Esther Hart was never very keen on the idea of going to Winnipeg. When her husband Benjamin announced his decision to leave Ilford, England and strike out for a new life in Canada, she was immediately apprehensive. But times were hard in the building industry and her husband’s business was suffering. One fateful day, an old friend stopped in to visit. He was an enthusiastic resident of Winnipeg, who had much to say about the booming economy in the Manitoba capital. Benjamin was instantly taken with the idea that emigration would be the answer to his troubles and would give him the potential of a prosperous future. Winnipeg it would be.
Esther and Benjamin along with their young daughter, Eva Hart, were given a festive send off by their friends in Ilford.
Eva and her mother survived the sinking, having spent a harrowing night in the lifeboats, but Benjamin was lost. Mother and daughter immediately returned to England.
Eva became one of the best known survivors of the Titanic and frequently gave interviews in her later years. Click here to listen to a BBC radio radio interview with Eva Hart in 1987.
Esther Hart also shared her story of the tragedy in the Ilford Graphic where she described her feelings and experiences in detail.
Ilford Graphic, Friday, May 10, 1912
The Tale of the “Titanic” told by a rescued Ilford lady. Mrs Ben Hart’s personal and thrilling Narrative. Exclusive to the “Ilford Graphic”
I can honestly say that from the moment the journey to Canada was mentioned, till the time we got aboard the Titanic I never contemplated with any other feelings but those of dread and uneasiness. It was all done in a hurry. My husband of late had not been successful in business and things looked like going from bad to worse.
He was a very clever carpenter and his chest of tools was considered to be as perfect and expensive as any carpenter could wish for. At any rate he valued them at £100. He was going out to start building with a Mr Wire at Winnipeg. Mr Wire has since written to me expressing his deep regret at Ben’s untimely loss, and adding. “There were five Winnipeg men lost on the Titanic and I might have been one of them.”
The idea seized on Ben’s imagination. “I’ll go out to a new country,” he said. “Where I’ll either sink or swim.” In fact, during the time prior to our leaving Ilford, the latter statement was always in his mouth. I little knew then how sadly prophetic it was to turn out for my poor dear.
I said at the commencement that I viewed the journey with dread and uneasiness, but in saying that I do not wish anyone to think that I ever imagined anything so dreadful would happen as did happen. You see I was leaving my father and mother when they were at fairly advanced age, and neither of them in the best of health and I knew that in saying goodbye, I was saying goodbye forever: but it has pleased God to take my husband and send me back to them. Then I was leaving all the friends I had known in Ilford for so many years: and lastly, I dreaded the sea: the idea of being on the sea at night was bad enough, but for six or seven, I could not contemplate it, it was a nightmare to me.
Well, we said all our “Good-byes” and reached Southampton, and almost the first thing Ben did was take me to see the Titanic. He was always an enthusiastic in anything he was interested in: and he could not have been more enthusiastic over the Titanic had he been a part proprietor of it. “There! old girl,” he said, “there’s a vessel for you! You’re not afraid now.” I tried to share his confidence, but my heart quite failed me when we got aboard and I counted the number of boats there were. I said, “Ben, we are carrying over 2,000 people and there are not enough boats for half of them if anything happens.” He laughed at my fears and said that beyond boat drills he did not expect the boats would come off the davits. But from that moment I made up my mind to one thing, till we were safe on land at New York.
Nothing should ever persuade me to undress, and nothing did, although Ben at times got very cross with me. So each night I simply rested in my bunk, fully dressed and fully prepared. God knows why, for the worst.
We were fortunate in having some very nice people at our table. We were in parties of eight in the second saloon, and our party included a lady and gentleman from the Cape, Mr and Mrs Brown and their daughter, who were on their way to Vancouver. Mr Guggenheim’s (a millionaire) chauffeur, (both Mr and Mrs Guggenheim and he were drowned), a lady named Mrs Mary Mack, whose body has since been recovered, and Mr Hart, myself, and baby.
Mr Brown and Ben got on capitally together. They were the exact opposite of each other. Mr Brown was a quiet, reserved man who scarcely ever spoke, and dadda was fond of talking and so they got on well, -promenaded the deck together, had their mid-day “Bass” together, and smoked their pipes together. Indeed, Mrs Brown said that she had never seen her husband “take” to anyone like he had to my Ben.
Oh dear! Oh dear! To think that of the eight at the table, four were taken and four were left. I can see them bright, happy faces now as we sat round that table at meal times, talking of the future, they were all so confident, so looking forward to a new life in a new land, and well they found it, but in God’s way, not theirs.
Now a very curious thing happened on the Saturday night. We had made splendid progress, and although I was still far from easy in my mind. I was as content as I could be off the land. I heard someone remark with glee that we were making a bee line for New York. I knew we were going at a tremendous speed, and it was the general talk,-I cannot say what truth there was in it- that the Captain and offers were “on” something good if we broke the record.
But on the Saturday night I was resting in my bunk and my husband was sound asleep above me. Everything was quiet, except the throb of the screw and a strange straining and creaking of everything in the cabin, which I had noticed all the voyage. I may have just dozed off when I was awakened by a feeling as if some gigantic force had given the ship a mighty push behind.-I could even hear the swirl of the waters which such a push to such a vessel would cause. I sat up,-no doubt as to my being wide awake, again came the push and the swirl, and yet again a third time. For a few minutes I was dazed, frozen with terror of I know not what. Then I stood up and shook my husband who still sleeping soundly “Ben,” I said, “Ben wake up,-get up,-something dreadful has happened or is going to happen.” He was a little cross, as a man naturally is when he is woke from a sound sleep by the ungrounded fears (as he thinks) of a woman, but he saw that I was upset, and so he got up and partly dressed, and went up on the hurricane deck, and soon returned and assured me that the sea was calm and that the ship was travelling smoothly.
The next morning at breakfast, he laughingly told our table about it, and said what he was going to do that (Sunday night) to keep me quiet. He was going to insist upon my having a strong glass of hot grog to make me sleep. Mr Brown explained explained the creaking and straining by saying that as it was a new vessel everything was settling down into it’s proper place. “Why,” he said “When we get to New York, it’s more than likely that a lot of the paint will have come away, a lot of the joints have started,” and so on. “That’s all very well,” I said, “but what about those awful jerks one after the other?” That he could not explain, nor anybody else. I say it was a warning from God to me, for I think that perhaps I was the only one of the 2,000 odd about who went in daily and nightly dread of the unforeseen. But had I told it to those in authority! Would anyone have listened to a silly, weak woman’s superstitious fears? Would they have gone one hair’s breadth out of their course? Would they have ordered one revolution less per minute of the screw? So I could only do what women have had to do from the beginning, eat my heart out with fear and wait.
Now if I had known that just at this time of the year the icebergs get across the track of the Atlantic liners, a little incident which occurred on this Sunday would have sent me straight to the Captain, even if I’d have had to climb on to his bridge. But the simple things we ought to know we are never told. My husband was always a man who could bear extremes of heat and cold better than anyone I have ever met. All through those trying days of heat last year, when everyone else was melting and parched, he never once grumbled, but kept as cool as a cucumber. And the same with the cold. I have known him, when other people have been hanging over the fires, in and out of the house with his coat off, laughing at the poor shivering ones. And yet at mid day on this fatal Sunday, he suddenly came up to baby and myself, and said rubbing his hands, “How cold it has turned. I feel as if there was not a warm drop of blood in my body. Come and have a romp with daddy,” he said to baby, and together they went off and ran and romped on the hurricane desk.
We were in the iceberg region and the Almighty sent a warning to my husband,-the man who was never cold before now shivered and shook like one stricken with ague.
But, beyond thinking it a curious thing, we took no heed.
And now, I come to a part of my story that I shrink from telling. Indeed, I think I have lingered over the first part because I dread relating the events of that awful night. I have read some where of people living a whole lifetime in a few hours. I know now that I have done so. To have gone through what I went through, to have suffered what I have suffered, to have seen what I have seen, to know what I know, and still to be alive, and above all-thank the Lord-to still preserve my reason, is a great and a growing marvel to me.
We had retired to our cabin about 10, and my husband who thoroughly enjoyed the life aboard ship and drank his fill of the ozone,-he could never get enough of it,-was soon undressed and fast asleep in his bunk. My little Eva too was sound asleep, and I was sitting on my portmanteau with my head resting on the side of my bunk. And then all of a sudden there came the most awful sound I have ever heard in my life,-a dreadful tearing and ripping sound,-how any people were awake at the time can say they scarcely felt a shock I cannot understand,-the sound of great masses of steel and iron being violently torn, rent and cut asunder.
I was on my feet in an instant, for I knew something dreadful had happened. I shook Ben, and he awoke. “Daddy.” I said, “get up at once. We have hit something I am sure and it’s serious.” Poor dear Ben! He was partly asleep still, and he said, “Oh woman,-again! I really don’t know what I shall do with you?” “Ben,” I said,-not loudly, but with a quiet insistence which influenced him far more,-something has happened; go up on deck and find out what it is.” He went up in his nightshirt and bare feet; in a few moments he was back again. He said, “All the men are at the lifeboats,-it’s only a lifeboat drill.” I said, “They don’t have lifeboat drills at 11 at night, I tell you something has happened,-dress quickly and let us dress the baby.” So he hurriedly put on his pants and his overcoat, put his big motor coat over me and then dressed the sleeping little girl. Just then a stewardess, with whom I was on friendly terms came along and said she would soon find out all about it. She knew the Marconi operator and would ask him. So she went away and quickly came back saying that everything was all right. But I said, “Everything is not all right, we have struck something and the water is coming in.” I think by this time Ben had realised,-although he would not say so,-that danger was ahead, for when he got up on “B” deck, he turned away for a few moments, and said his Jewish prayers. The next few minutes were so crowded with events, so fraught with all that matters in this world,-life to a few of us,-death to the majority of us,-that I have no coherent recollection of what happened.
I know that there was a cry of “She’s sinking.” I heard hoarse shouts of “Women and children first,” and then from boat to boat we were hurried, only to be told “already full.” Four boats we tried and at the fifth there was room. Eva was thrown in first, and I followed her. Just then, a man who had previously tried to get in, succeeded in doing so, but was ordered out, and the officer fired his revolver into the air to let everyone see it was loaded, and shouted out, “Stand back! I say, stand back! The next man who puts his foot in this boat, I will shoot him down like a dog.” Ben, who had been doing what he could to help the women and children, said quietly, “I’m not going in, but for God’s sake look after my wife and child.” And little Eva called out to the officer with the revolver “Don’t shoot my daddy,-You shan’t shoot my daddy.” What an experience for a little child to go through! At the age of seven to have passed through the valley of the shadow of death. I wonder if she will ever forget it? I know I shan’t, if I live for a hundred years.
So that was the last I saw of my poor lost dear,-no farewell kiss, no fond word,-but in a moment he had gone and we were hanging over the sea,-fifty or sixty feet above it, and then there were two or three horrible jerks as the boat was lowered from the davits and we were in the water, so crowded that we could scarcely move.
In the midst of all these stunning blows one despairing tact alone seized my thoughts: I knew, and a woman is `never wrong in such matters, that I had seen the last of my Ben, and that I had lost the best and truest friend, the kindest and most thoughtful husband that ever a woman had.
The officer in charge of our boat was standing on that raised part of it right at the end. We were all women and children aboard (at least I thought so then, but we were not, as I will presently tell you) and we were all crying and sobbing; and the officer said, not roughly, but I think with a kindly desire to keep our minds off the terrible time we had gone through. “Don’t cry,-please don’t cry. You’ll have something else to do than cry; some of you will have to handle the oars. For God’s sake stop crying. If I had not the responsibility of looking after you I would put a bullet through my brain.” So we got away from the ship for a safe distance, for there was no doubt now about her sinking. The front portion of her was pointing downwards and she appeared to be breaking in halves. Then with a mighty and tearing sob, as of some gigantic thing instinct with life, the front portion of her dived, for that is the only word I can use properly to describe it,-dived into the sea, and the after part with a heavy list, also disappeared. And then a wonderful thing happened. Apart from the swirl of the water close to the vessel, caused by such a mass sinking, the sea was as smooth as glass; it seemed as if the Almighty, in order that as many should be saved as possible had with a merciful hand, smoothed and calmed the waters. For a few moments we could see everything that was happening, for, as the vessel sank, millions and millions of sparks flew up and lit everything around us. And in an instant the sea was alive with wreckage,-with chairs, pillows, and rugs, benches, tables, cushions, and, strangely enough, black with an enormous mass of coffee beans. And the air was full of the awful and despairing cries of drowning men. And we were helpless to help, for we dared not go near them.
Our officer was busy shouting out till he was hoarse, “Let all the boats keep as near together as possible. That’s our only chance of being picked up. If we separate we are lost. Keep together.” An inky blackness now settled over us, and not a soul in our boat had a match; but the officer found in his pockets an electric torch, which he kept flashing, shouting out all the time,- “Keep together,-it’s our only chance.” The duty that the officer allotted to me was to bale the water out of the boat. While sitting there I had the impression that there was somebody near me who ought not to be there. So, when I could get my elbows free I put my hand down under the seat and touched a human form. It was a poor wretch of a man who had smuggled himself into the boat, and had sat there during all that awful time, under the seat in about six inches of water. When we got him out he was so stiff he could scarcely move.
It had got a little lighter now, and our officer had collected nearly all the boats together; and he called from one to the other, “How many in yours-how many in yours?” and then he discovered that there was room in those other boats to put the whole of our fifty-five in, so we were transferred to them, and the officer now collected a few seaman in his now empty boat and rowed away to see what he could find. So, with proper management another fifty-five people could easily have been saved. I cannot understand why, in the midst of such terrible doings, these boats left the ship without their full number of passengers; fifty-five precious lives lost either through selfishness or carelessness, I know not which.
It was no easy matter for me to get from one boat to the other. I am no light weight at the best of times: but now I was weak from want of sleep,-weak with the terror of the night,-and laden with Ben’s heavy motor coat. Eva had been handed in, and I shall never forget my feelings when I saw her leave, and found myself unable to get a footing on the boat she was in. At last I managed it, how I could not tell. Eva was suffering from a violent attack of vomiting: for, when they had thrown her into the first boat from the Titanic she had hit her stomach on the edge of the boat. And there the poor little thing was, and I could not get near her to wipe her mouth. So there we sat the weary night through until at eight in the morning, the Carpathia came on the scene. I always thought that these ship boats had to be provisioned beforehand, in view of possible accidents, but there was no water, nor were there biscuits in the boat. An oversight I suppose: but one fraught with terrible consequences had not the Carpathia arrived in good time.
Gradually the welcome dawn broke; and as the sun rose and we looked at where the sky and sea met, we saw one of the most wonderful sights that could be imagined. Right away there, stretching for miles and miles, there appeared what seemed to us, an enormous fleet of yachts, with their glistening sails all spread. As the sun grew brighter they seemed they seemed to sparkle with innumerable diamonds. They were icebergs; and, moving slowly and majestically along all by itself, a mile or so in length, in form like the pictures of Gibraltar I have seen, was the monster iceberg, the cause of all our trouble.
And now about 8 o’clock the “Carpathia” came into sight and we were all aboard by 8.30. I cannot say much of my life on board this vessel. It was no small matter for a ship to take on another 700 people, many of them but lightly clad, most of them ill, and all suffering severely from shock; all was done for us that could be done: but I could neither rest nor sleep. My little Eva was still suffering from her vomiting attack and I found my hands full in nursing her; but when at night she was asleep, I could do nothing but walk the corridor, up and down, up and down, and thinking, thinking all the time. So much did I walk about at night that the kind hearted sailors christened me The Lady of the Watch.
Well, eventually we arrived at New York. And what can I say of the kindness of the “Women’s Relief Committee,” and the help they rendered us poor stranded souls. Kindness! that’s but a poor word; and yet I can find no other for their intensely practical sympathy. No formulas, no questions. We had got to be helped and that quickly, and quickly they did it. In a short space of time with a speed that seemed incredible, there was a sufficiency of clothing for every destitute woman and child-my women readers will understand me when I say that everything a woman needed was there in abundance-from a blouse to a safety pin, underclothing, stays, stockings, garters, suspenders, hair pins, boots of all sizes, each pair with laces or a button hook in them as was necessary; I have never heard of such foresight. I have never experienced such real kindness. God bless the ladies of the “Women’s Relief Committee of New York,” say I heartily and fervently. Why, Mrs Satterlee actually drove me in her beautiful car to the hotel where I was to stay pending my return to England, and wanted me to go to lunch with her in her house, but my heart was too full for that. She knew the reason and appreciated it like the lady she is. One touching little incident occurred before I sailed for home on the “Celtic,” and that was the receipt of a letter from little children in New Jersey. They had heard of my Eva and they sent her a Dollar bill with a beautiful little letter. I don’t think that bill will ever be changed; for both it and the letter will be framed.
There is but little to add. I returned on the “Celtic” with five other ladies from the “Titanic,” including Mrs Ada Clarke, of Southampton. We were treated with every kindness and consideration . A lady in the first saloon sent out word that whatever we wanted in the way of fruit or any other delicacies not included in our menu, we were to have.
And now I have only one object in life, and that is the future of my little Eva. My lost Ben had such dreams of her future; he meant to do such things for her; and, whatever money I get, apart from the bare cost of the necessities of life, shall be devoted to her up-bringing in such a way as shall realise, as far as my endeavours and finances can go, his wishes with regard to her.
“Slinfold,” Chadwell Heath.
If you are interested in more stories about Winnipeg passengers on the Titanic, please join me for a Titanic discussion on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 2:00 at McNally Robinson Booksellers at the Grant Park shopping centre, Winnipeg.