Bell Boys: Who were they?


Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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I read in the 1912 publication "The Sinking of the Titanic" that all of the ship's bellboys were not
looked after, and tragically, lost their lives. Although this book is sometimes questionable in its accuracy (for example, it seriously relates a story about a dog which swam alongside and pulled a lifeboat's rope to the Carpathia), this story about the bellboys appears to be true - - in part, because the Encyclopedia Titanica site lists A. Barrett, C.H. Harris, and W. Watson as bellboys - - and it says nothing about them. Does anyone know about these bellboys, i.e., age, residence, whether any of them lived or died, who was their supervisor and dropped the ball, etc. Thanks
 

Chris Dohany

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Jan 8, 2001
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Titanic's bellboys:
Alfred Barrett, age 15.
Clifford Henry Harris, 16.
W.A. Watson, 14.
All three young men had sailed before, Watson transferring from Olympic. All three were residents of Southampton, and all were lost in the sinking. I imagine their supervisor was purser McElroy. I'm not sure it's true these lads weren't looked after, they seem to have been told what to do, as a few survivors would later account to seeing them on the boat deck.
Chris Dohany
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Thanks for the information. I looked at the "Southampton - Crews Signing-On Particulars of Engagement" on this site, for more information. It identifies: Watson, 14, 23 Oakley Rd., Southampton (formerly sailed on the Olympic); Harris, 16, 54 Shart (spl?) St., Southampton (formerly sailed on the "Asturias"); Barrett, 15, 164 Northd Rd., Southampton (formerly sailed on the "St. Louis"). They appear to be the youngest crew members. I saw one or two others who were 17 and 18. As best I remember, a scene from the original film version "A Night to Remember," shows someone reprimanding one of the bell boys for smoking on the job, or not staying at his post.
 
Jun 12, 2004
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In the ET databank for the crew, I noticed that three bellboys were listed:

W.A. Watson (age 14)
Arthur Barrett (age 15)
Clifford Henry Harris (age 16)

I've read in various sources that there were five bellboys on board (at least in first-class). Can anyone provide information on the other two, please, if they even existed? Three bellboys wouldn't have been enough for a ship the size of Titanic. Thanks.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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In 1912 many incorrect accounts of the bell boys appeared in the press and even in the British inquiry. From memory, one paper mentioned about 40 bell boys. Sir Rufus Isaacs, in one of the few flights of rhetoric in the British court, talked of eight of them. It's easy to see where inaccurate numbers come from. Moral: Always go to primary sources.
 

Bob Godfrey

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I'd guess that Isaacs had in mind these 4 plus the 4 lift attendants (though one of those was long past his teens).
 
B

Bob Cruise

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There are also the "unconfirmed aboard" to take into account.

One teen-aged "Lee McCubbins" sent a note to his mother saying he had gotten a job on the Titanic. His name never appeared on any official crew list. Could he possibly have been one of the bellboys Bob is trying to account for?
 
Jun 12, 2004
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<quote>Moral: Always go to primary sources.</quote>

I do. These sources were books released within the past ten years. Could be that those authors retrieved their info from hearsay, in which case, it is their error, not mine.

Could it have been possible that the lift operators filled in from time to time on completing errands? That could explain why they may have been included as bellboys. Just a thought.

Thank you, Bob, for the name Charles Turvey. Do you have any background on them? I've checked the ET databank and have found limited information, although it is quite possible that I hadn't looked in all the relevant places.

Take care
 

Bob Godfrey

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There was only one operator per lift, so I'd say they were fully occupied, Mark. I've often wondered, in fact, how they managed to get meal breaks. The delivering of messages was a specialised role for the bellboys, but I'm sure this was one of many duties expected of stewards also if there wasn't a boy free.

There are several threads here with information about the youngest members of the Titanic crew, including if I remember right some individual details though there isn't much of that available. Try these:

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5914/83858.html?1076536022
https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5811/84194.html?1074329743

Books, by the way, are secondary sources. Primary sources are for instance the actual first-hand testimonies and recollections, contemporary documents like the White Star passenger lists, crew signing-on sheets, etc. As Dave said, these are important because they provide the primary evidence rather than somebody else's interpretation.
 
Jun 12, 2004
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>>One teen-aged "Lee McCubbins" sent a note to his mother saying he had gotten a job on the Titanic. His name never appeared on any official crew list. Could he possibly have been one of the bellboys Bob is trying to account for?<<

Well, if the letter asserts this, then it may very well have been true, unless he was just trying to impress his mother with the (false) claim that he was working on the 'great' Titanic. Just because he wasn't on any official list doesn't mean he wasn't there and working as a member of the crew. We have learned our lesson about that, now, haven't we? It is no recent news flash that the crew (and passenger) manifest(s) was/were incomplete and even incongruent. It has been an ongoing adventure determining who was actually there and who wasn't. To this day, we are not 100% sure of everyone who was aboard the Titanic.

Still, to be fair to Bob Godfrey, the claim above wasn't that there weren't more bellboys there, just that the official list consisted only of three bellboys and one page boy. I don't rely solely on that list either, only because I know the lists are incomplete.

Personal letters are among those sources that fill in the gaps. ;)
 
Jun 12, 2004
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Thanks for the links, Bob. I'll take a look.

>>Books, by the way, are secondary sources. Primary sources are for instance the actual first-hand testimonies and recollections, contemporary documents like the White Star passenger lists, crew signing-on sheets, etc.<<

True, but even testimonies are colored by the speaker's own perception on things. They have quite often been incomplete and conflicting, such as Bride's testimony, among others. That's why I do not rely on any one piece of evidence.

By the way, let's not forget personal letters in this list. They tell us a lot, too. ;)

Take care
 
Jun 12, 2004
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>>I've often wondered, in fact, how they managed to get meal breaks.<<

Perhaps during the late-night hours (between midnight and 8 am) when most of the passengers were asleep. That would be about the time when 'business' for them would have died down. It's possible that, during these hours, only one lift operator was necessary at a time, so they may have taken turns. Anyway, thanks for the links. I'll check them out.
 

shane ralph

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Dec 10, 2004
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percy bartholomew is a relation of mine we have been told he was a cabin boy on the ship but i can find no listing of him , he was 14 and from Gravesend Kent.
can anyone help.
thanks
 

Bob Godfrey

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Hallo, Shane. There was nobody of that name on Titanic, and no cabin boys either. The youngest members of the crew were the three bell boys and one page boy, but they're all accounted for under other names and none of them were from Gravesend. Probably a family legend, fortunately for Percy, as he almost certainly wouldn't have lived to be 15 - all of those youngsters went down with the ship.
 

shane ralph

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Dec 10, 2004
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Hi thanks for that,
the prob i am having is that Percy's dad fill out his told the family that he died on the ship, as i have for some time believed this was not the truth, and that in fact percy's dad might have had a hand in his sons death.

[Moderator's Note: Several threads on the same subject have been merged to form this one. MAB]
 

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