Jun 27, 2024 - Sale 2675

Sale 2675 - Lot 201

Price Realized: $ 15,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 4,000 - $ 6,000
(MARITIME.) Letters by and about two steerage passengers who died while emigrating to America aboard the Titanic. 20 items in one folder, including 3 letters by the Johnstons shortly before their departure, 7 other complete letters, and 8 newspaper clippings; minor wear and light soiling. Various places, most March to May 1912

Additional Details

"Our boat has been cancelled owing to the coal strike, so they are transferring us onto the Titanic, a new one. This will be her first voyage. . . . I was wishing all along to go with this one. She will be nice and clean."

In 1912, a young couple booked third class tickets to emigrate to America, along with their two children, the wife's sister, and her four children. Shortly before their departure, their planned departure was canceled, and they were transferred to a new ocean liner--the Titanic. All nine family members were lost when the boat sank; their bodies were never found. Offered here are three family letters sent by the doomed couple in the weeks before their departure, and seven poignant family letters sent to their survivors after the loss of the Titanic.

Andrew Emslie Johnston (1876-1912) and his wife Elizabeth Watson Johnston (1876-1912) were both natives of Scotland--he from Newmachar just north of Aberdeen, and she from the Isle of Skye. They settled in Croydon, England shortly after their 1902 marriage. He had been a plumber by trade, but was learning sheet metal fabrication. They had two children, William and Catherine. On the Titanic, they were accompanied by Eliza's sister Margaret (Watson) Ford and her four children. These letters were written to Andrew's father and sister.

The first letter is from victim Andrew Johnston to his father William Johnston, announcing his plans to emigrate to America. "I suppose you will be surprised to hear that I am going to America. I intend to sail on the 6th April for New York, taking the Mrs. and all the family. Our destination is at present New London, Conn., U.S.A. Mrs. Johnston's brother is out there. . . . I am intirely going out on spect. I have no prospects of a job nor nothing, only I am determined to try my luck. . . . I have no intentions of sticking to the plumbing when I get out there. As I am told there is a splendid chance for the sheet metal working trade. . . . . I have sold all the furniture as it stands to one of my shop mates who is getting married. Mrs. Johnston's sister from Sussex is going out with us, so there will be a party of 10 of us all together." Thornton Heath [Borough of Croydon], 7 March 1912.

The second letter, and certainly the most haunting, is from victim Elizabeth Watson Johnston to her sister-in-law Catherine "Kate" Johnston Frost (1874-1962). "We had a letter from the shipping co this morning telling us our boat has been cancelled owing to the coal strike, so they are transferring us onto the Titanic, a new one. This will be her first voyage. She sails on 10th April. . . . I was wishing all along to go with this one. She will be nice and clean. It's one of the White Star steamers. There is no fear of getting bugs on this one. I expect if nothing goes wrong she will go across in about 5 days." Thornton Heath [Borough of Croydon], 30 March 1912.

The third letter, also from victim Elizabeth Watson Johnston to her sister-in-law, describes the family's last-minute preparations for departure; they hoped to spend their hectic last night at the Frost home as it was closer to the dock. "If you will have us, we will all be in on Tuesday night, and we will send the luggage in on the front. If we stopped here till Wednesday morning, it would be such a scramble to get the blankets and things packed. . . . Don't put yourself out any, as we won't sleep that night wherever we are. So it does not matter whether we go to bed or not." Thornton Heath [Borough of Croydon], 3 April 1912. The remaining material dates from after the news of the disaster.

Telegram from Archie McCaskill to Andrew's sister Catherine Johnston Frost, hoping to find his sister-in-law Eliza Watson Johnston there: "Please reply immediately if at home and well." Carbost, Isle of Skye, 12 April 1912.

Letter from Andrew's father William Johnston to his daughter Catherine "Kate" Johnston Frost. "The reports about the boat Andrew sailed with are most conflicting and blacker every day. We can only hope for the best, but for myself I have little or no hope of their being saved, although it is cruel to say so. . . . The suspence is awfull. . . . I do not know [daughter-in-law] Eliza's maiden name, neither the name of her sister or her husband." Newmachar, near Aberdeen, Scotland, 18 April 1912.

Letter from Archie MacCaskill to Eliza [Elizabeth Watson Johnston]. "It is in the paper that a Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone and two children were on the Titanic, and she was a native of Skye. I sent a wire yesterday and did not get a reply, and we are all thinking it was you. I hope it was not true. If you get this, write at once." Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland, 30 April 1912.

Letter from James Watt to Andrew's father William Johnston. "I am very sorry to hear of your sad loss. Of course, I presume you know your son worked for me for years, and I had an interest in his life policy, which I gave up just before he left." London, 3 May 1912.

Letter from James Watt to Andrew's sister Catherine Johnston Frost. "Re Mr. A. Johnston, deceased, who worked for me for a number of years, and who I understand is your brother--I have a letter from his father at Newmachar, Aberdeen. Do you know anything about the insurance matters, as I am anxious to assist in any way I can?" London, 7 May 1912.

Letter from Clarence Chambers to Andrew's parents William and Catherine Johnston. "I deeply sympathize with your heavy loss. . . . Please excuse my not being with you at the funeral tomorrow." Aberdeen, 7 May [1912].

Letter from Archie MacCaskill to Andrew's sister Catherine Johnston Frost. "I got your letter and sorry to see by it about Andrew and Eliza and family. Everyone here is very sorry for them. . . . I am Eliza's brother-in-law. It was a very sad case about them." Carbost, Isle of Skye, 21 May 1912.

One partial letter signed "Lisey," possibly unrelated.

Typescript carbon account submitted by Aberdeen lawyers Wight & Aitken to William Johnston as executor of his late son Andrew Johnston, 5 July 1912 through 23 April 1913. Includes expenses for correspondence with "Ismay Imrie & Co." and "White Star Co."

Packet of 8 newspaper clippings about the Titanic, including 3 different short 1912 articles on the Johnstons.

Provenance: Sotheby's London sale, 18 July 1991, lot 441; property of Steve Forbes.