Titanic Survivor Story: Douglas Spedden
Douglas Spedden was a seven year old American boy who was travelling with his parents and his nanny aboard Titanic
. The family was journeying home after a holiday in Algiers and Monte Carlo. The Speddens, Daisy and Frederic were wealthy New Yorkers with a home in the fashionable suburb of Tuxedo Park. They also had homes at Bar Harbor, Maine and wintered in European resorts such as Madeira. The family was travelling with a maid and Douglas’ nanny, Margaret Burns. The child could not pronounce his nanny’s name so he affectionately referred to her as Muddie Boons.
Douglas Speddon Onboard the Titanic
On April 10th the family boarded a train from Paris to Cherbourg where they were to board Titanic. The harbour at Cherbourg was too small to berth the Olympic and Titanic which had to moor offshore. First and second class passengers were taken on a specially built tender ship, the SS Nomadic. The journey took between half an hour and forty five minutes and passengers expected the same standards of luxury as they would encounter on the main vessel. The Speddens were in the company of some of the richest people in the world, including Colonel John Jacob Astor and his new wife, Madeleine, Benjamin Guggenheim and his entourage and the famous Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Young Douglas is immortalised in Titanic history as the little boy playing with a spinning top on the deck of Titanic. This is a photograph taken by Jesuit priest, Father Francis Browne and published in his collection. The photograph was also brought to life in James Cameron’s film, Titanic. He also appears in a photograph taken on Titanic’s promenade deck in which he is looking out to sea while a crew member poses in the foreground. But the main memory of Douglas Spedden is recorded in the children’s book, “Polar, the Titanic Bear” which was written for Douglas by his mother as a present. It recounts the adventures of the boy’s beloved white teddy bear, Polar who was with him on Titanic.
Douglas’ parents described being woken by a sudden shock and the noise of the engines grinding. Daisy and Frederic Spedden went up on deck to find out what was happening. Daisy described in her diary how the ship was already tilting so she went to waken her son, his nanny and the maid. An hour after the collision, Mrs Spedden, the two servants and Douglas were helped into lifeboat number 3 by a member of the crew. Since there were no other women and children in sight, Frederic Spedden was permitted to take a place along with twenty other men. After Titanic sank, the passengers on board lifeboat number 3 tried to persuade the crew member in charge to go back in order to rescue people from the water but he was worried that the small craft would be pulled under by the suction created by the sinking . The family group waited for the rescue ship to arrive, huddled together against the cold. Douglas must have been relatively unconcerned by the unfolding ordeal because it is reported that he slept aboard the lifeboat until dawn broke. Daisy Spedden wrote to a friend in Madeira about a fellow lifeboat passenger who “never stopped talking and telling the sailors what to do as she imbibed from a brandy flask frequently, never offering a drop to anyone else.”
After the Sinking of the Titanic
Once aboard the Carpathia the Speddens were remembered by other passengers for their kindness in looking after others. Carpathia’s Captain, Arthur Rostron had particular words of praise for how the Spedden family conducted themselves during the journey into New York. Following the Titanic disaster, they continued to travel to Europe much as before but with a new perspective on the frailty of life. Daisy wrote that all the values of their lives had changed and “the daily incidents which once seemed of such importance to us dwindled into mere trivialities
". Sadly that perspective was brought very much into focus three years later. While the family was spending the summer in Maine, Douglas, now aged nine, ran out into the road after a ball and was hit by a car and killed. He was an only child. No-one knows what happened to Polar the Teddy Bear. Douglas’s mother stopped writing her diaries. The couple had no other children. Frederic died in 1947 and Daisy just three years later. The book recounting his adventures on Titanic was first written for Douglas at Christmas in 1913. Daisy designed the cover illustrations herself. It was republished in 1994 by Madison Press after a family member discovered it amongst Daisy’s belongings.