic hangs in our memory as this broadside hung in railway stations and White Star Line ticket offices, luring all walks of life onto Titanic for the chance to cross the ocean on the finest steamer the world had ever known.
For information on Jock Hume, see Christopher Ward, And the Band Played On... London: 2011.
Travel, Natural History, Americana & Sporting Books
A rare Titanic railway warrant is a highlight of the Travel, Natural History, Americana & Sporting Books auction closing on June 17, 2020 beginning at 10am. View Lot