The Titanic is quite possibly the world’s most famous shipwreck. Popularized through documentaries, motion pictures and other media, the story of the fateful sinking on the night of April 15th, 1912 is one that is known by people of all ages. Over 1500 passengers and crew died during the sinking, and so the site of the Titanic wreck is considered a grave site. Two and a half miles below the North Atlantic, the Titanic still holds many treasures to this day. It is possible they will someday be excavated, but with all survivors of the wreck now deceased, who will claim them? And is it worth it to disturb such a tragic landmark?
The precise location of the Titanic was discovered in 1985. Two years later, in 1987, some of the first artifacts were brought up from the Titanic wreck site. A submersible named Nautile made the journey down to the ship and collected nearly 1800 artifacts. Among these was a purser’s bag containing a variety of jewelry. Some of the pieces included a platinum and 18 carat diamond ring (pictured), a sapphire and diamond ring, brooches, necklaces, cuff links and a golden pocket watch. It is believed that this bag and jewelry belonged to a first class passenger and was left behind during evacuation of the cabins. These pieces were first shown in a group to the public in 2012, at an Atlanta exhibit. They are owned by RMS Titanic Inc., which owns the right to all of the ship’s artifacts and salvage missions. Since 1987 a number of other artifacts have been collected. Some feel that continuing to disturb the wreck is morally wrong. One of the last living survivors, Millvena Dean, said before her death: “I think it is all wrong. I think the ship should be left in peace. Any bits and pieces that have come out from the ship on the seabed – that is all right. But to go on the ship – no, that is all wrong.” Many others feel the same way.
Interestingly enough, it might not just be the first class cabins that contained wealth. Since the Titanic is such a famous wreck, many urban legends have popped up over the years about curses and possible artifacts that were onboard. One of these said that a cursed Egyptian mummy was being transported in the bowels of the Titanic (this has never been proved true). A story that does hold considerable weight is that of the treasure of Emma and Samuel Beard Risien.
Samuel Risien served in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier and his wife Emma was from South Africa, where her family owned diamond mines. In 1910 the Risiens traveled to Durban, South Africa where they stayed for 14 months. They made the trip up to London in early 1912, sent a postcard to their son Charles on March 30th (who was living in Texas), and then boarded the Titanic on April 10th in Southampton. They were heading to meet Charles and the rest of the family in Groesbeck, Texas.
The Risiens bought third class tickets and boarded the Titanic as third class passengers. It is said they were carrying very heavy bags with them. The family was relatively well-to-do for the time, and many descendants of the Risiens believe that they were carting diamonds back from the South African mines. Perhaps they believed that if they were to travel as third class passengers, no one would suspect that their bags were laden with treasure. Unfortunately, both Samuel and Emma died in the sinking. Their supposed treasure has never been found, but a number of third class cabins have never been excavated.
It is likely that we will never know for sure what cargo went down with the Titanic that night. It is unlikely that any recovered treasure would be returned to the descendants of the owners. The entire wreck and its rights are owned by RMS Titanic Inc., and so it would likely be kept preserved and displayed in museums with other artifacts. The excavation of the Titanic is so controversial that it is possible the rest of the ship’s cargo will remain on the ocean floor for good.