Monday, January 28, 2013

Titanic Lives: On Board, Destination Canada

One of the many new books published on the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic is this account of the Canadian connection on board. Titanic Lives: On Board, Destination Canada by Rob Rondeau tells the story of ten individuals, some of whom were Canadian and some who travelled on the Titanic headed for Canada. Not all of the passengers Rondeau profiles survived, yet he tells their stories leading up to the disaster as well as the survivors' stories afterward. At 112 pages, Titanic Lives is packed with photos and is supplemented by additional chapters talking about such themes as the ship's cuisine, the White Star Line and early twentieth-century fashions. That there are so many supplementary chapters--annoyingly inserted in the middle of the chapters about the Canadian passengers, forcing the reader to stick a finger in place so as not to forget to backtrack--meant that the length of each biography was quite short and left me with a lot of unanswered questions.

Some stories broke my heart, especially that of Bess Allison, seen in the lower right of the front cover, who was already aboard a lifeboat with her two-year-old daughter yet scrambled out when she heard that her husband Hudson was being loaded into a lifeboat on the other side of the ship. She never found him, and she and her daughter, as well as her husband, all perished. The Allisons' infant son Trevor, unbeknownst to either Bess or Hudson, was rescued by his nurse. Their baby was the only family member who survived, but he too met a premature end, when he died at the age of eighteen, likely of food poisoning. The title of Bess Allison's chapter is subtitled "Tragedy Personified", and when you read her story, you realize, sadly, how true it is.

Rondeau could have used another editor, as he made frequent errors in the story of William Edwy Ryerson, a former professional soldier who was trying to make ends meet by working as a second-class dining room steward on board. Ryerson had plenty of experience specifically as a mounted soldier, fighting in southern Africa and India. Rondeau though transposes "cavalry" with "calvary":

"His next foray would take him even farther afield, fighting in India with a British calvary unit."

and in the end uses "calvary" more often than the correct term.

The Titanic's senior wireless operator was Jack Phillips, yet Rondeau misspells his surname with only one L every time except, oddly, when listing his sources (i.e., RMS Titanic and the Jack Phillips Story).

The final glaring errors occurred whenever Rondeau attempted to write a possessive plural. He always added a superfluous final S:

"What is known is that upon reaching New York aboard Carpathia, the Allisons's nursemaid lied to authorities when she was asked her name."

Titanic Lives tells the stories of the rich and famous (Harry Markland Molson, of Molson Brewery) as well as the scandalously infamous (showgirl of questionable repute Berthe de Villiers) and the accompanying photos make for an experience as if you were looking through the passengers' century-old photo albums. Titanic Lives is a fine introduction to the Canadian side of Titanica.

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