The Story of Titanic Survivor Mr. Thomas Knowles

Atlantic Daily Bulletin

SOME of you who were on the Titanic's re-enactment voyage on the Waterfront Ferry Hotspur VI, out of Southampton docks back at the Convention in April, may remember that the Captain of the Ferry we were aboard passed me a note saying that he had a relation who survived the Titanic.

Indeed he did, and a most interesting survivor he turned out to be.

He was Thomas Knowles who did a dock head jump to get aboard the Titanic, he was engaged as a substitute storekeeper in the engine room.

Born in 1870 at Lymington near Southampton he quickly developed a love of the sea and ships and at the earliest opportunity he signed on to the big ships.

From his Certificates of Discharge we can trace his career, he started out mainly on the Cape runs, with various excursions into trooping and Cape Mails. He served on a wide variety of ships, and seemed to take any ship that was going.

On February 23, 1900 he was aboard the SS Mexican which foundered off the coast of South Africa.

In his book is the simple entry "Shipwreck".

His next ship was the famous Oceanic, which he often in later years described to his daughter as his "favourite" ship.

However in April 1912 while on leave he decided to try for the Titanic and arrived at the dock with his gear and waited to take the place of a deserter.

True enough several crew members did desert and Tom took one of the places going.

It was not until his wife was informed that he had been saved that she even knew that he had been aboard the Titanic!

On his return to Plymouth in the Lapland, he was detained there for two days for Board of Trade statements and then returned to his family at Lymington.

He was then 'Detained' by the Board of Trade for the British Enquiry, he was not called but held on standby the whole time, for which he was paid £2 a week plus expenses, which at the end amounted to £8 10s 0d.

He later rejoined the Oceanic and served on her until World War I broke out, managing to stay with her when she was requisitioned and became HMS Oceanic.

Then on August 8th 1914, during a Royal Navy/Merchant Navy dispute as to her true position she became stranded and wrecked on a reef of Foula in the Shetland Islands.

Tom then joined the Royal Navy and served mainly on luxury steam yachts for the duration of the war. Demobilised in 1919 he resumed his sea going career.

Eventually this survivor of three shipwrecks lived to be 82 years of age, passing away in January 1951, and is interred in South Baddesley Cemetery, Lymington, Hants.

His nephew showed me recently the family mementoes that still survive - they are:

  • Photos of some of the luxury yachts he served on.
  • Cap ribbons from his Navy days.
  • One dried Orange that he was given on landing in New York after the rescue.
  • Cigar case with two cigars still in it that he retrieved from the bottom of lifeboat C.
  • Photo in the paper (Daily Sketch) showing him (circled) in Englehardt C approaching the Carpathia.
  • A few postcards of the ships he served in, including one of the Carpathia at Palmero (postally used) and another (never seen before) postcard of the Carpathia.
  • More cards with Oceanic records printed on.
  • One Kit bag and a knife lanyard.
  • Two match boxes (Japanese) from Mexican and Oceanic.
  • One White Star (''Matches specially made for White Star Steamers'') Match Box, made in Sweden.
  • A White Star tinplate cigarette box.
  • A tin box White Star - inside has Olympic sails regularly & Titanic will sail from Southampton 10 April 1912.

Add to this a host of other shipping, Great War and other bits and bobs, you can realise why I went home a happy man.

[Atlantic Daily Bulletin : Summer 1992]

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