Encyclopedia Titanica

Bertha Ilett

Bertha Ilett
Bertha Ilett

Miss Bertha Ilett was born in Millbrook on Jersey in the Channel Islands on 12 October 1894.

She was the daughter of Edward Ilett (b. 1858) and Elizabeth Hamling (b. 1856). Her father was a gardener originally from Eling, Hampshire and her mother was a native of Alderney, also in the Channel Islands and they had married around 1883. One of ten children, Bertha's known siblings were: Lillian (b. 1884), Florence (b. 1886), Elsie (b. 1889), Edward (b. 1892), Dorea (b. 1897) and Mabel (b. 1898)

She first appears on the 1901 census living at an unspecified address in St Lawrence, Jersey. When she appeared on the 1911 census she and her sisters Florence and Mabel were described as tea packers and still living at home, then at Bayfield, Millbrook, St Lawrence.

Her father made frequent trips across the Atlantic to supervise shiploads of cattle crossing between England and the USA. Their quarantine station was in Athenia, New York and Mr Ilett would stay there with friends and family before returning to Jersey. Bertha's sister Elsie had married a Danish man, Chris Olsen and started a family in Geneva, Ontario County, New York and Bertha decided to join her there whilst visiting her father and other family and friends in New York. She therefore boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a second class passenger (ticket number 14885 which cost £10, 10s).

On the night of 14 April Bertha had retired to her cabin and went to bed around 10 pm but felt no commotion or crash. Less than an hour later a woman knocked on her door expressing concern of something amiss. The two women were assured of no danger by circulating stewards and Bertha went back to bed. A short while later a steward knocked on her door, telling her to dress warmly and head topside and clad only in a heavy coat over her nightgown and with her lifejacket she followed him. Arriving on the boat deck she described a calm atmosphere and described herself as being placed into the second of the boats lowered from her section of the ship which, she said, carried around 50 persons (possibly boat 14). The lifeboat began to leak after a while and she recalled being transferred to another boat during the night which was the last to join the Carpathia the next morning (boat 12).

In New York she was met by her father and a family friend, Dr E. T. Davison, before travelling to Athenia where other family and friends anxiously awaited her.

Bertha was married within a few years to Chris Kristen Christensen (b. 11 November 1887), a native of Denmark who had also emigrated in 1912 and they perhaps met through her sister's Danish husband. The couple settled in Geneva, New York and had three children: Edward (b. 1916), Phyllis (b. 1918) and Richard (b. 1926). Her husband died in 1956.

Bertha Illet Christensen in 1939

Recalls disaster 27 years ago
Mrs Chris Christensen of 420 La Salle Avenue recalls vividly the sinking of the Titanic 27 years ago yesterday, for she was one of the survivors. She spent more than three hours in a lifeboat before being picked up by a rescue vessel. In her hands, she holds a large book describing the disaster and containing stories of serval of the survivors. - Buffalo Courier Express, 16 April 1939

Bertha later lived at 88 White Springs Road in Geneva and died at the General Hospital on 30 September 1976 aged 82. She is buried in Brookside Cemetery in Geneva.

References and Sources

Passaic Daily Times, April 19, 1912: Athenia Man's Daughter Tells About Wreck
Geneva Times, 14 April 1975: Local Woman relives ' Night to Remember'
Geneva Times, 30 September 1976: Obituary                
Geneva Times, 1 October 1976, Obituary
New York State Certificate of Death
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279])
Photo: Unidentified Newspaper (Courtesy of Paul Lee)

Newspaper Articles

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (15 April 1962) Bertha Ilett in later years
Geneva Times (30 September 1976) Mrs Bertha Christensen dies - Titanic survivor
Geneva Times (1 October 1976) Bertha Ilett Christensen


Geneva Daily Times (1931) Bertha Illet Christensen in 1931

Documents and Certificates

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Comment and discuss

  1. John Pulos

    John Pulos

    I have received new information about second class passenger, Bertha Ilett. (I host a Titanic dinner at my restaurant each year -this was the 4th, on April 14, and a woman (Marilyn MacDonald) said that she was a friend of the Bertha Ilett family. Mrs. Ilett finally settled in Geneva, NY which is 37 miles north of our restaurant. Yesterday, Mrs. MacDonald brought me a 1975 interview from the Geneva Times newspaper with the 80 year old Bertha Ilett Christensen. The lengthy interview told her story of Titanic - her memories of the ship and of the sinking. In looking up her bio that Philip... Read full post

  2. Michael Findlay

    Hi John, It is the general belief that Bertha Ilett left the Titanic in boat #14 (based on her accounts from the 1912 era). Unfortunately, later interviews, particularly those in her later years, were "twisted" with the passage of time. I believe that, like so many other survivors who spoke years afterward, their impressions of the sinking were heavily influenced by books and movies they might have read or seen. In some cases, their recollections spun completely out of control with their own imagination. I can't tell you how many survivors claimed that whales were swimming near the... Read full post

  3. John Pulos

    John Pulos

    Thanks you for the update - the 1975 interview quoted her as saying "that a young man knocked at my door, perhaps a stewart (she was not sure), and told me to get a heavy coat and my life preserver and come quickly to the boat deck. I still had on my nightie, but I got a coat, my preserver and went with him."

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Titanic Passenger Summary

Name: Miss Bertha Ilett
Age: 17 years 6 months and 3 days (Female)
Nationality: Channel Islander
Marital Status: Single
Embarked: Southampton on Wednesday 10th April 1912
Ticket No. 14885, £10 10s
Rescued (boat 14)  
Disembarked Carpathia: New York City on Thursday 18th April 1912
Died: Thursday 30th September 1976 aged 81 years
Cause of Death:
Buried: Brookside Cemetery, Geneva, New York, United States

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