Frederick Charles Clench was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England on 29 September 1878 and was baptised on 29 December that same year in Saint James' Church, Southampton.
He was the son of Frederick Clench (1856-1882), a general labourer, and Sarah Mullett (1853-?). His father was native to Southampton and his mother to Poole, Dorset and they had married in 1877. Fredrick had one brother named George James (b. 1881).
Frederick first appears on the 1881 census whilst living at 3 China Place, St Mary, Southampton. His father died aged 26 the following year and his mother was remarried in 1884 to William Palmer (b. 1849 in Portsmouth), a coal porter, and he gained four stepsiblings: William Robert (b. 1885), Alice Maud (b. 1887), Ellen Mary (b. 1890) and Walter John (b. 1894). Frederick and his brother George would be referred to colloquially as the Palmer brothers by those who knew them and they appear under this name on all future census reports.
By the time of the 1891 census Frederick and his family were residing at 10 "Improved Dwellings," Chantry Road, Southampton and they would remain at this address. Frederick went to sea around 1893 and became an able-bodied seaman around three years later, as did his brother George. Fred would be absent from the 1901 census, probably at sea. He would be at home again in time for the 1911 census.
When he signed on to the Titanic, on 6 April 1912, he gave his address as 10 Chantry Road, (Southampton). His previous ship had been the Olympic on which he reportedly had completed six voyages. As an able seaman he would receive monthly wages of £5. Also serving aboard was his brother George.
At the time of the collision, Frederick was asleep in his bunk and awoke to "a crunching and jarring sound." He jumped up, went up to the forward well deck and "saw a lot of ice." Then, after getting dressed, he went to the forecastle deck and "had a smoke." Then, as ordered, he helped uncover lifeboat 11, after which he went port side to work on 16; he was in the boat, fixing the plug, when it was swung out. He jumped out and aided Second Officer Lightoller with 14, where they put in women and children. He recalled that they loaded three boats.
He reported to the Senate inquiry that there had been no boat drills on the Titanic. Also, that fifth Officer Lowe fired his gun three times as the boats were being filled to frighten off the men trying to rush the boats. He fired "straight down into the water."
Then, when only one crewman was found in 12, Clench was ordered into the boat and lowered into the water. An officer (he couldn't identify) ordered him to row away from the ship and "keep an eye on 14 where Lowe was and keep together as much as we could." He recalled there were about 14 or 15 in his boat plus two seaman; in Lowe's boat, about 50.
"A Frenchman jumped in our boat and we could not find him." After rowing out about a quarter of a mile from the Titanic, they laid on their oars and stood by. Lowe made fast to their boat and transferred some passengers into his boat. Afterward, Clench stated, there were about 60 in his boat. He also stated that he didn't see anyone swimming or floating, "no one in the water whatsoever, whether alive or dead."
He watched the Titanic go down but could not say if she broke in half. He heard two explosions and after the second one the lights went out. Then after the ship went under, "There were awful cries and yelling and shouting and that. I told the women in the boat to keep quiet and consoled them a bit. I told them it was the men in the boats shouting out to the others to keep them from getting away from one another." Later, he heard an officer's whistle and found officer Lightoller and others atop the overturned collapsible B. They took 10 off into the their own boat, making it 70 in boat 12.
Frederick Clench returned to Southampton; his brother George had been lost in the sinking.
Frederick continued to work at sea. He never married and remained in Southampton where he died in 1930 aged 51.
References and Sources
Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)
United States Senate, Washington 1912. n° 806, Crew List
United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912
Gavin Bell, UK
Pat Cook, USA