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The Titanic, The White Star Line and the Bank of England.

The first inkling that the Bank of England possessed files of interest to Titanic Scholars came a few years back from Michael Moss, the co-author of a book on the vessels of Harland and Wolff. During research for an article that Mark Chirnside were writing on the debate surrounding the naming of the third of the Olympic class ships, Moss informed me that the Bank of England had a file which confirmed that the Britannic was originally to have been called Gigantic. As he wrote, I recall there is [a file] on the giant diesel liner that was never built that makes reference back to the pre-war three, and then later, The ship is no 844 Oceanic, which was supposed to be going to be the largest ship afloat. It was to be funded under the Trade Facilities Act. The Act was passed to allow money to be loaned to companies to that needed a 'prop' to continue operating, and obviously the 1930s Kylsant empire was in need of such securities.

An appointment was hastily scheduled, but nothing was found in the files relating to the Gigantic. The copious documents did reveal a fascinating aspect of the Titanic disaster and the dwindling White Star Line post-1928; these have probably remained dormant and unseen for several decades. Over the course of a few more visits, very interesting details were patiently teased from the files.

Some details of the Bank of England's involvement in the Titanic story are already well known. Indeed, their internal magazine, "The Old Lady", featured an article in its Summer, 1992 edition. It discusses the Mansion House fund, and mentions that the Bank's involvement in the fund started in 1914 when its then Governor, Lord Cunliffe, joined the trustees. The article concludes, "Over the years the Trustees had a largely formal role in the running of the Fund. The Bank itself was never responsible for the Fund's investments. Partly no doubt because of this lack of active Bank involvement, no Governor, from 1914 to 1959, ever found it necessary to attend a meeting of the Trustees." This is evident from the files in the archives; there are minutes of meetings of the Fund trustees but no formal notice of attendance.

Within the Bank's huge archives are enormous ledgers; for many years, these heavy books were used to keep track of the status and existence of bank notes that had been issued. Indeed, these folios helped to warn the Bank that Germany intended to flood England with fake notes during the Second World War to destabilise the economy, when a diligent bank clerk found a note that, according to his records, had been destroyed.

People could claim for new banknotes if they had lost, or destroyed, old ones the serial numbers of the notes being marked off in the ledgers. The only proviso was that the claimant had to wait six months, in case the lost notes turned up again, and during which time, banks were asked to be vigilant for the serial numbers. Within the ledgers are claims made for money lost in the Titanic sinking. These are listed below, as recorded in a thick bundle of papers from claimants. Many of these claims are from people who sent bank notes by post, but upon learning that the cash never arrived at their destination, determined that their money was now at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly, claimants for lost American notes and gold "will be lost to the heirs of the dead passengers" (as "The Western Gazette" said on April 26th, 1912).
DateClaimantAmount (£)Notes
1912 Jul 31 Le Poer Trench, Harriet Laura 5 lost by post
Oct 29 Beadle, Rose Theodora 5 believed lost by post
Oct 30 Ryatt, William Hall 10 lost by post
Oct 31 Harvey, Thomas Solomon 5 lost by post
Oct 31 Ormsby, Rowland Henry 10 lost by post
Oct 31 Worthington, Evelyn Marian 10 lost by post
Nov 6 Clarkson, Herbert Green 5 lost by post
Nov 7 Barber, Madeleine Sarah 5 lost by post
Nov 7 Broadbent, James Moses 5 lost by post
Nov 7 Collins, George Percy 10 lost by post
Nov 8 Winker, Hester Augusta 5 lost by post
Nov 11 Hayward, Frank 5 lost by post
Nov 13 Knight, Martha 10 lost by post
Nov 13 Middleton, William 20 lost by post
Nov 13 Ramwell, Clara 50 lost by post
Nov 15 Aikenhead, Mabel Louise 5 lost by post
Nov 19 Wilcox, Thomas 10 lost by post
Nov 22 Barker, Sir John Bt. 5 lost by post
Nov 23 Lawrence, Jack 5 lost by post
Nov 26 Patrick, Frank Allen 5 lost by post
Dec 9 Taylor, Messrs J. and Sons 5 lost by post
Dec 11 Jacks, Olive Cecilia 10 lost by post
Dec 17 Gill, Christina 5 lost by post
Dec 24 Woodhouse, Joseph Thomas 5 lost by post
1913 Jan 1 Steinhardt, Michael 5 lost by post
Jan 3 Jarvis, Ada Maud 10 lost by post
Jan 28 Stevens, Catherine 5 lost by post
Jan 29 Bennett, Ann Ellen 5 lost by post
Jan 29 Ewen's Colonial Stamp Market 10 lost by post
Jan 29 Lake, Ernest Edward 5 lost by post
Feb 5 Bloomfield, Leslie 40 lost by post
Mar 31 Phare, Ernest Rowe 10 lost by post
Apr 21 Campbell, Maud 10
Apr 22 Carslake, John Barham and Gibson Arthur Henry, Executors 15 believed irrecoverably lost
Apr 25 Crane, Sarah 20
May 20 Dodd, Edith Mary administratix 185 irrecoverably lost
Jun 2 Beesley, Lawrence 20 irrecoverably lost
Jul 28 Pears, Roland executor 40 irrecoverably lost
Aug 12 Morley, Arthur William executor 300 subsequently reduced to £200 irrecoverably lost
Sep 8 Le Mare, Edith Mary administratix 15 irrecoverably lost
1914 Jan 19 Harriss, Ada Harriett 10 irrecoverably lost
Mar 26 Willis, Kate 15 irrecoverably lost
Jul 9 Hocking, Ada administratix 50 believed lost

Beneath this pencilled list is another compilation, entitled "claims on behalf of victims":

H.B.Case £81
S.J.M.Hocking £106
Fr.Byles £91
Fr.Harris £74
H.Marshall (aka Morley)
D.J. Jarvis £77
W.T.Stead £194
J.Webber £208
T.Pears (copy of letter from widow, who survived the disaster) £213

The letters in the file contain a few little pieces of information, none dramatic, but all of interest; after the disaster, the necessities and worries of life, including money, continued for many survivors.

Edith Pears was one such person. In her claim to the bank, she wrote that her husband had 8 of the bank notes when he embarked. I had four which I cashed after I left the boat. The thirteenth I cannot account for. Husband used to carry bank note in a brown leather case especially made to carry notes and he generally always had it on his person. I saw it several times after we sailed, including the morning of April 15th.

"Review of Reviews" General Manager Edwin H.Stout claimed on behalf of his old boss, W.T. Stead, who had, on April 9th, 1912 cashed a cheque at his bankers, in exchange for 10 x £5 notes, "as well as certain gold." Stout wrote that the notes were to be paid to a friend in New York.

The United Counties Bank Limited of Worcester gave the Bank an interesting story: a Mr. Henry Samuel Morley had been on the Titanic, but under an assumed name. He was travelling to California and drew out £400 in notes, or 40 x £10 notes. Within a day or so of this, (2nd March 1912) he had abandoned his residence in Worcester and stayed at various addresses with a girl named Kate Phillips, who passed as his wife. Soon afterwards he sailed for America on the Titanic with Phillips sailing with him. Morley adopted the name of Henry Marshall. In further correspondence, Morley's brother (the executor of his estate) saw him sail with that girl. He also noted that, he drained his businesses in England to the last penny before eloping, in order that he might have capital to start a confectionery business in California, and further it is most probable that he spent more than £60 at the most, before he sailed."

Father Thomas Byles case was more tragic: he had left no will and his estate was very small (only about £40) and was exceeded by the debts that Byles had left behind. Fredy Byles, the co-executor under the will of his late brother Alfred Holden Byles, the father of Thomas, said that he "felt bound to discharge" Thomas's debts.

Kate Willis also sought recompense from the Bank for lost money, and she sent along her purser's receipt (no.201) along with her claim as proof that she was on the Titanic. Today, that receipt and letter are in the Bank's museum, although they are not currently on display. Kate said that she had 6 x £5 notes in her possession all the time, three of which she changed to American money. In her (difficult to read!) letter, Kate remarked that the purser on the Titanic wouldn't her collect her items, and she made a note of her lost possessions on the bank of the receipt: 3 £ notes, £5/-10 exchanged into American, odd gold, bracelets, brooch, pendant and chain and a watch chain. In her inventory of the items, all but first item were crossed through, these presumably being the notes that she kept with her all the time.

Update: thanks to the generosity of Holly Waughman, assistant archivist of the Bank of England, copies of images of Willis's letter and purser's ticket were obtained.
The images are courtesy of the Bank of England Archive, reference number of C101/149.
Please click on the images for larger versions.

But possibly the most intriguing, certainly the most mysterious entry in the bundle of claims is from Mrs. Edith Mary Dodd, the widow of second steward George Charles. On April 9th, Edith withdrew £200 (40 x £5) from their bank, on her husband's behalf. She handed over £185 to George on board the Titanic and retained three of the £5 notes. According to the Encyclopedia-Titanica website, George Dodd's monthly salary was £10. Why did he withdraw such a huge sum of money?

The Bank's vaults contain valuable files of importance to ocean liner historians as they provide important data on the final few years of the White Star Line and the other acquisitions of Lord Kylsant. The files are large and comprehensive and cover the years from 1928 to 1935; sadly, most of the information is beyond the experience of this author as they require expertise in accountancy, not the mention suppressing the tedium of trawling through the letters, balance sheets, reports and graphs. Interested parties are encouraged to sift through the massive files, though, be warned, the over stretched archival facilities currently have a three month backlog of requests from researchers.

The first interesting item in the folders, understandable by laymen such as this author, is a report from Thomas McClintock, Chartered Accountants, on 15/4/30. This is a preliminary report on the Kylsant Shipping Companies, collectively labelled as the "White Star Group". This detailed report runs to dozens of pages and exhaustively chronicles all the incomings and outgoings. The data for 1929 is seemingly not available at the time of the report being compiled, leading to some educated guesses and extrapolations.

In the section devoted to shipping, the report remarks that, as of December 31st, 1928, the company, either partially or wholly owned (including the tender Magnetic) 35 vessels, comprising a total of 434,747 tons gross; these had a first cost of £15,150,513, which after adjustment for depreciation, was reduced to £8,624,805. Underneath this was a section detailing further depreciation, written off:

1916 £200,000

S.S. "Gallic"
1919 £25,000

The mention of the Olympic is a mystery. This £200,000 is in addition to the 4% depreciation per annum, and yet it is unclear what it refers to. Mark Chirnside informs me that, in June 1916 it was reported in the annual White Star Line report that an extra £100,000 depreciation for both Olympic and Britannic had been set aside 'to meet the possibility of their days as Atlantic passenger ships never returning.' Could Thomas McClintock have made a mistake and included the depreciation for both vessels under the Olympic? This seems unlikely as the report is highly meticulous in its preparation. Whatever, after further deductions were factored in, the net value of the vessels was some £8,263,805. Offset against this were money still owed by sundry debtors: Claims in relation to damage to the "Olympic" in collision with s.s. "Fort St. George" amounted to £60,205 , although a cautionary note was added, This matter has been the subject of protracted litigation. In March 1930 the Award of the Arbitrator was made, and as a result thereof the Company should recover an amount of probably £60,000 more than appears in the books as an asset. The only other mentioned in this section was due to the sale of the s.s.Suevic, an amount of £19,206.

The true position in relation to the 1929 earning, continues the report, seemed to be as follows: overhaul of vessels £386,000 - But of this there is represented by "betterments" to the s.s."Olympic" (mainly new dining saloon and re-designing of state rooms to meet modern requirements) [at a cost of] £50,000 Net amount to be written off in 1929 was £336,000.

And when this colossal exercise was completed, what was the projected profit for the White Star Line in 1930? A paltry £9000.

Following the great depression, Ocean Liner trade was hit drastically, and the Bank's files contain the following information:

"8/1/31 North Atlantic Business
1930 westbound
Companysailingspassengersaverage per sailing
white star 123 73,576 598
cunard 178 95,169 535

[The files note that in 1929, White Star's passengers had been reduced by 21,013, Cunard's by 24646, and with 6 less sailings for this latter company].

1930 eastbound
Companysailingspassengersaverage per sailing
white star 119 56,998 479
cunard 176 76,223 433

In 1929, White Star had a passenger reduction of 6341 with 6 less sailings; Cunard was 6138 less with one less sailing.

Knowledge that Kylsant's empire was in tatters must have been fairly common in shipping circles, and, far from gloating, Cunard itself offered to assist. Percy E.Bates of Cunard wrote to Walter Runciman, MP, and deputy chairman of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (the umbrella company containing the White Star Line) on October 15th, 1930. Bates, on behalf of Cunard, offered to buy the Olympic, Homeric, Doric, Laurentic, Adriatic, Britannic, Cedric, Baltic, Megantic, Arabic and the remaining 50% of the Berengaria and Majestic, jointly owned by the White Star. Cunard would also assume liability for Trade Facilities Loans on the new ships Britannic and Laurentic, which were understood to be £1,655,000, which together with the 50% ownership of Berengaria and Majestic, meant that they were prepared to pay a sum of £1,285,000, making a total in cash and repayment of liabilities of £3,250,000. Runciman politely declined the offer.

Cunard were persistent, and in a round of letters between them and the Governor of the Bank of England in July 1931, the latter wrote that, based on dwindling passengers figures, two options existed: either a single shipping company under the control of Cunard be formed, or Cunard buy out White Star. The Governor favoured the second option, and there was even some talk of replenishing the shipping lines under the same scheme that had been invoked for the Lusitania and Mauretania many decades previously; these talks came to nothing, though.

The rest of the story is well known; Cunard and White Star were forced to merge, with the former being the dominant partner, eventually absorbing the smaller entity. With enough patience, I feel sure that a lot more of the details of this turbulent period can be gleaned from the Bank of England's files. But it will take someone with more time, patience and accounting knowledge than this author!

There is one further banking matter to discuss. Don Lynch writes in "Titanic: An Illustrated History" that controversy still exists as to whether the Titanic was carrying the fabled cargo of gold and silver bars as mentioned by Assistant Storekeeper Frank Prentice (for instance, in the British documentary "Titanic : A Question of Murder" in 1983 and in an interview with Walter Lord). Don Lynch claims that the Bank of England's records are sealed for 100 years, thus ensuring the continuation of this unconfirmed story until 2012.

Thanks to good relations nurtured between myself and the Bank over a number of years, an opportunity arose to finally answer this question. I advised the Bank's archives of the gold and silver bars story, and they agreed to search their records on my behalf, including files that would not be released until 2024. The Bank does indeed have records of gold shipments during World War 1 in its publicly released files, and has newspaper clippings of bullion salvage from the s.s. "Laurentic".

In an email to me, the archival staff informed me, "Some of our records contain personal and/or customer information. As such, we are obliged to close these records for 100 years. That said, we have been able to search both our open and closed records for reference to gold shipped with the Titanic on your behalf. Seemingly, there is only one brief mention of gold having been shipped on the Titanic in our files. This reference is from one of our closed files (it is expected that the file will become available to researchers in 2024). However, I have been given permission to quote the following (this information is actually from a third party, rather than the Bank): 'he was aware that some gold had been recovered relatively recently in Bombay (in fact, two bars in 1976) and that there was some gold remaining on the Titanic'. Personally, I wonder whether this reference is actually an error? The document does not otherwise mention the Titanic, only four other ships including the Laurentic. Perhaps, the name of the more famous ship was substituted by accident? What is more, (as I understand it) the wreck of the Titanic was not located until 1985. The document I refer to is dated 1981, so how would only 'some' gold remain on board? In any case, it would appear that no other record of this 'remaining' gold exists among our files."

To be fair, Prentice claims, in an interview which can be found here, that the specie was loaded on board at Queenstown. If so, where was it stored? The specie room was designed to be inaccessible during the voyage as baggage and cargo would be loaded around it at the dockside, making it secure.

This would seemingly demolish the notion that there is a huge cache of gold and silver on board the sunken remains of the Titanic!

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