On April 17 as RMS CARPATHIA headed for New York with survivors of the RMS TITANIC, White Star Line made arrangements with the idle cable ship MacKay-Bennett in port at Halifax, Nova Scotia to sail to the icy waters off the Grand Banks and recover the bodies of the RMS TITANIC victims. Aboard were a clergyman, a local undertaker,embalming fluid for 70 bodies, crushed ice and 125 pine coffins.
On April 21, 1912 at daybreak exactly one week after the sinking, boats were lowered from the Mackay-Bennett into the water and the first of 51 bodies was recovered. It was noted that “…bodies in good state but badly bruised by being knocked about in the water.” When it was realized the amount of bodies was going to be great, the ship’s captain made the decision to bury bodies at sea. Passengers who were no longer recognizable or identifiable were given a service before burial. 1st or 2nd Class passengers were distinguished from 3rd Class passengers by their clothing or identification. 1st Class passengers were given priority in the embalming process and placed in the wooden coffins. 2nd and 3rd Class passengers were wrapped in canvas. A message was sent by the Mackay-Bennett and a second ship, the Minia, has been sent with more embalming and burial supplies. The crew of the Mackay-Bennett will earn double-time for their work at the wreckage site.