CS Mackay-Bennett

CS Mackay-Bennett was a cable repair ship registered in London, England, owned by the Commercial Cable Company. The ship is remembered for being the ship that recovered the majority of the bodies of the victims of the Titanic sinking.

CS Mackay-Bennett around 1900
Name: Mackay-Bennett
Namesake: John Mackay & Gordon Bennett
Operator: Commercial Cable Company
Port of registry: London, England
Builder: John Elder & Co., Glasgow
Launched: September 1884
In service: 1884
Out of service: May 1922
Homeport: Halifax, Nova Scotia / Plymouth, England
  • Storage hulk, May 1922
  • Scrapped, 1963
General characteristics [1]
Type: Cable ship
Tonnage: 2,000 gross register tons (GRT)
  • 270 ft (82 m) o/a
  • 250 ft (76 m) p/p
Beam: 40 ft (12 m)
Depth: 24 ft 6 in (7.47 m) moulded
  • 2 × Compound inverted 2-cylinder engines
  • 2 × Cylindrical single-ended multi-tubular boilers

Design and build

The ship was commissioned from then noted River Clyde-based warship builders John Elder & Co., who incorporated a number of new and then original features into a cable ship. One of the first ships built from steel, she had a relatively deep keel design to: accommodate as much cable as possible; keep the ship stable in the Atlantic Ocean swells; and yet a design which was also very hydrodynamic to keep her fuel efficient and fast in operation. The hull design included bilge keels to keep her stable, and she had two rudders, one fore and one aft, to maximize manoeuvrability.[2]


Named after the two founders of her owners, the sailors who served aboard her pronounced the name "Macky-Bennett". Mainly based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she first arrived in March 1885,[3] she was also often used for operations on the European side of the Atlantic, based out of Plymouth, England. The Canadian author Thomas Raddall worked as wireless operator aboard Mackay-Bennett and based some short stories on his experiences aboard.

In addition to carrying out numerous difficult cable repairs, many during times of wartime danger, due to the nature of her work and resultant position in the Atlantic, Mackay-Bennett performed many rescues. Typical was the rescue of the crew of the sinking schooner Caledonia on 12 February 1912.[4]

Recovery of bodies from wreck of RMS Titanic

In April 1912, whilst working on maintaining the France-to-Canada communications cable, the ship became famous as the first vessel contracted by the White Star Line to carry out the difficult task of recovering the bodies left floating in the North Atlantic, after the Titanic disaster. After returning to port in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and clearing out her cable stores, her captain Frederick H. Larnder took on board above her normal supplies.[2][5] Specialized personnel and supplies taken on board for the assignment included:

  • Canon Kenneth Cameron Hind of All Saints Cathedral, Halifax
  • John R. Snow, Jr., the chief embalmer with the firm of John Snow & Co., the province of Nova Scotia's largest undertaking firm, hired by White Star to oversee the embalming arrangements
  • Sufficient embalming supplies to handle 70 bodies
  • 100 coffins
  • 100 long tons (100 t) of ice, in which to store the recovered bodies

The ship left Halifax at 12:28PM on Wednesday, 17 April 1912. Due to severe fog and rough seas it took the ship nearly four days to sail the 800 nautical miles (1,500 km; 920 mi) to the scene of the disaster. The captain instructed the ship's crew to keep their logbooks complete and up to date during the voyage and subsequent recovery operation, but only two logbooks are presently known to have survived:[6] seven pages from the logbook of engineer Frederick A. Hamilton, now kept in the National Maritime Museum, England, and the personal diary of Clifford Crease, a 24-year-old Naval artificer (craftsman-in-training); much of the detailed account of the recovery operation is today traced to Crease's diary, now held in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia.[2][6]

The ship arrived during the night, so recovery of bodies started at 06:00 on 20 April.[2] CS Mackay-Bennett was anchored close to but not within the recovery area, and she offloaded her skiff lifeboats. Crews then rowed into the recovery area and manually recovered the bodies into the skiffs. After recovering as many bodies as they deemed safe for the return journey (51 corpses), the crews then rowed back to the CS Mackay-Bennett.[2][7] The captain noted that there was neither sufficient space aboard to store all of the recovered bodies nor enough embalming supplies aboard. As the Canadian Government and associated burial and maritime laws directed that any bodies carried had to be embalmed before a ship enter a Canadian port, the captain agreed to a system whereby:[2][8]

  • First-class passengers were embalmed, placed in coffins, and stored in the rear cable locker. These included the bodies of: John Jacob Astor IV, the richest man aboard, body No.124 recovered on 22 April, identified by the initials sewn on the label of his jacket;[9] architect Edward Austin Kent, body No.258; and Isidor Straus, owner of Macy's Department Store.
  • Second-class passengers were embalmed, wrapped in canvas, and stored in the forward cable locker.
  • Third-class passengers were buried at sea, a total of 116 passengers. In October 2013, a photograph taken by Fourth officer R. D. "Westy" Legate came up for auction, which captured the Canon ministering over a ceremony of multiple burials at sea on board the ship.[7]
  • The body of band leader Wallace Hartley, found fully dressed with his music case strapped to his body, was transferred to the Arabic and returned to England, where on 18 May he was buried in Keighley Road Cemetery, Colne, Lancashire.[10]
  • One body of an approximately two-year-old male infant, a third-class passenger and the fourth body recovered,[6] was saved by the crew and stored in the hold.[2]

At 19:00 on 23 April, CS Mackay-Bennett lay briefly alongside the Allan Shipping Line's Sardinian (en route to Saint John, New Brunswick), to collect additional canvas.

Just after midnight on 26 April, CS Mackay-Bennett rendezvoused with the Anglo-American Telegraph Company's CS Minia to get extra embalming supplies, before departing for Halifax at dawn that day.

After a seven-day recovery operation, the CS Mackay-Bennett had:

  • Recovered 306 of the 328 bodies found from among the 1,517 who perished aboard Titanic
  • Buried 116 at sea, of which only 56 were identified
  • Set sail for home with 190 bodies on board, almost twice as many as there were coffins available
  • Arrived in Halifax on 30 April 1912, began unloading her cargo at 09:30, and transferred the bodies to the ice rink of the Mayflower Curling Club.[2][8]

With the body of the unknown child unclaimed, the crew paid for the burial and headstone monument out of their own wages; the casket was marked by a copper plaque reading "Our Babe".[2][11] The entire ship's crew, together with the majority of the population of Halifax, attended the child's burial at Fairview Lawn Cemetery on 4 May 1912.[2][11] With improved DNA testing, on 30 July 2007 Canadian researchers at Lakehead University announced that testing of the body's mitochondrial DNA had revealed that the child was 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin.[12][13]

After his death in 1955, Clifford Crease's body was interned only a few metres (yards) away from the grave of "Our Babe", a site he had visited on every anniversary of the tragedy during his lifetime.[6]

Retirement and scrapping

The ship was retired in May 1922, anchored in Plymouth Sound to be used as a storage hulk. During The Blitz on England in World War II, she was sunk during a Nazi Germany Luftwaffe attack but later refloated. Her hulk was finally scrapped in 1963.


  1. "History of the Atlantic Cable & Submarine Telegraphy - Commercial Cable Company 1886". atlantic-cable.com. Retrieved 7 November 2009.
  2. Clydebuilt: The ships that made the Commonwealth - CS Mackay-Bennett David Hayman, BBC Four, 5 June 2014
  3. "CS Mackay-Bennett". Government of Nova Scotia. Archived from the original on 14 June 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  4. "An Echo of a Past Tragedy, The Diary of Frederick Hamilton (Cable Engineer: MacKay Bennett)", Encyclopeida Titanica
  5. "CS Mackay-Bennett". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  6. Nick Logan (12 April 2012). "Diary of Mackay-Bennett crewman tells haunting tale of Titanic recovery". Global News. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  7. Rob Ferguson (4 October 2013). "Rare photo of Titanic body recovery shows Halifax ship". The Star. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  8. "Titanic Victims". Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Archived from the original on 6 December 2016.
  9. "John Jacob Astor IV". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  10. "Titanic band leader's violin is authentic, say experts". News Wiltshire. BBC. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  11. Holm, Brandon C. (9 March 2007). "RMS Titanic: The Funerals, Memorials and Legacy of the Lost Passengers and Her Crew". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  12. "Titanic baby given new identity". BBC News. 1 August 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2007.
  13. Thompson, Paul (1 August 2007). "Revealed by DNA after 95 years: The British baby who died on the Titanic". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 25 April 2011.

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