On the cold evening of April 14, 1912, the Titanic, a brand-new ocean liner carrying 2,223 people, struck an iceberg, creating a large gash on the ship’s side. Hours later, on the early morning of April 15, the massive ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Millions around the world mourned the loss of 1,517 people the night the “near unsinkable” Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from England to the United States.
One hundred years later, LDS Living looks back at those with ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their part of the story.
A Mother Who Sacrificed to Save Others
Irene Colvin Corbett, a 30 year-old mother from Provo, Utah, and cousin to President Joseph F. Smith, had taken passage on the Titanic after a six-month trip to England to study midwifery. Like twelve other women in second class, she did not survive. Though her death may have occurred because of the lifeboat shortage (one of the great controversies of the Titanic's fate), many believe that Irene did not survive because she had put her medical training to practice and helped as many as she could before the ship went down, thus making it too late for her to get on a lifeboat. Her ability to serve and look beyond her own safety most likely led her to help save many lives, even if it meant giving up her own.
As a second-class passenger, Corbett likely would have spent much of her time at the lending libraries, playing on the Squash court, or outside socializing on the open deck. While each of the class’s quarters were separate, it was common for first- and second-class passengers to mingle.
The Missionaries Who Almost Didn’t Make It
Alma Sonne and his companion, Fred, were heading home along with four other elders after they completed their mission in England. But when the time came to meet in Southampton, Fred became delayed. Elder Sonne, who had convinced Fred to serve a mission in the first place and had booked their passage on the Titanic, decided they should not leave anyone behind. Instead, he canceled the reservations so they could depart the next day, when Fred would arrive.
While a few of the elders were disappointed they would not be able to travel home on the Titanic, they thanked God after they discovered what their outcome would have been. “You saved my life,” Elder Sonne told Fred. “No,” Fred replied. “By getting me on this mission, you saved my life.”
Alma Sonne later served as a stake president and an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. A more in-depth look at Sonne, along with perspectives of his descendants, can be read at the Church's website here.
The Advocate for Religious Freedom
William Stead was another Titanic passenger worth commemorating. As the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, a London-based newspaper, William used his words to fight the intolerance and bigotry that swarmed around England about the LDS Church.
Although Stead was not a member, he wrote articles in his paper sharing his belief that members of the Church should not be persecuted, and he debunked many of the negative rumors circulating about the Church. William, a first-class passenger, was on his way to America to attend a peace congress at Carnegie Hall, at the request of U.S. President William Howard Taft. Rudger Clawson, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said of William, “Surely every Latter-day Saint whose eyes rest upon the writings of Mr. Stead . . . will ever hold [him] in honorable remembrance.”
Stead, a first-class passenger on the Titanic, would have been able to use the ship’s heated swimming pool, gymnasium, and Turkish bath. Stead would have likely eaten at the Parisian café, where most of the food was cooked by professional French chefs. First class state rooms included a private bedroom, a receiving room, and private restroom facilities. Standard first-class rooms still boasted some of the amenities of the state rooms, but on a smaller scale. All passengers could use the telephone to make phone calls to friends and family on land, and many telegrams (while expensive) were sent and received during the few days the Titanic was on the ocean.
Unfortunately, one of the luxuries not provided was enough lifeboats for all the passengers. Corbett and Stead both passed that night 100 years ago, but their legacies live on in the many memorials taking place this week.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will perform The Titanic Requiem on April 10 in London, and a hologram show depicting the ship and the iceberg will be included. The cruise ship Balmoral will also follow the original route of Titanic and - on April 15 - will briefly stop over the area where the Titanic rests.
And if you want to read more about Irene Corbett’s story, you can check out Anita Stansfield’s Passage on the Titanic, a historical fiction account of Corbett’s journey.