Mr William Gilbert was born in Breage, Cornwall, England on 26 July 1864 and was baptised on 25 December that same year.
He was the son of Thomas Gilbert (b. 1839), a miner, and Elizabeth Williams (b. 1841), Breage natives who had married only a few weeks before his birth. One of five children, his only two surviving siblings were Mary (b. 1867) and Thomas (b. 1877).
William first appears on the 1871 census when he, his mother and sister were residents of an unspecified address in Breage. His father is absent and lived and worked as a miner in and around Butte, Montana, making intermittent visits back to Cornwall. By the time of the 1881 census William's father is still absent but he, his mother and sibling are recorded as living on Polladras in Breage where his mother ran a grocer shop which she had taken over from her father-in-law Edward Gilbert who had died in 1879. William, then aged 16, was described as a wheelwright's apprentice and was in the employ of a Mr Joyce. In due course his brother Thomas also followed the same trade.
In the mid-1880's William, his mother, brother and sister moved to live in a cottage in Carleen. This cottage was 1 Gilbert's Row and had been built for William's father in the 1860s and had initially been occupied by William's great-uncle. This double-fronted cottage was built against three existing cottages which are still known today as 1-4 Gilbert's Row.
William, like his father, decided to seek work in Butte and subsequently secured employment there in a joinery shop and emigrated around 1892 1 although this is not clear as on 24 January 1896 he joined the True and Faithful Lodge of Freemasons in Helston, being described as a mine agent and perhaps being on a visit back home. He was shown on the 1900 census living as a lodger at Park Street, Butte and he was described as an unmarried ore miner. His sister Mary, who married mine engineer John Henry "Harry" Williams, also made the trip to Butte around 1901 and set up a lodgings house. Mary was renowned for her Cornish pasties and saffron cake and her boarding house became the lodgings of many Cornish workers staying in Butte, including William who appears with them on the 1910 census. William's father Thomas had retired and returned to Cornwall around the turn of the century, appearing with his wife Eliza on the 1901 census; he died in early 1902 aged 61.
William, who never married, returned to Cornwall on 1 January 1912 for a three month holiday to visit his widowed mother and brother. Thomas was by then was running his own wheelwright business in Carleen, also building such things as butchers wagons, traps and carts; he had married in 1906 to Annie Whear (b. 1879) and had a daughter named Gwendolyn Mary (b. 1906) and was expecting another child.
William was due to return to America in the March of 1912 but stalled his return wishing to wait for the maiden voyage of the Titanic. He travelled to Southampton and embarked Titanic on 10 April 1912, travelling in second class under ticket number 30769 which had cost him £10, 10s.
William Gilbert was lost in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.
He has a memorial on the family gravestone in the cemetery adjacent to Breage parish church. The inscription reads:
'With Thomas, Eliza Gilbert.
Also of William, their beloved son,
who lost his life in the wreck of the Titanic,
April 15th 1912, aged 47 years.
A memorial window which was originally placed in Carleen Chapel is now in the ownership of William's nephew.
His mother received relief from the Mansion House fund:
Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund Booklet, March 1913: Number P. 39.
Gilbert, Eliza, mother. received weekly pension.
On 8 May 1912, twenty-four days following the loss of William his brother's wife, Annie, gave birth to a baby boy at No 2 Gilberts Row. He was immediately named William in memory of his uncle. Spending his early years living next door to his grandmother (William's mother) he was to hear much about the uncle he never knew. Some of his recollections which give an insight into William Gilbert appeared in a local publication 'Carleen - Then and now'.
''His main interests were electrical engineering and technical drawing. I have heard that he was very clever and had an inventive mind. He went to Truro one day to get some material for his experiments, he probably cycled to Nancegollan Station to get a train to Gwinear Road and then changed trains for Truro. He arrived home late at night but did not retire to bed until he set his electric motor in motion in his bedroom, the vibration on the bedroom floor awakened Granny Gilbert in the middle of the night. He was clever with his tools and loved a challenge, among the many interesting things he made was a model sailing boat and a violin. Granny would as a special favour let me look at the artefacts in Uncle's bottom drawer. I can remember the blueprints, violin bows, and his Freemason's Apron. The top right hand drawer was full of smaller items which meant nothing to me as a small boy. It was said that William was hoping to have one of his inventions patented in America, he believed perpetual motion was a possibility. He was also a keen amateur photographer, he used the old-fashioned wood camera and tripod and glass negative plate, the dark-room was Granny's store room when she kept the shop, the long slate shelf was ideal for developing and printing. It seems he was a confirmed bachelor but evidently had many female admirers. One was a Miss Eustace of Ashton, another lived in Helston, this young lady walked to Carleen twice in one day (Sunday) to see him. I hope Granny gave her a cup of tea.''
In these recollections he also mentions that William, on his many journeys to and from Cornwall regularly stayed at the Cornish Arms Hotel, 445 West 23rd Street, New York whose proprietor was a Mr Sid Blake. Sid was a Cornishman who prided himself on the 'home-from-home' service he provided to his fellow visiting Cornishmen. On 21 April 1912 he wrote to the Butte Tribune newspaper expressing his sadness in the loss of so many Cornish people, many of whom he had come to know personally. He made a particular reference to William Gilbert.
William's mother died in 1928 aged 88. His brother Thomas continued to live in Breage and went on to have two daughters, Loretta and Lorna. He died on 6 November 1955 aged 78.