The Titanic Connection ... continued

Thanks to Dan Conlin, Curator of Marine History, Nova Scotia Museum Collections Unit, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia, for providing the actual text of the museum exhibit

The Man Behind the Cabinet

This cabinet from Titanic belonged to Theodore Smith who recovered
Titanic bodies and wreckage while serving in the Halifax cable ship
Minia. He was born in Portuguese Cove, just outside of Halifax. His
father died at sea when he was young. Theodore worked on coastal
steamships but mostly on the telegraphic cable repair ships based in Halifax. He left the sea when he married in 1917 and worked as a
carpenter and freight handler on the Halifax waterfront until his death in 1948. A sensitive man, remembered for jokes and fiddle playing, he never wanted to discuss his role in finding Titanic bodies but left that to his wife Amy.

“If you asked questions, he would tell you, but he was so sensitive.
You know he would feel sorry for those bodies and I can see him with tears flowing if there was anything sad.”
Daughter of Theodore Smith

After Theodore Smith married, the cabinet was used to store family medicines and kept high on a closet shelf, out of reach of children. Containing aspirin, bandages, cough syrup and traditional home remedies such as camphor and “goose grease”, it was known as the Titanic “medicine chest” .

“If I was sick as a child maybe with the flu or anything that would upset me and make me sick, maybe the measles or chicken pox or something like that, whatever was going to cure me or make me better was in that medicine chest.”
Daughter of Theodore Smith

The Smith family renovated in the 1950s and built a modern bathroom cabinet. The “medicine chest” was stored away except for special showings to family and friends. The family brought the cabinet to the museum’s attention in 1998 and the Museum acquired the cabinet in the spring of 2000.

How do we know it is from Titanic?

In 1912 Halifax ships recovered bodies of Titanic victims. Floating wreckage was also found by these ships and kept by their crews. One of the museum’s job is to judge and document the authenticity of such objects for its collection. Tools include oral history, provenance, material evidence and comparison with related objects.

1. Documenting the Provenance, or history of ownership.
The cabinet was owned by Theodore Smith. Crew records prove he was an Able Seaman aboard the cable ship Minia when she recovered Titanic wreckage & bodies in April 1912. The cabinet stayed in Smith’s family until it.

2. Oral History
“at that time the Titanic disaster occurred and he was requested to go and help retrieve the bodies or whatever was from the Titanic from the Atlantic Ocean, and after ... the medicine chest was given to my father as a keepsake of his courage and work in going in to do that. So needless to say, as a good son, he took the medicine chest home to his mother as part of their household furniture”
- Interview with daughter of Theodore Smith

The cabinet also offers material evidence of its association with
Titanic:

3. The cabinet is stamped “J. COBAIN”.
Records show a carpenter named James Cobain lived at 5 Annalee Street, Belfast in 1911, and was likely subcontracted by Harland & Wolff for cabinet work on Titanic’s interiors.

4. The cabinet is marked “401".
Before Titanic was launched, she was known at the Harland & Wolff shipyard as “hull number 401". This writing also indicates it was installed in the First Class Bathrooms on Titanic’s B-Deck.

Related Objects

5. It matches descriptions of Titanic wreckage sighted by other steamships.
“All round is splintered woodwork, cabin fittings, mahogany fronts of drawers, carvings, all wrenched away from their fastenings.” Mackay-Bennett April 22
“A lot of wreckage such as cabinet furniture, including chairs, writing desks” Sardinian April 23
“Most of it was bedroom furniture and fittings” Banshee April 23

6. While there are very few photographs of Titanic’s First Class bathrooms, the cabinet shares similarity to cabinet style in one of Titanic’s First Class cabins.

7. Fits in a body of authenticated Titanic flotsam - while this is one of only two known pieces of Titanic cabinetry to have survived, it fits a body of authenticated piece of wooden wreckage kept by the crew of cable ship crews who recovered Titanic bodies.

What Does this object tell us?

Style
This cabinet demonstrates the craftsmanship and care lavished devoted to First Class on Titanic, even for humble areas such as a bathrooms. It’s handsome classical style combines strength with decoration with a corniced top and decorative “beads” (rounded grooves) in door frame.

Purpose
Cabinets and lockers are important in vessels large and small because they keep things secure in rough seas. Latches such as found on the left door are essential to stop the doors from swinging open when the ship rolls. The grillwork is not only ornamental but vents the interior to prevent dampness.

Construction
The cabinet is ruggedly built, which explains why it survived the sinking. Strong dovetail tenon joints hold the doorframe together. The wood is mahogany, prized for its finish and rot resistance. The back is made from Mahogany plywood.

Damage
Ragged edges can been in the two large mounting holes showing that the cabinet was wrenched away as Titanic broke in half and sank. The right hand door is warped from floating for two weeks before the cable ship Minia recovered it.

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