Miss Evelyn Marsden was born on 15 October 1883 at Stockyard Creek, Dalkey, Australia. She was the daughter of Walter Henry Marsden (1853-1921), a glazier and Annie Bradshaw (1847-1926) who both hailed from Derbyshire, England. They were married in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire on 13 February 1872 before settling in Chesterfield, Derbyshire where their first two children were born.
Evelyn had two sisters and two brothers, Agnes (b. 1874), Lilian (b. 1875), Thomas Bradshaw (b. 1878) and Archibald John (b. 1881).
The Marsden family left British shores from Gravesend, Kent; they arrived in Melbourne aboard the Durham on 1 October 1877, initially staying in the state of Victoria before settling in Stockyard Creek, South Australia where Evelyn's father took up work on the trains, later rising to become a stationmaster. Stockyard Creek is located 80 km north of Adelaide but is now deserted and in ruins. By 1912 Evelyn's father was the Stationmaster at Hoyleton, a small town about 20 km further north.
In her youth Evelyn would visit a farm at Murray Bridge, South Australia and whilst there she was taught how to row a boat against the tides and currents of the Murray River. When Evelyn returned to Australia after the Titanic disaster she made her way up to the farm and thanked the family for teaching her to row and handle a boat properly. She was also noted as a proficient equestrian:
Miss Evelyn Marsden, the stewardess on the ill-fated Titanic, was one of the cleverest horsewomen in the district. When living with her parents at Hoyleton she was frequently seen on horseback journeying between Hoyleton, Watervale and Mintaro, and there was certainly no lady rider more graceful, when mounted on a hack than Miss Marsden. As stated yesterday, Miss Marsden was among those saved from the wreck. - The Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 April 1912
Following school, Evelyn trained as a nurse and worked in hospitals in Melbourne. Despite her dedication to nursing, Miss Marsden had a wanderlust and a love of the ocean, and with some gentle persuasion from friends, she was convinced to pursue her passions. She left Australia and appears to have first set foot on British soil in 1908 when on 21 January that year, described as a nurse, she stepped off the Persic and into London following the long journey from Melbourne.
During her stay in England Evelyn was welcomed by her extended family in Chesterfield, with which she became close, and she made many new friends and acquaintances. She became engaged to Welsh physician William Abel James (b. 5 October 1879), a ship's doctor on the London-Sydney run and who by 1912 was serving aboard the Macedonia. James was born in Llantarnam near Cwmbran, Wales, the son of schoolmaster William John James and the former Elizabeth Ann Brown. The marriage date between Dr James and Miss Marsden was set for later in 1912.
Evelyn Marsden went on to serve aboard the Olympic and later survived the collision between the that ship and HMS Hawke in 1911, she reportedly being close to the impact zone.
When she signed-on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912 Miss Marsden gave her address as 7 West Marlands Terrace in Polygon, Southampton and as a stewardess she was paid monthly wages of £3, 10s. Whilst aboard it appears that she shared a cabin with Irish stewardess Mary Sloan. In a letter to family Miss Sloan detailed some of the events and made mention of Miss Marsden:
I never lost my head that dreadful night. When she struck at a quarter to twelve and the engines stopped I knew very well something was wrong. Dr Simpson came and told me the mails were afloat. Things were pretty bad. He brought Miss Marsden and me into his room and gave us a little whiskey and water. I laughed and asked him if he thought we needed it, and he said we should. Miss Marsden was crying, he was cross with her. He asked me if I was afraid, I replied I was not. He said, "Well spoken like a true Ulster girl". He had to hurry away to see if there was anyone hurt. I never saw him again. We helped him on with his great coat, I never saw him again. I felt better after, then I saw our dear old Doctor Laughlin [sic], I asked him to tell me the worst. He said, "Child, things are very bad." I indeed got a life belt and got on deck. I went round my rooms to see if my passengers were all up and if they had lifebelts on. Poor Mr Andrews came along, I read in his face all I wanted to know.
Miss Marsden is believed to have been rescued in lifeboat 16; she was not required to give evidence to either the American or British Inquiries into the sinking and upon her arrival in Britain cabled her uncle, George Robinson of Chesterfield, to inform him of her safety. Back in Australia her anxious parents also received notification of her wellbeing around the same time, many Australian newspapers having initially reported her as among the missing. The telegram they received contained just two, but extremely comforting words:
Shortly after the Titanic tragedy, Evelyn was married in Southampton on 27 July 1912 to Dr William Abel James and both soon left British shores, arriving in Adelaide, Australia at the Semaphore anchorage in November 1912:
Memories of the Titanic disaster were recalled on Saturday by the arrival at the Outer Harbour of the White Star steamer Irishman, which had on board two survivors from the ill-fated liner. Miss Evelyn Marsden, now the wife of Dr James (surgeon on the Irishman), is travelling on the vessel with her husband. Mrs James, who at the time of the great maritime mishap was a stewardess on the Titanic, is the daughter of Mr and Mrs W. H. Marsden, of Hoyleton (South Australia). When the Irishman reached the wharf Mrs James went ashore and renewed her acquaintances with many of her old South Australian friends. The second officer of the Irishman (Mr J. Boxhall) was also one of the fortunate ones to be saved from the Titanic, on which vessel he acted as fourth officer. - The Daily Herald, 4 November 1912
Her husband took up residence as a doctor at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and they moved into a new apartment in Ruthven Mansions on Pulteney Street. During WWI Dr James served as a medical officer, being deployed to Egypt and later serving in Britain before returning to Australia in 1919. The couple then moved to the South Australian coastal town of Wallaroo and lived and worked there for 15 months before they moved to the Sydney suburb of Bondi where William continued to practice as a doctor. They had no children and their last recorded address was 85 Curlewis Street in Bondi.
Dr James' surgery sign from Wallaroo
(Photo: Dave Gittins)
Evelyn James, née Marsden died 30 August 1938 aged 54 and was buried at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia. Her despondent husband died a week later on 7 September 1938, reportedly after a short illness; his grand-nephew said Dr James arranged to die when he did as he could not bear to live without his beloved Evelyn.
DR. W. A. JAMES
The funeral of Dr. William Abel James, of Bondi, who died on Wednesday, as the age of 58 years, took place to the Waverley Cemetery yesterday. Dr. James, who came to Australia from Wales in 1911, served as a surgeon with the A.I.F. in Egypt, and elsewhere. His wife died about a week ago. The chief mourners were Mr. D.M. Thomas (cousin), Mrs. Thomas, and Miss Glady Thomas. The Rev. R.F. Tacon conducted the graveside service. - The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September 1938
Evelyn and her husband were buried at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia in an unmarked grave. Their resting place remained unmarked until 5 October 2000 when a stone was finally erected on the site.
Gravestone at Waverley Cemetery
(Photo: Bec Sharples)