Faces of the Titanic - Survivor Ellen Shine's gripping story

Survivor of the Titanic - Ellen Shine who boarded the Titanic at the age of 17 and lived to the age of 98.

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PHOTOS - photographs of some of the Irish on board

Profile taken from Senan Molony's book "The Irish Aboard the Titanic"

Ticket number 330968. Paid £7 12s 7d, plus 4s extra.
Boarded at Queenstown. Third Class.
From: Lisrobin, Newmarket, County Cork.
Destination: 205 Eighth Avenue, New York city.

The longest-lived Irish survivor of the Titanic was Ellen Shine. She reached the age of 98 (although she had convinced herself she was 101), dying in Long Island, New York, in 1993. She told a story of the men in steerage being kept back and was quoted as witnessing actual killings.

Cork girl’s story

A thrilling story was told by Ellen Shine, a 20-year-old girl from County Cork who crossed to America to visit her brother.

‘Those who were able to get out of bed,’ said Miss Shine, ‘rushed to the upper deck where they were met by members of the crew who endeavoured to keep them in the steerage quarters.

‘The women however rushed past the men and finally reached the upper deck. When they were informed that the boat was sinking, most of them fell on their knees and began to pray. I saw one of the lifeboats and made for it.

‘In it there were already four men from the steerage who refused to obey an officer who ordered them out. They were however finally turned out.’ – Reuter

That report, carried in The Times of London on Saturday 20 April, is exactly the same as quotes attributed to Ellen Shine and carried in the Denver Post, the Daily Times, and other US newspapers on the previous day, with one difference. The American reports continued:

"… in it were four men from the steerage. They were ordered out by an officer and refused to leave. And then one of the officers jumped into the boat, and, drawing a revolver, shot the four men dead. Their bodies were picked out from the bottom of the boat and thrown into the ocean."

How can posterity reconcile these two versions? Were the claimed killings the product of a survivor’s fevered mind or a journalist’s reckless embellishment? Did Reuter deliberately choose to tone down the story in plucking it from another source, or was there simply no mention by Ellen of any killings in the first place? No other witnesses described four men being callously shot inside a lifeboat by an officer of the White Star Line, and no bodies were ever recovered with discernible gunshot wounds.

Ellen Shine appears to have escaped in lifeboat No. 13, which was located as the second-last boat on the starboard side, towards the stern. Eugene Daly frankly confesses that he was a steerage passenger who climbed into a lifeboat in defiance of orders at this location. Daly said he was forced from a boat at the ‘second cabin deck’, an area of promenade for middle-ranking passengers, and talks of being on the starboard side, where boat No. 13 was lowering:

"We afterwards went to the second cabin deck and the two girls and myself got into a boat. An officer called on me to go back, but I would not stir. Then they got a hold of me and pulled me out."

No one testified to any disorder at boat No. 13 at the two official inquiries. Steward Frederick Ray, who was in this boat, told the US Senate investigators, in reply to questions, that he saw no male passengers or men of the crew ‘ordered out or thrown out of these lifeboats on the starboard side. Everybody was very orderly.’ But Irish passenger Dannie Buckley declared: ‘Time and again officers would drag men from the boats … ’ Resolution of the problem is elusive. Should one disregard the claims of men shot dead for staying stubbornly in a lifeboat? Someone somewhere is spinning pure invention.

Ellen Shine told her story once and would never be drawn on it again. According to the embarkation records, she was an 18-year-old spinster, but by the time US immigration had come aboard the Carpathia, she declared herself to be a 16-year-old servant from Newmarket, County Cork. She was actually aged 17 when she boarded the Titanic and from the small hamlet of Lisrobin (Buckley mistakenly referred to her as ‘the Shine girl from Lismore’ in a letter home composed on the Carpathia). She was on her way to join her brother Jeremiah in New York.

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Ellen collapsed in hysterics when met by Jeremiah and other relatives at the Cunard pier in New York, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. It reported the next day that she and other women had knocked down crewmen who tried to prevent steerage passengers from reaching the boat deck.