Did A Young Scot Anticipate His Own Demise?
Mr. Robert Douglas Norman, a 28 year-old electrical engineer from Glasgow, Scotland, was traveling on the Titanic from Southampton to Vancouver, Canada where his brother resided and where he owned some land. He boarded the doomed ship as a second class passenger. On the evening of April 14th Douglas played the piano at a hymn service presided over by Reverend Ernest Carter. After the collision, Norman met Kate Buss and Marion Wright and told them the ship had struck an iceberg but assured them there was no danger.
Sadly, Douglas died in the sinking, his body recovered by the MacKay Bennett and he was buried at Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 6 May 1912.
Unexpectedly, Robert Douglas Norman’s will, written from his half-sister’s residence in London on April 9, 1912, six days before the Titanic sinking, has been recently unearthed. The letter addressed to his brother in Canada, describes how Norman wishes his estate, worth more than £8,500 (equivalent to £650,000 today) to be divided in the event of his death between his relatives.
The letter begins “My dear Stanley, As I have to date left no Will and am anxious to leave some of my money to certain individuals, kindly have the following instructions carried out.” It goes on to name his half sister Lucie, step-niece Winnie and cousin George Cochrane as beneficiairies.
The letter concludes: “This of course only holds good should I die unmarried or no other Will is made by me. Lucie has instructions to forward you this letter on receipt of official news of my death. Your loving brother, Robert Douglas Norman.”
The rare and poignant letter, written by this young Scot, one hundred years ago, has been recently discovered by record keepers at the National Records of Scotland as part of their effort to update and digitize thousands of wills and testaments from 1902 to 1925 to be added to the ScotlandsPeople genealogy website. The documents will be shown from April 16 until May 25 at The ScotlandsPeople Center in Edinburgh.
George MacKenzie, keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: “This is one of those exciting discoveries we make in the archives, a link to a world-famous, though tragic, event. The letter gives a tantalising insight into the mind of Robert Douglas Norman the day before he embarked on the Titanic.”
Susan Newman, a woman whose great-uncle Robert Douglas Norman, died more than 100 years ago in the sinking of the Titanic was given the chance to hold the last letter written by him and addressed to his brother Stanley Norman. Newman said “This really brings Uncle Douglas’ sad story to life. The sinking of the Titanic was a huge global disaster – but holding his handwritten note, probably the last thing he ever wrote, brings home just how tragic it must have been for my family in particular. It is an honour to hold his last letter, and to know it is being held in Scotland’s National Archive for future generations to read and reflect on”.