The grim task of recovering the bodies of the Titanic casualties went on for some days after the sinking, with one observer describing how he “grew sick of the sight”. Around a quarter of the dead were eventually plucked from the sea. Read on for the key facts about this difficult and moving operation.
Above: The grim task of recovering the dead from the sea lasted for days. This image shows a skiff lifeboat from the CS Mackay-Bennett.
4 – the number of ships chartered by the White Star Line to retrieve the bodies of victims, the Mackay-Bennett and three Canadian vessels, CS Minia, CGS Montmagny, and SS Algerine.
334 – the approximate number of victims whose bodies were recovered from the sea (common accounts of the precise number differ from between 316 and 337 bodies).
23% – the percentage of the dead whose bodies were recovered.
There were men, women, and children. All had life preservers on. I counted 125, then grew sick of the sight. -Captain Wilhelm of the passenger liner SS Bremen, describing what he saw as his ship bypassed the Titanic crash site on 20 April 1912.
150 – the number of these bodies that were buried in Halifax, across 3 different cemeteries (121 at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, 19 at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery, and 10 at the Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery.
59 – the number of bodies that were claimed and taken elsewhere for burial.
42 – the number of bodies buried in Halifax that remain unidentified. Their tombstones contain a simple number and the date of the disaster, 15th April 1912.
Did You Know?
Whilst the search for bodies was taking place, back in Halifax, Nova Scotia the Mayflower Curling Rink was hastily prepared as a temporary morgue. An area was screened off to become an embalming section, after which any bodies not already named (from evidence found on or in their clothing) were to be moved onto specially-constructed platforms, to aid identification. A nurse was also on hand to assist relatives of the dead in need of comforting.
118 – the number of bodies that were buried (either taken ashore or buried at sea) that remain unidentified.
What happened to the bodies?
125 of the bodies were buried at sea, due either to their severe damage, advanced decomposition, or a simple lack of resources (lack of enough embalming fluid). 209 other bodies were transported for burial in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
The cable repair ship CS Mackay-Bennett became famous as the very first ship to be contracted by the White Star Line for the task of recovering the dead from the North Atlantic following the sinking, and the ship that recovered the vast majority of the bodies that were found.
2 days – the length of time it took to ready the Mackay-Bennett before she could leave for the wreck site, with coffins and embalming fluid needing to be organised, and the crew prepared.
17 April 1912 – the date the Mackay-Bennett left Halifax.
12:35 pm – the time she set sail.
800 – the distance in nautical miles (920 miles, or 1,500 km) that the CS Mackay-Bennett needed to travel to get to the scene of the disaster.
4 – the approximate number of days it took to sail to the scene.
20 April 1912 – the date on which the ship started recovering bodies.
6.00 am – the time at which the recovery work commenced.
With the exception of about 10 bodies that had received serious injuries, their looks were calm and peaceful. -Dr Thomas Armstrong, Ship’s Surgeon on the Mackay-Bennett.
70 – the number of bodies that the ship’s stock of embalming supplies could cope with.
100 – the approximate number of coffins that the CS Mackay-Bennett carried aboard.
100 tons – the volume of ice carried aboard, to be used to store recovered bodies.
12 tons – the weight of the grate iron carried (28 pound iron bars which were used to bury some bodies at sea).
Where are the Titanic victims buried?
Around two-thirds of the bodies recovered after the sinking were transported to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada for burial, whilst a third were buried at sea.
306 – the number of bodies that were recovered by the CS Mackay-Bennett (bodies 1 to 306).
51 – the number of bodies recovered on the first day (46 men, 4 women and a baby boy).
24 – the number of these first 51 bodies that were buried at sea, so disfigured were they.
116 – the total number of bodies recovered by the Mackay-Bennett that were buried at sea, due to damage or the shortage of embalming fluid.
56 – the number of bodies that the Mackay-Bennett that were buried at sea that the crew were able to identify.
Did You Know?
The treatment of the bodies recovered by the CS Mackay-Bennett varied dependent upon whether the victims had been crew or First, Second or Third class passengers. First-class passengers were embalmed, placed into coffins, and were then stored in the rear cable locker. Second and Third class victims were embalmed, then wrapped in canvas and stored in the forward cable locker. Crew members were simply placed into the ice-filled hold.
30 April 1912 – the date the CS Mackay-Bennett returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to the sound of church and fire bells ringing throughout the town.
190 – the number of bodies the ship brought back.
Bodies were carried on stretchers by members of the Mackay-Bennett crew and at times as many as 30-40 bodies were in a heap on the deck where they had been taken from the ice-filled hold. -article in the Nova Scotian Evening Mail, 31 April 1912, reporting on the Mackay-Bennett’s arrival back in Halifax.
When it became clear that the Mackay-Bennett was going to need help in recovering the dead, a second ship was despatched, the cable ship Minia, commanded by Captain William George Squares deCarteret.
22 April 1912 – the date the Minia sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia (Monday).
26 April 1912 – the date the Minia arrived at the scene of the sinking (Friday).
150 – the number of coffins carried aboard the Minia.
20 tons – the amount of ice carried aboard.
10 tons – the weight of the grate iron carried (impromptu weights used to send bodies to the ocean floor).
1 week – the length of time the Minia spent in the hunt for bodies.
17 – the number of bodies that were recovered by the cable ship Minia (numbers 307 to 323).
2 – the number of these bodies that were buried at sea (two unidentified crew members, both firemen).
15 – the number of bodies that were transferred to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
5 – the number of passengers’ bodies the Minia brought back to Halifax.
10 – the number of crew members’ bodies brought back by the Minia.
06 May 1912 – the date the Minia arrived back in Halifax.
When the CS Minia arrived back in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she transferred any empty coffins and spare embalming fluid onto the CGS Montmagny. A lighthouse supply and buoy tender, she sailed under the command of Captain Peter Crerar Johnson (international waters) and Capitaine François-Xavier Pouliot (home waters). Montmagny was the third ship chartered by the White Star Line to search for bodies.
06 May 1912 – the date the Montmagny sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, having first travelled there from Sorel, Quebec.
4 – the number of bodies that were recovered by the CGS Montmagny (bodies 326 to 329 – numbers 324 and 325 were unused).
1 – the number of these bodies that were buried at sea.
3 – the number of bodies that were delivered to Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, from where they were transferred to Halifax via railway.
13 May 1912 – the date continue the search for more bodies.
23 May 1912 – the date the Montmagny returned to Halifax, before resuming her normal duties.
The last of the four ships contracted by the White Star Line to search for bodies, the steamer ship Algerine sailed under the command of Captain John Jackman.
16 May 1912 – the date the SS Algerine sailed from St. John’s, Newfoundland (Thursday).
19 May 1912 – the date the Algerine met up with the CGS Montmagny, the ship from whom she was taking over.
3 weeks – the approximate length of time the Algerine spent at the site of the sinking.
1 – the number of bodies recovered by the SS Algerine, that of James McGrady (body 330), who had served as a Saloon Steward aboard Titanic.
06 June 1912 – the date the Algerine arrived back in St. John’s, where she transferred James McGrady’s remains to the steamer Florizel for onward transfer to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
12 June 1912 – the date that James McGrady was finally interred, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, almost two full months after the sinking.
Other Bodies Recovered
3 – the number of bodies that were recovered by the RMS Oceanic (bodies 331 to 333), found in Collapsible Lifeboat A and all buried at sea.
1 – the number of bodies that were recovered by the SS Ottawa, that of William Thomas Kerley (body 334), a Second Class Saloon Steward aboard Titanic, found on 06 June 1912 and buried at sea.
1 – the number of bodies that were recovered by the SS Ilford, that of William Frederick Cheverton (body 335), a member of the Titanic’s Victualling crew, found on 08 June 1912 and buried at sea.
4 – the number of bodies that were recovered by the RMS Carpathia (1 from the water, 3 from lifeboats), all buried at sea.
Did You Know?
Whilst performing his duties at the Mayflower Curling Rink in Halifax, Nova Scotia, undertaker Frank Newell had the shock of discovering the body of his uncle, Arthur Newell, whereupon he immediately collapsed from shock.
2,000 – the approximate number of people killed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in December 1917, a little over five years after the town’s role in the Titanic disaster, when an ammunition ship moored in the harbour exploded. Large swathes of the town were ruined, including the ice rink used as a morgue for the Titanic victims.
2007 – the year in which the remains of the baby boy, plucked from the water on the first day of the Mackay-Bennett’s search, was finally identified as Sidney Leslie Goodwin, the youngest child in an English family of eight, all of whom perished in the disaster (the remains were exhumed in 2002 and were initially and inaccurately identified as those of another young victim, Eino Viljam Panula).
More To Explore
Now that you know what happened to the bodies of the Titanic dead, why not read more about the lucky survivors, find out all about the disaster, browse facts about the lifeboats, and see a list of Titanic deaths.