Samford University journalism instructor Julie Hedgepeth Williams has written a book on her great uncle, Albert Caldwell, who with his wife, Sylvia, and 10-month old son, Alden, survived the sinking of the ocean liner Titanic almost 100 years ago. The book, A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells' Story of Survival, was published by NewSouth Books of Montgomery, Ala., in January.
“They were one of the few families to survive the shipwreck intact,” Williams said. “I knew my great-uncle well and heard the Titanic story from him many times.”
April 15, 2012, will be the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City late on the night of April 14, 1912, and sank about three hours later. A total of 1,517 people died in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.
Caldwell and his young family escaped death in Lifeboat 13. But as Williams began researching the episode, “I realized I hardly knew the story at all,” she said.
“It turns out Albert and his wife were fleeing their jobs as missionaries, with the church in hot pursuit to stop them from leaving. He had never told us of the cat-and-mouse race around the globe from Bangkok, where they were stationed. They wound up on the Titanic in their rush to go home.”
The Caldwells had been Presbyterian missionaries, but fled in what they described as a desperate journey to save Sylvia’s health. Fellow missionaries, however, believed that the couple plotted to renege on their contract at financial loss to the church, and not even the sinking Titanic ended the hunt for the Caldwells.
“The Board of Foreign Missions was actually waiting for them to see if Sylvia was truly ill when she stepped off the rescue ship,” said Williams.
The cover of the 208-page trade paperback features a photo of the Caldwell family on the deck of the Titanic. “My family found this rare photo among Albert's effects when he died,” said Williams.
For information on A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells’ Story of Survival, go to www.newsouthbooks.com.
A graduate of Principia College with master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Alabama, Williams also wrote Wings of Opportunity: The Wright Brothers in Montgomery, Alabama, 1910.