- Photo taken on board Mackay Bennett in 1912 going under the hammer
- It’s estimated to go for £5,000 next month at auction in Devizes, Wiltshire
- It shows mass funeral for dozens of 1,512 who died in Atlantic disaster
- The ship’s priest is seen with body bags stacked on the windswept deck
- Some 166 of 306 bodies retrieved by Mackay Bennett were buried at sea
They were gathered nine days after the ‘unsinkable’ liner had gone down in the Atlantic Ocean with the loss of 1,512 lives.
And this haunting black and white photograph taken on board one of the body recovery ships following the Titanic disaster shows a mass funeral for dozens of the dead being buried at sea.
The image – which has been discovered a century on from the disaster in 1912 – shows body bags stacked on the windswept deck while two crewman tip up a stretcher to drop a victim over the side.
The ship’s priest, the Reverend Hind, is seen conducting the service in front of the solemn crew, who were gathered days after the Titanic had sunk on its journey from Southampton to New York City.
Although the records show that 166 out of 306 bodies retrieved by the Mackay Bennett ship were buried at sea, no images of the macabre event have been seen by the general public until now.
Most of the victims dropped into the Atlantic were believed to have been chosen because they had no means of identification or were third-class passengers and therefore could not afford a funeral.
In the photo – which has a pre-sale estimate of £5,000 – one of the bodies is clearly labelled number 177, which was William Mayo, a 28-year-old London man who was a leading fireman on the ship.
The image has been owned by the family of one of the crew of the Mackay Bennett until now – as they have made it available for auction at Henry Aldridge and Sons Auctioneers in Devizes, Wiltshire.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: ‘Despite the number of bodies buried at sea, visual records of the occasion, such as this photograph, are almost non-existent, even in period publications.
‘This picture blows away the myth that the burials were an orderly and dignified process. You can clearly see the bodies in brown sacks piled up on the deck, with some piled two or three high.
‘The Reverend Hind is seen holding a prayer book looking at two crewman who appear to be tipping up some kind of platform, presumably committing a body into the sea.
‘The Mackay Bennett spent five days retrieving bodies from the wreck site and had to request for a second vessel to join it because there were so many. This photo shows that the deck was pretty much full up with the victims.’
A century ago: The Titanic leaves from Southampton, on her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. During the voyage, she hit an iceberg and sank off Newfoundland, resulting in the loss of 1,512 lives
In the aftermath of the Titanic disaster on April 15, 1912, the ship Carpathia picked up more than 700 survivors from lifeboats.
The Mackay Bennet was a Canadian cable laying ship and the owners of the Titanic, White Star Line, contracted it at a rate of £300 a day to recover the bodies.
It left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on April 17 and arrived at the wreck site on April 21.
The crew conducted burials at sea on the evenings of April 21, 22 and 23 and then of the afternoon of April 24, when it is thought the picture was taken.
In an account of the burials, Reverend Hind later wrote: ‘Anyone attending a burial at sea will most surely lose the common impression of the awfulness of a grave in the mighty deep.
The wild Atlantic may rage and toss but far below in the calm untroubled depth they rest in peace.’
The photo was kept by Westy Legate, the fourth officer on the Mackay Bennett, whose family have owned it ever since.
Along with the picture is a telegram sent by a Canadian train company in the mistaken belief the Titanic was still afloat and limping to Halifax.
It states that were sending extra trains and carriages from Montreal to Nova Scotia to collect the passengers and crew, who should have been arriving in New York.
The telegram is also expected to sell for £5,000. The auction takes place on October 19.