The Sea Odyssey story was based on a letter written by a 10-year-old girl living in Kensington, to her father on board the Titanic.
The Sea Odyssey story was based on a letter written by a 10-year-old girl living in Kensington, to her father on board the Titanic. Peter Elson meets her great-nephew
MAY McMURRAY was just 10-years-old when she wrote her first – and last – letter to her dad William McMurray. A first class bedroom steward on the Titanic, he perished without ever seeing the letter when the ship sank on its maiden voyage.
Written in a beautiful, near-perfect copperplate hand May poignantly describes how lonely she is without her beloved “Dada” and her mother’s worries about her little brother.
“The letter was written on April 13 – the day before Titanic hit the iceberg,” says May’s great-nephew Nicholas Housley, 56.
“Poignantly, it arrived too late for her dad as Titanic had already sailed three days before from Southampton to New York and the letter was returned to her family home at 60 Empress Road, Kensington.”
The family later donated the moving letter to Merseyside Maritime Museum, where it caught the eye of Jean-Luc Courcoult, founder of France’s Royal de Luxe marionette street theatre company, and became the inspiration for Sea Odyssey.
Nicholas, a former Merseyside police officer, says: “The story has been refined from that in the letter, but Jean Luc Courcoult is emphatic that it inspired Sea Odyssey.
“I feel proud my great-aunt inspired this event and the public will be touched by the tender feelings of this 10-year-old girl to her beloved father.”
The impact of William’s death on the family was devastating. He left a wife, Clara, his son Ernest, aged three, and his daughters May, 10, and Ivy, seven – Nicholas’s grandmother.
“It’s said that when Clara received the news she was totally distraught and kept clutching a rescue medal he’d received while serving on another White Star ship, Baltic,” he reveals.
“As was typical of the time, such personal tragedies were not discussed and Titanic never mentioned.
“For years the family hoped and prayed that one day William would walk through the door like he’d always done before and that by some miracle he’d somehow survived. But his body was never found.
“There was never a funeral and so the family never had closure.”
Nicholas, who lives in North Liverpool, says William may have lost his life due to giving up his space in a lifeboat to a passenger.
“There is a rumour my great-grandfather was ordered into a lifeboat to look after his first class passengers but then told to get out to find biscuits and water,” he explains.
“On his return an American passenger had taken his place. Also it’s alleged that this American sought Clara out and told what happened.“However she died three years later in 1915 and so their three children were orphaned
“May died in 1985. She was married but had no children and lived in Toft Street, near Edge Lane. She was always rather delicate and ladylike.”
While he is proud that his great-aunt’s letter has inspired Sea Odyssey, Nicholas has mixed feelings about watching the performance.
“I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I watch it. Although remote from us now it isn’t a matter for celebration,” he says.
“However, it’s not linked to a disaster so much as to a local man and the grieving daughter he left behind.”