The RMS Titanic is perhaps the most studied shipwreck of all time. Experts researching it have photographs of the ship being built and launched. They have artifacts from the ship that have been brought after its location was finally discovered. What no one has is photographs of the ship actually hitting the infamous iceberg (Hollywood movies don’t count). In fact, they don’t even have verifiable photos of the iceberg on its collision course … until now. An auction house taking bids on a large cache of Titanic memorabilia unveiled what is possibly the only photograph of the killer iceberg – taken just 40 hours before by the captain of another ship passing through the same waters. Why didn’t he warn the captain of the Titanic?
“Extremely rare photo of an oddly-shaped 'blueberg' photographed by the Captain of the S.S. Etonian. The image shows a massive iceberg with a very odd elliptical shape, and is captioned in black ink. "Iceberg taken by Captain Wood SS Etonian in 41°50N 49°50W April 12th at 4pm 1913 (sic) Titanic struck April 14th and sank in 3 hours.”
The photo is being offered by the Henry Aldridge & Son Ltd auction house as part of a “Titanic, White Star, Ocean Liner & Transport Memorabilia Auction on Saturday 20th June 2020.” The collection includes newspaper clippings, postcards and photographs of everything but the ship hitting the iceberg and sinking – which are not believed to exist anywhere. How do they know this is the real deal?
“The significance of this photo is heightened by an original handwritten letter by Captain Wood written on board SS Etonian to the vendor's great grandfather Billy Tucker who as a young man wrote to Wood regarding the matter of photography. Wood states "I am sending you a sea picture the Etonian running before a gale and the iceberg that sank the Titanic. We crossed the ice tracks 40hrs before her and in daylight so saw the ice easily and I got a picture".”
The iceberg was also sketched by Fredrick Fleet, the lookout on duty who first spotted the iceberg, and Joseph Scarrott, a sailor. They are reproduced in "Triumph and Tragedy" by John P. Eaton and Charles A. Haas and resemble the photograph. No other photos that have been claimed to be of the iceberg are that verifiable, although one sold in 2015 by the same auction house may be authentic because the photographer -- the chief steward of the ocean liner Prinz Adalbert – took it just hours after the RMS Titanic sank and claimed in a note that he saw red paint on it that could have been left by the ship scraping against it. That photo sold for £21,000 ($26,397 US).
BelfastLive says auctioneer Andrew Aldridge believes the S.S. Etonian photo is real because the shape of the iceberg is so close to the sketches and because Captain Wood was so adamant that this was the berg that banged the Titanic.
So, why didn’t Captain Wood contact Captain Edward Smith? He may have, although there are no records of it. Remember, this was 2012 when the main means of communications was the wireless telegraph. However, there were persistent rumors that Captain Smith ignored warnings from other ships. According to Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, the highest-ranking survivor, he and Captain Smith plotted early ice warnings and were aware of icebergs in their path, but did not receive later warnings from the telegraph room.
The auction takes place on June 20. You can visit the auction page and see the rest of the 275 items here.