THE bodies of third class passengers of the Titanic were tossed into the sea by rescuers while first and second class victims were recovered so they could be given proper funerals, new documents have revealed.

A fascinating collection of telegrams between the main body-recovery ship and the owners of the sunken liner reveal the cruel and callous nature of the grim operation.

The overwhelmed crew of the Mackay-Bennett had to prioritise which bodies they would bring back to shore due to limited space on the ship.

It was decided the bodies of first and second class passengers were brought aboard, embalmed and returned to their loves ones while the poorest passengers were cast into the Atlantic.

Of 334 recovered bodies, 116 were buried at sea with most of these being passengers from third class and crew members.

Captain Frederick Larnder was forced into making such a decision because his ship and crew were struggling to cope with insufficient space and embalming supplies.

Under his order dead passengers were separated by class according to their clothing or personal possessions.

His painful instructions can be disseminated from studying the 181 telegrams, written in note form, which have been uncovered more than 100 years later.

One message sent from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where the bodies were to be taken, to the Mackay-Bennett reads: “Absolutely essential you should bring to port all bodies you can possibly accommodate.”

The rescue vessel responded: “A careful record has been made of all papers moneys and valuables found on bodies. Would it not be better to bury all bodies at sea unless specially requested by relatives to preserve them.”

Capt Larnder then messaged: “Add to my wireless today re burial, we can bring seventy to port if required.”

In the event the Mackay-Bennett brought about 190 bodies back to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Further telegrams bring to the light the immense stress White Star Line employees on land were under as they attempted to process the dozens of bodies arriving each day.

One from Halifax reads: “Regret advise Jones (the Halifax office) has complete collapse tonight.

“Please instruct New York office cannot undertake any work tomorrow.

“Must let up on demands for rush replies until we have had little rest.”

The messages were sent between three White Star Line offices in New York and Halifax and the Mackay-Bennett from April 15, 1912 until a month later.

When the recovery operation ended in May the telegrams were stored at White Star Line’s New York office until 1934, when the company merged with Cunard Line.

The offices were emptied and the telegrams were almost lost forever when they were tossed into a skip, along with Titanic passenger records.

Fortunately they were recovered by an employee, who then passed them on to his daughter.

The current owner, Charles Haas, a Titanic author and historian, purchased them in the 1980s.

After spending a number of years having the documents restored by a conservator he is now releasing them for a special segment on the Titanic Channel, which he hosts online.

Mr Haas, 69, from New Jersey, said: “We are very lucky to have this series of almost 200 telegrams that give us a glimpse inside such a remarkably difficult recovery operation.

“The collection develops in great detail how difficult the process after the sinking was. They candidly show the immense stress everyone involved was under.

“The Mackay-Bennett was coming across bodies by the dozen.

“It wasn’t a particularly large ship and so the captain had to make difficult decisions when he was faced with bringing 200 or 300 bodies on board.

“His decision appeared to be that when a body was identified as first or second class they would be brought in, otherwise they could be buried at sea.

“Apparently the captain thought that was the best way to handle an overwhelming situation.

“When the telegrams were sent I imagine it was with every expectation that they would remain private.

“It’s fantastic to be able to provide new information about the Titanic even though it sank over 100 years ago.”

Andrew Aldridge, a specialist Titanic auctioneer of Devizes, Wilts, added: “We are looking upon these telegrams now in the social structure of 2017.

“The world was a very different place in 1912 when there was this class structure in place and very little thought would have been given into giving priority to a wealthy person over a poor one, dead or alive.”