The RMS Carpathia, carrying 743 passengers, left New York on April 11, 1912, bound for a Mediterranean cruise. But a different purpose was in store for the Cunard Line ship—rescuing the survivors of the Titanic.
While crossing the Atlantic early on April 15th, Carpathia’s captain, Arthur Rostron, nicknamed “Electric Spark” for his energy and quick decision making, responded to Titanic’s distress calls and sped for her last given location. With six icebergs to steer around, the Carpathia reached Titanic’s lifeboats just before sunrise. Four hours later, the 712 survivors were aboard Carpathia, and the lifeboats were hoisted aboard.
Lifeboats from the Titanic approaching the Carpathia
Women from the Titanic lined the rails, still watching for their husbands, fathers, and sons. As they were led away in tears, the Carpathia set a new course for New York City. While the world awaited the names of survivors and details of what happened to Titanic, the Carpathia passengers and crew set about caring for the injured, cold, and grief-stricken. Passengers shared their clothing, blankets, and toiletries. Some gave up or shared their cabins. Captain Rostron himself gave his cabin to three Titanic women who were now widows, including Mrs. John Jacob Astor. Plenty of hot drinks and meals were prepared and distributed among the various public rooms holding the majority of survivors. Women from both ships turned blankets into long makeshift dresses for children who had been wearing only nightgowns in the lifeboats.
Groups of Titanic survivors aboard the Carpathia
Most Titanic passengers kept to themselves, too exhausted or in shock to want to socialize. Some sent wireless messages to loved ones or employers. Harold Bride, Titanic’s surviving wireless operator, rested his frostbitten feet and helped send the messages.
Partial list of Titanic passengers aboard the Carpathia
The Carpathia arrived in New York in the evening of April 18th, stopping at White Star Line’s Pier 59 to unload Titanic’s lifeboats. Titanic crewmen rowed them ashore, their last task for the ill-fated liner. Dozens of small boats surrounded the Carpathia, as reporters on the boats shouted questions to the crew through megaphones. She then docked at Pier 54, the Cunard Line dock.
Crowd waiting at Pier 54 for the Carpathia
A crowd of close to 40,000 waited in the cold rain. Many were hoping to meet loved ones from the Titanic, not knowing for sure yet if they had survived. Titanic passengers left the ship first, followed by those who had boarded the Carpathia one week earlier. While happy reunions took place for many in the crowd, others waited for hours and finally left in tears when all passengers had disembarked and their loved one was not among them.
Harold Bride is carried off the Carpathia
Those passengers met by relatives or friends were led to cars or taxis. Others who had no one to meet them were taken to New York’s St. Vincent’s Hospital or assisted by relief agencies. Following the Senate inquiry into the disaster, Titanic’s surviving crewmembers returned to England and most returned to work at sea.
Pier 54 today
Captain Rostron of the Carpathia was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress, knighted by King George V, and became Commodore of the entire Cunard fleet. The Carpathia served as a troop transport ship during World War I. She was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1918, killing five crewmen. All other passengers and crew were rescued before she sank west of Land’s End in Cornwall.
Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica, Library of Congress, Wikipedia