London saleroom Noonans (24% buyer’s premium) offered a CQD Life-Saving Medal awarded to a recipient for his bravery in a shipwreck in 1909 – only for him to perish when the Titanic hit the iceberg three years later.
Hugh Roberts was a First Class Bedroom Steward on the SS Republic, in charge of the four cabins occupying the point of impact when the Italian liner SS Florida’s bow crashed through the ship’s superstructure off Nantucket in January 1909.
As the New York Times reported: “As soon as some semblance of order was obtained he [Roberts] had gone from room to room, looking to the safety of the passengers in his immediate charge. He helped Mr Lynch out of Cabin 34 and Mrs Mooney to gain the deck from Cabin 32. He found, too, that Mrs Lynch’s body had been terribly mangled and carried some distance aft by the collision. Mr Mooney had apparently been sleeping on one of the settees, his wife being in a lower berth. His body carried some distance, and the head was terribly crushed.”
Roberts’ selfless actions won him the CQD Medal, while more than 1700 lives were saved between the two ships. CQD is understood by wireless operators to mean All stations: distress and predates the Morse code of SOS.
The medal sold for a hammer price of £1700 on April 20 against an estimate of £1000-1400. (Noonans is the new brand of Dix Noonan Webb.)
Having survived that tragedy, Roberts found himself aboard the Titanic for her delivery trip from the Belfast shipyard where she was built to Southampton, from where she was to undertake her maiden voyage.
He decided to sign on for that voyage in Southampton on April 4, 1912, and died in the sinking on the night of 14-15 April after the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic.
The rescue ship CS Mackay-Bennett, a transatlantic cable-layer, was berthed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the time and recovered more bodies from the disaster than any other vessel. One of those recovered and buried at sea on April 23 was Roberts, who was then thought to be aged 40. He had been identified through a letter addressed to him, found in his pocket.
Across the Atlantic on May 7 a letter written on board sold at Dallas auction house Heritage revealed another terrible Titanic twist of fate.
The letter was written by a man named George Henry Hunt to his mother and father shortly after he joined the maiden voyage of the doomed liner in Southampton on April 10, 1912.
The 33-year-old was not even supposed to be on board the ship - his passage was booked on the White Star Line vessel RMS Oceanic, but this ship had smashed her propellers recently, so Hunt’s second-class berth was transferred to the Titanic.
Hunt was returning home to his wife and two children in Philadelphia after a visit to family in Surrey, England. He was a gardener and had once worked as head gardener at Ashtead Park. For six years he had lived and worked in Philadelphia as head gardener on a large estate.
“I boarded the Titanic today,” he wrote to his parents from Southampton. “Remember me to all. Will write you when I arrive at New York ... Hope that I shall be the first down and the last up to make what I ought to have had on the Oceanic.”
That message, written on ‘On board R.M.S. ‘Titanic’’ letterhead bearing the White Star Line watermark, sold for a premium-inclusive price of $275,000. Heritage said the letter originated from a grand-niece of the writer and appears to be unpublished.
Hunt’s body was not recovered.
Badge of honour
A badge given by a steward to a female friend aboard the Titanic shortly before it sank fetched a hammer price of £45,000 at Wiltshire auction house Henry Aldridge and Son (20/15/10% buyer’s premium), which holds dedicated Titanic memorabilia sales.
Roberta Maioni, 20, from Norwich, who was on board the ship as the maid to a first-class passenger, was given a White Star Line badge. She survived but the steward died.
The five-pointed star metal brooch bearing the name Titanic and engraved on reverse Sank April 15th 1912, and other items connected to the liner - a telegram and archive note of the sinking written by Maioni - estimated together at £40,000-60,000, were bought at the Devizes auction on April 23 by a buyer in the UK.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said the pair met on board the liner and when the ship struck the iceberg "the steward sought Roberta out" and escorted her from her cabin to a lifeboat.
The young steward handed her his pin, staying on board and dying in the disaster.
Aldridge added: "During her lifetime Roberta is said to have told her family about how she survived the Titanic and about the young cabin steward she met on board. Although she never revealed his name to anyone - maybe because she was married by that time - she kept hold of this little brooch."
Maioni died in 1963 at the age of 71.