It is Monday, May 25, 1914--five days before the R.M.S. Empress of Ireland is due to sail from Quebec City. Bernard Tumilty, a stoker (fireman) aboard the Empress, writes to his brother Tom in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"...I may go out to Vancouver as the steam boating is better out there than at home, as you are under Navy discipline in the boats out of Liverpool, all work & no liberty.... But if you don't answer this in 3 weeks, I'll take the first train & give you a good talking to; you would think you only lived a few miles away to hear me talking. Dear Tom and Alice, I would like to know how you are getting on as thing's [sic] in the old country are completely on the bum. Tom, I have come to the conclusion that $50.00 dollars a month is better than $25.00 a month here, so if I see my way clear, I will try to get out there, but you will not know when I get there, I will be disguised, so look out, dear brother.
I am in the Empress of Ireland but I am only on for one trip as she is no good and the talent is worse, all from Scotland Road, you know...."
History records that Bernard Tumilty went down with the Empress.. Or did he? A number of years after the sinking, someone who knew Bernard was in Bootle, a Liverpool suburb, and allegedly saw him going into a house.
He told Bernard's wife about this and she and one of her daughters went to the house to ask about Bernard, only to be told, "No Bernard Tumilty lives here," but as part of my investigations into the family name I have come across a family of Tumilty's from Bootle.
So, did Bernard jump ship and visit his brother, to find out why he didn't respond to his previous letter. Then, when the Empress went down a day or so later, it was an opportunity to start a new life, not all that difficult to do in an era before passports and national computer data bases.
We have collected more data that actually 1 fireman and 21 trimmers deserted ship most were replaced and most of them survived the disaster but there was a few who did perish.
Submitted by Peter Tumilty
Excerpt taken from Bernard's letter.