As fans of period drama will know, ITV is to air Julian Fellowes’ adaptation of the story of the Titanic, which of course sank on its maiden voyage.
1,500 people died in the disaster, but a letter written by a survivor of the tragedy has suggested that the ship’s Captain, Edward Smith, may have been drunk when the ship hit an iceberg.
The author of the letter, Emily Richards, claims she saw Smith drinking in the ship’s saloon when the alarm was raised.
Other accounts of that night have claimed that the Captain was dining with guests in the first class section of the ship a few hours before the collision. He was reported by most to have been in bed asleep when the first alarm sounded.
The Sun reports, “He was woken just before midnight and was last seen alive on the bridge after making the heroic decision to go down with his ship.”
However, the newly-found letter suggests this account was not the case. Ms Richards wrote the letter two days after the tragedy as she was on her way home on rescue ship, the Carpathia…
Writing to her mother-in-law, Ms Richards wrote, “The boat struck an iceberg at 11 o’clock on Sunday night.
“The Captain was down in the saloon drinking and gave charge to someone else to steer the ship.
“It was the Captain’s fault. My poor brother George… drowned as far as we know now.
“I hope I shall never see no such thing again. It was a dreadful sight. The water was like a mill pool.
“Me and mother and the children were on the last boat. The poor men had to come after. I hope my poor George is safe.
“I am thankful to say me and the two dear children are safe, and my dear mother and Ellen.
“I have lost all my things. I don’t care as long as I am safe from a watery grave.”
The letter remained with Ms Richards’ family for 75 years before being bought by a private collector. Up until then, it had never been made public.
In a second letter – which was also bought by the collector – Ms Richards writes, “George, poor boy, is gone. Willie was dressed in a ship’s blanket made into a coat, the baby has got a cold — but Willie is alright.
“The Americans were kind concerning clothes for the night. This city is a city of mourning.”
The letters are now being sold by Henry Aldridge and Son auctioneers of Devizes, Wilts, with a combined estimated value of £20,000.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said, “This was a woman whose emotions would have been incredibly raw having lost a loved one in the sinking.
“She would have wanted someone to blame and clearly she blamed the captain.
“As far as we know there are no other witness reports that put the captain in the saloon drinking on the evening of the sinking.
“So Emily Richards’ account is not consistent with the dozens of others that exist.
“It is very controversial, but you can’t ignore the fact she was there. It puts a very different perspective on the events if it is true.
“Captain Smith was largely exonerated by the British enquiry into the disaster and there are numerous accounts of him dying an Englishman’s death by choosing to go down with the ship.
“First person accounts written on Carpathia headed notepaper are incredibly rare. I think only a handful have emerged over the last 15 years so there is a great deal of interest in this.”
It remains to be seen how Fellowes has written the story from the Captain’s point of view.