Titanic Bernie Palmer's Story

Photograph of Bernice Palmer holding her Kodak Bernie Camera

Bernice Palmer and her Brownie Camera.

In 1900, the Eastman Kodak Company came out with the handheld box camera known as the “Brownie.” An immediate hit, more than 100,000 were sold in its first year. Canadian Bernice "Bernie" Palmer received a Kodak Brownie box camera, either for Christmas 1911 or for her birthday on January 10th, 1912.

In early April, Bernie and her mother boarded the Cunard liner Carpathia in New York, for a Mediterranean cruise. Carpathia had scarcely cleared New York, when it received a distress call from the White Star liner Titanic on 14 April. It raced to the scene of the sinking and managed to rescue over 700 survivors from the icy North Atlantic. With her new camera, Bernice took pictures of the iceberg that sliced open the Titanic’s hull below the waterline and also took snapshots of some of the Titanic survivors.

Lacking enough food to feed both the paying passengers and Titanic survivors, the Carpathia turned around and headed back to New York to land the survivors. The captain of the Titanic's rescue ship Carpathia imposed a news blackout on all communications from his ship until all of the Titanic survivors had disembarked from his ship in New York. The demand for stories was unparalleled, and journalists swarmed Carpathia looking for firsthand accounts of the shipwreck and rescue.

Image of Bernie's Underwood and Underwood Contract
Bernie's Underwood & Underwood Contract



An unnamed newsman for Underwood & Underwood, a New York photography agency, scored one of the most valuable scoops when he met Bernice Palmer onboard the Carpathia. She had taken pictures not only of the Titanic survivors on Carpathia's deck; she also had photos of the actual iceberg that sank Titanic. The newsman offered to develop, print and return the pictures to Bernie, along with $10.00. Not realizing the extraordinary value of her photos, Bernie readily agreed, and Underwood and Underwood obtained unique images of the Titanic shipwreck for a pittance. This is the contract between Bernie and the U&U newsman transferring rights to the pictures. In 1986, Bernie gave her camera, Titanic photographs, and other associated materials to the Smithsonian.