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Titanic survivor's letter implicating White Star Line chairman to sell at Bonhams
Titanic autograph letter signed ("Emily Borie Ryerson"). Est $10,000 - 15,000. Photo: Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- A handwritten letter by Titanic survivor, Emily Ryerson, pointing the finger of blame at White Star Chairman, J Bruce Ismay, is to be sold at the Treasures from ‘The Caren Archive: How History Unfolds on Paper’ Sale in New York on 7 April. It is estimated at £6,000-9,000 ($10,000-15,000)

The letter, dated April 18, 1913 and written to a Mr Bowen, provides a glimpse of the hours leading up to the disaster on the evening of the 15th. It offers first-hand documentary evidence that Ismay approved of Titanic’s speeding up through the iceberg-strewn waters.

Mrs Ryerson would later give similar testimony in her legal deposition to the Titanic Inquiry but did not then say what she had shared in the letter, namely that it had been her distinct impression, while talking with Ismay earlier in the day, that the decision to increase the ship’s speed had been his to make. “..the strong impression which was left in my mind.. was that they were speeding the ship up—to get away from the ice—& that we would probably get in late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. Mr Ismay's manner was that of one in authority & the owner of the ship & that what he said was law. If this can be of service to anyone I do not wish to be silent to seem to be protecting him."

Apportioning blame for the sinking of the Titanic has been the subject of debate for 100 years. Although the two inquiries held at the time – one in the USA and one in the UK – did not censure the White Star Line or its parent Company, the International Mercantile Marine Company, Ismay became a social outcast. This was largely because it was commonly felt that he had deserted the sinking vessel when others - notably the captain - had stayed on board and gone down with the ship. Despite Mrs Ryerson’s assertions, there is no evidence that Ismay put undue pressure on the captain who was following normal procedure in going at full speed.

Emily Ryerson was aboard the Titanic with her husband, three children, her son's governess and a maid. The reason for their journey was a tragic one. Arthur Ryerson Jr., age 21, had just been killed in a car accident and the family was returning home to bury him. Emily's husband, Arthur, drowned but she and the rest of her party were rescued in Lifeboat 4. Emily Ryerson's youngest son, Jack, was initially denied a place in the lifeboat, but his father pleaded that he was only 13 and the officer in charge relented.

The Ryerson/Titanic letter is among nearly 300 items Bonhams has selected from the Caren Archive, the largest and most significant private collection of historical paper in America. The April 7 sale includes rare newspapers, broadsides, photographs, books, and manuscripts dating from the 16th century through to the 1960s.

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