Titanic letter heartbreak

Images available on request

May Louise McMurray sat down in her neat home in Empress Road, Kensington, Liverpool, to pen her first-ever letter.

The original letter is displayed for the first time in the museum’s compelling new exhibition Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story opening 30 March 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking on 15 April.

May was writing to her father William who, like many Liverpudlians, worked away at sea and could be absent for long periods.

“Dear Father,” she wrote in her best handwriting (and a few spelling mistakes).

“It seems ages since I last seen you. I wish we where in Southampton with you it is very lonely without you Dear Father I have not been very well I have had a bad throat hoping I will soon get better for Mana (sic) worries so much little Ernie has not been so well but he as got better now hoping you are keeping well dada so ta love from Ivy and Ernie thank dada for the presents love from all dad hoping to see you soon with love from Ivy and May and Ernie xxxxxxxxxx  kisses for dada x Dada `this is my first letter.”

Wiilliam McMurray had been away in Belfast for several weeks before taking up his job as a First Class bedroom steward on the magnificent new White Star liner.

Tragically he never received the moving letter from May, written on 13 April 1912, as it arrived in Southampton after the ship had sailed.  Two days later he was one of more than 1,500 passengers and crew who died in the Titanic disaster.

The letter was returned to Liverpool and treasured for many years by the family before being donated to Merseyside Maritime Museum in 1989 by May Louise’s own daughter, William McMurray’s granddaughter.                                

Inspired by the book Titanic and Liverpool by former Merseyside Maritime Museum curator Dr Alan Scarth (Liverpool University Press and National Museums Liverpool 2009), the exhibition explores the history and myths surrounding the sinking.

The book is available, price £12.95, in all National Museums Liverpool shops and online at www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/onlineshop/

Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story is part of the National Museums Liverpool’s Liverpool and the World exhibition series part-funded by the European Union - the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Birkenhead-born William McMurray, aged 43, lived with his wife and three young children at 60 Empress Road.

Mrs McMurray received the shattering news of her husband’s loss on 17 April – their wedding anniversary. Sympathetic neighbours gave comfort to the distraught family.

Just three years earlier William had won a gallantry medal for helping to rescue 1,700 people from the stricken steamship Republic on 24 January 1909.

Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story takes the visitor on a fascinating journey through many little-known aspects of the disaster – and in particular those linked to Liverpool, the port where she was registered but never visited.

The exhibition follows these themes:

  • Home Port sets the scene, introducing the Liverpool of the main players in the Titanic story. On display for the first time is the complete Ismay Testimonial – a stunning silver gilt  table service presented to Thomas Ismay, founder of the White Star Line that later built Titanic. Other exhibits include models of Titanic contemporaries Cedric and Gallia and atmospheric paintings of the Baltic, Campania and Celtic. 
  • Olympic Class Liners introduces key people behind the idea, funding and construction of Titanic and her sisters Olympic and Britannic. There are fascinating ship facts including scale and size. Collections are brought to life through photos, film footage, posters and pamphlets. Shipbuilders Harland & Wolff exhibits include controversial lifeboat blueprints. Storylines look at leading personalities such as J Bruce Ismay, head of the White Star Line plus key Liverpool links including locations and suppliers.
  • The Voyage introduces crew and passengers – important players with Liverpool connections. The noise and bustle of the maiden voyage is recreated. Some of the crew and passengers with Liverpool associations are featured – the social structure on board is also examined. Exhibits include tableware and the only surviving First Class ticket.
  • Sinking and Rescue spotlights human stories focusing on personal experiences to capture the dramatic final hours of Titanic. Also highlighted is the remarkable story of how the Cunard liner Carpathia rushed to the scene and rescued all of the survivors. Exhibits include telegrams chronicling the unfolding drama.
  • Aftermath looks at the media frenzy that followed the sinking – contemporary newspapers, eye-witness accounts and archive collections including Titanic Relief Fund ephemera. This section tells how Liverpool received the news and the impact it made, survivors and the bodies of victims coming home, findings of the official inquiries and heroes and anti-heroes. Survivor J Bruce Ismay was heavily criticised, victim Captain Edward Smith immortalised and Captain Arthur Rostron made a hero.
  • Living On is a brief epilogue of life after Titanic and how key players coped with life after the disaster. Following the release of the feature films A Night to Remember  (1958) and James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), the Titanic story enters many areas of popular culture with numerous myths and conspiracy theories. This section includes film props used in Titanic and poignant items salvaged from the wreck.

More press releases will be distributed in the run-up to the exhibition looking at the many stories featured in the displays.                  

Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story, which runs for at least a year, complements the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s permanent exhibition Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress.

Notes for editors

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

Between 2007 and 2013 the Northwest of England will receive a total of €755.5 million (dependent on exchange rate) from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). 

This funding will enhance the competitiveness of the region’s economy by supporting growth in employment and enterprise.

Key targets for the NWOP (North West Operational Programme) include:

- Creating 26,700 net additional jobs by 2015

- Generating £1.17bn additional annual GVA by 2015

- Supporting a 25% reduction in addition CO2 emissions generated by the ERDF programme.

For further information please visit  www.communities.gov.uk/erdf

Councillor Phil Davies, ERDF North West Local Monitoring Committee member says:  

“Titanic and Liverpool will be a highlight of the region’s cultural calendar in 2012. This ambitious, international exhibition will help fuel the North West visitor economy and raise awareness of the region’s fantastic cultural offer. Liverpool is a culturally dynamic city and exhibitions such as this demonstrate that we can deliver world-class visitor experiences year-on-year.”      

About National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool comprises eight venues. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic. 

We attract more than 2.6 million visitors every year. Our venues are World Museum, the Walker Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, UK Border Agency National Museum, Sudley House and the Lady Lever Art Gallery.  

In July 2011, our eighth venue, the Museum of Liverpool, opened at the city's Pier Head, part of the city's World Heritage Site. The museum tells the definitive story of Liverpool and its people and contains more than 6,000 items. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/