A man giving his name as H. Oliver (age 32, born in Hampshire) signed-on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912, giving his address 15 Nichols Road, (Southampton). His last ship had been the Olympic. As a fireman he received monthly wages of £6.
"H. Oliver" was rescued. 1
An account related by a Harry Oliver appeared in the Western Daily Mercury on 29 April 1912.
Harry Oliver... had turned in when a crash aroused him, and he went on deck to see what had happened. Then he saw a quantity of ice on deck and, and was told that the ship had struck an iceberg. Satisfied with the information, he returned to his bunk and turned in again, confident that nothing serious had happened.
He was just dropping off to sleep again when one of the other firemen rushed into the room and said, "Turn out quickly; she is making water in the winding staircase."
On going to have a look around, Oliver realised that his previous confidence was misplaced and went back to pack his bag, which he took up to the mess-room. Then a leading firemen said, "Put on your stokehold gear, and get ready for watch." This he did and then orders were given to put on lifebelts and get to the boats.
His exact identity remains unknown but a man named H. Giles wrote to Walter Lord in 1955 whose story suggests he and H. Oliver may be one and the same person.2
Henry Robert Giles was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England in 1878 2 and his birth was registered in the first quarter of that year. His parents were William Giles (1852-1930), a dealer, and Eliza Seal (1851-1927), both Portsmouth-natives who had married in 1872.
Henry was one of fourteen children, ten of whom survived infancy. His known siblings were: Eliza Letitia (b. 1875), William James (b. 1876), Sarah Maria (b. 1879), Thomas Albert (b. 1880), Jane Alice (b. 1883), John George (b. 1885), Emma Emily (b. 1886), George Victor (b. 1888), Amelia Mary (b. 1889), Charles Wilfred (b. 1893) and Dorothy (b. 1895).
Henry first appears on the 1881 census when he and his family were living at 21 Oyster Street, Portsmouth and would be at 7 Oyster Street on the 1891 and 1901 census returns. By the time of the latter census Henry, aged 23, was described as a general labourer. He had previously served on a troopship during the Boer War.
Henry was married in Portsmouth in late 1905 to Elizabeth Frances Byng (b. 8 July 1885 in Portsmouth) and they had four children: Rosaline Elizabeth (1906-1967), Irene Frances (1912-2002), Grace M. (b. 1915) and Henry J. (b. 1918).
Henry, his wife and first child were listed on the 1911 census living at 60 White Hart Road, Portsmouth and he was described as a dock side labourer. They later resettled to Southampton and are listed on the 1912 Street Directory for that city living at 15 Nichols Road the same address H. Oliver gave in the sign-on sheet.
Henry continued to work at sea and during WWI served on cross-Channel vessels and, later during WWII, served in coastal transports. He would later correspond with Walter Lord when the author was preparing his book A Night to Remember:
5th July, 1955,
Dear Mr. Lord, In reply to your letter of June 19th, 1955, I hope the following particulars will be of some help to you in completing your book about the "Titanic" disaster.
I was a fireman on the ship at the time, getting ready to go on the 12 P.M. to 4 A.M. watch, when I heard a scraping sound at about 11 P.M. Our leading hand told us to proceed to the boat deck. There did not seem to be any sign of damage or water in the ship just then. On arriving at the boat deck, I noticed that all the Port lifeboats had been lowered full of passengers. My duties lay in getting the passengers into the lifeboats.
All the passengers were calm and there was no panic, partly because they felt sure that the "Titanic" would not sink, and some of them would not enter the lifeboats. Everything was quite orderly where I was, with the orchestra playing "Nearer my God to thee", and other hymns. I finally left the boat in No.11 lifeboat full of passengers, and the only surviving officer.
Eventually we were picked up by S/S "Carpathia" at approx 6 A.M. Monday 15th April 1912, after(5) five hours in the lifeboats. The S/S "Carpathia" was commanded by Captain Parr, a grand skipper who never left the bridge throughout the very rough weather until the vessel arrived at New York on Wednesday about 10.00 P.M.
The American people in New York were most hospitable to us all and I have nothing but great praise for them, and that goes for my shipmates as well.
I returned to England in the S/S "Lapland"
I have served in the Merchant Navy during the Boer War, the Great War and the Second World War, I am aged 78 years and my wife and I are living on Old Age Pension.
F. Glasspool P.P. (Mr) H. Giles
Henry later lived at Firtree Way, Sholing, Southampton and died on 11 May 1965 aged 87. His death was reported in the Southern Evening Echo.
TITANIC SURVIVOR DIES IN SOTON
Titanic survivors Mr. Henry Giles (88), of Firtree-way, Sholing, Southampton, has died at Southampton General Hospital.
Mr. Giles, who formerly lived in Nichols-road, Southampton, was a stoker in the ill-fated liner and on the night she went down he remembered hearing a noise like the anchor chain running down through the hawser pipe - but the cause of the noise was the ship striking an iceberg.
After almost 60 years at sea, Mr. Giles retired when he was 75. He was in a troopship at the time of the Boer war, served on cross-Channel vessels during the First World War, and was again at sea in coastal transports during the Second World War.
Although he was at seas during two world wars, he was never torpedoed and his only shipwreck was the Titanic.
His widow passed away in 1972.
- He may have been rescued in boat 9 or 11.
A Henry Oliver, with a signature that somewhat resembles that of H. Oliver was still working as a fireman in 1923.
H. Oliver 1912 signature
Henry Oliver 1923 signature
H. Oliver signed on aged 32 (born c. 1880). The Henry Oliver in 1923 gave his birthdate as 1871. Henry Giles was born in 1878.
References and Sources
United States Senate, Washington 1912. n° 806, Crew List
Southern Evening Echo (1965) Obituary
Gavin Bell, UK
Peter Engberg, Sweden
Andrew Williams, UK
Bill Wormstedt, USA
Articles and Stories
Western Daily Mercury (1912)