The Titanic Centenary: Arthur Gordon McCrae, 1880–1912

A graduate of the University of Sydney, Arthur Gordon McCrae, was a passenger on the Titantic, which set sail from Southampton one hundred years ago and famously sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912. McCrae died in the sinking, body number 209 recovered by the MacKay Bennett.

McCrae was one of six Australians on board the ship, and one of two passengers, the others being crew members. He had purchased a 2nd class ticket to travel from Southampton, where he boarded the ship to America where his fiancée Madeleine Knight lived (her family were staying in Ellensberg, Washington with Captain A L B Davies). In the letter (also transcribed below) written by Madeleine’s mother, Mary Knight, she expresses their sorrow at losing Arthur, and mentions that 'her ring was coming', and indeed, one item found on him was a diamond and emerald ring (location unknown).

McCrae graduated in Engineering (Mining and Metallurgy) in 1903 although he first entered the University in the Faculty of Arts in 1899 (taking English, French, Maths and Physiography) before switching to Engineering in 1900. McCrae was a resident of St Paul’s College.

He had been working in Siberia for the Spassky mine for three years as smelting superintendent, and there is a letter of condolence from the Secretary of the mine sent to McCrae’s family. Madeleine’s father was the Mine Manager at Spassky, living in Siberia as well, and Madeleine would visit the Steppe from America where she was staying. There are some lovely photos of Madeleine and others in Siberia, which McCrae sent home to his family by way of introduction to the family.

McCrae had previously worked in West Africa (there is a postcard from Prestea Mine in Ghana) and there is a manuscript entitled A Shift in a Gold Mine describing a shift in a South Wales mine, written by McCrae, whose family, after all, included a number of noted authors (including his uncle George Gordon McCrae, and cousin Hugh McCrae). It was published in the Sydney Morning Herald under the initials “A G M” on 9 December 1905.

The McCrae family emigrated from Scotland in the 1840s and Arthur’s father Farquhar Peregrine Gordon McCrae was the youngest son of Georgiana Huntly McCrae, whose journals and paintings of early life in Melbourne and settling on the Mornington Peninsula were published in 1934. The McCrae homestead is managed by the National Trust. However, Arthur grew up in Auckland and Sydney, with a conventional childhood as the son of an Inspector in the Bank of Australasia (now Westpac).

McCrae was buried in Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 10 May 1912. It has been suggested that University of Sydney students contributed to the erection of a large Celtic cross, and as such, the tombstone records 'In Loving memory of Arthur Gordon McCrae B.E., University of Sydney, NS Wales, Australia who lost his life in the wreck of the Titanic, April 1912, 32 years ‘Faithful unto death'’.

Arthur Gordon McCrae at the University of Sydney c.1903

Arthur Gordon McCrae at the University of Sydney c.1903. Photo courtesy Mant family archives.

Madeleine Knight c 1911

Madeleine Knight c 1911. Photo courtesy Mant family archives.

Transcript of the letter from Mary Knight

c/o Captain A L B Davies, Ellensburg, Washington
My very dear Mr and Mrs McCrae. The terrible and awful news of your and our Arthur being on that terrible Titanic must have reached you. I am writing and sending a cable at the same time. We are too utterly crushed to believe this other great grief and sorrow has come to you and to us.
May God Almighty give us all the strength we are in great need of. Our deepest and hearts full of great sympathy go out to you all for I realize to the full what your suffering will be. We have thought of nothing and planned for nothing but his coming. He said he would never take Madeleine from us so my little bungalow was planned so it should where we could [be] all be happy and contented together.
He had been part of our lives so long it did not seem possible hardly to leave him in Russia, his deep love and devotion to Madeleine and his great friendship for me has shown his beautiful character. After our first great sorrow my love and affection were for my child and him. My dear Mrs McCrae, how we are going to live this down I can’t at present imagine. I am too dazed. I have had to force myself to sit down and write this letter.
Captain and Mrs Davies are our great friends here and are doing all in their power to try and help and comfort us. They are devoted to Madeleine. She is so young to have this great sorrow. She is so different from most girls and cares for few but when she does it very deep. I had given my consent to their engagement and her ring was coming from England. We must wait to know what your wishes are before taking any steps about his dear body. Our hearts are full of love and the deepest sympathy for you all. Your very sincere friend
Mary Knight

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Sources and Copyright

Photographs, letters and other records used in the exhibition are owned by the Mant family, and were initially collected by Arthur Gordon McCrae's sister, Frances Mant. Copies may be used for private or educational research only. All other use, reproduction or duplication requires the permission of the owner. Please contact the if you have any queries about the content or use of it.

Additional sources include: Encyclopedia Titanic