Frederick Fleet

Frederick Fleet

Mr Frederick Fleet (Lookout) was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England on 15 October 1887 and was the illegitimate child of Alice Fleet (b. 29 June 1870).

Alice Fleet was born in Liverpool, the daughter of dock labourer Richard Fleet and his wife Ann, née Walkington and came from a large family. By the time of the 1881 census she was a resident of 99 Hodder Street in Everton.

The exact timeline of events are not clear but Frederick was abandoned by his mother and whilst it is uncertain whether he ever had contact with both his maternal grandparents they both died in the 1890s.

Following the desertion of her son, his mother Alice arrived in the USA on 20 October 1890 aboard the Cephalonia, described as an unmarried mill hand. She was married in Chicopee, Hampden, Massachusetts on 5 October 1892 to William Wellstood Burnett (1873-1954), a spectacle maker also from Liverpool. They made their home in Springfield, Massachusetts and welcomed their only child, a daughter named Elizabeth on 29 May 1893. The family later relocated to El Paso, Texas sometime prior to 1910 where William worked as a house painter. She and her husband later lived with their daughter in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Alice died there on 16 April 1953.

His half sister Elizabeth was married to a Stephen Parker and had a son named Bernard Stephen (1916-1994). She was later remarried to George E. Sells (1890-1931), a laundry manager originally from New York and they made their home in Albuquerque. Elizabeth died in 1973.  

Frederick Fleet Frederick was raised by a succession of foster families and distant relatives via orphanages and Dr Banardo Homes. He first appears on the 1891 census living at 272 Parliament Street in Toxteth Park, Liverpool, the home of a Mrs Annie Shaw, a hospital matron. At the age of 12 he was sent to a training ship and appeared on the 1901 census with scores of similarly aged boys under the care of Captain Frederick Charles Gilbert Longdon, a seafarer at Llandegfan in Anglesey, Wales where Fleet was described as "learning a sea life." In 1903 he went to sea as a deck boy, working his way up to Able Seaman. By 1908 he was working aboard Oceanic, a ship he served aboard for four years, but had never served as a lookout prior to Titanic.

At the time of the collision Fleet was on duty in the crow's nest with Reginald Lee, having began his watch at 10pm. They had relieved lookouts Archie Jewell and George Symons who advised them to keep a "sharp lookout for small ice."

Just after seven bells, Fleet saw a black mass ahead, immediately struck three bells and telephoned the bridge. He reported "Iceberg right ahead," receiving the reply "Thank you." While still on the telephone, the ship started swinging to port. The lookouts saw the starboard side of the ship scrape alongside the iceberg and saw ice falling on the decks. They had thought that it had been either a close shave or a near miss. The lookouts remained in the crow's nest until relieved about 20 minutes later.

Fleet then made his way to the Boat Deck where Second Officer Charles Lightoller put him to help Quarter-Master Robert Hichen load and launch lifeboat 6, the first boat to be launched from the port side. After loading some 28 women and children, the boat was lowered to the water. As it was being lowered, Lightoller realised that it was undermanned and called for a experienced seaman. Major Arthur Peuchen volunteered as he had experience as a yachtsman. Lightoller told him "If you are sailor enough to get out there - then go down"; and he proved he was by going down the fall to the boat. In the morning, Lifeboat 6 was picked up by the Carpathia.

Fleet was detained for questioning at both the American and British Inquiries into the sinking. From June 1912 he served briefly as Seaman on the White Star liner Olympic but found that White Star looked at the surviving officers and crew as embarrassing reminders of the recent disaster and he left the company in August 1912. For the next 24 years Fleet sailed with Union-Castle and various other companies, finishing with the sea in 1936. Ashore, he worked for Harland and Wolff as a shipbuilder, and later was the shore Master-at-Arms for Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co.

He was married in 1917 to Eva Ernestine Le Gros (b. 1891), born in St Helier, Jersey and a former resident of St Peter's Port, Guernsey, both in the Channel Islands. The couple had a daughter named Dorothy Frederica Ernestine on 24 November 1918.

Frederick Fleet

In the last years of his life Fleet worked as a part-time street vendor for the Echo newspaper with a pitch on Pound Tree Road, Southampton and he and his wife lived with his brother-in-law Philip Joseph Le Gros (1894-1972). He maintained contact with the Titanic Historical Society and wrote to them often.

On 28 December 1964 Fleet lost his wife. Her brother, with whom the couple lived, then evicted Frederick and in a state of despondency he committed suicide two weeks later, his body being discovered on 10 January 1965. He was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave at Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton. In 1993 a headstone was erected through donations by The Titanic Historical Society.

His daughter Dorothy was married in 1939 to Michael Patrick Shanley (1909-1972) and had two known children. She died in Southampton in early 1979.

References and Sources

Daily Sketch 25 April 1912
Southern Evening Echo, 11 January 1965, Titanic survivor found hanged

Research Articles

Captain Laurence V. Wade Titanica! (2003) Lookouts : The Human Perspective
The role of the lookouts on the Titanic from the eye of an experienced seaman.
Richard Krebes Titanica! (2009) Defending Fleet and Lee
Film depicted them as irresponsible youths who let their attention wander...
Titanica! (2017) Titanic Survivors' Untimely Deaths
The tragic stories of Titanic survivors who died prematurely...

Newspaper Articles

Titanic Timeline (14 April 1912) Frederick Fleet sights an Iceberg
New York Times (21 April 1912) ALARM FROM LOOKOUT IGNORED, SAILOR SAYS
Officer on Titanic's Bridge Had Warning of the Iceberg from the Crow's Nest.
The New York Times (21 April 1912) SEALING THE LIPS OF TITANIC'S CREW
Washington Times (24 April 1912) FREDERICK FLEET / MAJOR ARTHUR PEUCHEN
Southampton Echo (11 January 1965) TITANIC SURVIVOR FOUND HANGED
New York Times (12 January 1965) Titanic Lookout Is Dead by Hanging After Wife's Death

Images

Crow's Nest Telephone Key
Fred Fleet's Grave
Hollybrook Cemetery, Lordshill, Southampton
Frederick Fleet
(1912) Fred Fleet at the US Titanic Inquiry
Southern Evening Echo (1965) Fred Fleet in the 1960s

Documents and Certificates

(1965) Frederick Fleet (Death Certificate)
Search archive online

Comment and discuss

  1. ian Hough said:

    Hi Folks Who's got all the gossip on Fred Fleet - I am surprised that an infamous Titanic N.C.O has so little written about him (or am I mistaken?). Has anyone got any additional material than what's on his ET-Bio? I would appreciate finding out particularly if he has any descendants, brothers or other relatives. Many thanx Houghie

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  2. avatar

    Phillip Gowan said:

    Hey Houghie, Fleet was the out-of-wedlock child of a woman who abandoned him when he was very small. He didn't know who his father was and thought his mother ran off with a man to Springfield, Massachusetts and he never heard from her again. He married but had no children so there really aren't any relatives that are known. Of course it could be that his mother later had other children in America. Some day I'll tackle that one! Hope you're doing well. Phil

  3. Alex McLean said:

    Also, I know he committed suicide, but how did he do it? I have heard several reports from different areas, the most reliable saying he hung himself from a garden post, others saying he shot himself, one claiming he even rowed out to sea and jumped overboard.

  4. avatar

    Inger Sheil said:

    In the ET bio there's a link to his death certificate, which records the following as cause of death: [URL... Read full post

  5. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    I've long though that Fred Fleet's last letter to Ed Kamuda is the most moving document in the Titanic canon. I wonder if a bit of practical help might have saved him, had it arrived in time. I suppose Fred had some good times, but overall it seems a bleak existence. He wasn't the shiniest apple in the barrel, but I have a sense of the basic honesty of a man who did his best with the little he had. I suspect there were many like him among the workers of England.

  6. Mark Blauer said:

    Dave Where can the letter to Ed Kamuda you refer to be found? Thanks Mark

  7. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    Page 273 of for one. I have a feeling I've seen it elsewhere too. Fleet's sad story is on this site at https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/frederick-fleet.html but the letter is not included.

  8. Paula Fleet said:

    Does anyone know if Frederick Fleet had any children and their details? I am trying to find out if my husband is a relative. Thanks

  9. avatar

    Brian J. Ticehurst said:

    Paula, Poor Frederick Fleet had no children. He had himself been brought up in an orphanage - so sorry but I doubt if your husband is related. Best regards Brian J. Ticehurst - Southampton UK.

  10. Paula Fleet said:

    Thanks Brian, do you know if he had brothers or sisters, my husband could be a nephew maybe. Someone in his family once told him he was related so now we're trying to find out for definite.

  11. avatar

    Brian J. Ticehurst said:

    Paula, Sorry but - there are no known relatives. Several people over the years have made claims but none has ever been proved. Best regards Brian

  12. diane james said:

    Hi - I am new to the message board! My maiden name was Fleet and I was born in Liverpool, same as Frederick Fleet. Only just found out about Frederick Fleet. Does anyone know what his mothers name was? Thanks.

  13. Paula Fleet said:

    I am doing the research now for my husband so I will let you know the outcome. I don't know his mother's name, she abandoned him, but maybe some one else does ? Read his biography and obituary on this site, its very useful.

  14. diane james said:

    Hi Paula! Thanks for your reply. I will let you know if I find out anything - I am going to try the 1901 census first. Has your husband got/ had any relatives in Liverpool ? We are probably related omewhere along the line!!

  15. Paula Fleet said:

    Diane, Mary kindly referred me to this website where it mentions Frederick's mother. There is other useful info too. Paula

  16. diane james said:

    Paula, many thanks for the info ! Diane

  17. Bob Godfrey said:

    Paula and Diane - a couple of extra facts you may not have. Alice worked as a domestic servant and her father was Richard Fleet, a dock labourer. Not much, but it all helps.

  18. diane james said:

    Bob, many thanks for the info. I all helps! Diane

  19. Aino Turunen said:

    Hello! Can you tell me EVERYTHING about Fleet's family??? Thanks.

  20. avatar

    John Clifford said:

    Hi Aino. Unfortunately, there is not a lot on Fred Fleet's family; he was left parentless at an early age, and there is no record of any brothers or sisters, that I know of. Fred's life was first spent in various orphanages and foster homes, until he began his sea career at age 12. He was 24 years old when he was assigned as the lookout on the Titanic. Apparently Fred and his wife had no children, and in their later years were living with his wife's brother. After the wife died, Fred was told to leave, by his brother-in-law, and within 2 weeks, Fred committed suicide by hanging... Read full post

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Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Peter Engberg-Klarström, Sweden
Phillip Gowan, USA
Brian J. Ticehurst, UK

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2017) Frederick Fleet (ref: #1332, last updated: 15th July 2017, accessed 2nd August 2021 19:56:20 PM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/frederick-fleet.html

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