The UK Daily Mail is reporting a letter up for auction at Henry Aldridge & Son shows the callous indifference of White Star to grieving families. The letter, sent to Christopher Moody–the brother of Titanic officer James Moody–informs that the can arrange transport of his remains but they will need a £20 deposit for “for any expenses and land charges….” The letter also points out that once he took charge of the body, he would be responsible for all expenses after that.
1) Did White Star Attempt To Commit Fraud?
The Daily Mail says that White Star already knew that James Moody’s remains had not been found as they had been catalogued. Now you can look at this one of two ways:
1)The body had been marked as recovered or they had been told it had been recovered;
2)They were making plans in case it was found.
I doubt White Star was going to commit fraud here (hitting up grieving family members for money when there was no body likely would get some legal notice). Rather either it was miscommunication about his remains or they were simply being proactive in case of recovery. The body was never recovered so money was ever paid to White Star by Christopher Moody.
2)Was White Star Charging To Transport The Body?
It seems an odd position for White Star to take. Why charge for bringing the body of 6th officer James Moody home to England for burial? Here is what the letter actually say on this point:
Should you after further consideration desire the remains of your Brother to be returned will you kindly telegraph us in the morning at the same time sending us a deposit of £20 for any expenses and land charges on the other Side and we will at once cable New York asking then to arrange this if practicable.
A reasonable interpretation of this paragraph is they are not charging to transport the body to England but “expenses and land charges on the other Side….” That would likely mean whatever fees imposed to transport the body away from the ship. They could not store the body on the ship, it would need to go somewhere right away unless Christopher was there to meet the ship when it docked. So they asked him to deposit money so they could make those arrangements on his behalf.
Now I am not saying White Star ought not to have paid those fees. I think it would have been the right thing to do. This was poor public relations on their part and just adds to the overall impression that White Star was callous and cheap. This was not uncommon then and still a sore issue today after a major disaster at sea or on land. Who pays for the removal, transport, and storage of bodies awaiting final disposition? Families are often shocked when, after the loss of a loved on in a terrible disaster,they get a bill for transport or storage of their loved ones remains. Insurance may cover some, all, or none of it. White Star believed its duty was to transport the remains but not to pay for carriage and storage fees beyond the ship.
That of course is less lurid than saying White Star charged relatives to transit remains across the ocean. It makes for a great headline but not quite the truth.