The Britannia Adelphi Hotel was originally built in 1826 and stands on the corner of today’s Brownlow Hill and Copperas Hill. The hotel was remodelled and largely rebuilt in 1912 in order to capitalise on the increased tourist trade resulting from the new fashion for travel aboard passenger liners. The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, originally founded in the 1860s, was Liverpool’s premier shipping company at the time and their success accounted for much of the increased trade in the city. The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company is perhaps better known as the White Star Line; the company responsible for the RMS Titanic.
Constructed the very year the ship set sail on its ill-fated maiden voyage, the Adelphi’s Sefton suite is an exact replica of the RMS Titanic’s First Class Smoking Lounge which now sits silent, decaying and barnacle encrusted at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It was in this Smoking Lounge, on Thursday the 12th of April 1912 that the English journalist William T. Stead told an eerie tale to his fellow passengers. Ever the showman, it is reported that Stead timed the telling deliberately so that it would conclude just as midnight chimed and the infamously unlucky Friday the 13th began.
Stead’s tale told of an ancient Egyptian mummy shipped to London by a good friend of his, Egyptologist Mr Douglas Murray. The mummy in question was supposedly that of the Princess of Amen-Ra and she carried a curse with her. The men who discovered her in Luxor went missing, or mad, or worse. Ill health and ill fortune befell everyone into whose ownership the Princess’ desiccated remains passed. When her sarcophagus was put on display in the British Museum, objects in the room were apparently found inexplicably shattered and other, more sinister, strange occurrences were also reported. So powerful was the curse, so bizarre the happenings, that even the British Museum were forced to sell the mummy on to a private collector in America.
Just two days later, on the 15th of April 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and rapidly sank beneath the icy waves of the North Atlantic. More than one-thousand five-hundred people lost their lives that day, and William T. Stead was amongst their number. At least one person who did survive the terrifying ordeal of the ships sinking had also been present in the First Class Smoking Room when Stead told his story about the hexed mummy. They, in turn, told their own version of the tale to the curse of Amen-Ra to the New York World newspaper upon their arrival in America.
The conclusion was soon reached that the ancient body of Princess Amen-Ra must have been onboard the RMS Titanic, bound for the USA and her latest buyer, as alluded to in Stead’s story. It stood to reason that the centuried diabolic curse of Amen-Ra must then have caused the sinking of the "virtually unsinkable" passenger liner! Some stories went further: the mummy did not go down with the Titanic but was taken in one of the lifeboats, smuggled aboard the rescue ship the Carpathia and delivered to her wealthy new owner at a price. Amen-Ra’s curse endured however and soon the American collector wanted rid of the Princess. She was sent to Canada from where she was to be shipped back to England – to Liverpool to be precise— on the Empress of Ireland. On the 29th of May 1914 the Empress collided with a Norwegian coal ship and sank like a stone. Eight-hundred and forty people lost their lives.
---As much as I like a good ghost story the truth of the matter is that the story of Amen –Ra is a complete fantasy. There never was any mummy aboard the Titanic as an examination of the ship’s cargo manifest and diagrams proved as recently as 1985.
Amen-Ra was, in fact, an invention of Mr William T. Stead and his good friend Mr Douglas Murray (the man billed as the Egyptologist in the version told aboard the Titanic) based, in part at least, on the remains of the coffin of the Priestess of Amun they saw together in the British Museum. The pair recounted the story often and believably enough for versions of it to have already been printed in newspapers long before the disastrous events of the 15th of April 1912.
It makes perfect sense that the ominous tale of a cursed relic bound for America would have lodged in the memories of those survivors who heard the story onboard the doomed ship on Friday the 13th. It also makes sense and that they – or those they recounted the tale to – would come to the conclusion that Amen-Ra might (or must) have been aboard the Titanic. Perhaps Stead even deliberately led his fellow passengers to believe that the Princess’ mummy was somewhere below them amongst the cargo, her eldritch curse already seeking out its next victim, or victims, just for the sake of making his yarn that little bit more thrilling. Little did he, or the others, know that they would very soon find themselves in the midst of a much more terrifying real life horror.
If you happen to find yourself drinking in the Adelphi’s Sefton suite tonight, or any time soon, perhaps you’ll think about Mr. William T. Stead. Picture him in that room – identical twin to that other, now rusting on a distant ocean floor – telling his tall tales, his audience gripped, and raise a glass to him and the others who lost their lives aboard the Titanic, in recognition of the sad fact that truth is all too often that much more horrific and deadly than fiction.