Archive for July 24th, 2019

TITANIC Survivor Ella White’s walking stick sells for c.£50000

July 24, 2019

Mrs. White made her way during the chaos of that fateful April 15, 1912 evening into a lifeboat carrying her black enamelled  walking stick complete with an amber coloured bakelite battery illuminated crown.

Walter Lord, in his landmark book A Night To Remember, wrote, “Mrs. J. Stuart (Ella) White didn’t help row No. 8, but she appointed herself a sort of signalman. She had a cane with a built-in electric light, and during most of the night she waved it fiercely about attempting to signal rescue ships.” Mrs. White was a star witness in court hearings that followed where newspapers recounted her tale of the illuminated walking stick (cane). Remarkably, that walking stick remained with her family, which now, more than a century later, has consigned it to Guernsey’s for sale.

Mrs. Ella White boarded the Titanic as a first class passenger in Cherbourg, France on April 10, 1912. A New Yorker, White had been travelling through Europe and was headed back to New York by way of the Titanic’s maiden voyage. During her European travels, she injured her foot causing her to use a cane to support her balance. Unforeseen to her, this cane would serve a historically valiant and fortuitous purpose beyond aiding her injury.

Mrs. White boarded the ship and retreated to her first-class apartment on deck C where she stayed with Miss Young (a close friend accompanying White on the journey) and her maid and did not vacate until the collision. On the night of April 14, 1912, as Mrs. White was resting in bed, she felt a slight tremor, which she describes as follows: “There did not seem to me that there was any very great impact at all. It was just as though we went over about a thousand marbles. There was nothing terrifying about it at all.” Mrs. White who was seated in her bed on deck C of the Titanic at this fateful moment was not roused by any ship officer or crew member alerting her to the collision. Despite a rather nonchalant reaction, Mrs. White, Miss Young, her maid, and manservant all departed from their first class apartment to the upper deck of the ship.

Upon White’s arrival to the upper deck, she noted it was populated with passengers who were simply standing around waiting to know the result of the collision. It was not until Captain Smith came by and ordered the passengers to put on life preservers that the situation was communicated to White and her fellow passengers. However, the magnitude of the impending disaster was far from comprehensible at that moment. White recalled men causally smoking cigarettes, husband and wives bidding farewell with the notion that they would be reunited shortly, and sea captains reminding passengers boarding lifeboats to keep their passes as it would be their ticket of re-entry to the Titanic.

Ella White was fortunate enough to be on the top deck of the boat, the sole place of departure of lifeboats. She along with her maid and Miss Young all boarded into lifeboat 8, the second boat to depart from the Titanic into the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. In total, lifeboat 8 contained twenty-two women and four men. The men were assigned the role of oarsman and instructed by the sea captains to row to the light in the distance, drop off the passengers, and row back as soon as possible. Mrs. White remarks that their incompetency resulted in Miss Young and other women having to take over the role of operating the lifeboat.

The members of lifeboat 8, only one of which had any extensive experience operating a boat, indefatigably oared towards the light in the distance for three-quarters of an hour. After this time, the distance between the distant light and the lifeboat did not seem to be lessening by any substantial measure. Unsure if the light they were headed for, the Carpathia, was moving away from them or venturing towards them, the group lost confidence in finding safety there. The group in lifeboat 8 suggested the journey to the distant light seemed daunting and a return to the Titanic could provide for the rescue of a greater number of people.

As lifeboat 8 changed trajectories and sought to find other lifeboats, it proved to be a difficult venture, not due to the proximity of the other boats, but due to the inability to detect them. Unlike the boat in the distance, which was marked by a bright light, the lifeboats’ lamps were “absolutely worth nothing” according to Mrs. White, making the sea of the North Atlantic an impossibly dark place.

Mrs. Ella White had the solution to this problem in her hand. Her black wooden cane offered quite possibly the most luminous light amongst the eighteen lifeboats. She appointed herself as a sort of signalman for the lifeboat, and during most of the night, she waved it about, both helping and causing confusion. As the group in lifeboat 8 turned around and made their way back to the sinking ship, Mrs. Ella White’s cane lit the way amongst the darkness of night in the North Atlantic as the twenty-six members of the lifeboat witnessed the dreadful sinking of the Titanic.

Guernsey’s is honoured to offer this historic cane belonging to Mrs. Ella White in its upcoming Maritime auction. The historic significance of this seemingly banal item is unparalleled. To be equipped with such an instrument, a cane with an electric light, in a time of urgency on this storied evening, is remarkably fortuitous, only adding to the distinction of the item. The use of the cane in lifeboat 8 is recounted in innumerable accounts of the Titanic including Walter Lord’s well-known book A Night to Remember and Michael Davie’s Titanic: The Death and Life of a Legend, as well as Mrs. Ella White’s first-person narrations during the April 1912 hearings, conducted by a special subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee.

What an extraordinary survivors account!

[The Dimensions of the walking stick /  cane: 35″ long x 1.25″ in diameter]