Douglas Spedden was six years old when Father Frank Browne photographed him playing on the deck of the Titanic. Spedden, standing a few feet away from his father, is shown playing with a spinning toy during the journey between Cherbourg, France, where he and his family had boarded the ship, to Queenstown, Ireland, where Father Browne disembarked and the last of Titanic’s passengers were picked up.
Less than one week later Douglas Spedden would be adrift in a lifeboat with his mother and nanny, having survived the sinking of the famously nearly unsinkable ship. Three years later, on a rural road in front of his family summer home, he would become one of the first recorded automobile accident fatalities in Maine.
Being the only child of Frederic Spedden, a wealthy banker, and Daisy Stone, whose family had a fortune of their own through the shipping trade, Douglas had a privalged upbringing that most children of the era could only dream about. Splitting time between New York and Bar Harbor, Maine, the Spedden family also spent the winter months traveling throughout Europe. In the spring of 1912, they ended their vacation in France and boarded the Titanic on April 10th with two of their servants. True to their gilded age lifestyle, the family booked three first class cabins– one for Mr. and Mrs. Spedden, one for Douglas and his nanny, and one for their maid Helen.
One of the first class cabins on the Titanic (image from here)
Shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912, Daisy and Frederic were jolted awake by the loud screech of Titanic’s engines suddenly stopping. Alarmed by the noise, the couple quickly dressed and left the cabin to try and determine what had happened. As they returned to their room, they felt the ship beginning to tilt to one side. Although they did not know it yet, the engines had been stopped as a last ditch effort to avoid hitting the iceberg and, having failed to avoid a collision, the Titanic had already begun to take on water. The Speddens awoke Douglas and his nanny and told them to get dressed and go up to the deck. His nanny would later recall that in order to keep the young boy calm she told him they were going outside to see the stars.
Photo by Father Frank Brown showing crewmen demonstrating life vests prior to the Titanic's voyage toward New York (image from here)
Once on the upper deck, Douglas was placed in a lifeboat with his mother, their maid, and his nanny. Since the family had arrived outside not long after the damage occurred, there were few people around and Mr. Spedden was allowed to join his wife and child in the craft before it was lowered into the water. Safely floating in lifeboat number 3, the adults witnessed from afar the slow demise of the luxury liner as it listed further into the frigid waters of the Atlantic. By the time Titanic’s remaining lifeboats had been launched and the lights that had continued to glow in its interior were seen to flicker out and leave the survivors of the wreck in darkness, Douglas Spedden had been wrapped tightly in a blanket and was clutching his teddy bear as he slept. He continued to sleep for the rest of the night, blissfully unaware of the horrible aftermath of passengers in the water who, having survived the sinking itself, were dying of hypothermia and desperately crying out for help to people in lifeboats who were too afraid and too numbed to save them.
One of Titanic's lifeboats as seen from the deck of the Carpathia (image from the National Archives)
When dawn broke over the ice field and Douglas woke up, he saw the small chunks of ice surrounding the boat and exclaimed to his nanny “look at the beautiful North Pole with no Santa Claus on it.” Not long after, the Carpathia, responding to Titanic’s distress call over the wireless, entered the ice field to rescue the survivors. The ship then set a course for New York, where the Speddens and their nanny gave interviews to the press before resuming their normal life.
Douglas Spedden, shortly before his death (image from here)
Like many wealthy New Yorkers, the Speddens spent the summer of 1915 in Bar Harbor, Maine. Settled between the ocean and the vast woodlands of what is now known as Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor was a favorite retreat for well to do families who wanted to escape the pollution of the city for the seemingly simpler joys of rustic living. On August 6th, Douglas was playing outside when the football he was tossing rolled into the road. He chased after it and was struck head on by a car. The resulting injuries, including a major concussion, killed him two days later. He was nine years old. His parents buried him in New York.
For Christmas, 1913, Daisy Spedden wrote a book for Douglas about his time on the Titanic and his rescue afterward as seen through the eyes of his teddy bear, Polar. The resulting book, Polar, the Titanic Bear, was published 81 years later and is still in print today. Below is an illustration from the book of Douglas in his life vest holding Polar
1. An account of Douglas Spedden’s time on the Titanic taken from interviews given by his parents and nanny upon their arrival in New York city can be found here
2. An article from itv about Father Frank Brown’s photography that shows rare photos of steerage passengers and talks about how he took the photos can be found here
3. Douglas Spedden’s entry in the Encyclopedia Titanica (including details of his ticket and accommodations) can be found here