Eva Hart was 7 years old and bound for a new life in Canada when her father woke her in the middle of the night, carried her outside in a blanket and told her, "Hold Mummy’s hand and be a good girl."
It was the last thing he ever said to her, and she never saw him again. Later that night, wide awake and clinging to her mother in a lifeboat, the little girl watched as the Titanic rose almost straight up on her bow and plunged to the bottom of the sea, carrying her father and more than 1500 other passengers and crewmen to their deaths in the North Atlantic.
As one of only 706 Titanic passengers who survived, Eva Hart never forgot what she had seen and heard that night. When she died on Wednesday at a hospice in London at the age of almost 91, she was regarded as a last link of living memory with the maritime disaster that rocked the world on April 15, 1912.
Of the eight remaining survivors, seven were too young at the time to know what was happening, according to Karen Kameda of the Titanic Historical Society on Springfield, Mass., and one, nearing her 100th birthday, no longer remembers. But even during Mrs. Hart’s last years, her memory remained vivid and chilling.
"I saw that ship sink," she said in a 1993 interview. "I never closed my eyes. I didn’t sleep at all. I saw it, I heard it, and nobody could possible forget it."
There have been shipwrecks with greater loss of life before and after the Titanic, but none have clamped such a chilling grip on the popular imagination.
That is partly because the Titanic was on her maiden voyage carrying many prominent and wealthy passengers, but it is mainly because of a well-publicized exercise in hubris.
The White Star Line had proclaimed the Titanic the "unsinkable ship," a claim that caused Miss Hart’s mother such apprehension that as they walked up the gangplank, her daughter later recalled, she renewed her warning that calling a ship unsinkable was "flying in the face of God." She was so convinced of impending doom, her daughter later said, that she slept during the day and stayed awake in her cabin at night, fully dressed.
The iceberg that sliced the Titanic’s hull below the waterline belied White Star’s claims. The network of massive bulkheads that supposedly made the Titanic unsinkable had not been extended high enough. Water gushing into one compartment simply flowed over the top of the bulkheads.
Returning to England, where her mother remarried, Miss Hart was plagued with nightmares until, after her mother’s death when Miss Hart was 23, she confronted her fears head on, returning to the sea and locking herself in a cabin for four days until the nightmares went away.
She held several jobs, becoming a professional singer in Australia, working as a Conservative Party organizer, and serving as a magistrate in England. She described life in a 1994 autobiography, "In the Shadow of the Titanic."
Until recent years, Miss Hart chose not to talk about the disaster, but when she did open up, she was outspoken, denouncing efforts to salvage artifacts from the Titanic as "grave robbing," and excoriating White Star officials for failing to provide enough lifeboats.
"If a ship is torpedoed, that’s war," she once said. "If it strikes a rock in a storm, that’s nature. But just to die because there weren’t enough lifeboats, that's ridiculous."
Her anger was fueled by memory.
"I can remember the colors, the sounds, everything," she said. "The worst thing I can remember are the screams."
But even worse, she conceded, was the silence that followed.
"It seemed as if once everybody had gone, drowned, finished, the whole world was standing still. There was nothing, just this deathly, terrible silence in the dark night with the stars overhead."
Miss Hart, who never married, leaves no immediate family.
The remaining Titanic survivors are Edith Brown Haisman, Barbara West and Millzina Dean, all of England; Michael Navrati and Louise Laroche of France; and Eleanor Shuman, Winnifred Tongerloo and Lillian Asplund of the United States.