herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Doctor's last letter sent from Titanic to finally go on show

ONE of the last letters from the Titanic is to go on display this summer at the new Belfast visitors' centre dedicated to the liner.

Assistant ship's surgeon Dr John Simpson's note to his mother was brought ashore at Cobh, Co Cork, the vessel's last stop. It will be displayed at the multi-million euro Titanic Belfast building in the city's docks where the boat was built.

The 37-year-old Belfast doctor was married and had one son when he took the commission on the Titanic. He previously worked on another White Star Line ship, the Olympic.

In the letter, dated April 11, 1912, Dr Simpson said he was settling into his cabin well and that the accommodation on board his new vessel was larger. It was signed off: "With fondest love, John".

Dr Simpson died when the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. It was feared the message, written on note paper headed RMS Titanic, would never return to Belfast after it was put up for auction in New York in March with a reserve price of $34,000 (e26,808).

The Titanic Foundation, the charitable group which oversaw the building of Titanic Belfast, bought the item.

Dr Simpson's great-nephew, Dr John Martin, from Killinchy, Co Down, said: "It was part of our family history. It is tangible evidence of the man and a link to his personality."

Dr Martin (63) said it was not an emotional letter. "It is quite humdrum in its contents, it is just a letter of a man writing to his mother."



Connection

"Although there is no huge emotional content to it, it gained that emotional context by what happened in the following days.

"It is an embodiment of a moment in history and there is that personal connection that the family has to it and that makes it very special to me."

The correspondence was in the family for many years but passed to a collector of Titanic memorabilia. Kate Dornan, a great niece of Dr Simpson, said the idea that it had been lost forever was terrible.

"Getting it back means the world to us, to our children and grandchildren," she said.

"It all feels a bit surreal because it means everything to us."

She was amazed how small it looked, preserved between clear plastic sheets in a file before installation in a collection about Dr Simpson at Titanic Belfast over the summer.

Ms Dornan (59) from Bangor in Co Down, added: "Whenever we thought it was going to be lost to us, we were very distressed. The idea of it being lost made us realise how much it meant to us. We could not believe it when the Titanic Foundation stepped in and brought it back to us."

Tim Husbands, chief executive of Titanic Belfast, said it was a unique document.

"I think it signifies a city reclaiming its heritage. This letter just reaffirms the emotional relationship and the ties the city has with the telling of the worldwide story that is the Titanic," he said.

It goes on display at Titanic Belfast later this summer.

hnews@herald.ie

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