Frederick Sheath

FREDERICK SHEATH was born in 1892 at number 12 Bell Street, Southampton, the house was a two-up, two-down terraced house with an outside toilet and no garden. Bell Street was situated in the lower, poorer part of town and not far from the waterfront. It was a very busy area and completely dominated by the happenings at the nearby docks. Fred when young, must have spent many hours playing around, on, and in the water and in the small boats that abounded there.

At the age of five he went to the nearby school, The Council School, York Buildings, East Gate, Southampton, Mr. William H. Masters was the Headmaster and he was a strict disciplinarian to all his 554 pupils, and Fred was really taught his three R's: Reading, wRriting, and aRithmetic. On leaving school he joined the training ship H.M.S. Victory at Portsmouth Dockyard and underwent his Merchant Seaman training, the seamanship learnt there was later to hold him in good stead and to help save his life.

At the age of eighteen Fred started his Merchant Navy career as a Trimmer. His first ship was the S.S. Dunottar Castle and he sailed on a ''Cruising'' trip on May 25, 1910, from his pay book it is seen that work was very hard to come by and there are many gaps, and Fred along with many others at the time could not get continuous employment. However he served on the Majestic, Olympic, Oceanic, and many other great liners and the report on his character and behaviour was at all times ''Very Good''.

On April 10, 1912 he left home very early and walked to the docks and ''signed on'' on board the Titanic, ship registration number 131428. He was immediately put to work on coaling as the coal was late because of the ''Coal Strike'' that was on at that time, coal for the Titanic was bought or borrowed from the S.S. New York and the Oceanic both of whose voyages were cancelled and laid up nearby in Southampton Docks.1

Fred was probably on watch when the liner sailed on her maiden voyage and so saw nothing of the farewells or the departure from Southampton. He settled down to his watchkeeping routine and life on board till that fateful collision with the ice-berg. Fred was again on watch and working at the time trimming (moving coal from one place to another to balance the ship and feed the ever hungry furnaces).

When water started pouring into the stokehold, Fred along with his mates was sent on deck. Arriving there in the bitter cold after the great heat and humidity of the stokehold must have been a great shock to the men - scantily dressed as they were, (dress was normally just trousers, boots, neckerchief, singlet and of course his cap). The cap was probably the thing that saved him more than anything else from the effects of the cold. When Mr. Murdoch asked for men with small boat or seamanship experience Fred was able and qualified to step forward and was ordered into Lifeboat No. 1 or the Emergency Boat, along with six other crew members (S. Colleens, (Fireman); W. H. Taylor, (Fireman); A. E. Hors will, (Able Seaman); Charles Hendrickson, (Fireman); R. Pusey, (Fireman); all from the Southampton district and George Symons, (Look-out), who came from Weymouth, Dorset).

George Symons was in charge and after taking aboard five passengers:- Lord and Lady Duff-Gordon, their maid Laura Mabel Francatelli and two Americans Mr. C. E. Stengel and Mr. Abraham Soloman, were successfully lowered to the sea and told to ''pull away from the ship''.2

When the ship foundered and many of the people were in the water, there was quite a discussion on Life Boat number 1 about whether they should go back and try to pick up more people, the capacity of the lifeboat was 48 and there were only 12 on board, the outcome was that they did not go back, mainly through the fear of being swamped or overturned by the people struggling in the water - and who could really blame them?

Fred along with the other crew members in the lifeboat received £5 (then 20 dollars) for a new kit from Lord Duff-Gordon.3

When they were finally rescued by the Carpathia, Fred was given a blanket and a hot drink and sent below for a well earned sleep.

A photograph exists of Lord and Lady Duff-Gordon with the members of the lifeboat crew with their life-jackets taken on board the Carpathia. Fred stayed in New York and did not return to Plymouth on the S.S. Lapland with the majority of the crew members, I can find no mention of him giving evidence at the American Inquiry, and can only presume that he was suffering from exposure and spent some time in a New York hospital. His pay along with the rest of the crew stopped the minute the Titanic went down and he was dependent on hand-outs the whole of the time that he was in America. He must have done well, and been well looked after because he always spoke well of his time in the States'.

Later he had a Tattoo done on his right arm (in the shape of a Titanic Memorial), I have been unable to discover exactly what shape it took. I have had a chat with a local Tattooist and he tells me that Tattooing was in its early stages then, and only in blue and Fred most probably had it done in New York.

Witness number 39 at the British Enquiry was Frederick Sheath and he answered 32 questions and they are to be found on page 276 of the Enquiry report. A short time after this he resumed his seagoing career with a round trip to New York on the Majestic.

When the First World War broke out in 1914 Fred was off ''Trooping'' on the S.S. Galeka among other ships. The reports on his character and behaviour were still ''Very Good'' although in 1915 he seems to have slipped up and while serving aboard the S.S. Avon, his entries are ''Late, and Indifferent''! He soon pulled his socks up and the entries resumed to the normal ''Very Good''. At this time he was employed variously as a Fireman, Trimmer, or as a Greaser.

In 1920 he married a local girl Mabel Bushnell and they moved in with the rest of the family at 12 Bell Street, and eventually they had two sons and a daughter.

Fred's health was deteriorating at this time and he had to leave the sea and became a ''Docker'' in Southampton Docks, this was also very hard dirty work and Fred's Asthma became worse.

He was given a dog around this time, it was a brindle bitch called ''Nell'' and she soon became quite a character, she terrorised the milkman and had to be bribed with sweets before the milkman was allowed to do his deliveries down Bell Street. After a while she accepted the milkman and accompanied him all the way around his ''round'', gave him protection and was rewarded with a sweet at the end of the day.

Unfortunately Fred's health deteriorated and he passed away in 1934 at the age of 41, he was interred at Southampton's Hollybrook Cemetery. His daughter Maisie was only nine at the time of her fathers death and she remembered him ''as a nice man . . . a little man''.

1. ''The Titanic'' by Wyn Craig Wade, page 22.
2. "'Titanic'' A Survivors Story, by Colonel Archibald Gracie, page 261-279, Fred's surname Sheath is mis-spelt ''Shee'' in this account.
3. "'A Night To Remember'' 4th printing, by Walter Lord, page 95.

Acknowledgement and many thanks to the late Mrs Maisie Herbert for her memories of her father and Mr. Phil Herbert for the loan of Fred's Pay book and photographs.

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