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Revealing a real Titanic story

Lisa McDougald will tell story of Titanic survivors

Posted: April 8, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 8, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Lisa McDougald, left, and her aunt, Linda McDougald Watson, display photos of Mary McDougald Fortune, who survived the Titanic when it sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.

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For the Fortune family of Winnipeg, Canada, the first months of 1912 held a great deal of excitement.

The family had spent months traveling on a  Grand Tour of Europe and Egypt.

Mary McDougald Fortune, her husband Mark, and their children Charles, Ethel, Alice and Mabel had seen the pyramids of Egypt, as well as the sights of Paris.

Two of the girls, Ethel and Alice, were engaged to be married. Their father, Mark, thought the experience of the Grand Tour would be the perfect experience to “finish” the girls before their respective weddings.

In addition, the girls would be able to buy their wedding trousseaus from the finest designers in Paris.

At the conclusion of the trip the Fortune family had planned to return home via Cunard ocean liner the Mauretania.


Titanic

However, one of the Fortune’s traveling companions became ill with dysentery and the group found it could book an earlier passage home on the  White Star liner Titanic, which was making its maiden voyage to New York.

Fortune had literally made a fortune in Winnipeg real estate, so he was easily able to spend the $26,100 (roughly $500,00 today) required to book first class passage for his family of six.

A street in Winnipeg, Fortune Street, is named after Mark Fortune.

As first class passengers, the Fortune family would have rubbed elbows with fellow Titanic passengers John Jacob Astor IV and Madeleine Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Countess de Rothes, Isidor and Ida Straus, actress Dorothy Gibson and Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon.

The Titanic carried 325 first class passengers — 175 men, 144 women and 6 children.

The disaster

The Titanic set sail toward New York around noon on April 10, 1912.

At 11:40 p.m., ship’s time, on April 14, 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg.

At 2:20 a.m. ship’s time, in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank.

More than 1,500 of the Titanic’s 2,224 passengers and crew died in the disaster. Only slightly more than 700 survived to be rescued from the Titanic’s too few lifeboats when the Carpathia reached the scene more than three hours after the first distress call.

The Fortunes’ fate

At 1:20 a.m. April 15, 1912, the Number 10 lifeboat was launched. Among the occupants were Mary, Ethel, Alice and Mabel Fortune, as well as nine-week-old Millvina Dean, who became the last living survivor of the disaster when she died in 2009 at the age of 97.

Lisa McDougald, of Valencia, a descendent of Mary McDougald Fortune, her great-great aunt,  said the women in the family gave Mark and Charles their money and jewels before they entered the lifeboat, assuming they would see them later in the morning.

Mark Fortune and his son, Charles, 19, were never seen again. It is assumed they went down with the ship.

Their bodies were never recovered.

“I think that would have been a double disaster,” said McDougald, whose father is the great-great grandson of Alexander McDougald, Mary’s brother.

“Since they never recovered the bodies, they had no closure,” McDougald said.

Presentation

Lisa McDougald will present the history of the Titanic and her own family’s connection to the disaster at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Event Room at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Valencia.

McDougald first learned about her connection to the Titanic as a child.

“My mother wanted to know more about my father’s family and she wrote a series of letters to his aunts,” she said. “It was in 1983 when we learned about the Titanic connection.”

McDougald said she was 8 or 9 at the time.

“It was very exciting,” she said.

Since she learned of her family history McDougald has spent countless hours researching the disaster and her family’s connection.

McDougald intends to continue her research on her family’s story and hopes to find out more about her Titanic relations from other branches of her family tree. She hopes to organize a family gathering where all of her relatives can meet and share information.

“It’s an incredible story,” she said. “I got more interested in it this year because I suddenly realized that this year was the 100th anniversary,”

McDougald said she realized the anniversary would be a “good opportunity to present my family’s story which I don’t believe has been presented in public before. I love history so much. There’s so much to tell with the Titanic story.”

The presentation will also include a number of visual aides as well, said McDougald who has a degree in graphic design.

More Fortunes

Two of the Fortune’s six children did not make the trip. Robert Fortune, the oldest, was an established businessman and  Clara Fortune, the oldest daughter, was already married.

In a strange twist of fate Robert Fortune met his future wife when he traveled to New York to meet the Carpathia.

“She wasn’t a Titanic survivor, but somehow he met his future wife on that trip to New York,” said McDougald. “So the Titanic also had a further impact in his life.”

Charles Fortune

Among the interesting facts McDougald has learned in her quest for information on her Titanic ancestors is that Charles Fortune, 19, had just graduated from Bishop College in Quebec.

“A couple of books mention that he played in squash ball court  on the Titanic and did some boxing in the Titanic’s gymnasium,” McDougald said. “He was very athletic.”

The loss of Charles Fortune is particularly sobering, said McDougald.

“Here’s this beautiful young man who had just graduated with honors and was having this wonderful experience of the Grand Tour and he had it all taken away — just like that,” she said.

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