Mr Alfred John Olliver

Alfred John Olliver

Alfred John Olliver was born as Alfred John Ollivier in St Ouen, Jersey, Channel Islands on 2 June 1884.

He was the son of Francophone parents, a French-born father, Pierre Ollivier (1859-1914), a farmer, and a Jersey-born mother Eliza Le Cornu (1859-1934). His parents had married around 1879 and would have a total of eleven children, losing three in infancy. Alfred's known siblings were: Peter (b. 1880), Eliza Jane (b. 1882), Henry (b. 1886), Hilda (b. 1888), Mary Ann (b. 1890), Eliza Jane (b. 1896), William (b. 1898), John (b. 1899) and Francis John (b. 1901).

Alfred first appears on the 1891 Channel Island census when he and his family were living at Green Vales, St Brelade, St Aubin, Jersey. The family would later relocate to St Nicholas, Jersey and would be listed there on the 1901 census; Alfred was absent, having went to sea at age 16. He was listed on the 1901 census as a Royal Navy man stationed at the Royal Marine Barrack in Alverstoke, Hampshire; he would reportedly stay with the Royal Navy for seven years before joining the Merchant service.

Alfred was married to Amelia Gertrude Perkins (b. 11 May 1883 in Southampton) in Southampton in late-1910 and the couple appeared on the 1911 census living at "Olympic," Victoria Road, Bitterne, Alfred being described as a seaman in the merchant service. They would later have three children: Alfred (b. 1911), William (b. 1914) and Hilda (b. 1916).

When he signed-on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912, Alfred gave his address as 38 Anderson's Road, (Southampton). He had transferred from the Olympic and as a quartermaster he could expect to earn monthly wages of £5. Also serving aboard was his brother-in-law Walter Perkis who was married to his wife's sister Phoebe Lavinia.

On the night of 14 April 1912, Olliver had been at the ship's wheel until 10pm at which time he was relieved by Robert Hichens. He then was running messages from the officers and was just returning to the wheelhouse when the collision occurred. As he was coming up, he heard three bells ring out from the Crow's Nest. He looked outside but did not see anything.

"I happened to be looking at the lights on the standing compass and was trimming them so that they would burn properly - then I heard the report...and was just entering the bridge when the shock came." He heard a 'grinding sound and then saw the berg, which he later described as "...about the height of the boat deck; if anything, just a little higher. It was almost alongside the boat. It was not white...it was a kind of dark blue hue."

He remembered the Officer giving an order to "hard aport" as he entered the wheelhouse with Sixth Officer Moody standing next to Hichens to make sure the order was carried out. Questioned at the US Senate Hearings regarding this, one Senator asked if he meant "hard astarboard" to which he replied, "No, hard a'port was the only order he heard given." However, he did not know anything of what had transpired before his arrival.

Olliver also testified that the watertight doors had been closed at the bridge.

"The First Officer closed the watertight doors...just after she struck and (he) reported to the Captain that they were closed. I heard that myself."

Right after this, the order was given to stop the engines. Olliver was then ordered to go find the carpenter and have him take a draft of the water. When he found the carpenter, on E deck, he was already doing it.

He then took a message to the Chief Engineer in the engine room who told him to tell Captain Smith he would 'get it done as soon as possible'. By this time, the stokers were coming out of the stoke rooms into the working alleyway. Olliver then delivered the message to the Captain. It was right after this that the Chief Officer sent him to the boatswain to tell him to uncover the lifeboats and make them ready for lowering.

After carrying out these orders, Olliver then went down to lifeboat 5, where Third Officer Pitman was in charge and was ordered in the boat. He recounted that there were about 40 in lifeboat 5; other crew members, besides himself and Pitman, were two firemen, two stewards and a sailor, the rest were women and children. Olliver tried to make sure the plug was in the boat but all the passengers kept stepping on him, hampering his efforts and he had to beg them to make way. "If not for that, the boat would've been swamped."

The waterline of the Titanic was, by his account, about 15 to 20 feet at the bow by this time. After the lifeboat was in the water, Olliver took an oar and helped row. Testifying later at the US Senate Hearings, Olliver backed up Pitman's story that the Third Officer wanted to go back for survivors but "the women passengers implored him not to go because they reckoned it was not safe."

As the ship went under, the Titanic "was well down at the head first...and to my idea, she broke forward, and the afterpart righted itself and made another plunge." He then heard several small explosions which he reckoned were the bulkheads giving away. By this time, he estimated they were about 500 yards off and began to hear cries and screams people in the water; this lasted for about ten minutes. Later, he recounted that their lifeboat was the fourth or fifth picked up by the Carpathia.

It is thought that after the disaster Alfred Olliver returned to England and continued to work for the White Star Line but never worked at sea again with his ordeal on Titanic reportedly affecting him emotionally. He eventually returned to his native Jersey and died on 18 June 1934 in St Saviour, being buried in an unmarked grave in St Saviour's Churchyard. His grave was finally marked in 2012 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking.

His widow Amelia died in Grouville, Jersey on 26 January 1975 aged 91.

 

Articles and Stories

Titanica! (2008) 
WHAT TIME DID THE FIRST LIFEBOAT DEPART THE TITANIC?
 

Comment and discuss

  1. Tarn Stephanos said:

    I was reading my US Senate Titanic Hearings book, and was left most impressed with the testimony of Quartemaster Alfred Oliver. Seems he entered the bridge from the port side just as the wheel was being turned hard to starboard. At that very moment, i suspect officer Boxhall was appraoching the bridge on the starboard side, and was abreast of Captain Smith's quarters. What was frustrating about Olivers testomy was he semed so willing to provide details, but those moronic senators seemed unwilling to dig deeper. One interesting revelation made by Oliver was when the order was given to... Read full post

  2. Chris Dohany said:

    :::What was frustrating about Olivers testomy was he semed so willing to provide details, but those moronic senators seemed unwilling to dig deeper::: I feel the same, Tarn. It is also aggravating with the Board of Trade Inquiry when a witness would start to go into their own personal story, only to be halted by "Do not get into that, we've heard it all before..." Imagine what tid-bits of information could have been garnered had they been allowed to speak.

  3. Parks Stephenson said:

    Tarn, Olliver's testimony is intriguing. Even more intriguing is that he was not called as a witness in London. Reading carefully through his testimony, I tend to believe that he came forward on the starboard side, along with Boxhall. His description of the iceberg is a little too detailed to have seen it across the width of a dark bridge at night. The location of Titanic's watertight door switch is a mystery. Olympic's was in the officer's chart room...Mersey saw it there during his tour. Pitman, however, said that Titanic's was on the navigating bridge, close by the wheel. ... Read full post

  4. John M. Feeney said:

    Chris: Thanks for providing that balance. I'm touchy about "slams" on the Senate Inquiry myself, partly because my initial pre-conceptions about Senator Smith and the U.S Inquiry (from Walter Lord, et al.) were pretty much shattered by Wyn Wade's book, and subsequently by my own readings in the U.S.... Read full post

  5. Nathan Robison said:

    Can anyone speculate on why Olliver was never examined in London? Nathan R.

  6. Parks Stephenson said:

    Can anyone speculate on why Olliver was never examined in London? I can speculate but can provide no definitive answers. This is a puzzle that I've grappled with for a while, but it doesn't appear that the answer can easily be found. How do you find evidence pertaining to why a witness wasn't called? Parks

  7. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    Olliver was not examined by "moronic senators". He was examined privately by Senator Burton, one of the members of the committee who knew something about the shipping industry. The US inquiry is much loved by Titanic enthusiasts thanks to Senator Smith's habit of asking about everything under the sun, whether it was relevant to the resolution that set up his committee or not. The British court stuck far more carefully to the questions put before it and so only a few personal tales crept into it, notably Joughin's tale of his escape and the Duff-Gordon affair. I fancy that Olliver was... Read full post

  8. Parks Stephenson said:

    In 1912 they could hardly have imagined that in the 21st century people would be arguing over who went in which boat and what colour the tiles in the dining saloon were. Well, thank goodness they firmly established without room for rebuttal that the boat sank; otherwise, we might still be arguing over . Parks

  9. Tarn Stephanos said:

    I must defend to some extent my description of Sen. Smith and Perkins as being moronic- though I confess, I could have used a less negative term. My problem with the Senators was their apparent ignorance at the most elementary aspects of seamenship, and a good deal of time was wasted trying to determine the difference between an officer and the lower ranks. I have read my American Inquiry many times- I prefer it to the British one, due to the number of earnest accounts by the passengers. But I really feel the Senators, though well meaning, did not demonstrate the highest degree of... Read full post

  10. Nathan Robison said:

    "Much of the ridicule Sen. Smith drew from the press - he deserved." Bear in mind that most of this criticism appeared in British newspapers. His most famous "gaffe" occurred when Smith asked Lightoller if any crew or passengers took refuge in watertight compartments before the ship sank. British press perceived this as the ultimate example of Sen. Smith's ignorance. However, a rebuttal can be found in Wyn Wade's book: "Of course, I have known for many years that a watertight compartment is not intended as an asylum for passengers, because this same captain, who went down with... Read full post

  11. John M. Feeney said:

    Hi, Tarn: Without belaboring the point, I'd have to say that your own previous comments indicate a lack of prior *knowledge* on the part of some of the senators, not of intelligence. And whether Smith and Co. were seamen or not is really beside the point as regards their purpose. Nevertheless, they did enlist the services of naval men, Captain Knapp included, to enlighten them on some of the finer points. As for the repetitiveness of Smith's interrogations, that really had... Read full post

  12. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    Again Tarn picks on a poor target. Senator George Perkins was a former seaman and a current ship owner. At least some of Smith's poor questioning was due to sheer weariness. For instance, at one point he gets an officer on . He worked long hours by day and at night he read up on seamanship using material supplied by Captain Knapp. Lord Mersey had the luxury of knocking off at about 4-00 p.m. and going home to dinner.

  13. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    Hmmmmmm...Dave, John and Nathan pretty much covered the ground here. While Senator Smith may not have been a mariner, he certainly did call on the input of those who were. His repetitive style of questioning is a very typical trial lawyers tactic and a smart attorney can use this to his/her advantage in ferreting out inconsistancies. And while some of his questions may have seemed moronic, bear in mind that they were questions being asked by some of his constituants, some of whom had lost loved ones in the disaster. An elected official can ill afford to blow off those people whom he... Read full post

  14. Denise A. Hunyadi said:

    I'm reviving this old thread to ask about its namesake, QM Alfred Olliver. What happened to him after Titanic? I see from his ET biography that he may have continued to work for White Star, but in a land-based capacity. Do we know anything more about him? To anyone's knowledge, was he ever interviewed by anyone about Titanic after the inquiries? Denise

  15. MANDYMGY said:

    I'm thrilled to advise that, after 78 years in an unmarked grave, QM Alfred Olliver has been honoured. A beautiful granite headstone featuring the White Star pennant has been unveiled this week on the grave of Alfred and his wife Amelia, in St Saviour's Churchyard in Jersey, Channel Islands. Alfred was born in St Ouen in Jersey in 1884 and died in St Saviour in 1934. He escaped Titanic in lifeboat 5, saving the boat from being swamped and the lives of it's 45 occupants by realising at the last moment that the bung was not in and frantically scrambling under the skirts of the first class... Read full post

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Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Pat Cook, USA
Chris Dohany, USA
Bob Olliver, UK (grandson of Alfred Olliver)
Bill Wormstedt, USA

References and Sources

Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)
United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2015) Alfred John Olliver (ref: #1362, last updated: 4th January 2015, accessed 4th June 2020 17:54:22 PM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/alfred-olliver.html