In her later years, Berthe Antonine Mayné would tell her nephew a fascinating and romantic story. In particular, Mayné claimed, she had once been the lover of a millionaire – not only that, but she had also taken a trip with him on the RMS Titanic. And given the unlikeliness of that tale, it’s perhaps no surprise that the nephew didn’t believe Mayné. However, as it turns out, the old woman was indeed telling the truth.
And Mayné’s story begins in Ixelles – one of the constituent parts of Brussels – where she was born back in 1887. Then, after she grew up, she began to grace the Belgian capital’s stages as nightclub singer Bella Vielly. And it seems that she actually earned some success in her field, too.
Indeed, as the Dutch-language newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws once wrote, Mayné was “well known in Brussels in circles of pleasure.” In addition, she was apparently “often seen in the company of people who like to wine and dine and enjoy life.” It made sense, then, that she ultimately caught the eye of the dashing Fernand de Villiers.
But while de Villiers apparently embarked on a relationship with Mayné for a period, it seems that this liaison didn’t lead to anything long-lasting. And, in fact, the soldier finally decamped to the Belgian Congo as a member of the French Foreign Legion. In the end, then, Mayné went on to find a new love.
One day late in 1911, Mayné had her first encounter with Quigg Edmond Baxter while she was singing in a café. And it seems that Baxter swept her off her feet, since their meeting quickly led to a whirlwind romance. Yes, love began to grow between the Belgian songstress and her new Canadian beau.
Baxter was something of a catch, too. At the very least, as the son of rich parents, he came from money. And despite such wealth, the Canadian wasn’t idle. Initially, he found a vocation in hockey and made his living as a player. After an eye injury left him unable to see well enough to continue on the field, however, he decided not to leave the game; instead, he became a coach.
And Baxter had first encountered Mayné during a trip to Europe with his mom and sister. The trio had eventually planned to return to the U.S., though, on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. The ship was scheduled to leave Southampton in the U.K. and cross to Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, en route to the States.
Furthermore, one may imagine, the prospect of boarding the Titanic was likely an exciting one. At the time of her launch, passengers could claim, for one, that they were voyaging on the biggest ship currently on the seas. And first class – where the Baxters were to enjoy their journey – offered practically anything that a prosperous individual could want.
The wealthy clamored to get on board the Titanic, too. John Jacob Astor – supposedly one of the richest men alive at that time – and Benjamin Guggenheim – whose family name adorns several museums – were part of a passenger list that included millionaires, socialites, sportsmen and artists. And, of course, the first-class accommodation that they used also housed Mayné.
Yes, the connection between Baxter and Mayné had strengthened to the point that she willingly accepted a ticket for the voyage. Mayné had decided, too, that she would follow Baxter to Montreal. And in a seeming nod to her previous boyfriend, Baxter bought her a passage under the name “Mrs. de Villiers.”
Then on April 10, 1912, passengers began to board the Titanic; eventually, the liner would carry more than 2,000 people altogether. Among them, naturally, was Mayné, who would enjoy her own stateroom. Cabin C-90 cost Baxter nearly £50 at the time, which is more or less equivalent to over $7,500 in 2019.
But Mayné was certainly not alone in seeking a new life in the Americas. Indeed, many of the Titanic’s passengers were leaving behind Europe in order to build futures in the United States. And while a great number of these people sailed in third class, even they enjoyed standards that no other ship offered.
The third-class voyagers had separate dining rooms, for instance, as well as plenty of space out on deck. Titanic operator White Star Line had also separated third-class accommodation on the vessel into cabins – something that marked the liner out from other carriers. And these spaces – though not large – offered comfort and more seclusion than the usual open berths.
But people were more than free to relinquish that privacy in order to socialize together on deck. They may have known who else would be aboard, too, thanks to the list of passengers that was made public before the ship left harbor. And apparently some moms scanned the list on behalf of their daughters; there could be eligible bachelors on the voyage, you see.
However, one area in which the ship didn’t excel was its preparedness for disaster. For instance, although the Titanic’s infrastructure meant it could potentially carry 64 lifeboats – enough for 4,000 occupants – White Star Line concluded that she only needed 20 such rescue vessels in total. And this was generous; legally, the ship was only required to have 16 lifeboats on board.
Yet while that number may seem low, there was an explanation. Ships at that time, you see, carried only the lifeboats needed to ferry people to a rescue craft – not to shore – in the event of emergency. And in the case of the Titanic, the total amount of boats available would have been fine if the SS Californian had ultimately come to the ship’s rescue.
Still, there was apparently no need to consider the potential for catastrophe, since the Titanic was famously considered unsinkable. Indeed, a member of the crew is apparently said to have explained to a boarding passenger that “God himself could not sink this ship.” And both a strong bottom and compartments that could be sealed contributed to the notion that the massive ship could not founder.
But, of course, sink she did. Shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912, a lookout saw that the Titanic was on course to strike an iceberg. And while the crew attempted to avoid the ice, their actions were ultimately in vain. The ship hit the berg hard, leaving several holes in the part of the ship that was underwater.
Meanwhile, Baxter noticed that something had happened to make the liner stop. He therefore went in search of answers from both the captain and Bruce Ismay, a White Star Line official. But the captain apparently attempted to reassure the millionaire hockey coach, reportedly saying, “There’s been an accident, Baxter, but it’s all right.”
Naturally, though, the captain’s optimism proved unwarranted, as dents caused by the iceberg soon caused the Titanic’s hull to come apart. Water seeped into five supposedly safe parts of the ship, too. And thanks in part to that accumulated extra weight, she began to go down.
By contrast with the captain, though, Ismay reportedly did not try to save face. Instead, the White Star Line representative allegedly told Baxter to get his companions and make for the lifeboats. And Baxter complied, taking off toward his loved ones.
It appears, too, that the wealthy Canadian rapidly bundled his family members and his lover out of their respective cabins. Mayné, for one, seemingly only had time to put on a woollen coat – protection against the chill that her nightwear would not keep out. Yet she hesitated before getting into lifeboat 6; she was supposedly anxious about Baxter, you see.
As it turns out, Baxter did not get into the lifeboat – whether because of the rules of the sea or because of the gallantry that prevailed in those times. And when Mayné reportedly told the women in her boat that she needed to go back to grab some jewelry, one of them, it’s said, quickly set her straight on that plan.
Indeed, it may well have been suicidal for Mayné to head back to her cabin. Certainly the ship herself went down very quickly; less than three hours after hitting the berg, she started to slide under the waves. While the Titanic foundered, moreover, hundreds of unfortunates still clung on to her stern.
But, tragically, the icy waters of the North Atlantic proved unforgiving for those who had not made it into lifeboats. Few who had slipped into the water would survive for long, with the low temperatures there leaving the stranded at risk of heart failure and hypothermia. And, ultimately, rescue would come far too late for many of the passengers.
Nor did it help that the SS Californian was rather slow to respond – even though she was close enough to at least attempt to rescue the Titanic’s passengers. Yes, while the Titanic had made distress calls and sent off signal rockets to alert other ships as to her fate, the crew of the Californian only jumped into action after the other craft had gone down.
The RMS Carpathia liner did respond to the stricken Titanic’s distress signals, however. And so she steamed to the rescue at about 4:00 a.m. on April 15, with the vessel and her crew ultimately able to pick up 705 people from the lifeboats. Not all of the Titanic’s passengers would make it safely to dry land though, with a number succumbing to injuries and the effects of the cold.
In fact, it’s not known for sure how many lives were lost when the Titanic sank. Ambiguities on the passenger list, including fake names and cancelations, have made pinning down the true number of fatalities rather difficult. Nevertheless, it’s thought that at least 1,490 people perished on that night. And Quigg Baxter was almost certainly among them.
In any case, Mayné had last seen her lover as Baxter waved to bid her and his mom and sister adieu. And while none of the victims were eventually identified as the hockey coach, it remains very likely that the 24-year-old’s life ended in the freezing waters – as was the case for many others aboard the ship.
Both Astor and Guggenheim were among the dead, too, as well as Macy’s co-owner Isidor Straus. Straus’ wife, Ida, also perished in the sinking, although she had had the chance of surviving. Still, her demise came after she reportedly refused to take a lifeboat when Straus said that he would not board before ladies and children.
And some occupants of lifeboat 8 apparently heard Ida’s brave words to her husband. “We have lived together for many years,” she is said to have told Straus. “Where you go, I go.” Nor was she the only passenger to refuse to leave behind the one she loved; Lizzie Isham got out of her lifeboat and returned to the ship rather than abandoning her beloved dog.
Heartbreakingly, too, further families were separated as the ship sank. One Michel Navratil Sr. bundled his twin sons, Michel and Edmond, into the final lifeboat to abandon the craft. And the boys managed to survive, despite ending up in New York without speaking any English; their father, on the other hand, ultimately perished.
There is more to that story, however. Arguably, Michel and Edmond should not even have been on the Titanic that night. After splitting up with the boys’ father, their mother Marcelle had prevailed in the custody battle over her children, meaning Michel only had the kids in his charge for the Easter holiday period. He took that opportunity, though, to sail off with the kids to America under false names.
Yet salvation came for the boys when their mom saw their faces in the paper. She had had no clue what had become of them; it therefore came as a complete shock to hear that they were, in fact, in New York. And Marcelle didn’t waste too much time in rescuing her children; she brought them home to France just over a month after the disaster.
But the brothers weren’t the only ones to survive, of course. A year before the Titanic disaster, Nurse Violet Jessop had already lived through the RMS Olympic’s crash into a warship. So, her time on the Titanic led to her second great escape – but not the last. In 1916, you see, Jessop was aboard a hospital ship called the HMHS Britannic.
And compared to her sister ship, the Brittanic proved equally ill-fated. In 1916 she struck a German mine and subsequently went down; yet again, though, the redoubtable Jessop managed to get to safety. The nurse lived a full and long life, too, eventually getting to the age of 84. And unlike the Titanic, she rightfully won her nickname of “Miss Unsinkable.”
The last of the Titanic’s survivors also had a long life, as she passed away at the ripe old age of 97. At a mere two months old when the ship went under, Millvina Dean had been her most junior passenger. Yet her escape didn’t immediately make her a well-known name.
“Until the wreckage of the Titanic was found in 1985, nobody was interested in me,” Dean once said, according to the Guardian. And it seems that the same was true for Mayné, who eventually returned to Europe and resumed her life as a singer in Paris. She never wed and did not have any children. Then, upon her retirement, she relocated once again to Brussels.
Mayné went on to share her story with her nephew, too, although he somehow could not connect his aunt with this amazing story of love and heartbreaking tragedy. Indeed, it seems that people thought Mayné was no more than a fantasist. She died, then, without anyone believing that she had really been a Titanic survivor.
However, after Mayné had passed, her family found a box filled with correspondence and pictures. And these revealed to her nephew and her other family members that Aunt Berthe had indeed been telling the truth. All those years before, she really had set sail for America with a Canadian millionaire – and she had lost him in the dark waters of the North Atlantic.