How Many Italians Were On The Titanic?

Many Italians were on the Titanic during the tragic night in April 1912 and yet only five survived.

Photo by Nan Fry licensed under CC BY 2.0

Many Italians were on the Titanic during the tragic night in April 1912 and yet only five survived

The story of the Titanic was the tragic symbol of an era that was ending, culminating in the Great War. The “unsinkable” liner brought the eternal bourgeois certainties into the depths of the ocean, and with them the horrible distinction of the world into social classes. Only 712 out of 2207 people aboard survived the sinking, and some of them died in boats before being rescued. The other 1495 people, between passengers and members of the crew, died in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, either holding their hands in their flooded decks, or simply “Dressing up in our best and preparing to go down like gentlemen” as the heroic millionaire Benjamin Guggenheim said, staying on a sofa drinking brandy and thus inspiring a famous scene from the James Cameron movie. The Titanic was a crucible of people, nationalities and destinies. Have you ever wondered how many Italians were on board? Even if it’s been more than a century, I decided to bring you back aboard the Titanic, writing their stories.

The Italian restaurant staff

The total number of Italian passengers on the Titanic was 43, but only 11 of those were passengers. The remaining 32 were crew members, all being part of the restaurant staff. None of them survived the disaster. Considering that the Titanic’s restaurantÀ la Carte” employed 66 workers, half French and half Italian, and only three of them survived, we can say that it was a tragedy within the tragedy. The White Star Line, the shipowner of the Titanic, chose the Italian Luigi Gatti to manage its restaurant aboard, both for the great tradition of Italian cuisine and his esteemed skills as a restaurateur. In fact, Mr Luigi Gatti, born near Pavia in Lombardy, owned two popular restaurants in London and, for Titanic’s maiden voyage, he was regarded as the right manager to delight the discerning palates of first-class passengers.

A feature of the restaurant staff was that it was not employed by The White Star Line, but directly by Luigi Gatti. All the cooks, the waitstaff and the assistants selected for the Titanic’s restaurant were from France or from the northwestern regions of Italy. Many of them had emigrated at a young age to seek their fortune in the UK. And fortune helped 24-year-old Italian waiter, Mr Di Napoli, who arrived last minute in Southampton and failed to join the ship. For all other restaurant staff, except two female cashiers and one male kitchen clerk, there was no escape. The lifeboats were not enough for all the passengers, let alone for the crew. Furthermore, according to the testimony of several Titanic survivors, the stewards locked the deck where the cabins of the restaurant staff were, preventing them from trying to save themselves. The same Luigi Gatti did not survive the sinking, deciding stoically to stay until the end inside the ship. His body was then recovered still wearing his golden watch and a diamond ring.

The À La Carte restaurant aboard the Titanic – Photo by Wikipedia

The Italian passengers

Eleven was the total number of Italian passengers who traveled on the Titanic. There were only three women on this list. These passengers were distributed in this way: three in first class — but two of them boarded as servants of rich widows, four in second class and just as many in third. The sole survivors were only five of them, and if we consider a then-pregnant woman, we can say six. Who were those Italians? The first class passengers were Mr Sante Righini, servant of the American widow Mrs Ella White, Mrs Albina Bassani, in Mrs Emma Eliza Bucknell’s employment, and Mrs Nella Carlynne Goldenberg, an Italian-American wife of the rich New Yorker Mr Samuel Levi Goldenberg. While Albina Bassani and Nella Carlynne Goldenberg, being women, got a place in the lifeboats, the lifeless body of Sante Righini was recovered frozen from the sea.

Sante was born near Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast, and at the age of twenty he decided to follow his sister who emigrated to the United States. He intended to become a US citizen in 1910 and then was employed as a servant by Mrs Ella White, a rich widowed woman with lesbian tendencies towards Marie Grice Young, her traveling and cohabiting partner before and after Titanic. The two women were rescued on lifeboat number 8, while Sante Righini remained on the boat deck, helping women and children until the last moment. A humble servant, but he would die a hero.

The destiny of Albina Bassani was quite ironic. She was born in Rome, and in the summer of 1911 she crossed the Atlantic to join her family which had already emigrated to Massachusetts. But then in late 1911 she traveled overseas in the opposite direction as a servant of her employer, the rich widow Mrs Emma Eliza Bucknell. Mrs Bucknell was the third wife of the American businessman and philanthropist William Bucknell, from whom she inherited a fortune. A daughter of theirs was married to a Count from Rome, and Mrs Emma Bucknell used to visit her often. Who better than a native Roman like Albina to be helpful to her? Their return to the US from this trip was scheduled aboard the Titanic, but both survived the disaster, being rescued as first class passengers on lifeboat number 8. After that tragic night, Albina Bassani received good compensation by the White Star Line, being able to quit her job for Mrs Bucknell and start a family. She would later die in a warm bed in Massachusetts at the age of 80.

Nella Carlynne Goldenberg was born in Florence, to an American father and an Italian mother. She supposedly went to the US in 1885, later getting her American passport. Nella had her second marriage to Samuel Levi Goldenberg, an American lace merchant. They used to live near Nice, in France, and boarded the Titanic on its stop at Cherbourg. Mr and Mrs Goldenberg were dog fanciers and their journey to America was to take part in the French Bull Dog show at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel of New York. They survived the sinking, in an interesting way though. Nella got to the lifeboat wearing just her nightdress, helped by her husband on the deck. The captain’s orders to board women and children first was complied by from Mr Goldenberg, who refused to follow his wife. But, perhaps because of her half Italian temperament, Nella threatened her husband, convincing him to jump into the lifeboat when the crew was lowering it, using the ropes. An interesting anecdote: the only bag saved from the Titanic belonged to Samuel Levi Goldenberg. How he was able to take it and keep it dry still remains a mystery. Several years after the sinking of the Titanic, Nella Goldenberg divorced her husband, dying peaceful in California at the age of 81.

The first part of how many Italians were on the Titanic ends here, but stay on board for the second part.

Read the second part of the article.

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