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A mystery benefactor has stepped in to ensure a valuable letter written by an officer days before he died on the Titanic will return to his home town. Dr John Simpson penned to his mother onboard the doomed liner would be bought by a private collector when it was put up for auction in New York with a $34,000 reserve price.
But after hearing about a campaign by relatives of the ship’s assistant surgeon to bring the letter back to his native Belfast a mystery donor stepped in and bought it for the city just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
According to witnesses who survived the 1912 sinking, 37-year-old Dr Simpson stood with fellow officers on the deck of the stricken vessel as it went down. His great-nephew Dr John Martin said he was happy the letter was coming back to where it belonged. “I’ve never actually seen the original letter itself as it was last in Belfast in the 1940s before Dr Simpson’s son moved away.
”So for it to be on its way back is just amazing and so appropriate now just ahead of the 100th anniversary of his death. We are so thankful to the benefactor.”
The letter, dated 11 April 1912 and written on notepaper headed RMS Titanic, was brought ashore at Cobh, Co Cork (then called Queenstown) before the ship set sail for the US.
It was dispatched to his mother Elizabeth who was living in Belfast’s Dublin Road. In it, the married father-of-one, who was then based in Liverpool, said he was tired but settling into his cabin well. He had worked on the Titanic’s White Star Line sister ship the Olympic for a year previously and observed to his mother that the accommodation on board his new vessel was larger.
Dr Simpson also complained he had found one of his trunks unlocked and $5 or $6 had been stolen from his pocket book. The surgeon, who treated second and third-class passengers, signed off: “With fondest love, John.”
It is intended that the letter will go on display in Belfast.