St Catwg’s Church in Cadoxton-juxta-Neath is well-known for having in the churchyard a murder stone, seeking to awaken the conscience of the person who killed 24-year-old Margaret Williams in 1823. Less familiar and inside the church is a link with a famous maritime disaster, for yesterday morning was the 104th anniversary of the sinking of White Star liner RMS Titanic, and the church contains a plaque in memory of a man who perished in that major peacetime tragedy.
Robert Leyson was born in Kensington,
in 1887. He was a 24-year-old qualified
mining engineer, who played for Sketty cricket club when his family lived at London in Bloomfield Gower Road. He had joined the Freemasons in Neath, and
planned to go to
in 1912 to set up in business with his younger brother Thomas. America
Robert Leyson had a ten guinea (£10-10s-0d) second-class ticket from Southampton to
After Titanic struck an
iceberg and sank, his was one of 306 bodies recovered by the cable ship MacKay-Bennett. He had been identified because his keys had
his name on them, and he also had a silver case with his initials RWNL (for
Robert William Norman Leyson) containing £4 - a considerable sum when the
second-class ticket cost ten guineas. New York
His father Robert Thomas Leyson was a Swansea solicitor, with offices in Swansea at various times in Walter Road, Wind Street and Salubrious Passage, as well as an office in Neath. His family claimed descent from the last abbot of Neath Abbey who became Vicar of Cadoxton, which could be why his memorial was in that church.
A cable ship is a deep-sea vessel designed to lay underwater cables, though other ships have been adapted for such purposes, most notably I.K. Brunel’s colossal PSS Great Eastern, which after an unprofitable career as a passenger liner laid two transatlantic telegraph cables in 1866 to establish communication between Europe and
America. With its
double hull the Great Eastern could
have struck an iceberg head-on and still remained afloat, but by the time RMS Titanic was built half a century later
in the Belfast shipyard of Harland and Wolff, many safety features of the Great Eastern had been discarded on the
basis of economy.
The cable ship MacKay-Bennett was chartered by White Star Line to recover bodies after the Titanic shipwreck, and sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, having taken on board embalming supplies to handle 70 bodies, 100 coffins, ice in which to store the recovered bodies, as well as a minister from All Saints Cathedral, Halifax, and the chief embalmer of Nova Scotia's largest firm of undertakers. Because of the limitations of space and the quantity of embalming fluid, even in death class distinctions applied. All bodies recovered of first-class passengers were embalmed and placed in coffins – the decision being justified by the need to visually identify wealthy men to resolve any disputes over large estates.
For second-class passengers some bodies were embalmed and wrapped in canvas, while third-class passengers - and some of the second-class - were buried at sea. Robert Leyson’s body was among the 116 buried at sea, of which only 56 were identified. After seven days the CS MacKay-Bennett sailed forAlso from this area among the approximately 1,520 who drowned were miners William Rogers from Alltwen and Evan Davies from Bryncoch, who were travelling third-class. Owen Samuel (related to the firm Astley Samuel Leeder) was a steward in the second-class saloon who had worked in
with 190 bodies on board. Halifax