• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 14139

    Out of the Ordinary

    14 September 2016, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 501

    R.M.S. TITANIC (1912)

    CIRCA 1912

    Price Realised  


    R.M.S. TITANIC (1912)
    CIRCA 1912
    The keys of various sizes, the brass fob stamped 'TITANIC' to one side and 'LAMPS' to the other
    The longest key: 2 1/8 in. (5.3 cm.) long

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    This set of keys belonged to Samuel Ernest Hemming, the lamp trimmer on board RMS TITANIC. Aged 43 at the time of the sinking, he had been at sea since the age of 15, and with White Star Line for five years. His duties were 'to mix the paint, and all that kind of thing for the ship, and to look after all the decks, trim all the lamps, and get them in proper order, and to put the lights in at night-time and take them off at daybreak' (taken from evidence Hemming gave to the US Senatorial Titanic Inquiry).

    On the night of the disaster, Hemming was woken by the impact and discovered that the hissing noise he could hear was coming from air escaping from the exhaust tank. He reported this to Chief Officer Wilde, but after seeing no real reason for concern, went back to his bunk. A few minutes later the ship's joiner came in, followed by the Boatswain who exclaimed, "Turn out you fellows. You haven't half an hour to live. That is from Mr. Andrews, but keep it to yourselves and let no-one know."

    Hemming helped prepare to lower and load the lifeboats and was put in charge of supplying them with lamps. When all the lifeboats had gone, Hemming went to the roof to start releasing a collapsible lifeboat when Second Officer Lightoller came up and said, "Why haven't you gone Hemming?". He replied, "Oh, plenty of time yet, Sir."

    However, this was not the case. Sixth Officer Moody said that the boat was not needed and therefore with very little time until the Titanic finally sunk, Hemming left the boat and was picked up from the icy cold water by lifeboat number 4.

    This lot is sold with copies of letters from the Titanic Historical Society and the Southampton Maritime Museum. Also included are copies of Hemming's account of the disaster and a letter from Hemming's son to his friend, the previous vendor, together with copies of photographs including the group of crew and officers at Washington after the American Enquiry and Hemming on board ship.

    Special Notice

    These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. This VAT is not shown separately on the invoice. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.


    Samuel Ernest Hemming.
    Thence by descent to his son.
    Gifted to his best friend, the previous vendor.
    Onslow's Auctioneers, London, R.M.S. 'TITANIC' 80th Anniversary Exhibition and Auction, 14 April 1992, lot 252.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Collection of David Gainsborough Roberts
    When it was built in 1912, the RMS Titanic was the largest passenger ship on the seas. Four days into its maiden voyage on the 14th April 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and slowly sank into the icy waters of the Atlantic. Of its 2,224, more than 1,500 souls were lost, making it one of the deadliest commercial peacetime disasters in history.