Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Titanic letter 'secured for city'

This composite image, released by RMS Titanic Inc., and made from sonar and more than 100,000 photos taken in 2010 from by unmanned, underwater robots, shows a small portion of a comprehensive map of the 3-by-5-mile debris field surrounding the stern of the Titanic on the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Dr John Edward Simpson was an officer on board the Titanic
The Titanic Building will immortalise one of history's most enduring tales

A mystery benefactor has stepped in to ensure a valuable letter written by an officer days before he died on the Titanic will return to his home town.

There were fears that the note Dr John Simpson penned to his mother on board the doomed liner would be snapped up by a private collector and lost from public view forever when it was put up for auction in New York with a 34,000 US dollar reserve price.

However after hearing about a campaign by relatives of the ship's assistant surgeon to bring the letter back to his native Belfast where the Titanic was built, a donor, who does not want to be named at this stage, has bought it for the city just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

According to witnesses who survived the 1912 sinking, Dr Simpson, 37, stood with fellow officers on the deck of the stricken vessel as it went down, resigning themselves to their fate, making no attempt to board the lifeboats and instead calmly helped others to safety.

His great-nephew Dr John Martin said he was happy the letter was coming back to where it belonged: Belfast.

"I'm absolutely delighted," he said. "I've never actually seen the original letter itself as it was last in Belfast in the 1940s before Dr Simpson's son moved away. So for it to be on its way back is just amazing and so appropriate now just ahead of the 100th anniversary of his death. We are so thankful to the benefactor."

The letter had been passed down several generations of the family and Dr Martin said the plan was always to have it placed in a permanent Titanic exhibition in Belfast.

However he said 15 years ago Dr Simpson's 81-year-old daughter-in-law gave it to a Titanic enthusiast in The Netherlands in the hope it would go on display. However, what happened to the letter after that remained a mystery to the family and Dr Martin said relatives had always regretted its loss.

They thought it was gone for good until they heard it was to be sold at Philip Weiss Auctions in New York, but the item failed to reach its reserve price at the sale earlier this month, enabling the benefactor to step in and purchase it for an undisclosed sum.

Dr Martin said the letter will soon be back in Belfast, with the intention of putting it in a public exhibition before the April anniversary of the disaster.

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