Lurgan conservator Sean Madden has been tasked to conserve the last letter ever to be written on board the Titanic.
The letter, which was sold at auction last year for £120,000, was written by Essex-born Esther Hart and her seven-year-old daughter Eva just eight hours before the ship hit an iceberg and sank in April 1912.
Now in the possession of Titanic Belfast, local man Sean has been asked to carry out a delicate surface clean up the letter and have it mounted for display.
The historic artefact, written by the mother and daughter who survived the ship’s sinking but was never sent, is on loan to Titanic Belfast where it will go on display for five years.
The letter, intended for her mother in Chadwell Heath, only survived because it was in the pocket of her husband’s coat which he had given her to keep warm. He was one of over 1,500 people to die in the disaster.
The letter was auctioned in England last April with the auctioneer describing it as unique because it was the only letter known to be written on board on the day the ship hit the iceberg.
The letter is embossed with the White Star Line flag, headed ‘On Board RMS Titanic’ and dated ‘Sunday afternoon’.
The letter has been loaned to Titanic Belfast by Scottish businessman Garreth Wood and his wife Nicola, long-time Titanic enthusiasts who bought it from the auction buyer.
It will now be checked by Sean to see if any conservation work is required before going on display in Titanic Belfast’s Maiden Voyage Gallery, which is currently being refreshed.
Sean was tasked two years ago with conserving the most expensive piece of Titanic memorabilia in the world.
Specialising as a paper conservator Sean had the 29 and a half foot plan of the historic ship at his studio in the town.
The drawing was used at an inquiry which took place three weeks after the sinking of the vessel and still bears the chalk marks used to indicate where the iceberg made contact with the ship.
Tim Husbands CBE, Titanic Belfast’s CEO, said: “This letter carries vast historical significance and, as the world’s largest Titanic attraction, Titanic Belfast will provide the ideal home for the next five years.
“The large sums of money which Titanic artefacts sell for at auction are an indication of the worldwide interest in them.
“This document will prove a fantastic addition to our world-class offer at Titanic Belfast, complementing the modern technology in our galleries which brings Titanic’s story to life.”
Mrs Hart wrote in the letter that they were enjoying what she called the “wonderful journey” and that they were likely to arrive in New York early because of the speed the ship was sailing at.
She described being sick and unable to eat or drink the day before, but that she had since recovered and been to a church service with Eva that morning.
She also wrote that Eva had sung “so nicely” to the hymn ‘Oh God Our Help in Ages Past’ and that they were both due to sing on a concert on board “tomorrow night”.
Letter owners Mr and Mrs Wood said: “We were very keen for people to be able to see and enjoy the letter, and not lock it away in a private collection.
“Therefore we are both delighted that it will be in the new exhibition for countless people to enjoy.”
Andrew Alrdidge, of the auction house, said last year: “We have sold a number of letters and postcards that were posted by Titanic passengers at Queenstown in Ireland - the last stop before it crossed the Atlantic. But this is the only known letter written on Titanic stationary on board on that fateful day.
“The importance of this document cannot be overstated. It is quite simply the jewel in the crown of Titanic manuscript ephemera.
“The letter and envelope are in remarkable condition and the content of it is excellent as it gives a taste of what life was like on board.”
At the time of the Titanic disaster the Hart family were emigrating to Winnipeg, Canada, where they were going to run a chemists.
But Mrs Hart and her daughter Eva returned to England to live in Chadwell Heath, east London. Mrs Hart died in 1928 aged 65. Eva went on to become a magistrate and died in 1996 aged 91.