Whenever the RMS Titanic is mentioned, the first image that comes into people’s minds is the doomed liner’s fate. Believed by many to be unsinkable, the Olympic-class liner was the epitome of technological advancements at the time. The Titanic’s sinking, however, was a stark reminder in an age where almost anything seemed possible that humankind would never have absolute dominion over the sea.
Titanic’s legacy can be attributed, in part, to the people who sailed on her. Adhering strictly to the class system of the early 20th century, she was to carry everyone from penniless immigrants hoping for a better life in America to some of the richest people in the world. While the former made her operator, White Star Line, a lot of money, the ship itself was designed with the latter in mind – to be the last word in luxury.
During the sinking, this class system played a huge role in determining an individual’s chances of surviving (only one child in first class lost their life), and, because Titanic carried people from all walks of life, everyone can relate to the perils her passengers and crew faced on the fateful night of April 14, 1912. Of the 2,224 souls on board, 1,503 lost their lives when she struck an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic.
But what very people think about when they hear Titanic’s infamous name is what day-to-day life was like for people during the five days between her setting sail from Southhampton and meeting her fate. There were, for example, a number of couples who were on their honeymoon on board the ship, and others who had parted from their love, or were returning to America to meet them, during the voyage.
One of these people was the second class passenger, Kate Buss, who wrote a love letter to her fiancé Percy James while on board.
It provides a fascinating insight into what life was like on board the Titanic where the second class accommodation was said to be equivalent to first class on any other ship. The letter itself is now up for auction and is estimated to sell for between $28,341-$35,426 (£20,000 – £25,000).
Written on April 10, 1912, the letter was penned in black ink by Buss after she boarded the ship in Southhampton (it is worth noting that some passengers boarded Cherbourg, France, which is where this letter was posted). In an email to Fox News, it was described by auctioneer Andrew Aldridge as “a superb letter and it has been in the possession of the family since Miss Buss posted it on the Titanic.”
The letter itself is four sides long and acknowledges another letter that Buss received from James on the ship with her writing that she had “notified her mother and Mrs. Lingham.”
“I’ve been quite alright – but now feel dead tired & more fit for bed than anything,” Buss wrote. “Have to go to dinner-tea in half an hour.”
Prior to setting sail, the Titanic’s interior was photographed. This is the second class dining room where Buss would have eaten:
“Mr. Peters spent about an hour on the vessel + they might easily have spent another without waste of time,” Buss continued. “The first class apartments are really magnificent & unless you had first seen them you would think the second class were the same.”
Pictured below is a second class cabin on board the Titanic:
Buss notes in her letter that the ship had not yet reached Cherbourg, but that she was able to send mail, adding, “I think I’d best try & get some postcards of the vessel.”
Even though Buss was a second class passenger, she had not paid for a single stateroom and was, therefore, sharing with another passenger who, according to the letter, had not yet arrived on the ship.
The then 36-year-old also revealed in her letter that two clergymen who were sitting at her table had advised her to eat a good lunch, one of whom likely played a pivotal role during the ship’s sinking.
Aldrige said in his email to Fox News that these men were most likely Father Byles, Rev. Harper or Rev. Robert Bateman, as they “were all Second Class passengers so it’s conceivable she could have been sat with one of them.”
Father Byles, pictured below, famously stayed on board the ship during the sinking so that he could comfort its stricken passengers until the end, hearing their last confessions and giving them absolution. Rev. Harper and Bateman also died on board the ship.
“Must clear & have a wash now,” Buss wrote, concluding the letter. “Will pop this in the [mail] in case I’m seasick tomorrow. PW brought a box of chocolates – shouldn’t wonder if I’m like Jim Buss & get it the other way. Give my love to all enquirers – must go.
Much love Kate.”
The full transcript of Buss’ amazing letter is below:
“To Percy James
I received yours on vessel today, have posted mother & Mrs Lingham from Cherbourg. This I think will go out from Queenstown tomorrow. I’ve been quite alright – but now feel dead tired & more fit for bed than anything. Have to go to dinner-tea in half an hour, Percy.
Mr Peters spent about an hour on the vessel + they might easily have spent another without waste of time. The first class apartments are really magnificent & unless you had first seen them you would think the second class were the same. We were due to reach Cherbourg at 5pm, but not there yet altho the mail is cleared. I think I’d best try & get some postcards of the vessel. My fellow passenger hasn’t turned up yet, so if she is coming it will be from Cherbourg or Queenstown. I was advised to eat well so had a good lunch – two clergymen opposite me at table. No sign of sea sickness yet – I mustn’t crow. Hedley & P.W. both kissed me goodbye so I wasn’t made to feel too lonely. HP set PW the example tho’ it was done quite as a matter of course without a word. I’ve only sent Mrs Lingham a card I’m so fearfully tired I do not feel I can write more tonight or I would write to Elsie – The only thing I object to is new paint so far.
Must clear & have a wash now. Will pop this in the post in case I’m sea sick tomorrow. PW brought a box of chocolates – shouldn’t wonder if I’m like Jim Buss & get it the other way. Give my love to all enquirers – must go.
Much love Kate.”
Buss was traveling to America to marry James, and, thankfully she was one of the lucky people who survived the sinking. The pair, who are pictured above, married as planned on May 11 in San Diego, California.
Speaking about her grandmother’s experience on board the ship, Buss’s grandson, Ronald Lane, said, “Grandmother did not relish recalling the harrowing experience, preferring to talk about the people she met on the voyage.”