Mystery benefactor returns Titanic letter to Belfast

Titanic letter returns to Belfast

Posted on March 13, 2012

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A mystery benefactor has stepped in to ensure a valuable letter written by an officer days before he died on the Titanic will return to his home town. Dr John Simpson penned to his mother onboard the doomed liner would be bought by a private collector when it was put up for auction in New York with a $34,000 reserve price.

But after hearing about a campaign by relatives of the ship’s assistant surgeon to bring the letter back to his native Belfast a mystery donor stepped in and bought it for the city just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

According to witnesses who survived the 1912 sinking, 37-year-old Dr Simpson stood with fellow officers on the deck of the stricken vessel as it went down. His great-nephew Dr John Martin said he was happy the letter was coming back to where it belonged. ”I’ve never actually seen the original letter itself as it was last in Belfast in the 1940s before Dr Simpson’s son moved away.

”So for it to be on its way back is just amazing and so appropriate now just ahead of the 100th anniversary of his death. We are so thankful to the benefactor.”

The letter, dated 11 April 1912 and written on notepaper headed RMS Titanic, was brought ashore at Cobh, Co Cork (then called Queenstown) before the ship set sail for the US.

It was dispatched to his mother Elizabeth who was living in Belfast’s Dublin Road. In it, the married father-of-one, who was then based in Liverpool, said he was tired but settling into his cabin well. He had worked on the Titanic’s White Star Line sister ship the Olympic for a year previously and observed to his mother that the accommodation on board his new vessel was larger.

Dr Simpson also complained he had found one of his trunks unlocked and $5 or $6 had been stolen from his pocket book. The surgeon, who treated second and third-class passengers, signed off: “With fondest love, John.”

It is intended that the letter will go on display in Belfast.

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Visit Belfast Zoo

History of Belfast Zoo

Old picture of boys feeding an elephant in Belfast Zoo

The story of Belfast Zoo begins with the city’s public transport system.
At the beginning of the 20th century, passengers from Belfast were transported to the villages of Whitewell and Glengormley by horse-drawn trams belonging to the Belfast Street Tramway company and steam tramways from Cave Hill and Whitewell.
In 1911, the tram line was taken over by Belfast Corporation, now Belfast City Council.

Building Belfast Zoo

In 1933, the corporation decided to install a representative zoological collection on the site.
Then, in 1934, 12 acres on either side of the Grand Floral Staircase, a series of steps designed to reach the top of the hillside, were laid out as Bellevue Zoo.
It took 150 men to build the site and the steps can still be seen from Antrim Road today.
The zoo was opened on 28 March 1934 by Sir Crawford McCullough, the then Lord Mayor of Belfast.

The venture was supported by Councillor RJR Harcourt from Belfast Corporation and was partnered by George Chapman, an animal dealer and circus entrepreneur.
It cost £10,000 to build and a total of 284,713 people visited the zoo in its first year.

Impact of World War II

Many of the animals in the zoo’s first collection arrived in Belfast by boat.
Daisy the elephant travelled on the Heysham steamer and, after she was removed from her crate, she was walked by zookeepers from the Belfast docks to Antrim Road, a distance of between five and six miles!

In 1941, the Ministry of Public Security ordered the destruction of 33 animals after north Belfast came under aerial attack during World War II. Animals, including lions, wolves and polar bears, were killed and the collection was not restocked until around 1947.
Several elephants survived the attacks, and one baby elephant was cared for by an elderly lady who lived on the nearby Whitewell Road.

The modern zoo

During the 1950s and 1960s, the zoo went into decline.
By the time the corporation’s parks committee took control of the site in 1962, restoration was badly needed and work began on the new zoo site in 1974.
Since then, the council has continued to support the zoo, donating £1.5 million every year to help run and promote the site.

For more information about the history of the zoo, email history@belfastzoo.co.uk
If you would like to receive an information pack about the zoo’s history, email history@belfastzoo.co.uk or call 028 9078 2082.

Belfasts Black Santa

The “Black Santa” tradition at Belfast Cathedral was started by Dean Sammy Crooks in 1976. Concerned at the emphasis being placed on necessary and costly building programmes at the Cathedral, Dean Crooks decided to stand on Donegal Street in front of the Cathedral and beg for the poor and charitable causes.

With a small barrel in which donations could be placed, and dressed in the familiar black, Anglican clerical cloak, Dean Crooks “sat out” each day of the week before Christmas. Thus began the tradition of Belfast’s Deans sitting out for charities. The local press described Dean Crooks as, Belfast’s Black Santa, and the description struck a lasting chord with the public.

Dean Crooks was succeeded by Dean Jack Shearer who involved members of the Cathedral Chapter in the Sit out. Under his leadership the event continued to develop so that by his last Sit out in 2000, a total of £2.2 million pounds had been raised for charities over the previous 24 years.  Dean Houston McKelvey maintained this tradition throughout his ten years in office and the current Dean, John Mann has continued to do so.

The commencement of the Sit out attracts considerable attention in the local press, radio and television. The leaders of the four main Churches in Ireland, the Lord Mayor of Belfast and many other community leaders call at the Cathedral to greet the Dean…and to contribute!

All the money gathered is donated to local charities with a proportion given to Christian Aid. The range of charities includes medical research; those caring for children, youth and the elderly; the improvement of employment opportunities for young people and a host of small charities which cannot afford paid fund-raisers.

Most of the money donated is given by people who come to the Cathedral during the Sit out. Contributions are made by individuals, families, schools, offices and workplaces.

Some schools send the collection from their Christmas Carol Services or the proceeds of their Christmas Shows. Some school choirs and bands come and perform on the cathedral steps during the Sit out. To the fore amongst the schools are the students of Fleming Fulton School who all cope daily with physical disability. Despite the problems with which they and their families cope with daily, they have an annual ‘Pennies from Heaven’ appeal for the Sit out for which they collect coins in Coke bottles. They have raised thousands of pounds for the Sit out in this way.

Some donors collect in the same way, all the year round, for the Sit out by emptying their pockets and purses each day and placing pennies, tuppences, five and ten pence coins in tins, or jars or bottles which they bring to the Cathedral. Many donors send a cheque by post to the Dean and a high percentage of these “Gift Aid” their donations, enabling them to be enhanced through the income tax being recovered.

Visiting Belfasts Donegall Square

Donegall Sq. marks the northern boundary of the Golden Mile and the southern end of the pedestrian-only Cornmarket district. City hall, once a favorite target for IRA bombers, dominates Belfast’s old city center.

Why not visit Linen Hall Library or Belfast City Hall, on our Titanic Belfast day tours from Dublin. The most dramatic and impressive piece of architecture in Belfast is also its administrative and geographic center. Towering over the grassy square that serves as the locus of downtown Belfast, its green copper dome (173 ft. high) is visible from nearly any point in the city. Inside, a grand staircase ascends to the second floor, where portraits of the city’s Lord Mayors line the halls, moving down the wall each year as the latest portrait is hung. Stained glass and huge paintings depicting all aspects of Belfast industry highlight the impressive rotunda, while glass and marble shimmer in three elaborate reception rooms. The City Council’s oak-paneled chambers, used only once per month, are deceptively austere, considering the Council’s reputation for rowdy meetings (fists have been known to fly).

Directly in front of the main entrance, an enormous marble Queen Victoria stares down visitors with her trademark formidable grimace, while bronze figures representing Shipbuilding and Spinning kneel at her feet. A more sympathetic figure of womanhood stands on East grounds, commemorating the fate of the Titanic and her passengers. The interior is accessible only by guided tour. (tours M-F 11am, 2, 3pm, Sa 2 and 3pm. Tour times may vary; no tours on Bank and Public Holidays.

Other Sights. One of Belfast’s oldest establishments is the Linen Hall Library with the red hand of Ulster atop its street entrance. The devoted librarians have compiled a famous collection of over a quarter million items documenting the social and political history of Northern Ireland since 1966. (Enter via 52 Fountain St. Free tours available, but call ahead. Open M-F 9:30am-5:30pm, Sa 9:30am-1pm.) Nearby, the Victorian Scottish Provident Institution, built in 1902, displays a facade featuring panels dedicated to the four main professions of Belfast’s industrial history—shipbuilding, ropemaking, spinning, and printing. (Across the street from City Hall, on the corner of Donegall Sq. N. and East Bedford St)