Henry Etches - Bedroom Steward


Mike Etches

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Nov 18, 2016
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Hello, I'm researching the life of an ancestor of mine, Henry Etches, who was a bedroom steward for the 1st class passengers and is known for his association with Benjamin Guggenheim. I have only been able to locate a couple of photographs of Henry from the various Titanic sites, the most famous being the one of him in a deckchair on his way back to England aboard the Adriatic - see the second photo below - which is an enlargement of Henry.

However while reading a book called Titanic Lives I came across another photo from a private collection which highlighted young Gus Cohen in the centre. However my attention was drawn to the man in the left of the photo as, to my mind, it bears a distinct resemblance to Henry. I would be very interested to learn what other Titanic enthusiasts think.

Interestingly Ettie Dean and her baby, Millvina, feature in both photos.

Mike Etches
Henry3.jpg
Henry Etches2.jpg
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Apr 21, 2009
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Harland Duzen's post about one of his Titanic 'obsessions' as being the identity of the couple in the Cabin _78, the door of which was knocked on repeatedly but in vain by steward Henry Samuel Etches sometime after the collision reminded me that this was also one of my favourite Titanic topics and one into which I have tried to do some digging. It is commonly believed that the Cabin was C-78 but it could just easily - in fact I believe more likely - was B-78. In his statement at the American Inquiry, Etches appears to have referred to that canon as "78" without a letter prefix.

Cabin C-78 was allocated to the Minahan family - Dr William Minahan, his wife Lillian Minahan and sister Daisy Minahan. All accounts agree on this fact, including the Cave List.

Cabin B-78 is more confusing. According to ET and some other accounts, it was allocated to a middle-aged couple Mr William Spencer and his wife Marie Eugenie Spencer. BUT, the Cave List has the Spencers in Cabin B-76 and no one in Cabin B-78 and so there is the possibility that Cabin B-78 was, in fact, officially unoccupied.

IMO, one of the important clues here could be the time at which Etches knocked on that cabin door and got no response. Going by his statements at the American Hearing, Cabin _78, irrespective of whether it was 'B' or 'C', was NOT officially allocated to him. Look at this:

Senator SMITH.
What about Mr. Guggenheim and his secretary, and others?

Mr. ETCHES.
They were in their room. I took the lifebelts out. The lifebelts in this cabin were in the wardrobe, in a small rack, and the cabin was only occupied by two. There were three lifebelts there, and I took the three out and put one on Mr. Guggenheim. He apparently had only gone to his room, for he answered the first knock. He said: "This will hurt." I said, "You have plenty of time, put on some clothes and I will be back in a few minutes."

Senator SMITH.
Did you get back there?

Mr. ETCHES.
Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH.
Was he there?

Mr. ETCHES.
Yes; he followed me along. I then found No. 78 cabin door shut, and I banged with both hands on the door loudly, and a voice answered, "What is it"? Then a lady's voice said, "Tell me what the trouble is." I said, "It is necessary that you should open the door, and I will explain everything, but please put the lifebelts on or bring them in the corridor." They said, "I want to know what is the matter." I said, "Kindly open the door," and I still kept banging. I passed along, and I found one cabin was empty, and then I came to another cabin and a lady and a gentleman stood at the door. They were swinging a lifebelt in their hands.


If you look at statements made by Etches earlier in the same session, it strongly suggests that he saw to the Carters and Harrisons before going to Guggenheim's cabin, which was B-82 (B-84?). Then he spent some time assisting Guggenheim and his valet to put on the life jackets etc, then left them to attend to do other things and then came back, presumably to find Guggenheim and his valet ready. Then Guggenheim "followed Etches along" to _78 before the latter knocked on that cabin's door; this strongly suggests that it must have been Cabin B-78. Otherwise, why would Guggenheim and his valet, now ready with lifebelts on, follow their steward down to C-deck level when the obvious place was to go up towards the boat deck?

Now let us look at the previously mentioned occupants of those cabins in question:

Of the Spencer couple, Marie Eugenie survived on Lifeboat #6, which was launched between 01:05 and 01:10 am, while William Spencer remained on board and was lost in the sinking. But to get to the boat deck on time and get Eugenie her place on #6, the Spencers must have got ready and left their cabin sometime between 00:30 and 00:45, maybe even earlier. That, and the fact that they were a respectable middle-aged couple of those times suggests that they were not the couple who refused to open the door to Etches. By inference therefore, the Spencers must have occupied Cabin B-76, as per the Cave List.

Of the Minahans, it seems certain that they shared Cabin C-78, as per all accounts including the Cave List. As per the "Guggenheim connection" above, IMO it seems unlikely that C-78 was the locked cabin which Etches knocked on. Furthermore, if Mr Minahan shared that cabin with his wife and sister, there would have been no reason for one of them not to open the door.

For the record, Lillian and Daisy Minahan were saved on board Lifeboat #14, launched around 01:25 am. William Minahan remained on board and was lost in the sinking.

I sometimes wonder whether the similar first names of the two men - William Spencer and William Minahan - caused some confusion.

To summarise therefore, IMO the Spencer couple occupied Cabin B-76 and the Minahan trio Cabin C-78. Therefore, Cabin B-78, officially unallocated, must have been the one the door of which Etches knocked on; it was not opened but according to him there were a man and a woman inside. The question remains as to their identity.
 

Kim Stegall

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Mar 5, 2019
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Mike:
Did you ever get a reply to this request? I'm interested because my husband is playing the part of Henry Etches in Titanic the musical next week. (March 14-16 in South Carolina) Jeff was also the set designer and costume coordinator for the show.

He has greatly enjoyed the process and learning about your ancestor. Do you have any insider info you could give him about Mr. Etches to help get him in character? :)
 

Mike Etches

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Nov 18, 2016
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Hello Kim, and many thanks for your posts and photo of Jeff. No, unfortunately nobody responded to my request but I am 99% convinced that the photo I discovered is of my distant cousin, Henry Etches. I have undertaken a lot of research into his side of the family but, as he and wife appear to have been childless, I have not been able to find out anything more about Henry as a person. After the Titanic tragedy he continued to serve at sea until May 1931 when he took discharge from the Avila Star at the age of 63. In retirement he and wife Lilian moved to a small town called Pershore in Worcestershire where he lived until his death on the 29th September 1944 from heart trouble. I saw a production of the musical in London in August 2016 and Henry was portrayed as a fairly jolly chap,welcoming people aboard and singing a romantic song, as I recall. In reality I suspect he behaved in a quiet, dutiful, obedient manner as would be expected of a bedroom steward waiting on 1st class passengers. So I don't think that Jeff should be too extrovert if he wants to maintain contact with reality but he shouldn't come across as a Uriah Heap either! Regrettably I never met Henry but judging from the great uncles that I did meet on his side of the family I would say that Henry was a kind man, conscientious, a man of honour and principle with a strong sense of duty, but also with a gentle sense of humour. May I wish Jeff every success with his performances and, once again, many thanks to you Kim for the photo.
 

Kim Stegall

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Mar 5, 2019
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Mike:

Thank you for your speedy reply! I believe this is the same script & musical score as the one you saw in London in 2016. I do think Jeff's portrayal will be circumspect yet personable. You bring up a good point about those qualities' being required in a bedroom steward. The production is being done in connection with the large Titanic museum that is in Gatlinburg,Tennessee. That group is also bringing some Titanic relics for display in the lobby of the theatre.

Again, thank you for your response. Jeff will be very excited to read your reply.

All the best,

Kim
 

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