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The Laroche family, circa 1910

Published by Brad on 16 March 2012

Since our last blog entry, we have been busy trying to map out the layout for the Timeline and organise our material for inclusion on it which, due to the amount of material we have, is an enjoyable but challenging task. We’ve also been trying to conduct some additional research in Manchester.

The city wasn’t one of our original project sites but given that Mix-d is a Manchester based organisation, we thought it would be great if we could include some Mancunian experiences in the Timeline. We’ve been lucky enough to have a fantastic volunteer come on board to help us with this – Catherine Poust, a final year Archaeology and Ancient History undergraduate at the University of Manchester, is currently sourcing material from Manchester archives and has already unearthed some great stuff, including some biographies, photos and newspaper accounts. Catherine says that ‘I got involved with the Mix:d Museum because I saw the importance of this really fascinating investigation and wanted to contribute from a local perspective. So far it’s been a very interesting journey.’

In addition to Catherine’s Manchester-based research, the project team are currently concentrating on mapping out the Timeline during the years 1900-1920. Although this wasn’t a timeframe we primarily focused on in our original project, we nevertheless gathered lots of material from this period, most of which has lain around in folders, so it’s nice to be able to go through and get reacquainted with it. Focusing on the first part of the 20th century has also meant the chance to do some additional research and over the last week we’ve been following up details of a clipping we originally collected about a mixed race family who were on board the Titanic.

The sinking of the Titanic in 1911 dominated the British media in the months that followed. So, though Joseph, an upper-class Haitian engineer and his French wife, Juliette, weren’t British, we have decided to include their story in the Timeline as it illustrates very well the aim of our current project: to contribute towards the often overlooked presence of minority ethnic groups, particularly mixed race couples, family and people, in British history.

The story of the Laroche family, like that of the majority of the passengers on the Titanic, has a tragic ending; though Joseph managed to get the pregnant Juliette and their daughters on to a lifeboat and thus to safety, he lost his life during the sinking of the ship. As well as being moved by this part of the story, we have also been really interested to read about the Laroche family’s experiences on board ship. It appears that while they integrated and made friends with other families and passengers on the Titanic, they also experienced racial prejudice. Apparently the Titanic’s crew were so hostile to the Laroches and other ‘non-white’ passengers that the White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic, later issued a public apology for the crew’s derogatory statements and behaviour.

The combination of ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ experiences of the Laroche family in their daily lives due to their mixedness are a common theme in the accounts of mixed race couples, people and families. We hope that the Timeline will give some insights into this complexity and diversity and help provide a more informed and nuanced understanding of the history of the minority ethnic presence in Britain.

Chamion and Peter