The picture is thought to have been just days after the Titanic famously sank on April 15, 1912, during its maiden voyage.
The black and white photograph shows victims stacked in body bags aboard the rescue ship the CS Mackay-Bennett.
On the right-hand side of the photo, two men push a body bag into the sea while a reverend leads a funeral service.
Priest praying over the bodies of Titanic victims before mass burial at sea - April, 1912. pic.twitter.com/FvRS8qMlcv— History Collection (@HistoryCollect2) April 4, 2019
RD 'Westy' Legate, 4th officer of the CS Mackay-Bennett, reportedly kept the picture with his belongings, only to be discovered by a descendant decades later.
In 2013, Henry Aldridge & Son auctioneer Henry Aldridge said about the photo: “It has always been said that the process was dignified and organized but piles of bodies are neither of those. The bodies are piled up waist-high.”
The rare photo, like many other artifacts from the events surrounding the Titanic disaster, was put to auction in October 2013 and was expected to fetch between $5,000 and $8,000 at auction, though the final selling price was not disclosed.
The Belfast-built Titanic hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland on April 15, 1912, on its maiden voyage to New York. Previously called “unsinkable” because it could stay afloat with four of its chambers flooded, the Titanic sank after five of its chambers filled with water.
Titanic’s owners, The White Star Line, contracted the CS Mackay-Bennett to collect the bodies. She left Nova Scotia on April 17 and arrived at the wreck site on April 21.
The Mackay-Bennett collected 306 bodies and 166 of these were given a burial at sea. Burials were given on the evenings of April 21, 22, 23, and on the afternoon of April 24 when the photograph is thought to have been taken.
The Daily Mail quoted Aldridge, “The Titanic has a beginning, middle, and end. This isn’t one of the most pleasant or glamorous but it brings a certain level of realism to the story.”
* Originally published in 2013, updated in April 2023.