Fred Fleet and his discharge book


Paul Lee

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When Lookout Fleet left the Titanic, he had the sense of mind to rescue his discharge book. Why would he do that I wonder? When the collision occurred, he thought it was a narrow shave, and didn't suspect anything serious. He went below and was ordered on deck by a quartermaster (perhaps Humphreys, who never testified in Britain or America). Lee then went up on deck and help to man boat 6, and never went into the bowels of the ship again.
Why would he collect his discharge book if he didn't think the collision was that serious? There may be a precedent here - QM Wynn saved his kit bag when he left the sinking ship, only for it to pitched over the side of the lifeboat later on.

Best wishes

Paul

 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Why would he collect his discharge book if he didn't think the collision was that serious?<<

Occam's Razor applies here IMO. He got down below to the crew quarters, learned then and there that things were a lot more serious then anyone was letting on to (It wouldn't exactly have been a secret in crews quarters!) and thought ahead enough to collect his discharge book. I wouldn't be surprised if some other crew did the same thing. That discharge book was an important document as it documented ones work history and qualifications. The loss of same was, for obvious reasons, never taken lightly.
 

Dan Cherry

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I am with Michael, here - the crew discharge book would almost be the equivalent of today's wallet or purse. In the event of a foreseen evacuation from home or office, no matter how trivial or serious - most people would grab their wallet or purse.
 

Paul Lee

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Sounds reasonable. It just seems a bit strange that so few books survived. I can only thinking of seeing two others off the top of my head.

Cheers

Paul

 
Jun 12, 2004
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>>Sounds reasonable. It just seems a bit strange that so few books survived.<<

Not to me. Under the circumstances, I wouldn't have expect many, if any at all, to survive. True, there were some crew who saw the damage first-hand and forecasted the outcome and then grabbed their discharge books, which is expected, but as soon as that iceberg hit, I would presume that minds would be on that and carrying out duties for survival rather than the individual's discharge book. This is especially true as things got hairy. Consider the transaction in lifeboat #1, for example. I do, however, understand what you are saying, that you expected more to have survived than actually did. That, in itself, was hard luck for many of the surviving crew.

The thing is: wouldn't the company(ies) for which the crew worked have a copy of that information? It would make sense for there to be files kept somewhere for just such circumstances. Maintaining on-land back-up records for seamen to retrieve would be most helpful.
 

Dave Gittins

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The story sounds fishy to me. What is its source? As I understand it, the books were kept by the master throughout the voyage and kept locked up. How could Fleet get hold of his book and what proof is there that he did? Quite a number of books belonging to surviving crewmembers exist but they are all replacements issued after the disaster. One given to Annie Caton recently was sold for a large sum.
 
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...which means that they obviously weren't locked up. The fact that these book were found on the body of the person to whom they belong proves that they were not kept locked up. The officers and assistants wouldn't have time to deal with that, as they had their hands full, not to mention that at first no one other than the few execs on board knew of the impending peril. Why distribute the books to their owners if it wasn't necessary? Sorry Dave, but if what Bob says is true, then your assertion(s) can't be.
 

Chris Dohany

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My understanding was the same as Mr. Gittin's. All the discharge books I have seen are noted as replacements citing the original was lost through shipwreck. However, there is a peculiar stamping on the actual documents that the crew signed - most if not all signees have the notation "Discharge A not produced." I hadn't really given this much thought, but in light of this discussion it would appear that crewmembers did not turn over their books upon signing the articles of engagement.

About Fleet's book, I'm assuming it is in possession of the Titanic Historical Society, are we positive it is not a replacement?
 

Inger Sheil

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It is interesting - just a glance reveals the following were recovered:

For No. 77 - W Butt:
quote:

EFFECTS - Pouch; knife; scissors; discharge 'A' book; Natl. S. & F. Union Book No. 26761; British Seafarers' Union No. 205.
For No. 82 - Edwin Petty:
quote:

EFFECTS - Discharge book 'A' full up; Edwin Henry Petty, 25 Orchard Place; gold wedding ring; two bunches keys; purse with 10s.; two pocket diaries; number of letters; pencil; two collar studs.
'Full-up' notation on that is interesting.

For No. 221 - Allania Antonia:
quote:

EFFECTS - Knife; razor; padlock; keys marked 'waiter's lavatory"; comb; P. 0. Savings account book; pocketbook; discharge "A." WAITER.
Others, such as No. 85 - W Hinton - had no Discharge Book recorded among their effects, but did have RNR and Union documents:
quote:

EFFECTS - Papers; pencil; two collar studs and 1 penny; British Seafarers' Union No. 1037; R. N. R. Stoker Papers No. 288327.
Possibly his Discharge Book was lost from the body.​
 

Noel F. Jones

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"The story sounds fishy to me. What is its source? As I understand it, the books were kept by the master throughout the voyage and kept locked up."

Dave Gittins is entirely right.

In accordance with the Merchant Shipping Acts a signatory to Articles of Agreement surrenders his Discharge Book (Form Dis.A) into the custody of the master. In a vessel of Titanic's size and employment this would in actuality mean the books would be kept in the custody of the purser as the master's deputed officer in that respect.

The discharge book is evidence to a potential employer of a seaman's conduct and ability.

The purpose of surrendering discharge books is so that the necessary endorsements as to conduct and ability can be made by the master at the time of discharge. Otherwise a crew member could, for instance, desert the ship or demonstrate execrable conduct or incompetence during the voyage without incurring any documentary evidence of default. Thus later employers would be misled as to a seaman's disciplinary or professional propensities.

It is possible of course that some crew members raided the purser's bureau for their books but I fail to see a motive for such a bizarre re-scheduling of priorities in the prevailing circumstances!

As to books being found on recovered bodies:

It is possible that older crew members tooks their old (full) books away with them. They would do this to reinforce their candidature to their department head at pre-sign-on selection, especially if they had just been issued with a replacement. However, only their current book would be surrendered at actual sign-on.

As I recall, Form Dis.A had provision for 60 voyages. Before the days of continuous crew agreements, employment on express transatlantic vessels - say 15 round trips a year - would soon fill this up.

Noel
 

Chris Dohany

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My assumption of the "full up" notation for Edwin Petty's discharge book is that all the pages of the book were completed. If this is correct, it would indicate that the book found on his body was an old one and that a second discharge book of his went down with the ship.
 

Inger Sheil

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Yup - that thought occured to me as well, Chris.

There are some dodgy stories to be told about Discharge Books, though - I found one Titanic crewman who only a few months previous was down on another vessel as having deserted. Would love to know how he talked his way out of it.
 

Inger Sheil

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That's one explanation, Chris!

I've often wondered about the Irish nationalists signed up as crew in the late teens/early 20s, as arranged by sympathetic bosuns - wonder what sort of papers Eamon de Valera produced, for example.
 

Paul Lee

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I just found this on E-T

"The day was rainy and grey. Titanic remained in Berth 44. On this day 4,427 tons of coal were loaded aboard. The crew were still being signed on at the hiring halls for White Star. Names like Reginald Jones, Alfred Maytum, Thomas Barker, Albert Haines, Bertram Noss, Charles Joughin, Arthur May and his father, A. W. May... 34-year-old Joseph Scarrot signed on as an Able Seaman:

"I signed on the 'articles' as 'A.B.' on Monday, 8th April, 1912. The signing on seemed like a dream to me, and I could not believe I had done so, but the absence of my discharge book from my pocket convinced me. When I went to the docks that morning I had as much intention of applying for a job on the Big 'Un as we called her, as I had of going for a trip to the moon."

...which indicates that discharge books were, indeed, surrended.

Best wishes

Paul

 

Bob Godfrey

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Noel's suggestion that some men might have been carrying old (full) books makes good sense. One of the descriptions of effects found with a body actually does state that the book was full (steward Edwin Petty). In other cases (firemen, stewards, a pantryman, a storekeeper, a waiter) there is no mention of this, but there was no standard policy for recording details so that doesn't imply that the books were not full.
 

Dave Gittins

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The picture looks like a reconstruction. The right hand side should contain a list of captain's names, generally put in with a rubber stamp. I can't read the writing, but it looks like there is some note explaining their absence. That, and the writing, convince me it's not the book Fleet used on Titanic.

Another point is that the names of ships and ports were frequently put in using rubber stamps, as were the dates of the voyages.
 

Paul Lee

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Steward Prior's discharge book is held by the Southampton maritime museum - a picture of it is in "Titanic Voices". For the pages in question, page 11 and 12, it says, in handwritten script (all the same handwriting): "Oceanic, Do (ditto), Titanic". Then after this, the ships and other details are in very faint ink stamp. The Oceanic/Titanic statements have, in the "Signature of Master" column "Extracted from agreements (next line illegible) Registrar General 12 July 1912". Presumably the first ten pages are taken from other ships' agreements?

Cheers

Paul

 

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