Report by Ian Wilson
At the March meeting of Bangor Historical Society, Dr John Martin spoke on the life and tragic death on the RMS Titanic of his great-uncle, Dr John Simpson. Dr Simpson is commemorated on a family gravestone by the side of Bangor Abbey, although his body was not recovered. (Two of his sisters, his son and other family members are interred there ) He had been born in Belfast in 1875, the son of another Dr John Simpson and his wife Elizabeth. His position on the ship was Assistant Surgeon, looking after second- and third-class passengers.`
Dr Martin explained that medical staff on a trans-Atlantic liner of the time were not appointed simply to deal with cases of illness or accident. A vital role was to examine boarding emigrants, who would be turned back at Ellis Island, New York, if found to be suffering from ailments disqualifying entry. A particular worry was eye diseases, as emigrants becoming blind would be a burden on the state. Dr Martin showed a photograph of a doctor (whom he had at first hoped might be Simpson) examining emigrants' eyes. The shipping companies main interest, a financial one, lay in the fact they would be obliged to return the emigrants!
After the fatal accident to the ship occurred, there are a couple of accounts by survivors of seeing Dr Simpson on deck, including one of him offering a lifeboat skipper his pocket torch as help. The senior surviving officer, Lightoller, recalled him in his later reminiscences.
In recent years, the last letter Simpson wrote to his mother, which the family had given up hope of seeing again, appeared for sale by auction. He tells of his journey from Liverpool to Southampton to join the Titanic, and how his trunk had been pilfered. The letter is now in the Titanic Experience collection in Belfast.
Needless to say, there was a lively session of questions and answers following an exceptional talk on such a fascinating subject!