Sometime around her 17th birthday, Canadian Bernice Palmer received a Kodak Brownie box camera, either for Christmas 1911 or for her birthday on 10 January 1912. Luck would have it that she was traveling on the Carpathia the day the Titanic sank.
Bernice and her mother were traveling on the Carpathia to the Mediterranean with 700 passengers on board. In the early morning hours of April 15th, 1912, Captain Rostron was awakened by his wireless operator about a distress call from the sinking Titanic. He immediately changed course to traverse the 60 miles to the disaster. After passing six icebergs on its way, it finally arrived at 4:00am and began picking up survivors. Bernice was on hand with her camera the next morning to capture some famous images on her Brownie Box camera. She used the Kodak Brownie box camera to capture some of the most famous and iconic photographs after the Titanic disaster. She was also the first the capture a photo of the iceberg that sank the Titanic.
Bernice awoke from the bitter cold. She opened a port-hole of her first-class cabin on the Carpathia and turned to her mother and said, “Something terrible has happened.” She quickly got dressed and hurried on deck. Bernice and her mother stood quietly on deck as the crew of the Carpathia began rope-lifting passengers up from the life boats. Some of the children from the Titanic rescue boats where so terrified they were drawn up in burlap bags.
Bernice remembers as the passengers where being lifted that “their faces looked frozen and terrified”. She remembers seeing many of the first class passengers being rescued as ‘well-dressed’. “A well-dressed woman always wore a hat when she went out – even on a shipwreck.” She remembers how many of the women were wearing over-sized coats from the men who went down with the Titanic. “Women with borrowed cloths from the lost men who went down with the ship”.
After all the survivors were rescued, the Carpathia made another pass over the site of the Titanic’s sinking. “I saw the floating deck chairs . . . ” It was at this moment that Bernice realized the magnitude of what had happened. It took the Carpathia about three days to return to New York. After rescuing the survivors, Captain Rostron had abandoned the trip to the Mediterranean and returned to New York. He gave strict orders for a news “blackout” regarding the Titanic tragedy during the return trip.
While on the Carpathia, Bernice was approached by an unnamed newsman for Underwood & Underwood, a New York photography agency. Underwood & Underwood quickly drew up a contract to distribute the photos that Bernice had taken on the Carpathia. They offered to develop, print and return the pictures to Bernice for ten dollars. In the contract, however, it states “In consideration of One Dollar, lawful money of the UNITED STATES, and other valuable consideration . . . “. I’m not sure if she actually just got one dollar or ten dollars, but it was a measly sum for five of the most iconic photographs of the Titanic survivors and iceberg. Here are the five photos released to Underwood & Underwood by Bernice Palmer. Sometime later, her father was quite upset with this arrangement since Bernice did not realize the importance of these photos.
The contract reads as follows: Assignment of Copyright. “Know all men by these presents”