Relative holds rare Titanic record
A hundred years after her great uncle perished with the RMS Titanic, Susan Newman yesterday held the last letter that Robert Douglas Norman ever wrote.
Mrs Newman, an accountant from Livingston, was at General Register House in Edinburgh to see a letter handwritten by her great uncle Douglas on April 9, 1912 - the night before he boarded the doomed ship.
The historic letter was addressed to Mrs Newman’s grandfather, Stanley Norman, who lived in Vancouver. It described how Douglas, a 28 year-old electrical engineer from Glasgow, wanted his estate to be divided in the event of his death.
Six days later Douglas died when the Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving an estate of more than £8,500 – the equivalent of more than £650,000 today – to his half sister, step niece and cousin.
The rare record was discovered among Scotland’s archives earlier this month along with an inventory of Mr Norman’s estate. Both historic documents are now on display at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh, where they will remain until 25 May.
Upon hearing of the letter’s discovery, Susan Newman contacted the National Records of Scotland, and was invited by George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, to come and see the documents for herself.
Holding her great uncle’s letter, Susan Newman said:
“This really brings uncle Douglas’s sad story to life. The sinking of the Titanic was a huge global disaster - but holding his handwritten note, probably the last thing he ever wrote, brings home just how tragic it must have been for my family in particular.
“I never met my grandfather, but the story of my great uncle’s last journey is something that my family have always known and talked about. My father was born just six months after the Titanic sank, and was named Robert Douglas Norman in honour of his late uncle. The centenary of uncle Douglas’s tragic death at such a young age, was a sad day for us. It’s an honour to hold his last letter, and to know it’s being kept in Scotland’s national archive for future generations to read and reflect on.”
Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said:
“This rare letter provides an incredible insight into the life of a young Scot who died in one of the biggest and most famous disasters in history. By getting in touch, Susan Newman has helped us to build on what we already know about her uncle Douglas and to see how his tragic story lives on through his family members here in Scotland. The story also 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:
“Archives usually tell us about the lives of people in the past, but it’s exciting when they lead us to living descendants, who can tell us about their ancestors. Susan Newman is one of these descendants and I am delighted to welcome her to view the documents about her Great Uncle who died tragically in the Titanic disaster.“
Robert Douglas Norman was a second class passenger on the RMS Titanic, paying £13 10s for his ticket. He had been travelling to Vancouver, where he had a brother (Susan Newman’s grandfather, Stanley Norman) and a share in some land. 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.
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 (the ‘Register of Deeds’), a legal register under the authority of the Court of Session, which is also preserved in the National Records of Scotland.
Stanley Norman returned from Vancouver to Edinburgh around 1915 with his wife and son. He lived near Cramond Bridge until his death in 1945.
The letter and inventory will feature in a free display at General Register House, until 25 May.
Anyone wishing to explore Scottish family history can access digitised sources at the ScotlandsPeople Centre