A steerage Titanic survivor confronted his own impostor in 1912.
Irish passenger Daniel Buckley told an extraordinary story of survival to the American Inquiry that year, in which his own identity was blessedly blurred by a blanket –
‘I went into the boat. Then two officers came along and said all of the men could come out…
‘The men that were in the boat at first fought, and would not get out, but the officers drew their revolvers, and fired shots over our heads, and then the men got out.
‘I was crying. There was a woman in the boat, and she had thrown her shawl over me, and she told me to stay in there. I believe she was Mrs. Astor. Then they did not see me, and the boat was lowered down into the water, and we rowed away out from the steamer.’
If Buckley had womanhood thrust upon him, he could hardly have expected someone to have stolen his own identity in turn when he pitched up at the offices of the relief fund in New York, seeking financial support.
A man posing as ‘Daniel Buckley’ was already receiving money from the well of charitable contributions. The real Buckley must have been staggered – yet he still had his Titanic ticket, and could therefore prove that he was the true Daniel Buckley on the ship’s manifest.
‘I wanted to come over here to make some money,’ Buckley had freely told the American Inquiry at the beginning of his evidence, explaining his reason for leaving Ireland. But an altogether more base venality appeared to hade motivated his impersonator, who reached the relief committee before he did.
When Buckley’s maiden voyage materials now convinced the administrators that he was the authentic claimant, a confrontation was staged with the con artist.
The two Danny Buckleys were brought face to face... and the scene can best be imagined, since it is regrettably not well described. The basic story is told in the Burlington Free Press and Times of July 10, 1913, below, described by an officer of the relief committee:
MYSTERY TALE OF ILL-FATED TITANIC
Too Many Buckleys on Lost Ship – One Claimant Proves an Imbecile.
NEW YORK, July 7. – A story of a “mystery within a mystery,” involving a double coincidence, has come to light through the investigations which were made into the Titanic survivors’ claims by the Red Cross emergency relief committee of the Charity Organization Society.
The business of the committee, which was headed by Robert W. [Weeks] De Forest [right] and had J. P. Morgan, Jr., J. H. Schiff and many prominent New Yorkers on it, was to distribute the fund of $147,500 among the needy American survivors of the iceberg-sunk steamship, or to the deserving American relatives of those who were lost.
The English victims and survivors were taken care of out of British-raised funds amounting to $2,250,000.
One of the survivors of the Titanic was an Irish boy, Daniel Buckley. He got away in the boat in which Mrs Astor was a passenger. The crew was of a mind to pitch him overboard, but Mrs Astor saved him by throwing a cloak over him that made him look like a girl. Young Buckley now lives with relatives in the Bronx.
[His first answer at the American inquiry was to give his address as 855 ‘Trent Avenue,’ an error in the transcript for Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, below.]
One of the early applicants to the De Forest committee for relief was a lad who said that he was Daniel Buckley. He was well dresssed, and he had a mourning band on his arm, a rosette of crepe on his hat and a large black ribbon hung from a button-hole.
Yes, he said, he was Daniel Buckley, so the story is told by Arthur P. [Piper] Kellogg of the Charity Organization Society, his home was at No. 19 High Street, Chester, England; his father had been dead a long time, and when his mother died, late in 1911, he decided, having no other relatives in England, that he and his sister Catherine would come to America. They sailed on the Titanic, and he was saved while his sister was lost.
BROUGHT FACE TO FACE
The claimant described minutely his sister Catherine and her clothing. She wore a thin gold chain around her neck with a gold sovereign, with the initials A. C. B. on it, hanging therefrom. The initials stood for Alice Catherine Buckley.
Inasmuch as the boy’s story was apparently corroborated by the Titanic’s passenger list, which showed the names of Daniel and Catherine Buckley, and by the Carpathia’s list of survivors, which showed Daniel saved, but no Catherine, the Charity Organization investigators accepted him as O.K. He said he was 19, but he talked and acted like a boy of 14.
Scarcely had the committee turned him over to the personal care of the manager of one of the Mills Hotels when the real Daniel Buckley turned up with his Titanic ticket and other documents. He, too, had a sister Catherine, but she was not on the Titanic. On the contrary, she had been in New York for several years and was alive and well.
The two Daniel Buckleys were brought face to face and the first one still insisted that he was a Titanic survivor. He was turned over to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, where a doctor examined him and reported that the boy was a “high-grade imbecile.”
Meantime the committee had cabled to Chester, in England, only to learn that no one from Chester had sailed on the Titanic, and that there was no such number there as 19 High Street... [High Street, Chester, above.]
A long time was required to reveal the identity of the first Daniel Buckley, the “high-grade imbecile.” Taken before Immigration Commissioner [William] Williams at Elllis Island [above] and threatened with deportation, he started a new string of stories. In one of them he gave his real name, the names of his parents, and his birthplace. He fibbed as to his parents’ present place of residence. He was then put by the Commissioner of Charities in the hospital for feeble-minded children on Randall’s Island.
WAS HE ON THE TITANIC?
An appeal was taken to the Massachusetts S.P.C.C., and a search of police and court records in many cities showed that in 1910 a boy named Daniel Buckley had been committed to a juvenile reformatory in Massachusetts. From this clew this Daniel Buckley was identified, first by the records and then by an officer of the reformatory.
Meantime he had fallen sick of pneumonia on Randall’s Island (above). On his recovery he drifted into consumption. He was taken to his parents’ home and he died there last September.
To this day nobody has been able to find out where that Daniel Buckley spent the 14 months between his escape from the Massachusetts Institution and his appearance in New York as a Titanic claimant. Was he on the Titanic? How did he get the idea that he was a survivor?
(The Burlington Free Press and Times, Vermont, Thursday, July 10, 1913, p. 9)
So goes the newspaper story. It may perhaps be considered rich poetic justice that the false Daniel Buckley should be threatened at Ellis Island with deportation... back across that treacherous North Atlantic from which the rightful claimant had barely made safe landfall.
It is the deportation threat which suggests that the impostor may also have been Irish, while it is reported that he was sent into juvenile detention under the distinctly Hibernian name ‘Daniel Buckley’ in 1910, and in Massachusetts, a heavily Irish-infiltrated state.
However it seems this appellation was an alias, as it was also stated that he eventually gave his ‘real name.’ Probably this was an Irish identity (he had no trouble convincing the relief fund he was an Irish immigrant), rather than exactly ‘Danny Buckley.’
There are no deaths involving any male Buckley in September 1912 in either New York or Massachusetts, further suggesting the name was entirely fictitious, and making identification of the impostor from the scant available facts in the article practically impossible – unless someone examines microfilm of the records for Randall’s Island for the early summer of 1912. [Available from New York State Archives Cultural Education Center, Albany, NY 12230].
The young offender, whoever he was (and he appears to have been of a like age to the 21-year-old Titanic Buckley), was clearly not an ‘imbecile,’ as we would understand the term today, given the manner in which he carried off his audacious deception. Perhaps the idea had been planted by a voracious read of the disaster news – and the chance discovery of the very alias he had used in court in 1910 among the printed list of survivors. He could use the alias again, he might have reasoned... It is equally arguable that he discerned the name of Catherine Buckley among those listed as lost in the public prints. He put two and two together and got five – because Catherine Buckley, although Irish, was just a namesake of Daniel Buckley, and not his sister. It seems unlikely the ‘sister Catherine’ part of his tale was pure guesswork, because he had turned up at the Charity Organization Society wearing that ‘mourning band on his arm, rosette of crepe on his hat and large black ribbon hung from a button-hole.’ These were props aimed at bolstering his credibility, proving the young man no ‘imbecile.’ More likely he was delusional or schizophrenic, meaning he was capable of maintaining a sustained pretence - more psychologically unbalanced than ‘feeble-minded.’ After all, having apparently escaped from a Massachusetts reformatory in the first place, and then managing to live on his wits for 14 months before making his claim – and even then appearing ‘well dressed’ when doing so – it would appear rather cruel to have sent him to Randall’s Island. Nobody consciously wills pneumonia or consumption on themselves, but it could be said that the artificial Buckley found an ultimate escape from that confinement too.
The Burlington Free Press and Times also reported:
‘But there were other puzzles. If the first Buckley lad was a “high-grade imbecile,” how had he succeeded in describing so accurately as his sister the body of a Catherine Buckley, a Titanic victim, which had been brought into Halifax by the Mackay-Bennett?
TWO CATHERINE BUCKLEYS
In Boston was found a sister of Catherine Buckley, who claimed and buried the body. She said that neither of the Daniel Buckleys in New York, whom the committee had been dealing with, could be her brother. She says she has a brother Daniel who lives in Ireland and never had been on the Titanic. The body of Catherine Buckley had not long been buried at Boston when a government official in Ireland wrote asking that her grave be marked with a stone. He stated that she had secretly become the wife of a British Army corporal stationed in Ireland, and then had sailed for the United States. This letter from the Irish government official was soon followed by a letter from a British Army corporal stationed in Hong Kong, China. It was addressed to Catherine Buckley, and it appeared to prove that she was not the Catherine Buckley whom the corporal in Ireland had married. To add to the mystery, facts were discovered which proved to the satifaction of the De Forest committee that the Irish corporal’s bride was not a passenger on the Titanic, and that the Catherine Buckley buried at Boston was the Hong Kong corporal’s affianced.’
The above extract (which had been incorporated in the longer piece, given earlier, and placed where ellipsis occurs) could be said to needlessly complicate the main story.
The principal cast of characters, however, can be explained as follows –
1) ‘Daniel Buckley’ (Impostor. US resident.) Was falsely claiming to have a ‘sister Catherine,’ lost on Titanic.
2) Daniel Buckley, actual Titanic passenger. Survived. Coincidentally had a sister Catherine, already resident in New York, who was not aboard Titanic. Verified by census.
3) Catherine Buckley, actual Titanic passenger. Drowned. Coincidentally had a brother Daniel, resident in Ireland, who was not aboard Titanic. Verified by census.
The body of the last named was claimed by her sister Margaret, a resident of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who buried her locally in St Joseph’s Cemetery. Confusion next reared its head, almost unimaginably, with not one but two separate British Army corporals next claiming the deceased Catherine Buckley as their own true love. The offer to pay for a headstone by the first army claimant is a further remarkable coincidence – and an ironic one, insofar as he was dismissed as being her next of kin – because Catherine’s grave was only marked with a headstone as a result of the efforts of the Titanic International Society, leading to a formal ceremony in May 2010 attended by the Irish Consul General. Nobody paid for a stone in the intervening years. Yet the closing Hong Kong reference is accurate – the family descendants still possess a photograph of British soldier George Richardson in uniform, together with a letter addressed to the deceased Catherine’s sister from Whitfield Barracks in Kowloon. Its envelope is also extant, and has a cancellation date in November 1912 clearly stamped ‘Hong Kong.’
The Catherine Buckley coincidence, while strange, would not be enormously surprising were it not coupled with the Daniel Buckley imposture, giving some credence to the headline that there were simply ‘Too Many Buckleys’ on the lost ship. In fact there were only ever two – which would, nonetheless, obviously prove to be two too many to avoid a plague of parallels. Of these, the chief event must be the confrontation between the two Daniel Buckleys.
The Titanic produced many impostors, numerous false claimants, and scores of fraudsters trading on the charity of others, and indeed it might even be accurately said that some persons were carrying out their imposture on the Titanic herself. But none of these wild events can possibly have matched one of the actual survivors coming face to face with his own doppelganger!
That must have been a truly extraordinary scene for others to behold... even if it might possibly have been merely tiresome for the one true Buckley, a man who was, after all, recent witness to far worse.
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Added to Encyclopedia Titanica Monday 16th January 2012, last updated Saturday 25th October 2014.