Charles S. Reed, 2nd Class Bedroom Steward

Titanic Crew Biography

The biographical details orignally posted on Encyclopaedia Titanica for Charles S Reed were incorrect, mainly because the age given in the Agreement and Crew list was incorrect. Also on the list, and the list of crew who died he is just Charles Reed, the Charles S Reed appearing in the Relief Fund Minute Books and being possibly a mis-transcription for Charles T Reed. It has been possible to correct these data and compile a new biography with the assistance of information provided by his great-granddaughter.

The details given in the existing biographical entry that there was indeed a Charles S. Reed who was approximately aged 43 in 1912, and who was born in Ilfracombe in Devon refer to somebody who died long after 1912. He was Charles Sidney Reed, born July-September 1867 to George Sommers and Mary Reed, née Harding, the third of five brothers. He can be followed through all the censuses from 1871 to 1911; in the 1891-1911 censuses he is listed as an assistant in an ironmonger’s shop. In 1902 he married, his wife, Florence, coming from Combe Martin, Devon; the 1911 census records that they had one child no longer living. In 1881 he is living with his parents at 1 Sandringham Cottages, Ilfracombe, and then in 1891-1911 at 2 Sandringham Cottages, Wilder Road, Ilfracombe. He died at that address on 9th March 1938 leaving an estate of over £1000 to his widow Florence. Florence died in 1967.

Thus this Charles S. Reed cannot be the Charles Reed who served on RMS Titanic. The starting points for a new biography are these data given to the writer:

a) The full name of the Charles Reed who served on the Titanic was Thomas Charles Prowse Reed, born in 1857.

b) The birth certificate for his son Harrold George Reed, issued in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in 1886. This gives his occupation as Steward or Clerk, and his wife’s name as Laura Elizabeth Reed, née Norton, consistent with the name of his widow in the Relief Fund minute books.

As an immediate confirmation that the identification is correct, the 1911 census gives Laura Reed as living at 140 Derby Road, Southampton, the address given by Charles Reed when he signed on to the Titanic. Charles Reed was absent on census night, 2nd April 1911, having signed onto the RMS Majestic on 24th March 1911 and was presumably homeward bound from New York. His son Harrold was at home, and his occupation is given as ship’s steward for the American Line. From this we may go back to the start of his life.

Thomas Charles Prowse Reed was born in 1857 in Dawlish, Devon and baptised at St Gregory’s Church, Dawlish on 31st October. His parents were Thomas Mitchell Reed, baker and Mary Ann Reed, née Prowse, the daughter of a shipwright from Teignmouth, Devon. He was the second of their six children, and appears in the 1861 census as Thomas Reed, but in the 1871 census his name is given as Charles Reed, presumably his preference: the age is correct at 13 and he is still at school, as he should have been. He does not appear in the 1881 census because he had already started his career as a seafarer.

On 15th July, 1880 he married Laura Elizabeth Norton at a Presbyterian Church in Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales; witnesses were Charles’s brother John Prowse Reed, possibly at that time  a seafarer and Annie Norton, either a sister or sister-in-law of Laura’s. Laura was born of an English father, C.F. Norton, in Brooklyn, New York. In 1862 the Norton family, including Laura and two siblings had arrived in Sydney aboard the American clipper Snow Squall. Interestingly the Snow Squall ended her career in the Falkland Islands in 1864 and the bow section has been brought home to a maritime museum in Maine, USA. John Prowse Reed married and settled in Queensland in 1881.

On the marriage certificate Thomas Charles Reed is described as being “late of S.S. Bowen.” After the wedding he went back to sea and is listed as Chief Steward of the SS Bowen arriving at Sydney from Melbourne on 16th September 1880. From the records of crews of ships arriving in Sydney it is possible to follow his career through a variety of ships (see appended list PDF). The earliest is the SS Elamang of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company, later, after a merger, the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company (AUSN), on which he was second steward. Remarkably the hull of this ship may still exist, scuttled to reinforce a breakwater at Newcastle, NSW. Subsequently he sailed on other ships of the AUSN (Cintra, Egmont, Fitzroy, Geelong) and also those of W. Howard Smith & Co. of Melbourne (Barrabool, Buninyong, Burwah, Derwent, Leura). His career can be followed in this way up to 1890, possibly 1893.

While in Australia Charles and Laura had three children, Reginald Charles Reed in 1881, Florence May Reed in 1883 and Harrold, as mentioned earlier, in 1886. Sadly, both Reginald, in 1893, and Florence, just weeks after the birth of her young brother in 1886, died. After this tragedy Charles moved back to England with Laura and Harrold, perhaps soon after because it has not been possible to find a record of his career in the Australian records after 1893. In the United Kingdom 1901 census he is living at 110 Oxford Avenue, Southampton where both he and Harrold are recorded as being shop’s stewards.

So far there has not been an opportunity to follow his career until 1911, but this will be pursued through the crew lists. With the kind assistance of Southampton City Archives he has been identified, as noted above, as signing on to the Majestic on 24th March 1911; the information given that he was from Devon, that his age was 43 and that his previous ship was the RMS Oceanic. He also sailed on the Majestic as a bedroom steward on two further voyages, signing on on 14th July and 1st September 1911. He joined the Titanic on 4th April 1912 at a monthly salary of £3-15-0.

After his loss, Laura Reed survived another 10 years, dying in Southampton in 1922. Harrold George Reed continued working on American ships, registering for the US draft in 1918, and becoming a naturalised US citizen in 1923. One loose end still to be tied up is the reference to aid for Charles Reed’s father. Iit has not yet been possible to determine his whereabouts after the 1881 census but in the 1891 census is mother is recorded as a widow. In 1912 Thomas Reed would have been 82. 

Related Biographies:

Thomas Charles Prowse Reed

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Peter Northover

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