Indian stories from The Titanic

Apr 15, 2012, 06:50 IST | Anuradha Gupta

On the 100th anniversary of one of the biggest maritime disasters in history, untold memoirs from the decks of the RMS Titanic include that of a crewman from Jhansi, and a Telugu-speaking Englishwoman who struggled to find an empty seat on a lifeboat. Read their accounts of the fateful night of April 15, 1912

Henry Ryland Dyer, crewman
Born on December 21, 1887 to Thomas and Jemima Dyer, a British couple living in Jhansi in India, Henry Ryland Dyer probably received a large part of his education in India before he travelled to England.

Henry Dyer The 24 year-old joined the Titanic as a crewman after receiving a promotion, but did not survive the sinking

After studying engineering in the UK for four years, he got a job with the world’s largest ship company, the White Star Line, in 1908. In 1911, Henry received a promotion when he was given the opportunity to work on board the big White Star liner Olympic, and the following year he was appointed to the Titanic as Senior Assistant Fourth Engineer. The 24 year-old was on board the vessel at the time of her sinking, and recovery ships never found his body.

On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage, a collection of letters, postcards and memoirs written by passengers and crewmen before, during and after the Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage

Mary Dunbar Hewlett, passenger
Mary Dunbar Hewlett lived with her older son in Lucknow, but in 1912 she decided to travel to New York to visit her younger son. For the last part of her journey from India to America she travelled second-class on the Titanic, having embarked at Southampton. An interview with Mary in an old copy of the Evanston Daily News newspaper goes, “A moment after the collision, I was awakened by a noise in the hallway. I noticed the engines had stopped. I opened my door and asked the steward what was the cause of the commotion and he assured me that nothing was wrong.” But she headed for the liner’s upper deck. “On my way I noticed most passengers strapping lifebelts on themselves. I met a man with two lifebelts and asked him for one. He gave me one and I strapped it on myself. ” She later told the Evanston Daily News, “When I got into the lifeboat it was nearly filled and there were more men than women.” Hewlett survived the sinking and was rescued by the Carpathia in Lifeboat 13. After concluding her visit to her son in the United States, Mary made plans to return to Lucknow, India, and, according to the last available information, she followed through with her travel plans and died in Nainital, on May 9, 1917.

Ruth Elizabeth Becker, passenger
Ruth Elizabeth Becker was born in India and was just 12 years old when she boarded the Titanic at Southampton. She travelled from India to America along with her mother and two younger brothers. Ruth had a language problem on the ship because her English had a heavy Telugu accent. At the moment of the collision she was sleeping. Her mother shook her awake.

Ruth Elizabeth Becker Born in India, she was just 12 years old when she boarded the Titanic, and spoke in heavily-accented Telugu

In her interview she said, “My mother was screaming, ‘get out of bed immediately. The boat has hit an iceberg and we’re supposed to go up on the boat deck.’” When she and her family reached the boat deck she found that lifeboats were being loaded with passengers. Lifeboat 11 was already full, but Ruth’s mother and younger brothers somehow found places while Ruth was still trying to find an empty seat. Ruth was left standing on the deck of the Titanic, at which point her mother screamed “Ruth! Get in another boat!!” Ruth eventually found a seat in Lifeboat 13, and she reached the Carpathia safely.

Miss Annie Clemmer Funk, passenger
Annie Funk was sent to India as the first female Mennonite missionary in December 1906. In 1907 she opened a one-room school for girls in Janjgir in Chhatisgarh and learnt Hindi.

Annie turned 38 on the Titanic on April 12. According to an old copy of the Paterson Morning Call newspaper, “On the night of the sinking, she was about to enter a lifeboat, when a woman pushed her aside and started calling, “My children.” The last seat in the boat was gone, and Annie had to step back. She died. In her memory, her school in India is called the Annie Funk Memorial School.

Quotes have been modified. Courtesy i next

Author George Behe recounts
“IN 1912 India was considered a remote area, far-removed from the Western world, and its customs were unfamiliar to most Americans and Britishers who had no exposure to that area of the world.

However, it was for that very reason that several of the Titanic’s future passengers travelled to India. Annie Funk, for instance, wished to devote her life to caring for others and teaching them about the Christian religion, and her calling drew her to India to work with the country’s most underprivileged people. Ruth Becker’s father was another Christian missionary who travelled to India for that same purpose, but he had no idea that his decision to live and work in that country would expose his little boy to unfamiliar diseases and that sending his wife and children back to the United States would nearly cost him his entire family.”  

Go to top