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Lucy Ridsdale and the Titanic Tragedy

“In the Matter of the Petition of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, Limited, for Limitation of its Liability as owner of the steamship TITANIC”; Admiralty Case Files Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at New York City.

Today’s post comes from Christopher Zarr of the National Archives at New York City.

At first glance, some of our records may not grab your attention.

Take for instance, two documents labeled Exhibit C and D. Exhibit C is a ticket from 1912 for excess luggage, and Exhibit D is a claim coupon to pick up one’s bags upon arrival. Compared to a Presidential speech or an act of Congress, these small items seem out of place for the National Archives.

While they might not seem too important to us, to Lucy Ridsdale this luggage ticket and coupon represented her whole life. To her, they were proof that when she boarded a steamship bound for the United States, she brought five trunks of objects that she had accumulated throughout her 50-plus years on earth.

Lucy Ridsdale was born around 1860 in Yorkshire, England.  For  25 years, Lucy ran a nursing home. When she boarded a train bound for the port city of Southampton on April 10, 1912, she was prepared to live out the rest of her days in the United States. It wasn’t her first visit to the U.S., but it would be her last. Lucy had relatives in Marietta, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and she intended to enjoy retirement with her family.

So, it is not surprising that she brought everything she owned with her. Bringing over 300 pounds of luggage exceeded the standard amount for the London and South Western Railway, so Lucy had to pay an extra fee (which surely sounds familiar to many travelers). Among her belongings were the valuable (“1 Gold Bracelet set with Rubies and Diamonds”), the everyday (“12 large silver plated table forks”), and the sentimental (“Nurses Books”).

Upon arriving at the pier in Southampton, Lucy turned her trunks over to the ship’s crew and received a coupon—printed in four languages—to retrieve them after she arrived in New York. Armed with this voucher and her second-class ticket to New York City (which cost her £10 10s), she was ready for the weeklong journey.

Unfortunately for Lucy, just a few days after turning over all of her belongings, she would escape with little more than her life. The ship she boarded was the RMS Titanic.

Excess Luggage ARC 278329, ReD 05705, National Archives at New York City

Lucy Ridsdale was one of 706 survivors of the most infamous disaster in maritime history. When the Titanic struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912, Lucy and her cabinmate Mary Davis  made their way onto lifeboat 13. After being picked up by the RMS Carpathia, she arrived at the Port of New York on April 18, 1912.

Much of Lucy’s story can be told through the claim she filed against the White Star Line as part of the case “In the Matter of the Petition of the Oceanic Steam Ship Company, Limited, for Limitation of its Liability as owner of the steamship TITANIC.” Lucy and hundreds of other survivors and the families of victims filed claims against the White Star Line for loss of life, loss of property, and injuries.

As part of her claim, Lucy listed several hundred items (see below) worth a total of $3,146. Lucy went a few steps further than other claimants, however. In addition to listing the items and their worth, she included the addresses of two people in London who knew her and the possessions she was bringing with her to the United States.

She also enclosed two documents as further evidence—an excess luggage receipt from the London and South Western Railway and a baggage coupon from the White Star Line. Even in her haste to escape from the Titanic, Lucy must have felt that these documents were just as vital as her life. She attached them to the claim she filed in December 1912, and these two documents that were once on the Titanic are now a part of the National Archives.

Just goes to show you that some documents are worth a second look.

Postscript

Eight years later on the 1920 census, a Lucy Ridsdale is listed as a lodger at the Harris Hotel in Chicago. On the 1930 census, a Lucy Ridsdale is listed as an “inmate” in an Old People’s Home in Chicago. Did she live long enough to be counted in the 1940 census? We’ll be able to find out on April 2, 2012, when the 1940 census is released.

To find out more about our Titanic-related records, follow the National Archives at New York City’s Facebook page on “Titanic Tuesdays.”

Page 1 of Lucy Ridsdale's itemized list of lost possessions, Admiralty Case Files Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at New York City.

Page 2 of Lucy Ridsdale's itemized list of lost possessions

Page 3 of Lucy Ridsdale's itemized list of lost possessions

Additional testimony for Lucy Ridsdale's itemized list of lost possesions

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Comments

Comment from Phil Gowan
Time March 20, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Yes, Lucy Ridsdale lived well past 1940 and would be the first Titanic survivor that lived to see at least age 90.

Comment from Mark S
Time March 21, 2012 at 9:56 am

You left out an important part of the story. Did she ever receive any reimbursement?

Comment from Christopher Zarr
Time March 21, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Well, its a little complicated.

Short story–she most likely received some compensation, but not near the full amount she sought.

Long story–The limited liability law of the time gave the White Star Line the option of filing a petition to limit its liability. The law stated that if the Titanic disaster was truly an accident, the company owed survivors and the families of victims nothing. If it was an accident, but only the captain and crew were aware (and the owners had no knowledge), the total liability was limited to the value paid for passenger fares, cargo, and any salvaged material. In the case of the Titanic, this was around $91,000 that could be split between the claimants.

To get more than that amount, the claimants would have to prove that the White Star Line was aware of the issues that led to the disaster.

The proceedings dragged on for quite some time. There were disagreements about whether the US law or the UK law should apply to the limit of the liability. The Supreme Court decide it was the former. The suit was not heard in court until June 1915.

In December 1915, an agreement was made out of court between the lawyers for most of the claimants and the White Star Line that settled on a total of around $665,000.

This amount was divided between the claimants. Unfortunately, since this agreement was made out of court, there is no definitive record in our case stating the amount given to each person. It appears that a committee of lawyers for the claimants decided on how to divide the total between their clients.

There is one document related to a Selma Asplund who was asking for $ $207,500 for the loss of life and property of several family members. It appears she was paid around $1100 (or around .5% of what she sought).

Contemporary New York Times articles state somewhat contradicting statements relating to reimbursement. One mentions “the smaller claims were not reduced in anything like the same proportion and the company has granted $1,000 for a number of death claims for immigrants which had been filed at $1,500.” Another states “the company agreed to pay about $665,000 in full for all claims, and this amount, it was understood was to be distributed pro rata among the claimants.”

So, long story short–its complicated. I would assume she received some compensation for loss of property, but probably less than what she was seeking.

Mark S Reply:

Thank you for taking the time to elaborate with the long story!

Margaret Faulk Reply:

Thank you for explaining the liability issues. I have often wondered how the survivors who had no family/connections here wer able to restart their lives if they were not adequately compensated.

Bonnie Reply:

OMG…..I can’t believe this is my first time seeing this. I have copies of a couple of hand written letters of Lucy’s to my gr-grand-mother’s brother…they were cousins!!
Are you saying these documents are on display in NYC?

Comment from Alexis Hill
Time March 21, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Very interesting story. Thanks for sharing!

Comment from Christopher Zarr
Time March 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm

No problem. Follow our Titanic Tuesdays postings on our National Archives at New York City Facebook page and stay tuned to an upcoming issue of Prologue for more of the story!

Comment from jasmine
Time November 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I think that lucy is a brave women she was the one person that can tell us the true story of what happened that night and how she felt and if she loved anyone on the ship and she lost afterward the sinking.

Comment from Bonnie
Time April 14, 2013 at 1:08 am

Lucy was not born 1860 but, March 20, 1854. Of course that’s according to her death cert. in 1946 at age 91.