by Geoffrey E. Whitfield
John George Sage was born in Hackney, London in 1867. He followed a number of trades until his marriage, on 2nd November 1890 to Annie Elizabeth Cazaly. The Cazaly family were originally Huguenot refugees, and had been settled in the London area for many years.Their first child, Stella Anne, was born in 1891, followed by George John in 1892, Douglas Bullen in 1894, Frederick 1895, Dorothy Florence on 13th October 1897, Anthony William in1899 and Elizabeth Ada on 9th November 1901.By September 1904 the family had settled in Freebridge where another daughter, Constance Gladys, was born.The family was rounded off in early 1907 by the birth of a further son, Thomas Henry.
For nine years John had been landlord of the ''New Inn'', North Wotton, near King's Lynn in Norfolk, where he was a popular and jovial host. Leaving there in October 1908 he occupied the ''Bentinck Arms'' in West Lynn for a further nine months before moving to Peterborough with his wife and their children, Upon their arrival in Peterborough, the family ran a bakers shop and off licence at 237 Gladstone Street, which had previously been under the ownership of a Mr. Plant. The family remained at the shop for eleven months before selling to a new owner and moving a few doors away to a private residence, number 246 Gladstone Street.
During the summer months of 1911 John Sage and his eldest son, George, left Peterborough and set sail for Canada, where they obtained positions as cooks and later inspectors for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Whilst in the employment of the CPR they visited Florida where John was so impressed by both the countryside and climate, that he decided to uproot his family and bring them to America. A plot of land was purchased in Jacksonville, Florida, for use as a fruit cultivation farm, and the thousand pound ''nest egg'' which Annie Sage had managed to save from the results of their various ventures, went towards engaging a local builder to erect a farmhouse for the family's occupation.
During the latter part of 1911 John Sage returned to England. His cabin on board ship was shared by another Peterborough man, Mr. Topley, who was later to say what a good sailor John had been during an Atlantic storm and that he was in all ways a ''Thoroughly fine fellow''. George Sage remained in Florida to ensure that all was going according to plan with the building project, and followed his father home a couple of months later.
The Sage boys and younger daughters were eagerly looking forward to a change of lifestyle in the New World, and the adventures of a sea crossing. But the Sage's eldest daughter, Stella, was loathe to leave her many friends behind, and only agreed to accompany the rest of the family provided that her father promised to pay her return fare to England in the event that she did not like the new country. John's wife, Annie, didn't welcome the move either; after years of moving around she finally felt settled in Peterborough. She told many friends and neighbours that she was apprehensive about the voyage and was sure that something was going to happen. Preying on her mind was an incident that had happened a couple of years previously when her daughter, Dolly, had fallen into the well in the backyard of their home in Gladstone Street. Fortunately, her hair was so long and thick that next door neighbour, Tom Gibbs, was able to seize her tresses and pull her out. According to East Coast folklore a person who had once been rescued from drowning would eventually meet their fate in the same manner. Friends tried to persuade her that it was just superstition and she eventually relented.
During the days before the voyage Annie Sage busied herself with the packing. The family piano and several chairs of sentimental value had already been dispatched by cargo ship, as the nucleus of the new home which, as fate would determine, was never to be. The three iron sheep which had graced Annie's hearth were divided between neighbours, Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs., Jordan, whilst family photographs and souvenirs were tearfully given to other friends and neighbours. It was originally intended that the family would travel on the SS Philadelphia on the day after Good Friday, but the sailing was cancelled owing to the coal strike and they thought themselves lucky to be able to secure passage on the new White Star liner Titanic. Finally the day of departure arrived and the Sage family gathered on the platform of Peterborough station. John Sage joked with friends who had come to see the family off, that he would send them a sample of the Pecan nuts which he intended growing on his farm. The train which was due to leave Peterborough at 3.52 pm did not arrive from the North until almost 5.00 pm which enabled their friends to take a longer farewell.
Amongst these friends were neighbours, Tom Gibbs and Mr. Cracknell, Mr. and Mrs. Todd of 188 Walpole Street and a number of youths from the ''Great Northern Hotel'' where George Sage and his brothers Douglas and Frederick had at one time been employed. As the train bound for Southampton pulled away from the station there was much cheering and waving of handkerchiefs from those both on board and on the platform.
The rest, of course, is history. Exactly what became of the family there is no-one left to tell, what is known is that the family did at least reach the boat deck, as Stella got into a lifeboat only to jump out again when she discovered that the rest of the family could not go with her.
On April 22nd young William Sage's body was recovered from the Atlantic by the cable steamer SS Mackay Bennett, his was the 67th body to be found by the vessel and was listed thus: Number 67. Male, Estimated age 14. Hair medium. Clothing: grey suit (knickers), striped shirt, black boots and stockings. No marks on body or clothing. Third Class Ticket, Will Sage on Ticket List No. 20 berth 126. William's remains were committed to the sea again on the same day.
As news of the disaster reached Peterborough it was thought that one of the survivors may have been three-year-old Thomas and a collection was instigated to enable a relative to go to New York and retrieve the little boy. The child, however, turned out to be the son of a tailor from Nice and so hope of any of the Sage's being amongst the rescued was dashed. Stella Sage's close friend, Mrs. Todd of Peterborough, received a postcard with a Queenstown postmark which read:- ''Dear Mrs. Todd, just a postcard of the boat. I am not seasick yet and hope I shall not be. Will write a long letter while on the boat. Cheer up, I'm coming back soon. With love Stella. A strange coincidence happened on Sunday, 14 April: Mr. Todd who was a member of St Barnabus' Church, where the Sage family worshipped, requested that the hymn 'Eternal Father Strong to Save' might be sung during the evening service, his request was granted and was rendered within an hour or so of the Titanic striking the iceberg.
John Sage's estate was settled in Peterborough, administration was granted on 25 May 1912 to Mary Ann Perrin, one of his sisters (wife of Robert Perrin). His effects in England amounted to £347.9.0d
A year ago, I was fortunate enough to obtain a lovely postcard of Stella Sage, dressed as if for a wedding. She was quite stunningly beautiful.
I have yet to find any type of memorial in England which commemorates the passing of this entire family.
With sincere thanks to Alma, Mike Colton, Muriel Goulding, Pat Midgley, Mabel Gibbs Mundy, Brian and Janet Ticehurst.
© Geoff Whitfield 2001