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This video clip from 'What Happened After' looks at the life of Violet Jessup, a stewardess aboard the Titanic who would ultimately become the only woman to survive the sinking of the Titanic and her sister ship, the Britannic.
Violet Constance Jessop
Miss Violet Constance Jessop, 24, of 71 Shirley Road, Bedford Park, London was born in the pampas near Bahia Blanca, Argentina, the first child of Irish emigrants William and Katherine (Kelly) Jessop. Her father was a sheep farmer and she had five younger brothers and sisters. As a child Violet contracted Tuberculosis, Doctors gave her only months to live but she managed to overcome the disease.
When her father died in Mendoza the family returned to Britain, her mother found a job as a stewardess for the Royal Mail Line while Violet attended convent school. When her mother's health deteriorated Violet gave up school to became a stewardess herself, first with the Royal Mail Line, then later with White Star.
Violet didn't want to work for White Star because she didn't like the idea of sailing the North Atlantic run due to the weather conditions, and she had heard stories about the demanding passengers on that run.
Nevertheless Violet, who had grey-blue eyes, auburn hair and spoke with an Irish accent became a stewardess for the White Star Line working 17 hours a day, and being paid £2 10s. per month. She served on board the Olympic before joining the Titanic and was aboard the Olympic when she was in collision with HMS Hawke in 1911. Violet was happy on the Olympic and didn't really want to join the Titanic but was persuaded by her friends who thought it would be a 'wonderful experience'. So Violet, 'dressed in a new ankle-length brown suit' set out in a horse-drawn cab to join the brand new ship at her berth in Southampton.
Among the people she mentioned in her memoirs was Thomas Andrews and, like all other crew members it seems, she greatly admired him. Mr Andrews was the only person who seemed to heed the requests of the crew for improvements in the crew's quarters. The stewards and stewardesses were quite pleased with their quarters on Titanic. "Often during our rounds we came upon our beloved designer going about unobtrusively with a tired face but a satisfied air. He never failed to stop for a cheerful word, his only regret that we were 'getting further from home.' We all knew the love he had for that Irish home of his and suspected that he longed to get back to the peace of its atmosphere for a much-needed rest and to forget ship designing for awhile." Violet claims to have been friends with Scottish violinist Jock Hume, one of the few people working on the ship whom she identifies by his real name.
She said that it was her habit to take in the fresh air on deck before retiring for the night, and that "If the sun did fail to shine so brightly on the fourth day out, and if the little cold nip crept into the air as evening set in, it only served to emphasize the warmth and luxuriousness within."
In her memoirs she says that on Titanic's maiden voyage she brought a copy of a translated Hebrew prayer that an old Irish woman had given her. Upon settling down in her bunk she found that prayer and read it, then made her roommate (probably stewardess Elizabeth Leather) read it. It was a strangely worded prayer that Violet says was supposed to protect her against fire and water. Violet was a devout Catholic who carried a rosary in her apron and believed strongly in the power of prayer. Violet wrote that she was "comfortably drowsy" in her bunk, but not quite asleep when the collision occurred.
''I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship's officer ordered us into the boat (16) first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: 'Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.' And a bundle was dropped on to my lap.''
After eight hours in the boat Violet and the others were picked up by the Carpathia:
''I was still clutching the baby against my hard cork lifebelt I was wearing when a woman leaped at me and grabbed the baby, and rushed off with it, it appeared that she put it down on the deck of the Titanic while she went off to fetch something, and when she came back the baby had gone. I was too frozen and numb to think it strange that this woman had not stopped to say 'thank you'.
Violet served as a nurse with the British Red Cross during World War One and was on-board the Britannic when that vessel was sunk in the Aegean in 1916. Violet attributed her rescue from the sinking of the Britannic to her thick auburn hair:
''I leapt into the water but was sucked under the ship's keel which struck my head. I escaped, but years later when I went to my doctor because of a lot of headaches, he discovered I had once sustained a fracture of the skull!''
In her late 30's she had "a brief and disastrous" marriage but the name of the husband has long eluded all researchers*. They had no children.
Miss Jessop retired to a sixteenth-century thatched cottage in Great Ashfield, Suffolk. She filled her home with mementoes of her forty two years at sea and looked after laying hens and her garden. She was interviewed for Woman Magazine (19th July 1958) when the film A Night to Remember was released in 1958.
Miss Elizabeth Lavington, better known as Bessie, was born in Wells, Somerset, England on 31 January 1872 and she was baptised on 7 March that same year in St Cuthbert's Church in Wells.
She was the eldest surviving child of Richard Inward Lavington (1842-1884), a bailiff, and Leah Reynolds (1843-1930). Her father was originally from Hampshire and her mother from Middlesex and they were married in Winchester, Hampshire in 1866, living in Wells for a time before settling back in Hampshire.
Elizabeth had six known siblings: Leah Kate (1867-1871), Sarah Jane (1869-1871), Richard James (1873-1908), Fanny (1876-1973, later Mrs Frederick Richard Hunt), George (1878-1945) and Martha (1881-1896). Her two elder sisters died within weeks of each other in early 1871.
She first appears on the 1881 census when she and her family were living at the Ampfield White Horse Inn in Hursley, Winchester, Hampshire where her father was the publican. He later died on 9 February 1884 aged 42.
When the 1891 census was taken Bessie was listed at 3 Station Road (?) in Weeke, Hampshire and her mother was described as a tobacconist and Bessie as her assistant. Bessie was working as a barmaid by the time of the 1901 census when she was living in High Street, St Pancras, London. Sometime thereafter she went to sea and appears on the 1911 census as a visitor at 18 Milton Road, All Saints, Southampton, the same address as Titanic steward Charles McKay, and she was listed as a mercantile marine stewardess.
When Bessie signed on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912 she gave her address as Manor Farm, Headbourne Road, Winchester, the home address of her married sister Fanny Hunt and her family. Her previous ship had been the Olympic and a stewardess she received monthly wages of £3.
Miss Lavington was rescued (probably in lifeboat 11). She was not required to give evidence to either the British or American Inquiries into the disaster.
How long Bessie continued her career at sea is uncertain but it appears to have been the case that her trip aboard Titanic may have been her last working sea voyage. She continued to live in the Hampshire area and lost her mother Leah on 24 September 1930. By 1939 Bessie was living alone at 32 Stockbridge Road, Winchester and was described as an unmarried and retired housekeeper. Her last known address was at 39a Anstey Road, Alton, Hampshire.
Bessie Lavington died on 1 September 1949 aged 77. She was cremated in Woking on 6 September and she left an estate worth £128 6s 9d to her sister Fanny Hunt.
LAVINGTON--On Sept. 1st, Bessie, eldest daughter of the late Richard Inward and Leah Lavington, of Ampfield, aged 77. Cremation at Woking, Sept. 6th. - Hampshire Chronicle, 10 September 1949
Besides her sister Fanny, Bessie left just nieces and nephews. Sister Fanny Lavington died in Winchester on 28 December 1973 at the age of 97.
Shipwreck two- the RMS Titanic
As the Olympic was out of commission being repaired, Jessop was assigned to another ship in the companies fleet — the RMS Titanic. She was reluctant at first to work on the Titanic, but her friends convinced her the inaugural crossing would be a fantastic experience. Jessop, ‘dressed in a new ankle-length brown suit’ joined the brand new ship at her berth in Southampton.
Perhaps the most famous vessel of all time, the fate of the Titanic is well known. On April 14, 1912, en route from England to the USA, it struck an iceberg and sank into the sea. Of the 2224 number of people on board, over 1500 died.
Jessop was initially asleep when the Titanic struck the iceberg. She recalls the incident
‘’I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship’s officer ordered us into the boat (16) first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: ‘Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.’ And a bundle was dropped on to my lap.’’
Eight hours later, Jessop was rescued by the ship the Carpathia. She was still clutching the baby that had been thrown into her lap. A lady came past, took the baby and walked off. Jessop never got to speak to the woman, who she assumed was the mother of the baby, and was surprised to not even get a thank you from her.
Ironically, one of the ships that came to the aid of the Titanic was the Olympic. However, when it offered to take on rescued passengers, the offer was declined as asking “the survivors to board a virtual mirror-image of Titanic would cause them distress.”
The Titanic was lost to the sea, its remains only being discovered in 1985.
The RMS TITANIC’s five CHINESE Survivors
More than a century after the Titanic sank in April 1912 few new stories surface from the wreck. When documentary filmmaker Arthur Jones and his team started work on “The Six” — their film about the ship’s six Chinese survivors — in 2012, they kept expecting to find that someone else had already told the story.
- When RMS Titanic sank in April 1912, its 700 survivors were welcomed into New York with open arms…save for six Chinese men. This new documentary traces their remarkable untold story and the history of the anti-Chinese immigration laws which swept Europe and North America in the 20th century.
- When documentary filmmaker Arthur Jones and his team started work on “The Six” — their film about the ship’s six Chinese survivors — in 2012, they kept expecting to find that someone else had already told the story.
Yet the history of the Chinese passengers who escaped the Titanic has largely been forgotten, even in their homeland, as discriminatory U.S. immigration policies and a cultural imperative of self-effacement combined to obscure their tale.
“There is something that really is quite Chinese about that: Essentially, don’t raise your head too far above the parapet because you will get shot down,” Jones told Sixth Tone from his Shanghai studio. “I think that a confluence of these two factors means that out of several hundred people, they were the only ones who never told their stories.”
Their names vary on a number of manifests, but U.S. Immigration recorded them as Ah Lam (or Ali Lam), Len Lam, Bing Lee (or Lee Bing), Fang Lang, Chip Chang (or Chang Chip), Foo Cheang (or Choong Foo), and Ling Hee. They all traveled on a single ticket, number 1601 (£59, 9s, 11d).
ODDS OF SURVIVING
The odds were stacked against them: The average survival rate for men in third class was just one in six. But when disaster struck, being a poor sailor with limited English turned into an advantage for the eight Chinese men on board — and six of them survived.
- All eight Chinese men hailed from southern China. They had previously worked on cargo ships traveling between China and Europe, and they likely intended to migrate to the U.S. to start a new life.
- They boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England, on a single ticket listing eight names — a common practice for third-class passengers. Like other unmarried third-class men, they were housed in windowless cabins in the bow of the ship.
One of the young men who survived.
- When the ship struck an iceberg, the men living in the least desirable conditions saw the gravity of the situation with their own eyes. Freezing water flooded into their living quarters, while on the upper levels, the crew was still reassuring first- and second-class passengers that nothing was amiss.
TITANIC, CHINESE SURVIVORS
Relying on their own survival skills, the Chinese sailors would have reacted quickly to evacuate the ship Jones said — especially since they likely did not understand orders in English to stay in their rooms.
- Out of several hundred people, they were the only ones who never told their stories.
– Arthur Jones, documentary filmmaker
Five of the six Chinese survivors made it directly onto lifeboats, while the sixth, Fang Lang, was one of the few lucky people picked up by Lifeboat 14, the only vessel to return and search for survivors.
- The six men’s lucky escape is little-known in China, despite the popularity of the Titanic story in the nation: James Cameron’s 1997 feature film, “Titanic,” was released in China the following year and earned close to $44 million at the Chinese box office — and soon, the southwestern province of Sichuan will have its own life-size replica of the ship.
One theory to explain the film’s appeal in China first put forward in a commentary in Party newspaper People’s Daily, claims that Chinese audiences are particularly drawn to the romance between a poor man and a rich woman.
- Jones estimated that 90 percent of the Chinese people he spoke to about his project didn’t know there were Chinese passengers on the ship. The remainder had another impression entirely: “Oh yeah, I heard about those guys they were very dishonorable,” Jones recalled people saying.
Hundreds of American newspapers carried the rescue of the Chinese young men. The stories varied from just straight reporting to derogatory racial overtones.
- Newspaper accounts featured Chinese survivors. In a syndicated Associated Press April 19, 1912, story released in 100s of American newspapers the story read: “From the Countess of Rothes, now quarreled in a New York hotel, to the six Chinese Coolies who escaped hiding under the lifeboat seats, 705 survivors have been provided food and clothing…”
- A rumor that the men had disgraced themselves by sneaking onto a lifeboat meant for women and children persisted in China and abroad, and it was all that most people knew about the Chinese survivors.
- When Jones’ team reached out to the company building the life-size replica of the Titanic in Sichuan, employees were initially reluctant to help memorialize the six passengers, repeating the allegation.
The Titanic was a major story across America for weeks. Small town newspapers played it up with front-page coverage.
The rumor may have originated with Titanic owner J. Bruce Ismay, who ended up in a lifeboat with four of the Chinese men. Ismay faced questions about the legitimacy of his own place on the boat, as he had declared that the ship was unsinkable and neglected to provide enough lifeboats.
- At the post-incident inquiry in New York, Ismay claimed that the Chinese men were found stowed away under the seats after the lifeboat cleared the Titanic. But records show that the boat was guarded by an armed officer, with no opportunity for unauthorized passengers to slip aboard. Steven Schwankert, the lead researcher for “The Six,” told Sixth Tone that he believes Ismay’s insinuation was an attempt to “reinforce his own status as a gentleman.”
- If this was the case, Ismay’s attempt to save his own reputation might have served to sully those of the six Chinese men for over a century. The team behind “The Six” hopes that when their film airs on Chinese television in 2018, it will finally put an end to the doubt that was unfairly cast over the men’s characters.
Visitors watch the RMS Titanic sailing from England.
Jones speculated that the men could have simply been squatting down between the seats. “That would make complete sense if you know anything about China or Chinese laborers,” he said, as it is common to see Chinese workers resting in a squatting position.
- In fact, basic knowledge of China is an important element that Jones and his Shanghai-based team have brought to their research. Others who have tried to trace the men’s plight hit a stumbling block when they were unable to connect the individuals’ Chinese names with the misspelled transliterations that turned up in American and British records.
As Jones and a dozen researchers searched for descendants of the six men, they began to recognize a pattern: The survivors had not told relatives born outside of China about their experience.
- Fang’s story is particularly harrowing: He was found floating on a door to which he had tied himself. After he was pulled — freezing — from the wreckage, he tirelessly rowed the lifeboat to safety and was praised for his efforts, according to accounts that Jones and his team collected. The 1997 film recreated Fang’s rescue, but the scene was not included in the final cut. He never said a word to his son, Tom Fong — who appears in “The Six.”
SIX MEN SURVIVE
The six men survived the sinking of the Titanic only to arrive in the U.S. during the Chinese Exclusion Act. The act, which stretched from 1882 to 1943, prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers to the States and cast Chinese workers as scapegoats for the nation’s economic woes.
- While other passengers were welcomed in New York and given the opportunity to recount their stories to the press, the six Chinese survivors only made it as far as Ellis Island before being deported within 24 hours and disappearing from the record — though some, like Fang, eventually made their way back to North America.
“One of the side effects of the way that they were treated was that they were always in fear of being found out, being deported,” said Jones. “It just appears that Fang Lang never felt safe enough to tell his story.”
Documentary highlights Chinese Titanic survivors barred from U.S., erased from history
A film about the Titanic's little-known Chinese survivors, scheduled to premiere Friday in China, reveals the rampant anti-Asian attitudes of the time. And experts say that a century later, the survivors' story continues to be chillingly relevant.
Executive-produced by "Titanic" director James Cameron, the documentary, titled "The Six," revolves around the six passengers who were barred entry into the U.S. after the tragedy on April 15, 1912, and were smeared in the press because they survived.
Steven Schwankert, the film's lead researcher, said the message remains relevant.
"I wish that it were not quite so timely. The horrendous events that we saw in Atlanta really just highlight that the issues that six Chinese passengers on the Titanic faced over 100 years ago are still issues in the United States today," Schwankert said.
"It does highlight that these are, these are not new problems," he said. "I wish I could say that we're so wise now and those things are fixed. But the same kind of misunderstanding and, unfortunately, the same kind of hostility still exists today."
The documentary, which hits theaters the day after the 109th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, delves into the experiences of passengers Lee Bing, Fang Lang, Chang Chip, Ling Hee, Ah Lam and Chung Foo.
While some press reports painted the six survivors as stowaways, they were actually professional mariners who were headed to their next jobs, Schwankert said.
"They paid a fare for third-class transport like anyone else, and frankly, third class on the Titanic was probably some of the nicest accommodations on a ship that they had ever encountered," he said.
While their presence was barely noted during the trip, their survival led to scrutiny from fellow passengers and subsequently the press, Schwankert said. Not only were they inaccurately described as stowaways they were also accused of wedging themselves under the seats and disguising themselves in women's clothing, among other false stories, he said.
In many ways, he said, the Chinese passengers were targets of grief and anger because they survived.
"Did they act in a dishonorable way above and beyond just wanting to survive? The evidence to us was just absolutely clear that they did not," he said. "Nobody, then or now, should have to apologize for surviving. You survived. You made it through a very imperfect situation. You didn't cause anyone's death."
Many of the accounts about the Chinese mariners came from grieving survivors who had just experienced loss, as well as their own pain and trauma, Schwankert said. Many were women who had lost husbands or older sons, and their descriptions were often very skewed, he said. The Chinese survivors ended up being scapegoats.
"If they have a legitimate opportunity to get into a lifeboat seat, there was no reason not to do that. There was no reason to choose death for death's sake and not survive, but there was definitely a feeling after it was all over that if a man survived, he automatically took the place of a woman or a child, and that just simply isn't the case," Schwankert said.
When the Carpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic's passengers, reached the U.S., the six men were refused entry and spent the night aboard the vessel.
Schwankert said anti-Chinese discrimination at the time was codified and legalized. The Chinese passengers were treated in line with the attitudes the U.S. held toward the Chinese under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which initially put a 10-year moratorium on immigration of Chinese laborers. The discriminatory policy was extended several times through the Geary Act and other restrictions. It remained in effect until 1943, when China became a U.S. ally in World War II.
Nancy Wang Yuen, an associate professor of sociology at Biola University in La Mirada, California, said the passengers' vilification tracked with prevailing views of Asian men at the time. They were often painted in the media as "asexual and emasculated," in part because of the Page Act, which barred Asian women from immigrating to the U.S., and because of anti-miscegenation laws that prevented them from marrying outside their race.
"The few articles that mentioned the Chinese survivors characterized them as inhumans and with suspicion, reflective of the Chinese Exclusion Act that was in effect at the time," she said.
Schwankert said that although their post-Titanic treatment was undoubtedly difficult to confront, the mariners are likely to have dealt with far worse later because they worked in the West during a time of rampant racism and discrimination.
"The reality is finding their way through, whether it was Canadian or American or English society in the early part of the 20th century — that was far, far more difficult than making it into a lifeboat and surviving," he said.
The film fleshes out some details of their lives, but still not much is known about them. Their stories were quickly erased from the media and history books, in stark contrast to the well-documented lives of many of the wealthier white survivors, a reflection of how the Chinese passengers were viewed as dismissible, Yuen said.
"The erasure of Chinese survivors compared to the mythical celebration of white Titanic survivors sheds light on how Asians have often been treated in the United States: as casualties of disasters," Yuen said.
The film provided an opportunity to return some dignity and honor to the Chinese passengers, Schwankert said.
"In a few of the cases, we're talking about people whom even we now know very little," he said. "We have a name that might have been a nickname but probably wasn't their given name. It may not have ever shown up on a passport or on an immigration document. But that doesn't mean that they don't deserve dignity. It doesn't mean they don't deserve basic respect as human beings."
Violet Jessop, Miss. Unsinkable
Nicknamed “Miss. Unsinkable” Violet Jessop was an Irish-Argentine stewardess, nurse and memoirist. She survived 3 tragedies occurring on the White Star Line, including the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Her parents were Irish immigrants who moved to Argentina where Violet was born. She had 8 siblings, and the family were devout Catholics. Violet cheated death from an early age, after beating an illness that made doctors give her weeks to live. Even worse, 6 of her 8 siblings died in childhood. After her father’s death, her mother became a stewardess and the family moved to Britain. Violet followed in her mother footsteps and became a stewardess as well. She was at first considered too young and beautiful to be a stewardess. They thought she would distract crew and passengers alike, but Violet stopped wearing makeup and wore unfashionable clothes. Then, shipping lines hired her. She did, however, receive at least 3 marriage proposals while working aboard ships.
Joining the White Star Line
Violet didn’t want to join the White Star Line at first. The weather and tales of demanding passengers pushed her away from joining. However, Violet did sign onto White Star eventually, becoming a stewardess. She claimed to have liked the Americans aboard Olympic, the White Star Line ship she joined in the early 1910s, as they treated her well.
Violet was working on Olympic when the ship collided with the Hawke, damaging the ship severely. This incident delayed Titanic’s construction. This was the first White Star Line accident that involved Violet.
The event hurt no one and the injured ship hobbled to the coast. The Hawke was a warship, but both ships became gravely damaged. Most of Olympic’s disfigurement occurred below the waterline. This incident required extensive repair on both of them. It was one of the first signs of impending tragedy in the White Star Line, but it was a sign ignored.
Photos of the extensive damage that occurred both ships
Violet joins Titanic
Violet next signed onto Titanic. Once aboard, Violet recalled how new the Titanic smelt compared to the year old Olympic. Like many other crew members on Titanic, Violet had previously worked on Olympic. She was convinced by family and friends to join onto the liner’s crew. Violet greatly admired Titanic’s builder, Thomas Andrews. She remembers Andrews always being bright and friendly, no matter how tired he was. All seemed well on the voyage until April 14th, 1912.
On April 14 th , Violet was resting in her bed when Titanic hit the iceberg. She was not asleep, but much rather drowsy and comfortably resting in a trace like state. Violet, once ordered up to deck, began to help passengers into lifeboats. However, she did remember the sense of calm that most people in the ship felt right after the collision. Violet was meant to act as example for non-English speaking passengers. Violet behaved well, although it was extremely cold that night. She recalls it as,
“Little wisps of mist like tiny fairies wafted gently inboard from the sea and made my face clammy.”
Violet Jessop stayed aboard until given a baby and told to watch over the child. Then ordered to enter a lifeboat, Violet boarded lifeboat number 16. Lifeboat 16 is not as memorable as other lifeboat stories, but passenger Carla Andersen remembers that the boat was quite unsteady. After floating on the ocean for hours, rescue arrived. The Carpathia rescued Violet and she brought the baby aboard. While on Carpathia, the child’s mother then grabbed the baby and ran off. Violet’s testimony of the baby is the only information we have on the child. She did not tell anyone of the baby until 1970.
Violet was training to be a nurse before she signed on with Britannic. Britannic, which was safer than the Titanic, was initially supposed to be a commercial liner. However, when WW1 started, it never was. No one quite knows why Britannic sank, but it is most believed to have been a German mine. After the collision, everyone on board had an instant reaction. Violet recalled this was very different from the sinking of the Titanic.
She was sure to remember her toothbrush. Losing it the last time on Titanic upset her greatly. While on boat deck, Violet entered into an nearly empty lifeboat and it lowered quickly. However, Britannic’s crew lowered lifeboats too early, and the ship’s stern rose quickly. The propellers kept spinning, dicing up everything from men to lifeboats to luggage into bloody chunks of meat and wood. The propeller hit Violet’s head when the suction pulled her boat into the horrifying scene. She claimed it was her heavy auburn hair that saved her. She suffered a head injury, but survived the sinking of the Britannic. However, due to the injury, she lost a lot of hair and wore a reddish wig in her later years.
The Britannic on The Ocean
Violet Jessop was nearly completely bald by the time she was first interviewed in 1970. The incident also caused the nurse her terrible headaches that she suffered from throughout the rest of her life.
Violet Jessop’s incredible stories of surviving shipwrecks earned her the nickname Miss. Unsinkable. Violet died in 1971 due to heart failure after settling in Suffolk. The nurse lived a quiet life after serving on a multitude of ships after the sinking of the Britannic. She worked for such a long time, although she did have some fears about the size of the liners. She has said, “I did not like big ships… I was secretly afraid.”
Thomas Arthur Whiteley
Thomas Arthur Whiteley was born in Withington, Manchester on 3rd April 1894 the son of Arthur Whiteley and Elizabeth Ross 1 .
Little is known about his early life but as a young man he is believed to have travelled widely and in 1911 it is thought he was in Italy.
He gave his address in 1912 as 29 St. John's Park, Highgate, London. Prior to joining the Titanic he had previously served on her sister ship the Olympic . 1
Whiteley's signature in the Titanic crew sign-on sheets
Whiteley worked as a steward in the First Class dining saloon. In an uncorroborated account, he recalled a dinner party attended by Captain Smith, Dr O'Loughlin and J. Bruce Ismay amongst others: at one point ‘Dr. O’Loughlin rose and lifting his glass, exclaimed: ‘let us drink to the mighty Titanic.’ With cries of approval, everybody stood up and drank the toast.’
On the night of April 14th 1912 Whiteley claimed he was left on board after the last lifeboats had been launched but as the ship went down he jumped into the water and injured his leg on wreckage floating in the water. After five hours of swimming, he got aboard a lifeboat. He later told how someone on board hit him with an oar as he tried to get near but eventually he was able to haul himself aboard. 2
Whiteley's own experience was a hard one.
"I floated on my life preserver for several hours," he said. "When the sun came up I saw the collapsible raft in the distance, just black with men.
They were all standing up. Mr. Lightoller, the second officer, was one of them.
It's 31 lives against yours,' he said, 'you can't come aboard. There's no room.'
"I pleaded with him in vain, and then, I confess, I prayed that somebody might die so I could take his place. I was only human. And then someone did die and let me aboard."
Stevens Point Journal - 27th April 1912
In a 1914 newspaper report it was recorded that he had swallowed so much water that his stomach had to be removed and replaced.
After the Carpathia docked in New York, Whiteley was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital to recover from injuries he sustained in the sinking, including bruises and a fractured leg.
Whiteley at St. Vincent’s Hospital
Left (Courtesy of Senan Molony, Ireland)
Right with behind, left to right John William Thompson, William McIntyre, Emilio Pallas y Castillo (Courtesy of Gunter Babler, Switzerland)
It was while convalescing in New York that Whiteley gave an interview, widely syndicated, in which he alleged that the Titanic's officers had ignored numerous ice warnings. He suggested that while on the lifeboat he had helped Phillips the radio operator to keep warm, and that Phillips had told him of the repeated ice warnings. Despite these claims, Whiteley was not called as a witness at either the American or British enquiries.
After recovering sufficiently to leave hospital Thomas Whiteley remained in the United States having made contact with his uncle and namesake Thomas Whiteley who had moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1910 where he ran a Turkish Baths establishment. In an unpublished memoir, possibly intended as the basis for a film script, Whiteley implies that it had been his intention to jump ship in New York and remain in the United States.
For the week commencing 27th May 1912, he was appearing at the Merrimack Theatre in Lowell Massachusetts giving his account of the sinking.
. although inexperienced in presenting such a talk before the public, Whiteley recites his story in a decidedly interesting manner. To repeat it at this time would tend to make the story less entertaining to those who intend visiting the theatre during the remaining performances. Be it said, however, that his story is first hand and contains many features not touched on by the press either at the time of the terrible catastrophe or since then.
Sometime after this he returned to England for in 1914 he filed a law suit against the White Star Line in which he claimed negligent steering and that Titanic had been unseaworthy. The case was scheduled for March 1914 but it appears never to have come to court. It was recorded at the time that he was working as a music hall artist.
What happened to Whiteley after this date remains a mystery but there are tantalizing glimpses of an adventurous and creative life.
There is a suggestion that he may have served in some capacity in the Royal Flying Corps during world war one and possibly been injured in the face or throat around this time.
The next reference is to a steward “Thos Whitely” on the Celtic in 1924. On the voyage, from Liverpool to New York, the steward deserted and therefore received no pay. Could Thomas Whiteley have been working a free passage to America to start a new life?
Again the trail goes cold but around this time the name “Tom Whitely” and other variations begin to appear in press publicity and playbills for some notable stage shows including Sky High (1925), The Merry World (1926) and The Nightingale (1927).
The Messrs. Shubert, in association with Eugene Howard, will present Willie Howard in a new musical production entitled "Sky High" at Poli's theater this evening for an engagement of one week preparatory to its subsequent metropolitan premiere in New York . in the cast are Ruth Welch, Vannessi Florenz Ames, James Liddy, Ann Milburn, Shadow & McNeil, Violet Englefield, Edward Douglass, Marcella Swanson, Emily Miles, Thomas Whitely, Stella Shiel and a large and talented chorus of more than 50 girls.
The Washington Post 22nd Feb 1925
Three years later Whiteley had become involved in the film business but was also in trouble, finding himself on a morals charge in Los Angeles.
WAR HERO WHOM DANCER ACCUSED PUT ONPROBATION
Thomas Whiteley,34-year-old writer, aviator and World Ward hero, yesterday was placed by Judge Scott on probation for one year on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of Dorothy Frederick, 17-year-old-dancer.
Whiteley, engaged in motion-picture work, is asserted to have given the girl a drink when she interviewed him in regard to prospective employment in pictures. There was no other charge against the man, and Judge Scott granted probation on the strength of Whiteley's excellent record as reported by the probation office.
Whiteley, who during his career in connection with the theater traveled over the greater part of the world, was decorated three times for bravery during the World War.
Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1928.
1930 publicity for the film Journey’s End described how one of the players, “Tom Whitely” had served in the British air force during World War One and had been the "last survivor" to leave the Titanic.
SUNNY CALIFORNIA UNKIND TO ARMY
. to Thomas Whiteley the cold meant little. When the Titanic went down he was the last living survivor taken off, and for seven and a half hours he floated in water of sub-zero temperature, wearing a lifebelt and clinging to pieces of wreckage.
The Ogden Standard Examiner – 3 July 1930
Journey’s End was directed by James Whale who went on to direct Frankenstein with Boris Karloff. The translation to the screen of the play by RC Sherriff was extremely well received at the time although like many early talkies seems has dated considerably.
Left: New York Times - 13th April 1930 right: Kinematograph Weekly - 10th April 1930
In the picture, Whiteley plays the Company Sergeant Major in a brief scene.
According to the 1930 census, in April 1930, he was living at 66 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, his occupation being Moving Picture Actor.
He seems also to have appeared in the short film Ship Mates (1929) with Lupino Lane, and, his last role, as the "Second Drayman" in the Janet Gaynor vehicle Merely Mary Ann (1931). He is also credited as having written scenarios for Won by a Neck (1930), directed by Fatty Arbuckle (as Will B. Goodrich) and Pleasure (1931).
ON THE CINEMA HORIZON
An unusual fellow is Tom Whitely, who has a role in the Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell film "Merely Mary Ann." It is said that he was one of the last men rescued from the Titanic when it sank some nineteen years ago. He also flirted with death as a member of the British air forces during the war.
New York Times - 28th June 1931
Tom Whiteley, supporting Jane Gaynor and Charles Farrell in "Merely Mary Ann" was the last man rescued from the Titanic when it sank after hitting an iceberg 19 years ago. He later had hair-raising experience in the British air forces during the war.
The Oil City Derrick - 13th July 1931
In 1932, Thomas Whiteley returned to England. About two years later he married Isabel Florence Agnes Green.
At the time of his marriage, Thomas Whiteley, former steward, actor and writer was working as a "speciality salesman" with a trading stamp company, the couple went on to have two daughters and lived in Streatham, South London.
In December 1936 Thomas Whiteley, “Film Director” travelled San Juan, Puerto Rico. The purpose of the trip is not clear but a clue emerges in newspaper reports from March 1937 in which he is again mentioned in connection with a notable shipwreck however this time it is not the Titanic but the Lusitania!
In 1935, an expedition had located the wreck of the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. Now the celebrated film producer and adventurer John D. Craig (1903-1997) and his deep-diving colleague Gene Nohl, planned to film the wreck and salvage bullion they supposed lay within the wreck. For the filming effort Craig would employ “co-director and film technician” Thomas Whiteley.
It is hard to know what “co-director and film technician.” really meant in practice because the expedition to the Lusitania never took place.
The Munich Conference in 1938, forerunner of World War II, put a final halt to the Lusitania salvage operation.
"Danger Is My Business" by John D. Craig, CORONET magazine - January 1946
The technical limitations of the diving suit Craig and Nohl had developed was another of the stated reasons. Strangely, in view of the previous publicity, Craig seems never to have mentioned Whiteley in any other context so the extent and nature of their relationship is a cause for some speculation. What is known is that in 1938 Craig was filming Spanish treasure wrecks off Puerto Rico and it is possible that the 1937 trip was some form of reconnaissance.
What Thomas Whiteley did after this date is unknown but a record from later in 1937 gives his occupation as “Cast Director” in a film studio. Which studio and what films remain to be discovered.
On 3rd September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland. With them was Royal Air Force Warrant Officer 23247 Thomas Arthur Whiteley. As the allies progressed up the Adriatic coast in August and September 1944 Whiteley went with them but on 11th October 1944, in circumstances that remain a mystery, Thomas Whiteley died, en route for a hospital apparently as the result of cardiac problems. He was only 50 years old. Today Thomas Arthur Whiteley's simple headstone stands amongst 1,000 other allied graves at the Ancona War Cemetery, Tavernelle, Italy.
Stewardesses of the Titanic
- LB-# or A-D - Survivor on Lifeboat 1-16 or Collapsible Lifeboat A-D
- P-BNR - Perished, Body Not Recovered or Body Not Identified
- MB – CS Mackay-Bennett (bodies 1–306)
- M – CS Minia (bodies 307–323)
- MM – CGS Montmagny (bodies 326–329)
- A – SS Algerine (body 330)
- O – RMS Oceanic (bodies 331–333)
- I – SS Ilford (body 334)
- OT – SS Ottawa (body 335)
Numbers 324 and 325 were unused, and the six bodies buried at sea by the Carpathia also went unnumbered. Several recovered bodies were unidentifiable and thus not all numbers are matched with a person.
Upon recovery, the bodies of 209 identified and unidentified victims of the sinking were brought to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Of those, 121 were taken to the non-denominational Fairview Lawn Cemetery, 59 were repatriated, 19 were buried in the Roman Catholic Mount Olivet Cemetery, and 10 were taken to the Jewish Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. The bodies of the remaining recovered victims were either delivered to family members or buried at sea.
Sarah Agnes Stap
Miss Sarah Agnes Stap was born at sea off the coast in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean on 1 August 1864.
She was the daughter of Henry Stap (b. circa 1829), a native of Skipsea near Bridlington in east Yorkshire, and his wife Stella, née Cawkwell (b. 14 October 1835), a native of Bermondsey, London. The couple were married in Mile End, London on 31 August 1861 and Henry was then described as a master mariner. Sarah was born on board one of the vessels he commanded and he reportedly held several commands in the White Star and Leyland Lines.
Sarah was one of five children, her siblings being: Stella (1862-1943, later Mrs Edward Wood Tagg), Edith Mary (1868-1953), Henry (1871-1933) and William Cawkwell (1875-1923). Her sister Stella was also born at sea whilst her sister Edith was born in London. Both of her brothers were born in Essex, her brother Henry later working as teacher where he was a master at Oake's Institute in Liverpool for twenty-five years.
Sarah first appears on the 1871 census when she and her family are living at Willesly Road, Wanstead, Essex. Aged 16 and without profession by the time of the 1881 census, Sarah and her family were by now living at 3 St Philips' Terrace, Kensington, London. The whole family later shifted northward and settled in Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire, being listed there at 48 Church Street on the 1891 and 1901 censuses. Sarah would be absent from the latter, perhaps at sea. Her mother died in 1903 aged 67 and Sarah, her widowed father and several siblings appear on the 1911 census living at 41 Bidston Avenue, Birkenhead.
Sarah Stap had been on the maiden voyage of the Baltic and Adriatic and also served on the Celtic, and most recently the Olympic, then as a nurse.
When she signed-on to the Titanic on 9 April 1912 Miss Stap gave her age as 31 and address as 41 Bidston Avenue, Cloughton, Birkenhead. She signed on as a first-class stewardess although according to her great-nephew Gordon Stap, she was not a stewardess but a ship's matron. In her position, she received monthly wages of £3, 10s.
Miss Stap later recalled that on the night of the sinking she was in bed at the time of impact and was awoken by a "slight bump" but took little heed, claiming she had become accustomed to "a ship's bumping before" and she lay in bed for a further three quarters of an hour before rising. When she reached the boat deck the lifeboats had already been slung out. Sarah claimed that she owed her survival to a young cabin boy beside her who, when she was told to get into a lifeboat by the crew member in charge of that lifeboat, that there was room for her, she told the young cabin boy that as she was into her thirties and had had her life, he should take her spot. The cabin boy's answer was to simply pick her up, and put her in the lifeboat, which she described as the last-but-one (some historians place her in lifeboat 11). She later recalled the crowded conditions in her lifeboat (over 70 persons) and the bitter cold of the night, the ordeal lasting for over six hours:
"We could see the lights of the ship slowly disappear beneath the waves one by one, until there remained alone the masthead light. Then suddenly the great ship gave a lurch and disappeared gracefully out of sight. All this time the people on board were shrieking in their death agonies, and the passengers in the boats were under the impression that it was the people in the other boats cheering. Only the members of the crew knew what it was, and we dare not say. After the ship had gone down an explosion rent the air, and the shrieks of the dying were positively awful." - 1912 interview, reprinted Birkenhead News, 3 April 1937
Sarah returned to the sea and maintained her residence at 41 Bidston Avenue for a time she lost her father on 2 March 1914 when he died aged 85, later being buried in Rake Lane Cemetery in Liscard, Cheshire. After this loss Sarah moved to Egremont in Wallasey where she spent a few brief years. Her 1924 crew card describes her as standing at 5' 3" and with brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion.
By August 1917 Miss Stap was serving as a stewardess aboard the Justicia, another ship that eventually met a brutal demise. Towards the close of the decade, she was again working as a stewardess aboard the Olympic, later transferring to the Baltic and alternating between both ships between 1919 and 1921. On 25 August 1920, she was working aboard the Olympic when that ship entered New York three of her fellow stewardesses at the time were Mabel Bennett, Elizabeth Leather and Violet Jessop.
She ultimately transferred to the new flagship Majestic sometime around 1922 and where she would spend the rest of her career. During her tenure aboard the Majestic, she was presented to King George V, Queen Mary and the Duke of Connaught, who shook her hand and congratulated her on her bravery during the Titanic disaster. Her last known recorded voyage aboard Majestic was in September 1930 when she was described as standing at 5' 2", weighing 108 lbs and aged 48 (she was in fact 66 years of age).
Sarah Stap moved from Egremont, Wallasey back to Birkenhead where she spent the last two decades of her life. Her last few years were spent living with her two sisters at 414 Park Road North and she died there in her sleep aged 72 on 27 March 1937. She was buried on 1 April 1937 in Rake Lane Cemetery following a service at the same venue.