Thursday, September 2, 2021

Famous Infants in History: The Unknown Child of the Titanic


Blogger: Amber Schamel

Happy September! I am a little overly excited to say that since Fall is my favorite season...I am done with upper 90's temps...but mostly because my baby is turning ONE this month! I can't believe it. How do they grow up so fast?

R.M.S. Titanic - Public Domain

Anyway, in honor of his birthday, I've started a series exploring the most famous infants in history. Last month, we talked about the Gerber Baby, but this month we move to the Titanic and uncover a heart-wrenching story of the Unknown Child.

April 15th, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in less than three hours. It was a worldwide tragedy, claiming the lives of over fifteen hundred men, women and children.

Yes, that's right. I said men, women AND children. While Titanic is known for the chivalrous call for "women and children first", that, unfortunately, did not save all of them. Four hundred twelve women and one hundred twelve children perished beneath the icy waves.

In the aftermath of the wreck, vessels searched the waters for survivors, and attempted to recover and identify the bodies of the victims. One of the vessels was a Canadian morgue ship carrying embalmer John Snow Jr. who described the recovery of the body of a young boy. "He came floating toward us with a little upturned face." As the sailors pulled the body from the sea and attempted to identify him, they were distraught. In this baby's frozen face, was the epitome of the Titanic tragedy. They wrote a description of the corpse.

No. 4 - Male. Estimated age: 2 - Hair: fair. - Clothing: Grey coat with fur on collar and cuffs; brown surge frock; petticoat; flannel garment; pink woolen singlet; brown shoes and stockings. - No marks whatever. -Probably third class.

The grave of the Unknown Child
I took this photo while visiting Fairview Cemetery in Halifax

Despite all attempts to identify the boy, they were unable to find out who he was. But none could bear to see the boy buried at sea, so the sailors came together and funded a funeral and grave stone for him in the Fairview Cemetery in Halifax. The sailors buried him on May 4th, placing a copper pendent on his coffin with the inscription, "our babe". Here, the baby boy rested for decades, his identity unknown.

"The Tomb of the Unknown Child" as his grave became known, stood as a monument for thousands of parents and loved ones who had lost a child, but for whatever reason had no body to recover.

Sydney Goodwin
Public Domain

In 2002, over 90 years after the child's death, the body was reexamined. DNA testing was now widely available, and investigators with the PBS television show, Secrets of the Dead believed they could now identify the body. They took a weathered bone and a couple teeth found in the grave and traced the DNA to a Finnish family, identifying the child as Eino Viljami Panula, a thirteen-month-old passenger of the Titanic. The mystery was finally solved, thanks to modern science. Or so they thought.

A couple of years later, the mystery took a turn when a Canadian family came forward with a donation for the Halifax Maritime Museum. In 1912, Sergent Clarence Northover of the Halifax Police Department was assigned to guard the bodies recovered from the Titanic. He had taken a pair of shoes as a reminder of the tragedy and kept them in the desk drawer of his desk at the station until he retired. He had written on the bottom of the shoe, "Shoes of the only baby found. S.S. Titanic 1912."

This new discovery sent researchers back to square one in regards to the baby's identity, because the shoes were too large for a thirteen-month-old baby, and testing confirmed that the shoes had been made in England, not Scandinavia. So the child was likely older and from England, and therefore could not be Eino Viliami Panula from Finland.

Sydney's Family - All perished in the sinking.
Public Domain

The complication was that two of the young victims from the sinking seemed to share very similar DNA. After more detailed DNA testing at the US Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Maryland, the correct identity was found. The body was that of Sydney Leslie Goodwin, a nineteen-month-old from England. Sydney was the youngest of six children in the family of Frederick and Augusta Goodwin, who were bound for America to begin a new life. Originally, they were to sail on the S.S. New York, leaving behind their sixteen-year-old. However when it became possible for them to sail on the Titanic instead with the whole family together, they exchanged their second-class tickets for the S.S,. New York and boarded the Titanic as one happy family in third class. By the time the family received word of the wreck, the lifeboats had already deployed, so the entire family perished in the icy sea. Sydney's body was the only one recovered.

It is a heart-wrenching history, but a silver lining remains in the eventual identification of Sydney's remains, and the memorial that stands as a tribute to him, and the many children that were lost in the sinking of the Titanic.


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Schamel writes riveting stories that bring HIStory to life. She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".  

She lives in Colorado Springs near her favorite mountain, in a small “castle” with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a new mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Thanks for sharing. I didn't bodies were recovered or about this grave. How amazing they were able to identify the child after all this time.

    1. Hi Linda!
      There is a lot about the Titanic that we still don't know. An interesting book to read is called the Shadow of the Titanic, and it explores the lives of survivors of the tragedy and how it affected them. A good read.

  2. Thanks for the post! Such a sad story. I think it's amazing that the Titanic continues to give us these nuggets.

    1. Indeed. Thank you for stopping by, Connie. There's still so much we can learn about the Titanic tragedy.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I enjoy reading your work

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for stopping by.