The ‘Titanic’ disaster: life snatched from the jaws of death for one TWU student

Tori Thompson's great grandfather survived the Titanic disaster.

For Trinity Western University student ‘Tori' (Victoria) Thompson, the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912 is more than a sensational event from the dim past or a touring display recently seen by university staff at the Royal Museum in Victoria. She knows that if strange events had not taken place as the ship was going down in those fatal early-morning hours, she wouldn't even exist today. Thompson, a student in the TWU Department of Theatre, has been reminded of these things as her peers are rehearsing Scotland Road, dramatist Jeffrey Hatcher's play based on the fabled disaster.

For Thompson's great-grandfather, 1912 had been a tempestuous year. A political refugee from a Slavic state, he had made his way to Britain with a view to coming to North America. Having used up his resources, he took the desperate gamble of boarding a large ship in Southampton, as a stow-away. That ship just happened to be the Titanic. And why not? There hadn't been a major sea disaster in living memory-over fifty years. He had every reason to believe, as did the passengers and crew, that the trip would be swift and uneventful.

Some days later, the stow-away found himself in an impossible situation. In the early hours of April 15 the Titanic struck a mountain of floating ice and started to capsize. The stow-away found himself in the icy waters of the Atlantic some 400 miles from Nova Scotia as the technological marvel of the age sank nose-first, taking hundreds with it. Experts say the water was so cold that to be immersed in it produced the sensation of being stabbed by a thousand knives. As hundreds more died around him, bobbing up and down in the elongated life-jackets, Thompson's great-grandfather saw a lifeboat close-by, but a full one. And then his miracle happened. A lifeboat passenger who had died, was put overboard by a woman passenger, and he was taken on-board in place of the deceased. Since women and children had been given priority in the few life-boats, the stow-away lived when first-class, millionaire passengers perished. His story was truly one of life snatched from the jaws of death.

Nearly a hundred years later, Tori Thompson still marvels at the family miracle. "It's an amazing story. It's a point of both family-pride and humility that my great-grandfather survived when so many died. He not only survived but lived a fruitful life. Among other accomplishments he toured the world as an assistant to the Wright brothers and their famous new flying machine," Says Thompson. "For years my great-grandfather tried to locate the woman who made a place for him on the lifeboat. He was never able find her."

Thompson, who recently starred in the TWU Theatre production Angels, is working behind the scenes on the new play about the Titanic, Scotland Road. Unlike the other students who work on the show, she has a special feeling for the events that form its background. Scotland Road, a part of the second stage season at TWU, will run just one week from Feb. 13-16 at 8 pm each evening (with a 2 pm matinee on Saturday) on the Freedom Hall stage in the Robert N. Thompson building on the TWU campus. Tickets can be secured on-line at or at the theatre box office before each performance.

Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C. is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers undergraduate degrees in 40 major areas of study ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include counseling psychology, business, theology and leadership, and offers interdisciplinary studies in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Biblical Studies, Biotechnology and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.


Last Updated: 2008-02-08
Author: Erin Mussolum