Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Dressed for disaster... the clothes two very different ladies wore as Titanic went down

Bertha Mulvihill on her wedding day
Bertha Mulvihill on her wedding day

They came from opposite ends of the Edwardian social spectrum but were both caught up in one of the 20th century's greatest maritime disasters.

And now the two very different women are being commemorated at a major Titanic exhibition.

Garments once owned by two Titanic passengers who survived the iceberg collision in 1912 have gone on display as part of TITANICa:The Exhibition at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

A stunning and intricate kimono-style robe once belonging to first class passenger Lady Duff Gordon and worn on the night Titanic sank has gone on display.

The internationally renowned fashion designer, who traded as Lucile Ltd, was one of the most controversial figures on the liner.

She and her husband Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon abandoned the sinking vessel for what came to be known as the 'MIllionaire's lifeboat'. The pair later faced accusations of bribery because Sir Cosmo had given members of the crew five pounds each. They were the only passengers to testify at the British inquiry. After the inquiry, the couple returned to their business and Sir Cosmo died in 1931.

From 1932, Lady Duff Gordon's business collapsed and she was living in straitened circumstances in Hampstead. She died in 1935, aged 71, in a nursing home in Putney.

The other garment is a hat that was given to third-class passenger Bertha Mulvihill when the rescue ship Carpathia docked in New York.

Bertha was born in Athlone in 1886 and moved to Rhode Island where she worked as a waitress and became engaged to Henry Noon. In 1912, Bertha was in Ireland to attend her sister's wedding and decided, on a whim, to buy a ticket for Titanic to return to Rhode Island. Bertha travelled third class with friends.

When the ship hit the iceberg she immediately knew that something was wrong, put her coat over her nightdress and, with much difficulty, made it to an upper deck and managed to get into lifeboat 15. She lost her trousseau in the disaster and suffered a couple of broken ribs.

Bertha was met by Henry Noon when the Carpathia docked and they travelled by train to Providence where they settled and married and had five children, four of whom lived to adulthood. She died in 1959.

Meanwhile, the exhibition is also displaying a tool chest and tools that once belonged to Harland & Wolff employee William Bell who was a fitter on the Titanic on its maiden voyage from Belfast to Southampton, completing last minute work.

His tool chest and tools, and his Indenture of Apprentice as a Fitter with Harland & Wolff, dated June 3 1909, are now on display. It contains a vast array of personalised tools, notes and even an authentic piece of Harland & Wolff sandpaper.

Also new to the exhibition are a series of Marconi grams which provide an account of the tragic event as it happened, a collection of objects relating to the subsequent enquiries and three Olympic and Titanic design plans.

William Blair, head of Human History at National Museums Northern Ireland said: "The new additions to TITANICa contain powerful and engaging human interest stories that build an extra element of drama into our interpretation of Titanic's compelling history.

"The contrasting lives of Lady Duff Gordon and Bertha Mulvihill highlight the difference between first and third class passengers.

"The long deck plan gives visitors an insight into the area that was the scene of so much of the activity on that terrible night."

BACKGROUND

New items on display

* Kimono robe belonging to Lady Duff Gordon

* Hat given to Bertha Mulvihill

* Tool chest, tools and apprentice indenture belonging to William Bell

* Marconi grams providing account of the disaster

* Olympic and Titanic design plans

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