The Swiss on board Titanic

April 14, 2012, 2 Comments

When RMS Titanic sank 100 years ago even landlocked Switzerland was touched by the tragedy: twelve Swiss died that night. As the world commemorates what happened that night in the Atlantic,let’s not forget those Swiss people who lost their lives alongside so many others:

Swiss victims on the Titanic
Josef Arnold-Franchi, aged 25, 3rd Class
Josefine Arnold-Franchi, aged 18, 3rd Class
Aloisia Haas, aged 24, 3rd Class
Albert Wirz, aged 27, 3rd Class
Narciso Bazzi, aged 33, crew
Joseph Bochatay, aged 30, crew
Gérald Grosclaude, aged 24, crew
Adolf Mattmann, aged 20, crew
Alessandro Pedrini, aged 21, crew
Abele Rigozzi, aged 22, crew
Johannes Vögelin-Dubach, aged 35, crew
Mario Zanetti, aged 20, crew

One of them, Albert Wirz, was a farmer from near Uster (ZH) who was emigrating to Wisconsin. He had paid 344 francs for his 3rd-Class ticket from Southampton, sharing a men’s cabin with Josef Arnold-Franchi and the Kink brothers, Austrians who lived in Zurich. Ten days after the disaster Albert’s body (listed as number 131) was recovered and buried in Beloit, Wisconsin, where he had been going to start a new life.

The Kink family was slightly luckier. And although Vinzenz died, his brother Anton escaped in Lifeboat 2 with his wife and four-year old daughter Luise, who had been born in Zurich.  When she died in 1992, Luise Kink was the last Swiss survivor of the Titanic. Luckily there had been others too: eight Swiss passengers survived, six of them from First Class and two from Second.

Another casualty was Charles Williams-White, aged 51, an American lawyer in First Class who was a long-term resident of Geneva. He jumped into the sea before the ship went down but was crushed by a falling funnel and his body was never recovered. His son Richard (born in Geneva but an American citizen) survived despite spending too long waist-deep in the icy water. After his rescue by the Carpathia, he was told his legs would have to be amputated but he refused. He went on to win the US Open tennis championships in 1914 & 1916, as well as Olympic Gold in the 1924 Games, and died in 1968.

One of the most famous victims was Benjamin Guggenheim, the mining millionaire whose Swiss father, Meyer Guggenheim, had emigrated from Canton Aargau to America. He and his valet went down with the ship, having first dressed in their finest evening wear. His last message to his wife is said to have been that he had done his duty as a gentleman as ‘no woman was left on board this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.’ His brother Solomon went on to found the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The best source for Swiss connections to the Titanic is the excellent book Reise auf der Titanic by Günter Bäbler (Chronos Verlag, 1998 but now out of print). It’s only available in German but Mr Bäbler will presumably be speaking in English this weekend when he lectures aboard the Titanic Memorial Cruise, although there are 17 Swiss passengers on board. He very kindly let me use his research. For other information on anything Titanical, the best source is the Encylcopedia Titanica.

2 Comments on "The Swiss on board Titanic"

  1. Sally Griffith Saturday April 14th, 2012 at 04:35 PM · Reply

    I published a history of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where Richard Norris “Dick” Williams was director for many years. He wrote a wonderful memoir of his experiences on the Titanic, a copy of which is deposited at HSP, but his family would not allow us to publish it.

    In addition to his prowess as a tennis player, Williams graduated from Harvard, saw distinguished service as an interpreter in WWI, and worked in finance before becoming director of HSP, one of the foremost manuscript collections and historical societies in the U.S. Judging from his everyday correspondence, he was also a very nice guy. He was descended from Benjamin Franklin and William White, one of the founders of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

    • diccon Sunday April 15th, 2012 at 12:11 PM · Reply

      Thanks for the extra info. Great to have more details about him.

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