Henry Wilde display

archive photo of a man in uniform

Letters written on board Titanic by the Chief Officer, Henry Wilde, which had been hidden away for a century, went on temporary display in the exhibition Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story from 2 August 2012 until 2 April 2013.

Letters tell a heartbreaking story

Henry Wilde lived in Walton, north Liverpool. He had worked for White Star for most of his career and had served under Captain Edward Smith on Olympic. Smith may have requested that he was transferred to Titanic at short notice, a decision that would have a profound effect on Wilde and his family. Henry perished in the sinking but was heralded a hero for saving lives by ushering women and children into lifeboats.

The display included a letter he wrote to his daughter Jennie from Olympic on 30 March, then two written aboard Titanic on 9 and 11 April 1912. The two Titanic letters to Jennie and Nurse, his children's nanny, were sent from Cobh in Queenstown, Ireland, which was the liner's final stop before she headed across the Atlantic. They are written on Titanic letter headed paper.

The father-of-four writes about his disappointment at not being able to return to Liverpool after he was transferred to Titanic at the eleventh hour. He describes Titanic as being "a very fine ship, an improvement on Olympic in so many ways".

Henry Wilde

Henry Tingle Wilde began his sailing career aged 17 and he eventually joined the White Star Line as a junior officer.

Wilde became Chief Officer for Olympic in 1911, under the command of Captain Edward Smith. In April 1912 he was ordered to Southampton to help with preparations on board Titanic and await instructions. Wilde received a telegram from White Star's headquarters in Liverpool transferring him to Titanic on 9 April 1912 - the day before departure from Southampton.

Wilde's wife had died on Christmas Eve 1910 and his children - Harry, Jane, Arnold and Nancy - were still living in Liverpool when he sailed on Titanic.

Henry Wilde did not survive Titanic's sinking and his body was never recovered. The disaster meant that Harry, Jane, Arnold and Nancy were orphaned. In one of the letters Henry writes: "Give my little ones my best love."

Letter transcripts

On board Olympic, 30 March 1912

Dear Jennie,

Just a few lines to let you know that we arrived here safely today.. I am very glad to hear you are well. I am sorry that I am not able to get home just at present but I am not sailing in this ship on Wednesday but going to join the Titanic.. All arrangements are upset just now owing to the coal strikes. I am glad to hear from nurse that you are all well and I hope to be able to get up to see you before I sail. I would have been in Liverpool this time had it not been for this strike but I suppose I must wait now. I hope you have got plenty of coal to be going on with... Will keep all news until I see you, fondest love to all Harry, Arnold, Gerlie and yourself and please give Nurse my kindest regards, from father.

On board Titanic, 9 April 1912

Dear Nurse,

Just a few lines to let you know that I am sailing on the Titanic tomorrow for a few voyages. I have only just heard that I am really going, had a telegram from Liverpool at 2pm this afternoon so I have to go. I am sending £10 enclosed & will be back in 18 days... I will write a note to Jennie from Queenstown if I have time - I have been so busy & unsettled... Give the little ones my best love & tell them I will come & see them as soon as I can. I am awfully busy & please excuse kindest regards,

From, yours sincerely, H, Wilde

On board Titanic, 11 April 1912

My dear Jennie,

I received your very welcome letter yesterday which I was so glad to have & am so glad to know you are well. I am so disappointed that I did not get to Liverpool this time but it was so very uncertain what I was going to do.. I only got a telegram on Tuesday afternoon to say I was sailing in this ship. I will try my best to come to see you next time... I have been very busy on this ship & will be for some time. She is a very fine ship, an improvement on the Olympic in many ways. I would like you to see her if you come down. I will be back in Southampton a fortnight tomorrow. I am in a big hurry writing this before we get to Queenstown so please give my kind regards to Nurse & with very best love & kisses to Harry Arnold & Gerlie & not forgetting my little girl,

From Your loving Father.