Identifying Stewards

Identifying Stewards

Titanic Research

WHAT ARE the chances of identifying Titanic bodies more than 90 years after they were buried at sea?

Better than impossible - fair, in some cases.

One of the early bodies picked up by the search vessel Mackay-Bennett was number 21, a man estimated at 25-30. He had a dark moustache and was wearing a steward’s jacket.

He was boat-hooked to a ship’s cutter in the forenoon of Sunday, April 21, 1912.

Number 21 was tipped back into the water that evening, following a brief religious ceremony, along with 23 other unfortunates. The man’s sole effects were his watch and a key to Locker 7 on E Deck.

There was something else however, which does not appear in the Coroner’s extracts: a paper indicating service as a First Saloon steward on the Majestic from January to December 1911.

Only three stewards (John Pusey, Leonard Hoare and Harry Slight) last served at sea on the Majestic in 1911. The first two are first class stewards.

Locker 7 is all the way aft in the Third Class section of E Deck, making this man a steerage steward. On the Titanic sign-on list for this category, alongside scores of stewards listing last voyages in 1912, Harry John Slight is the only one to have ‘1911’ inscribed beside Majestic.

It is thus likely that Slight, aged 35, from Southampton, was Unidentified Body 21. (Unless someone else appropriated his effects.)

He took a couple of months off after working a whole year, went back to sea in April with proof of past employment - and stayed at sea forever.

Lots of the steward bodies recovered had keys. But keys on their own do not give that ‘Slight chance’ of identification.

The stewards were so numerous (329 on Titanic; of whom 48 saved) that even where a description exists of keys on a body, they might belong to almost anyone.

Body 264, for example, was that of a Second Class steward with tickets to cabins D-51 to D-89 at the aft end of D Deck. But he had no other distinguishing item, apart from underpants reportedly marked ‘H. Lyon.’

There was no such steward aboard, and the man remains a mystery. (Although his rooms on D Deck included the Lawrence Beesley’s D-56 cabin, the latter is for once lacking in description.)

Yet ‘Lyon’ is an unlikely surname, being singular, unlike the common ‘Lyons.’ There is no individual named Lyon with first initial ‘H’ in the post-war CR10 records of seafarers. This raises the possibility of the mark having been misread.

Misreading would obviate the theory of borrowed, second-hand or stolen underpants (would the owner’s mark be expunged in the latter cases?). The scenario of borrowing on Titanic does offer a link to one W. H. Lyons, an AB, whose body was buried from the Carpathia. But this man clearly did not bunk with the stewards.

Returning ownership of the underpants, then, to one of the 75 Second Class stewards aboard (surely the most likely scenario), it is seen that the only individual with any similarity is Thomas Ryan, who signed himself ‘T . Ryan’ on Titanic.

Bringing the first initial ‘T’ and the middle dot closer to the beginning of ‘Ryan’ produces the chance of this name being misread as ‘H. Lyon’ (see pic). The effect is even more pronounced with a mid-cross T (+) and an unclosed R (lower right experiment).

Ryan was 27 with dark hair. The body was also dark haired, and estimated to be 35. Ryan

This hypothesis is admittedly flimsy. In any event, No. 264 was landed and buried as ‘unidentified’ in the Baron De Hirsch cemetery.

Blair Beed, on p.85 of his book Titanic Victims in Halifax Graveyards bemoans a problem: “Unfortunately, no assignment list for stewards on Titanic exists. Surviving passengers were not asked for their cabin numbers or the names of their bedroom stewards.”

Many dead stewards with keys for particular places on the vessel, like No. 264, also had other items on their bodies which positively identified them – as in the cases of Stone, Lloyd, Ings and Turner.

But there is still another category – dead stewards who were unidentified, but who were wearing numbered steward badges.

It is here that Beed’s absent assignment list for stewards on Titanic makes itself particularly felt.

  • Body number 36 – First Class steward’s badge number 76 – Name not known.
  • Body number 125 – Second Class steward’s badge number 37 – Name not known.
  • Body number 214 – Third Class steward’s badge number 41 – Name not known.

And it goes on. If only one knew to whom the steward badges were allocated, one would instantly know the identity of these otherwise-anonymous dead stewards. If only there were a list!

But there is a list, as it turns out.

It is called the Crew Agreement.

Close analysis of the original sign-on sheets for the stewards discloses a revealing pattern.

And it is that badge numbers follow sequentially, and in parallel, with the order in which steward names appear on the sign-on lists.

Badges were clearly allocated by roll-call to the stewards on Titanic. And the roll called out was the Crew Agreement itself.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense. “Person A,” bawls the dispensing Beadle on board ship, handing badge 1 to the man who approaches.

“Person B – Badge 2.” And so on.

This simple system, which provides a kind of Rosetta Stone for identifying the badged but nameless steward victims, can be seen across all three classes.

In the illustration below, the names of stewards who were wearing badges, but who were otherwise identified, are shown across First Class, Second Class, and Third Class. The number in the column on the left is the line on which their name appears on the Crew Agreement.

The disparity between line number and badge number is explained by the fact that not every steward was awarded a badge – but only those who needed it when interacting with the paying passengers. Hence none for Glory Hole stewards, for instance, who were effectively crew-to-crew.

It was intended that members of the public should be able to complain about a surly waiter or saloon steward by their badge number, which they had to wear at all times.

FIRST CLASS

Line number in Crew Agreement

Name

Steward Badge No.

Body No.

60

Herbert Cave

27

218

116, 117

Frederick Wormald

74

144

Percy Deslands

73

212

134

George Lefèvre

99

211

Note: Wormald and Deslands (Delandes on his stone in Halifax) appear to have exchanged badges immediately after receiving them, perhaps as a bit of subversion.

 

SECOND CLASS

Line number in Crew Agreement

Name

Steward Badge No.

Body No.

8, 9

George Bailey

5

161

Alan Franklin

6*

262

29

O. W. Samuel

22

217

40

George Roberton

33

127

42

George Dean

35

252

Note: Franklin’s badge was read upside down, and thought to be number 9. It was in fact number 6.

 

THIRD CLASS

Line number in Crew Agreement

Name

Steward Badge No.

Body No.

17

William Cox

9

300

31

George Talbot

20

150

45

Thomas Mullin

32

323

ALL the above are badged bodies whose identity was established by other means. Of the First Class stewards above, all were buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, N.S., with the exception of Wormald, who was interred in Baron De Hirsch Jewish cemetery in the city.

Among the Second Class stewards, Bailey, Franklin, Samuel and Dean were all buried in Fairview. George Edward Roberton (misidentified as W. G. Roberton through a letter in his pocket intended for his father) was buried at sea from the Mackay-Bennett on April 23.

Roberton is the name that appears on the Crew Agreement, but the family seems to have also gone by Robertson. This name features on their grave plot in Hollybrook cemetery, Southampton.

Cox, Talbot and Mullin, the steerage stewards, are all buried in Fairview.

 

IT IS the sequencing of the badge numbers that now offers us names for the remaining steward bodies that bore badges, but which nonetheless were never identified.

Only one of these – body 214 – was landed, the rest being buried at sea. Body 214 now lies under a nondescript headstone in Baron De Hirsch cemetery. It was thought to be that of a Jew (by the infamous Rabbi Walter, who was obsessed with detecting hebrews where none existed), but is in fact Christian, like that of Wormald and Michel Navratil nearby.


The burial place of Body 214

Now let us assemble the “Badged Unknowns” by class -

First Class

 

* Body 36, buried at sea.

Badge number 76

 

 

Second Class

 

* Body 185, buried at sea.

Badge number 20

* Body 125, buried at sea.

Badge number 37

 

 

Third Class

 

* Body 214, buried in Halifax.

Badge number 41

* Body 112, buried at sea.

Badge number 42

THE name of the holder of Badge 76 in First Class (above) must follow soon after the names of Wormald and Deslands (holders of badges 73 and 74) on the Titanic sign-on list in order to comply with the pattern already established.

It seems to be that of William Taylor, whose name appears at line 119, following lines 116 and 117 for the two other holders.

Taylor was aged 30, married to Emily Margaret, with an address in Bournemouth. The body with badge 76 wore a gold ring on the right little finger, inscribed “Madge.” The man was estimated at 35 years old.

Brian Ticehurst, asked about this opinion, concurred as to likely identity. He pointed out that Taylor’s widow learned later in 1912 that this body had a number of tattoos. The description of these, including telltale Japanese fans on the chest, caused Mrs Taylor to believe it that of her husband.

Ring, tattoos, and now the badge number being set against crew listing provides a quadruple lock. The late name appearance in the Agreement eliminates a host of candidates.

 

SECOND Class badges were different from First Class, but the distribution was no less methodical. In identifying the body with badge 20, it is noticeable that steward O. W. Samuel wore badge 22 at Crew Agreement line 29.

At line 27, therefore, where one might hope to find the person consistent with badge 20, is the name of John Charman. Charman was a Londoner, aged 25, on his first sea voyage. He had been a waiter at the Star Hotel in Southampton for two years.

Body 185, which wore Badge 20, has an estimated age of 25, the same age as Charman. This man was wearing a football jersey over his pyjamas, and a steward’s white coat. He had fair hair and a scar to the right side of the jaw.

John Charman:

Possible scar on right side of jaw?

A photograph of Charman shows he had fair hair. Again, the short distance between the known badge-holders (6 and 22) utterly reduces the number of potential identities – until Charman is on his own. The next several listed crew after his name are all much older.

Body 185 was buried at sea, officially unidentified. It was very probably Charman.

So too was Body 125 (Badge 37).

This man should appear just two lines down from the known badge-holder George Dean (No. 35), whose name is on line 42 in the relevant section of the Crew Agreement. And thus it is that at line 44, we duly have J. T. Gunn.

Gunn was aged 28. Interestingly Body 125 possesed a washing ticket that was detailed as reading “G. V. N,” but which, at a bit of a squint, could read GUN.

(One could also submit that Gunn’s signature in the Crew Agreement looks like Gvnn. Did he sign his own washing receipt?)

An anomaly is that although the body was listed as wearing a gold wedding ring, it was estimated on recovery from the sea as being aged only 17 – at least according to the transcription in the Coroner records. Clearly a seventeen-year-old is unlikely to have been married, nor one so young to have been allowed by White Star to act as its public face.

While bodies in the sea do break down into what has been called “inebriate flabbiness,” wedding rings do not, and might be a better indicator of age. Very little is known about 28-year-old Gunn, his marital status or lack of it.

But the badge and crew list pattern suggests that his is body 125.

 

THIRD Class badges are listed by the Coroner of Nova Scotia as “Porter” badges.

Indeed, were it not for the clear distinctions between the badges issued for stewards in each class, identifications would be practically impossible.

The most famous of these badges, and the only one sold at public auction, is that belonging to steerage steward No. 32, Thomas Mullin. It went for a hammer price of £26,000 Sterling at the Henry Aldridge auction at the British Titanic Convention in Southampton in April 2004.


Courtesy of Henry Aldridge and Son.

The base is copper, and the raised star on which the number appears is chromium. It was required to be attached to the right arm by means of an elastic fastener passed through two eye-clips on the reverse, which also featured a company burgee.

If Mullin held badge 32 at line 45 of the Crew Agreement, then the body buried in Baron De Hirsch in Halifax (No. 214, holder of Badge 41) ought to appear no earlier than nine lines further down.

On line 54 is the name of W. (William) Wright, aged 40 – whereas body 214 was estimated at being 26 years of age.

But Wright and the three men preceding him on the list are Glory Hole stewards and would not have needed badges, since they were crew-to-crew.

Travelling on, to take account of those four lines, brings one to William T. Fox, aged 27, a much better match – even though estimated body ages must be regarded with a large degree of caution.

Unfortunately the body lying unidentified in Halifax is poorly described in the Coroner extracts in the extreme. He was said to be of fair hair, with blue pants for his sole clothing, and possessed of that steerage steward’s badge but no other effects.

The more detailed recovery records say he had brown hair, stood 5ft 8in., weighed 165lbs (11 stone 11lb), had “light eyebrows,” and was clean-shaven.

William Fox: Badge 41(artistic montage)

An extant picture of William Fox shows him to be clean-shaven, of fair to possibly brown hair, but it cannot be said that he had light eyebrows.

On the other hand, his is the last name on the sign-on lists for Third Class stewards.

A TENTATIVE identification of Fox as Body 214 encounters a further problem however. While the Crew Agreement list runs out for this category at his name, there was – paradoxically - an older body recovered wearing Badge 42!

According to the Crew Agreement, Third Class steward badges should have run out at 41. The undeniable presence of badge 42 on Body 112, which was buried at sea, forces a re-think.

It may be that some steward of another class was transferred to Third Class to make up the numbers deemed necessary to handle the steerage business. Third Class on the Titanic was proportionately much more full than First or Second Class.

This is certainly a possibility.

It is the type of ad-hoc administrative decision that would frustrate later researches, since it might all have been done by word of mouth on shipboard.

However there is another possibility.

The steerage stewards have not quite run out – forty-nine pages further on in the Crew Agreement, as if by afterthought, appear four names.

These men (p.116) are Third Class mess stewards. In the ordinary course of events, they would not wear badges. Their names are Coleman, Blake, Gumery and Fitzpatrick.

Body 112 is that of a fair-haired man, with an estimated age of 45. He had a steward’s uniform and black boots. Besides the badge, his effects were limited to a pocket knife, cufflinks, collar studs, and a spectacle case.

The glasses seem an important detail, tending to support the identification of an older man. John Coleman, from Cork, was aged 55 on Titanic. The three other final steerage stewards were in their early to mid twenties.

It can only be a remote possibility that Coleman was Body 112, buried from the Mackay-Bennett with many others on Wednesday April 24, 1912.

And it would just be a coincidence if Badge 42 happened to match up with Coleman’s crew entry – on line 42 of the later section.

“Thy way is in the Sea, and Thy path in the Great Waters
And Thy footsteps are not known.” - Psalm77, verse 19.  

Revised Identifications (probable/possible) by Badge Numbers/Crew Listing:

FIRST CLASS

Line number in Crew Agreement

Name

Steward Badge No.

Probable/Possible

60

Herbert Cave

27

 

Frederick Wormald

74

 

Percy Deslands

73

 

119

Body no. 36, buried at sea

76

William Taylor line119

134

George Lefèvre

99

 
 

SECOND CLASS

Line number in Crew Agreement

Name

Steward Badge No.

Probable/Possible

8, 9

George Bailey

5

 

Alan Franklin

6

 
27

Body no. 185, buried at sea

20

John Charman line 27

29

O. W. Samuel

22

 

40

George Roberton

33

 

42

George Dean

35

 
44

Body no. 125, buried at sea

37

J. T. Gunn line 44

 

THIRD CLASS

Line number in Crew Agreement

Name

Steward Badge No.

Probable/Possible

17

William Cox

9

 

31

George Talbot

20

 

45

Thomas Mullin

32

 
58

Body 214, buried Halifax

41

William Fox? line 58

42

Body 112, buried at sea

42

John Coleman? line 42, elsewhere on Agreement.


Text and all images, Senan Molony © 2005.

Related Biographies:
George Francis Bailey
Herbert Cave
John James Charman
John Coleman
George H. Dean
William Thomas Fox
Joseph Alfred Gunn
Thomas Ryan
Harry John Slight
William John Taylor

Contributor
Senan Molony
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