Miss Kate Buss was born at 37 Shakespeare Road, Sittingbourne, Kent on Tuesday 28 December 1875, the daughter of James Buss and Elizabeth Hannah Brown. Her parents were married on April 5th 1871 at St.Michael's Church in Sittingbourne. Her father, James, was born the illegitimate son of Mary Ann Buss in the (allegedly haunted) village of Pluckley, Kent in 1845. Kate was the 3rd of 7 children. She had 4 sisters - Emma, Edith, Lizzie and Hannah and 2 brothers - Alfred George Albany and Percy James.
Kate lived the early part of her life working in the grocers shop owned by her brother, Percy James, in the small village of Upper Halling, close to Sittingbourne. She was well known in the village and residents remember her preparing her trousseau and gathering together the wedding presents to take to America for her marriage to Samuel Willis in San Diego, California. She was 36 at the time and travelled alone to America where she was to be met by her fiancé.
She booked passage on the Titanic and joined the ship at Southampton (she was seen off by her brother Percy and a Mr Hedley Peters who had arranged her ticket) with ticket number 27849 and occupied a cabin on E-Deck. After exchanging her ticket for a luncheon card Kate took her seat at the lunchtime dining table, here she met some of her fellow travelling companions, among them Dr Ernest Moraweck, whom she described as "very agreeable" and who proved his medical skill by removing some soot that had got in her eye. Morawick offered to show Kate around New York once they arrived but she declined. Later that day, while on deck she met and shared a steamer rug with Marion Wright.
On the journey from Southampton to Queenstown she wrote a letter to her brother, Percy, using headed paper from the Titanic.
To Percy James
In other letters Kate described the pleasure she gained from the orchestra, in particular the cellist (probably John Wesley Woodward), she noticed that every time he finished a piece he would smile at her.
On Sunday April 14th Kate joined about a hundred other passengers in the second class dining saloon for a service led by Rev Ernest Carter, she noticed that people sang the hymns with great emotion and that some had tears in their eyes.
Kate had retired and lay in her bunk reading a newspaper when the collision occurred at 11:40 pm that evening. She thought it sounded like a skate on ice. She waited and listened to the engines reversing, when they stopped she went out in the hallway where she met her table companion, Dr Ernest Moraweck, who offered to investigate. Kate then went to the cabin of Marion Wright, whom she met during the voyage, awakened her, and together they went on deck. On deck there was little activity but they met Douglas Norman who told them the ship had hit an iceberg. They looked over the rail at the well deck where people were congregating, some with their belongings. Kate berated a passenger who remarked on how protective they were being of their property, telling him that those trunks might contain all they had in the world. Before an argument could develop Douglas Norman guided the ladies below for some warm clothes.
As the boats were loaded, Kate turned away, she couldn't bear to watch the evacuation. She, Marion and Douglas discussed their chances of rescue. A little while later she got into boat number 9. But Douglas Norman was prevented - despite Kate's protests - from boarding.
When the boat reached the Carpathia she was the last to leave the lifeboat as she was frightened of heights and didn't like the thought of climbing the rope ladder up to the deck.
When the Carpathia reached New York Kate was alarmed that passengers without people to meet them would be taken to Ellis Island (although none were), for this reason she stepped off the ship into the crowd. Kate was eventually taken to the Junior League House, a hostel for women. She was later taken under the wing of Rev S. Halstead Watkins chaplain to the Port of New York to whom the vicar of Sittingbourne had written. Kate applied to the American Red Cross for relief and was awarded $250 (record No.60)
Kate Buss eventually reached San Diego where she and her fiancé were married on May 11th 1912. They had a daughter, Sybil  and after their retirement moved to Pasadena to be closer to her. After Sam's death in 1953 in Los Angeles, Kate followed her daughter to Oregon, where her son-in-law was a minister. She was never able to discuss the Titanic disaster without being emotional. She died on 12 July 1972 at the age of 96. In 1992 her daughter was still living in Oregon.
Bob Smith suggests the daughters name was in fact Lilian, named after Titanic passenger Lilian Carter. The death certificate and obituary both give the name as Sybil.
References and Sources
Polk County Itemizer / Observer, 19 July 1972, Obituary
Oregon Health Division Certificate of Death
American Red Cross (1913) Emergency and Relief Booklet (#60)
Brian J. Ticehurst (1994) Titanic Passenger Kate Buss of Sittingbourne, Kent. ISBN 1 871733 03 0
Phillip Gowan, USA
Hermann Söldner, Germany
Brian Ticehurst, UK
Articles and Stories
East Kent Gazette (1965)