Nearer to God than Thee: The story of the Cornish Miner lost on the Titanic

By Jamie Maddison | 13 April 2012
a photo of tombstones
The grave of William Carbines in St Ives Churchyard© Photo Jamie Maddison
When the young Mr Carbines boarded the RMS Titanic at Southampton on April 10 1912, he was just another Cornish copper miner leaving the declining South West for a brighter future abroad.

But five days later the 19-year-old, affectionately known as Willie, was to become one of the 1,514 victims of the world’s most famous maritime disaster and a lasting part of Cornwall’s connection with the ill-fated vessel.

Throughout the early 19th century, the county remained the indomitable leader of the international copper industry. But as newly discovered deposits in the Americas and Australia forced world prices down, skilled Cornish men and women began to migrate abroad in search of better wages and better prospects.

The son of a farm labourer, Willie was one of a handful of such miners onboard the Titanic for its disastrous maiden voyage. He had bought a second-class ticket (ticket number 28424) for the then-huge sum of £13 with the intention of joining his brothers Robert and John, who were already mining at Calumet in Houghton County, Michigan.

A month later it was these same men who identified their now deceased brother, drowned during the sinking of the behemothic passenger liner when it struck an iceberg during the failed crossing to New York.

The ex-St Ives Town Band member’s body had been recovered from the icy sea by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett, along with several effects found on his person. They included a watch, a silver chain and charm, photographs as well as a pipe and a knife.

"Nearer my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee."
Inscription on the gravestone of William Carbines and allegedly the last song the band on the Titanic played before the ship sank.


Willie was eventually returned to St Ives where, according to local newspaper the St Ives Times and Express, his body was met by a large gathering of residents waiting to witness the sad homecoming.

The newspaper went on: “The plan of the deceased young fellow... just committed to the grave, was probably to make a home and start a new life. Suddenly God interfered with that plan, and in a moment, so terrible in its mysteries, God called him.”

The story of William Carbines will always be inextricably bound up within the greater context of the late 19th century decline of Cornwall’s copper and tin industries and the resulting migration of Cornish people and Cornish culture right across the globe.

If you would like to know more about these travelling ‘Cousin Jacks’, where they went and what traditions they brought with them to their new homeland, visit www.cornish-mining.org.uk. Or you could pay a visit to the Cornish Global Migration Programme based in Murdoch House, Redruth.

More Pictures:

a photo close up of a grave headstone with the words Titanic on it

© Photo Jamie Maddison
a gravestone with the words nearer my god to thee
© Photo Jamie Maddsion
a photo showing a gravestone with carvings for William Carbines who died on the SS Titanic.
© Photo Jamie Maddison
Cornish Mining World Heritage Logo
Jamie Maddison is the Culture24/Cornish Mining World Heritage 2012 bursary journalist filing stories about Cornwall's UNESCO World Heritage Site mining landscape. Contact him at jamie@culture24.org.uk. Read his blog at www.jamiemaddison.com.

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