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Digital Gallery Images

The Gallery includes images of the borough's streets and buildings and portraits of people and communities. The Digital Gallery images are displayed as thumbnails. Full size images can be viewed by clicking on a thumbnail.

How do I obtain a copy of an image?

Photographic copies can be obtained from Tower Hamlets Local Studies and Archives (there is a charge for this service) or a maximum of 5 digital copies can be emailed to you. If you would like to use the images for publication or display please contact us at


West India Docks

Image Number:





Island History Trust Image Collection


Steam Cable Ship, John W. Mackay, moored in the West India Docks in the 1980s. Edward Harrison who took the photograph, wrote: “ This ship has a unique place in maritime history, because in the early 1960s she laid the world's first marine co-axial cable, between the Canary Islands and the mainland. A point of interest is that her predecessor (also a Mackay though I cannot recall her first name) was chartered in 1912 to collect the floating bodies of those drowned in the Titanic disaster, and bring them ashore for proper burial. I have seen a photograph of her setting out from Newfoundland, her decks stacked with plain wooden coffins in which to place the bodies.” The ship was the Mackay-Bennett. She was one of two cable-laying steamers chartered by the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic, to locate, identify and recover bodies from the disaster. Her captain and crew (which on this occasion included an embalmer) recovered 306 bodies, of which 190 were returned to Halifax, Newfoundland. Frederick A.Hamilton was a cable-engineer on board the Mackay-Bennett and he kept a diary of the voyage. A manuscript copy of his diary, with a typed transcript, is in the archives of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Here is a short extract: April 24th: Another burial service today and seventy seven bodies follow the others. The hoarse tone of the steam whistle reverberating through the mist, the dripping rigging and the ghostly sea, the heaps of dead, and the hard, weather-beaten faces of the crew, whose harsh voices join sympathetically to the hymn tunefully renderd by Canon Hind, all combine to make a strange task stranger. Cold, wet, miserable and comfortless, all hands balance themselves against the heavy rolling of the ship as she lurches to the Atlantic swell and even the most hardened must reflect on the hopes and fears, the dismay and despair, of those whose nearest and dearest, support and pride, have been wrenched from them by this tragedy. Donated by E. Harrison