Hens and Roosters and Icebergs, Oh My!
The Ella White Story, by Crewmember Cheri
You’ve probably heard stories about the ten, dear dogs that were on Titanic, but I’ll bet you didn’t know there were chickens on board, too. They weren’t your ordinary, barnyard birds of course, not on Titanic! These were rare and exotic French roosters and hens, the very symbol of French national pride.
This elegant brood belonged to widow Ella White, 55, and her traveling companion Marie Grice Young, 36. The two women purchased the birds while touring the continent with a maid and man servant. They were returning to Ella’s family home, Briarcliff Manor and Farm in New York, where they planned to raise the colorful foul.
Personality wise, these two women were as different as night and day. Ella was brash and aggressive, while Marie was soft-spoken and artistic - she was once music instructor to President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Ethel. When Ella injured her ankle, it fell to kind-hearted Marie to look after her and to mind the chickens nesting in the ship’s kennel.
It became a happy, daily routine for Marie to visit the birds in their “D” deck coop, always accompanied by Titanic’s 26-year-old carpenter, John Hutchinson, who, by the way, also looked after the welfare of Titanic’s ten dogs. Checking on the chicks gave Marie a chance to explore the work-a-day world aboard ship and to report her findings to Ella.
On the night before Titanic struck the iceberg, 2nd Class passenger Nellie Hocking was shocked to hear a cock crowing between sunset and midnight and that, according to folklore, signaled impending disaster. Well, you know what happened next, but before the sinking Marie had tipped the young Mr. Hutchinson with some gold coins, to which he exclaimed, “It’s such good luck to receive gold on a first voyage.” Sadly, his luck, along with that of his feathered and furry wards, ran out when Titanic went down.
Marie and Ella, however survived, maintaining their relationship for 30 more years. When Ella died, Marie inherited the majority of her estate.