The Grim Story of the Mackay-Bennett, the Titanic's Mortuary Ship

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg about 375 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The supposedly unsinkable ocean liner was four days into her journey from Southampton, England, to New York when the call to abandon ship rang out. All too soon, more than 2200 souls aboard the Titanic realized the odds of survival were stacked against them: The ship’s lifeboats, launched into the icy Atlantic, had space for only half the passengers and crew.

The first ship to reach the scene of the disaster, the RMS Carpathia, arrived at about 3:30 a.m. After half an hour of searching in the dark, a crew member spotted a flare from one of the drifting lifeboats, and the rescue mission commenced. By 8:30 a.m., all survivors—705 women, men, and children—were brought up from the lifeboats, and the Carpathia steamed for New York.

Now, the task became recovery of the dead.

Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, was the closest major port to the site of the disaster. A Halifax-based cable ship, the CS Mackay-Bennett, was quickly fitted out as a “morgue ship” and dispatched to where the Titanic had sunk two days earlier, more than 800 statute miles away. The Mackay-Bennett carried all the embalming fluid available in Halifax, approximately 100 wooden coffins, 100 tons of ice, and 12 tons of iron bars to weigh down bodies to be buried at sea. But it wouldn't be enough to cope with the huge number of Titanic victims.

The Mackay-Bennett arrived on the evening of April 19. By the next morning, the crew was ready to start recovering bodies. Captain Frederick Harold Larnder found far more victims in the icy waters than he expected. “We saw them scattered over the surface, looking like a flock of seagulls,” he later told The Washington Times. Boats with five or six crew and room for eight bodies were lowered into the water to begin the recovery.

On that first day, 51 victims were retrieved; most were wearing life-jackets and floating upright. Their heads and shoulders showed bruises from the chaotic sinking of the ship.

The rescue mission had to pause at nightfall with the sea still dotted with bodies. The following day, April 21, fewer were recovered, but 119 were hauled aboard on April 22. Captain Larnder said that “We found no two bodies together, all floating separately. No two were clasped in each other’s arms.”

Chief embalmer John R. Snow, Jr., of Nova Scotia’s largest undertakers, took care of the bodies to be transported back to Halifax. Each one pulled from the water was given a number, and their personal effects were placed in a small canvas bag marked with the same number. After Snow ran out of embalming fluid and caskets, he began wrapping victims in canvas and placing them on ice in the hold, but they quickly filled the available space. Larnder made the difficult decision to begin burying some of the victims at sea—regulations required that only embalmed persons could be brought ashore. Most of the bodies to be buried at sea could be identified by their clothing as the Titanic’s crew or third-class passengers.

“The undertaker didn’t think these bodies would keep more than three days at sea, and as we expected to be out more than two weeks, we had to bury them,” Larnder told The Washington Times. The bodies selected were wrapped in canvas, weighed down with iron bars, and dropped over the side three at a time as an Anglican minister delivered the service.

On April 23, another steamship, the Minia, arrived on the scene and delivered more embalming fluid so bodies could once more be preserved for burial on land. After seven days of searching, the Mackay-Bennett had recovered 306 Titanic victims, and 116 were buried at sea (only 56 had been identified); the remaining 190 were transported to Halifax.

Attributed to William J. Parker or William Mosher, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The ship arrived on April 30 while church bells tolled at minute intervals. Curious locals and desperate relatives rushed to the docks. Undertakers lined up on the jetty while their black-draped hearses stood ready to take the bodies away to the temporary mortuary set up at Halifax’s Mayflower Curling Rink. While the bodies were dressed for burial, workers brought a covered gangway up to the deck of the Mackay-Bennett and began unloading its grim cargo as Red Cross volunteers sprayed disinfectant.

Three other ships were also tasked with recovering victims of the Titanic sinking: the Minia, CGS Montmagny, and SS Algerine. The Minia found 17, two of which were crew members who were then buried at sea; the Montmagny retrieved four bodies in May and buried one of them at sea. The final victim, identified as saloon steward James McGrady, was found by the Algerine at the end of May. In Halifax, all were processed at the temporary morgue with the Mackay-Bennett’s victims. Fifty-nine bodies were eventually taken elsewhere for burial, and 150 were interred across three cemeteries in Halifax—121 at the nondenominational Fairview Lawn Cemetery, 19 at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery, and 10 at the Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery. Forty-three remain unidentified. Their simple granite gravestones bear a number and the date of the disaster: April 15, 1912.

A diary kept by one of the Mackay-Bennett’s crew, 24-year-old Clifford Crease, is preserved in the Nova Scotia Archives. The account by the craftsman trainee is mostly factual, recording the weather and number of bodies found each day. On April 21, he noted, “Bodies in good state but badly bruised by being knocked about in the water.”

His granddaughter, Rabia Wilcox, told Global News in 2012 about Crease’s shock after recovering the body of a child. “He never fully recovered. He told our father it was the worst thing that ever happened to [him],” she recalled. Moved by the tragedy, the crew of the Mackay-Bennett placed a brass plaque, engraved with the words “our babe,” on the unidentified toddler’s coffin when he was buried in Halifax’s Fairview Lawn Cemetery with 120 other Titanic victims. In 2007, DNA testing identified the unknown child as 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin, a third-class passenger who drowned with his parents and five older brothers and sisters.

The Mackay-Bennett soon returned to its regular job carrying cable for maintenance work on the France–Canada cable link. The vessel was retired from service in 1922, and finally scrapped in 1963. The name might be little remembered, but history preserves the Mackay-Bennett’s role in the Titanic’s sad aftermath.

The 10 Best Air Fryers on Amazon

Cosori/Amazon
Cosori/Amazon

When it comes to making food that’s delicious, quick, and easy, you can’t go wrong with an air fryer. They require only a fraction of the oil that traditional fryers do, so you get that same delicious, crispy texture of the fried foods you love while avoiding the extra calories and fat you don’t.

But with so many air fryers out there, it can be tough to choose the one that’ll work best for you. To make your life easier—and get you closer to that tasty piece of fried chicken—we’ve put together a list of some of Amazon’s top-rated air frying gadgets. Each of the products below has at least a 4.5-star rating and over 1200 user reviews, so you can stop dreaming about the perfect dinner and start eating it instead.

1. Ultrean Air Fryer; $76

Ultrean/Amazon

Around 84 percent of reviewers awarded the Ultrean Air Fryer five stars on Amazon, making it one of the most popular models on the site. This 4.2-quart oven doesn't just fry, either—it also grills, roasts, and bakes via its innovative rapid air technology heating system. It's available in four different colors (red, light blue, black, and white), making it the perfect accent piece for any kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Cosori Air Fryer; $120

Cosori/Amazon

This highly celebrated air fryer from Cosori will quickly become your favorite sous chef. With 11 one-touch presets for frying favorites, like bacon, veggies, and fries, you can take the guesswork out of cooking and let the Cosori do the work instead. One reviewer who “absolutely hates cooking” said, after using it, “I'm actually excited to cook for the first time ever.” You’ll feel the same way!

Buy it: Amazon

3. Innsky Air Fryer; $90

Innsky/Amazon

With its streamlined design and the ability to cook with little to no oil, the Innsky air fryer will make you feel like the picture of elegance as you chow down on a piece of fried shrimp. You can set a timer on the fryer so it starts cooking when you want it to, and it automatically shuts off when the cooking time is done (a great safety feature for chefs who get easily distracted).

Buy it: Amazon

4. Secura Air Fryer; $62

Secura/Amazon

This air fryer from Secura uses a combination of heating techniques—hot air and high-speed air circulation—for fast and easy food prep. And, as one reviewer remarked, with an extra-large 4.2-quart basket “[it’s] good for feeding a crowd, which makes it a great option for large families.” This fryer even comes with a toaster rack and skewers, making it a great addition to a neighborhood barbecue or family glamping trip.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Chefman Turbo Fry; $60

Chefman/Amazon

For those of you really looking to cut back, the Chefman Turbo Fry uses 98 percent less oil than traditional fryers, according to the manufacturer. And with its two-in-one tank basket that allows you to cook multiple items at the same time, you can finally stop using so many pots and pans when you’re making dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Ninja Air Fryer; $100

Ninja/Amazon

The Ninja Air Fryer is a multipurpose gadget that allows you to do far more than crisp up your favorite foods. This air fryer’s one-touch control panel lets you air fry, roast, reheat, or even dehydrate meats, fruits, and veggies, whether your ingredients are fresh or frozen. And the simple interface means that you're only a couple buttons away from a homemade dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant Pot Air Fryer + Electronic Pressure Cooker; $180

Instant Pot/Amazon

Enjoy all the perks of an Instant Pot—the ability to serve as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, and more—with a lid that turns the whole thing into an air fryer as well. The multi-level fryer basket has a broiling tray to ensure even crisping throughout, and it’s big enough to cook a meal for up to eight. If you’re more into a traditional air fryer, check out Instant Pot’s new Instant Vortex Pro ($140) air fryer, which gives you the ability to bake, proof, toast, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Omorc Habor Air Fryer; $100

Omorc Habor/Amazon

With a 5.8-quart capacity, this air fryer from Omorc Habor is larger than most, giving you the flexibility of cooking dinner for two or a spread for a party. To give you a clearer picture of the size, its square fryer basket, built to maximize cooking capacity, can handle a five-pound chicken (or all the fries you could possibly eat). Plus, with a non-stick coating and dishwasher-safe basket and frying pot, this handy appliance practically cleans itself.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dash Deluxe Air Fryer; $100

Dash/Amazon

Dash’s air fryer might look retro, but its high-tech cooking ability is anything but. Its generously sized frying basket can fry up to two pounds of French fries or two dozen wings, and its cool touch handle makes it easy (and safe) to use. And if you're still stumped on what to actually cook once you get your Dash fryer, you'll get a free recipe guide in the box filled with tips and tricks to get the most out of your meal.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Bella Air Fryer; $52

Bella/Amazon

This petite air fryer from Bella may be on the smaller side, but it still packs a powerful punch. Its 2.6-quart frying basket makes it an ideal choice for couples or smaller families—all you have to do is set the temperature and timer, and throw your food inside. Once the meal is ready, its indicator light will ding to let you know that it’s time to eat.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Fascinating Facts About Herman Melville

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in New York City to a wealthy and socially connected family, Herman Melville (1819-1891) chose a life as exciting as that of his Moby-Dick narrator Ishmael. He spent years at sea on whaling ships and traveled to far-flung places, but also struggled to make it as a novelist while supporting a large extended family. To celebrate his birthday on August 1, we’re diving into Melville’s adventures and fishing for some surprising facts.

1. Herman Melville's mother changed the spelling of their last name.

Despite his family’s wealth and pedigree—his mother Maria Gansevoort descended from one of the first Dutch families in New York, and his father Allan Melvill came from old Boston stock—young Herman had an unstable, unhappy childhood. Allan declared bankruptcy in 1830 and died two years later, leaving Maria with eight children under the age of 17 and a pile of debt from loans and Allan’s unsuccessful businesses. Soon afterward, Maria added an "e" to their surname—perhaps to hide from collection agencies, although scholars are not sure exactly why. "It always seemed to me an unlikely way to avoid creditors in the early 19th century," Will Garrison, executive director of the Berkshire Historical Society, tells Mental Floss.

2. Herman Melville struggled to find employment.

Thanks to a national financial crisis in 1837, Melville had difficulty finding a permanent job, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He served as a bank clerk, teacher, land surveyor, and crew member on a packet ship before signing on, in 1841, to the whaler Acushnet of New Bedford, Massachusetts, then the whaling capital of the world. He served aboard a few different whalers and rose to the role of harpooner. His adventures at sea planted the seeds for Melville’s interrogation of man, morality, and nature in Moby-Dick. In that novel, Melville (in the voice of Ishmael) says, "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

3. Herman Melville jumped ship in the middle of a three-year voyage. 

Melville and the Acushnet’s captain didn’t get along, so when the ship reached the Marquesas Islands, Melville and a friend, Richard Tobias Greene, hid in the forests until the ship departed. They spent a month living with the Pacific Islanders. Melville was impressed with their sophistication and peacefulness; most Europeans believed that Polynesians were cannibals. He also found reason to criticize European attempts to "civilize" the islanders by converting them to Christianity. Melville drew on his South Pacific experiences in his first two novels, which became runaway bestsellers: Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847).

4. Herman Melville was inspired by a mountain.

Herman Melville's home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, MassachusettsDaderot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Melville moved to Arrowhead, his charming mustard-colored home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with his wife Elizabeth and their son in 1850, after he achieved fame as a popular adventure novelist. In the upstairs study, he set up his writing desk so he could look out the north-facing window, which perfectly framed the summit of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’s tallest mountain. Gazing at the peak on a sunny day, Melville was struck by how much the horizontal apex looked "like a sperm whale rising in the distance." He arranged his desk so he would see the summit when he happened to glance up from his work. In that room, in early 1851, Melville completed his manuscript of Moby-Dick.

5. Herman Melville fictionalized an actual whaling disaster.

While on the Acushnet, Melville had learned about an infamous shipwreck from the son of one of its survivors. In November 1820, a massive sperm whale had attacked and sunk the whaleship Essex of Nantucket in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its crew, stranded in three small boats with little food or water, chose to drift more than 4000 miles to South America instead of 1200 miles to the Marquesas Islands—where Melville had enjoyed his idyll—because they thought they’d be eaten by the natives. Ironically, some of the castaways ended up eating their dead shipmates to survive.

Melville used the disaster to form the climax of Moby-Dick, in which the Pequod of Nantucket is destroyed by the white whale. Melville visited Nantucket for the first time only after the novel was published. He personally interviewed the Essex’s captain, George Pollard, who had survived the terrible ordeal and become the town’s night watchman. Later, Melville wrote, "To the islanders he was a nobody—to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered."

6. Moby-Dick was a flop.

Readers who were expecting another rip-roarin’ adventure like his earlier novels Typee or Redburn were sorely disappointed when Melville’s masterpiece was published in November 1851. The British edition of Moby-Dick, or The Whale received some positive reviews in London newspapers, but American reviewers were shocked at its obscure literary symbolism and complexity. “There is no method in his madness; and we must needs pronounce the chief feature of the volume [the character of Captain Ahab] a perfect failure, and the work itself inartistic,” wrote the New York Albion. The reviewer added that the novel's style was like "having oil, mustard, vinegar, and pepper served up as a dish, in place of being scientifically administered sauce-wise."

7. Herman Melville was very fond of his chimney.

Arrowhead became the locus of Melville’s family life and work. Eventually, he and Lizzie, their two sons and two daughters, his mother Maria, and his sisters Augusta, Helen, and Fanny all lived in the cozy farmhouse. For a couple of years, Nathaniel Hawthorne was such a frequent guest that he had his own small bedroom off Melville’s study. After Moby-Dick, Melville wrote the novels Pierre and The Confidence-Man, his collection of works called The Piazza Tales, short stories including “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and many other pieces there. Melville grew very attached to the house, especially to the massive central chimney, which he immortalized in his 1856 short story “I and My Chimney.” Yet his financial struggles after Moby-Dick failed to find an audience led Melville to sell Arrowhead to his brother Allan in 1863. As an homage, Allan painted a few lines from “I and My Chimney” on the chimney's stonework, which are still visible today.

8. Herman Melville finally got a day job.

Melville’s chronic money woes prompted a return to New York City, into a brick townhouse at 104 East 26th Street in Manhattan, where the family benefited from being back in the bustle of civilization. Melville finally found regular employment as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service and maintained an office at 470 West Street. At the same time, he mostly abandoned writing short stories and novels in favor of poetry. In between inspections he wrote Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, based on his visit to the Middle East in 1857. Because of its length—at more than 18,000 lines, it's the longest poem in American literature—and unconventional approach to its subject, Melville once called it "eminently adapted for unpopularity."

9. Herman Melville's last major work was discovered by accident.

The centennial of Melville’s birth renewed interest in his novels and poems, most of which were long out of print by then. Raymond Weaver, a literature professor at Columbia University working on the first major biography of Melville, collaborated with Eleanor Melville Metcalf, Melville’s granddaughter and literary executor, who gave him access to the author’s papers. In 1919, while poking through letters and notes, Weaver discovered the unfinished manuscript of Billy Budd in a tin breadbox. Melville had started to write the short story about a tragic sailor in 1888 but, by his death in 1891, had not completed it. Weaver edited and published the story in 1924, but initially considered the tale "not distinguished." Other scholars asserted that Billy Budd was Melville’s final masterpiece.

10. You can see Herman Melville's personal collection of knick-knacks.

Just a short drive from Arrowhead, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield holds the world’s largest collection of Melvilliana in its Melville Memorial Room. Along with first editions of Melville’s work and a full library of books about him, there are priceless objects owned by or associated with the author. Fans can geek out over the earliest known portrait of Melville, painted in 1848; carved wooden canoe paddles that he collected in Polynesia; his walking stick; his favorite inkstand, quills, and other desktop tchotchkes; a collection of scrimshaw, maps, and prints; and Elizabeth Melville’s writing desk. There's a section of the first successful transatlantic cable, which Melville valued as a prized souvenir, and even the actual breadbox in which Billy Budd had been hiding.