Apr 10 2012 Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday
OVER the past few weeks the Titanic has been cast back into the limelight ahead of the 100-year anniversary of one of history’s most memorable tragedies.
More than 1500 people died after the luxury liner crashed into an iceberg, split in two and sank on April 15, 1912 – and The PA has tracked down part of the story of a Perthshire man who was among them.
THE sun casts long shadows over the headstones at the graveyard of Kinfauns Church.
Just legible in its glare is a simple, but faded memorial bearing an inscription to a loved one.
“Lost with ‘Titanic’” is placed alongside Alexander Cairns’ name on his family’s weather-worn cross.
According to records seen by The PA, Alexander Milne Cairns was born at Balthayock, South Lodge, Kinfauns, on April 19, 1883, to parents William Cairns and Margaret Milne.
He was one of 12 children. Nearly 29 years later he was manservant – or valet – to rich USA businessman, William Ernest Carter.
How and when Cairns came to be employed by Carter is not known, but what is known is Carter famously shipped an expensive 25 horsepower Renault car on the Titanic.
And, the first class passenger, who took a large entourage on board, was part of a lavish party for the ship’s elite crew, including Captain Edward Smith.
He paid princely sums ranging from £31 to £120 to have him, his wife Lucile, their family and his staff get a place on board the ship, seen as a must for the great and good of the day.
Clearly a trusted and worthy servant, Alexander, was also bought a first class ticket. Records show he was ticket number 113798, costing £31 (£2872.15 in modern prices).
After the collision with the iceberg the Carters are said to have joined some of the other prominent first class passengers as they waited for the boats to be prepared for lowering.
William Carter saw his family safely into lifeboat four. He urged others, including a wealthy man who died on the ship, to try for a boat before they were all gone.
Carter and his family survived, being pulled to safety by the steamship Carpathia.
But, what happened in the panic to Alexander, and the others was never fully known, adding to the mystery of the man who died shortly before his 29th birthday.
To this day it intrigues distant relatives around Scotland and in the USA who have posted online messages looking for details on him.
Among them is Meg Greenwood who lives in Oklahoma, who has Scottish ancestry. By quirk of fate Meg’s very existence may have rested on whether Alexander survived or not.
A tale passed down through her family from her grandmother Agnes Bryden was that she was once engaged to a man called Alex who died when the Titanic sank.
Meg thought this just a family tale but it earned more credence when an image of the man was shown to her.
So for the past 10 years she’s been looking to track down relatives of Cairns in the hope that she might be able to match up the image, which has been lost in her family’s possessions, with that of Alex – and put to rest a family mystery.
She’s called on archivists in Perth looking for images, newspaper cuttings and other facts that may help, but to no avail.
In an email to The PA, Meg said: “I have had research on newspapers to see if they carried pictures of him.
“Evidently none did as he sent me what had been written about Mr Cairns being seen boarding the Titanic by friends, as it was hoped he’d not boarded.
“His parents received a stipend for, reportedly, the rest of their lives to amend for their loss.
“If there are any pictures of this Alexander Cairns I would be most interested in viewing them to compare with the image here.
“This man died April 15 in icy water – if I can get his picture proven, he deserves this last memoriam.”
l Can you help? Do you have an image of Alexander Cairns or can you fill in the gaps in history? The PA would like to hear from you.