Real-life Jack and Rose: City woman's romance with Titanic sailor revealed

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Roberta Maioni, from Norwich, was a survivor from the Titanic. - Credit: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS

It’s one of the most tragic love stories in cinematic history.

And now the tale of a real-life Jack and Rose has emerged 110 years after the Titantic sank.  

The story of Norwich's Roberta Maioni and her sweetheart, an unnamed steward, is no less tragic than their fictional counterparts. 

All that is left of their love is a single brooch, gifted to the surviving woman by the sailor before he went down with the ship.

Miss Maioni is thought to have struck up the relationship with the crew member during the four days she spent on board the ill-fated liner.  

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Roberta Maioni, from Norwich, was a survivor from the Titanic. Her detailed account of that night and a brooch given to her by a cabin steward are both up for auction. - Credit: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS

The then 20-year-old was the maid to first-class passenger, the Countess of Rothes, and it is thought she fell in love with the young man who was their cabin steward. 

After the ship struck an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912 and the passengers had to evacuate the ship, the steward raced to Roberta's side.

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He made sure she was safely on board lifeboat number eight before returning to his post.

BNPS.co.uk (01202 558833)Pic: HAldridge&Son/BNPSPictured: The brooch with a picture of Roberta

Roberta Maioni, from Norwich, was a survivor from the Titanic. She wrote a detailed account of the tragedy back in 1912. - Credit: HAldridge&Son/BNPS

As he big her goodbye he handed Roberta the white star-shaped badge that was on his uniform to remember him by.

It was the last time she saw him.

The couple's short romance bears striking similarities to the one between Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet respectively, in James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic.

Just like DiCaprio's character Jack, the young steward died in the disaster.

Years later, Roberta wrote an eye-witness account of the tragedy which referenced her beau several times as well as the ship's captain, Edward Smith.

She wrote: "An elderly officer, with tears streaming down his cheeks, helped us into one of the lifeboats. He was Captain Smith - the master of that ill-fated vessel.

"As the lifeboat began to descend, I heard him say: 'Goodbye, remember you are British'."

BNPS.co.uk (01202 558833)
Pic: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS
Pictured: The brooch with a picture of Roberta

Roberta Maioni, from Norwich, was a survivor from the Titanic. Her detailed account of that night and a brooch given to her by a cabin steward are both up for auction. - Credit: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS

Smith also died that night.

Now the beloved brooch that Roberta kept with her until her death in 1963 has gone up for sale at auction for £60,000.

Along with it is her 1926 typed account of the disaster that is valued at £5,000.

There is also a rare piece of correspondence from the White Star Line First-Class Passenger Department dated April 18, 1912.

It is addressed to Roberta's mother Jane and it confirmed that her daughter had been rescued. It is also worth £5,000.

The archive is being sold by a private collector who bought it from descendants of Roberta over 20 years ago.

BNPS.co.uk (01202 558833)
Pic: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS
Pictured: The brooch with a picture of Roberta

Roberta Maioni, from Norwich, was a survivor from the Titanic. Her detailed account of that night and a brooch given to her by a cabin steward are both up for auction. - Credit: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS

It will go under the hammer with auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son of Devizes, Wilts, on April 23.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: "During her lifetime Roberta is said to have told her family about how she survived the Titanic and about the young cabin steward she met on board.

"She is said to have fallen in love with him and he with her.

"Although she never revealed his name to anyone - maybe because she was married by that time - she kept hold of this little brooch.

"She told her family that the steward gave it to her, either as a token of love or something to remember him by, as he probably realised his fate.

"Either way, it is an incredibly poignant item and one that has a direct connection with the Titanic."

BNPS.co.uk (01202 558833)Pic: ZacharyCulpin/BNPSPictured: The brooch with a picture of Roberta

Roberta Maioni, from Norwich, was a survivor from the Titanic. Her detailed account of that night and a brooch given to her by a cabin steward are both up for auction. - Credit: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS

The night of the disaster

Roberta wrote how she spent the fateful night in the music salon before going to her cabin and being startled by the ship hitting the iceberg.

She said: "I was about to get up when a steward came and said, 'Miss, we have struck an iceberg but I don't think there's any danger. Should there be, I'll come back and let you know'.

"In a few minutes the steward was back again, telling me not to be afraid but to dress quickly, put on my life belt and go on deck.

"Still realising nothing of the danger I was in, I joked with him about the funny way in which it was fixed.

"He did not answer but smiled very sadly and shook his head.

"Then I knew that something serious had happened."

She recalled how there was "ice all over the deck" and men and women "looking gaunt and fearful".

Roberta said there were 35 people in her lifeboat. When they were a safe distance they stopped rowing and watched as the Titanic began to sink.

BNPS.co.uk (01202 558833)Pic: ZacharyCulpin/BNPSPictured: The brooch with a picture of Roberta

Roberta Maioni, from Norwich, was a survivor from the Titanic. Her detailed account of that night and a brooch given to her by a cabin steward are both up for auction. - Credit: ZacharyCulpin/BNPS

She continued: "Then I heard the terrible cries of the twelve hundred men, women and children left upon her.

"And then came an awful silence - more terrible than the sound that had gone before."

Roberta and her employer were rescued by the RMS Carpathia several hours later.

She returned to Britain and married London business consultant Cunliffe Bolling in in 1919. He died in 1938 and Roberta passed away in 1963, aged 71.

BNPS.co.uk (01202 558833)Pic: HAldridge&Son/BNPSPictured: Roberta wrote to the Daily Express w

Roberta Maioni, from Norwich, was a survivor from the Titanic. She wrote a detailed account of the tragedy back in 1912. - Credit: HAldridge&Son/BNPS

A history of the Titanic

Titanic was a steamship that sunk in the early hours of the morning on April 15, 1912. 

The ship, travelling from Southampton to New York, sunk off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg sidelong during its maiden voyage.

The ship had only departed on April 10, having been built in Belfast for the previous three years. 

At the time of its construction, the hull of Titanic was the largest man-made movable object in the world.

Titanic was dubbed "unsinkable" courtesy of a series of watertight compartments. 

However, the walls between the compartments extended only a few feet over the waterline so when the ship began to tip forward, the water spilled into the next compartment.

A total of 1,504 people died in the tragedy.