Employing people to work onboard the Titanic

Holly Hewlett

Former Member
Where would people go to be recruited for a job aboard the Titanic (as a steward, for example). Could they be hired or did they need to have experience or already work for Harland & Wolff?
Would they go to the offices of the White Star Line? If so, where were they?
I would like to know where they went, whereabouts that was and, if possible, what the screening process was. If you know anything, please add to this thread!
Thanks, Holly.
Harland and Wolff had nothing to do with the hiring of the crew for the Titanic. Indeed, their own gaurantee group were all listed on the ship's papers as passengers. David Haisman would be the expert on how Britishy merchant ships recruited their crews otherwise, but I do know that they came from a veriaty of sources such as seamans hiring halls and even from right off the dock.

Cáit Grant

Former Member
So dose that mean if I wanted to find out a crew member from the Carpathia I would contact David Haisman for the information. I am looking for my great uncle on my mothers side He was involved in the saving of Lady Astor and received a medal . His mother used to complain saying "All that mans money and all he got was a medal"........ I need to find out where they came from as well as I do not know which side of the family he came from. Can any one help Please.
“Where would people go to be recruited for a job aboard the Titanic (as a steward, for example). Could they be hired or did they need to have experience or already work for Harland & Wolff?”

As has been pointed out, Harland & Wolff were the builders. Builders do not normally staff ships; that is the prerogative of the owners or operators. Shipbuilders — and shipbreakers and ship repairers — occasionally find it necessary to directly recruit skeleton crews for ‘runs’. A ‘run’ is a point-to-point passage at termination of which the ‘runners’ are repatriated or returned to their home port as passengers by public or hired transport. In the case of the commissioning of Titanic all this is a non sequitur.

In 1912 the attesting of intending crew members as to character and competency could be done by several agencies. Normally these would be the owner or his agent or a superintendent of a mercantile marine office. In certain circumstances attestation would be done by the ship’s master or his deputed officer. If a crew member failed to join at the appointed time the master was entitled to ship substitutes “at once”. This sometimes gave deadbeats the opportunity to get a berth in what was known as a ‘pierhead jump’ — any ‘body’ was better than sailing short-handed. To obviate this, the normal practice was for the owners to assign reputable seamen to the vessel on stand-by in case anyone failed to join.

Despite the best efforts of activists such as Havelock Wilson, there was no effective union ‘closed shop’ in 1912. There were two unions extant, the National Sailors’ & Firemen’s Union and the Cooks’ & Stewards’ Union but these were opposed by the powerful Shipping Federation and the Liverpool Steamship Owners Association. Thus anyone with relevant departmental skills was able to put themselves forward for sea employment. The only discernible constraints were that the ships’ cook (certificated since 1909) had to show service at sea for one month in any capacity and the surgeon had to satisfy the clearing customs officer that he had passed the relevant examination at Surgeon’s Hall in London, Edinburgh or Dublin!

In practice, the manning of vessels was effectively accomplished on evidence of service as elicited from certificates of discharge. Liner companies such as White Star would in any case have a nucleus of regulars of known repute in their various capacities. Actual certificates of competency for deck personnel, whether by examination or record, were not introduced until 1948.

(Note that I'm not talking about officers' certificates of competency here; that is a very different subject.)

In short, back in 1912 you could try your luck on sailing day and, depending upon the degree of desperation of those trying to get the vessel away, you might end up with an intro into seagoing employment.


Holly Hewlett

Former Member
Ok, thanks Noel (and everybody who has contributed!)
So, if you were in an agency and asked to work on the Titanic, would you need to have an interview or would they just read your files etc?
And finally how would they be told if they'd got a job? I'm presuming by letter, but I'm not sure.

Just to clarify: my use of the word 'agency' in the above context was intended to connote the action, medium, or means by which something is accomplished, rather than a specific trading entity. That is not to say that crew members cannot also be recruited via an actual shipowners' agent trading as such.

I don't know how far you want to take this but anyone walking in off the street into a shipowner's Crew Department 'on spec' would need to produce previous certificates of discharge showing satisfactory performance in a given rating. If there was a slot for that rating, the candidate would be given a joining slip and told to report to the appropriate department head (Chief Officer, Chief Engineer or Chief Steward) on board the recruiting vessel with a view to "work-by and sail". The final decision then rested with the department head.

In case of candidates without previous seagoing experience there would have to be a specific need for that rating. If you were, say, a chef saucier and the ship's chef (big passenger ship) was still putting his kitchen brigade together, you might be in with a chance, given credible shoreside references.

If you were a 16-year-old from Muckle Flugga with a name like Murdo Maclachlan you might get a favourable hearing for a deck boy's job - these 'teuchters' had a reputation for being very handy about small boats and were excellent deck department material.

If on the other hand you were a hay heaver from Ashby de la Zouche you'd probably find yourself back out on the street again in short order!

In later years than Titanic one had to become a registered documented seafarer: the Dis.A was the key to employment. Also, for specified ratings, one had to be a member of the National Union of Seamen (successor to inter alia the two unions mentioned above). Even so, there were certain 'Listed' ratings (ranging from Writer to Flower Arranger!) which could by-pass those constraints, particularly with large passenger carrying companies. Otherwise, crew members were mostly recruited via the BOT Mercantile Marine offices rather than through shipowners' crew departments.

Hi Holly! I think the WSL offices were situated at 30, James Street, Liverpool. Apparantly there is a commemorative plaque in place. There is also a pub close by (I think Matthew Street?) called The White Star with some pieces of White Star memorabilia

Jason D. Tiller

Staff member
Hello Jamie,

According to Holly's profile, she is no longer a member of the message board. Therefore, she may not see your message. Plus, this thread is over two years old.

You can view profile info, by clicking on the person's name.
I'm reading Violet Jessop's phenomenal memoir as a backgrounder for a biography I'm writing on a Danish saloon steward in 2nd class, Charles Valdemar Jensen. I'm trying to find out whether him working on Titanic was a result of excelling at his job and having good references - or simply sheer chance.
Violet comes from Olympic and writes that the staff were handpicked from other (probably mostly WSL) liners.
Earlier in the book, she also describes how she goes to the Board of Trade with her discharge book, the shipping master appears and each group of men cloistering around the representative of the company they hope to get taken on by. Each discharge book is examined and many questions asked before the final sorting was done and the less fortunate stood back to make room for their more fortunate brethren.
This description of Violet's was reg. an earlier experience where she was hired on by Royal Mail Lines, I guess she did not have to go through this again going from Olympic to Titanic being they were both WSL. But "my" steward, Charles Valdemar Jensen, came from Atrato owned by the Royal Mail Steam, so he must have been through some kind of hiring procedure. My question now is whether it would have taken place at the Board of Trade like described above - or, I've also heard that many crew members were hired last minute due to the coal strike - some the same morning I think - could this also have been the scenario? - and which of the two scenarios would be more realistic one?
And finally, I'm wondering if there is any statistic info on how many of the crew members were already part of WSL and how many were brand new hires from other shipping lines or simply having their first job at sea.

[Moderator's note: This message, originally a separate thread not in any subtopic, has been moved to this existing thread about the hiring of Titanic's crew. MAB]
I'm sure I posted this query before - but can't find it and will try again:
I'm reading Titanic stewardess Violet Jessop's excellent memoir. In here, she says that the crew were handpicked from other liners. Many of the crew came from Olympic and other WSL ships.
I'm interested in this procedure as I'm writing a biography on 2nd class Saloon Steward Charles Valdemar Jensen from Denmark. His last ship had been the Atrato which was a smaller Royal Mail Steam ship, so I'm assuming that it must have been quite a step up for him suddenly to be working on WSL's new wonder ship. Specifically, I'm trying to find out how he got a job there. Violet describes the way shipping lines hired new crew members at the Board of Trade in Southampton: "When the shipping master appeared there was a surge of anxious faces, each group of men clustering around the representative of the company they hoped to get taken on by. Then the employers could choose their men..Each discharge book - a seaman's passport - was examined and many questions asked"
Violet describes this scene as she herself is trying to get hired on initially, she would of course not have to go through this procedure again transferring from Olympic to Titanic as they were both WSL.
So now, I'm wondering if this procedure would have applied to Charles Valdemar Jensen in his Titanic hiring process? Violet's account is also in contrast to info I've heard elsewhere that some of the crew were hired on last minute because of the coal strike. Some of them even the same morning,so clearly a Board of Trade hiring round couldn't have taken place for them.
Finally, has any one ever done an account of how many of the crew came from other WSL ships and how many were "new hires" altogether? (especially within the victualling crew). Just trying to find out if Charles would have stuck out coming from another ship or if this was in fact quite normal.
As I mentioned before, not a few of the Titanic's crew members had never been to sea before so they could hardly be considered as part of a hand-picked crew. Keep in mind that apart from the Captain none of the crew were regular employees of the company. Each man or woman signed on with a new contract for each voyage, with no guarantee of further employment. But of course it was easier to sign on for the next voyage if you were a known face and hadn't blotted your copybook last time round. 'Better the devil you know'.

[Moderator's note: This message and the one above it, originally a separate thread not in any subtopic, have been moved this this existing thread about the hiring of Titanic's crew. MAB]