A Titanic discovery
Scotland’s record keepers have unearthed a rare letter penned by a Scot exactly a hundred years ago (April 9, 1912) as he prepared to board the doomed RMS Titanic.
Robert Douglas Norman, a 28 year-old electrical engineer from Glasgow, wrote the letter from his half-sister’s home in London on April 9, 1912 - the eve of the famous liner’s departure from Southampton.
Addressed to his brother in Canada, the letter described how Mr Norman wanted his estate to be divided in the event of his death.
He died when the Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean six days later, leaving an estate of more than £8,500 – the equivalent of more than £650,000 today – to his half sister, step niece and cousin.
Mr Norman had been travelling to Vancouver, where he had a brother and a share in some land. He was a second class passenger, paying £13 10s for his ticket. His body was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean by the cable repair ship CS Mackay-Bennett, and was buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 6, 1912.
The National Records of Scotland discovered the rare original letter, and the inventory of Mr Norman’s estate, as part of their work to digitise thousands of paper records for the ScotlandsPeople genealogy website.
The documents will be shown from April 16 as part of a display at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, which claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people on April 15, 1912.
Speaking ahead of a visit to Vancouver tomorrow (Tuesday April 10) as part of Scotland Week 2012, Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs said:
“This is a rare find which has provided an incredible insight into the life of a young Scot who died in one of the biggest and most famous disasters in history. Its timely discovery highlights the fascinating work of the National Records of Scotland and the rich heritage of Scotland’s people and their lives.”
George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland said: “This is one of those exciting discoveries we make in the archives, a link to a world famous though tragic event. The letter gives a tantalising insight into the mind of Robert Norman Douglas the day before he embarked on the Titanic, bound for Canada. It shows how powerfully archives connect us directly to people and events in the past.”
Susan Morrison, Director of ‘Previously…Scotland's History Festival’, said:
“I've lived and breathed the Titanic's story for decades now, and yet a poignant discovery like this can still take my breath away and bring tears to my eyes. Robert was only 28, with his whole life ahead of him. This letter emphasises the human side of that tragedy one hundred years ago. And of course, it makes you wonder - what other wonderful treasures lie in the archives, just waiting to be discovered?”
Transcript of the letter:
Mr dear Stanley,
As I have to date left no Will and am anxious to leave some of my money to certain individuals, kindly have the following instructions carried out:
- Pay to my half sister Lucie – in cash (initialled R.D.N.) £2000 free of all obligations.
- Pay to Winnie (my step niece) £2000 free of all obligations.
- Pay to George Cochrane (my cousin) £500 free of all obligations.
This of course only holds good should I die unmarried or no other Will is made by me. Lucie has instructions to forward you this letter on receipt of official news of my death.
Your loving brother
Robert Douglas Norman.
- Robert Douglas Norman was born on September 14, 1884 at 9 Priestfield Road, Edinburgh, to parents Robert Norman, a silk merchant, and Mary Hicks. The family moved to Nordcroft, South Oswald Road, in the Grange area, and after the father’s death they lived at Cluny Gardens in Morningside. Mr Norman later moved to Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.
- He worked as an electrical engineer for A.E.G. Electric Company in Glasgow, and left a personal estate of £8,660, much of which he had inherited from his father, who bequeathed over £22,000 when he died in 1893.
- When Mr Norman’s estate was settled, his letter was copied into the register of inventories in Edinburgh Sheriff Court, but for security the original was recorded in the Books of Council and Session, a legal register under the authority of the Court of Session which is also preserved in the National Records of Scotland.
- The documents will be shown as part of a free display at the ScotlandsPeople Centre, General Register House, Edinburgh from April 16 until late May, Monday to Friday, 9am-4.30pm. More information about the display.
- Anyone wishing to explore the fascinating world of Scottish family history can access digitised sources online - birth, marriage and death records, wills, censuses, valuation rolls and coats of arms going back almost 500 years -or at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh.
- Scotland Week 2012 will run from April 6 -14, with Ministerial engagements taking place in New York, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston. For a full programme of events and for further information on Scotland Week, please visit www.scotland.org or keep up to date with #scotweek on Twitter.
- Built around the annual Tartan Day celebrations in the USA and Canada on April 6, Scotland Week is an annual week long programme of business, political and tourism engagements aimed at the promotion of Scotland as a great place to live, visit, do business, study and invest with key North American markets in the USA and Canada.