We all know what happened on the night of April 14th and morning of April 15th, 1912 from 11:37 PM until 2:20 AM. And we all know what happened over the next hours as 712 survivors waited, and grieved, and hoped, and looked at the horizon for salvation – the Carpathia.
As Carpathia sailed for New York, the White Star Line had a different task on their hands.
The Cable Ship MacKay-Bennett was the first of four ships chartered by the White Star Line to search for bodies in the aftermath of the sinking. The Mackay-Bennett was contracted at a rate of $550 USD per day. On board were Canon Kenneth Cameron Hind of All Saints Cathedral, Halifax, and John R. Snow, Jr., the chief embalmer with Nova Scotia's largest undertaking firm, hired to oversee the arrangements.
On April 17, the Mackay-Bennett set sail with a cargo of ice, coffins and canvas bags. She arrived at the site on April 20 and spent six days carrying out her grim task. Her crew was able to recover 306 bodies, (body numbers 1 to 306), and 116 of those had to be buried at sea. Only 56 of those 116 were identified. On April 26, the Mackay-Bennett left for Halifax with 190 bodies, almost twice as many as there were caskets available.
She was relieved by the Minia, which recovered only 17 bodies, 2 of which were buried at sea. On May 6, CGS Montmagny left Halifax and recovered 4 bodies, 1 of which was buried at sea. The fourth and final ship in the recovery effort was the SS Algerine, The crew of the Algerine found 1 body, which was shipped to Halifax on the SS Florizel.
With the assistance of a few other ships a total, 328 victims were recovered. Many of them were damaged, due to the disaster or exposure, and were buried at sea. Two hundred and nine victims were brought back to Halifax.
When the victims arrived in Halifax, most were brought to the Mayflower Curling Rink. Others to the John Snow & Co. Funeral Home. The curling rink was used because it was the only place large enough and cool enough to lay out all the victims.
The next couple of weeks were spent trying to identify the bodies. Fifty-nine victims were claimed by their families leaving one hundred and fifty to be buried in Halifax.