Benjamin James Thomas

Mr Benjamin James Thomas was born in Clapham, London, England1 on 31 May 1881.

He was the son of Benjamin Thomas and the former Jane Evans (b. 1852) who had married in Clapham in December 1879. Little is known about his father but his mother was a native of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. He had one known surviving sibling, a half-brother named Ernest Charles (b. 4 January 1891)2.

Benjamin was listed on the 1891 census with his mother, then a widowed boarding house keeper, and brother living at 41 Rathbone Street, West Ham, Essex. His mother remarried in 1896 to a John Ryan and they ran a shop together. Although Benjamin was absent from the 1901 census his mother and brother were listed as residents of 203 Victoria Park Road, Canning Town, Essex. His mother and brother were living at 1 Stockwell Street, Greenwich, London by the time of the 1911 census when mother Jane was then described as a widowed ladies' outfitter and his brother as a baker's assistant.

He was married in Lewisham in 1906 to Polly James (b. March 1877); Polly hailed from Bicester, Oxfordshire, and she and Benjamin went on to have one child, a daughter named Bertha Annie (b. 29 June 1907) who was born in Digswell, Hertfordshire. The family appear on the 1911 census living at 122 Avenue Road, Portswood, Southampton and Benjamin was described as a ship's steward.

Thomas was on board the Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast to Southampton. When he signed-on again in Southampton for the maiden voyage on 4 April 1912 he gave his address as 122 Avenue Road, Southampton. As a first class saloon steward he could expect monthly wages of £3, 15s. His previous ship had been the Olympic, which he had been aboard at the time of her collision with the Hawke in 1911.

Thomas was rescued in lifeboat 15. He was not required to testify at either the American or British Inquiries into the disaster but did receive expenses of £11, 17s, 6d for his detention with regard to the latter.

It is not clear if Benjamin ever worked at sea again and he soon settled in the USA and was later joined by his wife and daughter, who departed from Southampton on 2 October 1912 aboard the Oceanic, their intended destination being Wood Brook Farm in Plainfield, New Jersey where he was living. 

The family established themselves in Plainfield and Benjamin worked as a steward on the railroads, being described as such when he and his wife appeared on the 1920 census as residents of 825 West Third Street, Plainfield. The 1930 census shows he and his wife as visitors to the home of fellow Titanic survivor and friend Fred Toms who at that time was living in Los Angeles.

Benjamin spent the rest of his life in Plainfield where he continued to serve as a steward for the Pennsylvania Railroad, his last address being recorded as 634 Brookside Place. In September 1937 he fell ill and for the last two weeks of his life he was a patient at the Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield where he passed away on 15 October 1937 aged 56. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. His death notice in the Courier-News (16 October 1937) mentioned that he was a survivor of the Titanic disaster.

His widow Polly later lived in Plainfield with her daughter and, following a long illness, passed away on 16 June 1949 and was later buried with him two days later.

Thomas' daughter Bertha later worked as a stenographer, married Halsey Saint Mills (1905-1991), an office clerk, and had one son, Thomas Halsey, who died 29 December 1935 aged 5. Working for many years as a bookkeeper for Van Blarcom and Co, Bertha died in Middlesex, Massachusetts on 5 September 1978 and she is buried with her parents in Hillside Cemetery.


  1. When he signed on in Belfast Thomas gave his birthplace as London; whilst signing-on in Southampton he gave it as Wrexham, Wales. 
  2. There is no evidence that Benjamin and Ernest shared the same father; Ernest would be listed on the 1901 and 1911 census records as Ernest Ryan. Listed as a baker's assistant on the latter record, he later obtained a degree and worked as a masseuse. He was apparently married when listed on the 1939 register and whilst living in Wimbledon, although details of his union are uncertain. He had been listed as Dr E. C. Ryan in a death notice for Benjamin. He died in Kent in 1946.

References and Sources

Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)
Particulars of Engagement (Belfast), Ulster Folk and Transport Museum (TRANS 2A/45 381)
1920,1930 US Census
1891-1911 British Census
World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918
Craig Stringer (2003) Titanic People (CDROM)
The Courier-News (Bridgewater, NJ), 30 December 1935, death notice of Thomas Halsey Mills; 16 October 1937, death notice of Benjamin Thomas; 18 October 1937, burial notice of Benjamin Thomas; 17 June 1949, death notice of Polly Thomas; 20 June 1949, burial notice of Polly Thomas;  6 September 1978, death notice of Bertha Thomas Mills.
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Comment and discuss

  1. Nigel James said:

    Polly James was actually born in Stoke Lyne, Oxfordshire.(1877) she was my Grand Aunt, They lived in Southampton with their daughter Bertha at 122 Avenue Road (not 22).Ben never returned to England, Polly and Bertha joined him in America later that year 1912 and finally settled in Union NJ.

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Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) Benjamin James Thomas (ref: #2152, last updated: 4th December 2018, accessed 21st July 2021 11:34:05 AM)

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