A cabinet from the Titanic

The Titanic Connection

In the course of researching my family history, I came across an article on the internet which described the purchase of a small cabinet. This small mahogany cabinet was purchased on May 2, 2000 by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax for $80,000. The reason for the steep price? “The cabinet was the only intact piece of cabinetry known to have survived the Titanic sinking in 1912.” Read more from the Halifax Daily News

Not only was it a miracle that the cabinet had survived, but incredibly, the name of the carpenter was stamped on the back. My heart almost stopped when I read that the name was “J Cobain” as I realized immediately that I had found a relative.

I knew that the Titanic had been built in Belfast in the Harland and Wolff Shipyard. Approximately 15,000 employees worked on building the Titanic but there is no existing record of who they were. In addition, I had never heard any family stories of a Cobain relative who worked on the Titanic.

A search of some online genealogy tools helped to confirm that a James Cobain, living at 5 Annalee Street in Belfast, worked as a ship's joiner. A joiner is a carpenter who specializes in more of the finer wood work such as furniture or cabinetry. And, as the word implies, “joiners” fit joints in wood often without the use of nails.

The cabinet is described as “having classic cornices on top and bottom. The two doors have metal grille fronts, and an aged metal handle and latch. . . Its handsome classical style combines strength with decoration with a corniced top and decorative “beads” (rounded grooves) in door frame. The notation “First class baths, bridge dk. 401” is written in pencil across the back of the cabinet. This means it was in one of the first-class rooms on the bridge deck of the Titanic. “The cabinet is ruggedly built, which explains why it survived the sinking. Strong dovetail tenon joints hold the doorframe together.”

When the Titanic sank, the cable ship Minia went out from Halifax to help recover bodies and wreckage. One of the sailors, Theodore Smith, discovered the cabinet and was allowed to keep it. The cabinet was used by his family as a medicine cabinet until the 1950's. The cabinet shows some water damage as it had floated in the water for two weeks before being recovered by the Minia.

I have not yet been able to determine the exact family connection between James and myself. He resided at 5 Annalee Street for many years. He never married and lived with two of his sisters who were also unmarried. He died September 24, 1941 at the ripe old age of 80. I'm sure he would have been proud to know his handiwork had survived such a catastrophe and even prouder yet to think of it on display in a museum!
Marion Tetrault

Text of the museum exhibit

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Send an Email: marionv@mymts.net