The Truth About The Person Who Photographed The Titanic Disaster

In the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank to the bottom of the ocean after colliding with an iceberg. Thousands of passengers lost their lives in the tragic event, and a young woman was able to capture a photo of the iceberg that hit the ship, as well as the survivors who were rescued following the Titanic's sinking.

A Canadian girl named Bernice Palmer received a Kodak Brownie camera either as a Christmas gift in 1911 or a gift for her 17th birthday on January 10, 1912. On April 11, Bernice and her mother boarded the Carpathia in New York together with hundreds of other passengers to go on a Mediterranean cruise. On the evening of April 14, Carpathia's captain, Arthur Rostron, was awakened by a distress call alerting him of the Titanic disaster. According to the Maritime-Executive, Captain Rostron immediately changed the course of the ship and headed toward the location of the Titanic. Carpathia's crew prepared to rescue any survivors they would come across, and the ship reached the disaster site at about 4 a.m. on April 15.

Bernice Palmer captured devastating photos

Bernice Palmer was sleeping with her mother in their first-class cabin when she was awakened by the cold temperature. Per Vintage Everyday, she looked through a window in her cabin and immediately knew that something was wrong. The young woman headed to the deck with her camera in tow, and that's when she saw the crew of Carpathia pulling up Titanic survivors from lifeboats. Palmer recalled seeing the terrified faces of the survivors and the debris and furniture from the Titanic that bobbed up and down the ocean. She used her new camera and took photos of the events in front of her.

Captain Rostron canceled the trip to the Mediterranean and headed back to New York after the rescue mission. The return trip took three days, and Rostron ordered a news blackout and prevented communications to his ship to avoid details of the disaster from reaching the press until the survivors were safely on land.

Bernice Palmer's Titanic photos were bought by a photo agency

Upon noticing Bernice Palmer taking photos onboard the Carpathia, an unknown individual who worked for the New York-based photo agency Underwood & Underwood offered to purchase her photos (via National Museum of American History). The newsman offered Palmer $10 to develop and print the photos, and not knowing the value of the pictures she took, she agreed. She was also asked to sign a copyright contract that transferred the rights of the photos to Underwood & Underwood.

In total, the photo agency was able to acquire five unique photos of the Titanic disaster from Palmer — four photos of survivors aboard the Carpathia and a photo of the iceberg that the Titanic hit. Some of Bernice Palmer's photos were used in newspapers that reported on the Titanic's sinking. According to Vintage Everyday, Palmer's father was upset that his daughter was paid a measly sum for the prints. In 1986, Bernice Palmer donated the Kodak Brownie camera that she used to take the photos to the Smithsonian Museum.