What Happened To The Titanic Captain's Daughter?

As history records, some 1,500 passengers and crew members were killed when the RMS Titanic famously struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank in 1912. Tragedies of that scale affect more than just those who lost their lives or who were lucky enough to survive. Many on board that fateful night had family back home or loved ones awaiting them at their destination. Among them was Captain Edward John Smith of the Titanic, who went down with the ship.

Captain Smith was married to Sarah Eleanor Smith when the infamous maritime tragedy happened, and the couple had just one daughter, Helen Melville Smith, who went by "Mel." Mel would go on to suffer many more tragedies beyond the sinking of her father's ship. Before her own death in 1973 at age 75, she lost her mother in a pedestrian versus car accident in 1931. She also outlived two husbands and her only two children, per "Titanic: True Stories of Her Passengers, Crew, and Legacy."

On a sunny July day in 1914, though, all that lay ahead. On that day, Mel was in her native England to unveil a new statue of her father, Captain Smith. By that time, Smith was hailed as a hero for his actions during the Titanic's sinking a little more than two years earlier. "I hereby declare this statue unveiled," Smith's teenage daughter said as the large bronze figure of a bearded seaman with his arms crossed was revealed, according to "RMS Titanic: Made in the Midlands."

Her father was often at sea

Captain Edward Smith (above, right) nearly missed the birth of his only child on April 2, 1898. While his wife Eleanor was pregnant, he made multiple trips commanding the White Star Line passenger ship the RMS Majestic back and forth across the Atlantic to the U.S. as he continued to rise through the ranks, according to "Titanic Captain: The Life of Edward John Smith" and Titanic's Officers.

Helen Melville "Mel" Smith was born in Liverpool, and luckily, Captain Smith was there for the event. Although he was often at sea, he adored his daughter, spoiling her when home and giving her several pet names, including "Babs" and "Gillie." He wrote to her often when traveling. One letter touchingly reveals the depth of the sea captain's affection for his daughter, as Smith wrote alongside a bird illustration (via "Titanic Captain"), "I could not catch a bunny to send you on my letter so send you this card by this little bird." 

Mel was nearly 14 when her father's new ship the Titanic, billed as "unsinkable," set sail on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. Mel would never see her father again. While there were several versions of what befell the captain as his ship broke in two and sank into the icy North Atlantic in the early morning of April 15, a crewman who survived recalled seeing Smith swept off the deck before swimming back and going down with his ship, per "Titanic Captain."

A series of tragedies

Losing her father at such a young age was just the first of many tragedies that befell Helen "Mel" Melville Smith. On April 26, 1931, Mel's mother — Captain Smith's widowed wife, who never remarried — was crossing a rain-soaked London street with her umbrella blocking her view, nearly blind in one eye. A cab struck her, according to Evening Despatch, and the 69-year-old died from a fractured skull two days later.

By that time, Mel had already lost two husbands. Her first, Captain John Gilbertson of the British Merchant Marines, died of a tropical disease. Her next husband, a stock broker named Sidney Russell Cooke, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in July 1930, when the rifle he was cleaning accidentally discharged, according to The Daily Telegraph. Mel and their twin children, Simon and Priscilla, were away in the country at the time, the Liverpool Echo reported. 

Cooke and Mel's children also died young. Simon died in 1944, when he was 20, while serving with the Royal Air Force during World War II. Priscilla died of complications from polio in 1947, pet "Titanic: True Stories of Her Passengers, Crew, and Legacy." By the time of Mel's death, the Titanic disaster had already become the stuff of legend and film adaptations, among them 1958's "A Night to Remember," with actor Laurence Naismith as Mel's father. According to Titanic's Officers, Mel approved of Naismith's portrayal of the ill-fated sea captain, whose genetic line came to an end with her death.