Documents found from body of Titantic's most controversial passenger

Titanic grief of doomed ship’s director: How survivor cast as a coward in epic movie wrote of his ‘heartfelt sympathy’ to wife of valet who died in 1912 tragedy

  • Valet William Harrison wrote four-page letter to his wife about working conditions under Bruce Ismay 
  • He moaned about how Mr Ismay, highest surviving White Star employee, would make him write long letters
  • Another document that has been uncovered is a telegram from Mr Ismay to his widow four days after sinking
  • They have been unearthed by a direct descendant of Mr and Mrs Harrison and are going on auction 

Fascinating water-stained letters recovered from the body of the assistant to the most controversial person on board the Titanic have emerged 107 years after the ship sunk.

The remarkable archive contains a four-page letter valet William Harrison wrote home to his wife moaning about working under White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay.

There is also a telegram sent by Mr Ismay to Mr Harrison’s widow Ann four days after the disaster in April 1912. 

Mr Ismay was painted out as the villain of the story in James Cameron’s portrayal of the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage. He was the highest-ranking White Star official to survive, something he was heavily criticised for.  

The documents have been unearthed by a direct descendant of the Harrisons and are now being put up for auction for thousands of pounds.   


Fascinating water-stained letters recovered from the body of the assistant to the most controversial person on board the Titanic have emerged 107 years after the ship sunk. The letters from William Harrison talk of his time under Bruce Ismay 

There is also a telegram sent by Mr Ismay to Mr Harrison’s widow Ann four days after the ship sunk in April 1912

Writing from the ship, he told of how he was ‘fed up’ with spending hours writing letters to post for Mr Ismay.

In the telegram sent to Mr Harrison’s widow, he offered his ‘heartfelt sympathy’, adding: ‘Words fail to express my sorrow at your terrible loss. Am overwhelmed by this frightful calamity.’

Among the water-damaged items found in Mr Harrison’s pockets after his drowned body was a super-rare book of sailings for Titanic’s voyages for the rest of 1912.

According to the schedule in the pocket book, the ‘unsinkable’ ship would have made another 13 crossings of the Atlantic had it not sunk.

There was also a soggy letter sent to Mr Harrison by a friend days before Titanic left Southampton that contained the ominous line ‘hope you have a pleasant trip.’

Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of White Star Line, was painted out as the villain of the story in James Cameron’s portrayal of the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage. He was the highest-ranking White star official to survive the disaster, something he was heavily criticised for

Mr Harrison, from Wallasey, Cheshire, died along with over 1,500 others in the disaster.

The 45-year-old’s body was recovered from the water days later and buried in Halifax. His final possessions recovered from his body were sent back to his widow.

They have now been unearthed by a direct descendant who is selling them for a combined £50,000.

Andrew Aldridge, of Henry Aldridge and Son Auctioneers of Devizes, Wiltshire, which is selling the archive, said: ‘This is a superb documentary archive that contains four separate items that were with Harrison on the Titanic.

‘His letter home to his wife was written on board the ship on White Star Line headed paper and posted in Queenstown in Ireland.

‘It has exceptional content that gives a fascinating snapshot into the life of the personal secretary to the managing director of the White Star Line.

‘He addresses his working conditions on board of which he is fed up with and wants a shore-based job in the future, describes the ship itself and even mentions how Titanic has a few improvements from its sister ship, Olympic.

‘Three of the other items have all suffered water damage from where they were on Mr Harrison’s body in the sea after the sinking.

‘The telegram that Mr Ismay sent to Ann Harrison is particularly interesting. He was portrayed as a the villain of the piece for ordering the ship to go faster and for getting into a lifeboat and saving his own life.

A rare photograph shows the Titanic crossing the Solent after setting off from Southampton in April 1912 

Pictured: Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet star as Jack and Rose in James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic 

Pictured is an official White Star Line book of sailing found on William Harrison after the Titanic went down valued at £18,000

The book is dated April 1 1912, days before the Titanic set sail from Southampton on April 10 

‘Ismay never recovered from the disaster and went into a spiral of depression from which he never recovered.

‘The telegram he wrote to his valet’s assistant I am sure was tinged with some guilt on his part as well as genuine sympathy.’

Mr Harrison’s White Star Line official book of sailings for Titanic was printed in March 21, 1912 but amended as late as April 6 – four days before the liner left Southampton.

The 5ins by 3ins book lists Titanic’s sailings through to December 28 together with minimum rates with and without meals.

The book is tipped to sell for £18,000 alone. His letter to his wife is also expected to sell for £18,000 while the water-stained note sent to him is valued at £1,500. The sale takes place on October 19.

William Harrison’s book of accounts valued at £1,500 before they go up for auction later this month 

A record of White Star Line and other ships that had set sail in April 1912. Titanic is listed as setting off from Southampton on April 12 at midday 

The front cover of the official White Star Line records found by a descendant of Bruce Ismay’s assistant William Harrison 

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