Auburn artist’s great-aunt survived Titanic sinking

100 years later, world still engrossed with nautical disaster
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
-A +A

A century after the Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean, killing 1,514 passengers, this country and the world are still obsessed with the disaster. Historians pore over detailed survivors’ accounts and explorers descend 12,600 feet below sea level to view the wreckage. The disaster has been well-chronicled in both fictional and nonfictional accounts, most notably James Cameron’s 1997 film “Titanic.”

Such disasters are fascinating for history lovers like Auburn’s Michael Otten, president of the Placer County Historical Society. He plans to observe the 100th anniversary in Shingle Springs, where he’ll attend a dinner serving the same food that was served at the last meal on board the Titanic.

“Certain things that are really becoming fascinating are kind of the bizarre and unexpected,” Otten said. “Here was the world’s most luxurious ship – it was unsinkable.”

For the passengers who survived, the RMS Titanic was not the scene of an epic, albeit brief, love story set to a heart-wrenching Celine Dion ballad. Rather, it was a horrifying 160 minutes during which only 710 people made it to safety aboard the RMS Carpathia.

“One of the big problems on the Titanic was they didn’t have enough lifeboats and they didn’t fill them,” Otten said. “The panic just took over and people didn’t want to do rational things, and it caused the loss of a lot of lives.”

The last survivor to pass away was Millvina Dean, who died in England in 2009, at the age of 97. Another survivor, who died in 1984 at the age of 93, had ties to Auburn in the form of her great-niece, artist Nancy Hakala.


Miss Maude’s journey

Maude Sincock’s story began in Penzance, Cornwall, where she was born in 1891. The 11th of 13 children, Sincock grew up in an impoverished family. Her father, Frank Sincock, was thrown into debtors prison, where he was given the option of waiting for his family to pay his way out or being sent to the “dreaded Americas.” He chose the latter, and slowly began to bring his family over to join him in Michigan.

Sincock was close to the last to come to America. Her mother, pregnant again, stayed at their home in St. Ives, where the family had moved. Sincock, 20 at the time, had a ticket on a slower boat, scheduled to leave a month after the Titanic, but her mother was able to buy a second-class ticket on the Titanic for 36 pounds.

Such opulence as seen aboard the Titanic was astonishing to Sincock, who worked in a dressmaker’s shop in St. Ives, giving all her money to her mother. Hakala, imitating her great-aunt’s Cockney accent, shared how Sincock described the ship, as related in conversations with her great-aunt.

“First time I’d ever been on a ship as lovely as the Titanic. I couldn’t believe the chandeliers! I’d never seen the likes of them in my life. And the china was so amazing – I’d never seen china like that before and there I was, even eating off those types of plates.”

Sincock was traveling with family friend Elizabeth Davies and her young son John, with whom Sincock shared a berth. In another berth was Davies’ other son, Joseph Nicholls, 19, who Sincock described as “her first love,”

“She called him, ‘my lad,’” said Susan Hakala, Nancy Hakala’s sister, who lives in Rocklin. Both sisters remember Sincock describing how the pair would stroll about the deck together.

It was Nicholls who alerted Sincock to the fact that the ship had struck an iceberg, just before midnight on April 14, 1912. Nicholls pounded on Sincock’s door and gave her a life preserver. Hakala said her great-aunt, ever conscious of her appearance, refused to put on “that ugly thing,” but Nicholls insisted, especially because Sincock could not swim. The pair climbed five flights of stairs to the deck, as the elevators had already stopped working, but found that first-class passengers were still being put into lifeboats and they would have to wait.

Sincock found herself at the railing of the ship, staring out over the ocean.

“She said it was the most amazing sight she’d ever seen,” Hakala said. “There wasn’t a breeze stirring and there wasn’t a ripple on the ocean. It was like a sheet of glass, and all the stars in the sky were reflected in the top of the water. She said you couldn’t tell where the sky stopped and the sea began.”

Then, all of a sudden, somebody was yelling at Sincock to board a lifeboat, but the young woman remembered that she had left her most prized possession in her berth. She ran back down the stairs to her room, where she could not find the brass watch her mother had given her. She searched the room for it until she was interrupted by the sounds of gunshots, signaling that it was nearing time for the last lifeboats to leave.

Back on deck, Sincock found that John and Elizabeth Davies had been given seats on a lifeboat, and that Nicholls had been offered a seat on another. Susan Hakala said her great-aunt told her that two ladies had given up their seats, saying they’d take their chances on “the big boat,” and one had already been taken. Realizing that it was the last lifeboat on that side of the boat, Nicholls insisted that Sincock take his place.

He said, “You go ahead and you get into this boat and don’t you worry,” Hakala said. “I’ll meet you in New York City.”

Nicholls’ body was recovered from the sea eight days after the Titanic sank. In his money belt was Sincock’s watch, with her name engraved on it. The watch was returned to Sincock and remains in the family to this day.


‘The most beautiful day on Earth’

Although she was placed in a lifeboat, Sincock’s horrific night was far from over. The lifeboat seated 65 people – there were 70 riding in it. The petite young woman had to ride on the keel, her rear end hanging over the edge of the lifeboat. The seas had become rough, and crewmembers paddled the lifeboat for six hours until reaching the Carpathia. Although the passengers were instructed to not look back, Hakala said, her great-aunt remembered watching the Titanic between crests of waves until it was completely submerged. The passengers rode in complete silence.

“She never did talk about the bodies in the water and the noise and all that,” Susan Hakala remember. “She basically just said it was really loud when the ship was going down.”

In her haste to get back on deck, Hakala said, Sincock had forgotten her coat and was shivering aboard the lifeboat.

“The most amazing thing happened,” Hakala said, again in her aunt’s accent. “Right there, in the middle of my lifeboat, there was one of the wealthiest ladies on board the boat. And imagine this – she went ahead and offered me her wrap.”

After finally arriving in New York City, Sincock stayed with complete strangers until boarding a train to join her family in Michigan. She spent the rest of her life there, working as a “hello girl,” or telephone operator. She married, had children and shared her story with not only her family, but also Titanic researchers and filmmakers.

Hakala, the granddaughter of Sincock’s brother Baden Powell Sincock, traveled to Michigan in the 1970s to record her great-aunt’s story. After Sincock shared the story of the ship sinking, taking with it her first love, Hakala attempted to change the grim subject and asked Sincock what had been the happiest day of her life.

Without a doubt, Sincock replied, that was her 21st birthday – two days after the Titanic sank.

Once aboard the Carpathia, Sincock found herself quite alone, separated from the Elizabeth and John Davies. She found a corner in the middle of the ship’s dining room, where she sat quietly. However, when fellow survivors learned it was Sincock’s birthday, they threw an impromptu party for her, a bright moment in the midst of tragedy.

“I felt like the veritable queen of England, I did,” Hakala said in her aunt’s voice. “There were stacks of presents all over my feet and up so high. I’d never had a day like it in all my life.”

“She thought that was the most beautiful day she’d ever had on Earth," Hakala said.

Sincock died in May 1984, weeks after suffering a stroke from which she never woke up. The day of her stroke was April 15, the anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.


Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter, AuburnJournalAE.



Titanic trivia

• The Titanic cost $7.5 million to build, which is equivalent to $400 million today.

• According to the Daily Mail, a first-class parlor suite on the Titanic cost $4,350, which equates to $50,000 today. A second-class berth would cost $690 today, and a third-class passenger would pay $172-$460.

• There were only two bathtubs for use by more than 700 third-class passengers.

• The Titanic had its own newspaper, the Atlantic Daily Bulletin, which was printed every day on board the ship. It contained news, advertisements, stock prices, horse-racing results, society gossip and the day’s menu.

• Just 28 people were on board the first lifeboat, which had the capacity to carry 65.

• There were six warnings of icebergs before the collision.

• The temperature of the Atlantic that night was -2 degrees Centigrade.

• Long before striking an iceberg, the Titanic almost collided with a much smaller steamer ship, the New York, which was sucked into the giant ship’s wake. A nearby tugboat, the Vulcan, came to the rescue and helped avoid collision by only 4 feet.

• A lifeboat drill was planned for April 14, but was canceled by Capt. Edward John Smith for reasons that are still unclear.

• The wealthiest passenger on board was Lt. Col. John Jacob Astor IV, whose family made its fortunate in opium, the fur trade and real estate. Astor went down with the ship after helping his pregnant wife escape in the last lifeboat.

• All eight members of the Titanic orchestra died. Many survivors, including Maude Sincock, recalled that the band kept playing, and that the last tune heard was “Nearer My God to Thee.”

~Source: International Business Times