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December 5, 2016

Saved From the Titanic: Faces of Survival and Despair in One Photograph

Both survived the sinking of the Titanic.

The utter despair in Charlotte Collyer’s eyes are apparent as she looks away from the photographer. Daughter Marjorie with her youthful eyes, stares hauntingly straight into the lens of the camera. The unknown future had to weigh heavily on these two survivors minds.

This is Marjorie Lottie Collyer, age 8, of Bishopstoke, Hampshire, England.

From the same photograph, this is Marjorie’s mother, Charlotte Collyer, age 30 also of Bishopstoke, Hampshire, England.

There is something strikingly modern in Marjorie’s face and expression. She looks so similar to so many children you see today.

Here is the entire photograph of Charlotte and Marjorie Collyer sitting together in June 1912.

A Titanic White Star line blanket drapes Charlotte’s lap as the two sit on a porch swing in Payette Valley, Idaho.

Harvey Collyer, Charlotte’s husband and Marjorie’s father, went down with the Titanic, one of over 1,500 people who perished on April 15, 1912.

Harvey Collyer had sold his grocery business and the family was headed from England to New York aboard the Titanic and then on to Idaho where he intended to start a fruit farm. Harvey also hoped a change of climate would help his wife’s fragile health. When the Titanic sank, Harvey was holding all of the family’s savings in his wallet.

After being rescued by the Carpathia, mother and daughter stayed briefly in New York and then made their way out to Idaho. Charlotte was determined to follow through on her husband’s dream of beginning anew in America.

Charlotte was paid for her first-hand account of the sinking of the Titanic by the San Francisco Call newspaper. Her description of the sinking is considered one of the most graphic and touching among all the survivors who told their stories. Soon donations poured in to the newspaper to help support mother and daughter.
“I don’t remember very much about the first few days of the voyage. I was a bit seasick, and kept to my cabin mod of the time. But on Sunday, April 14, I was up and about. At dinnertime, I was at my place in the saloon, and enjoyed the meal, though I thought it too heavy and rich. No effort had been spared to serve even to the second cabin passengers on that Sunday the best dinner that money could buy. After I had eaten, I listened to the orchestra for awhile; then, at perhaps nine o’clock, or half-past nine, I went to my cabin.

I had just climbed into my berth when a stewardess came in. She was a sweet woman, who had been very kind to me. I take this opportunity to thank her; for I shall never see her again. She went down with the Titanic.

“Do you know where we are?” she said pleasantly. “We are in what is called The Devil’s Hole.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“That it is a dangerous pert of the ocean,” she answered. “Many accidents have happened near here. They say that icebergs drift down as far as this. It’s getting to be very cold on deck, so perhaps there’s ice around us now!”

She left the cabin, and I soon dropped off to sleep. Her talk about icebergs had not frightened me; but it shows that the crew were awake to the danger. As far as I can tell, we had not slackened our speed in the least.

It must have been a little after ten o’clock when my husband came in and woke me up. He sat about and talked to me, for how long I do not know, before he began to make ready to go to bed.

And then, the crash!”

Little Margery Collyer tells her story to a representative of the paper in the following terms:
“It was on a Wednesday we took the train to Southampton. Some of our friends were at the station to see us go, and some of them saw us off on the boat, I didn’t think there was any boat in the world as big as the Titanic. The night the Titanic hit the iceberg I was asleep. It was about 11 o’clock. I didn’t feel the bump and the ship started to back like a train, and I heard my mother say to my father that she guessed the works had stopped. He dressed himself and went on deck.

I could hear feet on the decks. The boat seemed to have stopped. Then mother dressed me, took me by the hand and led me upstairs. She was in her night-dress, and I didn’t have all my clothes on. I had a big dollie that I got two Christmases before, and we were in such a hurry that I left it behind. I cried for my dollie, but we couldn’t go back.

When we got on deck father was there going along the decks and trying to see the iceberg. But it had floated away. he said that some men had been playing cards when the ship hit the ice, and that all their cards fell on the floor, but they picked them up and went right on with the game.

The decks were full of people. Some of them were crying. An officer said we should all put on life preservers, and my mother put one on me, and then fastened one around herself. Papa put one on too.

I was crying for my doll, but nobody could go back and get her. Then someone said we should get into a boat and two men lifted me up and put me in a boat. My father raised me in his arms and kissed me, and then he kissed my mother. She followed me into the boat.

The women in one of the other boats said they wanted somebody to row for them and father got in that boat.

The stars were shining, and it was just like day. Some sailor put a rug around my mother to keep her warm. There were so many in our boat that we had to sit up all the time. Nobody could lie down. my mother was so close to one of the sailors with the oars that sometimes the oar caught in her hair and took big pieces out of it.

There was one officer in our boat who had a pistol. Some men jumped into our boat on top of the women and crushed them and the officer said that if they didn’t stop he would shoot. Another man jumped and he shot him. My mother says I called out: ‘Don’t shoot!’ but I don’t remember it.

The sailors had to row fast to get away from the ship. We could hear the band playing, but we didn’t see the musicians. Only, when we left, all the people on the decks were kneeling down praying, while the band played, ‘Nearer My God To Thee’.

When the band finished one of the musicians, jumped into a boat with his instrument, and I guess he got away. While we were rowing away we heard a lot of people crying, and the women in our boat asked the officer what the noise was. He said the people on the decks were singing.

I saw the Titanic go up in the air before she sank, and she looked ever so big.

When we got a little way off another boat came near us, and an officer in our boat said he guessed he would go back to the wreck in it. I don’t know who he was, but he put some of the people from the other boat in ours, and got in that. Then he went back with some sailors and pulled six men into the boat.

We rowed around for seven hours. All the time I was frightened a whole lot, and sometimes I cried. I cried hardest when I thought of my dollie back there in the water with nobody to mind it and keep it from getting wet.

The women in the boat just sat up and didn’t say anything. We were all very tired and cold, when we saw a big light. Somebody said it was a boat, but I thought it was just a star. But it kept getting bigger and bigger, and then we saw that it was a boat. Then all the sailors rowed hard.

We had to sleep on the floor on the new ship, and it wasn’t so nice as it was on the Titanic: but everybody was very kind to us. We thought papa would be there, but the boat he was on didn’t get to the ship.”

Mother and daughter arrived in New York with no money. The plan was to stay and make a go of it. Mrs Collyer wrote to her parents:

But after a short time in Idaho, reality hit Charlotte. Even with the encouragement and support of old friends she knew from England who greeted her when she arrived out west, Charlotte could not make a go of it.
“It did not take long, however, for Mrs Collyer to find that not all the help she could expect would suffice to make her task one that she would be able to accomplish.

There was only the bare ground to start with. The forest growth, indeed, had been cut down, and the roots removed; but that was all. There was no house to live in. There confronted her, then, the problems of housing, of preparing the soil, of buying cuttings and trees from the nurseries, of setting them out, of caring for them, and of support for herself and her child until the trees came into bearing.

It must be remembered that it was his wife’s failing health that was the principal consideration that led Mr Collyer to seek a home in America. He hoped that, in a wholesome, outdoor life in a more congenial climate, she might regain her strength. He had, of course, never contemplated her taking up the active pioneer work of making a fruit farm from the very beginning. He would not have dreamed her equal to it.

Mrs Collyer, however, did not lack courage. Those who have read her article do not need to be told that. Earnestly she set to work to seek a possible solution to each problem she had to face. Some of them did not appear to be insuperable; but there were others that, with her lack of money and strength, daunted even her. And her strength, none too vigorous when she left England, had been sadly impaired, she soon found by the exposure and the suffering she had been through. For a time, the excitement of her terrible experiences had given her a nervous energy that she misread as renewed vitality; but, as the excitement wore off under the stern realities she encountered in the West, she began to realize her physical capital had been almost as much depleted as her financial capital.

At last, she received unmistakable warnings that already she was overtaxing her powers. To go on would be surely fatal. Only then did she sadly relinquish her hopes and ambitions and decide to brave again the perils of an ocean voyage, and to return to her own country — there to seek among those nearest and dearest to her, rest for herself, and a home for Marjorie.”

Charlotte and Marjorie Collyer returned to England. The San Francisco Call’s fund for the Collyer’s relief came to $2,182.

Charlotte later remarried and hoped for brighter days for herself and Marjorie. Unfortunately, Charlotte Collyer’s health never improved and she died of tuberculosis on November 28, 1916. Charlotte’s stepfather died in 1919. An uncle took care of Marjorie after she was orphaned.

Marjorie Collyer married Roy Dutton in 1927. They had a child who died in infancy. Husband Roy died in 1943 at the age of 41. Marjorie soldiered on working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, but she never remarried.

Marjorie suffered a stroke in the 1960s and was then unable to care for herself and moved into a nursing home. Marjorie Collyer Dutton’s life of “bad luck” ended when she passed away at the age of 61 on February 26, 1965.

(via Stuff Nobody Cares About)



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