National Records of Scotland (NRS) will be launching a display of documents relating to a few of the 1,500 people who lost their lives by the foundering of the 'Titanic' on a voyage from Southampton to New York on the 15th April 1912. The documents are on display at the ScotlandsPeople Centre, General Register House, Edinburgh to mark the centenary of the sinking of the ship. The free display can be seen from 16 April until 25 May, Monday to Friday, 9.00 - 4.30.
Robert Douglas Norman
A unique document written on the eve of the Titanic's voyage features amongst official and private records on display. The letter by Robert Douglas Norman, a 28 year-old electrical engineer from Glasgow, was written at his sister's house in London where he was staying before setting sail on board the famous liner on 10 April 1912. Robert was to be a second class passenger heading from Southampton to Vancouver where he had a brother and property interests. Despite claims the Titanic was unsinkable, the perils of sea travel seem to have been playing on his mind as he jotted down the note on 9th April. In the letter addressed to his brother George Stanley Norman, he specifies sums of money to be left to various relatives in the event of his death. Sadly, Robert's letter was to become his last will and testament as he was to perish six days later when the liner sank in the Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912.
Letter written by Robert Douglas Norman, 9 April 1912 (National Records of Scotland, RD15/6 Jul 1912/122).
Archivists at NRS were excited to unearth the rare discovery as part of a project to digitise thousands of wills and testaments from 1902 to 1925 to be added to the ScotlandsPeople genealogy website. The letter's journey from 109 Clarendon Road, Putney, to the National Records of Scotland can be traced in the official records of the executry of Robert's estate. Robert left instruction that, if he should die, his half-sister Lucy should forward it to his brother in Canada who was to act as Executor. When his estate was settled, the letter was authenticated and copied into the register of inventories in Edinburgh Sheriff Court. The original was preserved in the Books of Council and Session, a legal register of the Court of Session.
George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland said 'This is one of those exciting discoveries we make in the archives, a link to a world famous though tragic event. The letter gives a tantalising insight into the mind of Robert Douglas Norman the day before he embarked on board the Titanic, bound for Canada. It shows how powerfully archives connect us directly to people and events in the past'.
Susan Newman holding the letter and a photograph of her great-uncle Robert Norman (Photograph RobMcDougall.com).
Holding her great-uncle's letter Susan Newman said 'This really brings uncle Douglas' sad story to life. The sinking of the Titanic was a huge global disaster - but holding his handwritten note, probably the last thing he ever wrote, brings home just how tragic it must have been for my family in particular. It is an honour to hold his last letter, and to know it is being held in Scotland's national archive for future generations to read and reflect on'.
Many records relating to Scots who worked, sailed and died on the Titanic can be found at NRS. The display shows how the records reveal details of their lives.
Read a transcription of the letter - NRS reference RD15/6 Jul 1912/122 - Rich Text Format 580KB, new window.
Read a transcription of the letter - NRS reference RD15/6 Jul 1912/122 - Acrobat PDF 30KB, new window.
Photograph of Robert Douglas Norman (private collection).