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Lambeth and the Titanic

It’s 100 years to the day since the Titanic disaster. Hours after the unsinkable Titanic sank, the Cunard liner Carpathia had arrived on the scene and picked up the 710 survivors from the inadequate number of lifeboats provided by the White Star Line (20, with a capacity of 1,178 people). 1,514 people had perished.

This appeared in the next edition of the Streatham News to be published.

It refers to a Mr J D Hahn, of Streatham, who was thought to be a victim of the disaster. This presents something of a mystery, as there is no J D Hahn recorded as passenger or crew. Looking through subsequent editions of the paper, the story of Mr Hahn doesn’t appear to have been followed up.

What’s certain is that a number of people died who had a connection with the area we now know as the London Borough of Lambeth.

Victims

A definite victim from Streatham, which in 1912 was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth, was Mr Richard William Smith, a 57-year-old widowed tea broker (for Reinach-Nephews and Co) residing at 53 Stanthorpe Road. He had embarked from Southampton on 10 April, occupying first class cabin A-19. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

It is recorded that the Titanic’s musicians played their instruments on deck to help keep passengers calm as the lifeboats were being swung out and the ship listed in the water, and it is said they played the hymn ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ as the Titanic sank and they died with it. Two of that band were Lambeth residents. Percy Cornelius Taylor, aged 32, was a cellist. He lived at 9 Fentiman Road, Oval. Georges Alexandre Krins, a 23-year-old Paris-born violinist, lived at 10 Villa Road, Brixton. Their bodies, if recovered, were never identified.

Also living in Brixton was W H Egg, 34, a Third Class steward, of 1a Trent Road, off Brixton Hill. He had previously served on the White Star liner Majestic. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

At 8 Lynton Mansions, Kennington Road, lived Rome-born Roberto Vioni, 18, a Waiter working in the panelled splendour of the A La Carte restaurant (located between the third and fourth funnel on B-Deck, managed by Signor Gatti). The Titanic was Roberto’s first ship. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

27 Tenison Street, Waterloo, was a lodging house which  20-year-old Jean Monoros, a Spaniard, gave as his address. He worked as an Assistant Waiter in the A La Carte restaurant, the Titanic being his first ship. His body was recovered by the Cable Ship Mackay-Bennett, which was chartered by the White Star Line to search for the dead. He was buried at sea on 21 April.

At 12 Mead Street, Kennington, lived 18-year-old Maurice Emile Victor Debreucq, Assistant Waiter in the A La Carte restaurant. His body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett. He is buried in Mount Olivet cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, far from his native France.

At 22 Albert Mansions, South Lambeth Road, lived 28-year-old Sauce Cook (in the A La Carte restaurant) George Baptiste Bietrix. The Titanic was his first ship. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

25-year-old Adrien Finnin Chaboisson, Roast Cook in the A La Carte restaurant, lived at 17 Kennington Park Gardens. The Titanic was his first ship. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

Survivors

Harry Senior, aged 31, a stoker, of 17 South Road, Clapham Park, survived the sinking. He gave an account of his experiences to the New York Times on 19 April:

“I was in my bunk when I felt a bump. One man said. ‘Hello, she has been struck.’ I went on deck and saw a great pile of ice on the well deck below the forecastle, but we all thought the ship would last some time, and we went back to our bunks. Then one of the firemen came running down and yelled, ‘All muster for the lifeboats!’ I ran on deck, and the Captain [E J Smith] said:

” ‘All firemen keep down on the well deck. If a man comes up I’ll shoot him.’

“Then I saw the first boat lowered. Thirteen people were on board, eleven men and two women. Three were millionaires and one was [White Star chairman, J Bruce] Ismay.”

The fact of Ismay entering the first lifeboat, putting himself before his passengers, would lead to him being reviled for the rest of his life, labelled as ‘The Coward of the Titanic’. He died, disgraced, in 1937, the same year as Harry Senior.

Newlyweds Daniel and Mary Marvin (nee Farquarson) gave their last address in London as 58 Acre Lane, Brixton. They were both 18, from wealthy families and First Class passengers. Daniel died in the sinking, after helping his wife into boat 10, saying “It’s alright, little girl. You go. I will stay.” Mary would later remarry and lived until 1975.

The last Lambeth-connected survivor I know of was also the last survivor to be rescued from the water. Thomas Whiteley was an 18-year-old Saloon Steward. On 27 April he told the Stevens Point Journal:

“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.”

Whiteley, from a stage family, would later take to the boards in the USA giving talks about the Titanic disaster and how he survived it. In World War One he served in the Royal Flying Corps. In the twenties he was back in America appearing in musical comedies and later in several Hollywood films.  In 1932 he returned to the UK, married and lived with his wife Isabel and their two daughters in Streatham. At the outbreak of World War Two he rejoined the RAF, 87th Squadron, and served as a Warrant Officer until his sudden death in 1944, aged 50. He is buried in the Ancona War Cemetery in Italy.

London Nautical School, situated in Stamford Street in Lambeth, between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges, was founded in 1915, as a consequence of the official report by the Board of Trade into the loss of RMS Titanic. The school is a selective boys’ secondary, with an ethos aiming “to educate and prepare pupils to meet the needs of society either at sea or in any other occupation where responsibility, attention to duty and regard for others are valued equally with academic and practical skills.”

Postscript

This poem, The Wreck of the Titanic, appeared in the Streatham News of 20 April 1912, penned by someone named Honor Drury. For context, there was much scorn being poured on the Suffragette movement in the Streatham News at the time, and it was obviously hard to resist having a swipe at the Suffragettes in the middle of lamenting a huge maritime disaster.

The Titanic has sunk in her glory

With over a thousand souls,

The greatest liner in story –

And o’er her the broad ocean rolls!

The broad ocean rolls on for ever

While England sorrows aghast.

For her brave ones returning never

Who stayed with the wreck till the last.

For the rule of the sea prevailing

The women and children they save,

While in chivalry ever unfailing

The men found a watery grave.

Ye mothers and wives of England,

Who for women’s rights now pray,

Think on the wrecked Titanic –

Ye had your rights that day!

Rights ye have held through the ages,

Rights which still hold sway,

Though fiercely the Suffragette rages,

Think, will ye throw these away?

But the children of earth will struggle,

And labour and toil away,

While their newest and proudest achievement

Nature destroys in a day!

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