A Watery Grave: Priest Praying Over Titanic Victims Before They Are Buried at Sea, 1912
They were gathered nine days after the 'unsinkable' liner had gone down in the Atlantic Ocean with the loss of 1,512 lives.
The image - which has been discovered a century on from the disaster in 1912 - shows body bags stacked on the windswept deck while two crewman tip up a stretcher to drop a victim over the side.
The ship's priest, the Reverend Hind, is seen conducting the service in front of the solemn crew, who were gathered days after the Titanic had sunk on its journey from Southampton to New York City. Although the records show that 166 out of 306 bodies retrieved by the Mackay Bennett ship were buried at sea, no images of the macabre event have been seen by the general public until now.
Most of the victims dropped into the Atlantic were believed to have been chosen because they had no means of identification or were third-class passengers and therefore could not afford a funeral.
The image has been owned by the family of one of the crew of the Mackay Bennett.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: ‘Despite the number of bodies buried at sea, visual records of the occasion, such as this photograph, are almost non-existent, even in period publications. ‘This picture blows away the myth that the burials were an orderly and dignified process. You can clearly see the bodies in brown sacks piled up on the deck, with some piled two or three high.
‘The Reverend Hind is seen holding a prayer book looking at two crewman who appear to be tipping up some kind of platform, presumably committing a body into the sea. ‘The Mackay Bennett spent five days retrieving bodies from the wreck site and had to request for a second vessel to join it because there were so many. This photo shows that the deck was pretty much full up with the victims.’
In the aftermath of the Titanic disaster on April 15, 1912, the ship Carpathia picked up more than 700 survivors from lifeboats. The Mackay Bennet was a Canadian cable laying ship and the owners of the Titanic, White Star Line, contracted it at a rate of £300 a day to recover the bodies. It left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on April 17 and arrived at the wreck site on April 21.
The crew conducted burials at sea on the evenings of April 21, 22 and 23 and then of the afternoon of April 24, when it is thought the picture was taken. In an account of the burials, Reverend Hind later wrote: ‘Anyone attending a burial at sea will most surely lose the common impression of the awfulness of a grave in the mighty deep.