ONE of the last letters written by a Baptist minister who died in the Titanic disaster was bought at auction on Saturday for £42,000 by a private collector in the UK.
Henry Aldridge & SonThe Revd John Harper
The two-page note was penned by the Revd John Harper on board the liner on 11 April 1912: four days before it hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Mr Harper was later revealed as a hero, giving his life jacket away to another passenger and leading prayers among the survivors before he died.
The widowed minister, aged 39, was travelling with his sister and daughter to a Baptist church in Chicago where he was due to preach. They were placed in lifeboats and were rescued, but he volunteered to stay aboard. Evidence from survivors shows that he continued to preach as the sea overwhelmed the ship.
The letter, handwritten on headed Titanic notepaper, was posted in Queenstown, southern Ireland, where the ship stopped briefly to pick up passengers before setting out on its maiden Atlantic crossing. It is addressed to “Brother Young”, a fellow Baptist minister who led the Paisley Road Church in Glasgow, which Mr Harper had founded in 1897.
He wrote: “I am penning you this line just before we get to Queenstown to assure you that I have not forgotten you and especially all your kindness while we were north.” Thanking him for all his help, he concluded: “The Lord will repay you for it all. Very kindest love, your loving auld Pastor John Harper.”
In 1921, the Glasgow church was renamed the Harper Memorial Church in his honour. The church’s website records: “Accounts of the last minutes of the Titanic sinking indicate that John Harper was leading men and women to know the saving grace of our Lord and Saviour before they drowned.
“Accounts given indicate John Harper asked one man: ‘Has your Soul been Saved?’ and upon the negative response he gave the man his life vest. The man survived to tell the story of John Harper, but Harper’s life in this world ended. John was fully aware of his own mortality, but he was assured from God’s Word that since he was trusting in the Lord Jesus there was a place reserved for him in Heaven.”
At a gathering of survivors four years later, the man he saved declared: “I am the last convert of John Harper.”
The letter was sold by a British collector in an online sale held by Henry Aldridge & Son of Devizes, Wiltshire. The auctioneers’ managing director, Andrew Aldridge, said that, for collectors, it was “certainly near the top” for its desirability. “Because it was written by a man of God on that ship means it is held in the highest regard in terms of rarity. These men are held in the same respect as the most senior officers of the ship.” There had been “significant interest” in the letter before the sale, he said.