For Nearly a Century Victim of Titanic Went Nameless

by M-Gillies

Flowers and stuffed animals are regularly left at the tomb of the unknown child at the Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Days after the Titanic met a tragic end, Halifax respond immediately in recovering the bodies of the ill-fated passengers. For days, the city became a hub of mourning as cable ships ported the docks bringing with them hundreds of bodies recovered from the Atlantic – but among those people who had been retrieved (the ones who came with names and stories) was the body of a 19 month old child who for nearly a decade went nameless.

It was on April 17, 1912 when the CS Mackay-Bennett, one of two cable repair ships from Halifax, recovered the body of a fair-haired toddler from the waters of the Atlantic ocean. Dressed in a grey coat with fur on the collar and cuffs, a brown serge frock, petticoat, and brown shoes, the layers of clothing were not enough to keep the child warm as the Titanic sank into the icy waters.

Touched by the unfortunate loss of such a young life, the sailors involved in the expedition personally paid for a monument for the child who would for the next 90 years be known as Titanic’s Unknown Child. To further commemorate the child, the sailors placed a copper pendant inside the coffin which read “Our Babe” and further escorted the coffin to its burial site on May 4, 1912.

But the mystery of the unknown child lived on and further inspired the American author, John Walter Lord, Jr., who was best recognized for his documentary-styled non fiction account about the Titanic, to devote a chapter on a family known as the Goodwins in his follow-up book The Night Lives On (1986).

But how did the Goodwins tie-in with the Titanic’s Unknown Child?

Living in England, the Goodwin family, composed of Fredrick Joseph Goodwin and his wife Augusta, and their six children, had received word from Fredrick’s brother, Thomas in Niagara Falls, New York. Thomas had informed his brother that there was to be a new power station opening and that Fredrick should leave his home in England to start a career at the power station.

Fredrick, a compositor, began packing and booked his family on a third class passage on a small steamer out of Southampton. However, it was during this time that a coal strike had begun which cancelled the voyage of the steamer. However, as luck (or misfortune) would have it, the family was transferred to the RMS Titanic as third-class passengers.

While not much is known of the family during their voyage, it was determined that by the time the family had received warning about the iceberg collision, all the lifeboats had been launched, leaving the entire family to perish in the sinking, among them, a 19-month old boy named Sydney Leslie Goodwin.

Years later, with the advancement in DNA technology and dental analysis, the remains were exhumed in 2002. While at first it was believed that the remains belonged to a two year-old Swedish boy named Gosta Palsson or that of two year-old Irish boy named Eugene Rice, tests proved that there were no matches to the above relatives. However, in 2007, Canadian researchers at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay tested a type of mitochondrial DNA molecule that soon helped determine the identification of the Titanic’s Unknown Child who was determined to be of Goodwin ancestry.

Though there were two other children, both young boys who had perished and were recovered from the Titanic, it was Sidney Goodwin who came to be a symbol of all the children lost in the disaster. Meanwhile, a pair of shoes have been donated to the Halifax Maritime Museum of the Atlantic by descendants of a Halifax police officer who guarded the bodies and clothing of the victims recovered from the wreckage site.

Read more:

Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship and Halifax | Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Titanic Shoes | Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

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