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Tied to the Titanic

Museum exhibit highlights stories of 30 passengers with links to province

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Like something out of a romantic movie, the gold locket opens to reveal sepia-toned portraits of two young English sweethearts, Charles and Adelaide.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/02/2011 (4369 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Like something out of a romantic movie, the gold locket opens to reveal sepia-toned portraits of two young English sweethearts, Charles and Adelaide.

The century-old heirloom, cherished by a Winnipegger, has a poignant connection to the Titanic, the magnificent steamship that succumbed to the icy Atlantic on its maiden voyage.

In April, 1912, Charles Sedgwick, a 25-year-old engineer from Liverpool, had been married for only a week to Adelaide. They were about to emigrate from London to Mexico City, where Charles had been hired to run the municipal waterworks.

The Titanic gets ready to leave a Southhampton dock for New York City.

They were taking along Leslie Radcliffe, their adventurous 11-year-old nephew. But at the last minute, the escalating violence of the Mexican revolution made it too dangerous for the woman and the boy. Sedgwick booked second-class passage on the new White Star luxury liner by himself, intending to send for his loved ones later.

His body was never recovered.

His nephew, Leslie, grew up to become the purser on the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic. In the mid-1920s, he came to Winnipeg via the U.S. and settled down. He raised a family in Crescentwood.

The locket Leslie inherited from his widowed aunt has been handed down to his son, Mike Radcliffe, a 66-year-old Winnipeg lawyer and former MLA.

It’s on loan to the Manitoba Museum as one of the artifacts in Titanic: The Manitoba Connection, a special exhibit that opens today and runs to Sept. 5.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The locket inherited by Winnipegger Leslie Radcliffe, showing Charles Sedgwick (right) and his new bride, Adelaide.

As the centenary of the April 15, 1912 disaster approaches, the public continues to be enthralled by the ship’s stories, says Sharon Reilly, social history curator at the museum.

“People have a fascination for events that really shook the world,” she says. “We thought, ‘There is a Manitoba story to be told here.'”

The local display is designed to complement Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, a much more elaborate Atlanta-based touring show that traces the story of the ill-fated liner and displays about 200 artifacts salvaged from the wreck site. It opened Friday at the MTS Centre Exhibition Hall and runs until June 12. The Manitoba Museum looked into presenting the touring show itself, but didn’t have the budget or the space to host it.

The travelling and local shows are working in partnership and promoting each other.

The bilingual exhibit in the Manitoba Museum’s Parklands Pier gallery is included with regular admission. It uses text panels, photographs and about 160 artifacts from the museum collection — from clothing and toiletry items to farm implements and dishes — to help illustrate the stories of some of the 30 Titanic passengers who had connections to Manitoba.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Sharon Reilly, Manitoba Museum curator, displays a carpenter’s woodworking plane used to construct the Titanic.

According to the book Titanic: The Canadian Story, 130 passengers were bound for Canada. Winnipeg had a large contingent, partly because the booming city had so many millionaires who liked to take winter holidays.

While the elite victims earned the majority of the local attention, the ship — a microcosm of its era — was also transporting immigrants with dreams of a new life.

One story concerns three brothers — Leonard, 24, Lewis, 30, and Stanley Hickman, 20 — who were on their way to Manitoba from England to work as farm labourers. Leonard had emigrated to Neepawa in 1908. He persuaded the entire Hickman family to join him, but only two of his brothers were able to secure second-class passage with him on the Titanic. Four friends of the Hickmans also made the trip. All seven perished.

A Swedish farm couple with five children, the Anderssons, were also bound for Manitoba as third-class passengers. None survived.

About 10 artifacts in the exhibit, including Radcliffe’s locket, have an actual link to the ship. There are, for instance, woodworking planes that belonged to John “Wat” Thomson, a carpenter who worked on building the Titanic in Belfast. Thomson declined a chance to sail on the Titanic and emigrated to Winnipeg in 1913.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Other woodworking tools.

Other items came to light when Reilly put out a public call for family stories and artifacts. She was amazed to receive some 60 responses.

One anonymous lender came forward with a rare Royal Doulton vase. It’s the very one that the T. Eaton Co. presented to the widow of George Graham, who was in charge of crockery and china for Eaton’s in Winnipeg. He was lost on the Titanic on the way home from a European buying trip.

Graham had planned to sail home on the Mauretania, but rebooked on the Titanic in order to get home three days earlier. Tragically, his wife received a telegram on April 16 that he had sent before the sinking. “She assumed he was OK,” says Reilly. When the truth came through, Eaton’s Winnipeg store closed for half a day in his memory.

Some Manitobans contacted Reilly with tales of how fate seemed to prevent their relatives from stepping onboard. “One family was supposed to get on the Titanic (to emigrate),” she says. “They were turned back because one child had an infected burn on her arm.”

Conversely, the three-member Hart family from England was booked on another ship, but because of a coal strike was transferred to the Titanic. They were emigrating to Winnipeg, where Benjamin Hart was to open a hardware store.

Courtesy Manitoba Museum

He died in the catastrophe, while seven-year-old daughter Eva and her mother — who had experienced a powerful premonition of disaster — survived and went back to England. Eva became one of the best-known Titanic survivors, publishing a memoir, finally visiting Winnipeg in 1980, and appearing in the Imax film Titanica.

And what about Leslie Radcliffe, the 11-year-old who lost his uncle Charles Sedgwick and narrowly missed climbing the Titanic gangplank himself? Living out his days in Crescentwood, he wasn’t one to dwell on it.

“He said, ‘You don’t try to second-guess the future. You live each moment to the fullest,'” his son Mike remembers.

One thing Leslie told the family was that Uncle Charles had gold bullion in his baggage to start his Mexican life. That nest egg was lost forever. “There was never a settlement for loss of property,” says Mike.

Leslie, Mike recalls, was a rugged character — part of the same bold, risk-taking Edwardian generation that helped make Winnipeg the “Chicago of the North” in 1912. That year has been pinpointed as the one in which Winnipeg reached its peak of economic power and prominence. The failure of the “unsinkable” Titanic, Radcliffe believes, was one of the signals that the buoyant era would soon end.

PHOTO COURTESY MRS. JACK TWEDDLE/VEHICULE PRESS (From left to right) Hugo Ross, unidentified companion, Thomas McCaffry, Mark Fortune and Thomson Beattie, feeding the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square, Venice, March 1912.

“They thought they were unbeatable,” he says. “Titanic showed to that age group that they were mortal.”

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

PHOTO COURTESY FLORA BRETT / VEHICULE PRESS Alice Fortune
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