In my last post, discussing personal accounts of the Volturno disaster, I mentioned one of the more interesting accounts was by Lawrence Johnston, a man from Idaho. I also mentioned that he was not even aboard one of the eleven ships that came to Volturno’s aid in the stormy North Atlantic in October 1913. As it turns out, Johnston was a passenger on the Cunard ship RMS Campania (pictured at right), which was commanded by Arthur Henry Rostron, of RMS Titanic fame.
The full story after the jump.
Lawrence Johnston departed New York for Liverpool on 7 October 1913, sailing on Cunard’s aging speedster, RMS Campania, a former Blue Riband holder nearing the end of its passenger career, which was under the command of Arthur Henry Rostron. He had been captain of RMS Carpathia in April 1912 when that ship responded to and rescued all of the survivors of Titanic after it famously hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage.
According to a letter Johnston sent to his mother in Boise, Idaho, and quoted in the 2 November 1913 Idaho Sunday Statesman, Campania received word of Volturno’s fire by way of fellow Cunarder RMS Carmania. (That ship was the first ship to arrive at Volturno’s side near midday on 9 October.) After receipt of the message, Rostron ordered his ship to proceed with all possible speed to Volturno’s location.
Throughout the night and into the next day, Rostron remained on the bridge. According to Johnston, everyone on board the Campania was doing everything possible to prepare for the anticipated rescue work. Early in the morning of 10 October, Volturno’s rescue fleet had completed their work and had all continued on their respective journeys. Rostron and Campania, too late for the rescue work, pressed on, with a strict watch maintained for Volturno’s two missing life boats.
When Campania finally arrived at the scene, Rostron slowly circled the Volturno’s hulk, looking for, but failing to find, survivors or bodies of victims. From this up-close vantage point, Johnston described Volturno as a wrecked and smoking hulk. He also reported that Campania passed the remains of two Volturno lifeboats while in the vicinity.
Even though the sailing date and distance from the wreck prevented Campania from actively participating in the rescue, the actions of Rostron and Campania’s crew are no less heroic than those of the ships fate had placed closer to Volturno’s location. How many other ships had stories like Campania, speeding to Volturno’s aid but arriving after the rescue work was complete?
And a note here: I mentioned in my last post that I would also discuss the interesting life of Lawrence Johnston in this post. But giving him his full due would make this entry far too long. So look for Johnston’s story in my next post.