'...the presence of bergs was being reported by almost every ship that crossed the Atlantic since April 1st.'
The Tavistock Gazette of April 19th 1912 has a long account of the sinking of the Titanic so Bookhound and I took ourselves down to the library this week to tame the microfich machine and read it, and how fascinating it was...
'There is much conflict between official and unofficial statements, but it seems that the Titanic struck an iceberg at 10.25pm on Sunday night and foundered at 2.20am... one of the captains of the Allan liners which run between Glasgow and New York recently passed a berg fully 200ft high and nearly a quarter of a mile long... the proximity of the bergs is usually indicated by a sudden lowering of temperature of the air and water. Now and then a ship's crew, passing close have seen a Polar bear stranded on the floe...the largest recorded berg is estimated to have been nearly 900ft high; this would mean that there would be over 8000ft that could not be seen...'
In other local news the same week...
'The cuckoo was heard in Grammarby Wood on Wednesday afternoon...'
'Swallows have been seen in the neighbourhood of Brentor during the past week...'
'Tavistock bachelors gave an invitation whist drive and dance in the Town Hall...'
'We regret to announce that Mrs Hayne, wife of the Vicar, died on Tuesday evening at Buckland Monachorum Vicarage. She was 92 last May...'
'The entire electricity supply of Liverpool failed without the slightest warning shortly before nine o'clock on Monday night...exciting scenes were witnessed in the theatres..the darkness and gloom sent many women into hysterics. It was some time before normal conditions were restored.'
Whilst internationally ...
'Chicago mothers, anxious for the welfare of their daughters, have decided to form a 'card index' of eligible bachelors.'
'The whale is doomed and is becoming scarcer and scarcer every year. Unless man desists from hunting these marine monsters they will soon be nothing but a dim memory...'
'The world's largest cheese, 8ft in diameter and weighing slightly over 12,000lb was recently manufactured at Appleton, Wisconsin..'
And then more temptations to emigrate if anyone could now face an Atlantic crossing..
By April 19th latest reports suggested that only 675 passengers from the Titanic had survived, leaving 1635 unaccounted for, this after early reports had stated that everyone had been saved. In fact the final death toll was 1514.
We had heard it was the grandest memorial in Tavistock cemetery, distinctive white marble that would stand out amongst the slate and granite headstones we are more accustomed to down here, so as Bookhound and I walked through we decided that scanning the horizon across the graves might do the trick.
It wasn't difficult to spot, and eerily almost iceberg white against a backdrop of the neat avenue of well-manicured yew trees.
Eighteen year old Harry Rogers had been born into the family of the town's leading stonemason's J.S. Rogers and Son Ltd in July 1893 so a special memorial was well within the family's capabilities. Harry's grandparents lived at 25 Westbridge Cottages where they raised ten children including Harry's father John Giles Rogers who worked in the family business. These were the riverside Duke of Bedford cottages I mentioned recently in connection with Team Middlemarch, and Dorothea's philanthropic venture into worker's cottages.
As you can see each cottage is compact and tiny. I have visited families of four in these and the seams are bursting, so it is hard to visualize twelve people living in one, and even harder to imagine what the area may have looked like in the late 1800s, surrounded as they are now by new housing, a Texaco garage opposite and a Morrison's supermarket down the road, to say nothing of Tavistock College campus on the other side of the river.
Harry's father John and his mother Emma lived just up the road in Ford Street where the houses and the width of the street probably do resemble of old, and with only a Spar shop to spoil the illusion, but John had died at the age of thirty-one in 1903, when Harry was ten and Harry's mother re-married two years later.
Harry, educated at the local school, worked for a while at the town's Bedford Hotel, a favourite newspaper and coffee sojourn for Bookhound and I these days. There seem to be conflicting stories about why Harry chose to go to America and how he managed to pay the fare, but what is certain is that he was heading for the city of Wilkes Barre in Pennsylvania where an Uncle and Aunt were going to look after him while he searched for work.
Who can imagine the farewells or how Harry's mother may have felt... Harry's return seems unlikely in the short term at least, so it would have been a real goodbye.
Like many of the Titanic's passengers, Harry had originally booked his passage on another ship affected by the coal strike, and so the Titanic, at a cost of ten guineas, was not his first choice, but he does seem to have been able to afford to travel second class, so considerably more comfortable than steerage. It all seems like a very big adventurous thing for a Tavy lad to do in 1912.
And who knows perhaps he came home before he set off and dropped into W.E.Baker & Co to buy a trunk for the voyage...
And there in the top left corner of that same front page an advert for the family business, The Tavistock Marble and Monumental Works at 14 Ford Street, in amongst the other day to day wants of rural life...ploughs and manure, best raw Peruvian guano, realiable rat poison that cats and dogs will not touch, Harrison's Nursery Pomade...kills all Nits and Vermin whilst beautifying and strengthening the hair.
Harry's letter sent home to his mother from Queenstown suggest all was well and they were living like gentlemen. Doubtless all very exciting for an impressionable eighteen year old on his way to a new life after the constraints of a life lived on the edge of sleepy old Dartmoor, and for some time in Cornwall where Harry had also worked as a waiter.
It is clear that though a third of the male passengers from first class did survive, less than a tenth of those from second class were so fortunate and Harry one of those whose remains were never found. Obviously young single men would be the sacrifice when it came to places in lifeboats.
It is hard to imagine the impact of such a loss on a local family, even trying to imagine the enormity of the ship seems impossible. Who can know, perhaps they had at some time travelled the fifteen miles into Plymouth and seen the ocean-going liners docked there, but that may only have made trying to understand what had befallen this huge 'unsinkable' ship even more impossible.
As rumour and uncertainty stalked the newspapers of the day, accurate and reliable news would have been very slow in reaching the backwoods of rural Devon, so it becomes even harder to imagine how long Harry's mother may have clung onto the hope that her son would have survived, perhaps he'd suddenly arrive back in town on a train one day having travelled up on the Great Western Railway from Plymouth. He'd walk down through town from the station and appear at the front door.
Emma must have hoped for a long time before the truth finally became a reality for her.