A postcard shows how people came to terms with the sinking of the Titanic
Mervyn Gibson is the minster of Westbourne Presbyterian Church on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast. It is known as the ‘shipyard church’ because of its longstanding association with shipyard workers in the area. For Mervyn, one small postcard is proof of how people turned to their faith when the Titanic sank with the loss of over 1500 lives.
It features the Titanic sinking beneath the waves with angels ascending to heaven on a celestial staircase and the words of the hymn “Nearer my God to Thee”. It was produced as part of a series of six by Bamforth, a company later known for its saucy seaside postcards. In 1912 they saw a yearning for items to mark the loss of the ship - and spotted a commercial opportunity.
“Nearer my God to Thee” is famous as the hymn the Titanic’s band played as the ship went down. There has been a dispute about this with some dismissing this as an urban myth. However, a number of witness accounts seem to corroborate that the band did play the hymn - at least in the early stages of the sinking.
For Mervyn, the fact that a hymn and religious imagery feature so prominently in relation to the sinking ship shows how people needed a way of understanding the sudden and terrible loss of life. The idea that the souls of those who had died had been taken up to heaven brought some comfort.
The outpouring of public sympathy that followed the sinking of the Titanic has a parallel in more recent times with that shown after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. In 1912 there were none of the public books of condolence that we see today so buying a postcard might have given people a sense of a personal link to the tragedy. For Mervyn, it is significant that this card was never sent or written on and seems to have been kept simply as a memento of the loss of the Titanic.