Lot 229: R.M.S. TITANIC: A unique archive of letters that represent a pric
Titanic & Travel Memorabilia
22 October 2016
Devizes, United Kingdom
Description: R.M.S. TITANIC: A unique archive of letters that represent a priceless insight into the life and career of Titanic ’s Chief officer Henry Tingle Wilde from his early days with the White Star Line through to the final letter he wrote before boarding the Titanic . Mr Wilde grew up in Walton, Liverpool and went to sea as a young man serving his apprenticeship on the sailing vessels of Messrs. James Chambers & Co., Liverpool. After gaining his second mate’s certificate, he joined the Maranhan Steamship Company as a second officer. He soon obtained his masters certificate, and joined the White Star Line as a junior officer. Wilde served on a number of White Star Line ships, mainly in the Liverpool to New York, and Australian routes. These included the Arabic (June to October 1905), Celtic (December 1905 to April 1906), Medic (September 1906 to April 1908) and the Cymric (June to September 1908). Wilde held the extra masters certificate and was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve. In 1911 he became Chief Officer of the Olympic and was aboard that vessel, under the command of Captain Edward John Smith, when she was in collision with H.M.S. Hawke on 20th September 1911. In 1912 Henry Tingle Wilde was living at 25 Grey Road, Walton, Liverpool. His wife had died on 24th December, 1910 and their twin sons died in infancy, also in December 1910. S. Wilde had four surviving children: Jane, Harry, Arnold and Nancy and a sister Mrs Williams (Wilde). In April 1912 Wilde may have been expecting to remain as Chief Officer on the Olympic under her new skipper Captain Herbert James Haddock but instead he was posted to Southampton to await orders. On April 3rd 1912 the Olympic sailed out of Southampton; although it was Haddock’s first command of a vessel so large as the Olympic he had been deprived of his Chief Officer, his First Officer William Murdoch, Chief Engineer Joseph Bell, Chief Surgeon William O’Loughlin and Chief Purser Hugh McElroy as well as a great number of less senior crew. It seems likely that Wilde was originally posted by the company’s marine superintendent for his own command, probably one of White Star’s smaller ships.William Murdoch, who was less senior that Wilde, had been assigned as Chief Officer of the company’s newest ship, the Titanic, so Wilde might reasonably have expected a command or to have remained on the Olympic to help Haddock get used to the new ship. That Wilde came in at the last minute as Chief caused the other officers to move down and in one case (Second Officer David Blair) may have been done at the request of Captain Smith so that he might have both Wilde and Murdoch occupying the same posts aboard Titanic that they had held aboard Olympic – Chief and First, respectively. Others have suggested that the order came from the company headquarters. Whatever led to the change it proved to be a reckless policy; a few months later the Olympic nearly ran aground under the inexperienced Captain Haddock and David Blair left the Titanic taking with him the knowledge of where the lookouts binoculars were kept. There was also considerable confusion among the remaining officers and some resentment as Lightoller later recalled: “Unfortunately whilst in Southampton, we had a reshuffle amongst the Senior Officers. Owing to the Olympic being laid up, the ruling lights of the White Star Line thought it would be a good plan to send the Chief Officer of the Olympic, just for the one voyage, as Chief Officer of the Titanic, to help, with his experience of her sister ship. This doubtful policy threw both Murdoch and me out of our stride; and, apart from the disappointment of having to step back in our rank, caused quite a little confusion Murdoch from Chief, took over my duties as First I stepped back on Blair’s toes, as Second, and picked up the many threads of his job, whilst he – luckily for him as it turned out – was left behind. The other officers remained the same. However, a couple of days in Southampton saw each of us settled in our new positions and familiar with our duties.” (Lightoller – Titanic and other ships) Wilde only signed onto the Titanic on 9th April, 1912 and reported for duty at 6 am on 10th April, the day of sailing. His salary was £25 a month. When Captain Smith came aboard at about 7.30am. he received sailing reports from all his senior officers. Wilde reported the condition of equipment, stores and the readiness of public areas and staterooms. Prior to sailing, as the pilot came aboard, Wilde and Lightoller were stationed on the forecastle supervising the boatswains dealing with hawsers and moorings. In a letter to his sister, written onboard Titanic and posted at Queenstown, Wilde gave some indication that he had misgivings about the new ship: “I still don’t like this ship... I have a queer feeling about it.” Nonetheless things went relatively smoothly for a maiden crossing. Wilde was on the bridge from 2 am to 6 am and 2 pm to 6 pm. At 2pm. on 14th April he relieved William Murdoch on the Bridge. Perhaps they discussed the proximity of ice; about a quarter of an hour beforehand the Baltic had transmitted an ice warning telling of icebergs in the path of the Titanic. Wilde’s watch was uneventful. No change in the ship’s speed was ordered in spite of the signal, perhaps it was never even seen on the bridge, Captain Smith having given it to Bruce Ismay earlier in the day. At 6 pm Second Officer Lightoller relieved Wilde. The Chief gave Lightoller the speed and course and departed. No further warnings of ice had been received during his watch. Wilde’s movements between 6 pm and about 11.45 pm are not known for sure, but shortly after the Titanic collided with an iceberg Wilde was passing close to the bow, there he found the Bosun Albert Haines and Lamp Trimmer Samuel Hemming who said they could hear air escaping from the tank and that water was getting in but that the storeroom was dry. Wilde went up to report this to the bridge. He then joined Captain Smith and Thomas Andrews on a brief inspection to see the extent of the damage. Wilde took charge of the even numbered boats, those on the port side. Quartermaster Olliver recalled being sent by Wilde to find the boatswain and tell him to uncover the lifeboats and make them ready for lowering. He gave similar instructions to Lightoller, telling the second officer to have the boats uncovered. Lights asked if hands had been called, Wilde replied that they had. He then asked if the boats should be swung out yet, Wilde said “no, wait” but at that moment Captain Smith came past and Lightoller asked him. Smith replied “Yes, Swing out.” Perhaps Wilde was trying to avert panic but he was being over-cautious, Lightoller had been shipwrecked before and may have been more realistic about the necessity to get the boats loaded and lowered. He sent men down to open the windows on A-Deck to allow loading but Wilde again delayed him. Lightoller saw the Captain and, cupping his hands to make himself heard above the steam bellowing from the funnels, asked him. The Captain replied “Yes put the women and children in and lower away.” Wilde is mentioned in survivor recollections of the sinking but his activities remain something of a mystery. What is certain is that he worked diligently to load the boats once the seriousness of the situation was clear to him. About 1.30 he ordered Lowe to take command of boat 14. Around this time, Wilde interrupted Lightoller to ask where the firearms were kept. When Lightoller had been First Officer at Southampton these had been his responsibility. Lightoller did not understand why Wilde wanted the guns but he led Wilde, Captain Smith and First Officer William Murdoch to the locker in the First Officer’s cabin. As Lightoller was about to leave Wilde shoved a revolver in his hand with some ammunition saying “Here you are, you may need it.” Wilde had been described as having a “powerful” look. According to Major Peuchen he single handedly drove out a group of firemen and stokers who were trying to get into a boat. But now, even Wilde sought the extra influence a gun could provide. As the others left the cabin Wilde said he was going to put on his lifebelt. Lightoller got his and returned to the loading. Wilde now went to the starboard side, close to the bridge where Collapsible C had been placed in the davits of lifeboat 1. William Murdoch and Herbert McElroy were also helping to load the boat. Wilde called for any more women and children. None were forthcoming so he ordered the boat lowered. As the order was carried out, Bruce Ismay and William Carter jumped in. It would later be suggested that Wilde had forced Ismay to go by bundling him into the boat. Given Wilde’s behaviour on the night, generally only allowing women and children to board, this explanation for Ismay’s controversial survival seems highly unlikely. Wilde then turned his attention to Collapsible D on the other side of the ship. Lightoller was already there helping to load it. The crowds began to press in and Lightoller now realized why Wilde had asked him for the guns. He drew his pistol and called the crew to put a ring of men around the boat – things were now getting desperate. Wilde waited as long as he could but it was clear that the ship was nearing the end. Wilde told Lightoller to get aboard but the Second Officer refused and jumped out of the boat before it was lowered the short distance to the water. Wilde was last seen trying to free the collapsibles A and B from the roof of the officers’ quarters. The collection is sold via direct descent. (Courtesy Encyclopedia-Titanica.org) R.M.S. TITANIC: Chief Officer Henry Wilde Collection. Archive of letters dating from 1884 to 18th February 1911. The letters are mostly written to Mr Wilde's wife Polly and his sister-in-law. This first lot comprises 23 handwritten letters mostly signed Harry dating from 1884 to 18th February 1911. Most are written on White Star stationery and offer a unique perspective into his career up until this date. Insights offered include his thoughts on the Republic disaster and its effects on the White Star Line and how miserable he was on board the Megantic.