The sinking of the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 15 April 1912 remains one of the most enduring maritime sagas of all time and is one of the greatest stories of the twentieth century.
The loss of the brand new and assumed unsinkable flagship of the White Star Line, which took the lives of 1,496 men, women and children, continues to fascinate people all around the world. Interest in the tragedy shows no sign of abating more than a century after the event, not least because of James Cameron’s spectacular film which was recently rereleased at cinemas to celebrate its own 25th anniversary.
As we approach the 111th anniversary of the disaster it may be of interest to some to learn of the various connections Harrow and the surrounding area has to the ship. There are at least ten people associated with the Harrow area who were aboard Titanic, including two residents, August Meyer, and Charles Eugene Williams.
August Meyer was born in Rhoden, Hesse, in Germany on 26th May, 1880. After completing baker’s apprenticeship, he emigrated to London in 1905 to join his brother Karl who had already moved over and opened a bakery of his own.
By 1912 the brothers lived together at 26 St. Kilda’s Road in Harrow, and August worked as a pastry chef in an unknown London hotel when he was offered a better job in New York. He had always wanted to go to America and decided to emigrate, however he did not think life would be easy in the States and was open to returning home if he did not like his new life across the ocean.
Karl did not like the idea, but August bought a second-class ticket for Titanic. In the week before sailing, he wrote two letters to his father in Rhoden, informing him of his plans. August wrote of how he was looking forward to the long sea journey despite Karl’s misgivings, and it is clear from the second letter written the day before sailing, that his father was also worried about his plans. Nevertheless, August tried to calm his father’s fears with talk of how beautiful it was to see the world, and he reminded him he was travelling on the largest vessel ever built. Interestingly, August made his will a few days before departure.
On Wednesday 10th April 1912, Karl accompanied August to Southampton, and it is very likely that he toured the ship before she sailed just after midday. Second-class passengers were berthed at the aft end of the ship, but it is not known which cabin August occupied. He sent two postcards while aboard, the second of which to his father was postmarked at Queenstown, now Cobh in the Republic of Ireland, which simply stated, “Very nice weather. It’s fun to travel. Thousand greetings. Yours, August.”
As far as is known no survivors of the tragedy ever reported seeing or meeting August aboard Titanic, and here he all but disappears into history, but not quite entirely.
Two of the most famous survivors of the sinking were the infant French brothers, Michel and Edmond Navratil, aged 3 and 2 years respectively. The boys had been kidnapped by their father, also named Michel, from his estranged wife from their home in Nice, and the family travelled under the name of Hoffman to hide their identity. Unlike August Meyer, the Navratils were seen and noted by other survivors, and in later years Michel recalled that after the collision with the iceberg and when the order was given for passengers to assemble on deck with lifebelts on, his father dressed him warmly and a stranger did the same to Edmond. The two boys were saved in Collapsible D, the last boat to leave the ship, however, their father was lost, but his body was the 15th to be later recovered from the North Atlantic. Fascinatingly, August Meyer’s business card was found on Michel Navratil’s body, which proves the two men met during the voyage. It is possible that August Meyer may have been the stranger who helped to dress young Edmond but we will never know for certain.
August Meyer died in the sinking and if his body was ever recovered it remained unidentified. He is remembered on a cenotaph in the Old Cemetery in his home town of Rhoden in Germany.
Charles Eugene Williams
Charles Eugene Williams lived at 2 Drury Road, just a kilometre from August Meyer’s home in St. Kilda’s Road. He was born in Brompton, west London on 28th July, 1888 and was a budding sportsman from a young age, becoming a ball boy at London’s socially exclusive gentlemen’s Prince’s Club in Knightsbridge. Unfortunately, little is known of Charles’ early life, however he became a noted squash racquets player and was married to Lois Wilkins in 1910. The couple celebrated the birth of their first child, Eugene, in March 1911, by which time the census recorded the family living in Drury Road, and Charles was described as a racquet professional at Harrow School, where he held the position of games master.
Popular tradition holds that Squash Racquets was invented at Harrow School, however that is incorrect. It appears that the game was first played in London prisons as early as 1759 before it was enjoyed in London pubs. Harrow School was the first at which the game was played, probably as early as 1820 when the schoolyard was enlarged, and the first covered squash court, built in 1865, is still in use today.
In January 1911 Charles competed in and won the racquets Open Championship of England, and a few months later he was the challenger for the World Championship against the titleholder, India’s Jamsetji Merwanji. Charles won the first round at the Queen’s Club; he played out a draw in the second round at the Prince’s Club, and claimed the title outright, becoming world champion.
The following year the championships were to be played in New York. Charles was to defend his title for a stake of $5000 against the American champion, George Standing, on 29th April 1912, so like August Meyer, he booked a £13 second-class ticket aboard Titanic for the journey to America. Fortunately, Lois and young Eugene remained at home in Harrow.
Charles joined Titanic in Southampton, and was berthed in an unknown cabin towards the stern of the ship. As he left us only the very briefest of accounts of his experiences during the maiden voyage very little is known of his time aboard.
Only 166 men travelled in second class on Titanic, many of whom were travelling alone. Ship-board gossip always travels fast, and being somewhat of a celebrity and one from Harrow, it is entirely possible that Charles Williams and August Meyer may have met during the voyage, however, we will never know for certain.
As will be seen, one of the key amenities installed aboard Titanic was a squash court, and it is known from a newspaper report that Charles was permitted to use it during the voyage. This is most surprising as the squash court was for the use of first-class passengers only, and it is well known that the class system was rigidly enforced aboard 1912 passenger vessels. Charles must have gained special permission to use the court, most likely from the Chief Second-class steward, John Hardy who survived the disaster, and Chief Purser Hugh McElroy who was lost.
On the evening of the accident, Sunday 14th April, Charles played in the squash court, probably with the attendant, Frederick Wright who also died in the sinking. He played until about 10.30 p.m. after which he retired to the second-class smoking room at the other end of the ship, and he was still there over an hour later when Titanic collided with the iceberg. Feeling the impact, Charles rushed out onto the starboard side of the deck where he saw the iceberg, which he said rose over 100 feet above the deck, and watched it break up amidships and drift away.
At about 1.30 a.m., over an hour and three quarters after the collision, Charles Williams was on the aft, port side of the Boat Deck by Lifeboat 14 which was being loaded with women and children, one of whom was the 33-year-old first-class passenger, Daisy Minahan. Miss Minahan later told the United States Senate inquiry that there were no seamen to man Boat 14 when it was filled, so the officer in charge, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, called out to the crowd on deck for volunteers who could row. Six men offered their services, and Lowe allowed them to get in the boat. One of them was Charles Williams.
His life was saved simply because he was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, otherwise, he almost certainly would have gone down with the ship. Second-class male passengers fared worse than any other part of the ship’s company with just 13 out of 167 men surviving the disaster, a horrifyingly small 7.7% of the total. According to family lore, the only thing he saved from Titanic was one of the ship’s spoons in his pocket.
Lifeboat 14 started lowering from Titanic’s Boat Deck with perhaps as many as 64 people, almost entirely women and children, at approximately 1.35 a.m. The third-class passengers had finally been permitted to go up to the upper first and second-class decks about five minutes before, and when they saw the dire lack of lifeboats still left aboard the ship, some of them may have attempted to rush Boat 14 as it passed A Deck on its way down. Officer Lowe was standing at the boat’s tiller and saw a lot of “Italians,” a generic and racist term used in 1912 to describe anyone from the Mediterranean area, standing along the ship’s rail, “glaring, more or less like wild beasts, ready to spring.” Lowe considered his boat to be dangerously overloaded and was quite scared that it might buckle in the middle, so to warn others away from jumping in, he fired three or four shots from his revolver horizontally between the ship and the lifeboat.
Here we may have a sighting of Charles Williams from people who were still on the ship. In 1931, his fellow second-class survivors, Edward and Ethel Beane, gave an account of their experiences of the sinking to a local newspaper in Rochester, New York State. Edward recalled that he saw on deck “Charles Williams, the prize fighter,” [sic] who was coming over for a tag match and whom he described as “a big brute of a man.” In 1912 Edward was reported as saying that he heard a shot fired, but in 1931 his story had changed to actually seeing a man get shot down and that he saw rifle-fire scorch Charles Williams’ fingers for his “over-eagerness.” Interestingly, upon arrival in New York, Charles was later reported as having an injured arm and hand.
As intriguing as this all sounds, it is possible that Edward Beane was mistaken when he said he saw Charles Williams. Among the third-class passengers was 24-year-old Leslie Williams, a professional bantamweight boxer from Tonypandy, Wales, who was indeed travelling to America to compete in a series of boxing contests. Leslie Williams died in the disaster and his was the 14th body to be recovered; he was buried at sea a week after the sinking.
Once Lifeboat 14 was lowered, Fifth Officer Lowe gathered together four other boats, forming a small flotilla, approximately 100 yards from Titanic. After the ship had sunk and the cries of help from those in the water had subsided, Lowe decided to transfer all the passengers in his boat to the rest of the flotilla, and he and his crew, including Charles Williams, rowed back to the wreck site to try to save some of the swimmers.
The lethally cold -2.2° Celsius/27° Fahrenheit Atlantic killed everyone unable to get out of the water within just twenty minutes, so by the time Charles Williams and Boat 14 rowed back to the floating bodies, they were able to recover only four men from the wreckage, one of whom died very soon after.
It is well known that Titanic did not have enough lifeboats for all on board, but what is less well known is that a number of the boats leaked while afloat and awaiting rescue, Lifeboat 14 included. It was later reported that Charles was up to his knees in the icy water which greatly reduced his strength, and Saloon Steward George Crow who also manned the boat informed the United States inquiry that Boat 14 took on up to eight inches of water, possibly after it was damaged when it was dropped the last four or five feet into the water when being lowered.
Boat 14 was still amongst the wreckage when the rescue ship, the Cunard liner R.M.S. Carpathia, arrived on the scene at about 4.00 a.m. Unable to find anymore survivors, Lifeboat 14 started to row towards the ship, when at first light Lowe saw the swamped Collapsible Boat A upon which about 13 people had somehow managed to survive the night. Lowe took on the freezing survivors, one of whom was the young first-class passenger Richard Norris Williams who was also a tennis player. It appears that the survival stories of both Charles and Richard Williams later became confused, as will be seen.
It was while aboard Carpathia that Charles spoke to Fifth Officer Lowe who took his name and address which Lowe recorded as, “C. Williams, racket champion of the world. No. 2 Drury Road, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex, England.”
As Carpathia steamed towards America with the 712 survivors, the list of names of the saved was telegraphed to the White Star Line’s New York head office, but it appears that Charles’ name was not included as it was reported in London on Wednesday 17th April, “Champion at Racquets Lost.”
Carpathia arrived in New York on the evening of Thursday 18th April, where journalists clamored for news to report to the deeply shocked outside world. Unfortunately, when the contemporary newspapers were unable to secure suitable material, they were not beyond adding information, combining separate accounts, or in some cases publishing entirely fabricated stories of the disaster.
Later newspaper stories told of how Charles jumped as far as possible from the starboard Boat Deck, and then swam around for over two hours before he was hauled into a lifeboat. There he saw Captain Smith in the water holding a small child in his arms, and after handing the child over to the lifeboat Smith was told the first officer “blew his brains out,” whereupon the captain swam away and slowly sank from sight. According to the tale Charles spent the next nine hours standing in water up to his knees before rescue. This story was allegedly given to a reporter by Charles’ friend George Standing, the same American squash champion he was due to play against on April 29th.
Elements of the above story closely resemble that of first-class survivor Richard Norris Williams who was rescued from the swamped Collapsible A by Lifeboat 14, and it is possible that journalists may have inadvertently confused and combined the stories of the two surviving young sportsmen with the same surname in the same boat. However, the inclusion of Captain Smith swimming to the boat with a small child is demonstrable fiction; the captain reportedly swam to the capsized Collapsible B and not the swamped Collapsible A, and it is known that Charles was in Boat 14 which was some 150 yards away on the other side of the ship.
Many adult male survivors were strongly criticised for making it out alive when so many women and children were lost with the ship, and a number of them had to invent stories to explain how they got away. The above story may have been entirely fabricated by journalists; however, it is also possible that it was a cover story told by Charles.
Charles sent a telegram to the Honourable secretary of the Racquets Association, which read, “Match postponed, return next week, Williams,” which was reported in London on 20th April. Whilst in New York and still suffering from a great reduction in his strength and an injured arm and hand, Charles was also diagnosed with pneumonia, from which he would never fully recover. He admitted himself to a sanitorium to recuperate until he returned home to his family in Harrow about a couple of weeks later.
Charles was soon back at work at Harrow School, which was visited by King George V and Queen Mary in June, and he had a private audience with the royal couple when he discussed his experience of the disaster. Charles had sufficiently recovered from his ordeal to defend his world title in 1913, however he lost both home and away legs to Jock Soutar of Philadelphia who retained the title until 1929.
Very little is known of Charles’ life after that. He and Lois remained in Harrow and went on to have another five children, a boy and four girls, between then and 1921, but three years later he was offered a job as a professional at the newly opened Chicago Racquets Club. Charles and his family emigrated to America in July 1924 aboard Titanic’s near identical sister ship, Olympic, and they settled in Lakewood, Chicago, where Charles also worked as a tennis instructor. He continued to train and compete with Jock Soutar, from whom he regained the title of World Champion in 1929, a rank he retained for the rest of his life.
Charles’ descendants recall that he never talked about the Titanic disaster, but he suffered from many recuring lung infections as his lungs never fully recovered after catching pneumonia in New York. He continued to play squash and was otherwise in good health, however in late 1935 Charles contracted bronchial pneumonia and after just a week he suddenly passed away on 27th October 1935 aged just 47 years.
His obituary mentioned neither Titanic nor his sporting career, but coincidentally Charles was buried in the same Chicago cemetery as two other Titanic survivors, Ida and Jean Hippach. His descendants still own the spoon he is said to have carried off the ship.
Charles Williams was not the only connection between Harrow School and Titanic; two alumni were also aboard the ship, both of whom travelled as first-class passengers.
Joseph Bruce Ismay
Joseph Bruce Ismay is by far and away the most controversial person involved in the Titanic saga. He was born on 12 December 1862 in Crosby, near Liverpool, and his father was Thomas Ismay, the owner and president of the White Star Line.
Ismay bought the name, house flag, and goodwill of the bankrupt White Star Line in 1869 and ordered four state of the art steamships from the Belfast shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff, for the lucrative and highly competitive North Atlantic passenger trade between Liverpool and New York. Within a few years the company had become one of the pre-eminent shipping lines in the world.
The young Bruce Ismay was sent to board at Seafield School in New Brighton, a private preparatory school for boys aged between 8 and 13, where he was listed on the 1871 census returns. After Seafield, he was sent to Elstree School at Hill House on Elstree Hill, now a BUPA care centre, before he went to Harrow in 1877.
The young Bruce Ismay was described as being very shy and extremely sensitive; he was quick to learn but was reportedly not happy during his school days. Perhaps surprisingly he did not go on to study at university as might be expected, but instead left Harrow after only a year and was sent to a tutor in Dinard, Brittany. Despite the short time he spent at Harrow, it is possible that the school may have influenced some aspects of Bruce Ismay’s greatest creations thirty years later, as will be seen.
After a year in France, Bruce Ismay returned to England in 1880 where he began a four-year apprenticeship in his father’s office. Upon completion of his apprenticeship he went on a year-long world tour, spending much time in Australia and New Zealand, before starting work at the White Star Line’s New York office where he was appointed Company Agent.
It has been stated that because of his natural shyness, Bruce Ismay put on a brusque and arrogant façade to avoid appearing over sensitive, however this often caused people to take a dislike to him, one of whom was the newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst. However, those who knew him well remembered Bruce Ismay as being kind, considerate, unobtrusively generous and full of integrity.
In New York Bruce Ismay met and fell in love with socialite Julia Florence Schieffelin and the couple married in 1888. They had five children between 1889 and 1897, but the family returned to Liverpool in 1891 when he was made a partner and took control of Ismay, Imrie and Co., the parent company of the White Star Line, upon his father’s retirement that year.
Following Thomas Ismay’s death in 1899 Bruce Ismay oversaw the sale of the White Star Line to John Pierpont Morgan’s conglomerate, the International Mercantile Marine, of which he became president in 1904. At that time White Star’s main competition came from their Liverpool neighbours, the Cunard Line who still operate on the north Atlantic today with their flagship, the R.M.S. Queen Mary 2. In the early years of the twentieth century Cunard had won financial backing from the British Government to build two giant superliners which could be converted for use as auxiliary cruisers in the time of war; they were the doomed Lusitania and record-breaking Mauretania.
The two ships were a clear threat to White Star’s continued success on the North Atlantic, so during the summer of 1907, it is said that Bruce Ismay and his wife dined at the London residence of Harland and Wolff’s Managing Director, Lord Pirrie, and there they laid the plans for what would become the largest ships in the world, Olympic, Titanic and later Britannic.
During Olympic and Titanic’s design stages, Bruce Ismay requested that a squash court be installed on the vessels, the first time that such an amenity had been incorporated into a ship’s design. It is entirely possible that the inclusion of this key feature may have been a direct result of his brief time at Harrow School.
A 2013 Sky TV documentary, “A Very British School,” concerning daily life at Harrow School, showed footage of one of the students’ common rooms, decorated with white ceilings, walls lined with light golden brown wooden panels, columns, and windows which all share more than a passing resemblance to the second-class Library and Smoking rooms on Olympic and Titanic. Once again, it is possible that Bruce Ismay’s design and decorative choices for the ships may have been influenced by Harrow.
Of course, what happened next is well known to all. Ten months after Bruce Ismay hailed Olympic on her first arrival in New York as, “a marvel and has given unbounded satisfaction,” he joined Titanic in Southampton for her own maiden voyage.
Bruce Ismay travelled purely as an ordinary first-class passenger. He did not travel in any official capacity for the White Star Line; his was an entirely voluntary trip, simply for the purpose of seeing how the new ship worked and to inspect all the passenger conveniences. He made note of where improvements could be made, and any suggestions would be studied by the company upon his return to Liverpool and incorporated into the third sister, Britannic, which was then under construction at Harland and Wolff. With no business to attend to in New York, he intended to take Titanic’s return journey home on Saturday 20th April.
The controversies surrounding Bruce Ismay’s alleged influence over the ship’s navigation and speed are far too complicated for the scope of this work, however it must be noted that following the collision with the iceberg and subsequent evacuation, Bruce Ismay worked as hard as anyone else to prepare, fill, and lower at least six lifeboats which left the ship with a combined total of over 200 people.
The greatest controversy lies in his means of escape from the ship. It is impossible to say whether Bruce Ismay was ordered to get into the penultimate boat, Collapsible C, or if he was pushed in, or if he climbed in of his own accord, however he got away approximately 20 minutes before the ship sank. Bruce Ismay took an oar and rowed the boat all night until rescued, however he sat with his back to Titanic and did not see her again once they pulled away; he could not bear to see her sink, and he was glad that he did not.
Once aboard the rescue ship, R.M.S. Carpathia, the deeply shocked Bruce Ismay was confined to the ship’s doctor’s cabin, utterly devastated by the appalling loss of life. When 17-year-old first class survivor Jack Thayer visited him, he was described as being in a terribly nervous condition. Sat on his bunk, dressed in pyjamas, he stared straight ahead shaking like a leaf. Although Thayer told him he had a perfect right to get in the boat, he paid absolutely no attention. Thayer had never seen a man so completely wrecked.
Much anger was voiced towards Bruce Ismay by survivors when it was learned that not only had ice warnings been received before the accident, but that the Managing Director had boasted of how the ship would speed up rather than slow down to avoid the ice. The fact that he was in a cabin of his own while bereaved women had to sleep in crowded public rooms was not appreciated either.
Bruce Ismay was the first to appear before the United States Senate inquiry, the day after Carpathia arrived in New York, and the contemporary press had a field day, especially when it was revealed that Bruce Ismay escaped in a boat while so many women and children were still aboard. William Randolph Hearst cruelly and spitefully went for his old enemy’s jugular; a particularly vindictive cartoon showing Bruce Ismay in a lifeboat watching the ship sink was captioned, “This is J. BRUTE Ismay,” and, “We respectfully suggest that the emblem of the White Star Line should be changed to that of a yellow liver.”
Many of the surviving crew were far more sympathetic towards their employer, but he came under the same close scrutiny when he appeared at the British Board of Trade inquiry in Westminster seven weeks later. He was thoroughly grilled as to the events leading up to, during and after the disaster, and was found not guilty of any wrong-doing that led to the catastrophe. However, for Bruce Ismay it marked the beginning of the end of his professional career.
Very few people believed he had nothing to do with the ship’s navigation and many felt he was entirely responsible for the sinking, an accusation that has never left him. However, it must be noted that he created pensions for the families of the men lost on his ship, including those of his valet and his secretary who were both died in the sinking.
He resigned his position as President of the International Mercantile Marine conglomerate the following summer as was planned long before the sinking. He no longer had anything to do with the White Star Line until the company was facing oblivion in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s when he tried to mount a rescue bid to save the line. Alas, he was unsuccessful and White Star merged with Cunard in 1934.
While he did not exactly become the recluse that some have suggested, Bruce Ismay spent much of the rest of his life in Ireland and London, and he died aged 74 years after a stroke in his home at 15 Hill Street, Mayfair. He is buried in the Putney Vale cemetery under a gravestone designed with shipping motifs.
The second Harrow School alumni aboard Titanic was 36-year-old Tyrell William Cavendish who was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, on 12th October 1875. He was the only son in an aristocratic family descended from the Dukes of Devonshire who could trace their lineage all the way back to the time of King Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror. One of his ancestors, Sir John Cavendish, was the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and was killed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, while another, Sir William Cavendish, the Treasurer of the King’s Chamber, married Bess of Hardwick, one of the wealthiest and most significant English women during the time of Queen Elizabeth I.
Tyrell was listed on the 1881 census as living at his mother’s imposing, and allegedly cursed, Crakemarsh Hall in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, but apart from being educated at Harrow, unfortunately, very little more is known of Tyrell’s life until he married Julia Siegal 1906.
Julia was born in Chicago, Illinois on 3rd November 1886, the only child of Henry Siegal, a prominent German businessman who emigrated to America in 1866 and made his fortune manufacturing women’s clothing and went on to open a number of department stores. Julia was privately educated in Europe, and during a trip to England in 1906 with her stepmother and two stepsisters, she became a great favourite within fashionable London society. She met Tyrell Cavendish, who soon travelled to America to ask her father’s permission to take her hand in marriage.
Following their wedding in New York, Tyrell took Julia back to Crakemarsh Hall, and in June 1907 she was presented to King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Buckingham Palace. The couple had two sons by 1910, and the 1911 census recorded the family living at Little Onn Hall, another stately home in Staffordshire, by which time family lore states that Tyrell was an up and coming politician.
In early 1912 the family planned to travel to New York so Henry Siegal could meet his grandsons, however, again according to family lore, Tyrell was said to have had a premonition that he would die that year and was not keen on travelling on Titanic, so he updated his will before they departed.
In the end, one of their young sons was unwell so the boys remained at home, while Tyrell, Julia and her 26-year-old maid, Ellen Barber from Penshurst in Kent, joined Titanic in Southampton as first-class passengers. The Cavendish’s were berthed in cabin C46, located within the foyer for the magnificent Grand Staircase on C Deck, but Ellen Barber was in another unknown cabin on a lower deck, probably E Deck.
As is so often the case, very little is known of their time aboard the ship during the voyage. Julia only left a brief account of the disaster many years later, however it is known that she was asleep when Titanic collided with the iceberg. Tyrell was still awake and woke Julia at midnight, telling her there was something the matter with the ship and that she should put on her warmest clothes and take her jewellery and money. Tyrell wore a black striped flannel suit with boots. After Ellen Barber rushed up to their cabin and told them trunks were floating in the water, the party went up to the Boat Deck where they waited near to Lifeboat 6 which was filled by Second Officer Charles Lightoller under Captain Smith’s supervision.
Evidently Julia was unwilling to get in the boat. Tyrell told her he would stay with the other men on the ship and would not leave until the women and children had been taken care of. He kept telling her he would be alright because the ship could not sink, and after kissing her goodbye and telling her to think of their two young boys, Tyrell said, “Goodbye dear, I will be with you soon,” and he placed Julia and Ellen Barber into Boat 6.
Tyrell threw two rugs into the boat and helped other women get in, but also helped keep men back with his revolver. He kissed Julia goodbye once again when Lifeboat 6 started to lower at about 1 a.m., with only about 25 people aboard, some 40 people less than the boat’s official capacity, and she never saw her husband again. Julia left us no description of the final sinking of the ship, but she remembered the hours after Titanic went down as being torture; many women in her boat were barefoot, something that is almost unimaginable considering the temperature was below freezing that night.
Heartbroken at the loss of her husband, at some point during the onward journey to New York, Julia spoke to one of Titanic’s surviving officers who told her he jumped from the ship with her husband. The only officer to jump from the ship and survive was Second Officer Lightoller who lowered Boat 6. After Julia’s boat left the ship, some passengers helped Lightoller keep order while subsequent boats were filled. It is known that Lightoller jumped off Titanic’s bridge when the forward Boat Deck was inundated after he and a group of passengers and crew had dropped Collapsible B down onto the flooded deck. The boat eventually floated off upside down and saved about 30 men on its capsized hull, Lightoller included. It is also known that a few men died on Collapsible B during the night before they were rescued. It is entirely possible, though unproveable, that Tyrell Cavendish was one of those men.
Tyrell’s body was the 172nd to be recovered from the North Atlantic and was cremated in Mamaroneck, New York three weeks later. Julia took his remains back to England when she and Ellen Barber returned home shortly afterwards and his ashes were interred at Golders Green Crematorium.
Julia Cavendish never remarried and lived at Crakemarsh Hall for the rest of her life, of which very little is known. She never spoke of the Titanic disaster but wrote an account of her experiences for her sons in 1961, and died on 16th January 1963, aged 76 years. Her ashes were interred with Tyrell’s in Golders Green cemetery.
It is not known for how long Ellen Barber continued to work for Julia, but by 1939 she was employed as a dressmaker and lived in Wandsworth with a sister. Ellen died in London four months after Julia on 2nd May, 1963, aged 77 years.
At least three Titanic survivors are known to have settled in Harrow and the surrounding area in the years following the disaster.
Thirty-four-year-old Lawrence Beesley was a former science teacher at Dulwich College when he boarded Titanic in Southampton as another second-class passenger. He was travelling to America for a holiday and to visit his brother in Toronto, but fortunately for us he wrote one of the best first-hand survivor’s accounts of the disaster. The maiden voyage was Beesley’s first time on a ship, and such was the novelty that he recorded the details of daily shipboard life almost to the nth degree. His book, “The Loss of the S.S. Titanic,” remains one of the go-to resources for Titanic historians and researchers.
Suffice to say, Beesley’s account is far too detailed to go into here, however he was still awake in his cabin when the accident happened and was one of the first to go up on deck. He watched the crew prepare, fill, and lower lifeboats, and at about 1.30 a.m. Beesley was on the starboard side of the aft Boat Deck, overlooking Lifeboat 13 which was being filled on the deck below.
When the boat had been filled with over 60 people, a crewman at the boat’s tiller saw Beesley on the deck above and asked, “Any more ladies on your deck, sir?” Beesley told him that the women had been sent down half an hour before, so the crewman said, “Then you had better jump.”
He jumped down into the stern of the heavily loaded boat, moments before it was lowered; like Charles Williams at almost the exact same time on the adjacent side of the deck, Lawrence Beesley was saved because he too was in the right place at the right time, otherwise he would almost certainly have been lost with the ship.
Once safely aboard Carpathia the following morning, Beesley quickly noted how many familiar faces from the past four days were missing; the bright-eyed, handsome liftboy who had such a love for the sea but could never go outside and enjoy it, three unknown fellow passengers he met in his Southampton hotel, many of the steerage passengers he saw playing on Titanic’s aft decks, and all but two or three of those he saw in the library on Sunday afternoon were all gone.
As Carpathia made her way back to New York, Beesley and other survivors gathered in the ship’s saloon to form a committee to raise funds for the destitute passengers, Titanic’s surviving crew, and to reward Carpathia’s captain and crew. The day after rescue, he went down into the third-class areas where he recorded the names and addresses of steerage survivors, and upon learning that Titanic had received ice warnings before the accident, he wrote to The Times newspaper in London demanding safer ocean travel in the future, including lifeboat space for all, proper boat drills, and slower speeds in ice regions.
Beesley knew that in a disaster of such magnitude it was essential to record the details as quickly and accurately as possible, to forestall incorrect and hysterical accounts made by newspapers at such times, so he found odd corners in the saloon or on deck where he began to write his account of the sinking while his memories were still fresh. By the time they reached New York, the previous eight days felt like eight weeks and the first four days of the voyage had almost faded from his memory; so much had occurred since their Southampton departure that it felt like it happened the year before.
Once in New York, Beesley saw that he was not included on the list of survivors so he instantly telegrammed friends back in England before he continued his holiday as planned. Five weeks after he arrived in New York, Beesley was urged to write a book about Titanic by the editor of the Boston Herald, as it was known that several publications were being prepared by people who were not even aboard the ship and that they would be full of colourful but erroneous details. Beesley’s book, “The Loss of the S.S. Titanic,” was published in June 1912, and remains in print today.
Beesley had been widowed in 1906 following the birth of his first son in 1903, and after his return to England he remarried in 1919 and had three more sons; his eldest son from his first marriage later married the writer Dodie Smith, author of “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.”
Quite understandably Beesley had no desire to go on a ship again, but he kept items such as a square cardboard Purser’s receipt label and the baggage declaration form he had completed in Titanic’s second class library on the Sunday afternoon. Titanic was rarely mentioned by his family as he did not like to talk about it, but he kept an enormous scrapbook about the ship which his stepdaughter found fascinating. He was far more affected by the disaster than people realised; the unforgettable cries for help following the sinking and the terrible silence that followed left a marked impression on him for the rest of his life. Even on family seaside holidays he always sat with his back to the sea, and nothing could make him watch his family splash around in the water. Paradoxically, Beesley was a technical adviser on the classic 1958 film about the disaster, “A Night to Remember,” when it was shot at Pinewood studios, and even had to be asked to leave the set when the cameras were about to start filming.
In later years Beesley became the headmaster of Normandale preparatory school for boys in Bexhill, East Sussex, and his final years were spent living at probably 17 Carew Road in Northwood when he was the Principle of the Northwood School of Coaching in 1957. An on-line correspondent has also confirmed that Beesley taught his father at Merchant Taylors School in Northwood.
Unfortunately, Lawrence Beesley suffered from dementia during his final years and died of bronchopneumonia in Lincoln on 14th February, 1967 aged 89 years.
Frank Oliver Evans was born in Naphill, Buckinghamshire, on 15th May, 1884 and his sea-going career commenced just weeks after his fifteenth birthday when he joined the Royal Navy. He was discharged in September 1907 and worked for the Union Line and White Star when he was transferred from R.M.S. Olympic to Titanic, and he joined the ship in Southampton as an Able-Bodied seaman for only his second trip across the north Atlantic.
Evans was one of the crew who took part in Titanic’s one and only boat drill, held shortly before departure, but apart from that nothing is known of his time aboard the ship until the accident. Fortunately for us, Evans later testified at the United States Senate inquiry when he said he was on duty when the ship hit the iceberg. At first, he did not take any notice of the slight jar of the impact until a few minutes later when another crewman showed him a large lump of ice that had fallen on deck.
After seeing a tarpaulin hatch cover billowing up as water rushed in below, he was ordered to tell the other seamen to uncover the lifeboats ready for lowering and he went up on deck to prepare the port side boats. Evans helped to fill and lower seven boats, before he was ordered to man the heavily overloaded Lifeboat 10. He, three other crewmen, and approximately 60 passengers left Titanic only about half an hour before she sank, and they quickly met up with Fifth Officer Harold Lowe’s small flotilla of lifeboats.
From his position off Titanic’s port side, Evans saw the ship break apart between the third and fourth funnels, after which he thought the stern section remained afloat for about four or five minutes before it suddenly plunged forward and “went right up” perpendicular before finally sinking. Astonishingly, Evans thought the horrific cries for help was the sound of cheering from the occupants of other boats who were calling out to give encouragement to other survivors.
Frank Evans was one of the crewmen ordered by Officer Lowe to get into Boat 14 and row back to the wreckage to save swimmers, but by the time that he, Charles Williams and the others got back to the wreck site there were so many bodies that they could hardly count them. In the end Evans got to the point where he could not look over the side of the boat because it might break his nerves down.
Fortunately, by then daylight was breaking and Carpathia was on the scene so Boat 14 left the wreckage and began to make her way to the rescue ship. On the way, Evans saw five or six icebergs, some of a tremendous size, almost as high as Titanic herself. Upon arrival in New York, he was called to give evidence in the American inquiry on April 26th, after which he returned home to England.
Little is known of his life following the disaster; he never married and was still serving at sea in the 1920’s as a Quartermaster. Evans never liked to discuss Titanic as it upset him too much, but in later life he retired to London where he lived with one of his brothers at 148 Herlwyn Avenue in Ruislip. Frank Evans died in Hillingdon Hospital on 19th May 1952, aged 68 years and is buried in an unmarked grave in section J, plot 215 in Northwood Cemetery.
It is incredible to think that two of the men who rowed back in Lifeboat 14 to rescue swimmers from the water had Harrow connections. Both Frank Evans and Charles Williams are genuine local heroes.
Another survivor who ended their days in Harrow was Kate Florence Philips who was born in Kings Norton, Worcestershire on 1st January 1893. Kate was raised in the Worcester area and the 1911 census records her as an unmarried confectionary shop assistant. She worked for 38-year-old Henry Morley, a local businessman who owned his own sweet shop at 22 Foregate Street, Worcester, where he lived with his wife and 8-year-old daughter.
Kate and Henry began a clandestine affair and made plans for him to abandon his wife and daughter and elope to America where they hoped to settle in Los Angeles. Henry told family and friends that he was travelling to America to recuperate from a recent illness, however he and Kate Philips boarded Titanic in Southampton as second-class passengers under the assumed name of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall. Before they boarded the ship Henry bought Kate a platinum and sapphire necklace, the only item Kate saved from the disaster.
Unfortunately, practically nothing is known of their time aboard the ship as Kate did not leave an account of her experiences, however it very likely, if not a certainty, that she conceived her daughter Ellen aboard Titanic. It is thought that she escaped in Lifeboat 11, but Henry was lost in the tragedy. If his body was ever recovered it remained unidentified.
The destitute Kate sailed back to England on the White Star liner Celtic six weeks after the sinking and returned to her family home in Worcester in disgrace, being frowned upon after becoming pregnant by a married man. Kate gave birth to Ellen on 11th January 1913 at home in Worcester, but as was usual in such cases, Henry Morley’s name was not included on Ellen’s birth certificate. Such was the scandal, the entire family moved to Chesterfield to avoid attention.
Ellen was raised by her grandparents but Kate moved to London where she worked as a shoe and hat saleswoman, before she married café owner Frederick Watson in 1918. Kate and Frederick ran a café at 142 Pinner Road, Harrow, where Kate’s second daughter, Joan, was born in 1919. By 1922 Kate regained guardianship of Ellen, but sadly, according to family lore, mother and daughter did not get along. Ellen only learned her presumed father’s identity from aunts when she was still young, and Kate rarely discussed Titanic; Ellen would later tell her own grand-daughter that when she was told off for doing something wrong, Kate would say, “Don’t look at me with those eyes. That’s how your father looked at me when he put me in the lifeboat.” However, Kate’s grandson remembered her as being a lovely and kind, tiny-framed lady who was quietly spoken and quite shy.
Kate and Frederick managed the café for many years, and was where she lived for most of her life, but she was moved to Redhill House nursing home, part of Edgware General Hospital, where she died of a stoke on 27th March 1964 aged 71 years. Kate was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the garden of remembrance at Breakspear Crematorium, Ruislip, where a memorial plaque has recently been installed.
Sadly, Ellen died in 2005 without having her parentage confirmed, however a DNA test in 2020 finally conclusively established that Henry Morley was indeed her father.
Yet that is not all. Titanic’s designer, Thomas Andrews, lived in Rickmansworth for a while shortly after he was married, the son of surviving steward Alexander Littlejohn was educated at the Royal Masonic School for boys in Bushey at the time of the disaster, the parents of Ernest Tomlin, a third-class passenger and victim, were born in Pinner and Uxbridge, and the lifeboat scenes for the film, “A Night To Remember,” were filmed at Ruislip Lido.
Perhaps the last words on the disaster from Harrow residents should be left to Lawrence Beesley; “Think of it! For a few more boats, a few more planks of wood nailed together…there would be no mourning in thousands of homes…and these words need not have been written.”
Copyright © 2023 by Richard Douglas Edwards
Randy Bryan Bigham
Discretions and Indiscretions by Lady Duff Gordon (U.S. ed.)
Titanic Valour; The Life of Fifth Officer Harold Lowe – Inger Sheil, 2011
The sinking of the Titanic – Jay Henry Mowbray, 1912
The Ismay Line – Wilton J Oldham, 2018
The Sinking of the Titanic April 14 – 15, 1912 – John B. Thayer, 1940
The Titanic Diaries – Anthony Cunningham, 2005
White Star – Roy Anderson, 1964