In April 1912, an English newspaper called the Evening Telegram noted with relief that the death of John Astor in the Titanic disaster would not, after all, affect Wall Street.
Astor, the famed property investor, chose to go down with the ship, giving up a chance to use his position to grab one of the all-too-few seats in a lifeboat. He died as he had lived, a man of honour.
"The stock exchange is not at all likely to suffer serious disturbance in consequence of the White Star disaster," the paper noted. It added, perhaps a touch insensitively: "Had a large number of very prominent and active financiers been on board, the market might have manifested a panicky feeling."
It is a truism that money has no conscience, something that is now starkly illustrated by the terrible events in Japan.
As we watched in horror as nature overwhelmed the northern parts of the country, with its televised scenes of people caught in a struggle to survive, investors scrambled with a whole different set of priorities: how to protect their wealth.
This is nothing new, as the market report on the Titanic sinking illustrates. Markets have always responded wildly to such events. With the onset of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, US petrol prices spiked 18 per cent in four days. Then, just as suddenly, they fell again, after massive government support of the release of strategic reserves.
The undeniable fact is that although humans can show great compassion and empathy with those who suffer calamity, money is indisputably indifferent. As distasteful as this is, it's worth keeping this in mind because the "interconnectedness" of the modern world means disaster far away can still affect your personal investments.
A personal example: a friend of mine, a geophysicist, is a consultant to the mining industry. He'd just returned from a conference in Canada, where he had successfully drummed up business for his prospecting consultancy, when the Fukushima reactor began to overheat. His field of expertise? Uranium developments in Namibia and Kazakhstan. To date, nobody is returning his calls.
This is because markets respond to two basic emotions: greed and fear.
In the week after the earthquake and tsunami, Japan's Nikkei lost 12 per cent; the Dow Jones and S&P surrendered almost all their gains for the year. This is bound to have an immediate affect on anyone with a pension fund or 401k investment.
The MSCI EAFE (or "Eeefa" as most call it) has about 20 per cent of its portfolio invested in Japanese stocks. This fund is the benchmark index used by most fund managers who portion some of their investments in stocks outside their home markets.
There is, however, an upside to this cynicism. Countries do recover from disasters and Japan is better equipped than most to do so. Its people are well educated and resilient. Many will be betting the Japanese are even now picking themselves up to rebuild their shattered cities.
Barton Biggs, the former chief strategist at Morgan Stanley who now runs the US$1.4 billion (Dh5.1bn) hedge fund Traxis Partners, said last week in The Wall Street Journal he had begun to buy Japanese shares.
"They'll sell Treasurys and rebuild, they can finance it because it's a country of savers," he said. "They'll have to rebuild Japan and the rebuilding will give a boost to the economy."
Warren Buffett, the world's greatest investor, has also said he sees a "buying opportunity" in Japan. When Mr Buffet speaks, it's worth leaning a little closer.
Others are sure to follow. Selling off now in the midst of this crisis will only lock in losses - and make it more expensive when you eventually get the nerve to go back in.
Still, just as bad as panicking now is trying to catch the falling knife. Because Japanese stocks seem cheap, it does not mean they won't get cheaper. It's one thing for billion-dollar investors such as Mr Biggs or Mr Buffet to try timing the market. Quite another for the small private investor. Contrarians will be taking the plunge now - and, generally, they anticipate some losses by doing so. As a small investor, you should not be joining them.
Ultimately, the best strategy for unexpected events is to do nothing. Reacting to circumstances that have a murky outcome is little more than gambling with your savings. Even if you get lucky this time, the chances are you won't when the next one arrives.
Gavin du Venage is a business writer and entrepreneur based in South Africa.