the titanic: how many hockey players with how many hockey sticks?

Quigg Baxter

There was a lot we learned last sombre week about the finer details of the night 100 years that the RMS Titanic went down. Sad stories of terrible partings aboard the ship as she sank, poignant tales of the roles played by Canadians in the piece, from Newfoundland Marconi operators to Halifax sailors and policemen and undertakers. We took on a lot of ephemera along the way, too. Reading from, for instance, Vancouver poet Billeh Nickerson’s new collection Impact: The Titanic Poems (Arsenal Pulp Press), we learned that the big maritime metaphor shipped 40,000 eggs in her galleys, along with 800 bundles of asparagus and 400 tongs to serve them. And that the ship’s fourth smokestack functioned solely as ventilation for the First Class smoking lounge.

The cargo manifest was worth the look we took. Eight cases of orchids were on their way to New York. American Express was shipping mercury, straw hats, cheese, a case of speedometers, and a barrel of earth in the hold. Titanic was loaded with cheese, in fact: 190 bundles there for Rathenberger & Co., 50 more here for Haupt & Bergi. Also there was a fair amount of rabbit hair and opium, hair nets, and a sufficiency of shelled walnuts. Just enough wool fat. Many bales of rubber. A shipment of eight dozen tennis balls. A smattering of golf clubs and tennis rackets.

Which, of course, leads to the mystery that nobody has yet solved let alone even really thought to investigate: any hockey sticks aboard?

Not that we know of. There’s nothing conclusive in the way of actual evidence. But because Quigg Baxter was aboard, it’s possible. He was the hockey player travelling on Titanic. You may have heard tell of another Canadian passenger, Thornton Davidson, as having played for the Montreal Victorias. Not true, though two of Davidson’s brothers did, Shirley and Campbell. Not to say that Thornton never played the game; he just never played at a level for which there remains even a statistical scrap for us to seize on. Thornton could have been carrying a hockey stick as part of his luggage, certainly, but Quigg Baxter is the more likely candidate, so let’s stick with him. The whole reason he was in Europe in the first place was hockey, so wouldn’t he have had not just sticks with him, but maybe skates and gloves and — assuming he wore them — shinpads?

He could have also given his gear away to friends before he left for home. Or stored it all in someone’s apartment in Paris. For when he came back. That’s also plausible.

Montreal journalist Alan Hustak writes about Quigg and his family in his book Titanic: The Canadian Story (DV3 Press, 2011). Hustak is the one who says (more or less) Hey! James Cameron! That whole love story you’ve got in your movie, with Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet? Why would you bother, when Quigg Baxter’s actual real-life tale is way better and — well, actual and real-life?

The Baxters were wealthy Montrealers. Quigg’s father, James Baxter, was a banker and a diamond trader who also would seem to have been something of a fraudster and embezzler and whose biography features phrases like “smuggling diamonds” and “fist fights in the court room” and “his name crops up in four different bank failures.” He died in 1905, after a spell in a prison, but I guess he left the family well provided for: aboard Titanic, only the White Star director had better accommodations.

Quigg Edmond Baxter was born in 1887, so he was 24 when he died. Um … sorry: spoiler alert. He studied at Loyola College. As a member of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, he played football and hockey. He was good, too, the record seems to suggest. There’s not really a whole lot of texture to what we know about his hockey exploits. He played a single season, 1907, at cover point for the Montreal Shamrocks in the old Eastern Canadian Amateur Hockey Association.

He scored five goals in six games, which is admirable. He got a stray stick in the eye that year, too. Hockey histories, such as they are, tend to say he lost it, the eye, but at least one contemporary newspaper account only goes as far as almost. (There’s one that says — I don’t think it’s an intentional joke — that he lost the sight of it.) Either way, Dr. Fred Douglas was the man he consulted, which is how Quigg’s sister met him, and they got married, though not so happily, which is why Mrs. Frederick Charles Douglas went to France without him in 1912 to meet up with her mother and her brother and sail home aboard Titanic.

Quigg had dropped his studies in Applied Sciences at McGill to chase pucks in Europe. He coached in Switzerland. In France, he played for the Club de Patineurs de Paris, a.k.a. CP Paris, including at the invitational tournament at Chamonix in 1911, which they won with the help of a famous 4-0 victory over the Oxford Canadians. He scored a goal in the 5-1 win over SK Slavia Praha, in which he also knocked the Czech goalie Hamacek out of the game with a shot to the mouth.

CP Paris beat Berliner SC in the final, 1-0, on awful ice.

At some point he was in Brussels. This is where the love story comes in. He met a cabaret singer named Berthe Mayné. Some very detailed works of Titanic reference make it sound like the two of them became lovers while she was performing in a café, but I’m assuming that’s not the case. Anyway. He persuaded Berthe to come back to Canada with him, unless she persuaded him — although it could have been a mutual thing, too.

This was obviously 1912 now, April. Quigg was meeting up with his mother and sister and heading back to Montreal. They were boarding Titanic at Cherbourg in France, Quigg and his mother, Mrs. Hélène Baxter, and his sister, Mrs. Douglas, known as Zette. Together they occupied two of the ship’s best cabins, B-58 and B-60, for which they paid the modern-day equivalent of about C$25,000.

Unbeknown to his mother and sister, Berthe was booked into another first-class cabin, C-90, under the name Mrs. B. de Villiers. The women only met when the ship was sinking and Quigg brought them all together in Lifeboat #6.

Hugh Brewster has a vivid account of their last moments together in his new book RMS Titanic: Gilded Lives on a Fatal Voyage (HarperCollins). Mrs. Baxter was pretty peeved when the ship stopped dead in the water that night: she demanded to know what was going on. Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith himself told Quigg that the ship had struck an iceberg, and it was not long afterwards that Quigg carried his mother up to the boat deck. (She’d been queasy since the start of the voyage.)

With his mother and his sister stowed, Quigg went back for Berthe. She came up wearing slippers and a long woolen “motorcoat” over her nightgown. She didn’t want to board without Quigg, but was finally persuaded. Introductions were made all around. Quigg took a drink from his brandy flask, which he handed to his mother, who upbraided him for his boozing.

“We could hear revolver shots all over and the confusion was terrible,” Zette Douglas later told The Toronto Evening Telegram. “The last I saw of my brother, Mr. Quigg Baxter, he was standing on deck fastening a life preserver around him. I was in a lifeboat then with my mother. Looking back from the lifeboats we saw the lights of one of the lower decks disappear under the water.”

His body was never recovered.

In Montreal, Dr. Douglas got a telegram from his wife: “Safe aboard the Carpathia, have you heard from Quigg?” He travelled to New York to meet the ship, which is where he was introduced to Berthe Mayné. She stayed with the family in Montreal for a while before returning home to Belgium; the press was told she was a countess on tour whom they’d happened to meet shipboard.

What was he like, your brother-in-law, Dr. Douglas was asked in the days that followed the disaster. “He was a fine fellow, and was his mother’s favourite,” he said. “We are sure he died like a man, which is better than to be saved at the expense of women and children.”