Sarah Agnes Stap was born at sea off the coast in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean on 1 August 1864.
She was the daughter of Henry Stap (b. 1829), a native of Skipsea near Bridlington in east Yorkshire, and his wife Stella, née Cawkwell (b. 14 October 1935), a native of Bermondsey, London. The couple were married in Mile End, London on 31 August 1861 and Henry was then described as a master mariner. Sarah was born on board one of the vessels he commanded and he reportedly held several commands in the White Star and Leyland Lines.
Sarah was one of five children, her siblings being: Stella (b. 1863), Edith Mary (b. 1869), Henry (b. 1871) and William Cawkwell (b. 1875). Her sister Stella was also born at sea whilst her sister Edith was born in London. Both her brothers were born in Essex.
Sarah first appears on the 1871 census when she and her family are living at Willesly Road, Wanstead, Essex. Aged 16 and without profession by the time of the 1881 census, Sarah and her family were by now living at 3 St Philips' Terrace, Kensington, London. The whole family later shifted northward and settled in Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire, being listed there at 48 Church Street on the 1891 and 1901 censuses. Sarah would be absent from the latter, perhaps at sea. Her mother died in 1903 aged 67 and she, her widowed father and several siblings appear on the 1911 census living at 41 Bidston Avenue, Birkenhead.
Sarah Stap had been on the maiden voyage of the Baltic, and Adriatic, and also served on the Celtic, and most recently the Olympic as a nurse.
When she signed-on to the Titanic on 9 April 1912 she gave her address as 41 Bidston Avenue, (Cloughton, Birkenhead). She signed on as a first class stewardess although according to her great-nephew Gordon Stap, she was not a stewardess but a ship's matron. In her position she received monthly wages of £3, 10s.
Miss Stap later recalled that on the night of the sinking she was in bed at the time of impact and was awoken by a "slight bump" but took little heed, claiming she was used to "a ship's bumping before" and she lay in bed for a further three quarters of an hour before rising. When she reached the boat deck the lifeboats had already been slung out. Sarah claimed that she owed her survival to a young cabin boy beside her who, when she was told to get into a lifeboat by the crew member in charge of that lifeboat, that there was room for her, she told the young cabin boy that as she was into her thirties and had had her life, he should take her spot. The cabin boy's answer was to simply pick her up, and put her in the lifeboat (#11). She later recalled the crowded conditions in her lifeboat and the bitter cold of the night, the ordeal lasting for over six hours.
Sarah apparently returned to the sea and later served aboard the Majestic and it was on that ship that she was presented to King George V and Queen Mary, and the Duke of Connaught, who shook her hand and congratulated her on her bravery during the Titanic disaster.
Sarah Agnes Stap remained in Cheshire for the rest of her life. She continued to live at 41 Bidston Avenue for a while (where her father died on 2 March 1914) before moving to Egremont, Wallasey. She later moved back to Birkenhead where she spent the last two decades of her life. Her last few years were spent living with her two sisters at 414 Park Road North and she died there in her sleep on 27 March 1937. She was 72 and was buried in Rake Lane Cemetery, Wallasey.
1. She is sometimes listed as "Mrs Strap"
2. When she signed-on to the Titanic she gave her age as 31, her age at death was 72 suggusting that she was in fact about 46 on the Titanic.
References and Sources
The Birkenhead Newssaturday, 4 May 1912, Experiences of a Birkenhead Stewardess
General Register Office Certified Copy of an Entry of Death
Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Sheila Jemima (1997) Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage, Sutton Publishing, Southampton City Council. ISBN 0 7509 1436
Articles and Stories
Birkenhead News (1912)