Mr William Thomas Abrams was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England around April 1878.1
He was the son of Charles Henry Abrams (1831-1915) and Elizabeth Esther Andrews (1837-1897), both Hampshire natives who welcomed their first children in the mid-1850s before marrying sometime after 1861.
The youngest of at least seven children, Abrams’ known siblings were: Elizabeth Sarah (b. 1857), Mary Ann (b. 1859), William John (b. 1862), Alice (b. 1867), James (b. 1869) and Eleanor Lee (b. 1874).
On the 1881 census William and his family were listed as living at 2 Russell Street, Alverstoke, Hampshire and his father was described as a sawyer. They were still at the Russell Street address in 1891 and William was listed as a schoolboy.
After leaving school and initially working as a labourer, Abrams joined the 3rd Hampshire Regiment of the British Army in Gosport in October 1893, adding a few years to his age but still giving his address as Russell Street. It was stated that he came from a Church of England religious background and was described as standing at 5’ 5½” and weighing 111 lbs, sporting brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion, his only distinctive mark being a small scar on the back of his head. In January 1895 he transferred to the Navy and joined HMS Victory; later he worked for the merchant service and also later worked as a stevedore.
William was married in Portsmouth’s Register Office on 18 March 1899 to Nellie Scott (b. 18762; Nellie also hailed from Gosport and was the daughter of labourer Samuel Scott and the former Emma Lyne. William and Nellie had just one child together, their son Eli who was born in early 1901 but who survived only days.
William and Nellie are listed as living at 97 Whitworth Road, Alverstoke on the 1901 census and he was described as a merchant stoker. Around 1902 the couple became estranged from each other, with Nellie reportedly walking out of the relationship, but they were never divorced. Nellie began a relationship with dock worker Thomas Chalmers (b. 1876) and the couple made their home in Landport, having no children of their own and eventually becoming legally wed in 1921.
William Abrams was married for a second time, albeit bigamously, on 26 October 1907 to Mabel Constance Hosmer (b. 13 February 1888) of Southampton, the daughter of mariner John Hosmer and the former Annie Compton. Mabel’s mother—and other family—reportedly knew of her new son-in-law’s extant marriage.
William and Mabel went on to welcome their first child, son William John Edward, who was born on 29 March 1908.
The relationship between William and his second wife also began to stutter around late 1909 and they began living apart. In February 1910 Abrams found himself hauled before the courts on account of maintenance arrears.
William Abrams, fireman, of Manchester-street, was charged on a warrant with the non-payment of maintenance arrears and costs, amounting to £1, 8s, 6d, due to his wife, Mabel Abrams. Prisoner admitted liability and said he would pay when he found work. He agreed that 5s should be given to his wife out of 7s 6d in his possession. The magistrates made an order for committal of prisoner to Winchester for fourteen days, but adjourned the order for a month to give prisoner an opportunity of paying the balance of £1 3s 6d. - Hampshire Independent, 5 February 1910
This comparatively trivial court case exposed the fact that Abrams was in a bigamous marriage and a few months later in July 1910 he was again before the courts, again for non-payment of arrears, by then standing at £8 16s, but also because of his bigamy.
Charge of Bigamy at Southampton
At the Southampton Police Court, on Thursday, before Mr G. Dominy (presiding), Sir James Lemon, Messrs R. G. Oakley, R. Chipperfield, C. G. Thompson and W. Wright.
William Abrams, described as a fireman of no fixed abode, was charged on remand that he “feloniously did marry and take to wife one Mabel Constance Hosmer, his former wife being then alive.”
Mr C. J. M. Whittaker, who appeared for the prosecution, stated that a week ago he called evidence to prove the marriage, but he had to prove that the first wife was alive. The only person who could identify her was the brother, who was in the Navy, and at present engaged in the manoeuvres, but would be back in a day or two. He, therefore, asked for a further remand for a week, which application the magistrates granted, prisoner offering no objection. - Hampshire Independent, 20 July 1910
Unluckily for William Abrams, Nellie’s brother came forward to give evidence; Albert Henry Scott, a carpenter’s mate serving aboard HMS Spartiate, confirmed that his sister Nellie was married in Portsmouth’s Registry Office on 18 March 1899 to the defendant and that he had last seen his sister a fortnight previously.
Signed-up to join the Adriatic on a voyage as a fireman on 13 July 1910, Abrams was intercepted at the dockside by police but acknowledged that he was expecting to be arrested. Later read the charge of bigamy at Bargate Police Station, Abrams reportedly stated “That’s all right; does it state when she left me? Is she to be here today?” After seeing Nellie, Abrams told his arresting officers:
“She is altered. She used to be a nice little girl. She has got so thin. I shall be in a fine fix. I had two wives, but by the time I finish I shall have none. I shall be glad when it is over.” - Hampshire Independent, 6 August 1910
Abrams was committed to trial with bail set at £50 and on his admission of bigamy was sentenced to eight months’ hard labour. Nellie Abrams, who later married, remained in Portsmouth for the rest of her life where she died in 1952.
Abrams was listed on the 1911 census as an inmate at HM Prison, Romsey Road. His wife Mabel, perhaps smarting from her husband's stretch in gaol, listed herself on the census under her maiden name and gave her marital status as single; she was, at the time, working as a domestic housemaid at the Grand Hotel, Fir Vale Road, Bournemouth. William's widowed father Henry was listed as an inmate at the House of Industry, Park Road, Alverstoke, Gosport, a poorhouse, and he would later pass away in 1915.
Following his stretch in prison it appears that Abrams and his wife Mabel reconciled. When he signed-on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912, Abrams gave his address as 3 Charles Street, Southampton. His previous ship had been the Oceanic and as a fireman he would receive monthly wages of £6.
William Abrams died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.
ABRAMS--April 15th, at sea aboard Titanic, in fond and loving memory of my dear Daddy, William Abrams, of 11 Charles Street, Southampton, aged 33. Gone from our sight, but to memory ever dear.
Hampshire Independent, 4 May 1912
Abrams’ family were assisted by the Titanic Relief Fund; his widow Mabel, who had been pregnant at the time of the disaster, gave birth in late 1912 to a daughter whom she named Nancy Florence and who, unfortunately, did not live to see her third birthday and passed away on 28 September 1915.
Mabel Abrams was remarried in 1916 to another mariner, Winchester-born Arthur Herbert Ford (b. 1882), a widower with two children. She was again widowed on 24 April 1917 when Ford was killed at sea with the loss of the trawler HMS Margate which was torpedoed off the coast of Yorkshire. She remarried a second time in 1919 to dock labourer and Wiltshire-native Frederick Chalk (1879-1965) and they had a daughter the following year, Annie. Mabel died in Southampton on 31 May 1965 aged 77.
Abrams’ only surviving child, his son William, also went to sea, he joining with the Royal Navy in 1926 as a humble deck boy, rising to become an able seaman within the following years, later a leading seaman and then petty officer. In 1930 he married Cecilia Doreen Murphy (b. 1908) and they had two children, William and Eileen.
Abrams was a petty officer aboard HMS submarine Thames, which he had first joined in May 1940 and which in July and August 1940 had been patrolling waters off the coast of Norway. Thames was reported overdue on 3 August 1940 and had most likely struck a mine in the preceding days; William Abrams was among the lost.