A Voyage into the Unknown

By John P. Rattigan

Special to the Boston Irish Reporter – April, 2012

Thomas F. Myles

He stood on the dock, that cold April morning, gazing at the hills above Queenstown wondering if he would ever see Ireland again. He looked at the long line of third-class passengers, Irish men and women, waiting to take the tender out to the ship anchored in the channel, a common scene in this seaport town.

He already knew what they were thinking. He could see it on their faces. Not really fear, but a variety of exhilaration and anxiousness. The last goodbyes were finished and now they were heading toward a new life in an unfamiliar land seeking prosperity and security or whatever else it is they thought was needed to make their lives complete.

He almost liked that he could recount his story to each of his fellow passengers. Yes, Thomas Francis Myles was going away, but this was not for the first time. Tom Myles was born into a prosperous middle class family in Fermoy, County Cork in 1849.He was fortunate enough to get a full education at St. Colman’s College in the post-Famine era. Eventually, he and two brothers decided that their destiny lay in the wider world and they set off in different directions. Tom Myles recalled that he also was apprehensive on the day he left Ireland, now approximately forty years ago. That journey eventually brought him to America and, in time, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Starting out with little money, he learned the real estate business, worked hard, and later married. Tom’s property investments grew rapidly and soon he and his wife, Mary, built a fine home where they raised their two sons and four daughters. He had achieved a level of affluence that few immigrants could imagine.

Tom Myles reflected on the many blessings he found in his adopted country. He was sure these fellow emigrants, standing along the dock with him, would not regret the decision to follow their dreams just as he had.

Tom’s uncertainty about ever returning had been on his mind for a while. Although he had been able to travel to Ireland often during the intervening years, he had just turned sixty-three and was unsure of how much more time would be measured out to him. He arrived in Ireland a few months earlier to settle some estate matters and to provide for his handicapped younger brother James, the only remaining family member in Ireland. One of the high points of the trip was a banquet held in his honor at his old school, St. Colman’s College. Although he enjoyed the visit, and now that his work was complete, he was anxious to return to his family and home in Cambridge. His departure was delayed by a coal mining strike in Britain, which caused many transatlantic ships to be temporarily withdrawn from service. Eventually, he was able to book passage on the next available ocean liner.          

He was heading home as a second-class passenger aboard the newest, greatest, most luxurious, and safest vessel on the transatlantic passenger run. Moreover, he thought it interesting to sail on the “floating palace” that everyone was speaking about. Now on board and with the ship underway, he stood at the starboard rail taking a last look at the land receding in the distance. Once again, he thought – would he ever come back? The answer, soon to be revealed, would be “never”. Never again, would he see his native land, nor would he reach his destination on the far shore. Tom was now aboard the White Star liner, RMS Titanic, outward bound on her maiden voyage to New York. As we know, on April 14 1912, three days into the crossing, the Titanic  struck the sharp end of an iceberg and sank, taking with it over fifteen hundred souls, including Thomas Francis Myles.

We know little about Tom’s last few hours as the Titanic  went down slowly by the head into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. As he and the other passengers watched the last lifeboat pull away from the ship, an almost holy stillness replaced the earlier pandemonium on deck. With all hope of survival fading, those remaining on board were lost in thought preparing for their final voyage into the unknown that lay ahead.

Weeks after the sinking, one of the survivors visited the Myles family and related that he had met Tom during the journey and witnessed him give up a seat in a lifeboat to a woman. He last saw Tom on deck, kneeling with others in prayer, as the ship went under.

It was a cruel twist of fate that put Tom on the Titanic. Initially scheduled to travel aboard the RMS Carpathia, overbooking resulted in Myles’ transfer to the Titanic. Ironically, the Carpathia  was the first rescue ship to arrive at the scene of the tragedy, although hours too late to help those in the water. Of the one hundred and twenty Irish third-class passengers who boarded the Titanic with Tom Myles at Queenstown, only thirty-eight survived the sinking,

Tom’s son, Doctor Leo T. Myles, traveled to New York to await the arrival of the Carpathia  in the hope he would find his father among the survivors. Like hundreds of others, Tom’s body was never recovered.

The Charitable Irish Society of Boston adopted a memorial resolution to Thomas Francis Myles in May, 1912 describing their brother member as “the ideal Irish gentleman”. Doctor Myles, also a member of the Society, later became its President in 1932.

The families and friends of the victims were not the only ones touched by this disaster. There was a universal shock at the proportion of the disaster and many felt that their safe and secure world was changing. The horrors of the Great War, still two years away, would remove any question of that.

Tom Myles is but one of the many threads interwoven into the larger story of the Titanic disaster. It is a tale of life and death and shattered dreams. This chronicle, one hundred years old at present, still holds us in its grasp.


The family of Thomas Francis Myles has planned a Memorial Mass at 11:00 am on April 15, 2012, the 100th anniversary of his death, at the Saint Paul Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

RMS Titanic at Queenstown – April 11, 1912

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