Mr George Thomas Rowe was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England on 20 March 1881.1.
He was the eldest son and second child of Richard Rowe (1856-1928), a plumber, and Annie Groves (1860-1931), both Hampshire natives who were married in 1879.
One of eleven children, Rowe's siblings were: Annie Elizabeth (b. 1879), Richard Herbert (b. 1883), Ernest Groves (b. 1885), Percy William (b. 1887), Edith Ethel (b. 1890), Violet May (b. 1892), Frederick Skinner (b. 1895), Lily Victoria (b. 1897), Elsie Jane (b. 1901) and Frederick Montague H. (b. 1903).
He first appears on the 1881 census as a 1 month-old infant living with his family at Castelmans Yard in Alverstoke, the home address of his paternal grandmother Elizabeth Rowe. With family numbers swelling the Rowes had their own home by the time of the 1891 census, 1 Chester Place, Alverstoke, later moving to 16 Chapel Lane, Gosport by the time of the 1901 census although George was absent by the time of the latter record and appeared as a member of crew (able seaman) aboard the Royal Naval ship Vindictive, then docked in Malta. He would again be absent from the family home at the time of the 1911 census which by then was 63 Henry Street in Gosport.
Having worked as an errand boy in his youth, Rowe joined the Royal Navy on 10 September 1895 aged just 14. Described as standing at 5' 6½" and with dark brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion, his first ship was the St Vincent. He rose to become an able seaman and went on to serve aboard a host of other ships, including: Victory III, Majestic, Vernon, Raleigh, Duke of Wellington, Excellent, Vindictive, Firequeen I, Goliath and Exmouth before his final voyage from 8 May 1909 to 19 March 1910 aboard Dreadnaught following which he was discharged at the rank of petty officer. He then joined the merchant service and began work with the White Star Line and served aboard Majestic and Oceanic.
Rowe joined the Titanic in Belfast for her delivery trip and served aboard as lookout. When he signed-on again in Southampton, this time as quartermaster, on 6 April 1912 he gave his address as 63 Henry Street, Gosport, Hampshire. His monthly wages were £5.
At the time of the collision Rowe had been on duty at the poop deck since 8pm. Describing the night as fine, he felt a slight jar and immediately looked at his watch, noting the time as 11.40pm. He then glanced to the starboard side of the ship and saw a mass of ice pass by, which he estimated to be 100 ft in height and so close to the ship that he feared the aft-bridge, which stood proud of the railing, would strike it.
He remained at his post by the telephone to await further orders but no instructions were relayed and at 00.25 am he noticed a lifeboat in the water off the starboard side. He immediately rang up to the bridge and asked the person who answered if they were aware that a boat had been lowered; the person on the other end of the line responded by asking if Rowe was the third officer but he confirmed his identity as a quartermaster and was then asked to bring rockets to the bridge for firing.
Doing as instructed Rowe carried flares to the bridge where he was met by 4th officer Boxhall; the pair began firing off the rockets until what Rowe estimated to be 1.25am and he also sent Morse code on the ship's bridge lights; he noted that at this time the crew had begun working on releasing the forward starboard collapsible lifeboats. Chief officer Wilde found himself in need of a seaman and Rowe asked Captain Smith if he should continue firing off the flares; Smith ordered him to stop and help man collapsible C.
Rowe seemingly arrived quite late in collapsible C's preparation as he only had time to help about six women and children into the boat before the order was given to lower away. Just before lowering Wilde called out for more women and children but none came forward and Rowe noted how two male passengers then climbed into the stern of the boat, without invitation, before it was finally lowered. Filled with what Rowe initially estimated to be 39 persons which included himself, three firemen and one steward, two male passengers and the rest women and children, later on in proceedings four interlopers revealed themselves who Rowe described as Filipinos who had been hiding in the bottom of the boat; he later identified one of the men who climbed in just before lowering as Ismay. Through media at the time he became aware that the second man was William Carter.
The descent to the water, although by now only a short distance, was fraught with difficulties and took longer than expected; a 5-6° list to port meant that collapsible C hung so far in that her gunwale was catching upon rivets and any other protuberances on the side of the ship; oars and occupants' bare hands were used to try and push the boat away from the side of the ship to aid her flight. Upon touching down on the water Rowe stated that the forward well-deck was then awash but the forecastle head had not fully submerged.
He saw a white light approximately five miles away just a few degrees off the port bow of Titanic, which he took to be the stern light of sailing ship, but despite the efforts of those in the boat pulling towards it they made no headway. Instead they altered their course and headed towards a lifeboat they could see which was carrying a green lantern.
Rowe estimated collapsible C was about three quarters of a mile away when the ship plunged and he recalled hearing rumblings like "a distant thunder." From the lifeboat's position at the time Rowe was unable to confirm if the ship had broke up during the sinking.
In the wake of the disaster Rowe was called to testify at both the US and British Inquiries into the sinking.
Following the disaster George returned to sea; he was married in 1914 to Frances Annie Reid (b. 13 May 1894) and they had three children: Lily Violet (later Mrs John Cunningham, 1915-1980), Norman (1917-1918) and Basil (1919-1957).
With the outbreak of WWI George joined the Plassey, a hospital ship, and served in the Grand Fleet. He began work in Thorneycroft's, Southampton in 1915 where he was responsible for the dockside transfer of new stabilisers into the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. Working there until he was in his 80s, in 1960 he was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1960 for his tenure. In later years he lived with his wife at Burlsedon Road in Southampton and during the 1950s witnessed a reawakening of interest in Titanic and he corresponded with Walter Lord during his writing of A Night to Remember. He went on to give television interviews on the subject and was reunited with other survivors in a 1957 interview, including Edith Rosenbaum, William Witter, Gus Cohen and Walter Hurst.
George Rowe died in Southampton on 14 February 1974 aged 92. He left behind his widow Frances, daughter Lily and three grandchildren; Frances died in 1976.
Terry Cunningham (Grandson of George Thomas Rowe)
- Birthdate disputed. His birth was registered in Alverstoke in the second quarter 1881 although he would add a year onto his age when joining the Royal Navy and continued give ages that would place his birth in 1880; he stated he was 32 years old at the US Inquiry. His Naval record records give birth date as 20 March 1880 (sic) whilst the UK Death Index records the date as 28 March 1880 (sic).
Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)
John P. Eaton & Charles A. Haas (1994) Titanic: Triumph & Tragedy, 2nd ed. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1 85260 493 X
John Eaton & Charles Haas (1992) Titanic: Destination Disaster, Patrick Stevens Ltd. ISBN 1 85260 534 0
Colonel Archibald Gracie (1913) The Truth about the Titanic. New York, Mitchell Kennerley
Don Lynch & Ken Marschall (1992) Titanic: An Illustrated History. London, Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0 340 56271 4
Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, Agreements and Crew Lists Oceanic January August 1912
United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912
Wreck Commissioners' Court, Proceedings before the Right Hon. Lord Mersey on a Formal Investigation Ordered by the Board of Trade into the Loss of the S.S. Titanic
Southern Evening Echo, 16 February 1974: Survived Titanic and reached 91 (sic) (obituary)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVLiZo6Pkak (1957 interviews with survivors)
Articles and Stories
Exeter Flying Post (1912)