On this day 102 years ago, an 18-year-old lad from Blackpool died in the icy Atlantic waters.
Leonard Taylor had written to his mum and dad a few days earlier.
He probably scribbled the note quickly, for he had just landed a job as a Turkish Bath attendant on board a luxury liner called Titanic and had work to do.
The majestic White Star ship left Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York on April 10, 1912. It called at Cherbourg in France, then Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland, where Taylor mailed his letter.
By the time it reached his parents’ home on Sherbourne Road in Blackpool a week or two later, Leonard was dead, one of 1,500 people who perished after the ship hit an iceberg and slid to the depths of the North Atlantic. His body was never recovered.
Leonard’s parents kept the letter, only natural given it was their last contact with their beloved son.
And a century and more on, now in the hands of an American collector, the letter – in its original embossed White Star mailing envelope – is expected to fetch at least $30,000 when it goes under the hammer later this month.
From his office in Boston, America, Bobby Livingston, who works for RR Auctions, the firm responsible for selling the letter, explained why it is worth so much.
“Any letters that made it off the Titanic once she had left Southampton are extremely scarce; we’ve only had four in 30 years,” he said.
“This was teenager who never returned and this is the compelling evidence left behind by him.
“You can just imagine the tragedy of his parents opening the mail weeks later and finding this letter from their lost son.
“I think Blackpool should be incredibly proud of this young man and his memory.
“People from all over England suffered from this incredible tragedy when the great ship went down and this letter is a remarkable piece of history.”
Given the length of time since Titanic’s demise, and the films that have dramatised and softened the event since, it is easy to be blasé about what was the most terrible of tragedies.
More than 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers and crew perished, including 80 per cent of all men aboard. There were only enough lifeboats for half the passengers. The sea was so cold that when the ship sank, two hours and 25 minutes after colliding with the iceberg, many people died of cardiac arrest within two minutes.
That night, on April 15, 1912, was a horrific moment in history – which makes the letter written by Leonard Taylor all the more compelling.
“I am on the briney ocean, and, leaving Queenstown, we passed Cherbourg last night. I suppose you read about our narrow escape when coming out of the docks at Southampton,” wrote the teenager.
“The sucking power of the propellers was so great that she broke loose another vessel lying outside port and was only an airsbreath from hitting her. I am very comfortable – getting good food and a good bunk, my wages are low but I will let you know all later as I want to catch the Queenstown mail, I am only writing to let you know I am all right. I will write next week sending full particulars about my none too good job.
“Well goodbye. I shall come home after the trip.”
Under his signature, Leonard added a brief postscript which read, “The boat’s rocking about.”
The letter, which references the moment the Titanic left Southampton and came within a few feet of crashing into the SS New York – due to the large displacement of water caused by the ship and the captain’s difficulty in navigating through a congested harbor – was kept by the Taylor family for many years before somehow ending up in the hands of an American collector of Titanic memorabilia.
“He is a very well known collector of historical documents here in the United States and I believe he bought it at auction in the 1980s,” said Mr Livingston.
“Where it was before that or how he got it I don’t know, except Titanic collectables really started with the film A Night To Remember in the 50s.
“That sparked a whole generation of Titanic collectors and of course more recently the James Cameron movie really captured people’s imagination.
“I believe this is the first time the letter has been put up for auction in more than 30 years.”
Mr Livingston, whose firm conduct two Titanic-themed auctions a year, says the letter is in fine condition.
“His parents probably kept it in a drawer for years and you can see the creases where it was folded. But given it is 100 years old and mailed from the Titanic itself, it is in fantastic condition,” he said.
“It is incredible that something so simple, paper and pen effectively, can be of such historical significance and value – but it is.
“Leonard Taylor had to rush to put this in the mail-box on Titanic.
“Can you imagine now? It would just be an email.
“Letter writing is going to become a lost art so this really is a treasure in more ways than one.”
The auction lasts from April 17 to 24 and will feature 225 other museum quality pieces, though the letter from Leonard is the stand-out item.
“We are expecting a lot of interest from some of the world’s finest Titanic collectors and we are extremely confident whoever wins this auction will properly curate it and preserve it for generations to come,” Mr Livingston added. “Of course, what we’d love more than anything is for an individual or an organisation from Blackpool to buy it and bring it back to its rightful place.”
Indeed, but it would have to be someone with a lot of spare cash.